Saturday, December 20, 2008

P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2008

Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2008
By Norman Solomon.

Now in their seventeenth year, the P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of the nation’s stinkiest media performances. As the judges for these annual awards, we do our best to identify the most deserving recipients of this unwelcome plaudit.

And now, the P.U.-litzers Prizes for 2008:


This award sparked fierce competition, but the cinch came on the day Obama swept the Potomac Primary in February — when Chris Matthews spoke of “the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”


In August, a teaser for the “O’Reilly Factor” program said: “Obama bombarded by personal attacks. Are they legit? Ann Coulter comments.”

UPSIDE DOWN “ELITIST” AWARD — New York Times columnist David Brooks

For months, high-paid Beltway journalists competed with each other in advising candidate Obama on how to mingle with working class folks. Ubiquitous pundit Brooks won the prize for his wisdom on reaching “less educated people, downscale people,” offered on MSNBC in June: “Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he’s had to change to try to be more like that Applebee’s guy.” It would indeed be hard for Obama to fit in naturally at an Applebee’s salad bar. Applebee’s restaurants don’t have salad bars.

GUTTER BALL PUNDITRY AWARD — Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball”

In program after program during the spring, Matthews repeatedly questioned whether Obama could connect with “regular” voters — “regular” meaning voters who are white or “who actually do know how to bowl.” He once said of Obama: “This gets very ethnic, but the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody. But the fact that he’s that terrible at bowling does make you wonder.”

STRAIGHT SKINNY PRIZE — Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick

In August, the Journal’s Chozick went beyond the standard elitist charge to offer yet another reason that average voters might be wary of Obama. Below the headline “Too Fit to Be President?” she wrote of Obama: “Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.” Chozick asked: “In a nation in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is overweight and 32 percent is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability?” To support her argument, she quoted Hillary Clinton supporters. One said: “He needs to put some meat on his bones.” Another, prodded by Chozick, wrote on a Yahoo bulletin board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

“OUR CENTER-RIGHT NATION” AWARD — Newsweek editor Jon Meacham

With Democrats in the process of winning big in 2008 as they had in 2006, a media chorus erupted warning Democratic politicians away from their promises of change. Behind the warnings was the repeated claim that America is essentially a conservative country. In an election-eve Newsweek cover story with the sub-headline “America remains a center-right nation — a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril,” Meacham argued that the liberalism of even repeatedly re-elected FDR offended voters. And the editor claimed that a leftward trend in election results and issues polling means little — as would Obama’s victory after months of charges that he stood for radical change. Evidence seemed to lose out to journalists’ fears that campaign promises might actually be kept.


On Sept. 30, just after the House defeated the $700 billion Wall Street bailout measure, Brooks’ column in the New York Times denounced the balking House members for their failure to heed “the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed.” But a week later, after the House approved a bailout — and with the credit crunch unabated and stock market still plunging — Brooks wrote: “At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they’re coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater.” Now he tells us.


In late November, corporate media outlets began to credit Barack Obama with making supposedly non-ideological Cabinet picks. The New York Times front page reported that his choices “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.” Conservative Times columnist David Brooks praised the picks as “not ideological” and the economic nominees as “moderate and thoughtful Democrats.” USA Today reported that Obama’s selections had “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.” In mediaspeak, if you thought invading Iraq and signing the NAFTA trade pact were good ideas, you’re a pragmatist. If not, you’re an ideologue.


The Times op-ed page marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion in March by choosing “nine experts on military and foreign affairs” to write on “the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wish they had considered in the prewar debate.” None of the experts selected had opposed the invasion. That kind of exclusion made possible a bizarre claim by Times correspondent John Burns in the same day’s paper: “Only the most prescient could have guessed … that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America’s financial costs by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008.” Those who’d warned of such disastrous results were not only prescient, but were routinely excluded from mainstream coverage.


