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Archive for April 25th, 2012

 

The Hollywood-backed anti-piracy outfit BREIN is going all out to make The Pirate Bay inaccessible to the Dutch public. After successfully blocking The Pirate Bay through court, and then censoring proxy sites that linked to it, they are now demanding that the Pirate Party should be banned from “discussing” how easily Internet censorship can be circumvented. The political party is baffled by the proposed gag-order and has asked the court to lift all censorship efforts.

The legal battle over Internet censorship is reaching new heights in the Netherlands, as the local anti-piracy group BREIN is now asking the court to gag the Pirate Party.

The lawsuit is the next move in BREIN’s attempt to deny Dutch citizens’ access to The Pirate Bay.

In January, a Dutch court ruled that Ziggo, the largest ISP in the country, and competitor XS4ALL, must block access to The Pirate Bay. As a result hundreds of individuals setup proxy websites allowing subscribers to route around the blockade, effectively rendering the order useless.

In a countering move BREIN obtained an injunction from the court to shut these proxies down, including one operated by the Pirate Party. However, the Pirates are determined to put up a fight and have taken BREIN to court to get the order overthrown.

The case, in which the Pirate Party asked the court to lift all censorship restrictions, was heard by the court yesterday. BREIN, however, did exactly the opposite by submitting a rather broad set of new demands essentially asking the court to gag the political party.

In short BREIN’s demands are as follows.

1. The Pirate Party should be banned from operating a reverse proxy for Pirate Bay

2. The Pirate Party should be banned from operating a generic proxy service

3. The Pirate Party should be banned from linking to third-party proxies

4. The Pirate Party should be banned from listing new IP-addresses / domains Pirate Bay registers

5. The Pirate Party should be banned from encouraging people to circumvent the Pirate Bay blockade

If the Pirate Party violates the above terms BREIN asked for a penalty of €10,000 per day, up to a maximum of €250,000.

Needless to say, the demands of the anti-piracy group are unprecedented for a copyright related case. It is essentially a gag-order to enforce a previously obtained court verdict. If the court sides with BREIN this will have rather far-reaching consequences for people’s freedom of speech. It may also invite other parties to consider making similar demands.

The question is also how far BREIN wants to take this. Should other generic proxy sites be banned as well? And what about VPNs or the TOR network? All of these services allow the public to bypass the court-ordered blockade.

Meanwhile, the popular Dutch weblog Geenstijl is making some noise as well, as they launched a redirection site (FuckTimKuik.org) that forwards people to available proxies. BREIN has yet to respond to this initiative, but it shows that it will be quite difficult to root out all circumvention methods.

The court’s decision in the case between the Pirate Party and BREIN is expected to be published in two weeks. This verdict will coincide with BREIN’s case against two other Dutch Internet providers that are still allowing access to The Pirate Bay.

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Conference at the  Local, Thursday, April 26, 2012 “Surviving the economic meltdown”  by Piero San Giorgio.  More info here.


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Prison labor as the past — and future — of American “free-market” capitalism

 

By Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman

Sweatshop labor is back with a vengeance. It can be found across broad stretches of the American economy and around the world. Penitentiaries have become a niche market for such work. The privatization of prisons in recent years has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and right-less to complain.

Prisoners, whose ranks increasingly consist of those for whom the legitimate economy has found no use, now make up a virtual brigade within the reserve army of the unemployed whose ranks have ballooned along with the U.S. incarceration rate. The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM.

These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside. All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day. 

Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance — unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide. Indeed, a sentence of “confinement at hard labor” was then the essence of the American penal system. More than that, it was one vital way the United States became a modern industrial capitalist economy — at a moment, eerily like our own, when the mechanisms of capital accumulation were in crisis.

A Yankee Invention

What some historians call “the long Depression” of the nineteenth century, which lasted from the mid-1870s through the mid-1890s, was marked by frequent panics and slumps, mass bankruptcies, deflation, and self-destructive competition among businesses designed to depress costs, especially labor costs. So, too, we are living through a twenty-first century age of panics and austerity with similar pressures to shrink the social wage. 

