Friday, June 18, 2010

Russian spy HQ plagued by giant penis

"Action-artist Alexei Plutser-Sarno posted photos on his website of the most recent art-action by his group Voyna (“War”)—the spray-painting of a giant cock on the Liteyny Bridge in St. Petersburg, next to the [Federal Security Service] building there. At night the bridges of St. Petersburg are raised, and so on the night of the action a giant cock was raised next to the FSB building. As Plutser documents on his site, young people and couples began to arrive at the bridge to have their photos taken next to the cock."

~ The Awl ~

Where are the Maya?

In eleven days and nights of February 2010, the nine members of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism's documentary filmmaking group reported, investigated, interviewed, filmed and produced this 15:34 documentary about the descendants of the original indigenous peoples of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula where the tourist industry from Cancun to Playa del Carmen now exploits them as workers, residents and in name.

~ Where Are the Maya? The Making of the Documentary ~

“At least under Apartheid…..” South Africa on the eve of the World Cup

...At long last, soccer fans, the moment is here. On Friday, when South Africa takes the field against Mexico, the World Cup will officially be underway. Nothing attracts the global gaze quite like it. Nothing creates such an undeniably electric atmosphere with enough energy to put British Petroleum, Exxon/Mobil and Chevron out of business for good.

And finally, after 80 years, the World Cup has come to Africa.

We should take a moment to celebrate that this most global of sports has finally made its way to the African continent, nesting in the bucolic country of South Africa. And yet as we celebrate the Cup's long awaited arrival in the cradle of civilization, there are realities on the ground that would be insane to ignore. To paraphrase an old African saying, "When the elephants party, the grass will suffer." In the hands of FIFA and the ruling African National Congress, the World Cup has been a neoliberal Trojan Horse, enacting a series of policies that the citizens of this proud nation would never have accepted if not wrapped in the honor of hosting the cup. This includes $9.5 billion in state deficit spending ($4.3 billion in direct subsidies and another $5.2 billion in luxury transport infrastructure). This works out to about $200 per citizen.

As the Anti-Privatization Forum of South Africa has written, "Our government has managed, in a fairly short period of time, to deliver 'world class' facilities and infrastructure that the majority of South Africans will never benefit from or be able to enjoy. The APF feels that those who have been so denied, need to show all South Africans as well as the rest of the world who will be tuning into the World Cup, that all is not well in this country, that a month long sporting event cannot and will not be the panacea for our problems. This World Cup is not for the poor – it is the soccer elites of FIFA, the elites of domestic and international corporate capital and the political elites who are making billions and who will be benefiting at the expense of the poor."

In South Africa, the ANC government has a word for those who would dare raise these concerns. They call it "Afropessimism." If you dissent from being an uncritical World Cup booster, you are only feeding the idea that Africa is not up to the task of hosting such an event. Danny Jordaan the portentously titled Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa lamented to Reuters, "For the first time in history, Africa really will be the centre of the world's attention -- for all the right reasons -- and we are looking forward to showing our continent in its most positive light."

To ensure that the "positive light" is the only light on the proceedings, the government has suspended the right to protest for a series of planned demonstrations. When the APF marches to present their concerns, they will be risking arrest or even state violence.

Against expectations, they have been granted the right to march, but only if they stay at least 1.5 km from FIFA headquarters in Soccer City. If they stray a step closer, it's known that the results could be brutal.

You could choke on the irony.  The right to protest was one of the major victories after the overthrow of apartheid. The idea that these rights are now being suspended in the name of "showing South Africa…in a positive light" is reality writ by Orwell.

Yet state efforts to squelch dissent have been met with resistance. Last month, there was a three-week transport strike that won serious wage increases for workers.  The trade union federation, COSATU, has threatened to break with the ANC and strike during the World Cup if double digit electricity increases aren't lowered. The National Health and Allied Workers Union have also threatened to strike later this month if they don't receive pay increases 2% over the rate of inflation.

In addition, June 16th, is the anniversary of the Soweto uprising, which saw 1,000 school children murdered by the apartheid state in 1976. It is a traditional day of celebration and protest. This could be a conflict waiting to happen, and how terrible it would be if it's the ANC wields the clubs this time around. ...

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Police take over World Cup security

Police took over security at World Cup stadiums in Cape Town and Durban on Monday after stewards for soccer games at the venues walked off the job over a pay dispute with their employer, FIFA, the sport's governing body, said.

The decision to bring in the police in the two coastal cities comes after riot police were called in late Sunday to disperse an angry crowd of workers at Durban's Moses Mabhida stadium hours after Germany's victory over Australia.

