Saturday, September 30, 2006

Magna Carta Tested: Revenging the Legacy of Robin of Loxley

PEJ News
- C. L. Cook - I’m a big fan of Robin Hood, the 12th century noble highwayman who, from his lurk in Sherwood Forest would prey upon the fatted courtiers of an evil, usurper king and bedevil acolytes of the pretender’s enablers, Guy of Gisbourne and the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham; all in the name of good King Richard Coeur de Lion, engaged as he was in crusading to free and defend the distant Holy land. So it was with heavy heart I heard this week of the death of all Robin engendered, and the end to the dreams he and his merry men held for an eternal abolishment of the tyranny and despotism King John represented.

Magna Carta Tested:
Revenging the Legacy of Robin of Loxley

C. L. Cook

PEJ News
September 30, 2006

Robin Hood is, the consensus of historians agree, merely legend. The merry man in the green leotard is an English archetype, a popular creation, expressing the wishes and frustration of the little people ground beneath the boot of a cruel king and oppressive system that permitted no justice for them. While Robin was only a dream, the hero and bearer of the mantle of their hopes and aspirations for justice, the oppression those distant peasants suffered was not fiction.

Under the Feudal system, the king, or his agents, could kick in the door of any peon’s hovel, drag the unfortunate away, and torture and imprison her forever without charge, or trial. Or, they could simply kill her outright. Neither she nor her family had legal recourse, and any raising objection could expect the same treatment.

This was the reality of life in the twelfth century. And so, around the cook fires and sup tables, a legend of a true and noble knight rising from the forests to waylay the progress of the evil suffered the good and free folk was born; a salve for a bitter and battered people. Robin Hood may never have lived, but the injustice he mythically battled was real.

The unbridled power held in the person of the monarch had become, by the early 13th century, something the Church, feudal Barons, and hoi polloi peasantry, (“stakeholders” in today’s parlance) could no longer countenance. They forced the king’s hand, making John renounce certain crown powers and privilege that the realm could live better in peace through justice. That determination was enshrined in the law of the land in the form of the Magna Carta Libertatum, or Great Charter of Freedoms.

This great charter formed the basis of the English Common Law, becoming the cornerstone of justice throughout the English-speaking world, and beyond. It’s the foundation of a body of laws, still in effect today, whose principle of checking absolute power is universally recognized as a necessary prerequisite for a free and democratic society; it is the principle held in many quarters as the essential, irreducible, and sacrosanct element required to fulfill those aspirations.

But this week past, the American Senate, following meekly the footfalls of the House of Representatives, voted away the fundamental stricture of modern democracy, making null and void the central pretext of the Great Charter, that near millennial document at the heart of western civilization, granting to George W. Bush powers deemed so dangerous and unjust they were taken from King John nearly nine hundred years ago, and refused each and all his successors since.

Worse still than this calamitous occurrence, the vote enabling George W. Bush to both retroactively escape retribution for his myriad crimes against the peace and peoples of the world these terrible past five years, and continue his course unchecked, wasn’t even close. As they have from the moment the pretender president was granted the keys to the kingdom through a crooked court that sanctioned he and his agent’s criminality, the legislators of America have again turned their collective back to justice, refused a place for decency, and told the nation, and greater world, American democracy will not return.

The portent of last week’s vote is not lost on all Americans. Senator Arlen Specter, a republican who co-authored an amendment, ultimately not adopted in last week’s disastrous Bush/McCain Torture bill, that would have protected habeas corpus, the legal lynch-pin of citizen security and liberty, said of the proposed legislation:

“What this bill would do is take our civilization back 900 years.”

Despite this, twelve democrats stood with the administration’s effort to eviscerate Nuremberg, and Geneva, voting to carry the nation back to the pre-Magna Carta days of omnipotent monarchs and their quivering, subject serfs.

Why, after all we’ve seen of George W. Bush’s “vision” of the world, would “democrats” support such a draconian move? The New York Times, hardly a bastion of democratic practice, sums it up neatly as simply politics. On its Op-ed page, The Times opines:

“Here's what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans' fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws - while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.”

That this insidious edict was passed under the pretence they will apply only to “illegal combatants,” and aliens (non-Americans) is, as a closer look reveals, like all else this administration has accomplished, a false comfort: Under this legislation, no-one is spared being subject to the whims of George W. Bush and his agents.

