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Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
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Journal Archives

First long Flexity Berlin tram delivered


GERMANY: Bombardier Transportation delivered the first 40 m long bidirectional Flexity Berlin tram to the German capital from its Hennigsdorf plant on December 13.

According to Bombardier, the trams have been styled specifically for Berlin and feature a ‘Bauhaus design’. The air-conditioned vehicles are equipped with regenerative braking.

Berlin transport authority BVG signed a framework agreement with Bombardier in 2006 for up to 206 trams and has so far ordered 142. This includes 40 long unidirectional vehicles, 54 short bidirectional vehicles and 48 long bidirectional vehicles. Deliveries are due to run until 2017.

Why the Right to a Fair Trial Doesn't Really Exist for Drug Defendants

Why the Right to a Fair Trial Doesn't Really Exist for Drug Defendants

Sunday, 22 December 2013 10:18
By Crystal Shepeard, Care2 | News Analysis

Sandra Avery is a veteran, having served in the Army and army reserves. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she had overcome a crack addiction and went on to earn a college degree, eventually working as an accountant. By her mid-forties, she was married to a crack dealer and selling drugs for him to support her own resurfaced addiction. In 2005, she was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury for possessing 50 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. She is now serving life in prison.

The severity of Sandra’s sentence had little to do with her possession of a small amount of crack cocaine. She was punished for refusing to plead guilty and insisting on a jury trial.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released a report about how federal prosecutors force drug defendants to plead guilty. The report highlights the devastating effects of mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses. The sentencing requirements cannot be overridden by judges and gives prosecutors incredible power over how much time defendants serve.

As a result, 97% of all federal drug defendants forgo their right to a trial.

This prosecutor power is used regardless of how minor the part the defendant played in the operation. According to the report, “An addict who sells drugs to support his habit can get a 10-year sentence. Someone hired to drive a box of drugs across town looks at the same minimum sentence as a major trafficker caught with the box. A defendant involved in a multi-member drug conspiracy can face a sentence based on the amount of drugs handled by all the co-conspirators, even if the defendant had only a minor role and personally distributed only a small amount of drugs or none at all.” ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/news/item/20783-why-the-right-to-a-fair-trial-doesnt-really-exist-for-drug-defendants

Conservative groups spend up to $1bn a year to fight action on climate change

(Guardian UK) Conservative groups may have spent up to $1bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change, according to the first extensive study into the anatomy of the anti-climate effort.

The anti-climate effort has been largely underwritten by conservative billionaires, often working through secretive funding networks. They have displaced corporations as the prime supporters of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations which have worked to block action on climate change. Such financial support has hardened conservative opposition to climate policy, ultimately dooming any chances of action from Congress to cut greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, the study found.

“I call it the climate-change counter movement,” said the author of the study, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle. “It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this. This is a large-scale political effort.”

Brulle's study, published on Friday in the journal Climatic Change, offers the most definitive exposure to date of the political and financial forces blocking American action on climate change. Still, there are big gaps. .........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/20/conservative-groups-1bn-against-climate-change

Migrant worker exploitation on steroids in Abu Dhabi

(Observer UK) Trade unions, human rights activists and politicians have called for urgent labour reforms to protect the thousands of migrant workers building a complex of five-star hotels and museums on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, including a new Louvre and the world's largest Guggenheim.

The International Trade Union Confederation and art activism group Gulf Labor have urged the western institutions involved in the project, including the British Museum, to take active steps to address the workers' welfare and press the UAE government to improve their conditions.


The investigation reveals that:

■ Companies are withholding the passports of migrant workers, trapping them in the UAE.

■ Thousands of workers are living in substandard or squalid conditions elsewhere in the UAE in apparent breach of the TDIC's pledge to house them all in its model Saadiyat accommodation village.

■ Dozens of workers were deported this year for striking over pay and conditions.

■ Workers decorating the university live in squalid conditions, with 10 men to a room, no free healthcare and some trapped because they have to pay back huge recruitment fees.

■ Mobile-phone video footage of a riot at the SAV in August shows dozens of men roaming the camp armed with metal spears and planks spiked with nails. Men are seen jumping out of windows to avoid the conflict.

