Saturday, August 30, 2014

USTelecom is looking out for our best interests... smirk


 

US cable giants call on FCC to block cities' expansion of high-speed internet

USTelecom wants to block expansion of popular networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina
Internet access in the Middle East and North Africa is constrained by the high cost of connectivity.
Chattanooga has the largest high-speed internet service in the US, offering customers access to speeds of 1 gigabit per second – about 50 times faster than the US average Photograph: Johann Helgason / Alamy/Alamy

The US cable industry called on the Federal Communications Commission on Friday to block two cities’ plans to expand high-speed internet services to their residents.
USTelecom, which represents cable giants Comcast, Time Warner and others, wants the FCC to block expansion of two popular municipally owned high speed internet networks, one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the other in Wilson, North Carolina.
“The success of public broadband is a mixed record, with numerous examples of failures,” USTelecom said in a blog post. “With state taxpayers on the financial hook when a municipal broadband network goes under, it is entirely reasonable for state legislatures to be cautious in limiting or even prohibiting that activity.”
Chattanooga has the largest high-speed internet service in the US, offering customers access to speeds of 1 gigabit per second – about 50 times faster than the US average. The service, provided by municipally owned EPB, has sparked a tech boom in the city and attracted international attention. EPB is now petitioning the FCC to expand its territory. Comcast and others have previously sued unsuccessfully to stop EPB’s fibre optic roll out.
Wilson, a town of a little more than 49,000 people, launched Greenlight, its own service offering high speed internet, after complaints about the cost and quality of Time Warner cable’s service. Time Warner lobbied the North Carolina senate to outlaw the service and similar municipal efforts.
USTelecom claims the FCC has no legal standing over the proposed expansions and does not have the power to preempt the North Carolina and Tennessee statutes that would prevent them.
“States have adopted a wide range of legislative approaches on how much authority they give local governments to build, own and operate broadband networks. Some states require an election or public hearings before a public project can move forward. Others ask for competitive bids, and still others put restrictions on the terms of service so the public entities bear the same regulatory burdens as private service providers,” said USTelecom.
“States are well within their rights to impose these restrictions, given the potential impact on taxpayers if public projects are not carefully planned and weighed against existing private investment.”
In January this year, the FCC issued the “Gigabit City Challenge” calling on providers to offer gigabit service in at least one community in each state by 2015. The challenge has come amid intense lobbying from cable firms to stop municipal rivals and new competitors including Google from building and expanding high speed networks.
In a statement EPB said: “Communities should have the right – at the local level – to determine their broadband futures.
“The private sector didn’t want to serve everyone, but public power companies like EPB were established to make sure that everyone had access to this critical infrastructure. “

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poverty Capitalism

New York Times:

The Expanding World of Poverty Capitalism
AUG. 26, 2014
by 

In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.”

Sentinel makes its money by getting the offenders on probation to pay for the company’s services. Charges can range from $35 to $100 a month.

The company boasts of having contracts with more than 200 government agencies, and it takes pride in the “development of offender funded programs where any of our services can be provided at no cost to the agency.”

Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.

In terms of food, housing and other essentials, the cost of being poor has always been exorbitant. Landlords, grocery stores and other commercial enterprises have all found ways to profit from those at the bottom of the ladder.

The recent drive toward privatization of government functions has turned traditional public services into profit-making enterprises as well.

In addition to probation, municipal court systems are also turning collections over to a national network of companies like Sentinel that profit from service charges imposed on the men and women who are under court order to pay fees and fines, including traffic tickets (with the fees being sums tacked on by the court to fund administrative services).

When they cannot pay these assessed fees and fines – plus collection charges imposed by the private companies — offenders can be sent to jail. There are many documented cases in which courts have imprisoned those who failed to keep up with their combined fines, fees and service charges.

“These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga. active in defending the poor, told Ethan Bronner of The Times.

A February 2014 report by Human Rights Watch on private offender services found that “more than 1,000 courts in several US states delegate tremendous coercive power to companies that are often subject to little meaningful oversight or regulation. In many cases, the only reason people are put on probation is because they need time to pay off fines and court costs linked to minor crimes. In some of these cases, probation companies act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers, charging the debtors for their services.”

