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Civil Rights / Liberties


17 Years and still brutal and corrupt: Feds Rediscover Police Brutality in City of Brotherly Love...er...in Beat City

By Linn Washington, Jr.


The report slammed the Philadelphia Police Department for its historically flawed use of fatal force, directed primarily at non-whites, underscoring a repeated finding that Philadelphia’s Police Department has long owned one of the worst reputations of any police department in the United States.

A world gone mad: Fear of Terrorism is Making Us Crazy, Especially in the US

By Dave Lindorff


When I lived in China, there was a story going ‘round about a China Airlines flight in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had left the cockpit and then, on their return, found the door locked. They reportedly got a fire ax, and with the whole planeload of freaked out passengers watching, started wailing at the door. The co-pilot then turned, and seeing the panic developing, calmly drew the curtain across the aisle, hiding their work from view. The axe bashing continued until they broke the latch and got back to the controls. 

Half a century and nothing’s changed: US Refuses to Seriously Tackle Police Brutality and Racism

By Linn Washington, Jr.


The report released in early March by a panel President Obama appointed to examine serious shortcomings in police practices across America, including the shooting of unarmed people, mostly non-white, listed problems and proposed solutions that are hauntingly similar to those found in a report on police abuses released 47 years ago by another presidential panel.

Ubiquitous doll is now an information-gathering device Barbie the Spy!

By Alfredo Lopez


For many people reading this, there are at least two concepts that will offend.

Possibility of Escape

By Kathy Kelly

That is also us, the possibility of us, if the wonderful accident of our birth had taken place elsewhere: you could be the refugee, I could be the torturer. To face that truth is also our burden. After all, each of us has been the bystander, the reasonable person who just happens not to hear, not to speak, not to see those people, the invisible ones, those who live on the other side of the border.

- Karen Connelly, The Lizard Cage

It was a little over two weeks ago that Marlo entered Atwood Hall, here in Lexington federal prison. Nearly all the women here are nonviolent offenders. When I first saw Marlo, her eyes seemed glued to the tiled floors as she shuffled along hallways. I guessed her age to be 25 or so. A few days later, she came to a choir rehearsal. She was still shy, but she looked up and offered a quiet smile when she joined the soprano section. The next time our choir gathered, Marlo raised her hand before we ended our rehearsal. "I got something to say," she said, as she stood. "When I first came here, I can tell all of you now, I was terrified. Just plain terrified. I have 70 months, and I felt so scared." The intake process for this, her introduction to the prison system, had badly frightened her, but before sundown that same day, a second intake process had occurred, with several inmates finding her, reassuring her, and getting her beyond that first panic. 

During my four stints in U.S. federal prisons, I've witnessed long-term inmates' unconquerably humane response when a newcomer arrives. An unscripted choreography occurs and the new prisoner finds that other women will help her through the trauma of adjustment to being locked up for many months or years. Halfway through a three-month sentence myself, I'm saddened to realize that I'll very likely adapt to an outside world for which these women, and prisoners throughout the U.S. prison system, are often completely invisible. 

U.S. state and federal prison populations have risen, since 1988, from 600,000 to an estimated 1,600,000 in 2012. This trend shows inhumane behavior on the part of lawmakers and myriads of employees who benefit from the so-called "criminal justice" system. But our entire society bears responsibility for what now can aptly be labeled a "prison-industrial complex." Constructing prisons and filling prisons with people who posed little or no threat to our security didn't happen secretively, without our consent. We watched, mesmerized perhaps, and allowed ourselves to become a country with the world's largest prison system. 

A friend from home recently sent me encouraging news of Illinois Governor Rauner's initiative to address the problems in some of the United States' most brutally overcrowded prisons. A Chicago Tribune article from several weeks ago notes that Rauner plans to reduce the state's prison population by 25% over the next ten years, establishing the reduction as a goal through executive order.  The article, by columnist Eric Zorn, cites a widely-cited recent report by the Vera Institute of Justice that "nearly 75% of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent offenses like traffic, property, drugs or public order violations." 

Skyrocketing costs of incarceration have finally convinced some lawmakers to work toward "reducing prison populations." Yesterday, I read a long report about how the California Department of Corrections has responded to a court-ordered demand that the state reduce the numbers of people locked up in California state prisons. The order was first issued in 2009 by a three-judge panel. The state appealed the order, but in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it, ordering the state of California to comply by 2013. The California government sought and was granted two extensions. As of now, the order insists that California must reduce its prison population, by 2016, to "no more than 137.5 percent of the design capacity" of its state prisons.

