Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Troubling News And Strange Views

Troubling News And Strange Views

The federal government has supplied local police departments with military uniforms, weaponry, vehicles, and training.
July 5, 2011  |

Just after midnight on May 16, 2010, a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade through the window of a 25-year-old man while his 7-year-old daughter slept on the couch as her grandmother watched television. The grenade landed so close to the child that it burned her blanket. The SWAT team leader then burst into the house and fired a single shot which struck the child in the throat, killing her. The police were there to apprehend a man suspected of murdering a teenage boy days earlier. The man they were after lived in the unit above the girl's family.
The shooting death of Aiyana Mo'Nay Stanley-Jones sounds like it happened in a war zone. But the tragic SWAT team raid took place in Detroit.
Shockingly, paramilitary raids that mirror the tactics of US soldiers in combat are not uncommon in America. According to an investigation carried out by the Huffington Post's Radley Balko, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement over the last 30 years, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units for routine police work. In fact, the most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
Some 40,000 of these raids take place every year, and are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. And as demonstrated by the case of Aiyana Mo'nay Stanley-Jones, these raids have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries.
How did we allow our law enforcement apparatus to descend into militaristic chaos? Traditionally, the role of civilian police has been to maintain the peace and safety of the community while upholding the civil liberties of residents in their respective jurisdiction. In stark contrast, the military soldier is an agent of war, trained to kill the enemy.
Clearly, the mission of the police officer is incompatible with that of a soldier, so why is it that local police departments are looking more and more like paramilitary units in a combat zone? The line between military and civilian law enforcement has been drawn for good reason, but following the drug war and more recently, the war on terror, that line is inconspicuously eroding, a trend that appears to be worsening by the decade.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 is a civil war-era law that prohibits the use of the military for civilian policing. For a long time, Posse Comitatus was considered the law of the land, forcing militarization advocates to come up with creative ways to get around it. In addition to assigning various law enforcement duties to the military, such as immigration control, over the years Congress has instituted policies that encourage law enforcement to emulate combat soldiers. Hence, the establishment of the SWAT team in the 1960s.
Originally called the Special Weapons Attack Team, the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units were inspired by an incident in 1966, when an armed man climbed to the top of the 32-story clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin and fired randomly for 90 minutes, shooting 46 people and killing 15, until two police officers got to the top of the tower and killed him. This episode is said to have “shattered the last myth of safety Americans enjoyed [and] was the final impetus the chiefs of police needed” to form their own SWAT teams. Soon after, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) formed the country's first SWAT team, which acquired national prestige when used against the Black Panthers in 1969.
Use of these paramilitary units gradually increased throughout the 1970s, mostly in urban settings. The introduction of paramilitary units in America laid the foundation for the erosion of the barrier between police and military, a trend which accelerated in the 1980s under President Reagan, when the drug war was used as a pretext to make exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act.
In 1981, Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which amended Posse Comitatus by directing the military to give local, state and federal law enforcement access to military equipment, research and training for use in the drug war.  Following the authorization of domestic police and military cooperation, the 1980s saw a  series of additional congressional and presidential maneuvers that blurred the line between soldier and police officer, ultimately culminating in a memorandum of understanding in 1994 between the US Department of Justice and Department of Defense. The agreement authorized the transfer of federal military technology to local police forces, essentially flooding civilian law enforcement with surplus military gear previously reserved for use during wartime.
Between 1995 and 1997 the Department of Defense gave 1.2 million pieces of military hardware, including 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across the country. But this was only the beginning.
In 1997, Congress, not yet satisfied with the flow of military hardware to local police, passed the National Defense Authorization Security Act which created the Law Enforcement Support Program, an agency tasked with accelerating the transfer of military equipment to civilian police departments. Between January 1997 and October 1999, the new agency facilitated the distribution of 3.4 million orders of Pentagon equipment to over 11,000 domestic police agencies in all 50 states.  
By December 2005, that number increased to 17,000, with a purchase value of more than $727 million of equipment. Among the hand-me-downs were 253 aircraft (including six- and seven-passenger airplanes, and UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-1 Huey helicopters), 7,856 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets, and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.
The military surplus program and paramilitary units feed off one another in a cyclical loop that has caused an explosive growth in militarized crime control techniques.  With all the new high-tech military toys the federal government has been funneling into local police departments, SWAT teams have inevitably multiplied and spread across American cities and towns in both volume and deployment frequency. Criminologist Peter Kraska found that the frequency of SWAT operations soared from just 3,000 annual deployments in the early 1980s to an astonishing 40,000 raids per year by 2001, 75-80 percent of which were used to deliver search warrants. 
In 1997, Kraska observed that close to 90 percent of cities with populations exceeding 50,000 and at least 100 sworn officers had at least one paramilitary unit, twice as many as in the mid 1980s. Radley Basko correctly points out that the trends giving rise to SWAT proliferation in the 1990s have not disappeared, so it's safe to assume these numbers have continued to rise and are significantly higher today.
