Archive for the ‘Attacks on Civil Liberties’ Category

Life After Parole

Frontline (2017)

Film Review

Life After Parole is a Frontline documentary about a Connecticut program seeking to reduce mass incarceration rates and prison costs by granting low risk offenders early parole. The film follows four new parolees over a 1 1/2 year period. In each case, it’s clear their risk of re-offending directly relates to the quality of their relationship with their parole officer.

It’s clear from this documentary the effectiveness of this experiment depends  largely on the ability of parole officers to shift roles. Instead of mainly monitoring parolees for infractions of their parole conditions, they must learn to play a supportive role in helping former inmates build a new life for themselves. At the moment, they are expected to play both roles simultaneously, and criminologists question whether this is even possible.

Of the four offenders, the sole female is the only one to stay out of prison on the first try. I suspect this relates partly to the nature of her offense (the three men, all imprisoned for drug-related crimes, violate their condition of parole by relapsing), partly to strong motivation to be re-united with her son and partly to a strong relationship with a highly skilled parole officer. The woman, who is African American, has been in prison for ten years for slashing another women with a knife. The length of this sentence for an assault and battery charge is ludicrous. It speaks volumes to the blatant racism of the US criminal justice system.

 

15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story

POV (2013)

Film Review

The US is the only country in the world to sentence children to life imprisonment without parole. Until it was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2005, the US permitted the execution of juveniles. After an extended campaign by human rights advocates, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled it illegal for courts to sentence children to life imprisonment for crimes other than murder. This ruling made many lifers eligible for sentence review if they were underage at the time of their offense.

This documentary follows the heartbreaking sentence rehearing of a 26 year who who was fifteen when he participated in four armed robberies. Like the vast majority of offenders serving life sentences, Kenneth is African American. And like 70% of juveniles given life sentences, he accompanied an older adult in committing the crime.

Kenneth maintains the older man (his mother’s drug dealer) forced him to participate in the armed robberies by threatening his mother’s life. She owed him money over a cocaine deal. Ironically the adult received a lesser sentence than fifteen year-old Kenneth.

The filmmakers also interview sentencing reform advocates who make a compelling case that their emotional immaturity makes juveniles extremely susceptible to adult manipulation.

At the sentencing rehearing, it is the judge’s sole discretion whether to reduce a juvenile’s life sentence. Although the judge in this case acknowledges Kenneth has been rehabilitated (in eleven years of incarceration he has received only one disciplinary write-up in eleven years – for not making his bed), he inexplicably sentences him to another ten years in prison.

Sadly Florida courts continue to be dominated by an extreme racial bias that labels African American youth offenders as “superpredators” incapable of being rehabilitated.

This verdict is presently being appealed to the Supreme Court.

 Wukan:  China’s Experiment with Democracy

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

 

This very strange documentary is largely based on amateur footage smuggled out of China by social media activists. As the filmmakers point out, China experiences tens of thousands of mass uprisings every year. Most relate to local corruption and illegal theft and sale of communal land. In most cases, they fizzle out without producing any real change. A September 2011 protest in the village of Wukan was an exception. It resulted in villagers winning the right to choose their own village committee in democratic elections – a process virtually unheard of in Communist China.

Three months following the election of the new village committee (which was subject to heavy phone tapping and physical surveillance), county and provincial officials agree to return a few plots of stolen land to village farmers. Unfortunately, however, a ban on demolishing the wall surrounding their farms prevents the original owners from repossessing their property.

After a year, villagers succeeded in repossessing a second plot of land, only to find it unusable due to contamination with industrial waste. As provincial authorities continue to to stall on returning the stolen land, village protests resume. Only this time they are directed against the new village committee. There is considerable mistrust directed against the village chief especially, a man named Lin Zulan – who in the mean time has become secretary of the local Communist Party.

When two village committee members attempt to stand against him in the 2014, they are jailed on bribery charges (which surprisingly appear to be genuine). The two men have succumbed to a kind of entrapment – accepting “bonuses” at Lin’s direction without realizing this is bribery and illegal.

