can’t see the forest


Posted in Alabama, Alabama news, Crime, gambling, Lifestyle, News, police, Politics, U.S. News by Curtis on 3/19/09

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From our Local Interest Department:

In White Hall, Alabama—a rural community near Montgomery in which about one third of folks live below the poverty line–a state task force raided a bingo hall before dawn on Thursday, seizing more than 200 alleged illegal slot machines and “a large amount of cash.”

From the Associated Press via

A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley says the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling organized the pre-dawn raid Thursday and are seizing machines suspected of being illegal slot machines.

No charges were immediately filed.

Collins Pettaway, an attorney for the charity that operates the bingo hall, says the machines are all legal and he is trying to get an injunction to block the seizure.

Whitehall resident Doris Gresham says she was in the gaming center when state troopers arrived about 5 a.m.

The bingo hall is located on U.S. 80 about 20 miles west of Montgomery.

The thought occurs to me that if the great state of Alabama could just let good folks like Doris yank the lever in peace, perhaps my state university wouldn’t be turning off the air conditioning in shifts and considering a hiring freeze, the roads around here might get serviced regularly and in reasonable time, and maybe the police could divert their valuable resources to fighting some real crime.

Just possibly.


Dear World . . . Sincerely, Palestine

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The Heathlander recently posted links to annual reports by various human rights organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The article which includes the links represents the views of Richard Falk, a UN human rights investigator recently relieved of his position because of his “hostile views” toward Israel. The findings of a few of these reports are summarized below.

The State of Israel was founded in 1948, carved chiefly out of what had been colonial possessions of the United Kingdom. While many support the existence of a Jewish homeland, particularly in the wake of the events of the Second World War, fewer agree that these particular lands should have been ceded to the control of relatively new Zionist immigrants rather than to the Palestinian ethnic groups which had resided there for centuries. The Zionist settlers believed that they enjoyed a religious “right of return” to the area according to scripture, a controversial notion which, even where accepted, is not generally held to entail such brutal disregard for the sovereignty and basic human dignity of Palestinians.

Since 1967, Israel has occupied lands which were ceded to the Palestinians under a U.N. agreement, pursuing what many feel are policies of expansion, oppression, and apartheid against Palestinians. Additionally, Israel, which possesses without acknowledgment the sole known nuclear arsenal in the region, continues to threaten other surrounding powers—particularly Iran—which have criticized its occupation of Palestinian lands and cruel treatment of Palestinians. At one point or another, it has occupied lands belonging to all of its Arab neighbors; yet the Israeli government continually represents itself as an innocent victim of anti-Semitic violence, refusing to acknowledge that such violence, while unfortunate and deplorable, represents desperate guerrilla-type self-defense on the part of the disenfranchised Palestinians.

west-bank-wallIn 2006, Hamas, frequently described as an “Islamic militant” or “terrorist” organization due to its sponsorship of guerrilla activities against the Israeli military and some civilians, won free elections in Gaza. Since then Israel has aggressively boycotted the government in Gaza using blockades, military incursions, and other harmful and violent means which amount to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens. The West Bank, in contrast, is now presided over by a U.S.-backed government.

The United Nations has, on too many occasions to count, reprimanded Israel and called for an end to these atrocities. Such proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel, the United States, and sometimes a few other member states, while being overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the international community. The United States provides billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Israel annually, and is characteristically quick to defend Israeli hegemony and expansionism in the region in the name of self-defense.

The following are direct or paraphrased excerpts of just a few of the many 2008 reports to the UNHRC concerning conditions in Palestine. For the full set of reports, visit this page. These documents represent merely the latest additions to a huge book detailing many of the atrocities visited against the Palestinian people according to a pattern of U.S.-sanctioned abuse which stretches back for decades.


Charles Platt on Texas-style justice and the U.S. penal system

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Science-fiction author Charles Platt published this piece in BoingBoing describing a visit to see his penpal Son Tran, a homicide convict and inmate in Texas jailed for gang-related killings at age 17. Not only does Platt describe the prison environment with the vivid eloquence of a seasoned narrator, he reminds us of the idosyncracies and absurdities inherent in the medieval penal system flourishing in what is supposed to be one of the world’s more enlightened states:

This gets me back to the case of Son Tran. Imagine yourself aged thirteen, feeling angry and estranged from your fellow students because you’re Vietnamese-American. Imagine that you are approached by some older kids who are themselves Vietnamese. They invite you to join their club, and for the first time in your short life, you are freed from your feelings of alienation. You find acceptance.