Then there are the effects of the war on terror, which sparked the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the introduction of DHS grants to local police departments. These grants are used to purchase policing equipment, although law enforcement is investing in more than just bullet-proof vests and walkie talkies. DHS grants have led to a booming law enforcement industry that specifically markets military-style weaponry to local police departments. If this sounds familiar, that's because it is law enforcement's version of the military-industrial-complex.
By instituting public policies that encouraged the collaboration of military and domestic policing, the US government handed a massive and highly profitable clientele to private suppliers of paramilitary gear. Following the breakdown of Posse Comitatus in the 1980s and '90s, Peter Cassidy writes in Covert Action Quarterly that "gun companies, perceiving a profitable trend, began aggressively marketing automatic weapons to local police departments, holding seminars, and sending out color brochures redolent with ninja-style imagery."
Private suppliers of military equipment advertise a glorified version of military-style policing attire to local police departments and SWAT teams. One such defense manufacturing company, Heckler and Koch, epitomized this aggressive marketing tactic with its slogan for the MP5 submachine gun, “From the Gulf War to the Drug War—Battle Proven.”
Today's latest in paramilitary fashion sweeping through local police departments is the armored tank, which is making appearances all over the country at an increasingly alarming rate. The police department in Roanoke, Virginia paid Armet Armored Vehicles, a private company that specializes in military vehicles, $218,000 to assemble a 20,000-pound bulletproof tank with a $245,000 federal grant.
Not to feel left out, the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) in Lancaster, Penn., was recently seen sporting the Lenco BearCat, a camouflage colored Humvee-styled tank that can knock down a wall, pull down a fence, withstand small-arms fire and deliver a dozen heavily armed police officers to a tense emergency scene. The BearCat was purchased a year and a half ago with a $226,224 grant from DHS, yet it has spent nearly two years sitting in a garage at the county's Public Safety Training Center.
The most widely used justification for the purchase of heavily armored war machines is that violence against police officers has increased exponentially, necessitating the tank for protection of the men and women who serve our communities. But examination of the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, a database that tracks the number of law enforcement officers killed and assaulted each year, reveals that this is simply not true. According to the UCR, since 2000 an average yearly toll of about 50 police officers have been feloniously killed, the highest reaching 70 in 2001. So the notion that militarization is a necessary reaction to a growth in violence against police officers is absurd, considering that violent crime is trending downward.
Others argue these tanks are needed in case of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. But on September 11, 2001, I do not recall the NYPD complaining that a lack of armored tanks was impeding its policing efforts. And during the catastrophic tornado that tore through Joplin, Missouri earlier this year, heavily armored vehicles weren't present nor were they needed to assist in the aftermath.
The majority of paramilitary drug raid proponents maintain that military-style law enforcement is required to reduce the risk of potential violence, injury and death to both police officers and innocents. The reality is that SWAT team raids actually escalate provocation, usually resulting in senseless violence in what would otherwise be a routine, nonviolent police procedure.
Just consider your reaction in the event of a SWAT team breaking down your door in the middle of night, possibly even blowing off the hinges with explosives, while you and your family are asleep. Imagine the terror of waking up to find complete strangers forcing their way into your home and detonating a flash-bang grenade, meant to disorient you. Assuming nobody is hurt, what thoughts might be raging in your mind while the police forcefully incapacitate you and your loved ones, most likely at gunpoint, while carrying out a search warrant of your home. Assuming you were able to contain the mix of fear and rage going through your body, consider how helpless you would feel to know that any perceived noncompliance would most certainly be met with lethal force.
Training and technology-sharing between the defense and civilian law enforcement seems responsible for the pervasive culture of militarism plaguing domestic law enforcement. In fact, an estimated 46 percent of paramilitary units were trained by "active-duty military experts in special operations."  Lawrence Korb, a former official in the Reagan administration, famously said that soldiers are “trained to vaporize, not Mirandize." As police officers continue to emulate soldiers in their weaponry, language, tactics, uniform, and mindset, it won't be long before they vaporize instead of Mirandize as well.
We have created circumstances under which the American people are no longer individuals protected by the Bill of Rights, but rather "enemy combatants." The consequences of such a mindset have proven time and again to be lethal, as we now rely on military ideology and practice to respond to crime and justice. For some insight into the implications, one needn't look any further than minority communities, which have long been the victims of paramilitary forces posing as police officers. Black and Latino communities in the inner-cities of Washington DC, Detroit and Chicago have witnessed first-hand the deadly consequences of militarization on American soil. Military culture now permeates all aspects of our society. Does anyone really believe that heavily armed soldiers trained to kill are capable of maintaining an atmosphere of nonviolence?
It's important to remember that police officers are not responsible for instituting these policies. Over the last three decades local police departments supplied with military uniforms, weaponry, vehicles, and training, were told they were fighting a war on drugs, crime and  terror. The politicians who instituted these policies are responsible for the militarization creeping into civilian law enforcement. What might the end result be if the distinction between police and military ceases to exist? The answer is a police state -- and certain segments of our society are already living in one.