In 2016, after winning his sixth election, Lin organizes a petition and marching demanding the stolen land be returned. He himself is arrested on bribery charges, along with his grandson, a student in a nearby city (who has had no involvement with the protests). After Lin appears on TV to make what villagers believe is a forced confession on TV, his grandson is released.

The protests resume in earnest following Lin’s arrest. After 85 days of protests, there is a brutal crackdown – resulting in the murder, beatings and arrest of large numbers of villagers. Simultaneously the village is totally cut off physically and electronically from the rest of China.

After being warned of the crackdown, one of the village committee members escapes to New York, where he makes contact with the US pro-Chinese democracy movement. It’s their 2016 protest in front of the UN that brings the plight of Wukan to world attention.

 

What Silicon Valley Has Planned for Public Education

Alison McDowell (2017

This troubling presentation concerns a well-advanced plan by corporate America to gradually replace public schools with 100% digital education. The attack on American schools is multi-pronged – with anti-public school forces closing schools, laying off teachers and neglecting crumbling infrastructure while stealthily increasing the availability of digital notepads, Chrome books and other digital platforms in existing schools.

Education Reform 2.0 would build on high stakes testing and school closures to replace teachers with digital learning platforms designed to incorporate “cradle to grave” tracking of students’ skill sets and online activity. Increasingly employers would rely on this information to determine suitability for employment.

The institutional backers of this digital revolution include some of the most powerful corporations and foundations in the US. Prominent names include the Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldman Sachs, the Institute for the Future (offshoot of Rand Corporation), Amazon, Google, Dell (the company Snowden worked for), and Halliburton.

The US military is also involved and planning and development of 100% digital learning with Army Research and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) assuming responsibility for the “behavior modification” (ie mind control aspects) that reward students for appropriate engagement with the digital platform.

McDowell describes how many schools across the US are already replacing class time with Skype sessions with Halliburton “mentors” and on-line math lessons with carton “peers.”

Proponents of 100% digital learning are working closely with focus groups to “market” this new technology that tracks and mind controls children to skeptical Americans who value their privacy.

At 38 minutes, McDowell shows a promotional film for “tracked online learning.” It explains how high school and adult learners are earning “edu-blocks for a variety of learning experiences (including reading books, volunteer work, watching videos and “teaching” skills to other learners. Also how companies are already using your ledger blocks to evaluate potential employees’ suitability for specific projects or even investing in their university education by paying their tuition. One edu-block enthusiast describes how participating in the online program is enabling her to reduce her student loan debt.

The ledger is designed to keep track of all the YouTube videos you watch and even all the texts you send (and delete).

Farmageddon

Directed by Kristin Canty (2011)

Film Review

Farmageddon (unrelated to the book Farmageddon) tells the story of a deliberate campaign by federal and state regulatory agencies to harass small family farmers and buying cooperatives.

Kanty begins by briefly outlining the major food safety problem which has accompanied the boom in industrial farming and agrobusiness in the US. Instead of addressing the unhygienic conditions factory farmed animals are raised in (with animals being confined in small cages and pens with their own feces , Congress has imposed an array of useless regulations on all food production and processing.

These regulations allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct warrantless raids on small family farms and private coops. The film tells the story of various families who have been raided at gunpoint by federal and state SWAT teams – often where no or only minor infractions have occurred. Most face confiscation of their animals, product and equipment, as well as destruction of their livelihood.

Many of the raids relate to raw milk production. The latter has proven health benefits in asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis – due to to beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are destroyed when milk is pasteurized.

The laws regulating raw milk vary from state to state – in California you can buy it at supermarkets but can’t sell yogurt or cheese made from raw milk. In some states you can only buy it at the farm gate. In others it’s illegal to sell it at all. Although it’s legal in all states for farmers and farm cooperatives to produce raw milk for their own consumption, the film depicts SWAT teams shutting down several farms and coops for doing so.

