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Monday, June 28, 2021

Developers of Collapsed Miami Condo Were Previously Accused of Paying Off Officials To Get Permits

The 12-story tower had been on the verge of undergoing $15 million in renovations.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 From the Editor:

This tragedy has left America and the world stunned. How many other buildings on Florida's Gold Coast are unsafe?

Betsy Combier

Editor, ADVOCATZ blog
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

Developers of doomed Fla. tower were once accused of paying off officials: report

Jorge Fitz-gibbon, NYPOST, June 27, 2021

The developers of the Miami condo tower that collapsed were once accused of paying off local officials to get permits for the site — which needed $15 million in repairs just to bring it to code, a new report says.

Building rivals claimed that the partners behind Surfside Champlain Towers South were receiving preferential treatment when it came to getting through the permit system as the site was being built in 1981, the Washington Post said.

Surfside’s developers had contributed to the campaigns of at least two town-council members, then demanded that the donations be returned when the allegations surfaced, according to the outlet.

Meanwhile, the 12-story tower had been on the verge of undergoing $15 million in renovations to pass a required 40-year certification when it collapsed, killing at least nine people and leaving more than 150 unaccounted for Thursday, the report added.

All of the principals believed to have been involved in the design and construction of the building are already dead, the outlet said.

The developers behind the project had included Nathan Reiber, a Polish-born Canadian who was also once charged with tax evasion and cited for legal misconduct in Canada, the report said.

Reiber, who died in 2014, had been charged with tax evasion by Canadian authorities in the 1970s when he and his partners were accused of skimming cash from apartment buildings they owned.

They allegedly skimmed tens of thousands of dollars from coin-operated laundry machines in the buildings and pocketed about $120,000 from phony construction checks, the Washington Post said.

Authorities later issued an arrest warrant for Reiber when he fled to Florida.

In 1984, Reiber, a lawyer, was cited for professional misconduct by the Law Society of Upper Canada for evading the tax-evasion case, the paper said.

He ultimately settled the case by returning to Canada and paying a $60,000 fine.

In Florida, Reiber and his partners were then initially unable to begin construction of the condo buildings due to a 1979 moratorium due to faulty sewers.

The developers agreed to pay half of the $400,000 tab for the sewer repairs on the property and were given the green light — sparking anger from rival developers whose projects remained stalled by the moratorium.

The rivals complained Reiber and his team got preferential treatment.

The following year, the Champlain developers asked two local council members to return their campaign contributions amid accusations that the company had paid off officials to get the permits.

Nonetheless, Reiber was given the key to the city once the project was done, according to his obituary after he died from cancer.

Reiber’s widow and two of his children did not return calls to the Washington Post.

Two other firms — consulting engineers Brieterman Jurado & Associates and architects William M. Friedman & Associates — were involved in the construction of the site.

Manuel Jurado told the Washington Post that his side of the firm handled electrical and mechanical work, while Brieterman handled structural work.

Sertio Brieterman, the principal with that wing of the company, died in the 1990s.

A former vice president at the architectural firm said the design of the Champlain towers were handled by William Friedman, who died in 2018, the report said.

“It was his project, not mine,” said Manuel Tapia-Ruano, the former vice president.

“When I joined the company the building was already constructed,” he said. “I don’t know anything about it.”

In 2018, the condos were cited for “major structural damage” by a consulting firm hired by the building’s association to conduct repairs.

Engineer Frank Morabito said a “main issue” was poor drainage of a pool deck that sat atop a parking garage at the site.

“Failure to replace waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report said.

According to the Washington Post, Morabito told the condo association that the work would cost $15 million — and that the association did not respond for 18 months.

The first phase of the work, consisting of roof repairs, had already begun when large parts of the building collapsed around 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

Cassie Stratton

She was the most fun person.’ Model Cassie Stratton among missing at Surfside condo

Photos: Missing after Florida condo collapse

Friday, June 18, 2021

City Journal Criticizes Teaching Critical Race Theory in Public Schools and Universities


Critical Race Theory and Academic Freedom

State-based legislation banning the teaching of the toxic ideology is philosophically and legally justifiable.

Nate Hochman, City Journal, June 17, 2021

Recent red-state bans or restrictions on the use of critical race theory (CRT) in public schools and universities have been denounced by mainstream media. While most of the bans primarily target CRT’s racial essentialism—prohibitions on “assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex,” according to a bill signed into law in Iowa last week—the new legislation is regularly described as an attack on “diversity” or “racial sensitivity” training. According to New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, the reforms amount to “outright government censorship; for Atlantic staff writer Adam Harris, they show the GOP’s cynical desire to spark “another battle in the culture wars.” A recent MSNBC headline goes further still: “GOP Pushing Bill to Ban Teaching History of Slavery.”

Beyond the hyperbole, substantive critiques of the new legislation usually allege that curricular restrictions violate “academic freedom.” Insofar as this contention originates on the left, one could regard it as a cynical manipulation of language. After all, progressives have had little to say about free speech in education for at least a generation; that they have suddenly rediscovered the virtue of an open marketplace of ideas now is convenient.