South Africa has been the scene of several strikes and violent protests this year, most recently a three-week wage strike that paralyzed the freight rail and ports, as well as angry outbursts among residents in poor townships and shanty towns who were frustrated with what they say is the slow delivery of services such as electricity.

FIFA's local organizing committee said the police were asked to take over the security in Durban and at Cape Town's Green Point stadium to cover for workers protesting against the Stallion Security Consortium. Security at the other eight stadiums in the country is contracted to other private security firms.

"Although we have respect for worker's rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match-day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances," said Danny Jordaan, chief executive officer of the World Cup organizing committee.

Chief of communications for the committee, Rich Mkhondo, said the walkouts won't affect the dozens of workers in charge of checking bags and running spectators through metal detectors.

Instead, it will affect the guards whose job it is to keep watch over the stadiums and remain on the lookout for major threats, a job that he said police will be able to take over.

Is there a global war between financial theocracy and democracy?

By Les Leopold [Huffington Post]

Senate and House conferees are about to reconcile a financial reform bill that is virtually designed to institutionalize "too big to fail." And when they do we'll lose another battle in the ongoing war between global financial markets and democratic nation-states.

This war has been going on for decades -- but democracy hasn't always been in full retreat.

The New Deal Conquest: During the Great Depression democratic forces gained the upper hand in the war. We realized that financial markets, which are driven by the largest banks and financiers, had to be tightly controlled. We knew that global speculation on currencies only deepened the Depression and had to be strictly limited. We knew that an iron curtain was needed between commercial and investment banking to protect Main Street depositors from market madness (that was the Glass-Steagall Act). And most importantly we knew that the key to preventing economic upheaval was to limit the wealth of the super-rich and to increase the wealth of working people through progressive taxes, Social Security, wage and hour laws, and the promotion of unionization. The Bretton Woods agreements forged by the Allies during WWII set up strict rules for global finance, rules that kept financiers in check for more than a quarter century.

And it worked pretty damn well. As economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, this era saw only one financial crisis (Brazil, 1964), and working people in western democracies made huge gains. Since the era of deregulation took hold in the late 1970s, the world has suffered over a hundred financial crises and middle-class incomes have stagnated.

The Deregulatory Counter-Offensive: By the late 1970s, bankers regained the advantage through the spread of a new faith in self-regulated markets. The economic apostles of unfettered markets lobbied against progressive taxes, unions, and social welfare programs. The new orthodoxy was: Let the elites collect the money--they'll invest wisely (instead of consuming), and all boats will rise. This near-religious revolution rapidly spread through the economic and policy establishment. Regulations were dismantled right and left, and the revolving door between government and Wall Street started spinning. The American financial catechism ruled the world. And on Wall Street, the money tap was open. It did not trickle down.

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Details of the Goa Inquisition

By Christian historian, Dr. T. R. de Souza

At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material was in most cases utilized to erect new Christian Churches and chapels. Various viceregal and Church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories; the public practices of Hindu rites including marriage rites, were banned; the state took upon itself the task of bringing up Hindu orphan children; the Hindus were denied certain employments, while the Christians were preferred; it was ensured that the Hindus would not harass those who became Christians, and on the contrary, the Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in Churches to listen to preaching or to the refutation of their religion."

"A particularly grave abuse was practiced in Goa in the form of 'mass baptism' and what went before it. The practice was begun by the Jesuits and was alter initiated by the Franciscans also. The Jesuits staged an annual mass baptism on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25), and in order to secure as many neophytes as possible, a few days before the ceremony the Jesuits would go through the streets of the Hindu quarter in pairs, accompanied by their Negro slaves, whom they would urge to seize the Hindus. When the blacks caught up a fugitive, they would smear his lips with a piece of beef, making him an 'untouchable' among his people. Conversion to Christianity was then his only option."

The Goan inquisition is regarded by all contemporary portrayals as the most violent inquisition ever executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. It lasted from 1560 to 1812. The inquisition was set as a tribunal, headed by a judge, sent to Goa from Portugal and was assisted by two judicial henchmen. The judge was answerable to no one except to Lisbon and handed down punishments as he saw fit. The Inquisition Laws filled 230 pages and the palace where the Inquisition was conducted was known as the Big House and the Inquisition proceedings were always conducted behind closed shutters and closed doors. The screams of agony of the culprits (men, women, and children) could be heard in the streets, in the stillness of the night, as they were brutally interrogated, flogged, and slowly dismembered in front of their relatives. Eyelids were sliced off and extremities were amputated carefully, a person could remain conscious even though the only thing that remained was his torso and a head.

