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Many States Out of Step with the Constitution on the Use of Force by Police

By José-Antonio Orosco | CounterPunch | July 18, 2016

Recently, President Obama held a town hall meeting to address the growing tension between minority communities and police forces after the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers in Dallas.  He urged police officers to forge trust with communities and recommended better training and more resources.

Many groups around the country have been asking for better training programs, mandatory body cameras, and other reforms. These may indeed help to reduce shootings of civilians, but a deeper concern has to do with the laws surrounding the use of deadly force by law enforcement. What legal standards exist that police officers can use to defend their actions after the fact?

Last year, Amnesty International conducted an investigation into the legal standards for the use of deadly force by police officers in the United States, comparing them with current Supreme Court rulings and international human rights standards, and found enormous disparities.

* It turns out that nine states and the city of Washington, DC have absolutely no legal standards about when officers may use deadly force in arresting suspects.

* There are no states in the country that comply with international law enforcement standards. The current United Nations standard is that police officers should only use deadly force when it is a last resort, and then, only to prevent grave harm or imminent death to themselves or another person.

* What is even more astounding is that there are 13 states that that do not even comply with current constitutional standards set by the US Supreme Court.  In the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner, the Court ruled that police officers may only use deadly force if they have probable cause that the suspect poses significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officers or others.

My home state of Oregon is one of these places out of step with the Constitution, along with the very populated states of New York, New Jersey, Florida, and California.  In Oregon, for instance, police officers are allowed to shoot to kill if the police officers have a reasonable belief that a fleeing suspect has committed a kidnapping, arson, burglary, or indeed, any felony at all, even if the suspect is not posing an immediate threat of death of physical harm. Oregon law does not require that a suspect be given a warning of the use of deadly force, even though such a warning is an international legal standard. Up to 20 states allow police officers to kill a suspect simply for trying to escape prison or jail.

Given this legal framework, incidents of police shootings will not be reduced by body cameras or better training alone since it is the law itself that licenses wide discretion on whom and when police can kill.

This year, at least one state, Missouri, has started working to change that. After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the protests that followed, legislators looked at the use of force provisions (which allowed officers to kill suspects who they believed had committed a felony) and found that it was out of step with the Garner standard.

Everyone who is concerned about the tension in the country and the grievances of the Black Lives Matter movement should press their state lawmakers to ensure that law enforcement officials in their states are at least upholding the US Constitution.

July 18, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Despite Billion-Dollar Budget, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Cancels Project Studying Cancer near Nuclear Facilities

By Ken Broder | AllGov | September 12, 2015

A five-year federal pilot program to determine levels of contamination around eight nuclear facilities in the United States was cancelled this week because, apparently, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is already doing such a fine job of oversight.

“The NRC continues to find U.S. nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements that limit radiation releases from routine operations,” agency spokesman Scott Burnell wrote in defense of the decision. “The NRC and state agencies regularly analyze environmental samples from near the plants. These analyses show the releases, when they occur, are too small to cause observable increases in cancer risk near the facilities.”

There is nothing to see, so why waste the time and money. “The NRC determined that continuing the work was impractical, given the significant amount of time and resources needed and the agency’s current budget constraints.”

The cost was $8 million, $1.5 million of which has already been spent. The NRC has a budget of more than $1 billion. Results from the testing were not expected until at least the end of the decade. The study, led by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) researchers, was meant to update a 1990 National Cancer Institute (NCI) report that focused on cancer mortality, with limited occurrence of the disease in two states.

The NRC decided in 2007 to update the report and contacted the NAS to commence a two-phase study of cancer risks in populations living near NRC-licensed facilities. Phase 1 was to determine if doing the study was feasible. The conclusion reached in 2012 was “Yes.”

Phase 2 was to be broken into two parts: planning and execution. The commission killed it on Tuesday. Nuclear sites to be studied included active and decommissioned plants in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. A nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Tennessee was also on the list.

