The Switch

Daily Chronicle, Ear to Ear, May 2005:

My name is Bill Hoffman. And you can use my name in the paper. What has happened to the Republican Party that I grew up with? I’m 69 years old. I remember moderate conservative Republicans such as Gerald Ford, the elder Bush, General Eisenhower and Jack Kemp. These are people I could live with. They were conservative, but they had a sense of caring about people – people who were having a hard time. Now we have George Bush the younger and his mean-spirited group in Washington, and they seem only to care about corporate interests. They have fought over funding for Medicaid for the poor; they don’t want to raise the minimum wage, which is really low now. They stopped drugs from being imported from Canada because of pressure from the drug companies. They have basically ruined the environment – which is a disgrace. Bush and the Christian right – which I don’t consider Christian or right – seem to want to rule this country, and they are only a minority. I usually vote Democratic on the national level, but on the state level, I have voted for Republicans more than I have Democrats. I have no problem voting for Republicans such as Gov. Thompson, Jim Edgar or Judy Baar Topinka who might run for governor – I’ll probably vote for her. But the Republicans, with the likes of Dennis Hastert, our wonderful representative and speaker of the House, have ruined the party in the state and made it the laughingstock of the nation. They forced out Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, the conservative that I respect. They put that carpetbagger up who came in from Maryland. I’m really opposed to the way the Republican Party is going.

Mr. Hoffman’s statement stuck in my mind because it reflects my views very well. I also thought it was gutsy. Remember, at the time critics of the party in charge were met with the sinister “you’re either with us or against us” attitude. I wrote letters to the editor regularly then and recall a momentary queasiness upon tapping the “send” button.

There is more than one way to force a change in direction of this pendulum. One is to support real conservatives who will rein in their brethren run amok. Another is to support a vigorous opposition via the swing vote. A third way is wholesale abandonment of the party that no longer represents your values–a la the Whigs–and I’m here to tell you that I’ve spotted something of a trend in this area. Continue reading The Switch

Taser Taser 2

The family of a mentally ill woman in a wheelchair who was “Tasered” to death has decided to sue.

Officers said they arrived to find Delafield in a wheelchair, armed with two knives and a hammer. Police said the woman was swinging the weapons at family members and police.

Within an hour of her call to 911, Delafield, a wheelchair-bound woman documented to have mental illness, was dead.

Family attorney Rick Alexander said Delafield’s death could have been prevented and that there are four things that jump out at him about the case.

“One, she’s in a wheelchair. Two, she’s schizophrenic. Three, they’re using a Taser on a person that’s in a wheelchair, and then four is that they tasered her 10 times for a period of like two minutes,” Alexander said.

Emily Delafield was 56.

Blackwater Being Investigated for Arms Smuggling

The Associated Press reports that

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S. designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The time has come to ask ourselves here in Illinois do we really want a company with Blackwater’s reputation training our local law enforcement. Can we trust the “quality training” they say they are delivering anymore than we can trust the distortions coming from their public relations office?

On Tuesday Blackwater defended itself in relation to the shooting of Iraqi civilians over the weekend.

“Blackwater regrets any loss of life, but this convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job to defend human life.” said Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell, reported in the September 19th edition of the Chicago Tribune.

This makes Blackwater seem very innocent. However the Friday edition of the NY Times reports that a copy of the Iraqi official investigation into the shootings reports that it was Blackwater who opened fire first. Firing on a car with a male driver and woman passenger holding a baby. This testimony came from an Iraq police officer at the scene. He reported that the car did not stop when an Iraqi police officer instructed him to stop. Blackwater then shot him. The woman began to scream and then they shot her. The car kept rolling so they then shot an explosive into the car so that it would burn. Continue reading Blackwater Being Investigated for Arms Smuggling

Taser Taser

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” ~Mark Twain

So tell me, when should a police officer use a Taser?

A couple days ago I watched a piece of video where a University of Florida student, during a campus Q&A with John Kerry, was immobilized by five police officers and then “Tased.” It reminded me of the incident at UCLA last November when a student at the library was “Tased” for not showing I.D.

YouTubes after the jump. It’s not what’s seen, it’s the screams, especially in the first one. You’ve been warned. Continue reading Taser Taser

Blackwater USA May Expand Into Thailand

Sources that wish to remain unidentified in Thailand and others close to Blackwater executives report that Blackwater USA is in negotiations with the government of Thailand. The purpose of the talks is reportedly to open a training center in the country. Having lost their attempt last year to open a jungle training facility in the Philippines, it appears that Blackwater has now turned its sights on Thailand.