In no instance, were any of the confiscated products found to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. This is the implicit guarantee you get from sourcing food locally from farmers you know and trust: no  farmer selling milk that makes people sick will stay in business. The source of supermarket food, in contrast, is extremely difficult to trace.

The message that comes across loud and clear in this film in this film is that food regulations created by the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are written by agrobusiness. The latter are clearly threatened by growing consumer demand for locally produced, unprocesssed, organic food. These regulations clearly serve the interests of Food Inc rather than the public.

Informants

Al Jazeera (2014)

Film Review

Informants is an Al Jazeera documentary about the FBI use of informants to entrap vulnerable African and immigrant men and convict them on phony terrorism charges.

Their investigation focuses on three specific informants in Miami, Los Angeles and Toledo. In one Miami sting operation, an informant paid poor African American men and Muslim immigrants to take photos of federal buildings and got them to recite a pledge swearing allegiance to Osama bin Laden. This, in turn, would be the principal evidence against them at trial. There was no evidence whatsoever that any of them planned or engaged in acts of violence – nor had contact with any terrorist groups other than the FBI.

One African American convicted in this operation received a seven year sentence and spent two years in solitary confinement.

In Toledo, the FBI paid a mentally unstable victim’s rent as well as funding a trip to Jordan to visit his relatives. The informant also paid him to procure some secondhand laptops to smuggle into Iraq from Jordan. The victim received a 20 year sentence for his role in smuggling laptops to Al Qaeda and making the statement “I wish I could kill some American soldiers” in an on-line chat room.

 

Code Red: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century

(Election 2016 Edition)

Jonathon Simon

In Code Red, Simon lays out a powerful case that computerized voting machines have opened US elections to large scale fraud and election theft. The book offers an impressive compilation of studies demonstrating exactly how the vote hacking is carried out – both on Direct Recording (DRE) voting machines and optical scanners that count paper ballots. The book also highlights the immense danger of denying access to the public, and more importantly election officials, to voting memory cards, programming code and server logs to verify the validity of American elections. All of this information is declared off-limits by the handful of right-leaning corporations that supply voting equipment to local jurisdictions. On the spurious claim this is proprietary corporate information.

Simon also presents his own extensive research into marked discrepancies between vote counts and voter exit polls over the last 15 years – reminding us that the US State Department uses voter exit polls to verify the legitimacy of overseas elections.

As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I was most interested in the section on the 2016 Democratic primary. Here Simon not only examines discrepancies between the vote count and the original exit polls (before the corporate media massaged the data to bring it in line with the vote count), but serious discrepancies between states that choose candidates via caucus (where ballots must be counted by hand) with demographically similar states that choose candidates via primary elections.

In all but the first two states (Iowa and Nebraska), Sanders didn’t just beat Clinton – he won by a landslide. I confess to my absolute fury on seeing the table below and realizing how thoroughly we were ripped off by the Democratic National Committee and the corporate media.

In The Red Shift, Simon examines every presidential and congressional election since 2002, when computerized voting was first introduced. He finds evidence of a fraudulent “red shift” (ie a hacker-based shift towards the more pro-corporate candidate) in each of them, including the 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections where there were significant Democratic victories.

He also finds evidence of a “red shift” in most gubernatorial and state house elections from 2002 on, including the 2012 recall election of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker.

People can download a free excerpt from the 2016 Election Edition by registering at Simon’s website: http://codered2014.com/

State Sanders Clinton
Colorado 59.0% 40.3%
Minnesota 61.6% 38.4%
Kansas 67.7% 32.3%
Nebraska 75.1% 42.9%
Maine 64.3% 35.5%
Idaho 78.0% 21.2%
Utah 79.3% 20.3%
Alaska 86.1% 18.4%
Hawaii 69.8% 30.0%
Washington 72.7% 27.1%
Wyoming 55.7% 44.3%
North Dakota 64.2% 25.6%
Average 68.0% 31.4%