Supporters of the program are not happy. “Study after study in Europe has shown a clear rise in childhood leukemia around operating nuclear power facilities, yet the NRC has decided to hide this vital information from the American public,” said Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.

Folkers blamed nuclear industry manipulation. Beyond Nuclear points to the NRC staff recommendation (pdf) that the commission drop the program. The policy issue document mentions a cheaper, crummier project pitched by the president of the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), but the staff concludes that no study is worth doing.

U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), who pushed for the cancer study in 2009, also did not sound happy. He said,

“We need a thorough, accurate accounting of the health risks associated with living near nuclear facilities so residents can know if there are any adverse health impacts. But the NRC has decided to take a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach to this public health concern by ceasing work on what could be a lifesaving cancer risk research study.”

To Learn More:

Cancer Risk Study Canceled at San Onofre (by Morgan Lee, San Diego Union-Tribune )

Regulators Halt Study of Cancer Risks at 7 Nuclear Plants (by Stephen Singer, Associated Press )

NRC Pulls Plug on Cancer Study near Nuclear Plants (by Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times )

Memo on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities Study (Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff) (pdf)

September 12, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Nuclear Power | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

City and State Pension Funds Pay Billions in Undisclosed Fees to Private Equity Companies

By Steve Straehley | AllGov | April 26, 2015

A good portion of the money that is supposed to be going to government retirees is being skimmed off by Wall Street as fees, much of them undisclosed, charged by private equity companies.

CEM Benchmarking, which compares costs for various public and private equity funds, says in a report (pdf) that “Less than one‐half of the very substantial [private equity] costs incurred by U.S. pension funds are currently being disclosed.” The difference can be as much as $60 million on a portfolio valued at $3 billion, CEM reported.

Private equity funds say they’re worth the fees they charge because they bring in better returns on investments. However, it’s difficult to verify this claim because long-term returns are mostly self-reported by the equity firms.

Of this country’s $3 trillion in public pension fund assets, roughly 9% ($270 billion) gets invested in private equity firms. The industry’s 2% management fee therefore pays the equity industry about $5.4 billion a year. But if CEM’s calculations apply uniformly, that could mean that in fact more than $10 billion a year, half of that in hidden fees, are being taken from retirees at the same time that governments are trying to cut benefits, according to the International Business Times.

One recent example of this is in New Jersey, where big fees for handling government pensions have gone to fund managers who supported Republican Governor Chris Christie’s election campaigns. In the five years since Christie took office, the International Business Times reported, fees have quadrupled at the same time Christie has said the funds don’t have enough money to pay all the benefits to which retirees are entitled. New Jersey pension trustees have announced an investigation of the funds.

“With billions of public worker and taxpayer dollars put at risk in the highest-cost, most opaque investment schemes ever devised by Wall Street for a decade now, investigations that hold Wall Street profiteers accountable are long, long overdue,” former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Ted Siedle wrote in Forbes.

Other governments aren’t waiting around. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia suburbs, has switched most of its retirement funds from private equity to low-fee stock index funds. California’s massive retirement system, CalPERS, announced last year that it would be divesting itself of hedge funds because of their high costs.

To Learn More:

Cities and States Paying Massive Secret Fees to Wall Street: Report (International Business Times )

Public Pension Fund Analysis (Private Equity Growth Capital Council) (pdf)

The Time Has Come for Standardized Total Cost for Private Equity (CEM Benchmarking) (pdf)

State Government Revenues Tops Expenditures Thanks to Pension Fund Investments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )

California Pensions to Dump $4-Billion Hedge Fund Investments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley and Ken Broder, AllGov California )

“Vulture” Capitalists Strike Vulnerable Cities and Counties (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Cory Booker, the Next Black Corporate Presidential Contender

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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | August 14, 2013

Cory Booker, the obnoxious and joyously cynical Newark, New Jersey mayor and soon-to-be U.S. senator, perfected the role of stealth Black corporatist Democratic politician years before Barack Obama was elected to national office – although he’s eight years younger than Obama. If anything, Booker has more friends in high rightwing places at this stage in his career than did Barack Obama when he was running for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, ten years ago. Obama came out gradually as a servant of the corporate class; Booker has always been a sycophant of the rich and devotee of their most reactionary causes.