Described as “the longest-serving foreign correspondent in New York Times history,” Burns seemed less a skeptical reporter than a channeler of Henry Kissinger when he offered his world view to PBS’ Charlie Rose in April: “The United States and its predominant economic, political and military power in the world have been the single greatest force for stability in the world, such as it is now, certainly since the Second World War. If the outcome in Iraq were to destroy the credibility of American power, to destroy America’s willingness to use its power in the world to achieve good, to fight back against totalitarianism, authoritarianism, gross human rights abuses, it would be a very dark day.”

By Jeff Cohen & Norman Solomon
Jeff Cohen, author of “Cable News Confidential,” is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and the founder of the media watch group FAIR. Norman Solomon, author of “War Made Easy,” is a columnist on media and politics.


A Growing Green Myopia

Green Myopia

Dec 19, 2008

Several of the environmental movement's deep problems were displayed during the December 18th edition of Democracy Now. During the broadcast Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales conducted interview/debates on two Obama appointments which are critical to the environment – Agriculture Secretary and Interior Secretary. In each case a representative of National Audubon supported the nominations. Opposing the appointment of Tom Vilsack for Ag Secretary was Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association ; Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity critiqued the nomination of Colorado Senator and rancher Ken Salizar as Interior Secretary.

Vilsak's appointment is opposed by many in the organic and sustainable agriculture communities who point to his record as a strong supporter of industrial agriculture, ethanol over food production and genetically engineered crops. Vilsak is reported to accept rides on Monsanto corporate jets – a cozy relationship. Rather than make common cause with progressive agriculture, however, National Audubon and the other members of the environmental establishment support Vilsak's appointment. Democracy Now wanted to know why and the Audubon spokesperson offered Vilsak's support for limits on payments to rich farmers and his support for USDA's conservation programs as reasons.

Apparently National Audubon is clueless about the strategy of big agriculture to shift from crop subsidies to "conservation" subsidies in order to advance free trade agreements at the same time that the USDA "conservation programs" are transformed from benefiting the environment to mainly benefiting Ag producers. This trend was evident in the 2008 Farm Bill process. In the House of Representatives, for example, language in the Farm Bill which would have required a 15% reduction in on-farm water consumption in order for an Ag producer to qualify for EQIP water conservation funding was gutted. Several national environmental groups were complicit in what they called "a compromise" on EQIP.

The Democracy Now debate over the appointment of Salazar as Interior Secretary showcased another fundamental division within the environmental community. Representing the environmental establishment, National Audubon explained its support for Salazar as motivated by a desire to preserve "access" to the Secretary. In contrast the Center for Biological Diversity – which is a product of the movement by grassroots environmental activists to create alternatives to the environmental establishment – is critical of Salazar because of his terrible record on public land issues and the Endangered Species Act.

It appears clear that Salazar will not bring the kind of change that environmental activists would like to see at Interior. The environmental establishment's support for the appointment, therefore, speaks volumes about that establishment's low expectations, overly close identification with the Democratic Party and myopic fixation on "maintaining access".

The environmental establishment's support for Vilsak and Salizar also reveals a much more fundamental problem: their lack of interest in making common cause with progressive movements. The need for alliances of environmental groups and other progressive movements has been emphasized recently in the writings of one of the movement's most distinguished elders – Gus Speth. Now the dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Speth is a founder of NRDC and was head of the Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration.

Writing this October in the Nation, Gus Speth notes that "the environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to deteriorate." Speth finds the cause of the deterioration in "modern capitalism" which he says not only degrades the environment but degrades society and democracy at the same time. In response to this "inherently ruthless, rapacious system," Gus Speth finds "the best hope for change" in "a fusion of those concerned about the environment, social justice and strong democracy into one powerful progressive force." Speth also tells us that "this fusion must occur before it is too late."

If Gus Speth's prescription for saving the planet and democracy had been applied to efforts to influence the Agriculture and Interior appointments we would not see the environmental establishment represented by National Audubon taking a position which isolates it not only from progressive agriculture but also from the environmental movement's own grassroots. Instead we would have seen those who want to save the environment, small, organic agriculture and democracy united in support of truly progressive candidates.

So what can be done to change the current myopia of the environmental establishment, to get the big environmental groups to embrace and prioritize "a fusion of those concerned about the environment, social justice and strong democracy into one powerful progressive force"?