There were many who hoped November’s mid-term elections would shake the system, taking away the majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, rendering the republicans as lame as their lame-duck president; this, the dream would have it, would prove the first steps in the democrat’s victory in ‘08, and the return of America to a saner place: a world of reality, made strange since George W. Bush’s “victory” in the year 2000. Last week’s vote puts the lie to that wishful scenario: The democrats offer no salvation.

Under this neo-Feudal system, George W. Bush, or his agents, can kick in the door of any peon’s hovel, drag the unfortunate away, and torture and imprison her without charge forever. Or, simply kill her outright. And, neither she nor her family have legal recourse, and any raising objection can expect the same treatment.

Is there a Robin in the woods for we peons yet?

Chris Cook
is a contributing editor to PEJ News, and host of Gorilla Radio, a weekly public affairs program, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada. You can check out the GR Blog here.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

A Sweatshop Behind Bars

Chris Levister, New America Media

September 13, 2006,
Printed on September 29, 2006
If you think prison inmates only make license plates, you're behind the times.

As a child Ayana Cole dreamed of becoming a world class fashion designer. Today she is among hundreds of inmates crowded in an Oregon prison factory cranking out designer jeans. For her labor she is paid 45 cents an hour. At a chic Beverly Hills boutique some of the beaded creations carry a $350 price tag. In fact the jeans labeled "Prison Blues" -- proved so popular last year that prison factories couldn't keep up with demand.

At a San Diego private-run prison factory Donovan Thomas earns 21 cents an hour manufacturing office equipment used in some of LA's plushest office towers. In Chino Gary's prison sewn T-shirts are a fashion hit.

Hundreds of prison generated products end up attached to trendy and nationally known labels like No Fear, Lee Jeans, Trinidad Tees, and other well known U.S. companies. After deductions, many prisoners like Cole and Thomas earn about $60 for an entire month of nine-hour days. In short, hiring out prisoners has become big business. And it's booming.

At CMT Blues housed at the Maximum Security Richard J. Donovan State Correctional Facility outside San Diego, the highly prized jobs pay minimum wage. Less than half goes into the inmates' pockets. The rest is siphoned off to reimburse the state for the cost of their incarceration and to a victim restitution fund.

The California Department of Corrections and CMT Blues owner Pierre Sleiman say they are providing inmates with job skills, a work ethic and income. In addition, he says prisoners offer the ultimate in a flexible and dependable work force. "If I lay them off for a week," said Sleiman, referring to his workers, "I don't have to worry about someone else coming and saying, ‘Come work for me.' "

For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don't have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment, health or worker's comp insurance, vacation or comp time. All of their workers are full time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if prisoners refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges. Most importantly, they lose "good time" credit that reduces their sentence.

Today, there are over 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., more than any other industrialized country. They are disproportionately African-American and Latino. The nation's prison industry now employees nearly three quarters of a million people, more than any Fortune 500 corporation, other than General Motors. Mushrooming construction has turned the industry into the main employer in scores of depressed cities and towns. A host of firms are profiting from private prisons, prison labor and services like transportation, farming and manufacturing.

Critics argue that inmate labor is both a potential human rights abuse and a threat to workers outside prison walls claiming, inmates have no bargaining power, are easily exploited and once released are frequently barred from gainful employment because of a felony conviction.

In one California lawsuit, for example, two prisoners have sued both their employer and the prison, saying they were put in solitary confinement after refusing to labor in unsafe working conditions. In a nutshell John Fleckner of Operation Prison Reform labels the growing trend "capitalist punishment -- slavery re-envisioned."

The prison industry is not a new phenomenon, writes Fleckner. He says mixing the profit motive with punishment only invites abuse reminiscent of one of the ugliest chapters in U.S. history. "Under a regime where more bodies equal more profits prisons take one big step closer to their historical ancestor, the slave pen."

In fact, prison labor has its roots in slavery. Following reconstruction, former Confederate Democrats instituted "convict leasing." Black inmates, mostly freed slaves convicted of petty theft, were rented out to do everything from picking cotton to building railroads. In Mississippi, a huge farm, resembling a slave plantation replaced convict leasing. The infamous Parchman Farm was not closed until 1972, when inmates brought suit against the abusive conditions in federal court.

