Category: Crime

“Serving the public” still means ALL the public


Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, with their two childrenFrancisco Xavier Vargas

The owners of a Portland-area bakery that denied service to a same-sex couple must pay $135,000 in damages, the bureau of labor and industries has ruled.

The damages are for emotional suffering caused by Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which two years ago refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer.

A 2007 Oregon law protects the rights of LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. It provides an exemption for religious organisations, but the agency ruled that exemption does not allow private businesses to discriminate against potential customers.

“This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage. It is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal,” Oregon labor commissioner Brad Avakian said in the final order.

In April, an administrative law judge proposed the same damages.

The bakers said their refusal to bake for the couple was prompted by religious beliefs, blah, blah, blah

Jeana Frazzini, co-director of the gay-rights group Basic Rights Oregon, praised the order.

“This case struck a chord with many Oregonians because allowing businesses to deny goods and services to people because of who they are and whom they love is hurtful and wrong,” she said in a statement.

Part of this nation’s fight for freedom was to get out from under a state religion. Sadly, there are beaucoup fundamentalist Christians who think they hold the only keys to the door of this democratic republic – and that they can deny full citizenship on the basis of their ideology.

If we had a bit more courage on the Democrat side of Congress, a bit more honesty on the Republican side, we’d have sorted out all this crap decades ago. Not that that would prevent jive theocrats from trying to turn this country from the path of secular civil law – serving all the people.

Black churches targeted by racist arson across the South

racist arson
Click to enlargeTWC News
Briar Creek Road Baptist Church fire ruled arson, Charlotte, North Carolina

Since nine people were gunned down in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina…by a 21-year-old white man tied to white supremacist groups, there have been a string of arson attacks on other black churches in the South.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least six predominantly black churches in four Southern states have been damaged or destroyed by fire in the past week. While some may have been accidental, at least three have been determined to be the result of arson.

The first arson fire was on Monday at the College Hills Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Knoxville fire department has said that the arsonist set multiple fires on the church’s property and the church’s van was also burned. On Tuesday, a fire in the sanctuary of God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia was also blamed on arson, although the investigation is ongoing. And on Wednesday, a fire at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina was determined to be caused by arson, destroying an education wing that was meant to house a summer program for children, impacting its sanctuary and gymnasium, and causing an estimated $250,000 in damage…

Black churches have frequently been targets of violence. Since 1956, there have been at least 91 incidents of shootings, bombings, arson, or vandalism against black churches, according to a tally by the Huffington Post. One particular incident stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, when four young girls were killed and 22 were injured at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

That’s likely a vast undercount, however, given that records from the 1970s and 1980s are scarce. There was a spike in violence in the 90s, with more than 30 black churches burned within 18 months in 1995 and 1996. That led to the passage of the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996, which gave federal authorities more oversight of such crimes, increased sentencing, and reauthorized the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.

The assault continues in an unimpeded string of violence against anyone who stands up to racist policies. But, especially if you or your organization is predominantly comprised of Black folks – you are a critical target for racist American bigots.

So, see any coverage of this on your local network TV station? You probably saw the baseball catch of the day, a plane crash somewhere on the globe, maybe the 12th or 13th useless Republican announcing their candidacy for President of the United States – if not the new Confederacy. But, nothing about this spike in arson of Black churches made it onto the screens of my local TV guardians of the Free World.

The Honduran meltdown – Made in America


Risk on!

In May 2005, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick appeared at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington to rally support for CAFTA, a free trade agreement between the US, the Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic.

In his remarks, Zoellick played up the notion that, for Central America and the DR, the agreement would “strengthen democracy through economic growth and open societies based on the rule of law”, while also entailing various perks for the gringos; a T-shirt reading “Made in Honduras”, he enthused, would likely contain over 60 percent US content.

The deputy secretary and future president of the World Bank went as far as to assert that, “In many ways, CAFTA is the logical culmination of 20 years of democratic and social progress in Central America, nurtured and encouraged by the United States.”

Never mind that, 20-some years ago, the United States was nurturing things like Battalion 3-16, described by the Baltimore Sun as a “CIA-trained military unit that terrorised Honduras for much of the 1980s”…

To be sure, much of Honduras’ contemporary plight – while perhaps appearing on the surface, like Zoellick’s T-shirt, to be a domestic creation – is in fact Made in USA.

Encouraged by then-US ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, the Battalion 3-16 death squad was responsible for the disappearance of almost 200 suspected Honduran leftists and the torture and kidnapping of many more.