There are no easy answers. For one thing we need to be careful that in seeking to reform the environmental establishment we do not destroy institutions whose work in the trenches in Washington DC and state capitals across the country needs to continue. With all their problems the national environmental establishment continues to do good work on a myriad of specific issues. Rather than destroy the environmental establishment we need to radically reform it. How can this be accomplished?

Perhaps the environmental movements own grassroots can show the way. If groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, for example, were to forge strong alliances with other progressive movements – with the peace, justice, democracy, sustainable agriculture movements – the big national groups, the environmental establishment, might wake up and take notice. And if the foundations which fund the environmental establishment began shifting funding to such progressive alliances, then the establishment would not only take notice but would begin to change.

This sort of change has, in fact, happened before. In the 1990s National Audubon and the rest of the environmental establishment were too timid and too concerned about "maintaining access" to consider petitioning to secure Endangered Species Act protection for the Northern Spotted Owl, Coho Salmon or a host of other imperiled species. Instead of accepting that timidity, however, grassroots forest and salmon activists took matters into their own hands. The Northern Spotted Owl was petitioned by a small, little known group from Maine; Coho salmon where petitioned by Northwest and Northern California grassroots activists and scientists. Soon foundation funding began flowing away from the big, establishment groups and toward the dynamic grassroots. One group of those activists became the Center for Biological Diversity.

What happened next is instructive. The environmental establishment suddenly woke up and became less timid. They moved to link up with the grassroots in alliances and coalitions which brought some of the funding back their way and allowed them to continue to claim that they were leading the highest profile environmental and public land movements - including the movements to protect Ancient Forests and Pacific Salmon.

Persuading the environmental establishment to form alliances with other progressive movements will likely require something the establishment will see as equally threatening to their bottom line. Whether coming from foundations or from members who begin to question their performance, funding is a powerful motivator for the environmental establishment.

However it occurs, the grand alliance of movements which Gus Speth envisions is likely the only way to effectively counter the entrenched power of the modern corporate elite and save the earth from the fate those corporate interests ordain. Getting the environmental establishment to embrace such a grand alliance, however, will require a radical shake up – a shake up which demands that the environmental establishment once again become part of a movement with a vision and agenda that is much broader than the narrow objectives of its constituent organizations.

Felice Pace has been a grassroots environmental, peace and justice activist since 1967. He lives and writes near the mouth of the Klamath River in Northwest California.

Sock and Awe

Go here to play!

Reflections by Comrade Fidel


Can the capitalist society avoid it? News about this issue are far from encouraging. The project to be submitted for approval on December next year in Copenhagen, where the new Convention that will replace Kyoto’s will be discussed and approved, is being currently analyzed at Poznan.

The Commission in charge of the drafting of this project is presided over by Al Gore, ex presidential candidate of the United States, who was fraudulently defeated by Bush in the elections of 2001. Those who are drafting the project are pinning all their hopes on Barack Obama as if he could change the course of history.

An enlightening example comes from Canada.

An article published by BBC World entitled “Canada's Black Gold Oil Rush” points out that “the total area currently being mined is 420 Km2 , while the overall area that the Alberta government has leased to oil companies is 64 919 Km2. The area of exploitable reserves is 140 200 Km2 - about the size of Florida.

“From the air, the strip mines have transformed the forest into a moonscape of craters and lakes, with smoke stacks pumping out billowing clouds. All this in a remote part of northern Alberta.”

Further on, the article continues: “…There are three major players at the moment - Suncor, Syncrude and a consortium led by Shell - but more foreign investors and consortiums have piled in.

“…the lack of government action means not enough is being done about the cumulative effects on the environment.

“…an investigation by the Alberta Cancer Board is due to be published soon.

“Earlier this year, 500 ducks died after landing on a tailings pond run by Syncrude…A government investigation is ongoing. Whatever the results, it seems the pace of opposition to the oil sands is quickening.”

According to the Spanish daily “El País”, “… the estimates made by the dependent agency of the OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development) are based on the predictions made by the IMF which point to a steady recovery of the global economy as from the second semester of the year 2009, when the world’s oil production will reach 86.3 million barrels per day.”