Convict labor has been and once again is an appealing way for business to address these dilemmas. Penal servitude now strikes us as a barbaric throwback to some long-lost moment that preceded the industrial revolution, but in that we’re wrong. From its first appearance in this country, it has been associated with modern capitalist industry and large-scale agriculture. 

And that is only the first of many misconceptions about this peculiar institution. Infamous for the brutality with which prison laborers were once treated, indelibly linked in popular memory (and popular culture) with images of the black chain gang in the American South, it is usually assumed to be a Southern invention. So apparently atavistic, it seems to fit naturally with the retrograde nature of Southern life and labor, its economic and cultural underdevelopment, its racial caste system, and its desperate attachment to the “lost cause.” 

As it happens, penal servitude — the leasing out of prisoners to private enterprise, either within prison walls or in outside workshops, factories, and fields — was originally known as a “Yankee invention.”

First used at Auburn prison in New York State in the 1820s, the system spread widely and quickly throughout the North, the Midwest, and later the West. It developed alongside state-run prison workshops that produced goods for the public sector and sometimes the open market. 

A few Southern states also used it. Prisoners there, as elsewhere, however, were mainly white men, since slave masters, with a free hand to deal with the “infractions” of their chattel, had little need for prison. The Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery would, in fact, make an exception for penal servitude precisely because it had become the dominant form of punishment throughout the free states. 

Nor were those sentenced to “confinement at hard labor” restricted to digging ditches or other unskilled work; nor were they only men. Prisoners were employed at an enormous range of tasks from rope- and wagon-making to carpet, hat, and clothing manufacturing (where women prisoners were sometimes put to work), as well coal mining, carpentry, barrel-making, shoe production, house-building, and even the manufacture of rifles. The range of petty and larger workshops into which the felons were integrated made up the heart of the new American economy. 

Observing a free-labor textile mill and a convict-labor one on a visit to the United States, novelist Charles Dickens couldn’t tell the difference. State governments used the rental revenue garnered from their prisoners to meet budget needs, while entrepreneurs made outsized profits either by working the prisoners themselves or subleasing them to other businessmen. 

Convict Labor in the ‘New South’

After the Civil War, the convict-lease system metamorphosed. In the South, it became ubiquitous, one of several grim methods — including the black codes, debt peonage, the crop-lien system, lifetime labor contracts, and vigilante terror — used to control and fix in place the newly emancipated slave. Those “freedmen” were eager to pursue their new liberty either by setting up as small farmers or by exercising the right to move out of the region at will or from job to job as “free wage labor” was supposed to be able to do.

If you assumed, however, that the convict-lease system was solely the brainchild of the apartheid all-white “Redeemer” governments that overthrew the Radical Republican regimes (which first ran the defeated Confederacy during Reconstruction) and used their power to introduce Jim Crow to Dixie, you would be wrong again. In Georgia, for instance, the Radical Republican state government took the initiative soon after the war ended. And this was because the convict-lease system was tied to the modernizing sectors of the post-war economy, no matter where in Dixie it was introduced or by whom.

So convicts were leased to coal-mining, iron-forging, steel-making, and railroad companies, including Tennessee Coal and Iron (TC&I), a major producer across the South, especially in the booming region around Birmingham, Alabama. More than a quarter of the coal coming out of Birmingham’s pits was then mined by prisoners. By the turn of the century, TC&I had been folded into J.P. Morgan’s United States Steel complex, which also relied heavily on prison laborers.

All the main extractive industries of the South were, in fact, wedded to the system. Turpentine and lumber camps deep in the fetid swamps and forest vastnesses of Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana commonly worked their convicts until they dropped dead from overwork or disease. The region’s plantation monocultures in cotton and sugar made regular use of imprisoned former slaves, including women. Among the leading families of Atlanta, Birmingham, and other “New South” metropolises were businessmen whose fortunes originated in the dank coal pits, malarial marshes, isolated forests, and squalid barracks in which their unfree peons worked, lived, and died.