How Fundamentalist Religion Is Destroying the World

The deluded religious belief that any people or nation or church is a "chosen" people is the root of almost all our troubles.
July 3, 2011  |

 The earth bursts with life. Far right exclusionary religion bursts with death. If there is a creator of life He/She/It must hate fundamentalist religion.
The countries in the world that are the most fundamentalist and religious, and/or those whose identity is most religion-based, are the world's greatest troublemakers. Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Vatican City and the state of Israel come to mind.
If the rest of the human race could find a time machine to roll back the clock and make a world where these countries/city states had never existed we'd live in a better world.
Just take one example of religion's baleful influence: President Woodrow Wilson's messianic religion-inspired intervention in World War One. "My life would not be worth living" Wilson wrote, "if it were not for the driving power of religion, for faith, pure and simple." (Letter to Nancy Toy, 1915.)
Wilson's religious views were the driving force in his political career, informing his quest for world peace. And like all fanatics he decided to achieve this "peace" through war. The devout Woodrow Wilson upset fellow Presbyterians as he moved the nation toward entering World War One, including William Jennings Bryan, who quit as secretary of state in protest.
What did Wilson's religious idealism actually achieve? Germany's loss of World War One led to the rise of Hitler, and the Second World War. Wilson picked sides between two equally tarnished nationalistically-inspired colonial contenders and weighed in. So Wilson set the stage for the rise of Hitler and World War Two. With no World War Two there would be no Israel because there would have been no holocaust. Zionism would have simply become a forgotten quirk. And there would have been no Cold War either, maybe not even a Soviet Union.
The twentieth century began with wars rooted in religion and nationalism and ended as the century of wars rooted in ideological atheism led by the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Now the twenty first century seems to be shaping up to be the age of renewed wars of religion led by fundamentalist fanatics on all sides who believe in the divine destinies of their nations and/or religions.
These fanatics - they are all of the far right - have ranged from the Ayatollah Khomeinito George W Bush, from the far right leaders of the state of Israel to far right American fundamentalist like Michelle Bachmann who - if she and her fellow travelers have their way - would replace the Constitution and Bill of Rights with the Bible and turn America into a (Reconstructionist) theocracy.
The deluded religious belief that any people or nation or church is a "chosen" people is the root of almost all our troubles. So is the lunacy of believing in "Truth" revealed through one special prophet to one special peoples and/or tribe, be they Jews, Muslims or American Evangelical Christians, or conservative Roman Catholics who believe in the special primacy of their popes.
Eliminate willful self-serving tribal religious delusion from the globe and there might be hope for the survival of the human race. Combine tribalism and religious conviction with nukes and the "right" to exploit the earth and disaster looms.
It's no accident that the most dangerous cultures today are also the most religiously observant societies. The ultra-religiously observant USA embraces perpetual war as a way of life. With our notion of "exceptionalism," we fear the "other" who might challenge our notion of having been chosen by God for some special task.
Like the USA the state of Israel has become an intransigent provocation to the world as it slides inexorably toward becoming the next apartheid state taking up oppression based on race and tribe where South Africa left off. Israel is the place where a demographic minority of the "chosen" already represses (and/or has expelled) the majority of the "un-chosen."
As for the ultra religious state of Pakistan it was actually founded on self-aware religious difference! Pakistan is now the leading exporter of terror worldwide alongside Iran. Both Iran and Pakistan's intelligence agencies are the purveyors of terror. And both countries (when not busy condemning people to death for the crime of heresy etc.,) see themselves as having special prophetic religious destinies.
The Saudis - "keepers of the Holy Places" -- don't need nukes because they have oil. They threaten destruction to the rest of us every bit as catastrophic as war by funding terror, not to mention exporting the most intolerant forms of Islam worldwide into tens of thousands of madrassas.
If Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and the USA just went away, or had never existed, and/or changed their essential neuroses and accepted a role of "ordinary" nations filled with just folks or saw their religions as a way, not the way, the world would take a giant step toward peace.
But to admit this, let alone to say it publicly, is to court the condemnation of being anti-Semitic, and/or anti-Islamic, anti-Catholic and/or anti-Christian, even anti-American…
.which is a little ironic because
the sort of right wing religious Americans who fancy themselves as "pro-American" and "pro-Israel" regularly get our men and women in uniform killed and maimed by starting wars of choice. So who is the patriot here?
Let's get one thing straight: Iran, the USA, Israel, Pakistan, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia aren't special, except in the religion-addled brains of the members of their religious right wings and ruling elites. They're just geographical areas like any others filled with ordinary people like any others, no better and no worse.
Someday these "special" and "chosen" countries will cease to exist as will all nation states. Someday they will not even be remembered because all things pass from time into oblivion, nor will their "holy" books and "holy" places exist forever, simple geology will take care of that. What makes them dangerous today is their shared religious delusion that they are somehow essential and eternal.
The delusion is this: "We're chosen, special and enlightened, and only we have The Truth."
Birds of a feather So