Of course, there’s a price to pay. It’s like joining the army: You go through a process of indoctrination and desensitization, during which you bond with your comrades-in-arms and learn to obey orders.

The scenario that I’m outlining does not excuse the crime. It merely suggests that someone who was not yet an adult, and became infatuated with gang culture at a very impressionable age, should not be judged as harshly as, for example, a serial killer who has committed multiple crimes over ten or fifteen years. After a decade in prison, the serial killer may still represent a severe risk to the general public while the younger man may not, and a system that refuses to take this into account wastes human potential and wastes our money. Even when the state reaps some income on the side by forcing prisoners to do menial work for no pay, incarceration remains an expensive proposition.

The United States has the highest prison population, as a percentage of the general populace, of any nation on Earth, according to a King’s College, London study—762 per 100,000, more than half again as many as Cuba and about six times as many as China.

Platt notes that, from about 1925 to 1975, the U.S. prison population stayed near the international average. Since then, it has mushroomed. Platt suggests that reactionary social conservatism and a sensationalist media coupled with large building and maintenance budgets makes our penchant for lock-ups possible and helps give vigor and vitality to a culture of fear and retribution.

Great article.

Crimes against humanity: the misery in Gaza

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Gaza-Israel border

Gaza-Israel border

For a year and a half now, the government of Israel has imposed a blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Despite the sporadic influx of foreign aid—chiefly from the UN—living conditions have steadily deterioriated in Gaza, with UN officials recently referring to them as simply “the worst ever” since the beginning of the illegal Israeli occupation in 1967.

Banks are experiencing cash shortages. There have been dire shortages of food and electricity; whole communities collectively totaling about 1.5 million residents are being punished for the retaliatory violence committed by a few. This, while outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush has the characteristic audacity to congratulate himself on his “bold” record of policy initiatives in the Middle East.

“The Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001,” Bush recently told reporters in a Washington forum.

Don’t make me barf. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a g.d. lie.

With the appointment of a Zionist loyalist to the top West Wing position and having copiously fawned to organizations such as AIPAC during his campaign, it appears that President-Elect Barack Obama will be unlikely to meaningfully adjust U.S. policy toward Israel anytime soon.

That’s change you can believe in. Yes, we can.

It is largely through the diplomatic, fiscal, and military support of the U.S. government that Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories and brutally oppress their native inhabitants. For example, the UN Human Rights council has condemned the actions of Israel well over a dozen times in the past couple of years; these proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel and the United States of America, continuing a pattern of diplomatic back-scratching that has persisted for decades as Israel continues to conduct exercises against other regional powers using US technology and logistical support.

This BBC news story highlights the plight of the family of Fazi Abu Gerada, a Gaza City man struggling to feed his family on meager supplies of bread and vegetable oil in a house with no electricity, scarce water, and a leaky roof:

It is dusk, a crescent moon was just visible overhead, and Fauzi has lit a fire. This is for cooking, heat, and light, as the electricity is still off in Gaza City.

Fauzi is 40 years old and has been unemployed since the intifada that started in 2000 prevented him from crossing into Israel to work as a labourer.

His wife and six children all live with him in a single-roomed house, scraping by on food aid from the United Nations and others.

“I have no income to feed my children. Sometimes I cannot even give them bread,” he told me. “We beg some food from here, and some food from there. Our life is begging.”

Looking despairingly at the breeze block and wood shack which was their home, he adds: “Eight people all live in this one room here. The water comes in in the winter but I don’t even have money for a plastic sheet to put on the roof.

“We are suffering. It’s like living underground. Once I thought I’d burn the house down with everybody in it just to escape this misery.”


