politics

why the people of Baltimore don't trust cops

I've previously touched on the malfeasance that runs rampant in the Baltimore City police department -- thousands of meritless arrests made each year, the lack of public trust in the force, incidents like people being arrested for asking for directions.

But if you need the most vivid possible example of why, as a general rule, no one can or should trust city cops, the off-duty Baltimore City cop who killed an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon nightclub Saturday morning -- firing at him thirteen times -- is about as clear an illustration of what sort of scum all too often manages to get hired onto the force as could ever be provided.

Tyrone Brown was a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq and came home safely, only to find that the city police harbored a violent lunatic, Gahiji Tshamba -- a 15 year BCPD veteran -- who would prove more of a threat than Iraqi insurgents.

Brown apparently made a pass at a woman accompanying Tshamba, and the two had words. Tshamba pulled out his city-issued sidearm and fired 13 times from close range, striking Brown with six bullets.

Now, here's the best part: Tshamba was "disciplined" by police department five years ago for shooting a man while intoxicated. That's right: a Baltimore cop shot a man while drunk and they let him keep his job. The BCPD's line was that the earlier shooting was justified because Tshamba was threatened; if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you.

Of course not all city cops are as insane as Tshamba. But too many are willing to cover up for the true scumbags, and too many are willing to engage in less serious abuses.

Israeli forces attacked relief ship in the middle of the night with stun grenades and tear gas

The May 31 episode of the CBC's As It Happens (available as streaming WMA or MP3 download) features an interview with Mark Regev, official spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regarding the recent attack on the relief convoy headed to Gaza, which reports say killed between 9 and 19 people. In this interview (around 14:20 in the MP3 file) Regev admits that the Israeli special forces team assaulting the ship in the middle of the night opened fire with stun grenades, tear gas, and smoke grenades before boarding.

Regev considers firing on a civilian ship in international waters with these less-lethal weapons "restrained", which shows just how far out of line Israel's behavior has become.

background on Israel's naval terror attack

If you're trying to figure out how the hell we got to the point where Israel is attacking ships in international waters like some crazed nation of pirates, killing at least nine and kidnapping hundreds of people, and stealing relief supplies intended for one of the most desperate regions on the planet, here is some background reading:

  • the title of the Guardian's article, "Israel's Gaza blockade targets Hamas while citizens suffer", pretty much sums it up:

    The blockade, preventing all exports from Gaza and confining imports to a limited supply of humanitarian goods, has failed to bring down Hamas but has heaped misery on Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

    The UN humanitarian co-ordinator said last week that the formal economy in Gaza has "collapsed" and 60% of households were short of food. According to UN statistics, around 70% of Gazans live on less than $1 a day, 75% rely on food aid and 60% have no daily access to water.

  • the wik's article on the Gaza blockade:

    On January 24, 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a statement calling for Israel to lift its siege on the Gaza Strip, allow the continued supply of food, fuel, and medicine, and reopen border crossings. According to the Jerusalem Post, this was the 15th time in less than two years the council condemned Israel for its human rights record regarding the Palestinian territories. The proceedings were boycotted by Israel and the United States.

    On December 15, 2008, following a statement in which he described the embargo on Gaza a crime against humanity, United Nations Special Rapporteur and member of the 9/11 truth movement Richard A. Falk was prevented from entering the Palestinian territories by Israeli authorities and expelled from the region. The Ambassador to the United Nations Itzhak Levanon said that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was "hopelessly unbalanced," "redundant at best and malicious at worst."

    In August 2009, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay criticised Israel for the blockade in a 34-page report, calling it a violation of the rules of war.

    In March 2010, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that the blockade of Gaza is causing "unacceptable suffering" and that families were living in "unacceptable, unsustainable conditions".

    A UN Fact Finding mission lead by South African Judge Richard Goldstone suggested that the blockade was a war crime and possibly a crime against humanity:

    "Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed." The Goldstone report recommended that the matter be referred to the International Criminal Court if the situation has not improved in six months.

    In May 2010, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that the formal economy in Gaza has collapsed since the imposition of the blockade.