At the same time, however, a significant number of genuine defenders of academic freedom, on the left and right, have also voiced opposition to the bans on CRT-based curricula in taxpayer-funded schools. Their views deserve to be taken seriously. These critics object to the anti-CRT laws on first principles, contending that a ban on teaching a particular ideology or doctrine in public schools undermines free speech and related constitutional rights. “The federal courts should reflexively invalidate anti-CRT laws on First Amendment grounds,” writes First Amendment law professor Ronald Krotoszynski in the Washington Post. “Educators cannot do their job if state governments attempt to ban the teaching of ideas they fear.”

But the dogmatic insistence that political “neutrality”—a fuzzy idea, by any measure—be strictly adhered to in all government policy, in lieu of legislators ever promoting a substantive vision of the good, represents a fundamental misinterpretation of academic freedom in a publicly funded setting. This argument is particularly perplexing in the context of taxpayer-funded grade schools. The idea that banning specific topics in these schools’ curricula is government “overreach” misses the fact that public K-12 programs are monopolistic, government-run institutions; a change in their curricular requirements does not expand state power in any substantive way.

This misunderstanding is clearly visible in the writings of figures like Acadia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, a self-described “mainstream liberal” who “care[s] deeply about classic liberal norms like free speech and academic freedom.” Sachs argues that the recent anti-CRT laws are condemnable for their “use of state power to suppress ‘woke’ speech and viewpoints.” And yet, the debate over legislative interventions in woke K-12 curricula does not actually consider the use of state power to suppress private speech rights; it deals with the question of whether state employees should be allowed to teach woke doctrine on the taxpayer’s dollar. Are policymakers proscribed from ensuring that tax dollars are not used in ways that harm the taxpaying polity? For Sachs, such intervention is tantamount to using “the blunt instrument of the state” to infringe on the rights of public educators. But if crafting public education policy and overseeing its implementation is not the role of the state, then whose is it?

Krotoszynski suggests an answer in his Washington Post editorial, where he approvingly quotes Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter’s characterization of teachers as “priests of our democracy,” who “cannot carry out their noble task if the conditions of a responsible and critical mind are denied to them.” Leaving aside whether CRT actually promotes or detracts from “critical thinking,” do teachers’ purported positions as “priests of democracy” elevate them above democracy itself, as conducted through democratically elected state legislative bodies, tasked with overseeing public education? The idea that it is “unconstitutional and a violation of academic freedom,” in Sachs’s words, to restrict public K-12 schools from teaching something like the New York Times’s 1619 Project—the revisionist “reinterpretation” of the American Founding specifically targeted by bans enacted in Arkansas and Iowa—would suggest that public educators should be insulated from accountability and democratic oversight, operating instead as private citizens outside the purview of the very state legislatures that pay them.

This is the final problem with the idea of political “neutrality” in public school curricula. Public school teachers are not private actors, and a public school curriculum is not a neutral or free marketplace of ideas. What one teaches and does not teach in this setting is an unavoidably political decision, using public funds to favor certain concepts and theories at the necessary exclusion of others. A public educator teaching the 1619 Project is not a private voice in a free marketplace of ideas, but a specific—and taxpayer-endorsed—state employee, acting as an extension of the state itself. To assert that a curriculum is somehow less “political” in the hands of a teacher rather than a legislator is to accept the notion that teachers are not servants of the public good, but masters of it.

One could object to the CRT bans on pragmatic grounds, such as the concerns that some have raised about the use of overly broad language in some versions of the legislation, but the legitimacy of the new laws on principle depends not on whether the government should “ban” or “suppress” certain viewpoints in the public square but on whether CRT serves a genuine pedagogical purpose in public schools. Why does the 1619 Project—debunked by historians for a number of blatantly ahistorical claims—have an inviolable claim to publicly funded classrooms? Does its demonstrably false assertion that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery have a place in a U.S. history class any more than creationism has a place in biology courses?

Sachs argues that his “interest isn’t defending Critical Race Theory, it’s defending free speech and academic freedom.” David French, a prominent conservative critic of the bans, tweets that “defending the right of free speech is [not] the same as defending the content of that speech.” But teaching a specific ideology in a taxpayer-funded curriculum is not a mere exercise of neutral “free speech” or “academic freedom.” To defend it in this context is, in fact, a defense of its content, or at least a defense of the idea that its content is legitimate enough to be backed by state funds and taught to our children. And to make that argument is to defend government-run classrooms teaching a doctrine that explicitly undermines the American constitutional order.

Photo: Image Source/iStock

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Chris Hedges on Julian Assange and the Rule of Law

[Illustration by Mr. Fish]

Chris Hedges: Julian Assange and the Collapse of the Rule of Law

Chris Hedges, Scheerpost, 12 Comments

Chris Hedges gave this talk at a rally Thursday night in New York City in support of Julian Assange. John and Gabriel Shipton, Julian's father and brother, also spoke at the event, which was held at The People's Forum.