Diago de Boarda, a priest and his advisor Vicar General, Miguel Vazz had made a 41 point plan for torturing Hindus. Under this plan Viceroy Antano de Noronha issued in 1566, an order applicable to the entire area under Portuguese rule :
"I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be, destroyed and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression."

In 1567 the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished.

A religious fatva was issued on the basis of the findings of Goa Inquiry Commission. It stated,"...Hereby we declare the decision that the conventions mentioned in the preamble of the fatva as stated below are permanently declared as useless, and therefore prohibited".

Prohibitions Regarding Marriages

-The instruments for Hindu songs shall not be played.
-While giving dowry the relatives of the bride and groom must not be invited.
-At the time of marriage, betel leaf packages (pan) must not be distributed either publicly or in private to the persons present.
-Flowers, or fried puris, betel nuts and leaves must not be sent to the heads of the houses of the bride or groom.
-Gotraj ceremony of family God must not be performed.
-On the day prior to a wedding, rice must not be husked, spices must not be pounded, grains must not be ground and other recipes for marriage feast must not be cooked.
-Pandals and festoons must not be used.
-Pithi should not be applied.
-The bride must not be accorded ceremonial welcome. The bride and groom must not -be made to sit under pandal to convey blessings and best wishes to them.

Prohibitions Regarding Fasts, Post-death Rituals

-The poor must not be fed or ceremonial meals must not be served for the peace of the souls of the dead.
-There should be no fasting on ekadashi day.
-Fasting can be done according to the Christian principles.
-No rituals should be performed on the twelfth day after death, on moonless and full moon dates.
-No fasting should be done during lunar eclipse.


-Hindu men should not wear dhoti either in public or in their houses. Women should not wear cholis .
-They should not plant Tulsi in their houses, compounds, gardens or any other place.

-Following the law of 1567, orphans were kidnapped for converting them to Christianity.

On September 22, 1570 an order was issued that :
-The Hindus embracing Christianity will be exempted from land taxes for a period of 15 years.
-Nobody shall bear Hindu names or surnames.

In 1583 Hindu temples at Esolna and Kankolim were destroyed through army action.
"The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers." wrote Sasetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588.
An order was issued in June 1684 eliminating Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing toughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the symbols of non-Christian sects were destroyed and the books written in local languages were burnt.

The Archbishop living on the banks of the Ethora had said during one of his lecture series, "The post of Inquiry Commission in Goa is regarded as holy." The women who opposed the assistants of the commission were put behind the bars and were used by them to satisfy their animal instincts. Then they were burnt alive as opponents of the established tenets of the Catholic church.
The victims of such inhuman laws of the Inquiry Commission included a French traveller named Delone. He was an eye witness to the atrocities, cruelty and reign of terror unleashed by priests. He published a book in 1687 describing the lot of helpless victims. While he was in jail he had heard the cries of tortured people beaten with instruments having sharp teeth. All these details are noted in Delone's book.

So harsh and notorious was the inquisition in Goa, that word of its brutality and horrors reached Lisbon but nothing was done to stop this notoriety and escalating barbarity and it continued for two hundred more years. No body knows the exact number of Goans subjected to these diabolical tortures, but perhaps it runs into hundreds of thousands, may be even more. The abominations of inquisitions continued until a brief respite was given in 1774 but four years later, the inquisition was introduced again and it continued un-interruptedly until 1812. At that point in time, in the year of 1812, the British put pressure on the Portuguese to put an end to the terror of Inquisition and the presence of British troops in Goa enforced the British desire. Also the Portuguese power at this time was declining and they could not fight the British. The palace of the Grand Inquisitor, the Big House, was demolished and no trace of it remains today, which might remind someone of inquisitions and the
horrors inside this Big House that their great saint Francis Xavier had commenced.

Dr. Trasta Breganka Kunha, a Catholic citizen of Goa writes, "Inspite of all the mutilations and concealment of history, it remains an undoubted fact that religious conversion of Goans is due to methods of force adopted by the Portuguese to establish their rule. As a result of this violence the character of our people was destroyed. The propagation of Christian sect in Goa came about not by religious preaching but through the methods of violence and pressure. If any evidence is needed for this fact, we can obtain it through law books, orders and reports of the local rulers of that time and also from the most dependable documents of the Christian sect.

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Australia named in US State Department slavery report

The US State Department has named and shamed Australia as a source and destination for human trafficking for sexual servitude and forced labour.

