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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

swatteam(Photo: US Army)

Truthout has run several articles on the militarization of the police in the United States. In addition, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a column by Jim Hightower this week called "The Militarization of 'Officer Friendly.'" 

The reason that Truthout and BuzzFlash have been exposing this dangerous development on a continuous basis is that the militarization of policing in the United States is multifaceted and cancerous to democracy.

As a Washington Postreport on June 26 by Radley Balko reveals, the majority of Massachusetts SWAT teams will not respond to public information transparency requests. Why? Because they claim that they are private and not government organizations. If this appears incomprehensible and unacceptable, it is. However, for the moment, the Massachusetts SWAT teams are using this argument to evade responding to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been conducting a nationwide study of police militarization. The SWAT teams in the Bay State claim that they are not subject to requirements under public record laws. 

How, might you ask, can law enforcement agencies with military-style units claim that they are not government agencies? Balko, who has written the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, offers this explanation:

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDroneReaper(Photo: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)In our growing reliance on armed drones as instruments of war, how slippery is the slope we're sliding on? Imagine that Vladimir Putin began using drones to kill Ukrainians who opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea. If Putin claimed the targets were "members of anti-Russian terrorist groups," what credibility would the United States have to condemn such strikes?

This scenario is outlined in a chilling new report released Thursday by a bipartisan panel of military experts. The use of drones against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, begun by the George W. Bush administration and greatly expanded by President Obama, risks becoming "a long-term killing program based on secret rationales," the report warns.

In the hypothetical Ukraine example, the world would demand proof that the individuals killed were indeed terrorists. The report notes that "Russia could simply repeat the words used by U.S. officials defending U.S. targeted killings, asserting that it could not provide any evidence without disclosing sources and methods."

The report was commissioned by the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, and written by a panel that no one would consider a bunch of woolly-headed pacifists. Co-chairs of the group are retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former head of U.S. Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor. Included are former defense and intelligence officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

quadcop(Photo: Kevin Baird)

Much of the outrage about drone use has been directed at the targeted murders authorized by President Obama, along with the "collateral damage" deaths of countless civilians in the Middle East.  Add to that other killing expeditions of CIA drones and the outrage has risen, at least among US advocates who care about the sanctioned assassinations of the US government.

However, it should also be of concern to the US public that there is a growing use of "hobby" and current commercial (although illegal use) of much smaller drones fitted with cameras that can spy into every aspect of your visible daily life. If you want to know how easily available these drones that have a camera with high-resolution telescopic lens capabilities are to obtain, just go to ebay, for example.

Posted for sale at this eBay url is the "DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter WiFI Camera Drone for Aerial Photography" (new at $499, includes free shipping).  The page also includes more expensive models that have longer range, longer flying time and include video capabilities. For example, take a look at the $1,190 Phantom 2 Vision model. It includes such capabilities as:

The DJI Vision App for iOS and Android smartphones provides many functions apart from just FPV monitoring, such as telemetry of vital flight stats including remaining battery and number of GPS satellites and a radar scope to help avoid collisions. It also features full camera control, letting you set parameters such as camera tilt, ISO, Shutter Speed, White balance as well as set video start/stop and take photos. Once recorded, photos and video footage can be downloaded directly to the phone allowing them to be shared on Facebook, Instagram or other social media networks, even while the Quadcopter is still in the air.

The control capabilities for filming and photography are extremely advanced, including the ability to tilt the camera lens, zoom in several hundred feet and rotate the camera range. Personally, I have seen the images of one of these drones that went over an island and zoomed down (via a telescopic lens) on a memorial plaque from the sky and the inscription was crisply visible in the video that ended up on YouTube.

Thursday, 26 June 2014 09:25

The Loathsome Legacy of Dick Cheney

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCheneySucks(Photo: Magnus Manske)As I started thinking about what I was going to say about Dick Cheney this time around, I also started thinking about how many times in my time with BuzzFlash have I written about one aspect or another of the man's political and policy being. It added up to quite a few. Indeed I have devoted more column space to Cheney than I have to any other US politician, living or dead. The topics have included the CheneyBush war policy in Iraq, "What Cheney is Really About," "Cheney and the Iraq "Surge," the Dick Cheney Torture Defense, Cheney and "bombing the Constitution," what I called [the pernicious legacy of Cheneyism, the permanence of Permanent War (which is the centrepiece of the Cheney Doctrine), and what I called "The Incredible Lightness of Dick Cheney," that is how cleverly the man has been able to get away with everything he has gotten away with. And there were others too.

