Archive for June, 2012

Nature & Politics: Failure in Rio

By • on June 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm

The predictable word is in from Rio: failure. The conference twenty years on from the huge Earth Summit, Rio 92, has been unable to produce even the pretense of an energetic verbal commitment of the world’s community to “sustainable principles.”

The reason? These conferences have always been pretty fraudulent affairs, lofted on excited green rhetoric and larded with ominous advisories that “this time we cannot afford to fail” and that “the tipping point” is finally here. But failure has been a loyal companion, and many a tipping point has tipped without amiss. There is no such thing as a world “community.” There are rich nations and poor nations, all with differing national interests and the former will never accede willingly to the agendas of the latter, however intricate the language of the final windy “declaration.” Since Gro Bruntland lofted it to glory in 1987, the word “sustainable” has long been drained of all meaning.

The general absurdity of these earth summits – Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban, and now Rio again, is summed up in what the green forces hoped could be a concluding declaration this time in Rio to which enough nations could fix their name and declare Victory for the planet. Originally it was to be the commitment to a “Green World” but not enough nations cared for that so the fall-back face-saver was a plan for a UN treaty to protect the international high seas.

To the greens’ utter astonishment, early on Tuesday, it turned out that the US and Venezuela were vetoing this plan. Whatever Hugo Chavez’s motives, the reason for the US veto was obvious and should have been so from the moment the plan was mooted. The International Treaty on the Law of Sea was ratified in 1982 and the US has always refused to sign it. Shouts of betrayal mounted. “The future we want has gotten a little further away today. Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure. It has failed on equity, failed on ecology and failed on economy,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace. “This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development.” The businessman Maurice Strong, a big player at these events, said the world had gone backward since 1992.

The Brazilians threw in the towel, insisting on a spineless final declaration. “Sustainability” was suddenly thrust forward as a face-saver. Like some Trollopian parson, somehow surviving the bureaucratic infighting, was the Commission on Sustainable Development which had been leading a quiet and unassuming life in some UN back office. Now the hitherto toothless commission will be elevated into a high-level body charged with monitoring and enforcing “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) and will report to the UN General Assembly. Among its possible areas of concern: food security and sustainable agriculture; sustainable energy for all; water access and efficiency; sustainable cities; green jobs, decent work, and something called social inclusion.

By the time the actual world leaders settled into their suites — US President Barack Obama, Britain’s David Cameron and German leader Angela Merkel were all no-shows – there was absolutely nothing to do: no rousing declarations, just muted jawboning about how the mere fact that these sessions were taking place was important for the planet.

So much for the fantasy land of the Green conferences, touchingly evoked by last Sunday, by the Guardian’s newspaper’s “sustainable business editor” who wrote from Rio:? “While the politicians are finding it difficult to find common ground, we are elsewhere witnessing the movement… to multi-dimensional collaborations. This is probably one of the most exciting developments we are likely to see coming out of Rio+20 and will offer the first tantalizing evidence of the ability to start taking projects to scale.”

A friend of mine, based in the Middle East, came to know Yemen’s minister of the environment. A large portion of the Yemeni’s duties, decently remunerated by the UN, was attending not just the big green conferences, but also the preparatory ones, four times a year. These are where the so-called sherpas – itinerant bureaucrats whose life is give over to these grim tasks – draft the Zero document, which then becomes the object of months, even years of wrangling. Our Yemeni was of course only too happy to get out of Sana’a. Now multiply him and his diminutive delegation by the 170 odd nations whose platoons of Green delegates consume millions a year of UN money in travel fees, accommodation – often lavish – and of course remuneration. We can safely assume that many of these conferees form stimulating personal relationships, which only increases their loyalty to the process as it loiters through the decades.
These and other conferences continue, year by year, a kind of fiscal stimulus for NGOs and the hospitality industry. Ban Ki-moon himself admits nothing useful will be agreed in Rio but says calling such conferences “junkets” is irresponsible. He says: “If you can find any alternative, please let me know.”

The role of the left has been influential in the formation of this itinerant, gabby pantechnikon with its dramas and deadlines and final null termination. They’ve grown to love huge international assemblies, preferably located in pleasant surroundings, in which to palaver about issues of the economy, democracy and so forth. No less that 50,000 attended Rio+20, earnestly mooting ten thousand green schemes in the conference seminars.

For their part the western governments are prepared to take a moldy cabbage or two tossed at them by disappointed greens. They’ve done nothing substantive in 20 years. Why should they start now?

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By • on June 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm

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Criminal behavior

By • on June 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm

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Reclaim Our History: July 1-15

By • on June 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm

July 1, 1492: King of Spain, culminating the Spanish Inquisition, gives all Jews in Spain 30 days to leave the country. Some of the confiscated Jewish assets were then used to finance the voyage of Columbus. 1932: Farmers in Iowa blockade roads, arm themselves with pitchforks and shotguns and refuse to allow farm produce to [...]

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By • on June 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm

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Mitt Romney’s America

By • on June 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Does not include you. Or your children.

From Friday:

“I think this is a land of opportunity for every single person, every single citizen of this great nation. And I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot of realizing their dreams.”

This is actually a step backwards from April, when Romney suggested that students who weren’t sufficiently independently wealthy to pay for a college education could always borrow the money from their parents. Now, apparently, Romney’s position has evolved; you shouldn’t get an education at all unless you, personally, can afford it. If you don’t have the time and money yourself, prospective students don’t deserve “a fair shot,” or a chance to “provide for their family” or “have a shot of realizing their dreams,” no matter how much money your parents might lend you.

If you’re the beneficiary of a trust fund, however, it’s apparently all good. See? This really is a great nation.