Because it tended to grant absolute authority to private commercial interests and because its racial make-up in the post-slavery era was overwhelmingly African-American, the South’s convict-lease system was distinctive. Its caste nature is not only impossible to forget, but should remind us of the unbalanced racial profile of America’s bloated prison population today. 

Moreover, this totalitarian-style control invited appalling brutalities in response to any sign of resistance: whippings, water torture, isolation in “dark cells,” dehydration, starvation, ice-baths, shackling with metal spurs riveted to the feet, and “tricing” (an excruciatingly painful process in which recalcitrant prisoners were strung up by the thumbs with fishing line attached to overhead pulleys). Even women in a hosiery mill in Tennessee were flogged, hung by the wrists, and placed in solitary confinement.

Living quarters for prisoner-workers were usually rat-infested and disease-ridden. Work lasted at least from sunup to sundown and well past the point of exhaustion. Death came often enough and bodies were cast off in unmarked graves by the side of the road or by incineration in coke ovens. Injury rates averaged one per worker per month, including respiratory failure, burnings, disfigurement, and the loss of limbs. Prison mines were called “nurseries of death.”  Among Southern convict laborers, the mortality rate (not even including high levels of suicides) was eight times that among similar workers in the North — and it was extraordinarily high there.

The Southern system also stood out for the intimate collusion among industrial, commercial, and agricultural enterprises and every level of Southern law enforcement as well as the judicial system. Sheriffs, local justices of the peace, state police, judges, and state governments conspired to keep the convict-lease business humming. Indeed, local law officers depended on the leasing system for a substantial part of their income. (They pocketed the fines and fees associated with the “convictions,” a repayable sum that would be added on to the amount of time at “hard labor” demanded of the prisoner.) 

The arrest cycle was synchronized with the business cycle, timed to the rise and fall of the demand for fresh labor. County and state treasuries similarly counted on such revenues, since the post-war South was so capital-starved that only renting out convicts assured that prisons could be built and maintained.

There was, then, every incentive to concoct charges or send people to jail for the most trivial offenses: vagrancy, gambling, drinking, partying, hopping a freight car, tarrying too long in town. A “pig law” in Mississippi assured you of five years as a prison laborer if you stole a farm animal worth more than $10. Theft of a fence rail could result in the same. 

Penal Servitude in the Gilded Age North

All of this was only different in degree from prevailing practices everywhere else: the sale of prison labor power to private interests, corporal punishment, and the absence of all rights including civil liberties, the vote, and the right to protest or organize against terrible conditions.

In the North, where 80% of all U.S. prison labor was employed after the Civil War and which accounted for over $35 billion in output (in current dollars), the system was reconfigured to meet the needs of modern industry and the pressures of “the long Depression.”  Convict labor was increasingly leased out only to a handful of major manufacturers in each state. These textile mills, oven makers, mining operations, hat and shoe factories — one in Wisconsin leased that state’s entire population of convicted felons — were then installing the kind of mass production methods becoming standard in much of American industry. As organized markets for prison labor grew increasingly oligopolistic (like the rest of the economy), the Depression of 1873 and subsequent depressions in the following decades wiped out many smaller businesses that had once gone trawling for convicts.

Today, we talk about a newly “flexible economy,” often a euphemism for the geometric growth of a precariously positioned, insecure workforce. The convict labor system of the nineteenth century offered an original specimen of perfect flexibility.

Companies leasing convicts enjoyed authority to dispose of their rented labor power as they saw fit. Workers were compelled to labor in total silence. Even hand gestures and eye contact were prohibited for the purpose of creating “silent and insulated working machines.”