So all of that on Dick Cheney. "My-oh-my," I said to myself, "how come so many?" The conclusion that I have come to is that Dick Cheney has in fact been the most important U.S. politician and overall policy-maker of the first 14 years of the 21st century. And just now, once again, he has come to the defense of himself and the policies that he has made in his now-famous diatribe against President Obama published recently. It was entitled "The Collapsing Obama Doctrine: Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

Indeed, rarely has a former Vice-President so bitterly and viciously attacked a sitting US President, a President who just happens to have two very serious foreign policy crises on his hands, in Ukraine and the Middle East. But Cheney is very worried about his legacy. He is very worried about the political future of the one daughter that he has who might, despite her recent bitter loss in Wyoming, be able to carry it on for him. (He is obviously grooming her to be the next Cheney standard bearer on the Republican Right, even to the extent of allowing her to publicly dis her own gay sister and her sister's family.) But most important is what Cheney, as perhaps the most prominent representative of the currently dominant sector of the US ruling class, is so concerned about in terms of national policy. If you want to embody what has become the Military-Industrial-Fossil-Fuels Complex in one person, Cheney is as good as any other. He is fighting very hard to maintain its present hammerlock on the political economy of the United States.

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMarinesIraqKoehler(Photo: Lance Corporal Kevin C. Quihuis Jr.)The video opens with a few bars of adrenalin-pumping music. We see a topsy-turvy camera angle, sky, trees, darkness, then a staccato pop pop pop that blends rhythmically with the music, but of course it's gunfire, lots of gunfire, followed by a few urgent words in Arabic, then English. "Down here! Down here!"

This chaotic excitement is Iraq, the evening's International Hot Spot, brought to us by ABC. It's the news, but it's also reality TV and big league sports, rolled into an entertainment package of shocking cluelessness. OMG, ISIS is on the move. It's winning. Stay tuned!

Iraq, Iraq. This is a disaster stamped "made in USA." Worse than that. It's a bleeding stump of a nation that we destroyed in our pursuit of empire, at the cost of multi-trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands or perhaps a million Iraqi lives, and spiritual and physical damage to American troops so profound a new phrase had to be coined: moral injury. And now, our official, moneyed media serve up what's left of Iraq to us as geopolitical entertainment: the moderates (our guys, sort of) vs. the insurgents. Go, U.S.-trained troops! Stand tough and die for American interests, OK?

Of course, as the Washington Post reported earlier this month: "Fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda offshoot, overran the western bank of the city (of Mosul) overnight after U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers and police officers abandoned their posts, in some instances discarding their uniforms as they sought to escape the advance of the militants."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

adissent 1(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

The unsparingly caustic Charles P. Pierce recently identified the dominant political culture in the United States as one of cruelty. In his Esquire blog on June 20, Pierce zeroed in on the rise of schadenfreude as the current national pastime:

There is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our daily lives, in how we relate to each other, and in how we treat our fellow citizens, and, therefore, there is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our politics as well....

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled -- until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

A large segment of the public responds to political campaigns that - often in coded language - vilify and blame those who are in economically distressed circumstances. It is the most selfish of cruelties: justifying one's heartlessness and venom by accusing those in need of deserving their condition.

This self-righteous malice is also used to stifle dissent. Take, for instance, the reaction of the North Carolina legislature, which responded to the principled challenge mounted by Moral Mondays - in which crowds seeking to restore compassion to government protested at the state capitol – by passing a prohibition on "imminent disturbances" earlier this year.

