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G 20 Summit – Massive Militarized Police Presence in Pittsburgh

September 27th, 2009 1 comment
militarized riot gear - including shotgun - at Thomas Merton Center peaceful rally & march (9/25/09)

shotgun bearing troops in riot gear disrupt a Thomas Merton Center G 20 peaceful rally & march (9/25/09)

[Update 1 – I was 1 of the 50 who filed complaints w/CPRB – see: Protesters blast police response, Oakland arrests ]

[Update 2 – just learned that this was a National Special Security Event

[Update 3: 10/2/09  watch Democracy Now! segment

[Update 4: 11/1/11 – I just came across this video of the G 20 in Toronto in June 2010. Looks really bad. One police tactic I saw also used in Pittsburgh was when police (in full riot gear) marched in lockstep, aggressively towards protesters, while pounding their shields as they walked. It sickened me. I thought of Nazi Germany and Rome. – end updates]

My kids go to school in Pittsburgh, so on Thursday I headed out to see them and witness and participate in the G 20 Summit protests.

Because the G 20 Summit provides a world stage, I was there to warm of “climate destruction ahead” and to advocate for a substantive global warming agenda for the upcoming December Copenhagen Climate Conference negotiations.

But there are other major pressing economic policy  issues related to the need to regulate global finance in light of economic collapse, as well as to re-conceptualize global “free trade” and economic development frameworks to protect labor and promote economic and social justice.

riot gear clad troops push through crowd at a peaceful permitted rally

riot gear clad troops push through crowd at a peaceful permitted G 20 protest rally

I was appalled by what I saw – and I’m obviously not talking about my kids. It sure looked different than the welcoming Pittsburgh I visited, photographed and posted here.

I’ve never been on the wrong end of a shotgun before. Face to face – it is not a good feeling.

Downtown Pittsburgh in military lockdown.

Downtown Pittsburgh in military lockdown.

But that’s not nearly all I saw. There were the dogs, Humvee roadblocks, no pedestrian zones, downtown lockdown, fenced off areas, designated protest zone, hundreds (thousands?) of military troops, helicopters, constant overhead military aircraft (F-16’s?), chemical gases, and even – the first time ever deployed in the US – ear splitting sonic crowd control technology.

There were a handful of anarchists – some possibly prone to violence – among a few thousand peaceful protesters. Dozens of college students, observers, media, and everyday local people were included in the crowds that police indiscriminately controlled and managed as violent. (listen to this for police state tactics)

Overwhelmingly peaceful people were met by a massive show of militarized police force. Riot gear armored police and military troops significantly outnumbered protestors.

I personally witnessed provocative, intimidating and repressive military tactics I had imagined were limited to third world countries, not the freedom loving USA. I directly experienced this when a group of 15 or so military troops – in full riot gear – marched aggressively and directly through a crowd at the Merton Center Rally. The crowd was attending a peaceful permitted rally before a march.

University of Pittsburgh study has ideas

University of Pittsburgh student has ideas

Small groups of anarchists - do these kids look scary to you?

Small groups of anarchists - do these kids look scary to you?

I talked to several people, all of whom described similar examples of where police and military units initiated violence, precipitated violence, or severely over reacted to minor threats associated with overwhelmingly non-violent protests.

After I got home I viewed several YouTube videos of events that confirmed this overreaction – just do the Google and see for yourself. The tear gassing of University of Pittsburgh students looked particularly egregious.

This level of militarized intimidation is un-American and raises serious questions about constitutionally guaranteed rights of dissent and protest – free speech, association, and opportunity to petition government for redress of grievances.

These are not mere words to me – I believe strongly in them. I watched videos where the protestors appealed to military units to respect their constitutional rights, only to have the troops ignore them while arbitrarily declaring peaceful protest illegal assembly. The scenes were redolent of a police state.

Protestors were not allowed anywhere near where the G 20 Summit was held, so President Obama and world leaders were totally isolated and could not hear their voices or see their signs.

Iraq Veterans Against the War join peaceful protestors

Iraq Veterans Against the War join peaceful protestors

And – of course – the media focus on police over-reaction and scattered minor property damage by a handful of anarchists totally obscures any public discussion of the policy agenda before the G 20 and world leaders – important issues are being ignored – watch “G 20 Summit in Pittsburgh Highlights Economic Decline of Former Steel Capital“.

shotgun toting riot control police confronts college student

shotgun toting riot control police confronts college student

In this time of economic collapse, accelerating global warming, and war, citizens engagement and protest needs to be valued and encouraged.

But when police state tactics intimidate protest and dissent and  media diversion squelches informed public discussion of critical issues, our Constitutional values are assaulted and necessary democratic pressure for reform is derailed.

