On Monday, a U.S. federal judge found the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin called Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s signature crime-fighting strategy of the past decade a “policy of indirect racial profiling.”
Though the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy originated in the 1970s, the tactic has been escalated since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002 and installed Ray Kelly as police commissioner. In that time, 5 million New Yorkers—overwhelmingly minorities—have been stopped on the street for on-the-spot searches and interrogations by the NYPD. In just the past four years, 87 percent of those stopped were black or Latino, and in 2011, there were more stops of young black men than the total number of young black men living in the city. Nine out of 10 people stopped and frisked are not guilty of any criminal activity, according to the NYPD’s own reports. As the New York Times reports:
In her 195-page decision, Judge Scheindlin concluded that the stops, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause…
The judge found that for much of the last decade, patrol officers had stopped innocent people without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing.
Bloomberg and Kelly have staunchly defended stop-and-frisk. In March, the mayor went so far as to say, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” In the wake of Monday’s ruling—which calls for federal monitoring of stop-and-frisk, but stops short of eliminating the policy—Bloomberg said the city would appeal and warned that Judge Scheindlin’s decision would lead to more crime and violence, saying, “I worry for my kids and I worry for your kids.”
The ruling comes just weeks after the controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a case that drew national attention to issues of racial profiling.
Bloomberg will term out of office at the end of the year, and three of the Democratic candidates vying for mayor in the upcoming elections—Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio—have issued statements applauding the judge’s decision. It is unclear how the ruling will affect NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly’s bid for Homeland Security Secretary. President Obama is reportedly considering Kelly for the job, recently saying that Kelly has done an “extraordinary” job in New York.
Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $190,000 in fines and improve safety conditions at 2,857 stores. The agreement was reached with the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has found more than 100 health and safety violations at various Wal-Mart stores over the last five years. OSHA initiated discussions with the company after finding “repeat and serious” health and safety violations at a store in Rochester, N.Y. in 2011 and similar “unacceptable” violations at stores in nine other states, according the Guardian.
Violations at the Rochester store, which is located at 2150 Chili Ave in the Gates Supercenter, included lack of training for handling hazardous cleaning materials, unlocked and unsecured trash compactors, lack of training with the compactors, and blocked exits.
Randy Hargrove, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that the violations at Gates have been corrected and the specific safety violations at the Gates store have not been found at other Wal-Mart locations.
Per the agreement, which initially suggested a $365,000 fine but was reduced as part of the settlement, improvements will be made to Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations in 28 states, which are under federal jurisdiction. The 22 states that have their own OSHA programs could negotiate similar deals.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported:
Under the settlement, Wal-Mart has agreed to lock compactors when they’re not in use. They can only be operated “under the supervision of a trained manager.” The company also agreed to improve its procedures regarding use of chemicals. Workers will not be required to handle “undiluted’’ cleaning chemicals.
Furthermore, the company agreed to improve its training in the use of chemicals and dangerous equipment.
Though the agreement legally applies only to 2,857 stores under federal OSHA supervision, [Wal-Mart spokesman Randy] Hargrove said it will be implemented in the 621 Sam’s Clubs and 4,069 Wal-Marts in the United States.
Despite a recent poll showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans—93 percent—want labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the biotech industry, led by Monsanto, is undertaking a PR campaign to convince us otherwise.
GMOs have drawn suspicion and hostility since the 1990s for their increasing ubiquity and their potential health and environmental consequences. While the actual risks posed by GMO's are hotly debated, advocates of labeling say they have a right to know what is in their food.
Accordingly, the theme of this new industry-led campaign is "transparency." The Council for Biotech Information, comprised of Monsanto and other biotech giants such as Dow and Bayer, has funded a new website, GMOanswers.com, which will theoretically answer any and all questions consumers have about GMOs.
Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotech Information, told the New York Times that, “We have not done a very good job communicating about GMOs.” But she denied that the biotech industry has been withholding information: “We have been accused of purposely hiding information. We haven’t done that but now we will open the doors and provide information.”
