* BARRICADES COME DOWN AT ZUCCOTTI PARK, PROTESTERS RE-OCCUPY
By Sarah Seltzer, AlterNet
Last night the barricades that have been surrounding Zuccotti Park in downtown New York finally came down after repeated complaints and letters from the National Lawyers’ Guild and others.
Almost immediately, protesters re-entered, as Gothamist reports:
Earlier this evening, the barricades were removed and stacked off to the sides, permitting visitors to enter the park wherever their heart’s desire, instead of the narrow security checkpoints. FREEDOM! But with freedom comes responsibility; according to one occupier, “Brookfield Security said unless we do something stupid the park will remain open!”
Jubliant re-occupation and a tense-standoff over the People’s Library followed. The Village Voice reports:
Within an hour of the removal of the barriers, the kitchen working group was serving hot food to all who wanted it, protesters were making and arranging cardboard signs, and the Occupy Wall Street library was slowly being reassembled, cartload by cartload.
As has been true several times in the past, the library quickly became a flashpoint and a rallying place, as Brookfield employees repeatedly warned protesters that the books were not allowed in the park. Protesters defied the warnings. Gideon Oliver noted that there is no prohibition on books in Brookfield’s evolving list of rules for the park, and that to ban the books would be unconstitutional. The Brookfield guards ultimately backed down, telling Segal they were just there to inform people of the rules, not enforce them. […]
* TANKS, SWAT TEAMS, SURVEILLANCE HELICOPTERS: CITIES AREADY TURNING INTO MINI-POLICE STATES FOR THE POLITICAL CONVENTIONS
By Rania Khalek, AlterNet
With millions in federal grants, local officials are preparing to crack down on dissent.
Two cities have their hands full preparing for the upcoming Republican and Democratic National Conventions later this year. As officials in Tampa, Florida, make plans to manage an estimated 15,000 protesters expected to descend on the city during the four-day Republican gathering in August, their counterparts in Charlotte, North Carolina, are ramping up crowd-control training in the run-up to the DNC.
With the parties gathering just seven months from now, Tampa and Charlotte will spend the next half-year transforming their cities into mini-police states to manage the thousands of protesters who will carry on a long tradition of dissent at the major parties’ nominating conventions.
Tampa Gears Up for RNC With Tanks and Digital Surveillance Helicopters
Last week, the Tampa City Council voted on how to spend some of the $50 million federal grant to secure Tampa for the 2012 RNC. The grant is paying for what the Tampa Bay Times describes as “the first in a series of police upgrades” that will include an armored SWAT truck and a high-tech communication system.
Security planning has been underway as far back as May 2011, just two months after the RNC announced the location of the convention.
The city council agreed to spend nearly $237,000 on a Lenco BearCat armored vehicle, which will be used in conjunction with two aging armored vehicles the city acquired through the military surplus program. Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin told the Tampa Bay Times that the trucks are strictly for the purpose of protecting officers from potential gunfire, not for day-to-day patrolling and crowd control.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, preparations began less than a week after the DNC’s host city was revealed in February, again boosted by a $50 million federal grant to help pay for police training and equipment upgrades. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe wasted no time. He immediately met with city officials in Denver and Pittsburg, which hosted the last two conventions, for tips on how to manage the crowds.
In August, the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness began offering Charlotte police a three-day course described by the Charlotte Observer as “special crowd control training” (video of the training can be seen here). The DNC is expected to attract 35,000 attendees. In order to accommodate their security needs and manage demonstrators, an extra 2,400 to 3,400 officers from around the state and country will join Charlotte’s 1,700-strong police force.
City officials also proposed enacting a new set of crowd control ordinances, modeled after those passed in Denver, to the Charlotte city council.