Supervision of prison labor was ostensibly shared by employers and the prison authorities. In fact, many businesses did continue to conduct their operations within prison walls where they supplied the materials, power, and machinery, while the state provided guards, workshops, food, clothing, and what passed for medical care. As a matter of practice though, the foremen of the businesses called the shots. And there were certain states, including Nebraska, Washington, and New Mexico, that, like their Southern counterparts, ceded complete control to the lessee. As one observer put it, “Felons are mere machines held to labor by the dark cell and the scourge.”

Free market industrial capitalism, then and now, invariably draws on the aid of the state. In that system’s formative phases, the state has regularly used its coercive powers of taxation, expropriation, and in this case incarceration to free up natural and human resources lying outside the orbit of capitalism proper.

In both the North and the South, the contracting out of convict labor was one way in which that state-assisted mechanism of capital accumulation arose. Contracts with the government assured employers that their labor force would be replenished anytime a worker got sick, was disabled, died, or simply became too worn out to continue.

The Kansas Wagon Company, for example, signed a five-year contract in 1877 that prevented the state from raising the rental price of labor or renting to other employers. The company also got an option to renew the lease for 10 more years, while the government was obliged to pay for new machinery, larger workshops, a power supply, and even the building of a switching track that connected to the trunk line of the Pacific Railway and so ensured that the product could be moved effectively to market. 

Penal institutions all over the country became auxiliary arms of capitalist industry and commerce. Two-thirds of all prisoners worked for private enterprise.

Today, strikingly enough, government is again providing subsidies and tax incentives as well as facilities, utilities, and free space for corporations making use of this same category of abjectly dependent labor.

The New Abolitionism

Dependency and flexibility naturally assumed no resistance, but there was plenty of that all through the nineteenth century from workers, farmers, and even prisoners. Indeed, a principal objective in using prison labor was to undermine efforts to unionize, but from the standpoint of mobilized working people far more was at stake.

Opposition to convict labor arose from workingmen’s associations, labor-oriented political parties, journeymen unions, and other groups which considered the system an insult to the moral codes of egalitarian republicanism nurtured by the American Revolution. The specter of proletarian dependency haunted the lives of the country’s self-reliant handicraftsmen who watched apprehensively as shops employing wage labor began popping up across the country. Much of the earliest of this agitation was aimed at the use of prisoners to replace skilled workers (while unskilled prison labor was initially largely ignored).

It was bad enough for craftsmen to see their own livelihoods and standards of living put in jeopardy by “free” wage labor. Worse still was to watch unfree labor do the same thing. At the time, employers were turning to that captive prison population to combat attempts by aggrieved workers to organize and defend themselves. On the eve of the Civil War, for example, an iron-molding contractor in Spuyten Duyvil, north of Manhattan in the Bronx, locked out his unionized workers and then moved his operation to Sing Sing penitentiary, where a laborer cost 40 cents, $2.60 less than the going day rate. It worked, and Local 11 of the Union of Iron Workers quickly died away.

Worst of all was to imagine this debased form of work as a model for the proletarian future to come. The workingman’s movement of the Jacksonian era was deeply alarmed by the prospect of “wage slavery,” a condition inimical to their sense of themselves as citizens of a republic of independent producers. Prison labor was a sub-species of that dreaded “slavery,” a caricature of it perhaps, and intolerable to a movement often as much about emancipation as unionization.

All the way through the Gilded Age of the 1890s, convict labor continued to serve as a magnet for emancipatory desires. In addition, prisoners’ rebellions became ever more common — in the North particularly, where many prisoners turned out to be Civil War veterans and dispossessed working people who already knew something about fighting for freedom and fighting back. Major penitentiaries like Sing Sing became sites of repeated strikes and riots; a strike in 1877 even took on the transplanted Spuyten Duyvil iron-molding company.

Above and below the Mason Dixon line, political platforms, protest rallies, petition campaigns, legislative investigations, union strikes, and boycotts by farm organizations like the Farmers Alliance and Grange cried out for the abolition of the convict-lease system, or at least for its rigorous regulation. Over the century’s last two decades, more than 20 coal-mine strikes broke out because of the use of convict miners.