Human Rights Watch also found that in Georgia in 2012, in “a state of less than 10 million people, 648 courts assigned more than 250,000 cases to private probation companies.” The report notes that “there is virtually no transparency about the revenues of private probation companies” since “practically all of the industry’s firms are privately held and not subject to the disclosure requirements that bind publicly traded companies. No state requires probation companies to report their revenues, or by logical extension the amount of money they collect for themselves from probationers.”

Human Rights Watch goes on to provide an account given by a private probation officer in Georgia: “I always try and negotiate with the families. Once they know you are serious they come up with some money. That’s how you have to be. They have to see that this person is not getting out unless they pay something. I’m just looking for some good faith money, really. I got one guy I let out of jail today and I got three or four more sitting there right now.”

Collection companies and the services they offer appeal to politicians and public officials for a number of reasons: they cut government costs, reducing the need to raise taxes; they shift the burden onto offenders, who have little political influence, in part because many of them have lost the right to vote; and it pleases taxpayers who believe that the enforcement of punishment — however obtained — is a crucial dimension to the administration of justice.

As N.P.R. reported in May, services that “were once free, including those that are constitutionally required,” are now frequently billed to offenders: the cost of a public defender, room and board when jailed, probation and parole supervision, electronic monitoring devices, arrest warrants, drug and alcohol testing, and D.N.A. sampling. This can go to extraordinary lengths: in Washington state, N.P.R. found, offenders even “get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.”

This new system of offender-funded law enforcement creates a vicious circle: The poorer the defendants are, the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists.

And that’s not all. The more commercialized fee collection and probation services get, the more the costs of these services are inflicted on the poor, and the more resentful of the police specifically and of law enforcement generally the poor become. At the same time, judicial systems are themselves in a vise. Judges, who in many locales must run for re-election, are under intense pressure from taxpayers to cut administrative costs while maintaining the efficacy of the judiciary.

The National Center for State Courts recently issued a guide noting that while the collection of fines and costs is “important for reasons of revenue,” even more important is the maintenance of “the integrity of the courts.”

In dealing with more serious crimes involving substantial sentences, the rising costs of maintaining and building new prison facilities has prompted many state governments, and even the federal government, to turn to the private prison industry.

This industry, which began to grow in the early 1980s, now faces significant problems. As incarceration rates drop, and as some states adopt more lenient sentencing practices, the industry is struggling to find new ways to fill vacant cells.

Take the Corrections Corporation of America, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and reported revenues of $1.69 billion in 2013. The firm describes itself as “the nation’s largest owner of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States behind only the federal government and three states.”

In its 2013 annual report, C.C.A. was clear about the problems facing the company: “under a per diem rate structure, a decrease in our occupancy rates could cause a decrease in revenue and profitability. For the past three years, occupancy rates have been steadily declining in C.C.A. facilities, from 90 percent in 2011, to 88 percent in 2012 and 85 percent in 2013.”

These numbers reflect the brutal math underlying profit margins in private prisons. The “revenue per compensated man-day” for each inmate rose by 35 cents from $60.22 in 2012 to $60.57 in 2013. But expenses “per compensated man-day” rose by 70 cents from $42.04 to $42.74, for a net decline in operating income for each inmate from $18.18 a day to $17.83.

The founders of C.C.A. include Tom Beasley, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. One of its early investors was Honey Alexander, who is married to Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. Alexander, according to the Sunlight Foundation, has received in excess of $63,000 from C.C.A. employees and the company PAC since his election to the Senate in 2002.

Poverty capitalism and government policy are now working on their own and in tandem to shift costs to those least equipped to pay and in particular to the least politically influential segment of the poor: criminal defendants and those delinquent in paying fines.

Last year, Ferguson, Mo., the site of recent protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, used escalating municipal court fines to pay 20.2 percent of the city’s $12.75 million budget. Just two years earlier, municipal court fines had accounted for only 12.3 percent of the city’s revenues.