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Rob McKenna, Loser

By • on June 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm

State Attorney General Rob McKenna is either a terrible lawyer or an opportunistic, dishonest political hack. Or both. And, today, the fact that he is one or more of these things helped him greatly in his bid to become Washington’s next governor. McKenna, you may recall, was one of the initial group of Republican state [...]

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It’s Enough to Make You Want to Drink

By • on June 21, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Let’s go into the Way-Way-Wayback Machine, shall we? The editorial page lede of the Seattle Times, Nov. 8, 2011: “The victory of Initiative 1183 is good news for the consumers and taxpayers of Washington…” That was in the aftermath of voter approval of I-1183, the measure, largely bankrolled by Costco, that privatized hard liquor sales [...]

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Reclaim Our History June 16-30

By • on June 21, 2012 at 11:55 pm

June 16, 1873: Susan B. Anthony arrested for voting. June 18, 1921: Eighteen IWW anti-war activists released from Leavenworth federal prison. 1952: US denounces Soviet suggestion that it ratify the 1925 Geneva Protocol against bacteriological warfare. June 19, 1988: Haitian civilian government overthrown by US-backed military coup. June 20, 1973: American F-14 Tomcat fighter plane [...]

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Three Strikes and You’re Out

By • on June 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Three incidents last week confirm the city’s inability to address problems at the Seattle Police Department. In spite of a Department of Justice report that Seattle has a problem with excessive force and biased policing, the city is in deep denial and is doing its best to cover up the problems.

The first incident last week was the arrest of SPD Lt. Donnie Lowe on domestic violence charges. Lowe, whom the Seattle Times described as having “a checkered history with the department,” was given a leadership role in the city’s 20/20 Plan (the city’s response to the DOJ finding, which has been described by the DOJ as a joke). The 20/20 Plan is mostly a PR exercise, but with Lowe’s arrest, even the PR value of the plan is now in question.

Lowe himself has an ongoing problem with alcohol, and possibly anger issues. He was arrested last week at a party in his home. He’d been drinking with friends, got into an argument with his wife, then pushed her against a wall and smacked her. This is not his first alcohol related arrest: in 2008 Lowe was brought in on a DUI charge and his blood alcohol level registered at 0.113%, above the legal intoxication limit of 0.08%. Lowe, however, was allowed to plead guilty to an “amended” charge of reckless driving. His sentence was deferred, then the charge dismissed after he finished an alcohol information class and some community service. It’s hard to believe that if Lowe was not a Seattle police offer, he would have received such lenient treatment.

This week’s arrest is also not the first time Lowe has been in trouble for assaulting a family member. In June 2006, he punched and pushed his 13-year-old son against a wall in an SPD jail cell. The city chose not to bring legal charges against him, and then-Chief Gil Kerlikowski reduced his disciplinary finding from “misuse of authority and violation of rules, regulations, and laws” to “conduct unbecoming an officer”—one of many such disciplinary reductions that Kerlikowski was criticized for during his tenure.

This leniency has produced the current culture of invulnerability and exceptionalism at the SPD. By definition, an SPD officer can’t be guilty of excessive force or biased policing, since SPD officers can do no wrong.

This is the city’s official legal stance, as we can see with its filing of court documents last week challenging the veracity of the DOJ report. City attorneys filed the documents in the lawsuit against SPD officer Shandy Cobane. Cobane is the officer who was caught on video uttering a racial slur (“I’m going to beat the Mexican piss out of you, Homey; you feel me?”) to a suspect, then allegedly kicking the suspect in the face and stomping on him as he lay prone on the ground. Immediately after the video came to light, both Officer Cobane and SPD Chief Diaz apologized to the public. Diaz demoted Cobane and promised that any officer caught doing the same thing risked being fired.

Now city attorneys are trying to argue that the DOJ report should not be introduced into evidence in Cobane’s case, and they’re asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. This, in spite of both Cobane’s and Chief Diaz’s public admissions that Cobane had erred. Cobane recently testified in a deposition that, two years after the event, he still doesn’t know what the SPD policy is regarding unbiased policing.

Cobane’s case is not the only one wending its way through the courts. John Kita won a ruling last week in his case against the SPD. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Kita can pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the SPD, after he was roughed up during his arrest in February 2008. A dashboard camera captured SPD Officer Kevin Oshikawa-Clay hitting the back of Kita’s head and slamming his face into the hood of a patrol car. He then dragged Kita to the ground where he kneeled on Kita’s back, hit him twice more, and cranked his arm into a pain-compliance hold. While the hood of the car blocked the view of Kita on the ground, the angle of the blows suggest Oshikawa-Clay hit Kita twice more in the back of the head.

At the time of Kita’s arrest, SPD commanders and a lieutenant in the SPD training division viewed the dash-cam video and concluded that Oshikawa-Clay had correctly followed department policy. They concluded that the suspect, Kita, was violent and a safety risk to Oshikawa-Clay, even though Kita was never charged with resisting arrest or assaulting an officer. Kita was eventually acquitted of the assault charge for which he was arrested.

After viewing the dash-cam video, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court disagreed with the SPD commanders. They ruled that Kita was not a safety risk to Officer Oshikawa-Clay, and that the officer’s actions were “objectively unreasonable and therefore constitutionally excessive.” This is twice now that an outside agency—first the DOJ and now a circuit court—has ruled that SPD departmental policy, procedures, and training are flawed.

The city needs to step up and take responsibility for the problems at the SPD. As the DOJ and the local US Attorney have said, the 20/20 Plan doesn’t begin to address the deeper cultural problems and lack of accountability within the Seattle Police Department. Unfortunately, it may take another court decision—this time in a lawsuit filed by the DOJ—to force changes within the city and the police department.

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