While Barack Obama waited until he was president to fully display his school privatization colors, Cory Booker began his public career as an operative in the corporate-funded private school vouchers game. At the age of 33, and with only one term as a city councilman under his belt, Booker used his rich contacts in rightwing, mainly Republican circles to vastly outspend, and almost defeat, the most powerful Black politician in New Jersey, Newark mayor Sharpe James. Four years later, in 2006, after a very large Republican U.S. Attorney and now governor, Chris Christie, had put James on the path to prison, Cory Booker walked into City Hall with an army of Wall Street and Silicon Valley billionaires behind him.

Once he steps into the U.S. Senate, to serve out the remainder of the late Frank Lautenberg’s term, Booker will immediately start running for president, staking out a position to the right of the current occupant and of Obama’s likely successor, Hillary Clinton. In the last presidential race, Booker infuriated the Obama camp by coming to the defense of Bain Capital, the Wall Street investment firm where Mitt Romney made his fortune. Booker said it was “nauseating” to see all those good people in high finance held up to scorn in an election campaign.

Nobody can say that Cory Booker doesn’t take care of his friends in the 1%. They certainly take care of him. They have bankrolled all of his electoral efforts, most recently allowing Booker to spend almost three times as much as his top Democratic senatorial opponents, combined. Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerman’s $100 million gift to the Newark Public Schools made Booker look like an urban miracle worker – although the transaction was actually more like Booker presenting the schools as a gift to Zuckerman and his privatizing friends. Other Silicon Valley fat cats set Booker up as head of a start-up Internet company that made Booker a millionaire, at least on paper. Now that Booker is going to Washington, the start-up is going down the tubes. But, there are plenty more self-serving deals to be made on Capitol Hill.

In the recent campaign, Booker sounded positively like an old-style Republican, badmouthing “Washington” in every other sentence.

The filthy rich have cultivated a true-blue believer in Cory Booker, the still-young man from the suburbs of New Jersey. As I wrote in the inaugural issue of the Black Commentator, in April of 2002, “At his age, Cory will be a blight on the political scene even longer than the rest of the Four Cs (colored conservatives counting cash).” I was referring to Condoleezza (Rice), Clarence (Thomas), and Colin (Powell).

He’ll likely be around even longer than his fellow Black stealth corporatist, Barack Obama.

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Corruption | , , | Comments Off on Cory Booker, the Next Black Corporate Presidential Contender

New Jersey hospital deports unconscious stroke victim

RT | June 26, 2013

A US hospital deported an unconscious stroke victim after noticing that the patient was an undocumented immigrant from Poland. Polish health officials are furious that the man was “dumped on their doorstep” before the transfer was approved.

“Imagine being carted around like a sack of potatoes,” Polish Consul General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka told New York Daily News, describing the incident in which 69-year old Wladyslaw Haniszewski was unconsciously deported to his homeland.

Haniszewski, who suffers from a blood disease, lived in Perth Amboy, N.J., for 30 years. He recently lost his job, apartment, and health insurance, and was forced to move into a homeless shelter, the Daily News reports.

After the man suffered a dangerous stroke, a friend named Jerzy Jedra took him to the New Jersey hospital for treatment. When officials at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital noticed that the patient had no health insurance and lived in the US without documentation, they sent the comatose man to Poland. US hospitals are legally required to provide emergency care to anyone who needs it, but are allowed to deport stabilized undocumented immigrants.

But in order to deport someone, a US hospital must first get consent from either the patient, a family member, or a court guardian. Officials at the Polish consulate claim that no one was contacted, and that Haniszewski’s family was never informed that the man was deported.

Meanwhile, Haniszewski was left at the doorstep of a hospital in Boleslawiec, Poland. The facility is now being forced to take care of the man’s medical payments, which have cost “a few hundred dollars” a day, the hospital’s deputy director told TVN.

