Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Bombings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

(Update Below)

No doubt the response from Obama administration officials will be something like "We understand their frustrations," but the insanity will continue to chase its own tail until it drops, exhausted.  

AFP, today:

Obama burned in effigy, Karachi Pakistan 11/27/11
Hundreds of enraged Pakistanis took to the streets across the country Sunday, burning an effigy of President Barack Obama and setting fire to US flags after 24 soldiers died in NATO air strikes. 
The rallies were organised by opposition and right-wing Islamist groups in major cities of the nuclear-armed country of 167 million people, where opposition to the government's US alliance is rampant. 
In Karachi, the port city used by the United States to ship supplies to troops fighting in Afghanistan, more than 700 people gathered outside the US consulate, an AFP photographer said. 
They shouted: "down with America, stay away Americans, Pakistanis ours, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our army", while Pakistani riot police were deployed near the consulate. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Corrupt Origins and Hidden Dangers of Pepper Spray (OC) Use by Law Enforcement

Technical Note:  We've heard that some readers have had trouble posting comments at the blog.  If you've had trouble commenting, please tweet me  @Casual_Obs, and let me know what browser and OS you're using.  Thanks for reading.  --CO

Seated UC-Davis protesters bombarded with pepper spray (OC), 11/18/11.  According to internal documents from the largest supplier of pepper spray to California police, serious health risks may ensue if police spray a person with OC with more than a single burst of one second duration.
Pepper Spray (or "OC") has been commonly used in the US since long before the Occupy movement began involuntarily soaking up endless streams of it in past months. Classed as a chemical weapon by the UN, pepper spray has been prohibited for military usage through Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The ban became effective in 1997.  So what this officer (pictured above) is doing would be completely illegal on any military battlefield on the planet.

Domestically, however, the use of pepper spray by US law enforcement agencies has exploded over the past 20 years or so, just as it was being prohibited internationally as a war crime.  In the US, usage of pepper spray exploded following successful feasibility testing by the FBI in the late 1980s. A report of the FBI findings was published in 1989 under the title "Chemical Agent Research: Oleoresin Capsicum." While I have not been able to access that report (more on that in a moment), it found that pepper spray could be used without harm to officers or the public, and recommended adoption.  Today, there are at least 16 US manufacturers of pepper spray, and at least two industry trade groups representing their interests.

What is perhaps less known about all this is that the original FBI work done to clear OC for widespread use involved bribery by a leading pepper spay manufacturer, and the agent in charge of the testing was convicted and spent jail time for his role in it.  From a 1996 article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The main study cited by law enforcement agencies to support using pepper spray is apparently tainted by a conflict of interest on the part of an FBI agent who conducted the research.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Democracy Now Swings and Misses on Federal Involvement in Occupy Raids

Democracy Now broadcast, yesterday:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And I’d like to ask Chuck Wexler, this whole issue of the police chiefs trying to exchange information, was there any involvement of the Department of Homeland Security or the federal officials in the discussions with the various police chiefs?

CHUCK WEXLER: Not on our conference call at all.
AMY GOODMAN: ... But I did want to ask you, how involved is FBI and Homeland Security in these discussions, Chuck Wexler?

CHUCK WEXLER: We haven’t had—they haven’t been involved—maybe they’re involved at the local level, but nationally, at least on our conference calls, I don’t think—they didn’t have a role.

JUAN GONZALEZ: There were some press reports that there were Homeland Security presentations urging that these arrests be conducted late at night.

CHUCK WEXLER: That may have been done at the city level. It wasn’t on our conference calls. We had that—no one from, you know, Homeland Security made that kind of presentation, nor—you know, we were really—we were just comparing notes.
As I wrote recently, and as Democracy Now should have known and reported, Chuck Wexler serves on the DHS Homeland Security Advisory Council.  According to DHS, "The Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) provides advice and recommendations to the Secretary on matters related to homeland security."

So what DN did was ask a sitting member of a highly-placed DHS advisory group, Wexler, who had coordinated at least two conference calls between a reported 40 different local law enforcement agencies across the country, if DHS had any involvement in those calls.  And when he said "no", Democracy Now let it go.

At the very least, DN should have known and established Wexler's very public, formal, and clear connection to DHS.  For Wexler's part, he should have disclosed at some point that, "oh by the way, I myself am affiliated with the agency you're asking me about."  He also left open the door that there could have been federal involvement at the local level (which seems reasonably likely, given the role of DHS-affiliated "fusion centers"), but this was not pursued by Democracy Now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Question of Federal Involvement in Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) Raids

(This story is developed further here.)

Greg Lavine writes that Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland revealed that she had participated in a conference call among 18 mayors nationwide prior to her own raid on Occupy Oakland.  Lavine quotes Quan: “I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation. . . .”

Add to this Dan Siegel's comment (Siegel was a legal adviser to Quan who quit his job in protest of Quan's actions), during this morning's "Democracy Now" news broadcast in which he wondered aloud if federal "fusion centers" may have been involved in some way.  Wikipedia defines "fusion centers" thus:
A fusion center is a terrorism prevention and response center, many of which were created under a joint project between the Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs between 2003 and 2007.
The fusion centers gather information not only from government sources, but also from their partners in the private sector.
Fusion centers are further described in this exchange between Amy Goodman and the ACLU's Mike German from an earlier Democracy Now broadcast:  (July 28th, 2009)

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean, Mike, by fusion centers.

