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Libby's Stew: Homelessness, Bush Library, Syria, Gitmo


"6 U.S. Cities That Criminalize Homelessness" by Kevin Mathews:

... Rather than finding ways to provide assistance to some of the country’s least fortunate citizens, lawmakers have developed strict regulations to criminalize homeless people’s activities, as if they were sleeping on the sidewalk and panhandling out of malice rather than necessity.

Here are 6 cities that have tried to eliminate its homeless population – many of whom are either mentally ill, grappling with addiction, or facing financial woes – by declaring them criminals (Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t work):

1. Los Angeles, California
Advocacy groups have labeled L.A. the city that is the “meanest” toward homeless people. By prohibiting sleeping on sidewalks, holding belongings in certain public spaces, and asking passersby for change, the city has made life as difficult as possible for its homeless population. ... LAPD’s notorious “selective enforcement” of minor infractions like loitering and jaywalking ... resulting in fines they cannot pay and arrest. In fact, Los Angeles spends more money funding extra officers to monitor Skid Row (the area with the city’s highest concentration of homeless people) than it does on services for the homeless.

2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mayor Michael Nutter decided to ban “outdoor feeding of the homeless” ... Hiding these services made them less accessible to those in need, ... move homeless individuals indoors so they are out of sight, out of mind to the general public.

3. Orlando, Florida
Organizations in Orlando are facing similar problems due to the city’s ban on providing food to groups of people. Despite the law, volunteers at Food Not Bombs have continued offering free food in parks, claiming they won’t cower to an unjust law. This defiance has resulted in multiple arrests. In essence, the city has found a way to not only criminalize homelessness, but also criminalize people who offer aid to the less fortunate.

4. Nevada City, California
After the area’s homeless population grew in the past year, Police Chief James Wickham convinced the city council to pass new ordinances that banned people from setting up tents, sleeping in the woods and living in an automobile. ...

5. Kalamazoo, Michigan
Though Kalamazoo cites its homeless population for trumped up infractions like the other cities, it also literally criminalizes them by turning something like sleeping on a park bench into a criminal charge, which stays on the individual’s permanent record. As a result, this criminal record prevents homeless people from obtaining housing, thus exacerbating their situation. The city also has a history of ticketing/arresting people waiting at bus stops police deemed were not actually waiting for the bus. Even after the citations were found to be discriminatory and dropped, similar citations have continued.

6. St. Petersburg, Florida
St. Petersburg has enacted harsh panhandling laws throughout the entire city. Those who are caught begging are fined $500 or sentenced to 90 days in jail. It’s a brutal tactic to drive impoverished people out of the city… or into prison. In fact, prison seems to be the city’s go-to approach. After the city banned outdoor sleeping entirely, police who find homeless individuals outside overnight give them an immediate proposition: find a space in a shelter, or come to jail.

The list need not stop at six — throughout the country hundreds of cities have enacted similar laws that prevent homeless people from sleeping outdoors, receiving food or asking for financial assistance. The idea may be for these cities to intimidate the homeless population into leaving for other areas, but with just about every region pulling these stunts, where do the less fortunate have to go.


"George Bush’s Library" 

by Matt Carr:

One of the great things about being an American president is the complete immunity that comes with the job. No matter what you do or what laws you might break,  you will never pay more than a mild political price for it.

OK, your ratings might drop, people may say nasty things about you in the press, you might even lose an election; but in the end your crimes and follies will be forgotten or airbrushed out of history with the effortless ease that would make any ‘totalitarian’ leader green with envy – and all the more so because there is no need to use force, coercion or fear to obtain these results.

Today not many Americans really care too much that Richard Nixon once ordered the illegal bombing of Cambodia and also blasted North Vietnam and Hanoi just because he wanted to prove to the North Vietnamese that he was a crazy guy who was capable of anything.

By the time Ronald Reagan died in 2004, hardly any Americans remembered that his administration had overseen one of the sleaziest foreign policy operations in US history.  Selling cocaine to fund the Contras and heroin for the Afghan ‘Muj’,  weapons-for-hostages,  equipping both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, bypassing Congressional scrutiny, running secret slush funds through BCCI, funding the death squad regimes in Central America – hell, what exactly is your problem?   This is the president we’re talking about.

