Whilst the mainstream commentariat have a collective orgasm over the fact that a comparatively unattractive woman has – hold the front pages – a comparatively attractive singing voice, (number one story on the Guardian website, having knocked a piece about a polar bear mauling off the top spot. What is it with Guardian readers these days?) the past few weeks have seen a slew of interesting stories that haven’t got the coverage they deserve. Here’s a few of them:
Britain’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which has allowed local authorities to mount 10,000 surveillance operations in the last five years. As Mathias Vermeulen blogs, regional councils have used top-level spying powers 10,288 times in the past 5 years to detect “crimes” as minor as littering and even the theft of fairy lights. Henry Porter notes that when RIPA was introduced in 2000, just nine agencies were allowed to mount surveillance operations, which included interceptions and secret photography. As he writes, during Tony Blair’s post 9/11 legislative binge, RIPA was “updated” so that nearly 800 bodies were empowered to go into the spying business.
The Obama administration has formally adopted the Bush administration’s position that the courts cannot judge the legality of the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) warrantless wiretapping program, filing a motion to dismiss Jewel v. NSA earlier this month (just became aware of this.) As the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, in Jewel v. NSA, they are challenging the agency’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. “The Obama Justice Department claims that litigation over the wiretapping program would require the government to disclose privileged ‘state secrets.’ The same arguments made by the Bush administration…”
Germany has announced that it will become the sixth EU country to ban the cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) maize MON810 – the only GE crop that can be commercially grown in the region. Via Greenpeace: The German Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner, said “I have come to the conclusion that there are legitimate grounds to accept that genetically modified corn from the MON810 strain constitutes a danger to the environment.” The Minister based her decision on a safeguard clause in EU law which allows Member States to use the precautionary principle and prohibit gentically modified organisms (GMOs) in light of new evidence.
The United States, with only 5% of the world’s population, now holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, veteran journalist Bill Moyers notes at PBS. Pugnacious former marine – and now Democratic Senator – Jim Webb has introduced a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system with “an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom.” As he notes, alongside the the above shocking figure, the number of incarcerated drug offenders has soared a phenomenal 1200% since 1980 and four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons as in mental health hospitals. Lets hope he can push through some reforms where others have failed. Sadly, the U.S. prison industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country and corruption in the industry is both rife and sickening. Recent reports showed that as many as 5,000 children in Pennsylvania were wrongly found guilty, and up to 2,000 of them jailed, by two corrupt judges who received kickbacks from the builders and owners of private prison facilities that benefited. Top-to-bottom reshaping is clearly more than urgent.