The Knights of Labor, that era’s most audacious labor movement, was particularly exercised. During the Coal Creek Wars in eastern Tennessee in the early 1890s, for instance, TC&I tried to use prisoners to break a miners’ strike. The company’s vice president noted that it was “an effective club to hold over the heads of free laborers.” 

Strikers and their allies affiliated with the Knights, the United Mine Workers, and the Farmers Alliance launched guerilla attacks on the prisoner stockade, sending the convicts they freed to Knoxville. When the governor insisted on shipping them back, the workers released them into the surrounding hills and countryside. Gun battles followed.

The Death of Convict Leasing

In the North, the prison abolition movement went viral, embracing not only workers’ organizations, sympathetic rural insurgents, and prisoners, but also widening circles of middle-class reformers. The newly created American Federation of Labor denounced the system as “contract slavery.”  It also demanded the banning of any imports from abroad made with convict labor and the exclusion from the open market of goods produced domestically by prisoners, whether in state-run or private workshops. In Chicago, the construction unions refused to work with materials made by prisoners.

By the latter part of the century, in state after state penal servitude was on its way to extinction. New York, where the “industry” was born and was largest, killed it by the late 1880s. The tariff of 1890 prohibited the sale of convict-made wares from abroad. Private leasing continued in the North, but under increasingly restrictive conditions, including Federal legislation passed during the New Deal. By World War II, it was virtually extinct (although government-run prison workshops continued as they always had).

At least officially, even in the South it was at an end by the turn of the century in Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi. Higher political calculations were at work in these states. Established elites were eager to break the inter-racial alliances that had formed over abolishing convict leasing by abolishing the hated system itself. Often enough, however, it ended in name only.

What replaced it was the state-run chain gang (although some Southern states like Alabama and Florida continued private leasing well into the 1920s). Inmates were set to work building roads and other infrastructure projects vital to the flourishing of a mature market economy and so to the continuing process of capital accumulation. In the North, the system of “hard labor” was replaced by a system of “hard time,” that numbing, brutalizing idleness where masses of people extruded from the mainstream economy are pooled into mass penal colonies. The historic link between labor, punishment, and economic development was severed, and remained so… until now.

Convict Leasing Rises Again

 

 

BP caught using inmate labor to "clean up" the environmental disaster they caused out of corporate greed.

“Now,” means our second Gilded Age and its aftermath. In these years, the system of leasing out convicts to private enterprise was reborn. This was a perverse triumph for the law of supply and demand in an era infatuated with the charms of the free market. On the supply side, the U.S. holds captive 25% of all the prisoners on the planet: 2.3 million people. It has the highest incarceration rate in the world as well, a figure that began skyrocketing in 1980 as Ronald Reagan became president. As for the demand for labor, since the 1970s American industrial corporations have found it increasingly unprofitable to invest in domestic production. Instead, they have sought out the hundreds of millions of people abroad who are willing to, or can be pressed into, working for far less than American workers.

As a consequence, those back home — disproportionately African-American workers — who found themselves living in economic exile, scrabbling to get by,  began showing up in similarly disproportionate numbers in the country’s rapidly expanding prison archipelago. It didn’t take long for corporate America to come to view this as another potential foreign country, full of cheap and subservient labor — and better yet, close by. 

What began in the 1970s as an end run around the laws prohibiting convict leasing by private interests has now become an industrial sector in its own right, employingmore people than any Fortune 500 corporation and operating in 37 states. And here’s the ultimate irony: our ancestors found convict labor obnoxious in part because it seemed to prefigure a new and more universal form of enslavement. Could its rebirth foreshadow a future ever more unnervingly like those past nightmares?