Prison analysts say contract prison labor is poised to become one of America's most important growth industries. Many of these prisoners are serving time for non-violent crimes. With the use of tough-on-crime mandatory sentencing laws, the prison population is bursting at the seams. Some experts believe that the number of people locked up in the U.S. could double in the next 10 years. According to Prison Watch, the expansion of the number of prisoners will not only increase the pool of prison labor available for commercial profit, but also will help pay the costs of incarceration.

"The main goal of prison work programs is to provide "a positive outlet to help inmates productively use their time and energies. Another goal is to instill good work habits, including appropriate job behavior and time management, according to the Joint Venture Program of the California Department of Corrections. The program is responsible for contracting out convict labor to governments, businesses and non-profit organizations.

Federal law prohibits domestic commerce in prison-made goods unless inmates are paid "prevailing wages" but because the law doesn't apply to exports, prison officials routinely market to foreign customers.

In California the prisons themselves are their own best customers. The California Department of Corrections purchases about half of what the prisons make, choosing from an online Prison Industry Authority catalog.

Prisoners now manufacture everything from blue jeans, to auto parts, to electronics and furniture. Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do. Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour. Toys ‘R' Us once used prisoners to restock shelves, and Microsoft to pack and ship software. Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries.

In most states prisoners receive little of the money they earn working either for state-run or private sector corrections firms such as the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and Wackenhut. The labor prisoners perform is often considerably cheaper than in the outside world. Case in point, Texas-based Lockhart Technologies closed its Austin plant and fired some 150 workers who constructed circuit boards because it could relocate those jobs to a Wackenhut-run prison where detainees did the work for minimum wage.

But even with the low pay and potential for abuse, the labor programs are popular with prisoners, says California Prison Watch, which monitors the state's prisons. "Prisoner idle time is less, they earn spending money, and they can pick up a skill."

Tony Matos, 45 convicted of robbing a Rialto liquor store says, "When we step through the gates and into the shop, it's another world. This is a company. This isn't prison. Guards still keep watch, the capitalists still profit -- the critics and supporters still debate. But in the end, I get a skill, a few coins and a ray of hope and dignity."

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Who Pays the Climate Pundits?

Pundits Who Contest Climate Change Should Tell Us Who is Paying Them

Covert lobbying, in the UK as well as the US, has severely set back efforts to combat the world's biggest problem

by George Monbiot

On the letters page of the Guardian last week, a Dr Alan Kendall attacked the Royal Society for "smearing" its opponents. The society had sent an official letter to Exxon, complaining about the oil company's "inaccurate and misleading" portrayal of the science of climate change and about its funding of lobby groups that deny global warming is taking place. The letter, Kendall argued, was an attempt to "stifle legitimate discussion".

Perhaps he is unaware of what has been happening. The campaign of dissuasion funded by Exxon and the tobacco company Philip Morris has been devastatingly effective. By insisting that man-made global warming is either a "myth" or not worth tackling, it has given the media and politicians the excuses for inaction they wanted. Partly as a result, in the US at least, these companies have helped to delay attempts to tackle the world's most important problem by a decade or more.

Should we not confront this? If, as Kendall seems to suggest, we should refrain from exposing and criticising these groups, would that not be to "stifle legitimate discussion"?

There is still much more to discover. It is unclear how much covert corporate lobbying has been taking place in the UK. But the little I have been able to find so far suggests that here, as in the US, there seems to be some overlap between Exxon and the groups it has funded and the operations of the tobacco industry.

The story begins with a body called the International Policy Network (IPN). Like many other organisations that have received money from Exxon, it describes itself as a thinktank or an independent educational charity, but a more accurate description, it seems to me, would be "lobby group". While the BBC would seldom allow someone from Bell Pottinger or Burson-Marsteller on air to discuss an issue of concern to their sponsors without revealing the sponsors' identity, the BBC has frequently allowed IPN's executive director, Julian Morris, to present IPN's case without declaring its backers. IPN has so far received $295,000 from Exxon's corporate headquarters in the US. Morris told me that he runs his US office "solely for funding purposes".

IPN argues that attempts to prevent (or mitigate) man-made climate change are a waste of money. It would be better to let it happen and adapt to its effects. The Network published a book this year arguing that "humanity has until at least 2035 to determine whether or not mitigation will also be a necessary part of our strategy to address climate change ... attempting to control it through global regulation of emissions would be counterproductive". Morris has described the government's chief scientist, Sir David King - who has campaigned for action on global warming - as "an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to his country".

