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The QueQue: Tar sands to Houston, So long, ocelots, Secure Communities: backdooring national IDs, Leal execution violates international law

FBI rendering of biometrics - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • FBI rendering of biometrics

Tar sands to Houston

If there were a single red flag signaling either the End of the Oil Age or us: the mining of the Canadian tar sands — where massive strip mines must excavate up to four tons of oily sand and rock to wrest a single barrel of oil from the ground — may be that flag. As calls for the world to get off carbon-based energy intensify, none other than NASA climatologist James Hansen has suggested that if the tar sands are ever brought to market, our chances of ever stopping or reversing the quickening clip of global warming are over.

And yet despite their election-year grandstanding for clean energy, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appear to be supporting a pipeline to move those oil-sands out of Alberta all the way to Houston-area refineries. While the EPA has taken issue with the potential impact of adding more toxic air emissions to an already well-toxified population in Port Arthur, it’s unlikely to stop the pipeline.

As federal officials line up for final approvals this summer and activists call for civil disobedience in D.C., a report by an environmental engineer at the University of Nebraska released this week should raise eyebrows. In an analysis of worst-case spills from the Keystone XL pipeline, John Stansbury repeatedly challenges the findings of would-be pipeline operator TransCanada Corp, which he blamed for “flawed and inappropriate assumptions.” The pipeline, he wrote, would not have 11 “significant” spills of more than 50 barrels in 50 years, as TransCanada suggested to federal regulators, but 91 — nearly two every year in keeping with the track records of similar pipelines.

Part of the problem is that the oil itself, a heavier product rich in bitumen, hydrogen sulfide, and a range of benzene compounds, makes spills more likely, Stansbury wrote.

Since January 1, 2010, the federal National Response Center has logged 145 calls related to pipeline spills of oil, gas, or sewage in Texas.

So long, ocelots

A proposed U.S. House bill targeting border security essentially gives unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands along U.S. borders and coastline, according to the Pew Environment Group. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, discussed Thursday by the House Natural Resources Committee, would give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security authority to bypass 36 environmental laws governing the management of federal, state, and private lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border and coastline.

“While we strongly support making America’s borders more secure, this sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws has little to do with accomplishing that goal,” said Jane Danowitz, the Pew Environment Group’s director of U.S. public lands.

The bill, Danowitz says, gives “unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands, impair downstream water quality and restrict activities such as hunting, fishing and grazing.” Under the banner of border security, the law would allow DHS to ignore protections like the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Secure Communities: backdooring national IDs

As some states and local governments try to ditch Secure Communities, much has been said both for and against the Department of Homeland Security’s fingerprint-sharing effort to snag undocumented immigrants passing through local jails. But newly released documents show that the FBI, in the shadows, helped craft the program and pushed to mandate it nationwide, hoping to make Secure Communities a key piece of the bureau’s growing biometric identification-gathering program dubbed “Next Generation Identification.”

In 2009, the FBI began leading the charge to require that all local law enforcement join Secure Communities, even though DHS still maintained the program was voluntary as much as a year later, according to internal emails and memos obtained by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo School of Law last week. Though DHS now claims the motivation behind mandating the program lies in deporting violent criminal immigrants, the documents show the FBI’s Big-Brother intentions helped lead the push to expand the program.

“Ultimately, [local law enforcement] participating is inevitable because [Secure Communities] is simply the first of a number of biometric interoperability systems being brought online by the FBI’s ‘Next Generation Identification’ (NGI) initiative,” one memo from 2009 reads. Other plans for the NGI program, meant to gather biometric info on citizens and non-citizens alike, include iris and palm-print scans along with facial recognition technology.

“These revelations should disturb us on multiple levels: the lies, the shadowy role of the FBI, the threats to citizens and non-citizens alike, and the rampant potential violations of civil liberties,” said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez.

Three states have now attempted to pull out of Secure Communities, saying too many of those jailed for misdemeanors or taken into custody for petty violations have been deported, though the federal government now insists the program is mandatory. While acknowledging concerns over privacy and possible violations of civil liberties, the bureau pushed to mandate the program anyway, largely for “record linking/maintenance purposes,” the documents show. Jessica Karp with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network remarked, “NGI is the next generation Big Brother. It’s a backdoor route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet, but within the body itself.”

Leal execution violates international law

Over loud objections from the international community and a rare plea from the Obama administration, Texas marched forward with the execution of Humberto Leal last week after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly rejected his White House-backed appeal to delay the lethal injection. Gov. Rick Perry ultimately refused to grant Leal a 30-day reprieve.

The Obama administration and others had asked Texas officials and the High Court to delay Leal’s execution so Congress could consider legislation that would require courts to review the cases of foreign death row inmates convicted without receiving legal help from their consulates. Leal, convicted in 1995 for the brutal rape and murder of a Southside San Antonio teenager, never received consular access during the initial trial and punishment phase of his case, a violation of a critical international convention granting consular access to foreigners arrested abroad.

In a statement Friday, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called the execution a “breach of international law,” saying Leal’s lack of consular assistance calls into question whether he ever got a fair trial. “What the state of Texas has done in this case is imputable in law to the U.S. and engages the United States’ international responsibility,” she said.

Leal apologized and accepted responsibility for the death moments before his execution, the Associated Press reported, and twice shouted “Viva Mexico!” as the drugs began to take effect. •


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