Today, we are being reassured by the president, the mainstream media, and economic experts that the Great Recession is over, that we are in “recovery” even though most of the recovering patients haven’t actually noticed significant improvement in their condition. For those announcing its arrival, “recovery” means that the mega-banks are no longer on the brink of bankruptcy, the stock market has made up lost ground, corporate profits are improving, and notoriously unreliable employment numbers have improved by several tenths of a percent.

What accounts for that peculiarly narrow view of recovery, however, is that the general costs of doing business are falling off a cliff as the economy eats itself alive. The recovery being celebrated owes thanks to local, state, and Federal austerity budgets, the starving of the social welfare system and public services, rampant anti-union campaigns in the public and private sector, the spread of sweatshop labor, the coercion of desperate unemployed or underemployed workers to accept lower wages, part-time work, and temporary work, as well as the relinquishing of healthcare benefits and a financially secure retirement — in short, to surrender the hope that is supposed to come with the American franchise.

Such a recovery, resting on the stripping away of the hard won material and cultural achievements of the past century, suggests a new world in which the prison-labor archipelago could indeed become a vast gulag of the downwardly mobile. 

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from Forbes Magazine…

If you are looking for a case study in the double standards of the mainstream media, a perfect encapsulation of how coverage is slanted in favor of groups considered friendly to Western interests and values and against groups considered inimical to those interests and values, you could do an awful lot worse than look at the controversy over the provocatively named radical feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot, in case you were wondering, is a rather self-important band of self-styled revolutionaries who, back in February in the lead up to the presidential election, gave an impromptu “concert” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. After an outcry from conservative Orthodox believers and clergy, particularly after the politically-influential Patriarch Kirill weighed in with an angry and rather un-Christian denunciation of their conduct, three members of Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with “hooliganism,” which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

As a rock group composed of young iconoclastic women, Pussy Riot immediately attracted the sympathy and attention of Western journalists and NGOs.Amnesty International, among others, has called for their immediate release and they have attracted sympathetic coverage in, among a number of other venues, Bloomberg and the Washington Post. And although Twitter is a distinctly unscientific method for monitoring opinion, I can honestly say that my feed, which features almost all of the most prominent Western journalists covering Russia, was virtually unanimous both in supporting Pussy Riot and in castigating their treatment by the authorities.

Just in case anyone doubts where my sympathies lie, let me state unequivocally that, in this instance, the Orthodox Church has acted disgracefully, that Pussy Riot ought to be freed immediately, and that the ‘hooliganism’ section of the criminal code should be modified to make it crystal clear that purely political speech of the sort in which Pussy Riot engaged can never be the basis of a formal charge. However, I learned a long time ago that the world cares little about my tender sympathies. What I find interesting, and want to explore, is the way in which the political conflict about the band has played out. I particularly want to look at the extent to which there has been a serious mobilization of anti-liberal opinion, and the way this has been covered by the media.

Given all of the anti-Putin activity over the past six months, the distinctly post-modern* Pussy Riot, which posts its videos on YouTube, would seem to be a natural rallying point for the opposition, virtually the perfect foil for Putin and the “vertical of power.” Indeed the whole Pussy Riot imbroglio almost sounds like a plot from a Disney movie: a crusading young rock band, full of earnest youngsters, tries to speak out against tyranny and is cruelly repressed by a despotic, backwards looking religious figure of dubious personal honesty. After we see the band wrestling with self-doubt and reaching the depths of despair in prison, the band’s friends manage to rally to their rescue and spring them from jail. There’s then an enormous impromptu concert in Red Square and we see Patriarch Kirill, realizing that he, too, is just a misunderstood young rocker, joining in as the credits start to roll. Call it School of Rock: Moscow.