The aim of right-wing terror, of course, was to prevent a Honduran crossover to the communist dark side a la neighbouring Nicaragua – against whose transgressions Honduras had the honour of acting as de facto US military base and staging ground for the Nicaraguan “contra” war.

Aside from the Honduran army and similarly reactionary forces, other Hondurans benefited from the arrangement, as well. Among them was Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, the country’s most famed drug lord and owner of the contra supply airline SETCO, dubbed the “CIA airline”.

It’s this sort of arrangement that makes a mockery of continuing US drug war rhetoric, which excuses the militarisation of the hemisphere and allows the US Drug Enforcement Administration to transcend borders at will, while US borders are increasingly fortified…

Maria Luisa Borjas, the former chief of internal affairs for the Honduran police force, herself confirmed to me during a conversation in 2009, that approximately 3,000 young people had been murdered by the state during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-06).

Inspired by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Maduro acted as the ringleader for Honduras’ very own zero tolerance regime, which was characterised, Borjas said, by a criminalisation of youth and a liberal application of the term “gang member” to validate extrajudicial killings…

This could have been predicted from the get-go by anyone who paid scant attention to NAFTA, the 1994 free trade accord that lowered wages in Mexico, raised unemployment, and forced two million Mexican farmers to abandon their land thanks to US export subsidies.

The post-coup era has seen soaring homicide rates, with much of the violence committed by state security forces enjoying near-total impunity…

The US, for its part, did its best to legitimise the 2009 coup while pretending not to. After hemming and hawing for months about whether or not a coup perpetrated by the military qualified as a military coup and thus necessitated punitive financial measures, the US recognised the outcome of illegitimate Honduran elections held in November 2009 by the coup-installed regime. And poof, Honduras was restored to the realm of democracy.

Democracy is a word Americans lap up like a hungry cat with a bowl of cream. The calories may not be healthy calories. Long range we may all die of coronary artery disease – or its political equivalent.

Meanwhile, the World Bank-types brag that “Made in Honduras” equals 60% of the profits coming to US Corporations. I’m not sure how that is supposed to benefit the people of Honduras.

Never can tell what you’ll find — beachcombing in Tijuana

1476158_915128731913628_2718688862773641198_n

A motorized surfboard loaded with $100,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine was found washed up on a Tijuana beach…

Police said the surfboard, powered by a turbine connected to eight batteries, was found Tuesday night by beach-goers in the borough of Playas de Tijuana.

Investigators said the surfboard was found to be hollowed out and filled with 20 pounds of meth, worth an estimated $100,000.

The surfboard, believed to be a means of smuggling drugs into the United States, suffered an apparent mechanical failure when water entered the electrical compartment…

Breaking bad on the beach doesn’t refer to surf – I guess.

Antihypertensive drug may remove major component of drug and alcohol addiction

image

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have successfully stopped cocaine and alcohol addiction in experiments using a drug already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat high blood pressure. If the treatment is proven effective in humans, it would be the first of its kind — one that could help prevent relapses by erasing the unconscious memories that underlie addiction…

Scientists once believed that drug addiction was simply a physical craving: Drug addicts who became sober and then later relapsed merely lacked willpower. But that view has gradually shifted since the 1970s.

Today, most experts acknowledge that environmental cues — the people, places, sights and sounds an addict experiences leading up to drug use — are among the primary triggers of relapses. It was an environmental cue (a ringing bell) that caused the dogs in Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiments to salivate, even when they couldn’t see or smell food.

Led by Hitoshi Morikawa…a team of researchers trained rats to associate either a black or white room with the use of a drug. Subsequently, when the addicted rats were offered the choice of going into either room, they nearly always chose the room they associated with their addiction.

Then one day, the researchers gave the addicted rats a high dose of an antihypertensive drug called isradipine before the rats made their choices. Although rats still preferred the room they associated with their addiction on that day, they no longer showed a preference for it on subsequent days. In fact, the lack of preference persisted in the isradipine-treated group in ways that couldn’t be found in a control group — suggesting the addiction memories were not just suppressed but had gone away entirely…

Addictive drugs are thought to rewire brain circuits involved in reward learning, forming powerful memories of drug-related cues. Antihypertensive drugs all block a particular type of ion channel, which is expressed not only in heart and blood vessels but also in certain brain cells. The researchers found that blocking these ion channels in brain cells, using isradipine, appears to reverse the rewiring that underlies memories of addiction-associated places…

“Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted,” Hitoshi Morikawa said. “Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted.”

Morikawa noted that because isradipine is already labeled as safe for human use by the FDA, clinical trials could potentially be carried out much more quickly than with nonapproved drugs.