What should be done to interrupt the dangerous feedback loop between low-level crime and extortionate punishment? First, local governments should bring private sector collection charges, court-imposed administrative fees and the dollar amount of traffic fines (which often double and triple when they go unpaid) into line with the economic resources of poor offenders. But larger reforms are needed and those will not come about unless the poor begin to exercise their latent political power. In many ways, everything is working against them. But the public outpouring spurred by the shooting of Michael Brown provides an indication of a possible path to the future. It was, after all, just 50 years ago — not too distant in historical terms — that collective action and social solidarity produced tangible results.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Flashback: Taxpayer Money Used For Microsoft Bridge

Stimulus money goes for a bridge to Microsoft

Originally published Saturday, March 14, 2009 
A highway overpass meant to ease congestion around Microsoft's growing Redmond headquarters will be among the state's first recipients of federal funding from President Obama's stimulus plan, raising objections from groups scrutinizing how the $787 billion is spent.
Seattle Times staff and Bloomberg News

A highway overpass meant to ease congestion around Microsoft's growing Redmond headquarters will be among the state's first recipients of federal funding from President Obama's stimulus plan, raising objections from groups scrutinizing how the $787 billion is spent.
The overpass will connect Northeast 31st Street and Northeast 36th Street, bridging Highway 520, which separates the older portions of the company's large corporate campus from a major new expansion nearing completion on the west side of the freeway.
"They said this is really important to them and we said it's important to us but we don't have enough funding," said Bill Campbell, city of Redmond public-works director, recalling early discussions with the company.
Microsoft committed $17.5 million in funding, 70 percent of the initial cost estimate, as part of a broader 2006 agreement regarding development of the campus. The city would come up with the rest, and even landed $2.5 million in regular federal aid, Campbell said.
As planners designed the project, they saw that because it crosses 520 at an angle, it would more likely cost $35 million to $40 million, Campbell said.
Planners discussed the additional costs with Microsoft — "everything from them contributing all of the increase to some kind of a split," Campbell said. "I think they're committed to the total funding that they agreed to at the beginning of the process," he said. Discussions are expected to continue when the final cost of the project is known.
Meanwhile, the city eyed the deteriorating economy and emerging federal stimulus plan, and applied for Federal Highway Administration funding in the plan to make up the additional costs.
On Thursday, the Puget Sound Regional Council gave the project $11 million, topping the list of more than 50 projects in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties sharing in $214 million in funding distributed through the organization.
Redmond sought bids for the project Friday and expects to begin construction in June.
Watchdog group objects
Without the stimulus dollars, Microsoft would have had to kick in more money or wait longer.
"We will be watching the decisions made by the states very closely to ensure the money is spent appropriately," said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman. "At present, this project still remains under review."

The fact that stimulus dollars are going toward a project seen to benefit a wealthy corporate giant raised the hackles of taxpayer groups and stimulus watchdogs.
"I'm sure Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates could finance this out of pocket change," Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said of Microsoft's chief executive officer and chairman. "Subsidizing an overpass to one of the richest companies in the country certainly isn't going to be the best use of our precious dollars.
"It's a bridge to Microsoft," he said. Ellis' Washington, D.C.-based group, which tracks government spending, coined the phrase "bridge to nowhere" to describe a proposed span in Alaska that got $223 million in federal funding in 2005 and later was canceled.
Project details
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) explains the impetus for the project on its Web site:
"The Overlake area of Redmond is growing rapidly, due in part to the expansion of the Microsoft campus. The new bridge will improve traffic flow and provide a critical link to the east and west side of Highway 520. It will provide a direct connection between Microsoft campus buildings on both sides."
The tree-lined, 480-foot overpass will have one vehicle lane in each direction, pedestrian paths and a bike lane. WSDOT says it will be "an eye-catching gateway to the city of Redmond."
Other expected benefits include improved safety. Right now, pedestrians, bikes and vehicles traveling east and west through the area share the broad, busy Northeast 40th Street overpass.
The $787 billion stimulus plan, which Obama signed Feb. 17, includes $27.6 billion nationwide for highways, $8.4 billion to improve public transportation, and $8 billion for high-speed rail and intercity-passenger lines. It requires giving priority to projects targeted for completion within three years. States can lose funds if they aren't allocated quickly.
"This is one of the first manifestations of some of the concerns we had about the stimulus: that you would have the use of federal cash for things that would have been paid for either privately or locally," said Ellis of the taxpayer group. "We're really not adding any money, we're just substituting."
The stimulus may not boost permanent employment in Washington state, as most of the projects it funds will take just a few months to complete, said Michael Ennis, director of the center for transportation at the Washington Policy Center, a Seattle nonprofit group that studies fiscal issues.
"The state is running around trying to find these little projects that are ready to go," he said. "These people will all be unemployed again by the summer."
Campbell said he expects the project to take 16 to 18 months, with completion expected in winter 2010.
Seattle Times technology reporter Benjamin J. Romano contributed to this report
.

