Friday, August 19, 2016

Anniversary of the infamous 1954 Communist Control Act

Fidel Castro and Malcolm X in Harlem, New York (September 1960)
On August 19, 1954, the US government passed the Communist Control Act, signed into law by president Dwight Eisenhower in August 24, 1954.

Enacted during the period of the Second Red Scare (1946–1954), and the darkest days of McCarthyism, the Act outlawed the Communist Party of the United States and criminalized membership in, or support for the Party or "Communist-action" organizations.

This blatant act of political repression and attack on the right to organize happened with the complicity of American liberals, who not only did not offer even token opposition, but instead ardently supported it. Senator Humphrey once remarked that “the amendment [was sought] to remove any doubt in the Senate as to where [Democrats and liberals] [stood] on the issue of Communism.” And historian Mary S. McAuliffe has cited the Act as an illustration of “how deeply McCarthyism penetrated American society.”

It is important to remember that the stranglehold of McCarthyism on American society was broken in large part thanks to the radicalizing effect of the Civil Rights Movement, a grassroots movement that arose from the desire to turn the anti-segregationist conclusions of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education into reality. Another important radicalizing influence that broke the stranglehold of anti-communism was the success of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, which also encouraged anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world but especially in the Americas.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Justice Department says it will end use of private prisons

The following excerpts are taken from the Washington Post article "Justice Department says it will end use of private prisons" (August 18, 2016)

>> The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

[...] In an interview, Yates said there are 13 privately run privately run facilities in the Bureau of Prisons system, and they will not close overnight. Yates said the Justice Department would not terminate existing contracts but instead review those that come up for renewal. She said all the contracts would come up for renewal over the next five years.

The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a critical report concluding that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.

[...] “The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that,” Yates said.

The problems at private facilities were hardly a secret, and Yates said Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons officials had been talking for months about discontinuing their use. Mother Jones recently published a 35,000-word exposé detailing a reporter’s undercover work as a private prison guard in Louisiana — a piece that found serious deficiencies. The Nation magazine wrote earlier this year about deaths under questionable circumstances in privately operated facilities.

It is possible the directive could face resistance from those companies that will be affected. In response to the inspector general’s report, the contractors running the prisons noted that their inmate populations consist largely of noncitizens, presenting them with challenges that government-run facilities do not have.

[...] Yates, though, noted that the Bureau of Prisons was “already taking steps” to make her order a reality. Three weeks ago, she wrote, the bureau declined to renew a contract for 1,200 beds at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico...

[...] According to the inspector general’s report, private prisons housed roughly 22,660 federal inmates as of December 2015. That represents about 12 percent of the Bureau of Prisons total inmate population, according to the report.

In her memo, Yates wrote that the Bureau of Prisons began contracting with privately run institutions about a decade ago in the wake of exploding prison populations, and by 2013, as the federal prison population reached its peak, nearly 30,000 inmates were housed in privately operated facilities. But in 2013, Yates wrote, the prison population began to decline because of efforts to adjust sentencing guidelines, sometimes retroactively, and to change the way low-level drug offenders are charged. She said the drop in federal inmates gave officials the opportunity to reevaluate the use of private prisons.

Yates wrote that private prisons “served an important role during a difficult time period,” but they had proven less effective than facilities run by the government. The contract prisons are operated by three private corporations, according to the inspector general’s report: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation. The Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million on private prisons in fiscal year 2014, according to the report. [...] <<

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Puerto Rico’s Financial Woes Revive Calls for Independence

The following excerpts are taken from the NY Times article "Puerto Rico’s Financial Woes Revive Calls for Independence" (August 16, 2016)

>> SAN JUAN, P.R. — In March 1954, Rafael Cancel Miranda smuggled a gun into the United States Capitol and, with three other Puerto Rican nationalists, opened fire from the visitors’ gallery. Five members of Congress were wounded.

The attackers, three men and one woman, were swiftly arrested and tried. Mr. Cancel Miranda, then 23, received the longest sentence, 85 years. He served 25 years before his sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter.

Today, Mr. Cancel Miranda is the last surviving attacker. He lives with his wife, Angie, on a quiet lane of bungalows in a part of San Juan ... His eyesight is failing, but he still turns out for the occasional independence event, where younger people receive him as a legend.

His ancient enmities are now fresher than ever because of the island’s catastrophic $72 billion debt, which has placed Puerto Rico into what amounts to federal receivership. A seven-member panel appointed by Congress and President Obama will soon hold sway over the island and its finances ... To longtime nationalists like Mr. Cancel Miranda, it is yet more proof that colonialism is alive and well here.

This helps Mr. Cancel Miranda explain something odd that happened this summer. In June, the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro J. García Padilla, traveled to New York City and told a special committee of the United Nations that despite all appearances, Puerto Rico was still a colony of the United States...

“Puerto Rico is hungry and thirsty for justice,” Mr. García Padilla said.