Presumably biotech is hoping that increased “communication” will help slow down a tide of anti-GMO victories. Connecticut recently enacted a GMO-labeling law, and a similar mandate awaits the governor’s signature in Maine. In Washington state, the grassroots I-522 campaign has been gaining steam.
Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association, told the New York Times he was “skeptical” but acknowledged the site could be potentially useful: "Hopefully they’ll make it easier for independent researchers to do research on these crops if they’re interested in being transparent.”
The judge in the trial of United States v. Bradley Manning has found Manning guilty on 20 counts but acquitted him on the most serious—aiding the enemy.
Manning has been found guilty of six counts of violating the Espionage Act, along with over a dozen of other offenses, including wanton publication of classified documents and computer fraud. He now faces a maximum sentence of 136 years in military jail.
Manning was found not guilty of violating the Espionage Act in relation to the release of the now infamous “Collateral Damage” video, which shows a U.S. Apache helicopter killing civilians in Iraq in 2007.
A crowd of supporters gathered outside of the courtroom at Fort Meade in Maryland, holding signs and chanting while the verdict was being read.
Sentencing hearings will begin Wednesday morning.
Between 2009 and 2010, Manning used his clearance as an intelligence analyst to download thousands of documents from U.S. intelligence databases and transmit them to Wikileaks.
The eight-week trial saw over 80 witnesses present testimony, including Manning’s former supervisors and coworkers.
Throughout the case, U.S. government prosecutors framed Manning as a “traitor” who had intentionally handed over secrets to the country’s enemies.
For its part, Manning’s defense team said that the Army Private was a humanist whose “sole purpose was to make a difference.”
Manning’s aunt has released a statement on the ruling:
“While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.
We want to express our deep thanks to David Coombs, who has dedicated three years of his life to serving as lead counsel in Brad’s case. We also want to thank Brad’s Army defense team, Major Thomas Hurley and Captain Joshua Tooman, for their tireless efforts on Brad’s behalf, and Brad’s first defense counsel, Captain Paul Bouchard, who was so helpful to all of us in those early confusing days and first suggested David Coombs as Brad’s counsel. Most of all, we would like to thank the thousands of people who rallied to Brad’s cause, providing financial and emotional support throughout this long and difficult time, especially Jeff Paterson and Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network. Their support has allowed a young Army private to defend himself against the full might of not only the US Army but also the US Government.”
Wikileaks has also weighed in on the case through its Twitter page:
“Bradley Manning’s convictions today include 5 courts [sic] of espionage. A very serious new precedent for supplying information to the press.”
Among the revelations that Manning’s leaks uncovered include an increased civilian death toll in the Iraq War, Guatánamo detainees that had been cleared but not released and thousands of cables between the U.S. and foreign diplomats.
On July 26, Lon Snowden, the father of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden, wrote a letter along with his lawyer Bruce Fein, rebuking President Obama for his treatment of his son’s case.
Throughout the letter, the elder Snowden makes several allusions to archetypal figures of civil disobedience, including Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In reference to the importance of standing up against injustices, the letter states:
“The history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to unjust laws or practices … Mr. Snowden confronted a choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.’ Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded with a criminal complaint.”
The letter also claims that privacy of the American people is the “cornerstone of liberty” and admonishes the president for admitting NSA policies need to be reviewed, while at the same time punishing Snowden “for accomplishing what you have said urgently needed to be done.”
The president has so far given little public acknowledgement of Snowden’s case, apart from reportedly working to ground an aircraft headed for Bolivia believed to contain Snowden and calling him a “29-year-old hacker.”
Snowden currently remains holed up in a Moscow airport and likely plans to stay in Russia on a temporary basis until he can secure permanent asylum in Latin America.
Last week Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced his opposition to a proposed new Whole Foods Market in West Seattle, claiming the chain offers employees low wages and poor benefits. His opposition comes in the wake of a recent vote in Washington D.C. to pass fair-wage legislation despite threats from Wal-Mart—a potential sign that major cities may be willing to push big corporations to treat workers fairly, or at least hold them accountable if they don’t.