It said women from Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and China - and to a lesser extent Eastern Europe - were forced into slavery after migrating to Australia voluntarily with the intention of working legally.

However the Department praised Australia for increasing efforts to combat human trafficking, The Courier-Mail said.

A State Department report said women and men were coerced into "bonded labour" or "debt bondage" by organised crime gangs.

And the Department said it had for the first time identified an Australian citizen in the US as a human trafficking victim.

The victim was a woman, but no other details were revealed.

The report also chided Australia for tolerating prostitution among young Aboriginal girls.

"Australia is a source and destination country for women subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically exploitation in forced prostitution, and, to a lesser extent, women and men in forced labour and children in commercial sexual exploitation," it said.

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BP Gulf oil spill and Bhopal: a contrast

Astounding criminality

Sunanda K Datta-Ray

While the United States turns the screws on British Petroleum, Indians must contend with the mockery of the June 7 verdict sentencing seven Union Carbide employees to two years imprisonment and fines of Rs 1 lakh each. The contrast again highlights the need for some semblance of balance in India's relations with the US.

It is not for laymen to comment on the technicalities of the disaster that engulfed Bhopal in 1984 or the tortuous legal processes that followed. But the outraged British response to US President Barack Obama's pressure on BP and the fears expressed for the future of the 'special relationship' confirm that such episodes cannot be plucked out of the diplomaric context. The old identification of General Motors with the US remains valid. Whatever the cause of the Bhopal tragedy, its subsequent handling exposed the danger of dependency.

That is why I called my book on India-US relations Waiting for America. It emphatically asserted that India needs the US. But it also stressed that the connection must be consonant with India's self-respect. Indians are waiting for the US to realise that their country cannot be the new Pakistan, to cite Mr Sitaram Yechury, and that relations cannot resemble those between the US and the Shah's Iran or erstwhile South Vietnam. My case was that India's size, population, resources, strategic potential and civilisational heritage demand a more equal partnership.

I was living in Singapore when the book appeared and received thunderingly good reviews in some of our most respected journals. Then I learnt to my surprise that the publisher had asked the American Ambassador to release it and that His Excellency had asked for a copy to read and turned down the request. The last was no surprise: Anyone who was aware of the book's contents and knew anything of how American politicos think would have expected nothing else. This Ambassador, moreover, was a close friend of the President whose “if you are not with us you are against us” declaration justifying Operation Enduring Freedom articulated a basic premise of American statecraft.

There was no launch and no publicity after the ambassadorial frown. The book disappeared from shop shelves. It was not visible at the Calcutta Book Fair. Shops told me they presumed it was out of print since requests for fresh stock were ignored. Direct approaches to the publisher were rebuffed. Eventually, the publisher e-mailed me to say the book had “not sold well” and would be pulped. A minor incident but revealing, perhaps, of attitudes.

Immediately after the Bhopal tragedy, when the paper I edited published a hard-hitting editorial demanding firm action by the Government, a senior New Delhi bureaucrat tried to persuade me to change our line. His case was that American law would not allow Union Carbide to concede what my paper demanded. I recalled his advocacy later when other Indians argued that companies like Enron could not have bribed anyone in this country because bribery is a federal offence in the US.

This readiness to adopt the American position might partly be explained by Mr Natwar Singh's claim that eight out of 10 diplomats hanker for a Green Card for their children. Similarly, I describe in Waiting for America that Joseph Korbel, Ms Madeleine Albright's father, was waiting for his American naturalisation papers while he was the United Nations adjudicator on Jammu & Kashmir. But the subservience of Indians in high position goes beyond calculations of self-interest. The excitement when Mr Obama attended a reception for Mr SM Krishna or an ethnic Indian won the Spelling Bee competition has no logic beyond the inferiority complex of a colonised people.

The flurry of excitement in a Dhaka hotel — flower pots brought in, carpets unrolled — once prompted me to ask the cause. “Ambassador!” a Bangladeshi breathed. Which Ambassador? But “Ambassador” needed no elaboration. Eventually I discovered it was the Saudi Ambassador. America's Ambassador may not occasion quite the same furore in New Delhi but the senior diplomat I had just sat down to interview in his South Block office (after two abortive appointments) when I was researching Waiting for America jumped up with alacrity when a burly White man pushed the door open and strode in.

He was the acting US Ambassador. “Hope I'm not disturbing anything” he said breezily. “I'd come to see so-and-so and thought I'd drop in.” Honoured by the intrusion, my IFS host drove me away, my questions unasked. He is now one of India's senior Ambassadors. Given his grovelling, why blame a Lok Sabha member from Bihar for vowing not to wash for three months the hand that Mr Bill Clinton had shaken?