Sometimes this process of rehabilitation can happen sooner than you think.   Take George W. Bush.  Just four years ago he left office with the lowest approval ratings in American history.  He left a country in financial freefall, with a level of wealth inequality without parallel in US history, whose crumbling infrastructure and institutional incompetence was epitomized by Hurricane Katrina.

Abroad the reputation of the United States had been dragged through the dirt by the disastrous response of his administration to the 9/11 attacks, that included  Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the rendition of suspected ‘enemy combatants’ to countries like Syria and Egypt to be tortured,  two major wars that had achieved nothing substantial except to leave hundreds of thousands of people dead – one of which was launched on blatantly false premises.


Last week a Washington Post/ABC News poll  found that Bush’s approval ratings had risen from 33 percent positive and 66 percent negative in 2009 to corresponding figures of 47 percent  approval and 50 percent disapproval today – almost on a par with Obama.

So absence clearly does make the heart grow fonder, and whatever his abilities as an artist, it was probably a good move on Bush’s part to spend the last few years away from the limelight mountain-biking, golfing and painting dogs.   But an even better idea was to open a presidential library.


... Barack Obama praised Bush as a leader of ‘incredible strength and resolve’ who led the US through some of its darkest days.    Bill Clinton described  him as a great humanitarian.   Bush cried.  Bush Senior said ‘God Bless America.’

Everyone felt good, because the presidency is in the end a feelgood institution, and being president not only means never having to say you’re sorry – it means that no one will ever ask you to – except for the handful of protesters outside.


"Syria and Sarin Gas: US Claims Have a Very Familiar Ring" by Robert Fisk:

It all comes back to that most infantile cliché of all: that the US and Israel fear Assad's chemical weapons "falling into the wrong hands". They are frightened, in other words, that these chemicals might end up in the armoury of the very same rebels, especially the Islamists, that Washington, London, Paris, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting. And if these are the "wrong hands", then presumably the weapons in Assad's armoury are in the "right hands". That was the case with Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons – until he used them against the Kurds.


But now for a few problems. Phosphorus shells can inflict deep burns, and perhaps cause birth defects. But the Americans do not suggest that the Syrian military might have used phosphorus (which is indeed a chemical); after all, American troops used the very same weapon in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where there is indeed now an explosion of birth defects. I suppose our hatred of the Assad regime might better be reflected by horror at reports of the torture by Syrian secret policemen of the regime's detainees.

But there's a problem here, too: only 10 years ago, the US was "renditioning" innocent men, including a Canadian citizen, to Damascus to be interrogated and tortured by the very same secret policemen. And if we mention Saddam's chemical weapons, there's another glitch: because the components of these vile weapons were manufactured by a factory in New Jersey and sent to Baghdad by the US.


"A Desperate Situation at Guantánamo: Over 130 Prisoners on Hunger Strike, Dozens Being Force-Fed" -- discussion of Carlos Warner and Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. military has acknowledged for the first time the number of prisoners on hunger strike at the military prison has topped 100. About a fifth of the hunger strikers are now being force-fed. Lawyers for the prisoners say more than 130 men are taking part in the hunger strike, which began in February.


AMY GOODMAN: We speak to attorney Carlos Warner, who represents 11 prisoners at Guantánamo. He spoke to one of them on Friday. "Unfortunately, they’re held because the president has no political will to end Guantánamo," Warner says. "The president has the authority to transfer individuals if he believes that it’s in the interests of the United States. But he doesn’t have the political will to do so because 166 men in Guantánamo don’t have much pull in the United States. But the average American on the street does not understand that half of these men, 86 of the men, are cleared for release."


CARLOS WARNER: A Muslim adviser who works for the Pentagon is predicting some prisoners will die before the hunger strike ends. ...

Some prisoners have reportedly lost dramatic amounts of weight, while authorities have attempted to break the strike with force-feeding and isolation. Many human rights and medical groups consider force-feeding a form of torture. The U.S. government says allowing them to starve would be inhumane.


