Friday, August 14, 2009

Our Justice System Is Broken: Would-be Presidential Assasin Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme Released

If you were born before 1965 or so, you probably have vivid memories of Manson Girl Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, the deranged woman who joined mass murderer Charles Manson's "family" during the period in which he and his followers were engaged in a murderous rampage through California, murdering actress Sharon Tate and a number of her companions, among many other victims, and who later made an attempt on the life of President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Fromme is, according to author Ivor Davis, who has written two books about the Manson cultists and their crimes, the only person who has ever been freed after attempting to murder a president of the U.S. Davis, who has just produced his second book on the cult, Five to Die:The Book That Helped Convict Charles Manson, states that Fromme, who was angered by his first book about the Manson Family, screamed at him, "Do you know what it feels like to have a seven-inch knife down your throat?" He states that he is "stunned" by the lack of public anger over the release of this dangerous woman, and from where I sit, she is still a palpable threat to him, as well as anyone else who may cross her accidentally or intentionally.

She is, after all, only 60 years old, which is nowhere near old age as that is measured these days. She's still young and strong enough to rebuild her criminal career and do untold harm, and she has never forsworn her allegiance to Charles Manson. I would almost suspect a touch of sexism here, for the perception that female murderers are less dangerous than men still persists, but there have been too many vile male criminals, who committed similar crimes, released after laughably short sentences to support that idea.

It's difficult to see Fromme as anything other than an exceptionally violent and utterly remorseless woman who participated in or helped to cover a number of extremely brutal murders, attempted a couple of her own, assaulted other inmates, escaped once, and threatened the lives of numerous other people, including, I recall, the defense attorney who handled the cultists' defense in the Tate-LaBianca trial; Fromme, displeased with what she considered stalling and ineptitude on the attorney's part, wrote him a letter with some very pointed language. "Maybe we've been too nice," she said in the letter, and the attorney reported having been very afraid of her.

Fromme may be the only person who was ever released after attempting to assinate a sitting president, but she's not the first vile criminal ever released after being convicted of heinous crimes to life in prison. Richard Maust, who raped and murdered a 14- year- old boy in the early 80s here in Illinois, was released after twenty years, so that he could murder three more teenage boys in Indiana about 10 years back. In fact, my strictly anecdotal evidence says that most murderers convicted for life usually don't serve more than twenty years, and end up back on the streets at a sufficiently youthful age to be a massive threat to anyone who might run afoul of their tempers or be perceived as nuisance or hindrance to them in some way.

Maybe Americans are simply too exhausted and numbed by forty years of rampant violent crime, and of outrages committed against us, jointly and severally, by both street criminals and the criminals who run our country, to get outraged about anything anymore. The important thing these days is just to stay alive and protect yourself and the people you love. Most people are numb from the unending stream of violence, and a crime that would have rocked the country for weeks on end before 1965 isn't even front page news anymore. Does anyone remember the workplace shooting rampage here in Chicago that left a half dozen people dead, or the guy beheaded on a long-distance bus in Canada? Probably not, because these types of events have become so commonplace that after a while they all seem to run together to form one vast, blood-soaked canvas of insane violence and brutality, and if you didn't desensitize yourself and will yourself to not think about it, you would go insane.

But everyone asks the same question: why can't we keep these people locked up? Why is a "life" sentance almost never for life, but usually for twenty years? Why is criminal justice in this country so irrational, so senseless, and so rigged? Why do some people serve more time for possession of five ounces of weed than some other folks serve for murder and arson?

We can see from this how we are experiencing so much difficulty in abating the violent crime here in Rogers Park, or the rest of the city for that matter, and why we needn't expect any relief anytime soon, because our justice system is utterly trashed. We hear it so often: the police did their job, the prosecutors did their jobs, the jury did its job, but at sentencing, or on any one of a number of subsequent appeals, the whole thing somehow unravelled and yet another dangerous, volatile person who's proved many times over that s/he is capable of doing vicious damage to another human creature, is out roaming the streets.

We not only have over a million people incarcerated in this country, but we are now so impoverished that many states are contemplating releasing tens of thousands of convicts because they no longer have the space or money to look after them. What, exactly, these people will do upon release in the current economic climate, with unemployment hovering around 10%, is an open question, but it's a good guess that the majority of them will resort to various types of crimes, petty and major, to sustain themselves out here, as many formerly legitimate citizens are now doing.