The Associated Press reports that the ordinances would ban demonstrators from camping on city property and make it illegal to carry a number of items including body armor, gas masks, chains, padlocks, and lumber. Another ordinance would add more obstacles to obtaining a permit to protest:
Demonstrators would be required to apply for a permit during an “extraordinary event” when “a large-scale special event of national or international significance” promises to attract large numbers of protesters. Groups selected through a lottery process would be allowed to protest the DNC. […]
* THE U.S. SCHOOLS WITH THEIR OWN POLICE
By Chris McGreal, Guardian UK
The charge on the police docket was “disrupting class”. But that’s not how 12-year-old Sarah Bustamantes saw her arrest for spraying two bursts of perfume on her neck in class because other children were bullying her with taunts of “you smell”.
“I’m weird. Other kids don’t like me,” said Sarah, who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit and bipolar disorders and who is conscious of being overweight. “They were saying a lot of rude things to me. Just picking on me. So I sprayed myself with perfume. Then they said: ‘Put that away, that’s the most terrible smell I’ve ever smelled.’ Then the teacher called the police.”
The policeman didn’t have far to come. He patrols the corridors of Sarah’s school, Fulmore Middle in Austin, Texas. Like hundreds of schools in the state, and across large parts of the rest of the US, Fulmore Middle has its own police force with officers in uniform who carry guns to keep order in the canteens, playgrounds and lessons. Sarah was taken from class, charged with a criminal misdemeanour and ordered to appear in court.
Each day, hundreds of schoolchildren appear before courts in Texas charged with offences such as swearing, misbehaving on the school bus or getting in to a punch-up in the playground. Children have been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing “inappropriate” clothes and being late for school.
In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 “Class C misdemeanour” tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later. […]
* STOP THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE
By the editors of Rethinking Schools
“Every man in my family has been locked up. Most days I feel like it doesn’t matter what I do, how hard I try—that’s my fate, too.”
—11th-grade African American student, Berkeley, Calif.
This young man isn’t being cynical or melodramatic; he’s articulating a terrifying reality for many of the children and youth sitting in our classrooms—a reality that is often invisible or misunderstood. Some have seen the growing numbers of security guards and police in our schools as unfortunate but necessary responses to the behavior of children from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. But what if something more ominous is happening? What if many of our students—particularly our African American, Latina/o, Native American, and Southeast Asian children—are being channeled toward prison and a lifetime of second-class status?
We believe that this is the case, and there is ample evidence to support that claim. What has come to be called the “school-to-prison pipeline” is turning too many schools into pathways to incarceration rather than opportunity. This trend has extraordinary implications for teachers and education activists. It affects everything from what we teach to how we build community in our classrooms, how we deal with conflicts with and among our students, how we build coalitions, and what demands we see as central to the fight for social justice education.
What Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
The school-to-prison pipeline begins in deep social and economic inequalities, and has taken root in the historic shortcomings of schooling in this country. The civil and human rights movements of the 1960s and ’70s spurred an effort to “rethink schools” to make them responsive to the needs of all students, their families, and communities. This rethinking included collaborative learning environments, multicultural curriculum, student-centered, experiential pedagogy—we were aiming for education as liberation. The back-to-basics backlash against that struggle has been more rigid enforcement of ever more alienating curriculum.
The “zero tolerance” policies that today are the most extreme form of this punishment paradigm were originally written for the war on drugs in the early 1980s, and later applied to schools. As Annette Fuentes explains, the resulting extraordinary rates of suspension and expulsion are linked nationally to increasing police presence, checkpoints, and surveillance inside schools.
As police have set up shop in schools across the country, the definition of what is a crime as opposed to a teachable moment has changed in extraordinary ways. In one middle school we’re familiar with, a teacher routinely allowed her students to take single pieces of candy from a big container she kept on her desk. One day, several girls grabbed handfuls. The teacher promptly sent them to the police officer assigned to the school. What formerly would have been an opportunity to have a conversation about a minor transgression instead became a law enforcement issue.