As Frederick Douglass famously said: “Power concedes nothing without a fight – it never has and never will.”

military unit defends port-a-potties from peaceful protestors

military unit defends port-a-potties from peaceful protestors

canine unit troops and motorcycle cops intimidate peaceful protestors

canine unit troops and motorcycle cops intimidate peaceful protestors

Protestor reads from militasry adn police training manuals to advise troops of the need for non-violent and effective crowd control tactics.

Protestor reads from militasry and police training manuals to advise troops of non-violent and effective crowd control tactics.

Pittsburgh Welcomes the World - at lest that's what the signs all said

Pittsburgh Welcomes the World – at lest that’s what the signs all said
Pitt students face off against armed troops

Pitt students face off against armed troops

Military choppers monitor Pitt students - at least 3 copters continuously hovered over the city

Military choppers monitor Pitt students - at least 3 copters continuously hovered over the city

Some police presence was respectful and appropriate - Pa. State Police (R) and City of Pittsburgh office (L)

Some police presence was respectful and appropriate - Pa. State Police (R) and City of Pittsburgh officer (L)

IMG_3772

THIS is a REAL RIOT - Steeler Fans riot after Superbowl (Penguins Stanley Cup too)

“WolfeNotes” blog launched – We aim to hold corporate polluters and government accountable

August 31st, 2009 1 comment

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down ALL the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.

Below is the post that got my blog banned by the Star Ledger on June 10, 2009.

So I thought it would be a good first post to use to launch my new blog, “WolfeNotes.com” .

That banned post illustrates the reasons that I blog and some of what I hope to accomplish. I try to combine serious ideas, visual images, and analysis to call out the bullshit I see in government, politics, and media every day.

I will focus primarily on environmental issues, not only because I love the natural world, but because the same forces that are destroying the environment also are responsible for our current accelerating economic and political collapse.

Hopefully, I will remain too controversial for the Star Ledger. And perhaps someday we all will recall that I.F. Stone famously said, all governments lie. Yet our media institutions have lost touch with that fundamental truth and not only fail to hold government accountable, but often accept government spin at face value, which then becomes the dominant narrative (conventional wisdom, or propaganda) .

But, lets not blame government per se. Scratch the surface of almost any government lie and you find a cover for corporate power and economic interests.

As political scientist Sheldon Wolin wrote in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” (excellent review here), our democratic institutions have been hijacked by corporate interests and our Republic transformed to a global empire.

And there is little indication that the Obama “change”  is anything more than rhetoric.

According to an interview with Wolin in Chris Hedges’s new book “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (Hedges interview here):

The basic systems are going to stay in place; they are too powerful to be challenged.” Wolin to me when I asked him about the Obama administration. “This is shown by the financial bailout. It does not bother with the structure at all. I don’t think Obama can take on the kind of military establishment we have developed. This is not to say that I do not admire him. …I think he is well meaning, but he inherits a system of constraints that make it very difficult to take on these major power configurations. I do not think he has the appetite for it in any ideological sense. The corporate structure is not going to be challenged. There has not been a word from him that would suggest an attempt to rethink the American imperium.”

So, this is the frame of reference I will try to apply to the more circumscribed world of NJ environmental issues and politics.

Let me know what you think – one of my aims is to spur dialogue.

 

Thrifty Individual Reducing Carbon FootPrint

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946
http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

Vacationing close to home – camping in public parks

(warning – graphic images on the flip -)

“The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009″
http://gawker.com/5285064/yahoo-nukes-mans-photos-over-obama-comments

[Update: those Abu Ghraib images were what the Star Ledger editor refused to allow his readers to see.

Within 5 minutes of posting that link (with a graphic image warning to readers) the Editor called me at home and screamed at me, terminated my NJ Voices column, and took the post down.

So much for the so called “free press”.

Those images were published all over the world, but not in the US press.

Even worse, President Obama supported the bill sponsored by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and loathsome Sen. Graham (SC)) to amend the Freedom of Information Act to exempt certain military images from FOIA public disclosure (targeting the Abu Ghraib images, of course).

I wrote to criticize that outrageous and unconstitutional legislation. So much for my so called intellectual freedom and political rights.

And people wonder why I am angry and bitter. ~~~ end update]

 

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DEP Involved in Corruption Scandal

July 27th, 2009 No comments
DEP Headquarters, Trenton, NJ

DEP Headquarters, Trenton, NJ

NEW JERSEY ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCY AT HEART OF BRIBERY SCANDAL — New Rules Needed to Ban “Pay-to-Play” and Protect Staff from Strong-Arm Tactics

 Washington, DC — Last week’s indictment of 44 people, including several New Jersey officials and two state legislators, underscores that “pay-to-play” is alive and well in the Garden State, especially within its Department of Environmental Protection , according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today PEER proposed new rules to end the closed door dealings within DEP that fuel corrupt practices and put its professional staff in an untenable position.