Blackwater President Gary Jackson said in May of 2006, according to a June article in the Virginian Pilot that the company planned to open an Asian branch on 25 acres of the former U.S. naval base at Subric Bay to teach jungle survival skills.

The Philippine Congress however took steps to stop those plans before a facility could open. Chris Taylor, a Blackwater vice president, blamed the controversy on “misinformation and confusion.”

Blackwater USA, located in at least nine countries world wide, is one of the most widely known of the many private military firms that have flourished since the start of the war in Iraq. Gary Jackson said the company saw a 600% revenue jump from 2002 to 2005. Earlier this year they started to provide training in the Sudan region. Continue reading Blackwater USA May Expand Into Thailand

Knocking On Blackwater USA’s Gate

It was a hot dry day in the rolling pastoral hills of Jo Daviess county. Beneath the bright sun about 80 citizens made history. It was the first time in the history of the United States that a group of unarmed citizens stood up for democracy at the gates of a private military firm. And not just any private military firm but the most powerful mercenary company in the United States, if not the world.

Among local citizens were representatives of at least 12 different peace and justice groups from northern Illinois, Chicago, southern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa. We were also joioned in spirit by those who belong to Blackwater Watch in North Carolina,a group of citizens in Moyock Blackwater’s headquarters. Joined also by those working to stop Blackwater in California. And in spirit by those in New Orleans and across the gulf region who after hurricane Katrinia some learned what it feels like to be struggling to survive and have a semiautomatic assault rifle thrust in your face by a Blackwater USA contractor providing security for someone’s property.Finally we also had by our sides in spirit the citizens of Iraq who have been assaulted and murdered by private military employees.

Despite every difficulty imaginable put before us by local authorities–such as not allowing us to park on the road or anywhere near by…(we had to shuttle people from a parking area nearly 10 miles away.) But we wouldn’t let them stop us. Using the back of a pick-up truck parked at the gate for a stage we spoke truth to power at their front door. We stood out in the open air unafraid to tell the truth. Something Blackwater USA, its owner Eric prince, nor the Bush administration can say.

The event was video taped and parts of it will be available soon on You Tube News Service. Continue reading Knocking On Blackwater USA’s Gate

Blackwater Employee Commits Murder and Receives a Free Ticket Home

Christmas Eve 2006 in Baghdad’s Green Zone an off-duty Blackwater employee shot and killed Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s personal bodyguard. Seven months later the contractor is still free and has not been charged with any crime. This story received little media coverage. Partly because Abdul-Mahdi assured the U.S. ambassador that he would try to keep it from public attention.

In February during a Congressional hearing the large room filled to capacity went silent when Rep. Dennis Kucinich asked Blackwater USA’s general counsel Andrew Howell if he was aware of the shooting. Mr. Howell replied that he was aware of it and that Blackwater had brought the individual “back to the United States.”

A recent article by Bill Sizemore, published in the Virginian-Pilot, provides additional insight into the incident with memos secured through use of the Freedom of Information Act. His article cites U.S. State Department memos that reveal an effort to keep this murder from the citizens. Continue reading Blackwater Employee Commits Murder and Receives a Free Ticket Home

Blackwater USA Out-Maneuvers US Justice System

“Blackwater [USA] sees themselves as outside the law. They do anything they want.”

Katy Helvenston-Wettengel told me just days before Blackwater attorneys put her under a gag order. In March of 2004 her son and his three colleagues were killed in a Fallujah ambush by insurgents. The ambush led to the lynching seen around the world. The gruesome scene in Fallujah catapulted Blackwater to national attention. And because they “died for their company, not their country” their deaths have also led to a long court battle between Blackwater USA and the contractors’ families. Helveston says in a tired voice,

“Nothing’s been the same. I can’t sleep anymore. My life and the war changed that day.” Continue reading Blackwater USA Out-Maneuvers US Justice System

“Where’s The Humanity”*

What if every time an American soldier was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan it was required by law or civility that the U.S. Senator from the soldier’s home state had to call the mother or surviving spouse?

What if for every lost life President Bush was expected to contact the loved ones and respond each time to their questions of why? What if he was called on time and again over 100 times per month to look into their tear filled eyes and answer their pleas, “was it worth it?’ What if instead of hiding the flag draped coffins from view of photographers our President along with our lawmakers were required to be pallbearers?

Would they still show up for work the next day and vote for more weapons, more guns, and more bullets? Continue reading “Where’s The Humanity”*