Children are being branded as criminals at ever-younger ages. Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia, a recent report by Youth United for Change and the Advancement Project, offers an example:
Robert was an 11-year-old in 5th grade who, in his rush to get to school on time, put on a dirty pair of pants from the laundry basket. He did not notice that his Boy Scout pocketknife was in one of the pockets until he got to school. He also did not notice that it fell out when he was running in gym class. When the teacher found it and asked whom it belonged to, Robert volunteered that it was his, only to find himself in police custody minutes later. He was arrested, suspended, and transferred to a disciplinary school.
Early contact with police in schools often sets students on a path of alienation, suspension, expulsion, and arrests. George Galvis, an Oakland, Calif., prison activist and youth organizer, described his first experience with police at his school: “I was 11. There was a fight and I got called to the office. The cop punched me in the face. I looked at my principal and he was just standing there, not saying anything. That totally broke my trust in school as a place that was safe for me.”
Galvis added: “The more police there are in the school, walking the halls and looking at surveillance tapes, the more what constitutes a crime escalates. And what is seen as ‘how kids act’ vs. criminal behavior has a lot to do with race. I always think about the fistfights that break out between fraternities at the Cal campus, and how those fights are seen as opposed to what the police see as gang-related fights, even if the behavior is the same.” […]
* PUSH TO REFORM PRISON SYSTEM BRINGS UNLIKELY ALLIES TOGETHER
By Rose Aguilar, Truthout
Over the past 15 years, the US prison population has more than doubled. There are 2.3 million Americans behind bars – that’s one in 100. About half of the people in prison are serving time for nonviolent offenses, including drug possession. More than 60 percent of US prisoners are black or Hispanic, according to the Pew Center on the States.
With just over 4 percent of the world’s population, the US accounts for a quarter of the planet’s prisoners and has more inmates than the leading 35 European countries combined.
Corrections is now the second-fastest growing spending category for states, behind only Medicaid, costing $50 billion annually and accounting for $1 of every $14 discretionary dollars. California spends approximately $50,000 per prisoner per year, far more than the state spends on students.
In a May 14, 2011, New York Times op-ed, Michele Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” writes, “Thirty years of civil rights litigation and advocacy have failed to slow the pace of a racially biased drug war or to prevent the emergence of a penal system of astonishing size. […]
* PSYCHOLOGISTS’ COLLUSION IN ONGOING ILLEGAL DETENTION
By Roy Eldelson, OpEdNews
As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo Detention Center, several thousand miles away sits another United States detention facility, less well-known but with a history perhaps even more gruesome. Obscured throughout the decade-long “global war on terror,” the detention center at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan is where two detainees died in December 2002. Initial autopsies at the time ruled both deaths homicides, according to a 2,000-page confidential Army file obtained by the New York Times. Autopsies of the two dead detainees found severe trauma to both prisoners’ legs. The coroner for one of the dead noted, “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.”
In January 2009, to much fanfare, newly-elected President Barack Obama signed a directive authorizing the closing of Guantanamo Detention Center. But a month later the new administration discreetly told a federal judge that military detainees at Bagram had no habeas corpus rights to challenge their imprisonment. At the same time, the Pentagon was moving forward on plans to build a new prison in Bagram, renamed the “Detention Facility in Parwan” (DFIP). This facility was designed to accommodate 600 prisoners under normal conditions and as many as 1,100 during a “surge.”
Today, President Obama has abandoned his inaugural pledge to close Guantanamo and there are more than 3,000 detainees at Bagram — five times the number of prisoners when the president took office — with a scheduled expansion of the facility by the end of 2012 to house up to 5,500 detainees. One troubling constant across the developments at Bagram is the presence and involvement of psychologists at these facilities, which clearly violate international legal standards for the treatment of detainees. Among the military psychologists present during the early years of the Bagram prison were Colonel Morgan Banks, Captain Bryce Lefever, and Colonel Larry James, notable for their key roles in formulating the American Psychological Association’s (APA) much criticized ethics policy on psychologist-assisted interrogations.