To facilitate development projects, state legislators pressure DEP to improperly approve permits, sign-off on incomplete clean-ups and shelve enforcement actions. Typically, legislators deliver their messages to the DEP Commissioner or the Assistant Commissioners, who in turn direct staff. As one of the indicted lawmakers, state Rep. Daniel Van Pelt, who sits on the committee overseeing DEP, bragged to the FBI confidential informant, he knows the “right guys” who “work” the “channels”.

“The back channels into DEP need to be shut down,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “As long as DEP does its business behind closed doors, corruption will continue to blossom.”

Today PEER is proposing transparency rules for DEP that are virtually identical to ones which the agency rejected when PEER first proposed them in 2007. These rules would provide:

  • Notice of Meetings. DEP convenes closed-door meetings with lobbyists, legislators and other insiders with no public attendance or publication of meeting agendas. The agency defends this secrecy as a matter of “executive privilege and the deliberative process privilege”;
  • Publication of Top Officials’ Calendars. The DEP Commissioner and top deputies routinely make decisions on enforcement and other pollution control policies in meetings with legislators and corporate executives, often from the same companies charged with violations. DEP shields appointment calendars to protect “the privacy interests” of attendees; and
  • Repeal Gag Orders Forbidding Staff from Talking to Media and Public. Under current DEP rules, agency scientists and other specialists are barred from speaking without prior approval from the agency Press Office. DEP says this is needed to enforce the chain-of-command.

“A big problem in New Jersey DEP is that the professional staff has little recourse when confronting management orders to less than faithfully execute the law,” Ruch added, noting that the state’s whistleblower law does not protect employee disclosures about threats to public health, manipulation of science, mismanagement or ethics violations. “Sunlight is the best hope for deterring sleazy deals.”

Political influence over DEP is now so deep that it is an accepted fact of life. For example, in a July 14, 2009 letter, DEP Acting Assistant Commissioner Scott Brubaker explained why he was setting aside water anti-pollution rules because legislators had introduce a bill to bully DEP to bend over for a favored project:

“The Department is also under pressure from the development community, which fears that the Department will unilaterally remove sewer service areas. Recently, legislation has been introduced that would extend the submission deadline…Together these added burdens would preclude the Department from adopting any new or updated wastewater management plan for the foreseeable future. Any Department effort to withdraw sewer service areas would encourage this legislation.”

“So long as DEP succumbs to political pressure, it invites that pressure,” Ruch concluded.

###

Examine the DEP role in latest bribery scandal

Read the PEER petition

View the DEP letter acknowledging political bullying

Look at DEP rebuff of transparency rules in 2007

See the full text of the federal criminal complaints

DEP compromises scientific integrity and public health

June 2nd, 2009 7 comments

DEP issues a “gag order” on internal review and restrictions on public release of scientific studies
[Update – 6/5/09 – Star Ledger editorial shares my concern: New Jersey keeping environmental records under wraps
http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2009/06/new_jersey_keeping_environment.html
Today’s Star Ledger reports:

Environmentalists rip DEP proposal as a ‘gag order’
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
BY BRIAN T. MURRAY
Star-Ledger Staff
The state Department of Environmental Protection proposed restrictions yesterday on the public release of its scientific studies and reports, which environmental groups lambasted as a sweeping “gag order” spurred by a controversy over chromium pollution in Hudson County.
The commotion surrounds written guidelines from Jeanne Herb, the DEP’s director of policy, planning and science, against employees disclosing technical and scientific reports — even if they are the subject of an Open Public Records Act request — until they are approved by upper management and the press office. The directive follows the April release of a report by DEP scientists concluding a new, stricter soil cleanup standard is needed for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, because the cancer-causing substance is riskier than previously believed.
http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-14/1243915636194930.xml&coll=1
(more on the flip)

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Supreme Court car search decision a victory for privacy rights

May 19th, 2009 No comments

I was recently the victim of an illegal police search of my vehicle and seizure of my personal papers and effects, so Mr. Lacey’s earlier post on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in an illegal police car search demands response.(for Lacey’s post, see: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2009/05/car_search_and_seizure_supreme.html

Mr. Lacey failed to provide readers with an understanding of the Constitutionally protected liberty and privacy interests at stake. He omitted the core of what the Court actually said and it’s supporting rationale. He also failed to note the context, e.g. that a conservative court wrote the opinion.
Below are excerpts of what the court actually said, with a link for readers to read it for themselves:
ARIZONA, PETITIONER v. RODNEY JOSEPH GANT
http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-542.pdf

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