Whatever plans Gov. Rauner's committee proposes for Illinois, the notoriously incarceration-minded Illinois state legislature is likely to put up just as vigorous a fight. Meanwhile the California report discusses "cost-effective measures," "recidivism reduction results," "rehabilitative programming" and "programming slots" at "in-state contract facilities." The language, highly impersonal, suggests warehousing. I wonder if zookeepers might be more attentive to the individuality of the beings they cage. 

Trapped in a cruel and uncaring system, women here in Atwood Hall reliably find humane ways to cope. Among many signs of daily generosity, one of my favorites is the practice of "window shopping." Women place extra items they can spare in the window sills nearest the stairwells. A new prisoner can find new fresh socks, a warm knit cap, books, magazines, pitchers – items that quickly disappear and are soon replenished.

Perhaps we'll begin to see a trend toward finding humane ways to cope with seemingly intractable problems in today's criminal justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court's insistence that the State of California must release many thousands of prisoners signals a trend in which, as Gov. Rauner's order recognizes, "States across the country have enacted bi-partisan, data driven and evidence based reforms that have reduced the use of incarceration and its costs while protecting and improving public safety." Zorn notes that the Mac Arthur Foundation recently granted $75 million for a 5 year "Safety and Justice Challenge" meant "to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about its prisons and jails."

I can't imagine a figure too high to pay, in dollars or in human work hours, to effectively challenge the way U.S. people think about safety and justice. In describing a class that he taught in a New Jersey maximum-security prison, Chris Hedges wrote:

The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.

Here in Atwood Hall, guards and administrators know that they imprison humane, caring, generous and talented women, people not very different from their own relatives, friends and co-workers. Where are the "bad sisters" that could ever justify the punishment of isolating women like Marlo from their children and other loved ones for long and wearying years? I imagine that many BOP guards admire, as I do, the courage and fortitude of the women facing long sentences here. Do they wonder, sometimes, what courage would be required, in their own lives, to stop working as enforcers of the prison system?  Or do they perhaps wish, sometimes, that the general public could muster up the will to stop voting for the prison system?

There is a cynical quote which a cynical friend of mine likes to quote to me, from the philosopher David Hume: "A prisoner who has neither money nor interest, discovers the impossibility of his escape, as well when he considers the obstinacy of the gaoler, as the walls and bars with which he is surrounded; and, in all attempts for his freedom, chooses rather to work upon the stone and iron of the one, than upon the inflexible nature of the other." It's the cliché of the prisoner attempting escape: the prisoner sees more hope tunneling out through bricks than appealing to the stone-faced jailer. 

But who are the jailers? These prisons were built, and filled, in our name - in the name of making us "safer". More guards, more lawyers, judges, wardens, marshals, probation officers and court personnel would be hired even if the present ones resigned. Meanwhile the creative work to create real security, real community in the face of social dislocation and crime, would still need to be done. We, the broader public, must be the jailers. Sometimes we seem to be a stone rolling down the path of least resistance. But we're not stone. We can choose not to be jailers, and choose, instead, to be ever more inflexible in our resistance to injustice and to hatred born of fear. 

I'm here among women, some of whom, I've been told, are supposed to be "hardened criminals." Fellow activists incarcerated in men's prisons likewise concur that the system is futile, merciless and wrongheaded. Our jailers, I'm convinced, can see this. Men like Governor Rauner, it seems, can see it, or his advisers can. Where are the inflexible ones keeping women like Marlo isolated from and lost to the world, trembling for their future for the next five years? I would like to make an appeal to you, and to myself two months from now when I've left here and once more rejoined the polite society of these women's "inflexible jailers." I choose to believe that we can be moved and these women can escape. I am writing this, as many have written and will write, to see if we're easier to move than iron and stone.

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (info@vcnv.org), is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.

Another TSA agent charged with child sex abuse

 

Today we have news of yet another TSA agent arrested for child sexual abuse. 


Well, why not? So many of his colleagues are in the same boat, at least the ones who have been caught.


Bill Binney honored for not being "sheepishly submissive"

Honoring NSA's Binney and Amb. White

Editor Note:  In our age of careerism, it’s rare for high-ranking officials to sacrifice their powerful posts for principle, but that was what NSA’s William Binney and the late U.S. Ambassador Robert White did. Their sacrifices and integrity were honored by likeminded former government officials in Berlin on January 22, 2015.