Like many of the groups that have been funded by ExxonMobil, IPN has also received money from the cigarette industry. Morris admits it has been given £10,000 by a US tobacco company. There is also a question mark about his involvement in a funding application to another tobacco company, RJ Reynolds.

In the archives that the cigarette companies were forced to open as part of the settlement of a class action in the US, there is a document entitled Environmental Risk. It is an application to RJ Reynolds to pay for a book about "the myth of scientific risk assessment". "The principal objective of this book is to highlight the uncertainties inherent in 'scientific' estimates of risk to humans and the environment." Among the myths it would be contesting were the adverse health effects of passive smoking. The application requested £50,000 to publish the book; the editors would be "Roger Bate and Julian Morris".

Morris insists that his name was added to the document without his consent. He says he had "nothing" to do with the book. It was published in 1997 under the title What Risk?, with a foreword by the MP David Davis. It claims that passive smoking is no more dangerous than "eating 50g of mushrooms a week", and attacks "politically correct" beliefs such as "passive smoking causes lung cancer" and "mankind's emissions of carbon dioxide will result in runaway global warming". Morris is not named as its coeditor, but he is the first person thanked in the acknowledgments, for his "editorial suggestions".

The book's editor, Roger Bate, is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute - which has received $1.6m from ExxonMobil - and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received $2m. Until 2003, he was Morris's predecessor as head of IPN. When the book was written, he ran the European Science and Environment Forum (Esef), which published What Risk?. The registered owner of Esef's website is Morris. He claims he had nothing to do with Esef, and registered the name "as a favour to a friend".

The investigative group PRWatch alleges that Esef was originally called Scientists for Sound Public Policy (SSPP), and was founded by a public relations agency working for the tobacco company Philip Morris. Documents in the tobacco archives show that SSPP was the subject of a fierce turf war between the PR firms Apco and Burson Marsteller, which were vying for Philip Morris's account.

Burson Marsteller's proposal argued that "industrial resistance" to regulation is "perceived as protection of commercial self-interests". A different "countervailing voice" was required, consisting of "international opinion formers supported financially by the industry". Their role would be "educating opinion leaders, politicians and the media". The group would also seek funding from other industries. Some of those Esef recruited as "academic members" were people working for US lobby groups later funded by Exxon, who have made false claims about climate change.

Like Morris, Bate has often appeared on radio and television programmes. Interviewed by the Today programme about climate change, he argued that cutting carbon emissions has been "folly all along". Instead, we should concentrate on adapting to climate change. In 2000, he presented a film on BBC2 called Organic Food: the Modern Myth, on which Morris also appeared. Bate has not yet answered the Guardian's requests for a response.

There is no law against taking money from corporations, or against advancing arguments in the media that are in tune with theirs. Nor should there be. The problem is what appears to be a failure to declare an interest. When someone speaks on an issue of public importance, we should be allowed to see who has been paying them. This should apply to all advocates, pressure groups and thinktanks, from Greenpeace to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The BBC's producer guidelines are clear on this point. "We need to ensure that we do not get involved with campaigning programming which is politically contentious. Programmes should not embrace the agenda of a particular campaign or campaigning group ..." Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, some of us warned that campaigning groups did not always describe themselves as such. We were ignored. The BBC now seems to have woken up to the problem. But we have lost 10 years in which climate change could have been tackled.

· George Monbiot's book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning is published this week

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

We should nuke Israel

TORONTO SUN - MICHAEL COREN - It is surely obvious now to anybody with even a basic understanding of history, politics and the nature of fascism that something revolutionary has to be done within months -- if not weeks -- if we are to preserve world peace. Put boldly and simply, we have to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel.

We should nuke Israel


[Republished at PEJ News without permission of the Toronto Sun]


Not, of course, the unleashing of full-scale thermo-nuclear war on the Jewish people, but a limited and tactical use of nuclear weapons to destroy Israel's military facilities and its potential nuclear arsenal. It is, sadly, the only response that this repugnant and acutely dangerous political entity will understand. 

The tragedy is that innocent people will die. But not many. Israel's missiles and rockets of mass destruction are guarded and maintained by men with the highest of security clearance and thus supportive of the Israeli regime. They are dedicated to war and, thus, will die in war. 