  • the BBC's guide "Gaza under blockade":

    Overall, the UN says the blockade has caused the economy "irreversible damage". Unemployment has soared from 30% in 2007 to 40% in 2008, according to the World Bank, though it dropped slightly in early 2010. The UN says that when aid is discounted, 70% of Gazan families live on less than a dollar a day per person.

    ...

    Before the blockade, 3,900 industrial premises were operating, employing 35,000 people - by June 2008, only 90 were still functioning, employing only 860, according to the Palestinian Trade Center. The situation improved slightly during the truce.

    An estimated total of $140m of damage was done to Gaza businesses during the December and January military operation, according to a Palestinian business body, the Palestinian Private Sector Coordinating Council.

The facts of this latest incident are not yet clear. But if, after decades of new coverage slanted in favor of Israel, you find it hard to believe that the IDF would attack an aid ship, you ought to read about how they murdered peace activist Rachel Corrie while destroying Palestinian homes, and read about and see the video of Palestinian farmers taking fire from Israeli troops.

perhaps the safest car ever build -- killed by the Reagan administration

Imagine, if you will, a four-passenger small car that got 32 mpg and could withstand a 50 mph impact -- front or side -- with only minimal injuries to passengers. Pretty cool, huh? A great counter-argument to bozos who claim that only massive gas-guzzlers can be safe.

Now imagine that such a car was built in the 1970s. By federal government contractors.

Jalopnik has the story of Minicar's Research Safety Vehicles, advanced prototypes that the Carter administration's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created to demonstrate to automakers what was possible in auto safety and build the car of the future -- 1985. They "looked like an AMC Pacer worked over by the set designers of Battlestar Galactica" (original series, obviously) and featured run-flat tires, anti-lock brakes with crash-sensing radar, and dual-stage airbags. These were build by 1979, let me repeat.

With coming of the stupid ages -- a.k.a. the Reagan era -- the RSV's went the way of the solar panels on the White House roof, and our auto industry was set from from government meddling and pressure to make products that would get fewer of us killed:

Like other American inventions such as the VCR, the lithium-ion battery and David Hasselhoff, many of the RSV's technologies only prospered overseas. Anti-lock brakes and air bags were standard on European cars first; Japanese automakers put the first crash-sensing brake system on the market in 2003, nearly 25 years after the RSV sported it. Yet those five-star ratings from NHTSA that have become standard for front crash safety in U.S. cars come from tests at 35 mph, still 15 mph shy of the RSV bar.

Last year, traffic deaths fell to their lowest level since 1961 at 33,963, after remaining stuck at roughly 40,000 for decades, in part because a modern car has more in common with the RSVs than ever before. With smaller cars, tougher fuel rules and bigger worries about oil on the horizon, that 1985 target date for the program may have been set about 30 years too early.

The Bush I era NHTSB eventually destroyed the RSV prototypes -- to "destroy[] the evidence that you could do much better," suggests Minicars's project manager Don Friedman. Turns out, though, that they didn't succeed; two of the prototypes were still in Minicars' possession.

a tale of two videos: one by activists, one by corporate shills

Two interesting "undercover" videos came my way today. The first is from activist group Mercy For Animals, and shows workers at an Ohio dairy farm abusing cows and young calves, including stabbing cows in the face, legs and stomach with pitchforks, and kicking injured "downed" cows -- abuse carried out and encouraged by the farm's owner.

Does this represent every dairy farm? Of course not. Most make at least some effort to be humane.

(Though there's a sharp limit on how humane you can be in the production of milk in industrial quantities, since you have to keep the dairy cows giving birth to keep the milk flowing; those calves mostly end up as beef and veal, and there's no retirement plan for old dairy cows once they are no longer economically viable milk producers. The natural life span of a cow is 15 to 20 years, but a typical dairy cow (conventional or organic) only lives four to six years before she's slaughtered and ends up as sausages and pet food. Still, I believe the level of cruelty seen in this video would sicken most dairy farmers.)

Not everyone likes the fact that cruelties like this get exposed. Some in the industries that profit from animal abuse would like to "shoot the messenger". Thus, the second animal-abuse related video -- or, supposed animal-abuse related video -- that came my way today: a claimed exposé of the Humane Society of the United States's (HSUS) Duchess Horse Sanctuary, by a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom.