■ A worker who claims he lost his leg while building luxury villas has been forced to live on the top floor of a migrant camp for a year. He only received a prosthetic leg last month and has been reliant on the Red Crescent for medical support. His claim for compensation and request for ground-floor accommodation have been rejected. ....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/abu-dhabi-migrant-workers-conditions-shame-west

Why do Virginians want to drill off their own coast?

from Grist:

Why do Virginians want to drill off their own coast?
By Ben Adler

You might think that anyone with a television set would oppose offshore oil drilling, at least anywhere near her home. Watching the devastation wreaked on the Gulf Coast by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill would not make drilling in your state’s waters look very appealing. (In case you’ve forgotten, the toll of that disaster included 11 deaths, 4.9 million barrels of oil released into the ocean, dead and damaged wetlands and marine life, and economic losses that are literally incalculable but reach into the tens of billions by any estimate.)

But look at Virginia, a swing state that has recently elected two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor, and been carried twice by President Obama. Most Virginians believe in anthropogenic climate change, want to address it, and prefer candidates who share those values.

And yet, paradoxically, they support offshore oil drilling right off their own coastline. An October poll conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute found 67 percent of Virginians support offshore oil drilling. The headlines it generated, however, are a bit misleading. The poll questions were phrased to guide the respondent to the oil industry’s position. (For example: Do you agree with this statement: “Increased production of domestic oil and natural gas resources could help strengthen America’s energy security”?) And the poll does not specify offshore drilling along Virginia’s coast, just in the U.S. generally.

Nonetheless, there is at least plurality support for offshore drilling in Virginia waters, and the state’s elected officials are on the same page. Both of Virginia’s senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, favor drilling off the Virginia coast. They have even cosponsored a bill that would open Virginia’s Outer Continental Shelf to oil exploration, previously cosponsored by Kaine’s predecessor, Jim Webb. Outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell was such an ardent proponent of drilling that he traveled in May 2010 to an oil industry-sponsored conference in Houston to tout the benefits of offshore drilling while Deepwater Horizon was still gushing. ..........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://grist.org/climate-energy/why-do-virginians-want-to-drill-off-their-own-coast/

Congress' response to the NSA revelations: CRACK DOWN ON WHISTLEBLOWERS !!!

PR Watch, via Truthout:

President Obama was elected on a platform that included promises for increased transparency and openness in government. Despite this rhetoric, Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any administration in history and overseen the massive growth of the NSA's surveillance apparatus. In November, the Senate (S. 1681) and House (H.R. 3381) Intelligence Committees each released their own version of the "Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014."

This was an opportunity for Congressional leadership to address one of the defining issues of our time and either take a stand for increased transparency or continue down an Orwellian path of pervasive secrecy. A review of each chamber's proposed legislation demonstrates that "1984" is the future.

Stopping "Insider Threats"

The bills contain provisions which will intensify efforts to stop whistleblowers or "insider threats," no doubt inspired by Edward Snowden and his release of sensitive NSA documents. The House version of the funding bill provides $75 million of increased funding specifically for classified information protection. According to Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, "the 'insider threat' program is a cover for a witch hunt of whistleblowers."

In a purported effort to demonstrate support for the principles of openness and transparency, the House and Senate Intelligence Committee bills will provide protections for "legitimate" whistleblowers. But the committees believe legitimacy in whistleblowing is not due to the accuracy of the information disclosed, how much harm it spares the American people, or how much it benefits the democratic process, but rather whether or not the information is reported to proper authorities, such as "lawmakers, inspectors general and intelligence community leaders." .......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/20777-bills-in-congress-crackdown-on-whistleblowers

Robert Parry: NYT Replays Its Iraq Fiasco in Syria

from Consortium News:

NYT Replays Its Iraq Fiasco in Syria
December 20, 2013

Exclusive: Much like the Iraq WMD fiasco in 2002-03, the New York Times has taken sides in the conflict in Syria and is ignoring evidence that undercuts its indictment of the Assad regime as the guilty party in the Aug. 21 Sarin attack outside Damascus, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The New York Times continues to pump up the case blaming the Syrian government for the Sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, despite the collapse of its earlier front-page indictment based on the now discredited “vectoring” of two rockets which the Times suggested were launched from an elite Syrian military base.