If ever there were a time to Get Rational and fix our justice system, it is now, and the first and most obvious step in that process would be to decriminalize those offenses known as victimless crimes, or offenses against common "morality", such as drug possession, drug dealing, and prostitution. We arguably never had any business imprisoning people for things like prostitution, gambling, or drug possession, and the case for legalization of street drugs and the complete decriminalization of drug abuse, prescription or "street" is overwhelming.

We could then expunge the criminal records of all people who are convicted only of these types of offenses. That would free up tens of thousands of prison berths and free the former convicts to pursue useful lives and indulge their nasty personal habits in peace. Additionally, we could tax the drugs, levying taxes according to the level of impairment and health risk of each substance, and a portion of the revenues from these taxes could be dedicated to providing clinics where addicts could indulge in the more dangerous substances, such as crystal meth, under supervision and for a relatively low cost.

Unfortunately, this country seems to be on the opposite track, towards ever-greater state control of purely personal behaviors, and our current "liberal" government doesn't seem to take any interest in rolling back the fascistic, no-win War on Drugs, but rather, is obsessed with criminalizing habits and behaviors that, while unhealthy and self-destructive, were perfectly acceptable for decades, such as tobbaco. It is so much easier to make life miserable for cigarette smokers than it is to do anything to reduce our violent crime rates, the highest in the developed world, or rebuild the enonomy on an honest footing.

We can't save people from volunteering to die and engaging in self-destructive behaviors, and we have no right to try. We have the right to hold people responsible for whatever they do behind this garbage, and we have the right to prosecute to the full extent possible for any crimes they commit under the influence. But we have no right to dictate what a person can inbibe, inject, inhale, or ingest, and we have no right to dictate how they use their bodies as long as their partners are willing adults.

The criminalization of "victimless" offenses has done nothing to abate the behaviors prohibited , but has perverted our justice system, enriched criminal cartels, and created a truly lawless society where many people understandably have a hard time deciding what is truly right or wrong; what is truly violative of another person's rights and what is merely "offensive". Let's hope we can finally learn from the Prohibition and stop re-enacting it, and make room in our prisons for the people who really need to be incarcerated.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Civil Liberties Nightmare: Is the Sorry Story of the Vancouver 2010 Games Repeating Itself in Chicago

Vancouver professor and Olympics Resistance Network organizer Chris Shaw came to Chicago early this year at the request of No Games Chicago, and spoke of the immense public debt, destruction to public parks, and "frontal assault on civil liberties" that have been the results of Vancouver having won the 2010 Games. Chris had the following to say regarding Vancouver's experience with the Games so far:

"Chicago Should Avoid Following in Vancouver's Olympic Missteps

I look back to 2003 and what is happening with Chicago's Olympic bid is eerily reminiscent of Vancouver's successful bid six years ago. Then, as now, bid boosters were promising local citizens the world: fame, wealth, and the host of goodies that would flow from a nod from the IOC. Vancouver's then mayor promised that the 2010 Games wouldn't cost the citizens 'one penny", that provincial and federal funds would be leveraged for local needs, and that the entire process would be completely transparent and accountable. Bid organizers promised a host of goodies including "the greenest Games ever", an arts legacy, and "social inclusivity" (short hand for social housing). It was a lovely dream and many Vancouverites bought into it. In a non-binding Vancouver plebiscite, some 64% of Vancouverites voted for the bid to go forward. The same question was not put to the rest of the province of British Columbia because the sitting Premier knew it would fail miserably.

Six years later, a majority of Vancouverites who supported Vancouver's bid are having serious second thoughts as the early predictions of the "nay sayers" and "party poopers" are turning out to be frighteningly accurate. Those who opposed bringing the Games to Vancouver, and I was one of them, noted that cost estimates for staging the Games were vastly underestimated while at the same time as the benefits were grotesquely overestimated.

We were right, and in spades. In the run up to the IOC's decision, Vancouver's mayor had said the Games wouldn't cost us one penny, but the reality was quite different: construction costs at city venues blossomed to finally approach a $100 million shortfall. Three hundred million dollars more were dumped into an ill-considered subway line that may have been influential for the bid but was not a solution for local transportation. Security costs to be born by Vancouver are still unknown, but could easily be $100 million for the city alone. Endless 'hidden" costs have also accumulated. Finally, as the final blow, Vancouver's choice of the developer for the Athletes' Village went insolvent forcing the city to take over the project and putting it on the hook for nearly $1 billion.