Now, I've sent money to HSUS before, so I was anxious to see if my donations were being misused. What did I see in this exposé? Horses being beaten? Starving, diseased animals? No. I saw some horses in a muddy field, with captions that suggest that this is the entirety of the sanctuary. I've camped out in fields that were almost as bad after enough rain. (Squishwood!)

In point of fact, the Duchess Sanctuary is an 1,120-acre facillity; a video that shows that that an area of perhaps a half an acre is muddy on some day in February (a fairly rainy month in the Eugene, Oregon area, is not exactly damning.

So, I asked myself, what's up with this "Center for Consumer Freedom"? And with a little Google-fu, I had my unsurprising answer: shills. The "Center for Consumer Freedom", the group behind this video, is an front group for the restaurant, meat, alcohol, and tobacco industries, who's primary strategy is to "shoot the messenger" and attempt to discredit any groups -- such as the HSUS -- that criticize these industries.

According to SourceWatch:

AZ threatens to cut off power to LA, then learns CA owns a bunch of its power plants

Like many cities and states across the U.S., Los Angeles is threatening an economic boycott of Arizona over its recently passed immigration law -- a law which can only have an effect if Arizona cops engage in racial profiling.

In response, Gary Pierce, a commissioner of the state's public-utility-regulating "Arizona Corporation", threatened the mayor of LA, "If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives any power from Arizona-based generation."

Mayor Villaraigosa stood up to the threat and said he would "not respond to threats from a state which has isolated itself from the America that values freedom, liberty and basic civil rights". But the threat turned out to be toothless: not only does the Corporation not have the authority to cut off the power supply, it turns out that that California owns several of Arizona's power plants.

Whoops.

Maybe California should turn out Arizona's power until the lights get dim enough that brown and white and black people all look the same.

ordering a vegetarian in-flight meal as a terrorist red flag

The Daily Mail reports that British police secretly investigated the backgrounds of 47,000 flyers last year, people who were singled out for attention by a 1.2 billion pound "terrorist detector" system. The system has never led to the arrest of a terrorist, and is now used to target "sex offenders and football hooligans". One of its red flags for potential terrorists: ordering a vegetarian meal.

White Flight II: Back to the Cities?

The Times of India reports on a Brookings Institution analysis of 2000-2008 census data, which shows a trend of suburban populations becoming more poor and ethnically minority; while younger, educated white folks are moving to cities for jobs. Sure, suburbs still are mostly white, but now there are more Asian, Hispanic, and African Americans outside of cities than inside them.

the War on (Some) Drugs: 40 years of utter and abject failure

The Associated Press reports on the 40th anniversary of the "War on Drugs", first declared by Nixon in 1970.

Nixon's initial WoD budget was $100 million; today's is $15.1 billion -- in inflation-adjusted terms, 31 times Nixon's amount. Over those 40 years, we've spent over $570 billion -- that $570,000,000,000, or over $1,800 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. -- just to arrest and imprison over 37 million nonviolent drug offenders. We've also spent billions on foreign interdiction, border enforcement, and anti-drug propaganda.

And according to Justice Department estimate, the consequences of our failed drug policy -- "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" -- cost us $215 billion each and every year. Says Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron, "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use, but it's costing the public a fortune."

The global trade in illegal drugs is $320 billion annually -- 1 percent of the global economy. Ten percent of Mexico's economy is built on drug proceeds, which ought to explain why the country is in, and will remain in, utter chaos.

Think Obama -- who has admitted to cannabis and cocaine use, and who at one point said he favored eliminating criminal penalties for cannabis use or possession -- will change things? Nope. He is requesting a record $15.5 billion for the drug war for 2011, and according to Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, "President Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush's, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention...despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

Drug prohibition is an utter and complete failure, and its end cannot come swiftly enough.

Tom Paine on property, justice, and taxes

"Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.

"This is putting the matter on a general principle, and perhaps it is best to do so; for if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence." -- Tom Paine, Agrarian Justice

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