Well, the only problem with the above scenario is that, judging from the evidence, actual Russians don’t really like Pussy Riot, nor do they seem particularly concerned about their rough treatment by the authorities. As Leonid Bershidsky noted in a column for Bloomberg:

President-elect Vladimir Putin saw fit to apologize to churchgoers and priests for what Pussy Riot perpetrated. His apology was neutrally worded, but the two detained women remain in jail pending trial despite the fact that they both have small children. A poll of 1633 Russians in 130 cities, taken by the Levada Center in mid-March, showed that 46 percent of those who had heard of the “punk service” believed two to seven years in prison to be a proper punishment for the women. Only 35 percent considered it too harsh.

Indeed, over the weekend, there was a truly impressive show of support not for the jailed punk rockers, but for the driving force behind their prosecution: the Orthodox Church. As the Associated Press Reported:

Tens of thousands prayed outside Moscow’s main cathedral on Sunday to show their support for the Russian Orthodox Church in a controversy over a punk rock protest that has added to political tensions in Russia…

Patriarch Kirill has described the punk performance as blasphemous and part of a broader attack on the church, which is considered by many Russians essential to their national identity and an intrinsic part of a powerful state.

Kirill had called on believers to attend Sunday’s service to pray “for our faith, our church, our sacred objects and our fatherland.”

The church maintains that desecration of icons and other acts of vandalism have become more frequent since the protest. As the patriarch led a procession around the cathedral, priests carried a crucifix and an icon that had been damaged in attacks elsewhere in Russia this spring.

The gathering was, essentially, a festival of illiberalism, with the patriarch almost going out of his way to make this apparent:

Attacks on the church today, he said, are not comparable to those of the Soviet era, but liberal ideology is dangerous because it recommends that “the very fact of blasphemy and sacrilege, of the mockery of shrines, be regarded as the lawful manifestation of human freedom, as something that should be defended in modern society.”

Now let’s be clear: the people who marched in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on Sunday are not representative of all Russians any more than the people who marched on Bolotnaya Ploshchad during February were. But it seems basically impossible to ignore the sharply anti-liberal tinge of the crowd on Sunday and the movement which it represents. Viewed from one perspective, 60 odd thousand people marched in favor of blasphemy laws in the largest and most liberal city in the country. Blasphemy! It is rather hard to square the narrative about a slowly emerging liberal-democratic majority in Russia with what happened this past Sunday.

It also seems basically impossible argue that the Western media covered this demonstration, which was basically of equivalent size to several of the anti-Putin demonstrations, the same way it covered earlier ones. I very clearly remember reading the coverage of the Bolotnaya protests. It was (understandably) positive, even fawning: there were interviews with protesters, loving descriptions of the signs and placards they were carrying, and extensive summaries of their grievances, opinions, strategies, and goals. Indeed, a correspondent from Time magazine was basically right in the middle of the protest after Putin’s election, mingling with the demonstrators to such an extent that he was arguably not covering the event but actively participating in it.

Yet, with the notable exceptions of the New York Times article to which I linked earlier and this Reuters article, the participants in the march on Sunday were portrayed as a mute herd. We easily learned quite a bit about what the Patriarch and his underlings think should be done, but what did the tens of thousands of ordinary Russian citizens gathered there think? Who were they?** Why exactly were they there? What were their goals? What precisely motivated them? What sort of society do they want Russia to be?  Answers to all of these questions were swiftly provided after the “for honest elections” demonstrations, but, outside of a vague and inchoate desire to protect the church, it’s really not clear to me what precisely motivated all those tens of thousands of people to gather together. And yet, it’s really hard to get people motivated, much less get them to march out in public, with vague generalities! So they must have had some specific goals in mind.

The main point I want to make is that this, once again, shows that political change in Russia is going to be neither swift nor easy. As should be clear from public attitudes about Pussy Riot, which is about as cut and dry a case of freedom of expression as you’re ever going to see, stridently, almost violently, anti-liberal opinions are still incredibly common in Russia. These attitudes are not simply the cruel inventions of the Kremlin or the imaginary artifice of Vladimir Putin: they are the honestly felt positions of many millions of people. It is absolutely possible to change this for the better, Russian society  as a whole is certainly more ‘liberal’ than it was 15 years ago, but this cannot be done in one fell swoop, either through holding an election or through replacing a particularly bad politician. Indeed, as I’ve repeatedly said, it is fully possible that a more democratic Russia would be a less liberal one.