Junczyk-Ziomecka, who works at the Polish consulate in New York City, said she was trying to help the comatose man, only to realize last week that he was gone. Polish officials are furious about the deportation, especially since the 69-year-old patient was not in a healthy state to sign off on the transfer.

“Behind our backs they transported the unconscious man to Poland,” she told TVN, noting that she was most furious about the hospital’s decision to dump the man at the facility. “I cannot imagine such a situation that the decision about transporting an unconscious person could be made without agreement. Between the two institutions must be a contract, there must be documents. You cannot simply leave a patient at the door and drive away.”

At least 800 people have been deported from US hospitals without consent over the past six years in 15 states, the Associated Press reported in April. Medical repatriation has become increasingly common, but AP suggests that the actual number of such hospital deportations is much higher than figures show. Some health advocates are afraid that repatriations will occur more frequently after major components of Obamacare are implemented in 2014, since the US government will reduce its payments to hospitals that care for large numbers of uninsured patients.

Shena Erlington, director of the Health Justice Program, told the Daily News that although hospitals may face the burden of paying for uninsured patients, medical care providers should not have the ability to deport patients.

“It’s an incredibly disturbing case,” Lori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law, said about the Haniszewski repatriation. “This kind of action seems clearly illegal and also not ethical, but it’s hard to bring forth a legal action.”

The New Jersey hospital denies any wrongdoing and claims that the patient was informed of his discharge and care plan. The patient is awake, but unable to speak or communicate with doctors.

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Comments Off on New Jersey hospital deports unconscious stroke victim

US Muslims sue to stop NYPD spying program

RT | June 6, 2012

Eight American Muslims have filed a federal lawsuit to put an end to a post-9/11 surveillance program run by the New York Police Department. The lawsuit follows a New Jersey Attorney General probe saying the NYPD had done nothing wrong.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Newark Wednesday by Muslim Advocates, a group who has taken up the New Jersey Muslims’ cause. The suit claims that identifying as Muslim does not constitute “a legitimate criterion” for law-enforcement officials to target individuals for surveillance.

“This case is critical to protecting the civil rights of American Muslims and all Americans,” Muslim Advocates legal director Glen Katon said.

New Jersey Representative Rush Holt called the lawsuit “a thoughtful, sensible step toward bringing law enforcement practices back into line with constitutional protections and the standards of good policing.”

It is the first such legal action to directly challenge the NYPD for spying on Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001. An Associated Press investigation last year uncovered a systematic surveillance program that put entire Muslim neighborhoods under a watchful eye, recording the every move of their residents. Undercover police infiltrated dozens of mosques and student groups while investigating scores more in New York City and neighboring New Jersey.

Records showed that police paid special attention to grocery stores that carried halal or kosher food products, eavesdropped on Muslim-owned stores, cafes and hair salons, placed Mosques under surveillance during Friday prayers, and even went so far as to photograph an elementary school for Muslim girls.

While New Jersey lawmakers were up in arms upon learning of the intrusive spying program, after a three month review, the state’s attorney found there was no legal means to stop the NYPD from carrying out their practice of targeting mosques, business and student groups for surveillance.

Both NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and the city’s mayor Michael Bloomberg have supported the spying program, saying the information is obtained within departmental guidelines which are within constitutional bounds.

Kelly further stated that the 2001 attacks showed that the city could not rely solely on the federal government to provide for its security.
As it is, the program operates with limited oversight. The New York City Council claims it isn’t qualified to supervise intelligence operations, while Congress says the NYPD is out of its jurisdiction despite the billions in federal largesse the city receives each year.

Lawmakers and civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s practices. A Justice Department spokeswoman said those requests were currently under review.

But Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, said state and federal stonewalling made the lawsuit inevitable.

“With New York officials refusing to look into the NYPD’s abuses, the New Jersey Attorney General saying his hands are tied, and the U.S. Department of Justice dragging its heels, this lawsuit is the victims’ last resort for justice to prevail.”

June 6, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Islamophobia | , , , , , | 3 Comments