We now learn that corners were cut to get Union Carbide's licence to manufacture pesticide, early warnings about the factory were ignored, and India's official team of scientists not allowed into the company's plant in Virginia. In his paper, “Unsettling Truths, Untold Tales: The Bhopal Gas Disaster Victim's 'Twenty Years' of Courtroom Struggles for Justice”, Delhi High Court's Justice S Muralidhar called the settlement the Supreme Court approved in February 1989 “severely flawed”. We also learn that Mr Arun Jaitley and Mr Abhishek Singhvi both advised Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, that it had no liability for the tragedy.

Commonsense suggests that liabilities go with assets. Commonsense also suggests that the top man — Warren Anderson — must be accountable for everything that happens in his company. I was only following established practice when as editor I appeared before the West Bengal Assembly's privileges committee and took the rap for a junior colleague's indiscretion. Mr Anderson's evasiveness indicates a conscience as dead as that of the Exxon chief who retired recently with a $400 million handshake from a company that paid a similar sum (after fighting tooth and nail against the initial $ 5 billion award) for 40,000 victims of the 1989 Valdez oil spill.

The criminality of those who allowed Anderson to escape is even more astounding. They soft-pedalled charges against Union Carbide, ensured that the case was not heard in the US where damages would have been much higher and did nothing to scotch American whispers blaming the tragedy on a disgruntled workman's sabotage.

The nation expects the Group of Ministers to impress upon the US that there can be no strategic alliance based on injustice. India is still waiting for America.

Some questions on Bhopal

Priyadarsi Dutta

Upon the wrecked Pompeii of UCIL's compound in Bhopal, cobwebs of confusion dart in the air. All the former Prime Minister's men and all the ex-Chief Minister's men are trying hard to put together again the Humpty Dumpty shattered by the June 7 court judgement. Is there any credible evidence, apart from Mr Arjun Singh's trumped horse-sense that law and order deteriorated in Bhopal on December 7-8, 1984? What else did Mr Singh do to control it apart from aiding Mr Warren Anderson to flee? How was bail granted to him by the investigating officer without his ever being produced in court? How did Mr Anderson pole-vault out of a two-tier security, provincial and national, to escape unscathed to the US?

Why was Mr Anderson never quizzed — extradition was half a world away — by intelligence agencies as was David Headley? There seem to be a pile of questions never satisfactorily asked. A tragedy caused by “the synergy of the very worst of American and Indian cultures” was how the Chief Judicial Magistrate described the Bhopal disaster in his 95-page judgment.

The confusion was compounded as no judicial inquiry or commission was set up to go into the antecedents and aftermath of the gas tragedy. The reason for this is not known. The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 was enforced with effect from February 20, 1985. The Act conferred upon the Central Government the power to secure claims connected with the Bhopal gas leakage. But sadly, no inquiry commission, headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court, was ordered though there were reportedly 17 ministerial committees and now another GoM (Group of Ministers) to look into the issue.

In the meantime, international organisations like Amnesty International, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Massachusetts and the Pesticide Action Network have conducted case studies and research on Bhopal nailing Union Carbide India Limited. Sanjoy Hazarika came to limelight with Bhopal: The Lessons of a Tragedy (1987) and Dominique Lapierre with Five Minutes Past Midnight in Bhopal (2002). But it is a riddle why there's no official report on the Bhopal catastrophe.

UN expert calls for independent anti-corruption mechanisms

A United Nations (UN) expert on human rights and extreme poverty has advised the Zambian government to ensure the independence and capacity of anti- corruption mechanisms if the country is to effectively curb corruption.

Giving a report to the UN Human Rights Council at the ongoing 14th regular session in Geneva, Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona said it was crucial for the government to guarantee freedom of expression and an enabling environment for civil society participation in the fight against corruption.

Carmona undertook a mission to Zambia in August 2009 to carry out a study on the situation of Zambians living in extreme poverty and the importance of increasing investment in social protection.

Based on the study, Carmon concluded that corruption had continued to be an obstacle in the country's fight against extreme poverty as resources were being misapplied and poorly accounted for.

“As acknowledged by the government, corruption is a serious obstacle. Corruption disproportionately affects the poor, especially in times when resources are limited,” Carmon stated. “In order to effectively fight corruption, government must enhance accountability mechanisms. In such a context, it is crucial to ensure the independence of anti- corruption mechanisms.”