it is no coincidence that the USA has a "special" relationship with Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and special "respect" for the Vatican and a soft spot for religion in general, for instance giving religion tax deductions. And thus it is no coincidence we are at war without end.
Certainty is a killer. And tolerance of certainty is, by nature, intolerant when it comes to results.
For instance; we tolerate Zionism and Christian Zionism and so messed with the Middle East, because we picked sides in a religious war and decided to back one "chosen people" (Jews) over another "chosen people" (Muslims). This picking of sides between two equally ridiculous pre-science claims to divine selection is the real -- and only -- reason for 9/11 and all that's followed.
America needlessly meddled in a tribal religious Middle Eastern war of religion and has paid and is paying the consequences.
Meanwhile the world's most pressing problems, from global warming to endless wars relate to the self-"chosen" nations and tribes and countries. Of course China and India et al are involved in global warming too, mostly because they imitated the West. Of course others start wars too. But I'm talking about first causes of war and threatened global destruction.
If and when we're plunged into capitalist/consumer global ecological destruction chances are future generations - if any - will have right wing fundamentalist religion of all kinds to thank for "justifying" the rape of the earth.
And if and when we're plunged into an age of nuclear terror, lose Washington DC or New York or London chances are that the fateful moment will be rooted in Middle Eastern/American tribal-religious war. We'll have the states of Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and/or the USA to blame for putting humanity on a collision course with reality.
The Jews gave us a book that commands the "dominion" of the earth. The Muslims picked up this theme in their book and predicted the dominion of their one and only "true" religion over the earth, a global "caliphate" that -- for instance -- the Pakistani extremists and Iranian "holy men" in charge of their nukes (or soon to be in charge of their nukes) are working to implement with the same religious ferocity as that displayed by the Israeli "settlers" as they "justify" stealing another Semitic tribe's land.
Meanwhile along with American Evangelicals, the Vatican still holds out a misogynistic/homophobic vision of "progress" and still claims that it and it alone is God's special envoy on earth. The very existence of such exclusivist claims - we'll go to heaven, it's hell for the rest of you! -- is a threat to human survival.
And the United States, the inventor of the bomb, the only country to ever use it, is the granddaddy of the exploitation of the earth in the name of economic growth, as something "given" by God to us as "natural" and "right." And now we Americans run a worldwide war making machine par excellence, sure that we are the "good guys."
The Wilsonian ideological perspective --advocacy of "the spread of democracy," the spread of Capitalism,in favor of intervention to help create "peace" and the "spread freedom," is rooted in an older religious tradition: we're special a "city set on a hill." This insanity goes back to the very religious foundation of the American colonies that were peopled by Calvinist cranks from England and Holland who thought that they were too good, too theologically pure and too "chosen" to co-exist the likes of ordinary folks. So they left those bad folks behind and soon were burning Pequot Indians to death in the name of their Old Testament "God."
That same intolerant Puritan inheritance drives us today and divides America into "Real Americans" as Sarah Palin calls herself and her followers, and everyone else. This is the "saved" and "lost" model of theology directly applied to politics. Result? We "Real Americans" believe we're so special that we can and should police the world!
The "holy books" all the religious cultures mentioned here follow are compendiums of Bronze Age tribal self-serving myths, adopted and updated by ignorant tribes in order to try to make sense of their places in the universe pre-science. Today they are the source of war and the rape of the earth.
It's time to stop being polite about the religions that are motivating the self-deluding right wing Israelis, the self-deluding right wing Saudis and the self-deluding right wing Iranians, Americans and popes. They may all hate each other, but below the surface they all share one dreadful and silly conviction: the unfounded belief that they and they alone (and their tribes) are morally right and that the rest of us are the "other" to be suppressed, converted or sometimes killed. And they all say God is on their side.
If there is a God - I happen to believe there is, but I could be wrong -- a creator, a force responsible for the magnificent diversity of nature and human aspiration, then that actual God, by definition, must despise exclusive-type religion and tribalism and the black and white world of "in" or "out" and "saved" and "lost."
Guessing what God might actually be like by what we see around us, He, She or It is big, generous, non-ideological, wonderful and all encompassing. Just open your eyes to the earth below and heavens above and try to reconcile what you see, hear and feel with petty popes, Ayatollahs and preachers or the books they call "holy"!
If there is no creator (and who can say there is or isn't?) then nature's diversity and adaptability is a silent and powerful rebuke to exclusivity. Put it this way; the Rockies don't know they're part of an "exceptional" country and the Negev desert doesn't know it was "given" to anyone! Nor do the sands of Medina know that they're "holy" much less does the dust of Iran's "holy city" of Qom know it's "sacred," or the plaster under the paint in the Sistine Chapel know it's "owned" by the Vatican and the "one true church!"
The religions and tribalism of those who threaten the world the most - Iran, the state of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Vatican and the USA -- is small, inward looking and backward. It's time to tell the truth and say that maybe it is possible to love God - if there is such an entity -- but it's not possible to love God and love the sort of tribal exclusionary religions that are taking us all down.