According to Banks’ biographical statement, he “spent four months over the winter of 2001/2002 at Bagram Airfield.” More broadly, Banks provided technical, consultation, and interrogation support to all Army psychologists. He also assisted in establishing the Army’s first permanent SERE training program. As for Lefever’s biosketch, it notes that he also served at the detention center at Bagram Air Base. He “was deployed as the Joint Special Forces Task Force psychologist to Afghanistan in 2002, where he lectured to interrogators and was consulted on various interrogation techniques.”
The third military psychologist, James, was the Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo when, according to his book, Fixing Hell, he flew to Afghanistan to transfer three juveniles who had been forcibly and arbitrarily detained at Bagram. James described these boys as “the most fragile . . . children [he] had ever met,” yet he oversaw their being loaded onto a cargo plane at Bagram Air Force Base, ” bound [and] blindfolded,” for a flight that typically lasted over 20 hours. Others who appear to have been transferred from Bagram to Guantanamo that same day reported being chained around the waist, wrists, back and ankles and the intense pain of being unable to speak, see, hear, move, or even stretch or breathe properly. The boys were essentially kidnapped, and were returned home a year later, having never had access to legal counsel and having never been charged with a crime.
Public information about exactly what transpires at Bagram today is scarce. The BBC was allowed a rare, one-hour visit to the new Parwan/Bagram prison in 2010. The report noted that “Prisoners are kept in 56 cells, which the prisoners refer to as “cages’. The front of the cells are made of mesh, the ceiling is clear, and the other three walls are solid. Guards can see down into the cells from above.” These detainees were moved around in wheelchairs, wearing goggles and headphones to block sight and sound.
In 2011, Daphne Eviatar, an attorney for Human Rights First, interviewed 18 former detainees from the main facility in Parwan and was permitted to observe seven detainee hearings there. In her detailed report she noted:
After many years of completely denying detainees in Afghanistan the opportunity to defend themselves against arbitrary detention, the United States government has finally implemented a hearing process that allows detainees to hear the charges against them and to make a statement in their own defense. Although a significant improvement, these new hearings fall short of minimum standards of due process required by international law.” [Emphasis added.]
In a subsequent interview with CBS News , Eviatar stated:
[Parwan] is worse than Guantanamo because there are fewer rights”There was no evidence presented, there was no questioning of the government’s evidence, whether this person had done anything wrong, whether he deserved to be in prison. So that’s a real problem — you have a complete lack of due process. […]
* THE GREAT GITMO BLACKOUT
By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
Ten years ago today, George W. Bush’s first 20 prisoners arrived at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. They were, we were promised at the time, “the worst of the worst.” Eventually the camp came to house almost 800 prisoners, of whom 171 still remain. Some of them were tortured, some may be tried by military commission, and some have died or will die there. The 10-year anniversary was marked today by protests, articles, editorials, letters, personal remembrances, and reminders that Guantanamo itself is only part of the problem with Guantanamo.
In the foreign press they are saying that the camp “weighs heavily on America’s conscience” and that “the shame of Guantanamo remains.” But most Americans are experiencing the anniversary without much conscience or shame; just with the same sense of inevitability and invisibility that has pervaded the entire 10-year existence of the camp itself: inevitability in that we somehow believe the camp was truly necessary and nobody ever really expects the conflict to be resolved; and invisibility in that nobody really knows what’s happening there, or why.
So while the rest of the world experiences this day in terms of how the United States ever got itself into this situation and what it’s all done to America’s reputation abroad, here in the United States the discourse is confined to how we will continue to live with it and why. The paradox of Guantanamo has always been that it’s been invisible to so many Americans, and yet the only thing the rest of the world sees. The whole point of the prison camp there was to create a legal black hole. We’ve fished our wish: The world sees only blackness; we see only a hole. […]
* NO FREE PRESS IN IRAQ
By Dahr Jamail, Aljazeera
Attacks on both local and international journalists across Iraq have not stopped to this day, finds Al Jazeera.
Baghdad, Iraq – Iraq has been one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists since 2003.