*One of the accused has an, ahem, a somewhat interesting background:

Ms. Tolokonnikova has been criticized especially harshly for participating in a 2008 orgy at a biology museum, in which she is shown having sex with her husband just days before giving birth. She has been condemned as desecrating motherhood and harming her child — now an adorable braided blonde who made a taped appeal for her mother’s release.

**  Hell, given the prevalence of imperial standards both on Sunday and at other demonstrations over the past 6 months, some of the marchers who were ‘defending’ the church might very well have participated in the anti-Putin marches on Bolotnaya, Pushkinskaya, and Prospekt Sakharova.

*** This is, of course, an extremely complicated topic but you can see how attitudes towards Pussy Riot should, at an absolute minimum, have us questioning the character of Russian public opinion

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Cases of impaired driving, watching porn and sex with prostitutes described in report

RCMP officers have been reprimanded for impaired driving, careless use of firearms, using the force’s computers to access pornographic websites and cavorting with prostitutes, according to the Mounties’ most recent disciplinary report.

In the last reporting period for 2010-2011, 65 regular and civilian members faced formal discipline hearings; 13 of them resigned from the RCMP and one was dismissed. Other code of conduct violations included using excessive force, having sex in an unmarked RCMP vehicle and filing false overtime claims […]

Some of the disciplinary cases summarized in the report:

  • A constable received a reprimand and forfeiture of five days’ pay for allowing a prostitute actively soliciting sexual activity to enter personal vehicle for sexual activity.
  • A constable received a reprimand and forfeiture of 10 days’ pay for impaired driving.
  •  A constable was dismissed for sexual assault and inappropriate comments of a sexual nature; reporting for duty while under the influence of alcohol.
  • A staff sergeant received a reprimand and forfeiture of 10 days’ pay for making a false statement to a Canada Border Services Agency official.
  • A civilian member received two reprimands and two forfeitures of seven days’ pay for use of controlled substances and theft.
  • A constable received a reprimand and forfeiture of five days’ pay for operating a motor vehicle at excessive speeds without legitimate operational purpose causing damage of vehicle beyond repair.
  • A constable received reprimand and forfeiture of one day’s pay for excessive force.
  • A constable received reprimand and forfeiture of five days’ pay for improper use of government credit card.

Source

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he hopes the United States has transparent elections in November and has advised the US to scrap the indirect Electoral College system so it can become a more democratic society.

Chavez made the remarks in Havana on Tuesday in response to US President Barack Obama’s recent statement, in which he said he hoped that Venezuela’s upcoming elections would be transparent.

The Venezuelan president, who traveled to Cuba on April 14 for his latest round of cancer treatment, was appearing in video images for the first time in 10 days.

The video was released by Venezuelan state television.

“Obama says he is hoping for transparent elections (in Venezuela). What we are hoping for is that there are transparent elections in the United States. We wish they had direct public votes there. They choose delegates, the Electoral College. They are two degree elections. Democratize that country and stop the repression there in the United States,” Chavez said.

In the United States a president is not elected directly by the people but by the Electoral College. This means a candidate may be elected despite losing the popular vote.

Chavez praised the Venezuelan electoral system, saying, “I say there’s no other electoral system on this planet that’s as transparent, as efficient, as good as ours.”

He also told Venezuelans not to pay attention to rumors about his health.

Chavez proclaimed, “I feel very, very happy within this treatment process.”

In late March, the Venezuelan leader began radiation treatment in Cuba after undergoing an operation in February that removed a second cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. Chavez’s first tumor, which was baseball-sized, was removed last June and then he received chemotherapy.

Chavez added, “We continue in the treatment, facing the difficulties, governing, making decisions on policies.”

from PressTV

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