Taken all together, the city with an operating budget of under $900 million and a property endowment fund of about $1.4 billion found itself facing a nearly $2 billion dollar Olympic debt. In brief, with a combination of bad planning and an utter lack of due diligence, Olympic boosters had brought Vancouver to the brink of bankruptcy. The overall cost to all levels of government for the 2010 Games will likely come out at about $10 billion. London's 2012 Games, a likely harbinger for Chicago, is now, five years in advance, already at nearly $20 billion in projected costs.

The financial headaches are only part of the overall meltdown. Building the various venues and roads had not given us the greenest Games ever, but the opposite: over 100,000 trees cut down (much of it old growth), endangered species habitat destroyed or threatened, wetlands bulldozed, and a massive
3.5 megatons of carbon dioxide released before the Games are over.

Poverty continues to climb in Vancouver with an estimated 3,000 homeless on our streets. The best the city and provincial government can come up with so far is a plan to move these "eyesores" away from the city before the Olympics start in February 2010.

Civil liberties? Forget them. The security services have now concluded that the potential for domestic protests against the Games is a greater threat than Al Qaeda and legislation at all levels of government is aimed at suppressing legitimate dissent. Since those opposed to the 2010 Games don't plan to simply give up and lie down, we now face the prospects of preventative arrests and the widespread suppression of civil liberties. If the current trends continue, February 2010 will see massive clashes between protesters and police.

So if this is Vancouver's past, present, and future experience with the Olympics, what should Chicagoans think and do?

First, look at all the facts and the real history of the modern Games. Evaluate the bid organizers' claims with the greatest skepticism since just like those of the Vancouver boosters, they will turn out to be illusions if not complete lies. Determine what real estate projects the boosters want you, the taxpayer, to fund for their benefit using Olympic dollars. Consider the impact on the environment, the poor, and the democratic process. Consider the overall cost and don't be swayed by arguments that claim that hosting the Games will bring economic benefits. The latter is an utter falsehood at the best of times. In the current economic circumstances, it is criminally irresponsible. Finally, think what the billions of dollars wasted on a three week circus could actually do for your community."

For Vancouver, it's too late. The circus is coming to town, the money largely spend, the damage done. And the best we can do is to limit the fallout. Chicagoans still have a choice in the matter and have to show the IOC that the Games are not right for Chicago. The time to stop the bid is now, not after it has won. Look to Vancouver's experience and you will see your future. If you stop the Games from coming to Chicago now, those of us in Vancouver will know that we have saved at least one future city from the Olympic machine."

Now, what more could we ask for by way of previous history than this testimony? Note the striking similarities between the Vancouver process and our own. The subway line that is to be built specifically to accommodate visitors but which does not meet urgent local needs, the Olympic Village that had to be paid for by the city because the developer went broke, the massive cost overruns and abysmal failure of the promoters to account for the inevitable steep costs for security that were sure to arise, and the transformation of a lovely, livable city into a veritable police state- it's all here.

Can we really expect Chicago to do any better, given the long, hoary history of political corruption in Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois? Have we ever been able to rely on our officials for truth and transparency?

Burned by the Torch:Why Chicago is Better Off Without the 2016 Olympic Games

A number of months ago, well-known Chicago columnist Stephen Chapman published an article in Reason Magazine discussing the negative aspects of the 2016 Olympic Games, notably the cost to the public till.

This past Wednesday, the Olympic Bid Committee appeared at the Rogers Park Branch of the public library to deliver their spin on the games. About 150 residents of Rogers Park and neighboring areas showed up, and the mood of the crowd was overwhelmingly skeptical, with most people present expressing deep misgivings about the costs and benefits to the public of this short-lived Vanity project, and I was pretty much with the crowd in my doubts that the costs outlined by the bid committee were a correct representation of the costs pursuant to hosting this multi-week circus.

That we were not told the whole truth and nothing but the truth was pretty obvious. For one thing, if all cost overruns are insured, then why was it necessary for the City of Chicago to pledge to cover all losses that may be incurred by private developers? Do we already have enough failed private development whose losses are being born by the taxpayers?