The special committee has called on Washington to “allow the Puerto Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.”

To understand why Mr. García Padilla’s remarks were so unusual, it helps to know that his Popular Democratic Party claims to have already freed Puerto Rico from the colonial yoke...

The party says it achieved that in 1954, and that Puerto Rico has been an “associated free state” since.

“It’s a lie!” Mr. Cancel Miranda said in a recent interview. “We never controlled our own country.”

Unusual events this year have brought many Puerto Ricans to much the same conclusion. In January, in a double jeopardy case, the United States Supreme Court held that Puerto Rico had no independent prosecutorial authority — just the authority bestowed on it by the United States Congress.

[...] Next, Mr. Obama’s administration invoked the territories clause of the Constitution as it pushed for a law allowing Puerto Rico to restructure its big debt ... its use sent a strong signal to Puerto Rico that the island had no power to carry out its own law.

When Congress passed the debt-restructuring law in June, it placed Puerto Rico’s financial affairs under federal oversight, handled by a seven-member board. This was widely seen as proof that “associated free state” was a meaningless term.

“Seven unelected people are going to be controlling our lives,” said María de Lourdes Santiago, a senator from the Puerto Rican Independence Party ... “It’s a dictatorship.”

She said the debt crisis had set profound changes in motion and she hoped Puerto Rico could finally “have a legitimate process of decolonization.”

[...] In an interview at his home, Mr. Cancel Miranda said the previous decolonization — the one carried out by the Popular Democrats — had been a sham, and had provoked the attack on Congress. He played grainy black-and-white video footage of himself as a young man, refusing to apologize for the shooting during questioning. Then he filled in some details.

The United Nations had declared the 1950s a “decade of decolonization,” he said, and Puerto Rico was put on a list of colonies to be freed.

But, he said, Washington had merely appeared to go along with the proceedings — its main preoccupation was the Cold War. It wanted to remove Puerto Rico from the list of colonies, but not give it full autonomy, Mr. Cancel Miranda said, which might have meant losing the island’s ports, airfields and other strategic assets.

Historians say United States officials helped to draft Puerto Rico’s first Constitution, adding a provision — now in dispute — that general-obligation bonds be paid before everything else if money was tight. Washington also poured money into infrastructure on the island and offered tax breaks to American companies that came to Puerto Rico and created jobs.

For better or worse, those programs won over some elected island officials who had previously favored independence. They devised the term “associated free state,” which was said to mean that Puerto Rico was a sovereign coequal of the United States, pursuing common interests by mutual agreement...

In 1953, a United Nations special committee held hearings on whether Puerto Rico’s name could be removed from the list of colonies. Mr. Cancel Miranda said he was there, listening as American delegates testified that Puerto Rico now had free elections, a Constitution and other essentials of self-government. Other witnesses, however, said it was all window-dressing.

When the committee reconvened and voted, Mr. Cancel Miranda said, Washington’s view prevailed.

“That’s when the nationalists said, ‘We have to send a message,’” Mr. Cancel Miranda said. “That was the reason for the attack on Congress.”

[...] Now, it seems that most Puerto Ricans believe the associated free state was a sham, even if it is not clear what they will do about it.

“You saw what I said in 1954: ‘I’m not sorry,’” Mr. Cancel Miranda said. “And 62 years later, I’m still not sorry.” <<


Friday, August 12, 2016

Another Side of Police Bias in Baltimore: How Officers Treat Women

The following excerpts are taken from the NY Times article "Another Side of Police Bias in Baltimore: How Officers Treat Women" (August 11, 2016)

>> WASHINGTON — For the past two years, ever since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, America has been enmeshed in a wrenching discussion about how the police treat young black men.

But this week’s blistering report from the Justice Department on police bias in Baltimore also exposed a different, though related, concern: how the police in that majority-black city treat women, especially victims of sexual assault.

In six pages of the 163-page report documenting how Baltimore police officers have systematically violated the rights of African-Americans, the Justice Department also painted a picture of a police culture deeply dismissive of sexual assault victims and hostile toward prostitutes and transgender people. It branded the Baltimore Police Department’s response to sexual assault cases “grossly inadequate.”

Baltimore officers sometimes humiliated women who tried to report sexual assault, often failed to gather basic evidence, and disregarded some complaints filed by prostitutes. Some officers blamed victims or discouraged them from identifying their assailants ...

And the culture seemed to extend to prosecutors, investigators found. In one email exchange, a prosecutor referred to a woman who had reported a sexual assault as a “conniving little whore.” ...

[...] Other “pattern or practice” investigations of police departments — including in New Orleans; Puerto Rico; and Missoula, Mont. — have also identified gender bias...

[...] But experts and advocates agree that the problem is especially complex, and perhaps more acute, in Baltimore because so many women there are poor and black.

[...] The Baltimore police commissioner, Kevin Davis, who vowed Wednesday to turn his department into “a model for the rest of the nation,” did not dispute the Justice Department’s findings...