Frankly, it would be churlish of the civilized world to deny martyrdom to those who seem so intent on its pursuance. Most important, a limited nuclear attack on Israel will save thousands if not millions of lives. 

The spasm of reaction from many will be that this is barbaric and unacceptable. Yet a better response would be to ask if there is any sensible alternative. Diplomacy, kindness and compromise have failed and the Israeli leadership is still obsessed with all-out war against anybody it considers an enemy. 

Its motives are beyond question, its capability equally so. It is spending billions of dollars on a whole range of anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-personnel missiles, rockets and ballistic weapons: 

Its missiles, with a range of more than 2,000 km, and the accompanying launchers, which are so powerful that they can hit targets in Europe. Missiles with a range of 350km, their anti-aircraft missiles, which can be fired from the shoulder. Their radar-evading missile and underwater missiles, which travel at an extraordinarily high speed and is almost impossible to intercept. 

Israel is also developing enormous propellant ballistic missiles and began a space program almost a decade ago that will enable it to bomb the United States. It is also assumed in intelligence circles that Israel has American made cruise missiles which are now being copied in large numbers by Israeli scientists. 

Comparisons to the Nazis in the 1930s are unfair -- to the Nazis. Hitler had the French army, the largest in Europe, on his border and millions of Soviet infantry just a few hours march away. Israel has no aggressive enemies in the region. 

Its fanatical leader, Ohmert, controls a brutal police state, finances international terror and provokes bloody wars in foreign countries. It is unimaginably wealthy because of U.S. aid and is committed, in its leader's words, to "rolling back 300 years of Arab ascendancy" and wiping another nation, Iran, from the face of the earth. 

A conventional attack would be insufficient because Israel and its allies seem only to listen to power and threat. Better limited pain now than universal suffering in five years. 

The usual suspects will complain. The post-Christian churches, the Marxists, the fellow travelers and fifth columnists. But then, the same sort of people moaned and condemned in 1938. They were clearly wrong then. They would be just as wrong now. 

[This amazingly ignorant, hateful, and frankly criminal article has been redacted. "Israel" appears where the murderous and racist author, Michael Coren originally wrote "Iran." Likewise other slight alterations have been performed. There is, in what remains of this country Canada, hate crime legislation. Unlike Mr. Coren's, and his Toronto Sun publisher's heroes in the United States, Canadian media is expected to live up to certain standards. Promoting hatred and proposing the destruction of human life fail miserably to live up to the expected, and legislated, mandates for publishers. I recommend those offended by Mr. Coren's modest proposal write the Sun, Coren, and the CRTC. Mr. Coren can be reached here: - lex]

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We should nuke Israel | Configure | 3 Comments
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Re: We should nuke Israel (Score: 1)
by dcgoldstein on Sep 03, 2006 - 11:38 AM

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Michael Coran, you're terrorist rhetoric is disgusting. You remind me of a smelly, harry Arab Hizbollah terrorist. You deserve to be sent to an Al-Qada training camp where you can be treated like an animal, like all of them. Don't express your opinions on the internet because they are both ridiculous, irrational, and straight-out ugly, like you probably are.
Peace in the Middle East,
D.C. Goldstein

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Re: We should nuke Israel (Score: 1)
by shimon90 on Sep 03, 2006 - 03:12 PM

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You are clearly a total idiot:
-First of all, you have no knowledge whatsoever about nuclear weapons or warfare (all bombs are "full-scale thermo-nuclear" and will affect more than just what is hit, remember Tchernobyl? And that was not even an attack.)
-Secondly, your are not necessarily racist, but purely ignorant about anything that goes on in the Middle East. Iran is getting nuclear power all while its president is declaring that "Israel should be wiped off the map." Not only this but look through history, if Israel has won every war (that were all declared against them in the hope of destroying the small country) is thanks to excellent military tactic. The arab countries have always had bigger armies and a strong will to eradicate Israel. I could go on, but I do not feel like teaching you a lesson, for you are simply an idiot.
Basically your non sensical suggestion will accomplish the act. Even if you 'just destroyed the Israeli army, all the arab countries would jump to the chance of destroying Israel. Yet that's not what you wanted (oops).

All I must say now is that you are VERY lucky to have a job as a journalist, because you would be very sucessful in Syria.