Nestle Continues to Export Water from California


SAN RAFAEL, CA - AUGUST 20: Bottles of Arrowhead water are displayed on a shelf at a convenience store on August 20, 2014 in San Rafael, California. Despite the historic California drought that has left most of State to ration water and face fines for overuse, Nestle Waters North America continues to bottle and export water under the brand name Arrowhead from a spring on the grounds of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians reservation in Cabazon, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

http://guardianlv.com/2014/08/nestle-continues-to-export-california-water-despite-record-drought/


http://www.opednews.com/articles/How-Corporations-Are-Creat-by-Carl-Gibson-Water_Water-Conservation-140801-85.html


http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/20/3473775/california-water-rights-five-times/

http://www.kesq.com/news/drought-impacting-aquifer-and-local-water-agencies-trying-to-protect-it/27512034


http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Bottled-water-co-Nirvana-Inc-files-unfair-competition-lawsuit-v-Nestle

Microsoft's Tax Avoidance Strategy


Microsoft Admits Keeping $92 Billion Offshore to Avoid Paying $29 Billion in U.S. Taxes


By David Sirota @davidsirotad.sirota @ibtimes.com
on August 22 2014 9:26 AM   INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES

Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budgetof the company’s home state of Washington.
The company says it has "not provided deferred U.S. income taxes" because it says the earnings were generated from its "non-U.S. subsidiaries” and then "reinvested outside the U.S.” Tax experts, however, say that details of the filing suggest the company is using tax shelters to dodge the taxes it owes as a company domiciled in the United States.
In response to a request for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson referred International Business Times to 2012 U.S. Senate testimony from William J. Sample, the company’s corporate vp for worldwide tax. He said: “Microsoft’s tax results follow from its business, which is fundamentally a global business that requires us to operate in foreign markets in order to compete and grow. In conducting our business at home and abroad, we abide by U.S. and foreign tax laws as written. That is not to say that the rules cannot be improved -- to the contrary, we believe they can and should be.”
The disclosure in Microsoft’s SEC filing lands amid an intensifying debate over the fairness of U.S.-based multinational corporations using offshore subsidiaries and so-called "inversions" to avoid paying American taxes. Such maneuvers -- although often legal -- threaten to signficantly reduce U.S. corporate tax receipts during an era marked by government budget deficits.
White House officials have called the tactics an affront to "economic patriotism" and President Obama himself has derided "a small but growing group of big corporations that are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes." In a July speech, he said such firms are "declaring their base someplace else even though most of their operations are here."
"I don't care if it's legal; it's wrong," Obama said. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have been pushing legislation they say would discourage U.S. companies from avoiding taxes through offshore subsidiaries. The proposals are being promoted in advance of the 2014 elections, as polling suggests the issue could be a winner for the party. In Illinois, the issue has already taken center stage in the state’s tightly contested gubernatorial campaign.
Because Microsoft has not declared itself a subsidiary of a foreign company, the firm has not technically engaged in an inversion. However, according to a 2012 U.S. Senate investigation, the company has in recent years used its offshore subsidiaries to substantially reduce its tax bills.
That probe uncovered details of how those subsidiaries are used. In its report, the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations described what it called Microsoft’s “complex web of interrelated foreign entities to facilitate international sales and reduce U.S. and foreign tax.” The panel’s report noted that “despite the [company’s] research largely occurring in the United States and generating U.S. tax credits, profit rights to the intellectual property are largely located in foreign tax havens.” The report discovered that through those tax havens, “Microsoft was able to shift offshore nearly $21 billion (in a 3-year period), or almost half of its U.S. retail sales net revenue, saving up to $4.5 billion in taxes on goods sold in the United States, or just over $4 million in U.S. taxes each day.”
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said at the time: “Microsoft U.S. avoids U.S. taxes on 47 cents of each dollar of sales revenue it receives from selling its own products right here in this country. The product is developed here. It is sold here, to customers here. And yet Microsoft pays no taxes here on nearly half the income.”
Apple and General Electric, which also employ offshore subsidiaries, are the only U.S.-based companies that have more money offshore than Microsoft, according to data compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice. In all, a May report by CTJ found that “American Fortune 500 corporations are likely saving about $550 billion by holding nearly $2 trillion of ‘permanently reinvested’ profits offshore.” The report also found that “28 these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less to the governments of the countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.”
Microsoft’s use of the offshore subsidiary tactics has exploded in the last five years, with the amount of Microsoft earnings shifted offshore jumping 516 percent since 2008, according to SEC filings.
According to Microsoft’s filings, if the company repatriates the $92.9 billion it is holding offshore, it would face a 31.9 percent U.S. corporate tax rate. U.S. law generally permits companies to deduct the foreign corporate taxes they’ve already paid from the U.S.’s official 35 percent corporate tax rate. According to CTJ's Richard Phillips, that means Microsoft's disclosure implies the company is paying just 3.1 percent in the locales where it is currently holding the cash. Phillips says such an extremely low rate strongly suggests the firm is keeping the earnings not just in relatively low-tax locales like Ireland, Singapore and others the company has disclosed, but also in smaller countries like Bermuda that are considered true tax havens.
According to a Wall Street Journal report in 2012 about companies reducing transparency about their subsidiaries, Microsoft “once disclosed more than 100 subsidiaries [but] reported just 13 in its 2003 annual report and 11 in its 2012 report.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Militarized Police Forces