15-Year-Old Girl Faces Life in Prison for a Miscarriage? Why Conservatives Are Criminalizing Pregnant Women

The creeping criminalization of pregnant women is a new front in the culture wars over abortion.
July 4, 2011  |
Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence. 
Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby. But her case is by no means isolated. Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals. 
"Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws," said Lynn Paltrow of the campaignNational Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). "It's turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights."

Bei Bei Shuai, 34, has spent the past three months in a prison cell in Indianapolis charged with murdering her baby. On 23 December she tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison after her boyfriend abandoned her. 
Shuai was rushed to hospital and survived, but she was 33 weeks pregnant and her baby, to whom she gave birth a week after the suicide attempt and whom she called Angel, died after four days. In March Shuai was charged with murder and attempted foeticide and she has been in custody since without the offer of bail. 
In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state's "chemical endangerment" law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine in the home and thus putting their children at risk from inhaling the fumes.

Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way. During her pregnancy her fetus was diagnosed with possible Down's syndrome and doctors suggested she consider a termination, which Kimbrough declined as she is not in favour of abortion.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth. 
Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with "chemical endangerment" of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy – a claim she has denied. 
"That shocked me, it really did," Kimbrough said. "I had lost a child, that was enough." 
She now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year sentence behind bars. "I'm just living one day at a time, looking after my three other kids," she said. "They say I'm a criminal, how do I answer that? I'm a good mother." 
Women's rights campaigners see the creeping criminalization of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion, in which conservative prosecutors are chipping away at hard-won freedoms by stretching protection laws to include foetuses, in some cases from the day of conception. In Gibbs' case defence lawyers have argued before Mississippi's highest court that her prosecution makes no sense. Under Mississippi law it is a crime for any person except the mother to try to cause an abortion. 
"If it's not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is," Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer asked the state supreme court. 
McDuff told the Guardian that he hoped the Gibbs prosecution was an isolated example. "I hope it's not a trend that's going to catch on. To charge a woman with murder because of something she did during pregnancy is really unprecedented and quite extreme." 
He pointed out that anti-abortion groups were trying to amend the Mississippi constitution by setting up a state referendum, or ballot initiative, that would widen the definition of a person under the state's bill of rights to include a fetus from the day of conception. 
Some 70 organisations across America have come together to file testimonies, known as amicus briefs, in support of Gibbs that protest against her treatment on several levels. One says that to treat "as a murderer a girl who has experienced a stillbirth serves only to increase her suffering". 
Another, from a group of psychologists, laments the misunderstanding of addiction that lies behind the indictment. Gibbs did not take cocaine because she had a "depraved heart" or to "harm the fetus but to satisfy an acute psychological and physical need for that particular substance", says the brief. 
Perhaps the most persuasive argument put forward in the amicus briefs is that if such prosecutions were designed to protect the unborn child, then they would be utterly counter-productive: "Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties. The state could not have intended this result when it adopted the homicide statute." 
Paltrow sees what is happening to Gibbs as a small taste of what would be unleashed were the constitutional right to an abortion ever overturned. "In Mississippi the use of the murder statute is creating a whole new legal standard that makes women accountable for the outcome of their pregnancies and threatens them with life imprisonment for murder." 

From protection to punishment

At least 38 of the 50 states across America have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks by third parties – usually abusive male partners – but are increasingly being turned by renegade prosecutors against the women themselves.

South Carolina was one of the first states to introduce such a foetal homicide law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has found only one case of a South Carolina man who assaulted a pregnant woman having been charged under its terms, and his conviction was eventually overturned. Yet the group estimates there have been up to 300 women arrested for their actions during pregnancy.

In other states laws designed to protect children against the damaging effects of drugs have similarly been twisted to punish childbearers. 
To see where the Republicans' priorities are, just look at how they treat 25 people--the top 25 hedge fund managers in the country.
June 30, 2011  |