The Joose is no longer loose

Posted in celebrity, Crime, Hollywood, justice, law, News, O. J. Simpson, U.S. News by Curtis on 12/5/08

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From BBC News:

Ex-US football star OJ Simpson has been jailed for up to 33 years for the kidnap and armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas.

Describing Simpson as arrogant and ignorant, Judge Jackie Glass said the evidence against him was overwhelming.

He and an accomplice, Clarence Stewart, were convicted on 12 counts in October.

Simpson, eligible for parole in nine years, made an emotional plea to the court, saying he was “sorry” and “confused”. His lawyer is to appeal.

In 1995, the former Buffalo Bills player was acquitted of murdering his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”.

Not that this is the most important news I could be reporting.

But, dude, he did it. Yeah, that. I mean—c’mon. I vividly remember being glued to the chase, and then watching my mom watch every freaking minute of that trial. And it went on forever and ever. Then there was the multi-million dollar acquittal. ‘Cause, if it doesn’t fit . . .

Not that this constitutes justice. He still got away with it. But at least now he’ll be where he belongs, in my humble opinion. At least for a while.

Just Put it on my Tab

Posted in Birds, Crime, ecology, humor, ornithology, urban life, video by Curtis on 9/27/07

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Urban shopkeepers have to keep a constant watch for shoplifters, of course. Usually, though, the thieves don’t have wings.

“Sam” the seagull, of Aberdeen, Scotland, has become something of an Internet celebrity because of his daily habit of stealing a bag of Tangy Cheese Doritos from a city shop.

Now, that’s urban ecology. No charges have as yet been filed.

Insanity and Bloodshed at Virginia Tech

Posted in Crime, homicide, News, school shootings, USA, weapons by Curtis on 4/18/07

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On the morning of April 16, Virginia Tech senior Cho Seung-hui shot and killed 32 persons and injured 29 others on the campus of that institution in Blacksburg. At approximately 7:15 a.m. local time the gunman fired on two people in a dormitory, killing both. He then returned to his own dormitory room and wrote a note. Two hours later he greatly extended his killing spree with a massacre at Norris Hall, a classroom building. Cho, a South Korean citizen with permanent residency in the United States, turned his gun upon himself as law enforcement broke into the building, which Cho had chained shut from the inside.

About twenty of the victims were attending a German class; only four people escaped that scene alive and uninjured. In another classroom, several students blockaded themselves inside and were passed by after Cho attempted unsuccessfully to shoot his way into the room.

It appears unlikely that any concrete motive for the crime will be established. Cho, an English major, has been profiled by some of his teachers as “a loner,” “mean,” and “disturbed.” Some of his writings contain diatribes against “rich kids” and “charlatans” and are characterized by glorified descriptions of vengeful violence. Cho had been referred to counseling in the past. He had spent time at a mental health facility approximately 16 months before the shootings. He is known to have stalked young females on a number of occasions.

In that there is no clear motive for the crime and that the goal seems to have been to kill as many people as quickly as possible, the events of April 16 have been compared to the April 20, 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The United States has one of the highest murder rates in the industrialized world and its recent history has been marked by numerous killing sprees at educational institutions.

Monday’s massacre is the deadliest school shooting on record and is the most lethal single-perpetrator civilian shooting in the history of the United States of America.

Pundits and politicians already are hurling blame at anyone and everyone other than the killer. Certainly valid questions have been raised as to why university staff did not implement more extensive security procedures following the first shootings in the dormitory, given that about two hours passed between that event and the more extensive shootings in the classroom building. Karl Thornhill, the boyfriend of one of the dormitory victims, was detained by authorities on suspicion of having committed those earliest two shootings. According to a Washington Post article, the authorities believed that they had apprehended the shooter and so thought that further security measures on the part of the university would have been unjustified. Only when the bloodshed resumed in Norris Hall did they fully realize their error. Virginia Tech is a large school of approximately 26,000 students, over 9,000 of which reside on campus.

Glock 19Cho was in possession of two handguns—a Glock 19 9 mm (pictured) and a Walther P22 .22 caliber. He acquired the Glock at Roanoke Firearms on March 13, 2007, and the .22 at a Blacksburg pawn shop one month later. Virginia law allows adults 21 years of age or older with no prior felony convictions or other disqualifications to purchase one handgun per month. It is believed that Cho falsified his applications for the handguns, indicating that he had never been institutionalized when, in fact, he had been institutionalized less than two years prior to the shootings.