Not Just Ferguson: 11 Eye-Opening Facts About America’s Militarized Police Forces

Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
The “war on terror” has come home — and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.
The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization — complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades — when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.
Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.
A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what looks like an invading army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page report titled, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that this police militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”
The information contained in the ACLU report — and in other investigations into the phenomenon — is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the almost complete lack of debate on these policies, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important — and horrifying — things you should know about the militarization of police.
1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary and try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying in these kinds of raids, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the true number is actually higher.
Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia,was found not guilty on all charges.
2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children can be caught in the crossfire — with devastating consequences.
In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flash-bang grenade — despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was — and the grenade landed in his crib.
Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.
Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones died in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.
Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of themilitarization of police in this country…Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”
Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only cases of children being impacted.
According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not.” It was impossible to determine whether children were present in the rest of the cases studied.
3. The use of SWAT teams is often unnecessary. In many cases, using militarized teams of police is not needed. The ACLU report notes that the vast majority of cases where SWAT teams are deployed are in situations where a search warrant is being executed to look for drugs. In other words, it’s not even 100 percent clear whether there are drugs at the place the police are going to. These situations are not why SWAT was created.
Furthermore, even when SWAT teams think there are weapons, they are often wrong. The ACLU report shows that in the cases where police thought weapons would be there, they were right only a third of the time.
4. The “war on terror” is fueling militarization. A growing number of agencies have taken advantage of the Department of Defense’s “1033” program, which is passed every year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The number of police agencies obtaining military equipment like mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs) has increased since 2009, according to USA Today, which notes that this “surplus military equipment” is “left over from U.S. military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” This equipment is largely cost-free for the police agencies that receive them.
In addition to the Pentagon budget provision, another agency created in the aftermath of 9/11 is helping militarize the police. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) grants funnel military-style equipment to local police departments nationwide. According to a 2011 Center for Investigative Reporting story published by The Daily Beast, at least $34 billion in DHS grants have gone to police agencies to buy military-style equipment. This money has gone to purchase drones, tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, tanks and more.
5. It’s a boon to contractor profits. The trend towards police militarization has given military contractors another lucrative market where they can shop their products. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackhawk Industries are making big bucks by selling their equipment to agencies flush with Department of Homeland Security grants.
In addition to selling equipment, contractors also sponsor training events for SWAT teams, like Urban Shield, a major arms expo that has attracted increasing attention from activists in recent years. SWAT teams, police agencies and military contractors converge on Urban Shield, which was held in California last year, to train SWAT teams and promote the equipment.
6. Border militarization and police militarization go hand in hand. The “war on terror” and “war on drugs” aren’t the only wars helping police militarization. There’s also the war on undocumented immigrants.