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The Military Money Pit

BROODING OVER the deficit is Washington's civil religion, and as the budget gap exploded over the last two years, we've witnessed a revival. From the Tea Party to the White House, the deficit is a driving concern. Fear of adding to it has thwarted Democratic efforts at another stimulus. Anger over it could determine who controls Congress. No force in politics is more powerful.

So it's odd that the largest category of discretionary spending has largely escaped scrutiny: military spending. In January, when President Obama proposed a three-year freeze in discretionary spending, he pointedly exempted the military. Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators and policy experts asked an important question: Why?

The group, The Sustainable Defense Task Force, encompasses the political spectrum - from Barney Frank, on the left, to Ron Paul, on the right - along with a host of military reformers. They share a belief that unrestrained military spending is a danger to the budget, and to the country. And they make a persuasive case that we can spend less without sacrificing security.

Today, the United States spends more on its military than during the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union no longer poses a threat, yet we continue to spend huge sums protecting countries in Europe and Asia. This defense subsidy allows Europeans to provide a level of social welfare far in excess of what the United States offers its citizens. If Germany, France, and Britain bore more of their own defense costs, US tax dollars could go elsewhere, or nowhere.

Overpriced, underperforming weapons systems are a hardy Washington perennial also ripe for the cutting. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the V-22 Osprey - all identified as potential cost savings in the task force report - have been targeted by reformers for years. No less a hawk than Dick Cheney has pronounced the V-22 "a turkey.'' That we continue paying for these weapons makes even less sense now that terrorists, not communists, are the enemy.

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Lhamo Tso: Behind the Sea

Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen is serving a six year sentence in China for a documentary he made prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in Qinghai province, western China. The documentary, Leaving Fear Behind, features a series of interviews with Tibetans about their views on the then upcoming Beijing Olympics, the human rights situation in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. His wife, Lhamo Tso, is now caring for all of her children as her husband sits imprisoned. Behind the Sea, a short film by Tibetan Women's Association is dedicated to her, her family, Dhondup Wangchen, all other Tibetan prisoners of conscience and political prisoners.

Criminalising makes drug markets more violent

Effect of drug law enforcement on drug-related violence: evidence from a scientific review.

Werb D., Rowell G., Guyatt G. et al.
Vancouver: International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, 2010.

The first systematic review of this issue cautions that heightened drug enforcement which fails to curtail the illicit market in drugs can generate drug-related violence, raising the overall level of violence in societies where such markets are widespread and endemic.

Abstract This review from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy noted that research from many settings has demonstrated clear links between violence and the illicit drug trade, particularly in urban areas. While violence has traditionally been seen as resulting from the effects of drugs on users (eg, drug-induced psychosis), violence in drug markets and in drug-producing areas such as Mexico is increasingly understood as a way for drug gangs to gain or maintain a share of the lucrative illicit market.

In the light of the growing emphasis on evidence-based policy-making, and the severe violence attributable to drug gangs in many countries, it was decided to conduct a systematic review of all available English-language research on law enforcement's impact on violence related to illicit drug markets. The theory being tested was that increasing expenditure on or increasing the intensity of drug law enforcement would be associated with lower levels of violence.

A search was undertaken using electronic databases, Academic Search Complete, PubMed, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Web of Science, Sociological Abstracts, Social Service Abstracts, PAIS International and Lexis-Nexis. the Internet Google and Google Scholar. and article reference lists, from the earliest dates these facilities covered up to October 2009. This yielded 306 reports of which 15 met the review's criteria. Studies published in peer-reviewed journals, abstracts from international conferences, and publications from governments and non-governmental organisations which reported on a link between drug law enforcement, illicit drug strategies, and violence. Editorials, advocacy articles, and studies of police violence were excluded, as were studies focused on violence associated with military action against insurgencies funded through the drug trade. Thirteen of the studies were from North America and two from Australia. Contrary to expectations, across all 15 studies, 13 found that increasing drug law enforcement intensity was associated with greater rates of drug market violence; details below.

Eleven of the studies traced the link in different locations and over time between indices Such as drug arrests as a proportion of total arrests, police expenditure, number of police officers, and drug seizure rates. of the extent of drug law enforcement on the one hand, and records of violence, violent crime, or murder on the other. Each attempted to adjust Using regression analyses. for other influences in order to isolate the impact of enforcement levels. Nine of these 11 studies found statistically significant increases in violence as drug law enforcement increased. Another two studies found either no relationship or a different one in different cities. Additionally, two studies used hypothetical data to model the potential impact of intensified drug enforcement; one model suggested decreased violence, the other increased. Finally, two Australian studies based their conclusions, not on statistical tests, but on the observations of researchers and interviews with people involved with a drug market or with its policing. They found that though enforcement persuaded some dealers to leave a market, others willing to take higher risks entered. The result was that street dealing interactions became more volatile, leading to more violent disputes which contributed to an increase in killings and non-fatal shootings.