Tyrannies invert the rule of law. They turn the law into an instrument of injustice. They cloak their crimes in a faux legality. They use the decorum of the courts and trials, to mask their criminality. Those, such as Julian, who expose that criminality to the public are dangerous, for without the pretext of legitimacy the tyranny loses credibility and has nothing left in its arsenal but fear, coercion and violence.

The long campaign against Julian and WikiLeaks is a window into the collapse of the rule of law, the rise of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of inverted totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that maintains the fictions of the old capitalist democracy, including its institutions, iconography, patriotic symbols and rhetoric, but internally has surrendered total control to the dictates of global corporations.

I was in the London courtroom when Julian was being tried by Judge Vanessa Baraitser, an updated version of the Queen of Hearts in Alice-in Wonderland demanding the sentence before pronouncing the verdict. It was judicial farce. There was no legal basis to hold Julian in prison. There was no legal basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the U.S. Espionage Act. The CIA spied on Julian in the embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide embassy security. This spying included recording the privileged conversations between Julian and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone invalidated the trial. Julian is being held in a high security prison so the state can, as Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, has testified, continue the degrading abuse and torture it hopes will lead to his psychological if not physical disintegration.

The U.S. government directed, as Craig Murray so eloquently documented, the London prosecutor James Lewis. Lewis presented these directives to Baraitser. Baraitser adopted them as her legal decision. It was judicial pantomime. Lewis and the judge insisted they were not attempting to criminalize journalists and muzzle the press while they busily set up the legal framework to criminalize journalists and muzzle the press. And that is why the court worked so hard to mask the proceedings from the public, limiting access to the courtroom to a handful of observers and making it hard and at times impossible to access the trial online. It was a tawdry show trial, not an example of the best of English jurisprudence but the Lubyanka.

Now, I know many of us here tonight would like to think of ourselves as radicals, maybe even revolutionaries. But what we are demanding on the political spectrum is in fact conservative, it is the restoration of the rule of law. It is simple and basic. It should not, in a functioning democracy, be incendiary. But living in truth in a despotic system is the supreme act of defiance. This truth terrifies those in power.

The architects of imperialism, the masters of war, the corporate-controlled legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and their obsequious courtiers in the media, are illegitimate. Say this simple truth and you are banished, as many of us have been, to the margins of the media landscape. Prove this truth, as Julian, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden have by allowing us to peer into the inner workings of power, and you are hunted down and persecuted.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes -- including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral Murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to U.S. checkpoints -- the towering civil rights attorneys Len Weinglass and my good friend Michael Ratner, who I would later accompany to meet Julian in the Ecuadoran Embassy, met with Julian in a studio apartment in Central London. Julian's personal bank cards had been blocked. Three encrypted laptops with documents detailing US war crimes had disappeared from his luggage in route to London. Swedish police were fabricating a case against him in a move, Ratner warned, that was about extraditing Julian to the United States.

"WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political," Weinglass told Assange. "As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the US government doesn't like the truth coming out. And it doesn't like to be humiliated. No matter if it's Nixon or Bush or Obama, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The US government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher."

"Come after me for what?" asked Julian.

"Espionage," Weinglass continued. "They're going to charge Bradley Manning with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. We don't think it applies to him because he's a whistleblower, not a spy. And we don't think it applies to you either because you are a publisher. But they are going to try to force Manning into implicating you as his collaborator."

"Come after me for what?"
That is the question.

They came after Julian not for his vices, but his virtues.

They came after Julian because he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians; because he exposed the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guanta'namo; because he exposed that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; because he exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime; because he exposed that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, that they authorized hundreds of targeted assassinations, including those of U.S. citizens in Yemen, and that they secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians; because he exposed that Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform; because he exposed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party; because he exposed how the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted apps.

Julian exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths they came after Julian, as they have come after all who dared rip back the veil on power. "Red Rosa now has vanished too..." Bertolt Brecht wrote after the German socialist Rosa Luxemburg was murdered. "She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out."

We have undergone a corporate coup, where the poor and working men and women are reduced to joblessness and hunger, where war, financial speculation and internal surveillance are the only real business of the state, where even habeas corpus no longer exists, where we, as citizens, are nothing more than commodities to corporate systems of power, ones to be used, fleeced and discarded. To refuse to fight back, to reach out and help the weak, the oppressed and the suffering, to save the planet from ecocide, to decry the domestic and international crimes of the ruling class, to demand justice, to live in truth, is to bear the mark of Cain. Those in power must feel our wrath, and this means constant acts of mass civil disobedience, it means constant acts of social and political disruption, for this organized power from below is the only power that will save us and the only power that will free Julian. Politics is a game of fear. It is our moral and civic duty to make those in power very, very afraid.

The criminal ruling class has all of us locked in its death grip. It cannot be reformed. It has abolished the rule of law. It obscures and falsifies the truth. It seeks the consolidation of its obscene wealth and power. And so, to quote the Queen of Hearts, metaphorically of course, I say, "Off with their heads."

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. MORE