Republicans are perpetrating a fraud. They say they're concerned about reducing government deficits. But you don't need to look at how they treat all of the country's biggest corporations (which is extremely well) or even how they kowtow to its richest 400 families, who now have 6900 times as much income as the average household.
You only need to look at the way they treat 25 people.
The top 25 hedge fund managers in the United States collectively earned $22 billion last year, and yet they have their own cushy set of tax rules. If they operated under the same rules that apply to other people -- police officers, for example, or teachers -- the country could cut its national deficit by as much as $44 billion in the next ten years.
We're not talking about "raising taxes on the rich," either -- although that's an excellent idea. (There's an automated petition here that will encourage your representative to do just that.) This money could be raised simply by removing a tax loophole that protects hedge fund managers. And that's not counting all the other people who run hedge funds. We'd get that $44 billion from just 25 people. They can certainly afford it, and at least one of them (George Soros, #2 on the list) undoubtedly would approve.
But they won't do it. Instead of taking a simple step that could net as much as $4.4 billion per year, House Republicans have passed a budget that cuts $30 million for flood control and emergency funds that would help people avoid being hurt or killed in storms like the ones we've seen in New Orleans, Birmingham, the Midwest, and all across the country. They voted to cut $336 million from the National Oceanographic and Aeronautical Administration to track and predict violent storms.
You could call their bill the "Tony Montana budget," too, since it cuts funds from all the law enforcement activities that Al Pacino's character in Scarface loathed and feared: $74 million from the FBI. $256 million from "State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance." $600 million from COPS, another program that gives grants for state and local policing. More than half a billion from the IRS, which is a giveaway to tax cheats that also reduces future collections -- which will make the deficit worse.
They even want to cut $330 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, a self-sustaining program that administers all the assets seized by U.S. Customs, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, and the Coast Guard. Tony Montana would approve.
Oh -- they want to cut the budget for "food safety and inspection services," too. You could pay for all these cuts by just eliminating a tax loophole for these hedge fund managers -- and you'd still have more than $2 billion left over. And that's every year.
From 25 people.
Now the Republicans are going after Social Security and Medicare. Their new budget eliminates Medicare (yes, it does) and replaces it with vouchers that will only cover a fraction of their medical costs. The Congressional Budget Office reports that people who reach Medicare age in 2030 will have to pay twenty thousand dollars more per person as a result. Know how many of those people could get the oldMedicare coverage if you taxed those 25 hedge fund managers the same way everybody else is taxed?
All of them.
These programs are unsustainable, they say. Well, the runaway costs in our health system are unsustainable, but controlling them would force the country to confront the greed motive in US healthcare. So that's off the table for the Republicans, too. And Social Security doesn't contribute to the deficit at all -- they just don't like it.
If you took away this tax loophole for hedge fund managers, you could actuallyincrease Social Security benefits by more than $1,000 per year for every baby boomer. In 2010 dollars, that comes to an average benefit increase of nearly 10 percent.
And that's just from 25 people.
But wait, the Republicans will say. That would kill jobs, they'll say. These people are "job creators" and "wealth creators," they'll say. No, they're not. More often than not, in fact, they're job destroyers. They make their money by betting for or against certain events -- literally "hedging their bets" -- and on more than one occasion they've been accused of creating the negative event they're betting against. Even if they don't do anything unscrupulous, these negative bets make it harder for certain ventures to succeed.
Here's a simple answer to those Republicans: If these tax cuts create jobs, where are the jobs?
In many cases these hedge fund managers owe their wealth to us, the taxpayers who play by the rules, and not to their own business acumen. This account in the New York Times, for example, describes how one of them made billions by betting that the government would rescue banks from their own lousy judgment and bad investments. Now the Republicans are willing to shut down the entire government to protect these 25 people and a few thousand others just like them.
Yesterday we discussed the fact that most Republican voters want to raise taxes on the rich to affect the deficit, and that Democrats have been slow to push this issue. We encouraged you to express your support for this "shared" approach to reducing the deficit. That needs to happen as part of any deficit deal.
So does the closing of this "billionaire's loophole." If the loophole was closed and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were finally ended, in fact, we could cut the defict by another $8.8 billion over the next ten years -- just from these 25 people.
So don't buy the fraud. Encourage your representatives to sign on to the "shared" approach. And imagine: If we can get 25 people to pay their fair share, we can ask everyone else who's profited from our recent miseries to pay their fair share. That's how we can restore the American Dream - one billionaire at a time.
Technical comments: My estimates are based on the assumption that this year's earnings for the top 25 hedge fund managers will hold steady for the next ten years. Their 2010 income was down significantly from previous record highs, but as the portfolios say: Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
I have also assumed, based on previously disclosed information, that most of the money earned by these hedge fund managers falls under the "carried interest" loophole rather than as straight management fees.

Human rights lawyer fights prohibitions over use of WikiLeaks documents

The National Law Journal
July 05, 2011

A lawyer representing a Guantanamo Bay detainee is challenging government prohibitions that restrict access and use of WikiLeaks documents in pending litigation in Washington federal district court.

David Remes of Appeal for Justice, the human rights and civil liberties firm in Maryland, sought permission in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to "view, download, print, copy, disseminate and discuss" WikiLeaks documents.

Remes, who represents a detainee named Saifullah Paracha, wants to respond publicly to government accusations in WikiLeaks documents that he said paint his client "in the most sinister light." Remes filed his application in April.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department issued guidance to lawyers handling habeas cases in Washington federal district court addressing the use of WikiLeaks documents. Private attorneys are allowed to view and discuss WikiLeaks material, DOJ said, but they cannot print, save or disseminate the information.

Remes said in a written response July 1 that the government prohibitions are overbroad.

"Indeed, it appears that counsel may not even take notes as he views the documents, reducing his access to a mere peek," Remes said in court papers.

The distinction the government makes between permitted and prohibited activity, Remes said, is untenable "because all of the activities involve exactly the same information."

Justice Department lawyers said in a recent filing in Washington federal district court that the government will not confirm or deny the authenticity of WikiLeaks documents.