By Ray McGovern

Phony baloney: Picking Apart Obama's "Progressive" State of the Union Speech

By Dave Lindorff


There were two times Republicans broke into fervent applause during this lame duck president's seventh State of the Union speech: the first was when he called for passage of "fast track" authority to negotiate and send to the Senate a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact -- basically a NAAFTA for the Pacific region; the second was when he noted that he "won't be running for president again."

Fake plots get busted, real ones get a pass: The FBI’s Dubious Record on Prosecuting Terror Plots

By Dave Lindorff

 

            If you’re planning to commit an act of terror in the US and want to be left alone by the FBI, make sure your target is something, or someone, that the US government doesn’t like or care about.

 

‘A bizarre excursion into the surreal’: Is the Islamic State Really Such a Psychological Enigma?

By John Grant


By all means let’s mourn together; but let’s not be stupid together.
                -Susan Sontag


The costly debacle known as the Iraq War put the US government in a tough spot that's now exacerbated by the rise of the Islamic State in Anbar Province and western Syria.

The demise of mainstream journalism, Chapter II: Philadelphia Inquirer Pimps for Philly Cop Chief

By Dave Lindorff


When I was starting out as a reporter back in 1972, working for a little family-owned daily, the Middletown Press in central Connecticut, I had editors and a publisher who demanded the best from us. If I was covering a story -- whether it was a police blotter report, a town meeting, or a controversial decision by a local zoning board -- and I failed to ask an important question, I inevitably got a call from the editor telling me to get it answered and inserted into my article.

New TCBH! poem by Gary Lindorff: 'Grinding my Ax'

By Gary Lindorff

 

My ax is grinding
All by itself!
I can hear it giving itself to the grinding wheel
Every day when I wake up,
Most nights when I go to bed.
 
I am just grinding it.
 
What would I use it for?
To cut down my enemies to size?
To swing against the foundations of the NSA?
To destroy the diabolical machinery
That is excavating the tarsands in Alberta?
To obliterate all the missiles and missile silos...


Marketing Madness: Americans See Selves as Freedom’s Heroes as They Flock to Watch a Lousy Comedy

By Dave Lindorff


Is it just me or does anyone else think like me that this whole uproar over the supposed foreign “threat” to Americans’ freedom in the form of warnings against showing a low-brow Hollywood comedy, “The Interview” is a pathetic farce?


I couldn't tell you about it and couldn't tell you why: ‘Gagged’ by the Government: a Police State Story

By Alfredo Lopez


For the past three months, I and other leaders of the organization May First/People Link have been under a federal subpoena to provide information we don't have. During that time, we have also been forbidden by a federal court "gag order" to tell anyone about that subpoena, although we had already announced it and commented on it before the order was sent. Finally, we were forbidden from telling anyone about the gag order itself.

America claims black lives matter, but police killings suggest they don’t

by Stephanie Tang             Black lives matter! To carry this message, hundreds of thousands of protesters have flooded into America’s streets, outraged by the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the non-indictment of his killer. We shut down freeways and bridges coast to coast, stopping traffic, holiday shopping, Grand Central Station and other business as usual.

Exposing the FBI

Review of The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 596 pages. Notes, Index. Hardcover $29.95; paperback $16.95).

Like Canada's Harper Government, Obama Administration Muzzling Its Scientists

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

In recent years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for disallowing scientists working for the Canadian government to speak directly to the press

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State

An article published in August by The New Republic said "Harper's antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans," pointing to similar deeds done by the George W. Bush Administration. That article also said that "Bush's replacement," President Barack Obama, "has reversed course" in this area.

Society for Professional Journalists, the largest trade association for professional journalists in the U.S., disagrees with this conclusion. 

In a December 1 letter written to Gina McCarthy, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the society chided the Obama administration for its methods of responding to journalists' queries to speak to EPA-associated scientists. 

"We write to urge you again to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency," said the letter.

"We urge you...to ensure that EPA advisory committee members are encouraged share their expertise and opinions with those who would benefit from it."

I’ve had it!: Eleven Reasons I’m Ashamed to be an American Citizen

By Dave Lindorff

 

I’m going to say it: I am ashamed to be a US citizen. This doesn’t come easily, because having lived abroad and seen some pretty nasty places in my time, I know there are a lot of great things about this country, and a lot of great people who live here, but lately, I’ve reached the conclusion that the US is a sick and twisted country, in which the bad far outweighs the good. 