There are about four years of détente between the guards and the men, where the—really, the guards were understanding of the men and the men were very respectful for the guards. And the guard force was changed in September. It went from the Army—or, excuse me, from the Navy to the Army. And it was just—from that time, we started to have crisis. And you started to see that in the 9/11 trials with these stories about the men’s documents being taken away. Basically, the Army made a decision: We want to take everything out of the camps and know what we’re dealing with. This all came to a head on February the 6th when the men’s cells were stripped and Muslim linguists were leafing through the Qur’ans with the Army looking on. And this was, as I’ve said, the spark that ignited this current strike. And from there, we’ve just devolved and devolved.


Fayiz al-Kandry, he—I’ve been—this is the third conversation I’ve had with him since the strike began. I visited him in person twice, and then on Friday I got a phone call. And things have gone downhill. He started to be force-fed, according to him, last Monday. And I got a notice about this last Wednesday from the government that he’s being force-fed. And he told me that they’re force-feeding him with what’s called a size 10 tube, a bigger tube than is required. He said that this makes it difficult for him to breathe, and it induces vomiting. And he has asked them to give them—give him a smaller tube, and the military refuses to do so. Why they would not do these things, we have no idea.


AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to former Guantánamo prisoner Sami al-Hajj, the only journalist held at the base, held there for more than six years without charge. In January 2007, he also began a hunger strike that lasted 438 days until his release in May of 2008. I spoke to him in Doha, Qatar, in December, where he works for Al Jazeera and where we had gone for the climate change summit. He talked about being violently force-fed during the hunger strike.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: They doesn’t bring a small tube, big.
AMY GOODMAN: They bring a tube that’s too big—
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, yes, too big, very big.
AMY GOODMAN: —to put up your nose and down into your stomach?
SAMI AL-HAJJ: And there is some [inaudible]. When they take it, they take it by force, and very quick.
AMY GOODMAN: So they jerk it out of your nose.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, some blood coming, yes. And many times they doesn’t cleaning the tube. When they feed the other guy, they come, and same thing. They give it to you by—
AMY GOODMAN: They use the tube that they used in the person they have seated next to you.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: For another, yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And then they put it into you—
SAMI AL-HAJJ: For you, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —without cleaning it.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Without cleaning. You see the blood and everything inside.
AMY GOODMAN: You see the blood.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Inside, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you say—when they would take the tube of a man next to you and put it into you, shove it down through your nose into your stomach, would you say something?
SAMI AL-HAJJ: For that, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you ask why they were doing this?
SAMI AL-HAJJ: Yes, they said—they told us, "We want you to break your hunger strike." They tell us directly like that. They ask us to break our hunger strike. They said, "We’ll never deal with you as the detainees until you break your hunger strike."


CARLOS WARNER: Unfortunately, they’re held because the president has no political will to end Guantánamo. And it falls on the left. And I’m part of the left. I’m a federal public defender. My wife campaigned for President Obama. But the bottom line is that the left isn’t pushing for the release. He, the president, is blaming this on the right and saying the right has made these restrictions. Well, what the left doesn’t understand, and the right has pointed this out, is that the president has the authority to transfer individuals if he believes that it’s in the interests of the United States. But he doesn’t have the political will to do so because 166 men in Guantánamo don’t have much pull in the United States.


CARLOS WARNER: We’re just asking the president to appoint somebody to start working on the problem. If the president does that, we can make incredible progress in a year. I’ve been in this situation for many years now, and I know where these men can go. And frankly, the executive knows, as well. The State Department knows where these men can be placed. And they were working on those solutions, but the president doesn’t want to implement what the State Department has done.

AMY GOODMAN: Where can they be placed?

CARLOS WARNER: Well, there are rehabilitation centers in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, built under the eye of the United States, where—that they could go, the 86 men could go in an instant, if the president had political will to transfer them. And not every man can go there, but we could certainly start working on many of these innocent men. And if you are not on that list of 86, the president has no process for you to—for you to challenge your detention. So, many of the individuals that he has held indefinitely and say should be held indefinitely, they haven’t done anything wrong, either. But basically the president has said these are people that, if we release them, we’re afraid they’ll—they might harm us because they’re ticked off we’ve held them for 11 years without charge.

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