That same Spanish newspaper announces that “the director of the Department on Climate Change of China wants to state very clearly that Beijing would only limit its emissions in exchange for lots of investments and patents for clean technologies. His signature is indispensable so that all 187 countries gathered at the Polish city could move on to the adoption of a protocol that could replace that of 1997. Obama is causing a twenty years delay in the struggle against climate change.”

Another wire service from the agency NOTIMEX, dated on December 13, explains that “…the colossal fraud in Wall Street carried out by Bernard L. Madoff, ex chief of the firm Nasdaq, is causing losses in Spain amounting to millions”, according to an article published today by the newspaper “Expansión”, specialized in economic issues.

“…This Friday, one of the biggest scandals in Wall Street” –continues the wire service- “has been exposed after the ex chief of Nasdaq, Bernard L. Madoff, was arrested for having taken part in a fraud with an investment fund that could amount to 50 billion dollars.”

“…Madoff, ex founding president of the Nasdaq Stock Market, was arrested on Thursday evening after his own son reported to the federal authorities that his father was part of what he called ‘a huge pyramidal fraud’.”

“…Based on this scheme, only the first investors would obtain dividends from their investments, leaving all of the rest with losses that, according to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in New York, could amount to the aforementioned figure.”

Another news published by Reuters on the same date stated that: “…President-elect Barack Obama is considering a plan to boost the recession-hit US economy that could be far larger than previous estimates”, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

“…Obama aides, who were considering a half-trillion dollar package two weeks ago, now consider $600 billion –a year- over two years “a very low-end estimate,” the newspaper said,

“…The final size of the stimulus is expected to be $1 trillion over that period, given the deteriorating state of the US economy.

“…Officials with Obama’s camp have declined to comment on media reports about the size of the boost that the Democrat will launch once he takes office as President of the United States on January 20.”

The picture appears to be even gloomier after the news by several press agencies reporting all sorts of problems, ranging from the bankruptcy of the automotive industry as a result of the crisis, up to the natural disasters, including the increasing cost of foodstuffs, starvation, war, and many other facts.

The problem is that there is no more habitable space on our planet. The only one left was Australia, and the United Kingdom took hold of it on January 19, 1788. There’s been a long time since the environment is compromised.

¿Could our species surmount that barrier?

Fidel Castro Ruz

December 15, 2008

6:12 p.m.

Kein Urwald für Papier! - No Primaeval Forests in Paper.!

Hi All,

This YouTube piece presents some of the results of this trip around Germany and Denmark!

Over the past few years, the 'Initiative2000Plus' effort has converted thousands of German schools to 'recyclingpapier' as it is called here in Germany, and I believe that they have now achieved a critical mass which will soon convert every school in the country!

The Initiative has issued a powerful foundational statement 'Kein Urwald für Papier' which means 'No Primaeval Forests in Paper.' PERIOD This powerful statement is resonating loudly everywhere I go here in Europe, and should strike fear into the hearts of those environmental organizations, namely Greenpeace, Sierra Club, ForestEthics and RAN who now facilitate the industrial logging of the final intact tracts of primaeval forests, in particular, in what is known as the 'Great Bear Rainforest.'

There is a very real momentum gathering here in Europe, that as this Earth's final primaeval forests are on the very brink of extermination, any credible environmental organization will now make the strong position statement, a powerful statement which will be abundantly clear to everyone, that no further desecration of such forests will be tolerated.

Cheers, Ingmar

Now in Göttingen, -in the final stretch of my lecture tour, during which I have delivered 29 lectures to date, including at Göttingen, Darmstadt, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Eberswalde, Norderney, Freiberg (near Dresden) Aalborg (Danmark) Löhne, Solingen, Rostock, Fredelsloh, Konstanz, Freiburg (im Breisgau) Frankfurt Airport Treesit, and today at Bad Sooden-Allendorf

Monday, December 15, 2008

America's Brutal Prisons

Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons

Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?

By Deborah Davies

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

First posted March 28, 2005

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.

Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.

Our findings were not based on rumour or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.

In many American states, prison regulations demand that any ‘use of force operation’, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.

The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.

Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very uncomfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.

In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.

Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.

‘I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. ‘Because they know we do it here every day.’

All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in the domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.

Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers prise them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.

But for every ‘historical’ tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.

It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a ‘restraint chair’. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.

The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.

The tape comes from Utah – but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.

Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.’

His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised ‘unfettered access.’ It was a reassuring turn of phrase – you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.

We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.

The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.

The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.

Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous – the manuals on the use of the 'restraint chair’ warn of the dangers of ‘positional asphyxia.’

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster's family is currently suing Arizona County.

His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: ‘If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.’ Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.

The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where – like Charles Agster – he suffocated.

The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than £4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. ‘My officers were clear,’ he said. ‘The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.’

Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts. Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.

Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.

He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious of the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicaemia.

‘Mr Arpaio is responsible.’ Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. ‘He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.’

In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.

It’s an authorised ‘use of force operation’ – so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.

The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ he shouts with increasing desperation. ‘It hurts!’

One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.

The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.

The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.

One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two ‘wards’ – they’re not called prisoners.

One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.

Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head – even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.

We also collected some truly horrific photographs.

A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of ‘use of force operations.’ So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.

But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.

‘They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,’ lawyer Christopher Jones explained. ‘We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.

‘The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.’

And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes – autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair – he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.

Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.

Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.

Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing – the same man who changed the policy on videoing – has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.

How could anyone excuse – still less condone – such behaviour? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.

I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. ‘We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.’

No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and uninvestigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.

At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment – even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Being on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.

Since we finished filming for the programme in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.

Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.

His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found ‘no evidence of systematic abuse.’

But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: ‘We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.’

So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public – or leaked – I suspect the images will be very familiar.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much is it is taking place in America’s own backyard.

Deborah Davies is a reporter for Channel 4 Dispatches. Her investigation, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, was shown on Wednesday, March 2, at 11.05pm.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Oilsands Propaganda

“In short, industry and government might claim that unfavourable reports are "propaganda" but their own lack of real evidence clearly shows that they are themselves in the propaganda business. There is an out for the minister. It is time for an inquiry into oilsands operations, done by a panel of experts independent of petroleum companies.”
- Dr. David Schindler

Who's dishing real oilsands propaganda?
Gov't decries environmentalist agenda, but refuses to subject data to non-partisan scientific scrutiny

By David Schindler December 15, 2008

This week, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner is in Poland, expected to defend the oilsands from being considered as a source of "dirty oil." I don't envy him. In the past, international criticism has been largely based on the high emissions of greenhouse gases from mining the oilsands. This is changing rapidly in recent weeks.

In the past several days, two reports, one on losses of boreal birds as the result of habitat disturbance and another on seepage from tailings ponds, have been released by groups of scientists who are supported by environmental groups. A casual inspection of the reports' bibliographies reveals that many, if not all, of their claims are based on peer-reviewed papers in reputable scientific journals. Yet industry and Alberta government spokespeople have dismissed both reports as "environmentalist propaganda," although they have provided no real evidence to support their criticism. We are expected to be reassured by explanations that any seepage from toxic tailing ponds is caught in ditches and pumped back into the ponds (just who will pay for this after the companies leave?)

We are supposed to believe that industry-sponsored studies done by the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP) and the Cumulative Effects Management Association (CEMA). But neither of the latter organizations has issued any peer-reviewed publications or public reports that shed light on the state of the environment in the oilsands area. RAMP was the subject of a scathing peer review by three prominent federal scientists in late 2004, and has shown very little evidence of having taken corrective measures since then. Its data bases are considered to be proprietary, so they are not available for scientists at large to scrutinize. CEMA has been boycotted by most of the original members from aboriginal communities and NGOs, who resigned in protest that the group's decisions were dominated by industry and government. The expected report on the "instream flow needs" to maintain the Athabasca River that was promised in 2005 was not ready, and has been replaced by ad hoc measures for the next several years. In short, industry and government might claim that unfavourable reports are "propaganda" but their own lack of real evidence clearly shows that they are themselves in the propaganda business.