The Seattle store would be the city’s seventh Whole Foods. McGinn and a citizens’ group called “Getting It Right for West Seattle” oppose the development while the Seattle Chamber of Commerce has condemned the mayor's move and popular city radio host Dori Monson has taken up the case for the chain’s new store.
Though Whole Foods claims it pays its 1,500 Seattle workers an average of $16.15 an hour, McGinn finds this claim dubious. And in a July 15 letter to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) the mayor asked SDOT to decline a request that the store be granted use of what is now a public alleyway, speaking out against the store’s policies.
There are already seven large supermarkets within a mile and half of the site, at least six of which offer employer-paid, comprehensive affordable health benefits for full and part time employees and their families, as well as family-supporting wage scales.
The mayor charges that Whole Foods’ benefits are difficult to qualify for and have high accompanying premiums. “What we see at Whole Foods is they are working to keep people below 30 hours a week so they don’t have to buy them health insurance.”
A statement from the regional president of Whole Foods Joe Rogoff vehemently denies many of McGinn’s claims about the chain, saying that the store pays more than the union contract.
But it’s no secret that Whole Foods is apparently “beyond unions”—handing out pamphlets of the name to fend off unionizing attempts. The chain, which is the nation’s second largest non-unionized food retailer, has responded to accusations that it is no better than Wal-Mart in terms of labor practices by claiming its motivation is beyond profit or personal gain.
The city council has the final say on approving the project and plans to vote on Whole Foods’ request for the use of the public alleyway in the next month. It’s likely Seattleites will soon have another outpost to buy their bulk granola. Still, McGinn’s attempts—coupled with the recent D.C. decision—could be indicative of a growing trend of cities working to attract more fair and responsible businesses.
According to a new analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin public employee unions have seen tens of thousands of members withdraw from their ranks since Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10 into law in June of 2011.
The law, which sparked massive protests, severely restricts the scope of collective bargaining. The only thing unions can legally bargain for is a wage increase—and only up to the rate of inflation. Act 10 also includes a “right to work” provision banning the deduction of union dues from members’ paychecks, which forces unions to seek alternative methods of collection such as emails, phone calls and home visits. No longer required to pay union dues, many members have opted to leave their unions rather than pay to be part of an organization that can no longer negotiate better benefits or wages.
The Journal Sentinel examined the annual financial reports of more than 600 local public sector labor unions in the state. One of the largest losses in membership was suffered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 48, which represents Milwaukee city and county workers. In 2010, District Council 48 represented 9,000 workers and reported an income exceeding $7 million. By the end of 2012, the union had shrunk by nearly two-thirds to 3,500 dues-paying members, and its fund was more than $650,000 in debt.
Other unions’ financial situations aren’t quite so dire, but similar membership decreases have been reported in public sector unions across the state.
Other AFSCME District Councils have seen large drop-offs in membership since the passage of Act 10, from a 36 percent drop in District Council 40, which represents public employees across the state, to District Council 24 (also known as the Wisconsin State Employees Union, or WSEU), which saw a nearly 50 percent drop in membership, from 22,000 members to between 9,000 and 10,000. The Security and Public Safety (SPS) contingent of the WSEU, which represents correctional officers, firefighters, and security guards, experienced a nearly fatal 88 percent plunge, its membership falling rom 5,900 to just 690. And an unnamed source told the Journal Sentinel that the Wisconsin Education Association Council—the state’s primary teachers union—lost 50 percent of its 98,000 dues-paying members.
Unions have made some inroads in fighting Act 10. While an early court challenge to the bill failed in the state Supreme Court in September of last year, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas struck down a portion of Act 10 that same month, returning collective bargaining rights for city, county and school workers. Colas agreed with the plaintiffs, Madison Teachers Inc. and Public Employees Local 61, that the bill “violated workers' constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation under the law.” However, the case has been appealed to the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court, which is likely to uphold Act 10 again.
It appears the government is recording our movements not just online, but also in our cars.