At some point this year, Schleswig-Holstein is expected to produce as much renewable energy as it consumes. (Photo: <a href=" https://www.flickr.com/photos/derohlsen/10405943953/in/photolist-nzxXPH-m7BpBi-6B9omY-iusky6-gRxbAM-m7Bz4z-6GvTeA-jyfSb1-8pXWj5-jyeWht-aFN9fx-2bwKpp-6KEmgq-m7CsTK-anWs9S-6KAdva-aiPd5H-2dq1pj-6KAdcM-9wUh24-f4aonT-cUpwxU-9vzsin-arXs4o-arUNk2-5vpQjM-c4dLMf-e53CSf-69Svzx-arXsh5-8WqdQC-fvBHeA-6CQZVJ-arUKMt-arUTu4-arXvwN-arUTpF-arXvru-arXvoh-arXvhm-arUT58-arUT1z-arXv5b-arXuZU-arUSNH-arXuT1-arUSJz-arUSGX-arUSEn-arUSBX" target="_blank">Stephan Ohlsen / Flickr</a>)At some point this year, Schleswig-Holstein is expected to produce as much renewable energy as it consumes. (Photo: Stephan Ohlsen / Flickr)

BRANDON BAKER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

While some countries around the world try to figure out how to deploy more clean energy, one German state is planning on having enough renewables for exportation.

Known as Germany’s windiest area, Schleswig-Holstein believes it could provide 100 percent renewable energy at some point this year, Renewables International reported. Producing as much renewable energy as it consumes in total electricity would go a long way toward Schleswig-Holstein meeting the 300-percent renewable goal the state’s Minister-President Torsten Albig announced at an energy conference two years ago.

If Schleswig-Holstein could meet 300-percent renewable energy, it would account for about 8 percent of Germany’s total electricity needs, said Dr. Matthias Lang, who keeps a German energy blog. What’s more, Schleswig-Holstein’s wind growth has taken place in the face of a national energy plan that the state’s energy minister, Robert Habeck, believes isn’t aggressive enough in displacing nuclear power.

(Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/politicalpulse/2800159908/in/photolist-5grxZ7-5gnc7Z-5grxEU-aaAzCA-5g3uwY-5g3pTU-a46PWE-5grxUb-4qziJY-h8vT3E-6tMzEv-7GWScr-8QFXqA-7GWSc4-7GWSd8-yTtoG-mdNPHA-7a1kyg-6LeNbr-5gx8qL-6LeJpr-6LiSz9-6LiTXY-6LiUFE-dqBGf-cDhhgq-cDhfJd-aAjPgj-3ACVWn-5ghYiz-4GnQRy-cDLReb-aAjSbQ-cDLMGy-7a1kRB-4GnQQ7-aAh9XB-6tRHPQ-cDMK3A-cDbKF7-cDhSZ3-cDbML1-cDbMjh-cDMNW5-cDhUch-cDMQcs-cDLZro-cDMSLd-cDMRps-cDMMzq" target="_blank">WEBN-TV / Flickr</a>)(Photo: WEBN-TV / Flickr)

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Let's check our weaponry: 93,000 machine guns — check! — 533 planes and helicopters — check! 180,000 magazine cartridges — check! 44,000 night-vision goggles — check! 432 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles — check! OK, let's roll!

Only, this is not the U.S. military getting ready to head into battle in a foreign land. It's our local police departments patrolling our cities, towns and college campuses. Remember "Officer Friendly," the beat cops who were known as "peace officers" and were counted on to uphold our domestic laws, detect and investigate crimes, and be a helpful, non-threatening presence in our communities? The friendlies have largely been transformed into militarized forces, literally armed with and garbed in war gear and indoctrinated in military psychology, rather than the ethic of community policing.

From 1776 forward, Americans have wisely opposed having soldiers do police work on our soil, but in recent years, Pentagon chiefs have teamed up with police chiefs to circumvent that prohibition. How? Simply by militarizing police departments.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ewarrenporch(Photo: mdfriendofHillary)

Nearly a year ago (on July 11, 2013), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013, which is described on her Senate website as: 

A bill to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks' ability to engage in certain risky activities and limiting conflicts of interest, to reinstate certain Glass-Steagall Act protections that were repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and for other purposes.

