One result of Littleton: Bad policy?

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A recent study by the Justice Policy Institute, School House Hype (published before the killings in Littleton), shows that school shootings, while horrifying, are extremely rare, and do not represent a trend of overall escalation in school violence.

According to the study, school is a far safer place for children than the streets or even home. What’s more, the total number of school homicides have not risen during the ’90s; annual deaths nationally from 1992 through 1998 are (in chronological order) 55, 51, 20, 35, 25, and 40.

The study criticizes some policy initiatives which arose in response to the series of multiple victim shootings we’ve seen over the past two years. In one example, a Texas bill proposed making eleven year-olds eligible for the death penalty.

Not surprisingly, the study also take aim at (ahem) the media, blaming it for creating a hysteria around school shootings which in turn create pressure for politicians to come up with easy, and often misguided, answers.


East Timor: The next Kosovo?

April 22

[Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat, and is reprinted from the PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE. ]

As accounts of Serb paramilitaries killing and raping civilians in Kosovo fill the news, Americans have heard little of another deadly — and rapidly escalating — situation in East Timor.

One reason for the lack of coverage may be the fact that these killer gangs have been armed and encouraged by the Indonesian Army, and especially its elite Red Beret (Kopassus) commandos, which until last year received special training and equipment from the United States and Australia.

In January, Indonesian President Habibie surprised the world by announcing that the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, which Indonesia invaded and occupied in 1975, would be allowed to choose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence.

It is now clear that this did not please the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI).

Since Habibie’s announcement, there have been numerous reports of various “militias” mounting small-scale attacks on East Timorese villages. Some have only clubs and machetes, others are newly trained and armed by the ABRI, but all operate without interference from the Army.

They are also sponsored by officials who have risen to power under Indonesian protection, and face a dismal future if (as expected) East Timor votes for independence.

The militias have reportedly targeted Nobel Prize winner Bishop Carlos Belo in Dili and death squads are said to be pursuing resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and former governor Mario Carrascalao — all three have been negotiating fruitfully with the Habibie government and even with pro-integrationist Timorese.

Confusion prevails at all levels. A small army unit now guards Bishop Belo’s home. During the mayhem in Dili, some army units protected civilians, others joked with the killers, still others did nothing.

The Australian Government is clearly concerned at the prospect of a possible civil war on its doorstep which could produce a flood of refugees. More and more newspapers in Australia have called for the immediate deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in which Australian troops would participate.

The U.S. response has been, by contrast, relatively muted and low-level. State Department spokesmen have spoken of being “deeply disturbed” and called on Indonesia to disarm the paramilitary and reduce troops. But the United States has not yet publicly used its influence, commensurate to Australia’s, to tilt the Indonesian Government away from violence.

One reason may be that Washington is as divided as Jakarta. The State Department has spoken out against human rights violations in East Timor, and Congress, responding to reports of Kopassus involvement in a major massacre in 1991, voted in 1992 to cut off all training and equipment for Kopassus.

However it was revealed last year that the Pentagon secretly continued its links to Kopassus under another program. This should come as no surprise. For three decades Washington’s Indonesia policy has centered on support for the Army, and in particular Kopassus, despite the latter’s bloody human rights record. That training may even have included lessons in how to deputize the bloody work of massacres to paramilitary units — a tactic that has been employed by other “elite” battalions in Latin America, whose leaders, like those of Kopassus, were trained at Fort Benning, Georgia.

One thing is clear. As of today Washington, unlike Canberra, has not yet taken decisive steps to ensure that East Timor will not degenerate into another Kosovo.

— Peter Dale Scott

Another questionable police shooting

April 21

New York cops aren’t the only lawmen under the microscope for shooting unarmed African-American citizens. In Montgomery County Maryland, police officer Sean Thielke is being investigated after he shot Junious Roberts, who was unarmed, in the back from two feet away, according to WJLA TV. It was the county’s second fatal shooting of a black man by a white officer in the past two weeks, according to the WASHINGTON POST.

The Montgomery Police Department says the shooting was accidental, and occurred after a brief auto chase. Thielke claims his gun, a 9mm Baretta without a safety, accidentally went off as he was trying to pull Roberts out of the car. Officer Thielke said he suspected Roberts was drunk and driving a stolen car.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery Police Department is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for racial harrassment.…


Pork: The other blight meat

April 20

Hog farming, though slightly above nerf herding, has never been a high status job. From E.B. White to Waking Ned Divine, hog farmers themselves are usually cast as an unfortunate lot. Nonetheless, it is a family tradition in many parts of the country (see yesterday’s Must Reads below) and a noble occupation that brings delicious swine to millions of Americans. As Homer (Simpson) once said, As Homer (Simpson) once said, the hog is “a wonderful, magical animal.”]

However, judging by a new photo essay on CORPORATE WATCH, the family hog farm noble tradition is going the way of, well, the family farm — thanks to the encroachment of corporate hog farms. But the problem with colossal corporate hog farms is not merely that they drive family farmers out of business: It’s the way they operate.

The photos on CORPORATE WATCH look like something straight from “Diet for a New America,” depressing not only for the way the animals are treated, but also for what these giant pigsties do to the environment. Particularly nasty are the sewage lagoons and their associated ilk. On that subject, CORPORATE WATCH relays this lovely vignette:

“Hogs produce three times as much waste as humans. Instead of treating this sewage, hog factories break it down in huge open ‘lagoons.’ In 1995 a lagoon spilled over, dumping 22 million gallons of hog waste into North Carolina’s New River. It was the first of several such massive spills around the country.”



The Rupert Murdochs of agribusiness

April 19

Although the U.S. Justice Department pursued its anti-trust case against Microsoft with noticeable enthusiasm, its indignation is apparently of the selective kind. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joel Klein, who spearheaded the Microsoft prosecution, has been criticized by U.S. farmers for failing to enforce laws against unfair pricing in the agriculture industry.

According to the CHICAGO TRIBUNE, roughly 800 farmers gathered yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Midwest Farm Crisis Forum. Klein flew in from Washington to hear the farmers’ concerns, primarily regarding several recent and proposed agribusiness mergers. The nation’s largest grain company, Cargill Inc., plans to buy the worldwide operations of second-largest Continental Grain Co. Farmers say the resulting conglomerate, and others like it, will force independent farmers out of business so that it can control producer and consumer pricing.

For more information, check out “Consolidation in the Food and Agricultural System”, a report written by Dr. William Heffernan of the University of Missouri. It’s full of interesting and disconcerting information (like the fact that four firms control 62 percent of all U.S. flour milling, and only six firms control 75 percent of all U.S. pork slaughterhouses).…



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