The reviewers concluded that evidence to date suggests that increasing the intensity of law enforcement interventions to disrupt drug markets is unlikely to reduce drug gang violence. Drug-related violence, gun violence, high murder rates, and the enrichment of organised crime networks, are likely to be a natural consequence of prohibitions against drug use and/or dealing. Increasingly sophisticated and well resourced ways of disrupting drug distribution networks may unintentionally increase violence. Alternative models for drug control may need to be considered if drug supply and drug-related violence are to be meaningfully reduced.

Findings logo Caveats outlined in this summary are expanded on under the subheadings below. The unique value of this report is that apparently it is the first to systematically evaluate research on the impact of drug law enforcement on violence. It cautions that heightened enforcement which fails to curtail the illicit drug market may make that market more violent and raise the overall level of violence in societies where drug markets are widespread and endemic. Such warnings are already being taken to heart in parts of Britain's enforcement apparatus where there is acceptance that the aim should be to target the harms drug markets bring with them, not necessarily to target markets per se, and to ensure as far as possible that no new harms are created.

The link the review finds between the level of drug enforcement and the level of violence is enough to warrant such caution because this link might reflect an unwanted impact of enforcement. However, the review falls well short of proving this is the case. Insufficient detail is presented to enable an assessment of how methodologically sound the studies were. Also, the review's explanation of how enforcement as measured in these studies might have caused violence is questionable. It may also be that the type of enforcement is critical – that counterproductive impacts such as violence are limited to traditional police tactics focused on arrests and drug seizures, rather than tactics which target the underlying social and environmental factors which make an area conducive to illicit markets. Similarly, certain types of markets and market players may be more prone to react to enforcement pressure in ways which generate violence. Some may simply retreat in to known and trusted circles. In Britain the tendency is often to avoid attention-attracting and destabilising violence.

A link yes, but did enforcement cause crime?

It is likely that the reviewers analysed the studies in considerable detail, but the published review does not critique each study or indicate the degree to which its methodology was capable of answering the question it addressed. A key issue, for example, is whether a study takes steps to eliminate the possibility that a link between enforcement and violence is due to the stepping up of enforcement to counter an increasing threat from drug-related violence – in other words, to eliminate the possibility that rather than enforcement having caused violence, the reverse was the case. It is big leap from observing that two things vary together to determining which (if either) caused the variation in the other. Making this leap is aided by a plausible explanation or 'mechanism' via which one might affect the other, in this case, an explanation for how increased enforcement might increase violence. The one put forward in the review is that "removing key players from the lucrative illegal drug market ... may have the perverse effect of creating significant financial incentives for other individuals to fill this vacuum". Crackdowns can it suggests disrupt a settled market dominated by a few players and split it in to competing fiefdoms, generating violence in the fight for the spoils. While analysts agree that this can happen, one problem with this explanation is that indices of enforcement intensity in the reviewed studies seem to bear little relation to the removal of key players. Numbers of drug arrests or seizures and spending on enforcement seem at least as likely to reflect generalised enforcement activity which affects drug users and low-level dealers rather than surgical operations targeted at major financiers and organisers.

There are, of course, other explanations for such a link, prime amongst which is that intensified enforcement raises the price of illicit drugs by constricting supply and because dealers raise prices to compensate for heightened risk. In turn, greater rewards lead to greater violence in order to secure those rewards. Such a mechanism is thought to account for the relationship between heroin prices and total or drug-related killings in the USA and several European countries and regions. The prime difficulty with this argument is securing evidence that intensified enforcement has actually led to an increase in price. Indeed, the review highlights the decrease in illicit drug prices in the USA – where most of the studies it reviewed were conducted – as proof that intensified enforcement since the 1990s has not curtailed supply.

The review also notes that the illegality of the market closes off formal dispute-resolution mechanisms like the courts, professional discipline, or reputation-damaging publicity, leaving arguments to be settled by force. While this may be the case, it seems a result of prohibition in itself; it does not explain why the vigour with which it is enforced would influence the extent of resort to force. Yet another possible mechanism is that if police really do focus on what in some countries is a huge illicit drug market, this would significantly detract from the focus on other crimes. Analysis of crime trends suggests this has been the case for property crime in Florida and Portugal; a similar effect may extend to violent crime. Another mechanism is that corruption generated by drug money undermines the effectiveness of enforcement and prevents the imposition of deterrent penalties. Stimulating a defensive 'arms race' is also a well known and counter-productive impact of intensified enforcement which might increase violence if (for example) market participants arm themselves and threaten potential witnesses and informers to avoid capture. Similarly, undercover tactics and the recruitment of informers could undermine trust between market participants and fracture the market in to tight antagonistic cliques which compete rather than cooperate.