The purpose of the bill is to restore economic stability to the United States by once again limiting the expansion of banking into high-risk activity and financial areas that create a conflict of interest, as indicated in the bill itself:

(1) to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks' ability to engage in activities other than socially valuable core banking activities; 

(2) to protect taxpayers and reduce moral hazard by removing explicit and implicit government guarantees for high-risk activities outside of the core business of banking; and

(3) to eliminate conflicts of interest that arise from banks engaging in activities from which their profits are earned at the expense of their customers or clients.

However, it is nearly a year since Warren (with nine Senate cosponsors and a companion bill in the House) introduced the bill, and it is currently languishing in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. 

In a June 13th media alert (via email), Public Citizen pointed out that the Glass-Steagall act protected this nation from egregious financial shenanigans - such as the economic meltdown of 2008 - for a half a century:

Unless you got stinking rich in the run-up to the Great Recession, there’s nothing good you can say about the way Washington tore down the regulatory firewall between commercial and investment banking. The idea to dismantle the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which protected our economy so well for 50 years, was a disaster waiting to happen from the start. Had that key financial regulation been left intact, Americans wouldn’t have suffered such enormous loss and hardship to satisfy Wall Street’s insatiable greed.

Monday, June 16, mark[ed] the 81st anniversary of the passage of the original Glass-Steagall law. We need to renew its principles to protect consumers from suffering the consequences when tricky, high-risk financial instruments like derivatives that banksters engineer to increase their profits and personal fortunes go bad.

The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (S. 1282) sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is designed to restore the essentials of the original law separating the banking business of high-flying speculators from other banking practices to protect Main Street.  Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of more than 200 organizations on whose executive committee Public Citizen sits, are leading the call to the U.S. Senate to support this critical financial reform. 

Those who remember know that the repeal of Glass-Steagall occurred, with the support of the Clinton administration, in 1999. 

 

BRIAN J. TRAUTMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaColored(Photo: John Vachon)Voting rights was a priority of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The struggle to secure these rights achieved real traction and impact in the early 1960s. While the Jim Crow South was rife with voter suppression, there was no place more in need of voting reforms than Mississippi. Although black Mississippians comprised nearly 50 percent of the state's population in 1960, less than 7 percent of its eligible black constituency was registered to vote, representing the lowest percentage in the union. In some counties, no blacks were registered to vote. Despite ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment ninety years early, terrorist tactics – from fear and intimidation to beatings and lynchings – prevented blacks from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Later, legislation in several states, i.e., the passage of state constitutional amendments beginning in 1890, severely restricted black voter participation – through measures such as poll taxes, background checks and literacy tests. By 1960, the southern black population had been politically disenfranchised for almost a century.

To effect social and political change for equality in voting, civil rights leaders understood that the Movement needed to challenge the status quo of racial intolerance being advanced by groups like the Citizens' Councils, a national network of pro-segregationists formed in 1954 following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. The mission of Citizens' Councils was to preserve white power and oppose racial integration. To protect the voting rights of black citizens, the deep-rooted white segregationist and supremacist establishment, which considered African Americans second-class citizens and preserved this racist ideology with violence, had to be confronted directly. It was decided that there was no better place to embark on this monumental task than Mississippi, arguably the country's poorest and most violent and segregated state.

In 1961, building on the service and sacrifice of countless civil rights workers in initiatives aimed at ending racial segregation and unjust voting restrictions, Robert (Bob) Moses, a local field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), became the head of SNCC's voter education and registration operations in the state. Moses' seminal leadership over the next couple of years was instrumental in the formation of strong coalitions among SNCC leaders and other civil rights leaders as well as sympathetic whites. In 1963, Moses and SNCC carried out a mock election called "Freedom Vote," with the intention of demonstrating both the will of black residents to vote and that in the absence of violence and unfair administrative red tape they would be participating in the electoral process. To accommodate interested black Mississippians, organizers opened polling places in black churches and businesses all over the state, including in Jackson, the state capital and final stop of the "Freedom Rides" of 1961. For most, this was the first time in their lives they felt empowered to contribute to a free, democratic institution. Tens of thousands voted.

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