MIKE GERMAN: About two years ago, me and a colleague at the ACLU started investigating a lot of federal money going to what were called intelligence fusion centers. And I was only two years out of federal law enforcement at that point, and I had never heard this term, so I became concerned. And what these centers are is multi-jurisdictional intelligence centers that involve state, local and federal law enforcement, as well as other government entities — you know, a lot of times there are emergency services type of entities, but actually can’t involve any government entity — but also involve oftentimes the military and private companies.

So we produced a report in November of 2007 warning of the potential dangers that these multi-jurisdictional centers had, because it was unclear whose rules applied. Were we using federal rules? Were we using state rules? Local rules? And what was military and private company — what rules govern their conduct? So we put out this report in November of 2007. At that point, there were forty-two fusion centers. By July of 2008, we had found so many instances of abuse, we put out an updated report. At that point, there were fifty-eight fusion centers. Today, the DHS recognizes at least seventy-two fusion centers. So these things are rapidly growing, without any sort of proper boundaries on what activities happen within them and without really any idea of what it is the military is doing in these fusion centers and what type of access they have to US person information.
This document, downloaded this morning from the Office of Justice Programs at DOJ, clearly states that fusion centers can and do play a key role in what they term "First Amendment-Protected Events"The document, ("Law Enforcement Guidelines for First Amendment-Protected Events"), indicates important roles for fusion centers in events such as those taking place in Occupy actions across the country and at OWS specifically (fusion centers are referenced throughout the document, below is an example):

Friday, November 11, 2011

Listening to the Occupy Movement

Tag-clouds and word-clouds are probably used too much these days, but I think the format may be useful in presenting the "Occupy Movement" to the public. Word-clouds represent spoken or written speech by graphically weighting words based on their frequency of appearance.  This graphical approach may be a useful communication tool, I think, because the public appears to maintain a poor grasp of what "Occupy" is about.

As an example, below is a word-cloud representation of an early and important declaration from Occupy Wall Street which was accepted by the OWS general assembly on September 29th, 2011.

Occupy Wall Street declaration of September 2011 as word-cloud image.

The resulting image helps to very quickly convey what this OWS statement was about.  In creating the image above, I changed one word in the original document. In the original declaration, OWS put the following statement in its opening paragraph (emphasis added):

We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice and oppression over equality, run our governments.

The declaration then goes on to list (in bullet format) a number of specific complaints against corporations, in which corporations are referred to as "they".  In producing the word-cloud, I have changed the pronoun "they" back to the entity being referred to--"corporations".   Aside from that technical change, the text being fed into the word-cloud generator (in this case, wordle, but others are available) is directly from the OWS declaration document.

Given the public's continuing lack of clarity regarding what "Occupy" is about, and given the diverse concerns present among Occupiers themselves, the word-cloud may be a useful communication tool both inside and outside the movement.


Another example, which combines Declaration texts from multiple cities in three countries (US, Canada and UK).  Included in the word-cloud below are Declarations from the following locations:  Occupy Alaska, Occupy Astoria (OR), Occupy Berkeley, Occupy Bloomington-Normal, Occupy Erie, Occupy London UK, Occupy Memphis, Occupy Louisville, Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Tri-Cities (WA).  The geographic locations are diverse, but the consensus is devastatingly clear.

Update 11/22/11

Here is a word cloud (click on image to enlarge) done by Occupy Boston, representing survey results from a poll of Occupiers, as printed in the first issue of The Boston Occupier.   Brilliant!

Update 12/1/11

Occupy D.C. has just published its declaration.  Here it is in word cloud format:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Listening to Occupy Oakland

Occupation Oakland encampment 10/31/11

On October 31st I visited Occupy Oakland (OO, twitter feed #OO and #OccupyOakland).  I wanted to listen to occupiers in order to find out what they were thinking and doing, and more specifically why they joined the Occupy Movement.  I also wanted to get their opinions concerning whether the Occupy movement should have a central message to the larger public, and whether they themselves had a fundamental or underlying message about what the Occupy movement is about.

Ted McCoy is one of several people who run the OO Library.

Ted  McCoy

There is a media tent at the encampment, but at the time I visited the media team was likely engaged with a local TV team or two.  After waiting a bit, I went next door to the Occupy Oakland library tent and talked with Ted McCoy, one of several librarians serving the encampment.  Ted, who appeared to me to be in his 30's, is a grad student in library studies and is working his way through school working part time at the Oakland Public Library.  He also has a BA in American Studies and a JD in Law.  He lives in San Francisco.  Ted had just recently begun participating at Occupy Oakland.

McCoy's motivation for coming to OO stemmed from his concern for failing public institutions in Oakland, much of this due to budget cuts and austerity measures.  In his job as librarian at Oakland Public Library, he has become aware of how many in the community--many of them poor--are dependent on libraries for internet access and electronic communication.  The severity of the digital divide is made worse in Oakland by severe public budget cuts to the few facilities where internet access is available to the public.  He also pointed to the high rate of foreclosures in the bay area generally, and how those had given rise to a feeling of alienation and dispossession.  "People don't feel they have a stake in this community any more" he said.

Since arriving at OO, McCoy has gained an appreciation for the diversity of causes people have brought to the protest.  It's more complex than he had realized and goes far beyond his own reasons for joining.   He hasn't participated in the OO general assembly sessions, and spends his available time rebuilding the encampment library--"we lost the entire thing in the raid [the police raid on the encampment] last Tuesday".

Even though he sees the diverse concerns of the Oakland occupiers, McCoy did see an underlying common theme  in the movement message.  "It's economic injustice", he said, "and we're all vulnerable to that".