 

I’ve had it!: Eleven Reasons I’m Ashamed to be an American Citizen

By Dave Lindorff

 

I’m going to say it: I am ashamed to be a US citizen. This doesn’t come easily, because having lived abroad and seen some pretty nasty places in my time, I know there are a lot of great things about this country, and a lot of great people who live here, but lately, I’ve reached the conclusion that the US is a sick and twisted country, in which the bad far outweighs the good. 

 

Black, White, Racism and ‘Law Enforcement’

               The murder of black men by white police officers is nothing new in the United States. The fact that the media is taking notice is what is newsworthy. Despite Civil Rights laws enacted decades ago, racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of U.S. society.


                The recent cases of Eric Gardner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,  victims of horrendous cruelty and murder, only received coverage due to the outrage their deaths, and the almost immediate impunity their killers received, caused across the nation. But is white police brutality against blacks something new? Anecdotal evidence presented here indicates that that is hardly the case.

Three Rotten Cases and Counting: Is the Police Reform Movement Getting Legs?

By John Grant


How and why certain events in politics and culture coalesce into a critical mass is always an interesting thing to ponder. Sometimes it can happen when all hope has been lost.

No more grand juries: Coercive 13th Century Relics, They Serve the Political Interests of DAs, not Justice

By Dave Lindorff

 

         In case people didn’t get it earlier, it’s time to recognize that the ancient institution of the grand jury has outlived its usefulness, and should be eliminated, as its only real purpose today is to give prosecutors political cover and an added cudgel with which to  intimidate witnesses.

 

WRI: Prisoners for Peace Day

1st December is Prisoners for Peace Day. For over 60 years, War Resisters' International have, on this day, made known the names and stories of those imprisoned because of their actions for peace. Many are conscientious objectors, in gaol for refusing to join the military. Others have taken nonviolent actions to disrupt preparation for war.

This day is a chance for you to demonstrate your support for those individuals and their movements, by writing to those whose freedom has been taken away from them because of their work for peace.

While WRI has a permanent Prisoners for Peace list, which we make a special effort to update for Prisoners for Peace Day on December 1st.

Coming next -- Year-round worker protests at Walmart: Walmart Black Friday Strikes Become a Thanksgiving Holiday Tradition

By Jess Guh


Yesterday marked the third annual Black Friday protests and strikes at Walmart, the largest private employer in this country.  The Walton family, controlling owners of the company, is America’s richest family, with holdings valued at almost $150 billion dollars.  For decades, Walmart has remained an employer powerhouse based upon a business model of low wages, poor benefits and union busting.


It’s not about justice, it’s winning convictions: Prosecutors Falsely Push Prison Term for Innocent Teen

By Linn Washington Jr.

 

Nasheeba Adams was both ecstatic and sad as she stood outside of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center courthouse recently hugging her son Tomayo McDuffy.

DC Book Event: Locked Down, Locked Out, With Maya Schenwar

Sign up here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/934711959890012/

Thursday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m.
Southern Hospitality, 1815 Adams Mill Road NW, Washington, DC 20009

Join us to celebrate the release of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better! by Maya Schenwar.

Maya will read from her book and discuss the impacts of prison on families and communities -- and how people around the country are taking action to create a world beyond prison.

Event is cosponsored by Truthout and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

What people are saying about Locked Down, Locked Out:

"This book has the power to transform hearts and minds, opening us to new ways of imagining what justice can mean for individuals, families, communities, and our nation as a whole. I turned the last page feeling nothing less than inspired."
--Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

"Maya Schenwar's stories about prisoners, their families (including her own), and the thoroughly broken punishment system are rescued from any pessimism such narratives might inspire by the author's brilliant juxtaposition of abolitionist imaginaries and radical political practices."
--Angela Davis, author of Are Prisons Obsolete?

When expediency calls for principles: Obama on Net Neutrality: Principle or Politics?

By Alfredo Lopez

 

The week before last, our President made a pronouncement on Net Neutrality that pleasantly surprised activists and won him favorable coverage in the newspapers: both rare outcomes these days.

Talk Nation Radio: Maya Schenwar on Why Prison Doesn't Work

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-maya-schenwar-on-why-prison-doesnt-work

Maya Schenwar is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. She discusses the book, what to do about prison, and her own family's experience. She is also the editor-in-chief of Truthout. She mentions this article during the show: http://davidswanson.org/node/4583

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Do Wars Really Defend America's Freedom?

U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America’s wars have defended America’s freedom.  But the historical record doesn’t bear out this contention.  In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.

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