According to a new ACLU report, "You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Track Americans' Movements," automatic cameras are capturing and storing data on millions of innocent motorists including license plate numbers, locations, dates and times of movements, with "few or no restrictions to protect privacy rights." The information is commonly being shared between law enforcement agencies and in some cases is being pooled into larger regional databases, the report notes.
In a recent case regarding GPS data, the Federal Appeals Court in D.C. explained the dangers that gathering such data poses to personal privacy:
"A person who knows all of another's travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."
While the cameras are designed to aid police in catching suspected criminals, the report finds that the practice is ineffective at best. Over a five month period in Maryland, the report notes, the systems collected 29 million "reads" on license plates, of which a mere 47 were considered "hits" associated with serious crimes such as a stolen vehicle or wanted person.
And who is footing the bill for this massive data collection? According to the Wall Street Journal, over the past five years the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued $50 million in federal grants to local law enforcement agencies to pay for the programs.
Only five states have laws governing the use of such readers, the report notes. And there is currently little to no oversight of the private companies that deploy the cameras to gather similar data in parking decks, shopping malls and gated communities.
"The implementation of automatic license plate readers poses serious privacy and other civil liberties threats. The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and assocation," the report concludes.
Just a day after the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, an Ingham County judge has ruled that the city's action violates the Michigan Constitution, which "prohibits actions that will block the pensions of public employees." By some estimates, the bankruptcy will allow the city to renege on the pensions of at least 21,000 city retirees and 9,000 active workers.
Detroit is the largest city in the nation's history to file for municipal bankruptcy. In a statement Thursday explaining the decision, the city's state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr cited the city's declining population, high unemployment rate and nearly $18.5 billion debt. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) called the move the "a last resort" and the only "feasible path" for the city's survival.
Detroit, still known by its nickname "Motor City," has declined in tandem with the American auto industry, around which the city was initially built. Journalist Harold Meyerson succinctly summarized Detroit's woes at The American Prospect:
As the auto plants closed and the whites fled, Detroit hollowed out. In time, as jobs and services vanished, blacks fled as well. In 1950, the city was home to 2 million people. Today, it is home to 700,000. Its unemployment rate, at 18.6 percent, is the highest of the 50 largest American cities. Its tax revenues, not surprisingly, can’t support adequate city services.
But decades of mismanagement helped seal the city's fate. State representative Candace Miller (R-Harris Township) said of the crisis,
Detroit has been kicking the can of their fiscal problems down the road for decades and has been hurt desperately by fiscal mismanagement and public corruption. It is now clear that the city has come to the end of the road making the bankruptcy filing the only path forward.
Shortly after assuming his position as president of Purdue University last January, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) established his commitment to free speech in an open letter to “the people of Purdue.” In a section titled “Open Inquiry,” he declared, “A university has failed its special mission if it fails to protect free and open debate. ... The ensuring of free expression is paramount.”
He apparently forgot to include the postscript, “unless free expression involves pinko propaganda Mitch Daniels personally despises.” According to emails obtained by the Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, during his tenure as governor, Daniels attempted to have A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn's influential revisionist survey of American history, removed from Indiana classrooms. In a 2010 email, Daniels calls A People's History—which tells history from the perspective of those who were racially, economically and sexually oppressed—“a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.” He explicitly asks for it to be censored: "Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?"
The conservative Daniels, who during his tenure as governor passed the nation’s first stringent voter ID law and privatized large swaths of Indiana’s social services, has doubled down on his pro-censorship stance with regard to Zinn, who died in 2010. In an email statement to the AP on Tuesday, Daniels said, “We must not falsely teach American history in our schools. We have a law requiring state textbook oversight to guard against frauds like Zinn, and it was encouraging to find that no Hoosier school district had inflicted his book on its students."
The revelations have appalled academics and free speech advocates, including Prof. Cary Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors, who told the Huffington Post: "It is astonishing and shocking that such a person is now the head of a major research university, making decisions about the curriculum, that one painfully suspects embodies the same ignorance and racism these comments embody.”