The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for brutal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, is the paradigmatic example of this trend. According to the ACLU, Arpaio’s Maricopa County department has acquired a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks. In addition, he has 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and ten helicopters. Other law enforcement agencies in Arizona have obtained equipment like bomb suits and night-vision goggles.
Then there’s a non-local law enforcement agency on the border: the Border Patrol, which has obtained drones and attack helicopters. And Border Patrol agents are acting like they’re at war. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that the Border Patrol killed 19 people from January 2010-October 2012 — including some incidents in which the agents were under no lethal, direct threat.
7. Police are cracking down on dissent. In 1999, massive protests rocked Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting. The police cracked down hard on the demonstrators using paramilitary tactics. Police fired tear gas at protesters, causing all hell to break loose.
Norm Stamper, the Seattle police chief at the time, criticized the militarized policing he presided over in a Nation article in 2011. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict,” wrote Stamper.
More than a decade after the Seattle protests, militarized policing to crack down on dissent returned with a vengeance during the wave of Occupy protests in 2011. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to break up protests in Oakland. Scott Olsen, an Occupy Oakland protester and war veteran, was struck in the head by a police projectile, causing a fractured skull, broken vertebrae and brain swelling.
8. Asset forfeitures are funding police militarization. In June, AlterNet’s Aaron CantĂș outlined how civil asset forfeiture laws work.
“It’s a legal fiction spun up hundreds of years ago to give the state the power to convict a person’s property of a crime, or at least, implicate its involvement in the committing of a crime. When that happened, the property was to be legally seized by the state,” wrote CantĂș. He went on to explain that law enforcement justifies the seizure of property and cash as a way to break up narcotics rings’ infrastructure. But it can also be used in cases where a person is not convicted, or even charged with a crime.
Asset forfeitures bring in millions of dollars for police agencies, who then spend the money for their own uses. And for some police departments, it goes to militarizing their personnel.
New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman, who penned a deeply reported piece on asset forfeitures, wrote in August 2013 that“thousands of police departments nationwide have recently acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and other paramilitary equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.” So SWAT teams have an incentive to conduct raids where they seize property and cash that then goes into their budgets for more weapons.
9. Dubious informants are used for raids. As The New Yorker’s Stillman wrote in another piece, informants are “the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty percent of all drug cases in America involve them.” Given SWAT teams’ focus on finding drugs, it’s no surprise that informants are used to gather information that lead to military-style police raids.
A 2006 policy paper by investigative journalist Radley Balko, who has done the most reporting on militarized policing, highlighted the negative impact of using informants for these raids have. Most often, informants are “people who regularly seek out drug users and dealers and tip off the police in exchange for cash rewards,” and other drug dealers who inform to gain leniency or cash from the police. But these informants are quite unreliable — and the wrong information can lead to tragic consequences.
10. There’s been little debate or oversight. Despite the galloping march towards militarization, the ACLU report notes that “there does not appear to be much, if any, local oversight of law enforcement agency receipt of equipment transfers.” One of the group’s recommendations is for states and local municipalities to enact laws encouraging transparency and oversight of SWAT teams.
11. Communities of color bear the brunt. Across the country, communities of color are the people most targeted by police practices. In recent years, the abuse of “stop and frisk” tactics has attracted widespread attention because of the racially discriminatory way it has been applied.
Militarized policing has also targeted communities of color. According to the ACLU report, “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39 percent were Black, 11 percent were Latino, 20 were white.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latinos were related to drugs — another metric exposing how the “war on drugs” is racist to the core.
The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.
Alex Kane is AlterNet’s New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.