[...] African-Americans make up 63 percent of the population in Baltimore, and the city has been in the thick of its own painful conversation about race and policing since the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who sustained a fatal spinal injury in police custody...

[...] Civil and women’s rights advocates in Baltimore have been saying for years that the police do an inadequate job of investigating rape and sexual assault cases. In 2010, The Baltimore Sun reported that in the previous four years, the police had routinely failed to solve rape cases; in reviewing F.B.I. data, the newspaper found that the percentage of rape cases dismissed as false or baseless was higher in Baltimore than in any other city in the country.

[...] The Police Department’s lackluster investigation of rapes was of particular concern, the report said...

[...] Officers failed to perform basic detective work, the report said.

One woman reported a rape by a taxi driver, but the department never tried to test the suspect’s DNA. Another woman reported a sexual assault by an unlicensed cabdriver, and although a detective identified a suspect, the police never tried to contact him ...

“We have many, many women who will never go to the police about a rape ever again because of the way they’ve been treated,” said Jacqueline Robarge, the director and founder of Power Inside ...

Ms. Robarge added that she had worked with women who had been the victims of sexual misconduct by officers themselves. She recalled a 24-year-old prostitute who said a police officer had ordered her into his car and coerced her to have sex.

The woman, fearing retaliation, did not talk to investigators, Ms. Robarge said. But Justice Department investigators cited similar instances in their report.

“We heard complaints from the community that some officers target members of a vulnerable population — people involved in the sex trade — to coerce sexual favors from them in exchange for avoiding arrest, or for cash or narcotics,” the investigators wrote.

The report also described deep insensitivity on the part of some Baltimore officers toward transgender people, which reflected “underlying unlawful gender bias.” One transgender woman, for instance, said that an officer who was ordered to search her had protested in disgust, complaining to a colleague, “I am not searching that.” ...  <<


Security Force of 85,000 Fills Rio, Unsettling Rights Activists

The following excerpts are taken from the NY Times article "85,000 Fills Rio, Unsettling Rights Activists (AUG. 7, 2016)

>> RIO DE JANEIRO — If battling pickpockets were an Olympic sport at the current Summer Games, the Brazilian authorities might qualify for a medal.

In the face of soaring street crime, the state government has deployed a security force of 85,000 in Rio de Janeiro, among them 23,000 soldiers who stand sentinel at busy intersections or cruise the streets in military jeeps, their weapons aimed menacingly at the sidewalk.

[...] Still, the overwhelming show of force has not exactly vanquished crime. The chief of security for the opening ceremony was mugged at knife point on Friday night as he left Olympic Stadium; a stray bullet landed in the equestrian arena’s media tent on Saturday, just missing a New Zealand sports official; and on Saturday night, Portugal’s education minister was assaulted as he strolled along Rio’s upscale lagoon, the site of the rowing competition.

In their preparation for the Olympics, Brazilian officials confronted a number of challenges that had spooked some international visitors ...

[...] But the show of force has also drawn criticism from human rights activists who fear that overly aggressive policing might lead to abuses, especially in the city’s low-income communities, known as favelas.

Last week, a joint police and military operation in one such neighborhood, Complexo do Alemão, left two people dead.

[...] Still, many Cariocas, as residents are called, are most concerned with ordinary street crime ...

There were nearly 11,000 street robberies in June, an 81 percent increase from the same month last year. Experts say, moreover, that many crimes go unreported by victims who assume the police will make little effort to solve them.

[...] “The tension is palpable,” Meg Healy, 24, an American living in Rio, said before the Games got underway. In June, Ms. Healy, an urban planner, was mugged at knife point; four days later, a boy who she says appeared to be no older than 7 tried to grab her bag a few steps from her apartment.

Other recent crime victims include Fernando Echavarri, a Spanish sailing gold medalist, and Liesl Tesch, an Australian Paralympic sailor, who were mugged at gunpoint...

[...] The city’s security woes have been exacerbated by a severe budget crunch, which has hampered the government’s ability to pay police officers. The sense of crisis was underscored in June, when the state government declared a “financial calamity.”

In recent weeks, police officers who said their salaries had been delayed or only partially paid demonstrated at Rio’s international airport, holding up signs for arriving passengers that read, “Welcome to hell.”

[...] Although the Brazilian news media tends to focus on brazen street robberies or violence that occurs in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods, experts say Rio’s poor residents bear the brunt of increased crime.

[...] Last year, the police were responsible for 20 percent of the city’s homicides, according to Amnesty International ... There were 645 police killings last year, compared with 400 in 2013. The number of those who died at the hands of the police between April and June of this year doubled from the same period last year ...

Most of the dead were young black men.

One of the communities hit hard by police violence is Maré, a sprawling favela between Rio’s international airport and the affluent neighborhoods of Ipanema and Copacabana... In the months before the World Cup, the army occupied the community for a year. [...] <<