While scores of newspapers and media outlets blossomed across Baghdad following the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the spring of 2003, the media renaissance was also met with attacks on both local and international journalists across the country – that have not stopped to this day.
Iraq was the deadliest country in the world for journalists every year from 2003 to 2008, the third deadliest in 2009, and the second deadliest in 2010 and 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ documents 150 journalists killed in Iraq since 2003, a number, as high as it is, which pales in comparison to that logged by the group Brussels Tribunal (BT).
Logging the name, date, incident description, and source when available, BT reports that 341 Iraqi journalists and media workers have been killed since the invasion. […]
* REVOLVING DOOR: FROM TOP FUTURES REGULATION TO TOP FUTURES LOBBYIST
By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
While America focused on New Hampshire, a classic example of revolving-door politics took place in Washington, going almost completely unnoticed. It’s a move that ranks up there with the hire of Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin to head the pharmaceutical lobbying conglomerate PhRMA — at a salary of over $2 million a year — immediately after Tauzin helped ram through the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, a huge handout to the pharmaceutical industry.
In this case, the hire involves Walter Lukken, who toward the end of the Bush years was the acting head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. As the chief regulator of the commodities markets, it was Lukken’s job to spot and combat speculative abuses and manipulations that might have led to artificial price hikes and other disruptions.
In 2008, the last full year of his tenure, Lukken presided over some of the worst chaos in the commodities markets in recent history, with major disruptions in the markets for food products like wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice, and energy commodities like oil.
Most notoriously, 2008 saw a historic spike in the price of oil futures, an enormously destructive speculative bubble that peaked in July of that year at the lunatic high price of $146 per barrel (Goldman, Sachs at the height of the mania was telling investors oil might go to $200 a barrel).
It was Lukken’s job to spot the speculative abuses leading to disruptions like that bubble, but he didn’t do it. Instead, he repeatedly insisted that there was nothing untoward going on, most notoriously through testimony before the House and the Senate at the height of the oil boom.
In testimony that summer, Lukken continually insisted that the price surge was due to normal supply-and-demand forces, ignoring the far more obvious explanation of a massive inflow of cash from commodity index speculators. […]
* FLORIDA LEGISLATION PAVES GROUND FOR WATER PRIVATIZATION
Recent moves by Tampa Mayor Buckhorn and state Rep. Dana Young (R-FL) have some residents fearing privatization of the state’s water is on the way.
Buckhorn and Young have a bill pending in legislature, HB 639, that would transfer public drinking water and reclaimed wastewater from being a public resource to being owned by the utility company.
In a time of increased attention to water scarcity, part of Young’s goal, to use reclaimed wastewater instead of potable drinking water for lawn sprinklers, appears laudable.
Yet, as The Tampa Tribune reports:
Critics say Buckhorn’s proposal is the first step toward privatizing the state’s water supply. They also say the proposal could turn the state’s water cycle – from well to city supply and back – into a one-way street should utilities and other big users sell their wastewater instead of returning it to the environment.
“When that water is taken out of the aquifer, it could end up in China or Timbuktu or anywhere,” said Charles Van Zant, a Republican state representative from Keystone Heights in Clay County. “Day by day by day this will destroy the Florida aquifer.”
He wants to swap reclaimed water for the drinking water in thousands of sprinkler heads across the city. He is also open to offering it to the highest bidder for industrial or agricultural use, though he said he has no potential buyers.
And that reclaimed water may end up not only on lawns but in drinking water as well:
Buckhorn also hasn’t given up on putting the reclaimed water back into the drinking supply, a process, dubbed “toilet to tap,” that Buckhorn conceded comes with an “ick” factor that must be overcome in order to work.
In Texas, recent water privatization efforts have left residents overwhelmed by rate increases, as an in-depth report in the Statesman showed:
Across the state, a growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn’t keep numbers, but “their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent,” said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency’s water utilities division.