Virginia Tech policy prohibits the possession of firearms on its campus without express authorization, even for individuals who are otherwise licensed to carry them. This policy has previously been the subject of some debate in Virginia; a bill designed to prevent such policies languished in a Virginia House subcommittee in January of 2006. Bizarrely, there has been considerable outcry that other armed students could have intervened to prevent Cho from committing such extensive homicide—while precedent shows that this reasoning may be circumstantially valid, it is my opinion that one does not have to look far to discover the excruciating absurdity of such logic.

CSTF wishes to express heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of the deceased, and hopes for a speedy recovery to the injured. Let the rest of us ponder the gravity of such tragedy in a culture founded upon the might of gunpowder.

Saddam Hussein Set to Face Execution

Hussein toppled, BaghdadOn 27 December the Iraqi presidency announced that the court order sentencing Saddam Hussein to death was, in a word, final. The laws of the US puppet state in Iraq require that the execution take place within 30 days of sentencing, and Prime Minister al-Maliki has said that he hopes the execution will happen sometime in the remaining days before the end of 2006.

Recently Jalal Talbani, the President of Iraq, indicated that he is opposed to the death penalty but that the order for execution does not require his express approval. The trial and the resulting sentence have been quite strongly criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—while these groups are both opposed to the death penalty in general, they have said that it is particularly grievous to impose such a measure as the outcome of a trial whose face is obviously and severely pockmarked by a lack of due process, reeking of predetermination and US interference in matters of justice.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel cynically mocked: “Today marks an important milestone in the Iraqi people’s effort to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law.” It sounds better if you read it aloud with a pinched nose.

George W. Bush has given his enthusiastic—but, of course, somber—support to the sentence, a stance not surprising coming from a man who, during his sunny tenure as gub’nor of Texas, signed more execution orders than any living elected official in the US. For Bush, the execution of Hussein is a satisfying album leaf intended most squarely for the self-edification of his politically regressive constitutent base in the United States. In Iraq, he has none.

The crime for which Hussein has been sentenced to die is one of his lesser atrocities. It was his retaliation against the town of Dujail, forty miles north of Baghdad, which had been the site of an attempt to assassinate the then-president on 8 July 1982. The attempt was coordinated by the Shiite Dawa party, a group opposed to Hussein’s regime in general and to his US-backed war with Iran particularly. After the incident at Dujail, Hussein ordered reprisals against the town in which 150 men were killed, many of whom were young boys. A further 1,500 people were incarcerated and/or tortured, the city was leveled and rebuilt, and many of the town’s women were sent to harsh internment camps in the desert.

The tribunal handed down its sentence of death in November 2006.

Far above even the searing issue of the propriety of the death penalty in this case, however, there is a matter of justice which has, not surprisingly, remained off the radar of the mainstream media.

Rumself/Hussein, Dec. 1982That matter is this: that the crimes committed by Hussein and his men at Dujail occured with the complete implicit support of the Reagan administration. In fact, in 1982, Reagan had Hussein’s regime removed from its list of state sponsors of terrorism so that the United States could move arms and other goodies into Iraq to support its genocidal war against Iran.

The message is clear. The United States supports authoritarian murder and pillage when it is in the interests of the United States to do so. Likewise, it tends to oppose such atrocities only as a matter of convenience.

This is the ugly truth that will die along with Saddam Hussein. Whether or not one believes that the trial and the sentence of Hussein are just, one cannot ignore the glaring hypocrisy which is being all but righteously proclaimed. Along with the execution of a brutal dictator, a hallmark of doublethink in US foreign policy is also being masterfully executed in Iraq. Because Saddam Hussein is not being killed merely for crimes against his own people; he is being killed for crimes against his own people which occured with full complicity from Washington. Donald Rumsfeld and a number of his associates should be facing the gallows as well, solely by virtue of the logic behind their own tired rhetoric.