Neither should we assume (and the review does not) that drug market participants resort easily and naturally to violence. A small study based on interviews with convicted drug traffickers and law enforcement personnel found this was generally not the case in Britain. As long as those who might countenance violence are making money from a well functioning market, "not only is there no need for violence ... it is to be positively avoided" because it risks police or internal market reactions which are "'bad for business'". The study did however agree that overt as opposed to implied or threatened violence might be a result of market dysfunction and instability. In so far as enforcement contributes to that kind of dysfunction and instability, and if there are no mitigating counter-measures, the effect may be tip the balance from violence being bad for business, to it being seen as a way to retain or incorporate bits of a fragmented market and to regain a kind of fraught stability.

Maybe it depends on the type of enforcement, not just the amount

Possibly the type of enforcement is critical to whether the result is a drug market of much the same size which simply becomes more violent, or a market which – along with related crime – has been sustainably suppressed. Indices of enforcement intensity (such as arrests and seizures) in the reviewed studies seem most likely to reflect traditional policing which reacts to drug markets with 'crackdowns', raids, undercover operations, saturation patrolling and/or stop-and-search policing. Generally these tactics on their own are ineffective, effective only in the short-term, or simply displace the market to other locations or other forms (1 2 3). For a discussion of the benefits and limitations of these approaches see these Findings notes.

But there are other and, from the research, more effective ways to counter illicit markets (1 2). These involve partnerships with community bodies and local people initiated on the basis of an analysis of the underlying problem and intended to alter the social and/or physical environment to make it more resistant to illicit drug markets. Tactics include persuading or forcing landlords to secure and maintain buildings used for drug transactions and to control their tenants, community policing which socially and physically integrates police with the neighbourhood, the mobilisation of local residents and businesses, changing the physical environment by for example eliminating hiding places and removing rubbish and abandoned vehicles, and offering routes out of the market through treatment and reintegration services.

Deploying these or similar tactics alongside conventional law enforcement may mitigate the risk of aggravating violence. Such tactics can also be used to 'secure the ground' cleared by enforcement crackdowns and saturation patrolling. Their impacts are more appropriately measured not in terms of numbers of arrests or seizures, but the improved quality of life of residents and decreased drug-related problems including violent crime. However, implementation involves a much more complex and failure-prone process than straightforward policing, one which requires both the willingness and ability of other groups and services to cooperate – for example, the ability of treatment services to rapidly absorb dependent users who decide to leave an increasingly difficult market.

Maybe it depends on the nature of the market too?

What the review does not (and given the nature of the evidence, may have been unable to) address is whether all types of illicit drug markets are equally likely to become more violent as law enforcement intensifies. For example, 'open' markets which do not rely on sellers and buyers being known to each other have been known to react by becoming more closed. Semi-open (pub- and club-based), closed, 'dealing house', social network and prison-based markets might also respond differently. The drug(s) being marketed may be associated with these different types of markets and different types of market players, so markets in for example, opiates, stimulants, 'dance drugs' or cannabis might also respond differently to enforcement pressure.

~ Source: Findings ~

More than 90 banks miss TARP payments

More than 90 U.S. banks and thrifts missed making a May 17 payment to the U.S. government under its main bank bailout program, signaling a rising number of lenders are struggling to meet their obligations.

The statistics, compiled by SNL Financial from U.S. Treasury data, showed 91 banks and thrifts skipped the May dividend payment under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. It was the first missed payment for 23 of the banks; for the others, it was at least their second miss.

The number of banks missing their TARP payments rose for the third straight quarter. In February, 74 banks deferred their payments; 55 deferred last November.

SNL Financial's analysis found 20 banks have missed four or more payments since the program began in 2008, while eight banks have missed five payments.

Under the TARP program, the U.S. Treasury invested in preferred shares issued banks looking for funds. The banks were to make regular dividend payments to the Treasury, and have the right to repurchase the shares at some point in the future.

While many of the largest U.S. banks easily repaid billions in TARP aid, more than 600 smaller banks still hold $130 billion from the program, created at the height of the financial crisis.

~ more... ~


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