Water rights activist and author Maude Barlow sounded the alarm on water privatization to Amy Goodman in a 2008 Democracy Now! interview: […]
* THE VERY REAL DANGER OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
By Ari LeVaux, The Atlantic
New research shows that when we eat we’re consuming more than just vitamins and protein. Our bodies are absorbing information, or microRNA.
Chinese researchers have found small pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice. The Nanjing University-based team showed that this genetic material will bind to proteins in human liver cells and influence the uptake of cholesterol from the blood.
The type of RNA in question is called microRNA, due to its small size. MicroRNAs have been studied extensively since their discovery ten years ago, and have been linked to human diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. The Chinese research provides the first example of ingested plant microRNA surviving digestion and influencing human cell function.
Should the research survive scientific scrutiny, it could prove a game changer in many fields. It would mean that we’re eating not just vitamins, protein, and fuel, but information as well.
That knowledge could deepen our understanding of cross-species communication, co-evolution, and predator-prey relationships. It could illuminate new mechanisms for some metabolic disorders and perhaps explain how some herbal medicines function. And it reveals a pathway by which genetically modified (GM) foods might influence human health. […]
* THE 20 BIGGEST DONORS OF THE 2012 ELECTION (SO FAR)
By Gavin Aronsen and Dave Gilson, MotherJones
The 2008 presidential election was the most expensive on record, with candidates, parties, and outside groups dropping $5.3 billion. This year’s contest promises to break that record, due in part to the new rules of political fundraising: Donors can pour unlimited cash into outside-spending groups that can freely boost or attack the candidates of their choice. Which means that wealthy donors who have maxed out on their gifts to candidates or just want a lot more bang for their political buck can write massive checks to any of the new super-PACs that are popping up as proxies for politicians and parties.
Throughout the year, we’ll be keeping tabs on these superdonors (many of them couples who double up or spread out their gifts). As primary season heats up, we’ve tallied the current top 20 political givers based on donation data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Here’s a quick look at how they’re giving, starting with their partisan tilt: 17 out of 20 are giving to Republican or conservative groups and candiates. […]
* ELECTION LAW EXPERTS SAY JAMES O’KEEFE ALLIES COULD FACE CHARGES OVER VOTER FRAUD STUNT
By Ryan J. Reilly, TPMMuckracker
Update, Jan. 11, 5:00PM: Mark Zuckerman, a federal prosecutor in the New Hampshire U.S. Attorney’s Office, told TPM he recently became aware of the Project Veritas video and was reviewing it but hadn’t formed any opinion on whether it presented an issue.
It was one of the few — if not the only — coordinated efforts to attempt in-person voter fraud, and it was pulled off by affiliates of conservative activist James O’Keefe at polling places in New Hampshire Tuesday night. All of it part of an attempt to prove the need for voter ID laws that voting rights experts say have a unfair impact on minority voters.
Now election law experts tell TPM that O’Keefe’s allies could face criminal charges on both the federal and state level for procuring ballots under false names, and that his undercover sting doesn’t demonstrate a need for voter ID laws at all.
Federal law bans not only the casting of, but the “procurement” of ballots “that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held.”
Hamline University law professor David Schultz told TPM that there’s “no doubt” that O’Keefe’s accomplices violated the law. […]
* BILL MOYERS: BACK WITH A NEW SERIES
By Bill Moyers, Truthout
You already may have heard that I’d be coming back in January with a new series on the public television station nearest you. But you may not have heard exactly why. It’s not just that I lack retirement skills, as my wife and co-editor, Judith, keeps reminding me. Or that the squeaky rocking chair on the front porch got on my nerves. I’m coming back because in tumultuous times like these I relish the company of people who try to make sense of the tumult. These are the people I’ll bring to our new broadcast, Moyers & Company.
This will be a political series, but not a partisan one. In the conversation of democracy, everyone’s invited. That means you, too. You’re welcome to share opinions in the marketplace of ideas we’ll be offering with our all-new website, billmoyers.com. Our aim is dialogue, not diatribe, and we want you in it.
So join us – on Moyers & Company. (Truth is, I never really cared for that rocking chair.)