DOJ said the "unfettered" public use of the documents "could be interpreted as confirmation (or denial) of the documents¹ contents by an individual in position of knowledge, with corresponding harm to national security."

Regardless of the government¹s claims, Remes said, the Justice Department "has not shown that allowing habeas counsel to download, print, copy, or disseminate the Wikileaks documents could give rise to any inference of official acknowledgment, or that these activities are different from that standpoint than the activities that are allowed."

"The distinctions," Remes said, "are artificial and the prohibitions are unjustified."

Senior Judge Paul Friedman of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has not ruled on the dispute.

Mike Scarcella can be contacted at

Michelle Bachmann All Christian-y And Bright

Now that Michelle Bachmann has thrown her hat in the ring, the right wing can breathe easy knowing that the "kill a Commie for Christ", God's on our side, Christian-nation mythology of American Exceptionalism has found its Joan of Arc

Zina Saunders, is a genius whose editorial video cartoons are gems of irony.  Her original hymn to MIchelle Bachmann from the Evangelical Right Wing, Jesus loves America crowd,  hits the nail right on the head.  Just what did we fight the  Civil War over, anyway? Refresh my recollection, will ya?

If you appreciate the irony of  Michelle Bachmann's version of American history vs. the real thing, you are gonna love it. Have a look.The words to the hymn are printed below the video so feel  free to sing along:-)


Here we cringe in terror of
The darkness that began
Two years ago when Satan’s army
Marched across our land

Our nation has a sacred mission,
Jesus tells us so,
No commie pinko socialist
Should ever run the show

"Repent!" we cried, "You blasphemer!
Your plan is plain to see
You want to make our kiddies gay
And turn us muslim-y!"

We fought him in state houses
We fought him on the Hill
We cried and lied and kicked our feet
About his healthcare bill   

And so we here beseech you, Lord,
To save us from this fate
Our nation should be Christian-y
And not the devil's state

O look! What doth approacheth!
A vision fierce and bright!
A smile so big and bite-y,
So itchy for a fight!

She it is will leads us!
She's Jesus-y, alright!
It’s Bachmann to the rescue,
All Christian-y and bright.

Obama Administration Shuts Down Investigations Into Bush-era Torture
As part of its cover-up of Bush administration war crimes, the Obama administration announced June 30 that it would shut down 99 investigations into deaths of prisoners in US custody during the so-called “war on terror,” leaving only two investigations with the potential to develop into criminal prosecutions.

The announcement underscores the fact that the anti-democratic policies developed during the presidency of George W. Bush continue unchallenged under President Barack Obama, who is doing everything in his power to keep the lid on the crimes of his predecessor.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration quickly and quietly erected a network of secret prisons and “black sites,” where opponents of US imperialism in the Middle East—as well as, in many cases, their friends, relatives and acquaintances—were jailed, tortured and murdered.

The Obama administration has continued and expanded the anti-democratic methods of the Bush administration, including the use of presidential assassination orders, indefinite detention without trial or charges, blocking court cases that threaten to reveal torture, domestic spying, prosecution of whistle-blowers, “rendition” of alleged terrorists to countries that practice torture, open violations of US and international law, including the War Powers Act in the case of Libya and the Geneva Conventions more generally, and the maintenance of illegal torture camps such as the infamous facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The administration’s 101 investigations into torture deaths were a token measure to begin with. The investigations were initiated in 2009 and were designed to placate popular disgust with torture and other crimes carried out under Bush.

The 101 cases by no means include every death in US custody, and rather conveniently, no case in which the torture victim survived was selected for investigation. The investigations proceeded on the explicit basis that the infamous Bush Justice Department torture memos would not be challenged. Neither would the Bush-era policy of “enhanced interrogation” (a euphemism for torture). The only question that was to be pursued in the investigations was whether the Central Intelligence Agency operatives in the 101 selected death cases had violated Bush administration guidelines. Saddled with such limitations from the outset, the investigations could barely scratch the surface of government-sanctioned war crimes.

Echoing Obama’s mantra of “looking forward, not backward,” Attorney General Holder announced June 30 that 99 of the 101 cases did not warrant further investigation.

“I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us,” remarked Leon Panetta, who left his post as CIA director July 1 to become secretary of defense. “We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency’s history,” he added. Panetta was referring not to closing the chapter in which torture took place, but closing the chapter in which the agency’s practices were subjected to any form of official scrutiny.

While the two ongoing investigations remain officially secret, some details have been leaked to the press. One case involves the murder of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; the other case involves a murder at the secret CIA “Salt Pit” prison in Afghanistan. These two cases are remarkable both for the shocking brutality of the murders themselves as well as for the cold-blooded “business as usual” attitude of the CIA operatives involved.

Only the most depraved intellect could have designed the nightmarish “Salt Pit,” located northeast of the Kabul, Afghanistan airport, in which a young Afghan man named Gul Rahman was murdered on November 20, 2002.