The Times’ “vectoring” argument, which was also pushed by Human Rights Watch in its bid to get the Obama administration to intervene militarily in Syria, has fallen apart for a variety of reasons, including analyses showing that the rockets had much more limited range than the Times assumed; the United Nations’ disclosure that one of the two projectiles struck a building before landing (thus negating the Times’ certainty about its flight path); and the lack of any Sarin or other chemical warfare agents at one of the two sites (leaving only one flight path of a Sarin-laden rocket and thus no intersecting azimuths).

The Times’ front-page “vectoring” article of Sept. 16, thus, represents another major embarrassment for the so-called newspaper of record, similar to other high-profile errors such as the “aluminum tube” story in 2002 which helped clear the way for the Iraq War and the Times’ dismissive reporting on Contra-cocaine trafficking in the 1980s and 1990s although even the CIA’s inspector general later admitted the scandal’s veracity.

Yet, despite the legs having been knocked out from under its “vectoring” story, the New York Times has made no effort to correct the record or even acknowledge the contrary evidence. Instead on Thursday, it ran another dubious story trying to prop up its case against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. ........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://consortiumnews.com/2013/12/20/nyt-replays-its-iraq-fiasco-in-syria/

Sigh. And cry. (Compensation for Yemeni victims of US drone strikes)

A little more than a week after a U.S. drone strike killed innocent civilians from a wedding convoy in Yemen, more eyebrow-raising details have emerged surrounding the compensation practices for the victims' relatives.

The New York Times reported Friday that Kalashnikov rifles are part of the traditional compensation process in Yemen, and 101 were given out to relatives of those lost in the Dec. 12 strike. According to the AP, the blast killed at least 13 people, with the Times citing six innocent victims.

From the newspaper's Dec. 20 report:

At first, the Yemeni government, a close partner with the Obama administration on counterterrorism matters, said that all the dead were militants. But Yemeni officials conceded soon afterward that some civilians had been killed, and they gave 101 Kalashnikov rifles and about 24 million Yemeni riyals (about $110,000) to relatives of the victims as part of a traditional compensation process, a local tribal leader said.

The fallout from the Dec. 12 strike comes less than two months after human rights investigators called for greater U.S. transparency with its drone program. Human Rights Watch alleged that 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians, were killed by drone strikes in Yemen between September 2012 and June 2013. .......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/21/drone-victims_n_4486412.html?ncid=txtlnkushpmg00000037

Secret Trade Deal Spawns 'We Will Not Obey' Movement

Secret Trade Deal Spawns 'We Will Not Obey' Movement

Saturday, 21 December 2013 11:38
By Zack Kaldveer, Organic Consumers Association | News Analysis

In his epic book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman advises “Resist Much. Obey Little.” But when it comes to corporations trampling on local rights, the city of Madison, Wis., advises other cities and counties to do what it has done: Resist much. Obey not.

In October, the Madison City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring the city a “TPP-Free Zone,” and promising that if Congress passes the Trans Pacific Partnership, a global trade agreement, “We will not obey” it.

The TPP is the largest global trade pact to be negotiated since the World Trade Organization (WTO). Most of the details of the deal remain a mystery. Negotiations are being conducted in secret. But we know, from some of the drafts that have been leaked, that the TPP would hand transnational corporations the power to “protect their future profit potential” by suing countries, states, counties or cities in order to wipe out existing laws—laws specifically designed to protect communities’ best interests.

Those interests could include everything from internet freedom and banking and finance regulation, to the passing of bans on growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20774-secret-trade-deal-spawns-we-will-not-obey-movement

KKK leader: We're not a hate group. Trust us.

CECIL COUNTY, MD. — Members of the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly told people in attendance at a meeting in Cecil County on Friday night that they don't have a problem with people of other colors.

They're just part of an organization that wants to take back their country, which they feel is going down the wrong path.

"If we don't stop Barack Obama, if we don't stop this government all together that is running us into the ground, working us like dogs, so that they can keep taking it and giving it to somebody else, we're not going to have a country," said Richard Preston, imperial wizard of the 2-year-old Confederate White Knights of Rosedale, Md., said.

Preston spoke to about 50 people in attendance at the Cecil County Administration Building near Elkton. Friday's meeting was part of an ongoing attempt by this group and other Klan chapters to gain support for their organization and to start shedding their hate-group image. ....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.freep.com/article/20131221/NEWS07/312210045/KKK-leader-We-re-not-a-hate-group

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