The figures were vague and unspecific. For example, we are told that this event will create 31,000 jobs. If so, how many of these jobs will go to local residents, and how many will go to people who travel to Chicago specifically to work the Olympics? How many of these jobs will be permanent? What kind of jobs are they and what kind of wages will they pay? Likewise, how many local businessmen will score lucrative contracts vs. out-of-town concerns, and just how much opportunity is there for businesses that are not cronies of Daley?

The Atlanta experience is instructive. In his excellent article, Estimating the Costs and Benefits of the Olympic Games:What Can Bejing Expect From Its 2008 Games?, Jeffrey Owens describes the disappointing economic results of the 1996 Atlanta, Georgia games:

In reality, data and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest the Olympics had a significant crowding out effect on the rest of the tourism industry. Table 3 shows convention attendance in Atlanta, which had been increasing steadily over the previous ten years, fell ten percent from 1995 to 1996. hotel occupancy rates fell from 72.9% in 1995 to 68% in 1996 despite the Olympics. Macroeconomic indicators in Georgia and Fulton County show no discernible break in the pattern of per capita income growth or unemployment rates (State of Utah 2000). Due to the disruption caused by the Olympics, hotels and restaurants that would be expected to benefit from increased tourist traffic were actually hurt. "In other parts of town, many hotels and restaurants reported significantly lower than normal sales volume during the Games. Even shops and resorts in areas up to 150 miles away reported slower than normal business during the summer of 1996" (French and Disher 1997, p. 390).

Mr. Owen goes on to remark:

Along with crowding out on the demand side, local businesses and workers must also deal with temporary entry on the supply side. Although the Atlanta economic impact report makes no mention of entry by either workers or firms, the Atlanta experience serves as an example of how entry can bring into question if area residents actually benefit from growth in the tourism sector. The Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta served as the focal point for entry of corporations who sponsored the Games. To some extent the Olympics in Atlanta were self-contained. Entry of corporations and workers from outside the Atlanta area made the Olympics an economy unto themselves. Much of the income would go to firms and workers who are not permanent residents of the local economy.

So much for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's cheery claim that "there were no negatives" from the Atlanta Games. She's forgotten a few things, clearly, and notable among them was the bombing that occurred there during the games. So much for the claims of the Committee that the games were profitable in Atlanta and Salt Lake City. The accounting involved clearly leaves out many of the costs, notably those that are not borne by the game promoters but by the taxpayers simply as a result of having to meet the security and infrastructure needs of a temporary event and having to pay for projects pursuant to it that would not be needed and could not be justified by the city's everyday needs.

The speakers on hand Wednesday of course forbore to mention the experiences of Bejing (2008), Vancouver (2010) and London (2012). Vancouver and London leaders frankly admit that they wish they had never bid the games, for the associated costs to these cities have mounted astronomically, and all three have been stuck with sunk costs in the tens of billions for both public buildings and money-losing private development pursuant to the games.

None other than Republican Mitt Romney, former Republican presidential hopeful and CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, told the Vancouver Trade Council that "the Olympics generate no economic gains for a host city. He told them that there is no economic reason to hold the games - only patriotic reasons. He said that spikes in tourism are balanced by residents leaving the region for the duration of the games and a depression in tourism following the games."

Yet, we were told at Wednesday's meeting that the Salt Lake City Games operated profitably. Well, perhaps they did... but who, exactly, profited? Not the taxpayers of Salt Lake City, for a fact.

Vancouver's Chris Shaw, professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia and is one of the organizers of and spokesperson for 2010 Watch and a member of the Olympics Resistance Network in Vancouver, and author of Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, states that the costs to Vancouver of hosting the games have gone completely through the roof. He says:

"The costs have gone through the stratosphere. It's $7 billion so far - that we know about. The security costs alone will be $1 billion. We have taken on massive debt that will probably take 30 years to pay off. Montreal, which hosted the 1976 Summer Games, retired its debt in 2006. The environment has suffered - with over 100,000 tress cut down, mostly old growth and the games are estimated to pump out an overall increase in carbon dioxide of 5% over current levels. There will be 15,000 soldiers on our streets next year with massive surveillance programs already under way. There will be cameras on every street corner with face recognition software and voice recognition software for the phone lines. We are facing a freaking nightmare for civil rights." [Chris has written extensively about the criminalization of poverty and homelessness that has become a new policy for Vancouver]"