As the military and civilian death tolls in Iraq continue to mount, as Bush paves the way for a massive supplement to US troop strength in the area, and as increasing numbers of Iraqis continue to call for the evacuation of US military presence in Iraq, it is perhaps wise to reiterate that those [U.S. taxpayers] who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

O.J. Publisher Approached Brown, Goldman Families With Hush Money

Posted in corruption, Crime, News, O.J. Simpson, USA by Curtis on 11/26/06

From The Independent:

Rupert Murdoch may have abruptly cancelled a planned book and television special in which O J Simpson openly speculates how he could have – strictly hypothetically – murdered his wife. But the furore is far from over for the mogul and his News Corp media empire.

The families of both Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, who was murdered with her over a decade ago, have accused the Murdoch empire of trying to buy their silence.

Murdoch personally canned the book, If I Did It, which was to be published under his ReganBooks imprint. He had also planned to use his broadcast outfit to publicize the venture.

Last week Denise Brown, sister of OJ’s murdered wife Nicole Brown Simpson, told a TV interviewer that emissaries from Murdochistan “wanted to offer us millions of dollars” for “‘I’m sorry’ money.” A News Corporation spokesperson did admit that negotiations over money had taken place, but hastened to add that there were “no strings attached.”

Of course there were strings attached—duh!! You don’t pay out millions unless you’re buying something. Jeez.

Although he remains unfitted and acquitted as per criminal proceedings, Simpson was found civilly liable for the deaths of his estranged wife and her friend Ron Goldman and was ordered to pay more than $30 million to their families, a sentence his lawyers have continually ducked using loopholes in Florida property law—don’t even ask.

Simpson has acknowledged that he has already received a portion of the $3.5 million book deal despite its cancellation.

UCLA Student Repeatedly Tased, Ordered to “Stand Up”

Posted in activism, Crime, law enforcement, News, police brutality, UCLA by Curtis on 11/17/06

Raincoaster also has an excellent post on this, with video.

From the Associated Press:

A camera phone captured a UCLA student being shocked with a stun gun by a police officer after he allegedly refused repeated requests to show his student identification and would not leave a campus library, university police said Wednesday.

The incident occurred about 11 p.m. Tuesday after police did a routine check of student identifications at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Powell Library computer lab.

“This is a long-standing library policy to ensure the safety of students during the late-night hours,” said UCLA Police Department spokeswoman Nancy Greenstein.

She said police tried to escort Mostafa Tabatabainejad, 23, out of the library after he refused to provide ID and would not leave.

Tabatabainejad, who was arrested for resisting and obstructing a police officer, was later released on his own recognizance.

“As the officers attempted to escort him out, he went limp and continued to refuse to cooperate with officers or leave the building,” Greenstein said.

Instead, Greenstein said, Tabatabainejad encouraged others at the library to join his resistance. When a crowd began to gather they used the stun gun on him. . .

Also, for clarity, it should be mentioned that Tabatabainejad is in fact a student at the University of California-Los Angeles and was in no way violating any protocol through his presence in his own student library.

Admittedly I have mixed feelings about this one.

There is no question to me that the repeated tasering of this individual is an example of extreme brutality in law enforcement. This is the primary issue here—if the guy won’t leave the library, you stall for time and call for backup. If need be (not that it was) you can physically remove him from the premises by picking him up and carrying him off.

It’s not like he was armed and dangerous.

What you don’t do is repeatedly deliver electric shocks to his body and then order him to stand up or else face more electric shock. That, I believe, is called torture.

On the other hand, I have to ask: why did Tabatabainejad refuse to give ID in the first place? It’s clear that he was doing nothing wrong simply by being in the library, so what was the big deal? I wince, but I’ll ask it because my conscience tells me I should: was he hoping to make a scene? Certainly he wasn’t hoping to get tased, but why else would a UCLA student in good standing refuse to comply with established security procedures?

Armed officials roaming through a library asking for ID does smack of a police state to me, let me be clear. All I’m saying is that I would have a hard time being convinced that Tabatabainejad wasn’t acting purposefully on some level in his refusal to comply. Let’s not protest our own martyrdom.

But, as I said, that’s not the main issue here as I see it. Those cops and their bosses need to be investigated, fired, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Help me out, somebody…is there something here I’m missing?