Another discouraging recent report calls into question the widely touted carbon capture techniques being promoted to justify continued expansion of the oilsands. This report is by recognized experts. Indeed, many of the greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands activity will emanate from monster trucks and other mobile emitters. One doesn't need to be an expert to know that such sources are not easily amenable to carbon capture. Perhaps a more reasonable solution would be to make the oilsands developers neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions by paying for carbon capture at stationary sources, such as coal-fired power plants.

More trouble for Renner is certainly ahead. Several peer-reviewed scientific papers and government reports already document serious declines in caribou and large carnivorous mammals in the oilsands area. It is only a matter of time until someone summarizes these in a public report. Papers on acid rain are in preparation. The claims of people living downstream of the oilsands that they are being poisoned by chemical releases from the oilsands mines are unresolved, with government and industry claiming that all of the pollutants in the river are "natural." The real answer certainly lies somewhere between these polar positions, but no detailed study has been publicly released, only more assurances.

Fortunately, the veracity of propaganda claims from either side about environmental destruction in the oilsands is easy for citizens to check for themselves: Google Earth is accessible on most home computers. It is easy for anyone to see that enormous areas are being rapidly stripped of forest, mined, or covered by tailings ponds. It is also easy to tell that reclamation efforts are very small by comparison. In short, propaganda is not effective in the electronic world. Citizens should expect something better than hollow assurances from government. Both industry and green groups should be expected to back their claims with data and reviews by their scientific peers.

The Google Earth inspection makes it very clear that the stakes for Albertans are very high. What appears to be profitable now may not appear like such a good deal after the 20 per cent of the province underlain by bitumen deposits has been exploited, left with polluted waters and unrecoverable ecosystems. All Albertans should be worried about the state of the province that will be left for their grandchildren. Exploited carefully, the oilsands should provide a good living for at least three generations of Albertans. Google Earth reveals that recent expansions have not been careful.

There is an out for the minister. It is time for an inquiry into oilsands operations, done by a panel of experts independent of petroleum companies. RAMP, CEMA and other studies relevant to sorting out the real cost of development should be required to submit their data to the inquiry panel. The panel's report should analyze the long-term environmental and financial costs of several scenarios based on different rates and methods of development and reclamation, and spell out issues that must be addressed to protect and reclaim the environment before further expansions are approved. The report should be publicly released, so that all Albertans can view the issues for themselves. The stakes are simply too high to rely on the conflicting claims of polarized groups.

Dr. David Schindler is Killam Memorial Chair and professor of ecology at the University of Alberta.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Supreme Court: Ottawa Pilfering of EI Surplus "Legit"

Government had right to spend EI surplus on programs, deficit: top court

CBC News
The federal government acted constitutionally when it spent an employment insurance surplus on related social programs and balancing the books, Canada's top court ruled on Thursday.

The Supreme Court of Canada found it does fall within the federal government's purview to use the EI funds as it wishes, whether to pay down the debt or for use on social programs relating to jobless workers.

But the Quebec-based union organizations that brought the case to the Ottawa court did score a minor victory. The top court found the government acted unlawfully in the way it collected EI premiums over three years.

In 2002, 2003 and 2005, new rate-setting criteria were used for setting EI premiums that the court found to be unlawful, CBC's Rosemary Barton reported from Ottawa.

During those years, Parliament authorized the cabinet to be responsible for setting the premium rate.

The Supreme Court did not make any recommendations on how to address the problem, and gave the federal government a year to respond to the decision.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux brought the case to the highest court in hopes of having the money returned to the EI program for future use or to employees and employers who contributed to the fund.

The fund began ballooning after the Liberals brought in new rules in 1996 tightening eligibility rules for benefits.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser repeatedly criticized the government for the way it has handled EI since 1999, with a surplus triple the amount that's necessary and a move away from the intent of the program.

In the 2008 budget, Stephen Harper's Conservative government vowed to set up an independent Crown corporation to manage the EI surplus and ensure it was spent on unemployed workers.