Additionally, the Committee did not discuss the cost of private investments that the city has pledged to cover, and infrastructure improvements that are not the ones that the city needs the most, but are necessary only to accommodate the million or so game attendees who are expected to descend upon the city. The Committee also has a strange idea of what constitutes an economic "benefit", for they mentioned among the benefits at least one new hotel. Now, that is just what this city needs, another hotel that will be substantially vacant after the 8-week event ends and whose losses our taxes are pledged to cover. The cost of that hotel will almost surely be born by Chicago taxpayers, for the local hospitality market is already glutted with half-empty hotels as the economy deteriorates, and hotels built specifically for the 2016 event will only add to the glut and run a substantial risk of being permanent money-losers. Worse, there are numerous indications that the American economy will be worse by 2016, not better, in spite of the Happy Talk dispensed by television financial pundits and their blather about "green shoots" and rising home and auto sales due to tax-funded incentives. For looming ahead is the wave of commercial defaults for failing shopping malls, office parks, and hotels that is about to wash over us; there are $3.5 Trillion worth of commercial loans out there for properties that are shuttered or half vacant. This second wave of financial disaster will leave our economy prostrate for many years after, and we can safely assume falling tax revenues and greater demand for tax-funded bailouts.

Among infrastructure improvements planned to meet the transportation needs of the event is an express rail line between downtown and O'Hare, which is presumably what the $300 Million-plus Block 37 El Superstation is all about. Aside from the fact that work has completely stopped on this station and the hundreds of millions spent so far just so much money down the drain, there is completely no local need for an dedicated express train to either airport, as both are well-served by existing rail lines. Worse, funds are diverted from the cross-town rail lines and connector lines that are badly needed to make the city fully accessible without a car, for the city as a whole is woefully lacking in adequate public transit, and worse, there is talk of eliminating essential "owl" service on the Red and Blue rail lines. The mayor who is so obsessed with making Chicago a "world class" city doesn't realize that once you eliminate your all-night transit, your city starts to die, and quickly; eliminating this service would considerably reduce the liveability and safety of the city, and the game attendees could arrive in a town curiously drained of vitality with unsafe downtown streets and an air of neglect and malaise, as Chicago's 24/7 accessibility and vibrant night life die in tandem with each other.

The El Superstation and the airport express are two costs that were not mentioned by the committee, mainly because these projects are not their business, but fall directly to the city and to the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the Olympics has seized the imagination of most of the citizens of this city, who, like most Americans, tend to believe whatever Happy Talk they're fed, and who are totally in the grips of a delusional Disneyland-entitlement mentality. Like most other Americans, Chicagoans tend to be very image and entertainment-obsessed at the expense of mundane economic realities, and like most of their countrymen and women elsewhere, are very poor at reckoning the end costs of feeding their delusions and vanity, as the credit rampage of the past 10 years has shown. And, like most struggling common folk in the failing empires of the past, they will, in the absence of the truly miraculous affluence and success this country once owned, settle for a glittering fascimile thereof, just like the about-to-be-unemployed yup who spends her last $1000 worth of credit on a designer handbag or a downpayment for a new BMW, in the hopes that expensive bling will miraculously restore the wealth and stability that made it possible to begin with.

Chicago did not grow wealthy and great by means of expensive vanity projects. These are the result of wealth, not the cause. We need to earnestly set to work making Chicago truly hospitable to all legitimate business, mostly the manufacturing that no country can know real prosperity without, and that made this city one of the country's foremost industrial powerhouses in the last century and that generated the wealth that we've been squandering ever since. The first step in the arduous process of rebuilding the Chicago and Greater Illinois economies for economic sustainability and genuine prosperity is to reign in out-of-control public spending, what task would seem to be urgent given the current financial difficulties that Chicago and the State of IL are experiencing.

Most of all, we need to quickly get it through our heads and those of our leaders that you do not cure bad debt and gaping public deficits by incurring more debt for unnecessary vanity projects that will bring very little long-term benefit, if any, in return for their stratospheric costs to the public in both tax funds and disruption.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Let's Withdraw the Bid

Those who oppose the costly and disruptive Chicago 2016 Games are urged to attend the public meeting sponsored by the the Chicago 2016 Committee this coming Wednesday.

The meeting will take place at the Chicago Public Library, Rogers Park Branch, 6907 N. Clark St., Chicago IL, 60626, at 7:PM, on Wednesday, August 5.

I have started a petition to withdraw the bid for the games.