Ghairat Baheer, a physician and son-in-law of an Afghan political figure associated with opposition to the US occupation, survived the Salt Pit and gave a chilling account to the press of the conditions surrounding Rahman’s death. Baheer and Rahman were old friends, and they were abducted by CIA operatives at around the same time in October, 2002. They were taken together to the Salt Pit for “enhanced interrogation.”

The CIA chose an abandoned brick factory for the installation. According to Baheer, an unimaginable stench permeated the Salt Pit, where prisoners were kept in windowless cells with metal buckets for latrines. Prisoners called it the “dark prison” because there were no windows and no electric lights.

Prisoners spent much of their time in total darkness. The CIA operatives running the prison wore full face masks and used medieval-type torches to make their way through the blackness. In many cells, prisoners were shackled naked to the rough walls with metal chains. No expense was spared to ensure maximum ghoulish terror.

Baheer said he was forced to sleep naked on a rough concrete floor next to his latrine bucket, when he was not chained to the wall of his cell. The cell was perpetually dark.

CIA operatives took turns repeatedly torturing the two men. Among the countless horrors, the two men would be tied to chairs, their torturers would sit on their stomachs, threaten to kill them, stage mock executions, beat them, or douse them with water and leave them to freeze naked in the unheated cells.

According to Baheer, Rahman was stubborn and defiant during the interrogations. The details of the events of the morning of November 20, 2002 are still unclear, but it is known that at some point Rahman’s captors stripped him naked below the waist, shackled his hands over his head, brutally beat him, and then doused him with water. Within hours, Rahman had died of hypothermia.

The Salt Pit prison was closed last year after it became the subject of international scrutiny and survivors began to describe to the press the hideous terrors that took place inside. In closing the prison, the CIA no doubt also had in mind the destruction of any physical evidence of the crimes that had been committed there.

The CIA appears overall to have regarded the Salt Pit as a successful operation. According to information leaked to the Associated Press, the CIA Kabul station chief has been promoted at least three times since Rahman’s death.

The second of the two ongoing investigations involves the murder of Manadel al-Jamadi at the hands of CIA operatives in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq on November 4, 2003.

Jamadi, an alleged insurgent, was abducted violently from his house outside Baghdad in 2003 by Navy SEALs—the same feared and secretive military force that has been lauded in the bourgeois media for the murder of Osama Bin Laden. Apparently, Navy SEALs pursued Jamadi into his kitchen, where he made a ferocious last stand, toppling his stove onto one of the SEALs. In retaliation, the SEALs beat him savagely before turning him over to the CIA for interrogation at Abu Ghraib. Naturally, no trial or legal process of any kind was involved in this operation.

Forty-five minutes after he walked into Abu Ghraib, Jamadi was dead. It appears that once he arrived, Jamadi was subjected to further beatings and was chained to the wall, after which he lost consciousness and asphyxiated. Jamadi’s bruised and bloodstained corpse is featured in a number of the infamous Abu Ghraib photos, with grinning US military personnel standing over him and giving the “thumbs up.”

For as yet unexplained reasons, Jamadi’s corpse was packed in ice and stored in a shower in an attempt to prevent decomposition (military officials jokingly referred to him as “the Iceman”), and CIA officials mysteriously attached an intravenous tube to one of his arms before whisking the corpse out of the facility the following day. It appears that not long after Jamadi’s death a heated dispute broke out between the CIA and the Navy SEALs over which organization would take the blame. CIA operatives at Abu Ghraib rapidly moved to destroy all of the evidence of Jamadi’s death, including a bloodstained hood, and they scrubbed clean the death chamber.

While the Rahman and Jamadi murders constitute only the tip of the iceberg, they expose the day-to-day reality of CIA operations in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. The CIA, tasked with discovering and silently “taking out” opponents of the occupations, operates outside the bounds of US and international law. When a federal court ordered the CIA to release 92 video tapes of “enhanced interrogations” in 2005, the CIA responded by destroying the tapes, a brazenly criminal maneuver for which no official to this day has been prosecuted.

The decision by the Obama administration to shut down virtually all of its investigations is a clear signal that the war crimes will continue. Indeed, in the bourgeois press, Holder’s announcement last Thursday was generally interpreted as a green light from the Obama administration to resume and escalate the practice of torture and murder of political opponents in the Middle East. The headline of an article in the Washington Post read, “Could Torture Make a Comeback?”

A deeply reactionary and chilling editorial in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Vindicating the CIA: Ending a Disgraceful Investigation,” went further. Gloating over Holder’s announcement, the editors declared, “The disgrace is that this probe was ever undertaken.”

The editors continued, “The probe has still done considerable harm by creating a culture of second-guessing and political retribution that CIA operatives must now consider as they try to protect against terror threats.” Translated from the euphemistic language of the so-called “war on terror” into plain English, this means that the intelligence agencies should be permitted to go about the grisly work of torturing and murdering their enemies in secret without any restrictions or oversight whatsoever.

The fact that this view enjoys wide support within the ruling class should be taken as a dire warning. How will this same ruling class respond to the development of a popular movement within the US that directly challenges its interests?

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