Regular readers of my personal blog know I’m not especially positive about dealing with junkies. It’s just the streets where I grew up don’t ever seem to lose that population. I don’t spend much time on the range of reasons why – or why not. There hasn’t been any diminishing of my cynicism over a long, long time.

This sounds positive. This sounds potentially useful. My basics haven’t changed. I still think we can take the crime out of drugs by completely decriminalizing drug use. That removes most costs from addiction and from society. But, this is an addition to treatment worth following up on in serious research.

I wonder how much money the DEA stole, this week?

joseph rivers

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and two other members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee want to know more about why federal narcotics agents seized $16,000 from a 22-year-old African-American man in April when the Amtrak train he was taking to Los Angeles stopped in Albuquerque.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents made the seizure after they had talked to Joseph Rivers about where he was going. He was not charged with a crime, but the money was seized because agents said they believed, based on their conversation with Rivers, that it was somehow linked to narcotics trafficking…

Lujan Grisham and fellow Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and John Conyers Jr., the ranking minority member, asked the DEA in a letter this week for more information about the stop and to answer their concerns that it might have involved racial profiling.

“These stops appear to involve individuals who have not committed any crime,” Lujan Grisham said in a telephone interview. “Many of these people don’t have the resources to fight a forfeiture action.”

The letter cited the Journal‘s story on the so-called “cold consent” search of Rivers, who was still on the train after it stopped at the station in Downtown Albuquerque…

Rivers said he was carrying $16,000 in cash he saved and relatives gave him to fulfill his lifelong dream of making a music video when he was approached by a DEA agent who was asking passengers where they were going and why.

The agent asked to search Rivers’ bags, he complied and the agent found the cash in a bank envelope.

“I even allowed him to call my mother, a military veteran and (hospital) coordinator) to corroborate my story,” Rivers told Gutierrez Krueger. “Even with all this, the officers decided to take my money because he stated that he believed that the money was involved in some type of narcotic activity.”

Rivers was not arrested or charged with any crime. But his money was seized under civil forfeiture laws in an administrative process that can last years.

Rivers said he was the only passenger singled out for a search by DEA agents and the only African-American on his portion of the train…

DEA agents have denied they racially profile people, arguing that they use other indicators such as people buying expensive one-way tickets in cash at the last minute…

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, it is the money or property that is considered the guilty party. The person carrying the money doesn’t have to be charged with a crime.

No judge, no hearing, nothing evidentiary required other than the “feelings” of a DEA copper. About as criminal as any extortion on the street.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

NSA and Brit spy-flunkies responsible for cyberattacks on security software firms


NSA burning the midnight oil in Utah

The U.S. National Security Agency and its British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters, have both been launching attacks against security software in order to track individuals and break into networks…

One of the primary targets has been Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, according to documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, obtained by The Intercept. The agencies have been reverse-engineering Kaspersky software to discover potential exploits, the documents show, and the NSA in particular has allegedly taken things a step further by intercepting data sent from Kaspersky apps to the company’s servers. Much of that app data is reportedly unencrypted, although Kaspersky told The Intercept that it was unable to reproduce similar findings in testing.

One specific piece of evidence for reverse engineering is a GCHQ warrant renewal request from 2008, asking for the legal sanction to deconstruct apps from Kasperksy and others because they “pose a challenge to GCHQ’s CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] capability and SRE [Software Reverse Engineering] is essential in order to be able to exploit such software and to prevent detection of our activities.” The agency also indicated that SRE was being used to judge the suitability of anti-virus programs for use by separate government organizations…

Another NSA method involves scanning the email traffic of foreign anti-virus companies in order to pick up hints of new exploits and malware. In the case of malware, the agency has a group that can repurpose it to launch an attack against a desired target.

An internal 2010 presentation on the monitoring program, known as “Project CAMBERDADA,” mentions 23 foreign anti-virus firms apart from Kaspersky such as Avast, F-secure, and Check Point. Major American and British companies are excluded, such as McAfee, Symantec and Sophos.

Which raises the inevitable question: are the major security software corporations excluded because they’re already cooperating with the NSA?

Delaware is 18th state allowing personal consumption of marijuana

Delaware governor Jack Markell has signed into law a bill decriminalising possession and private use of small amounts of marijuana. The move follows the lead of nearly 20 states that have eased penalties for personal consumption…

Individuals in Delware will be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and to use it privately without facing criminal sanctions. Police could still confiscate the drug, according to Delaware Online, the News Journal.

The statute also will reduce the penalty for using marijuana in a public place to a $100 civil fine…

The law will take effect in six months’ time. Markell, a Democrat, signed the measure almost immediately after the state senate, voting along party lines, gave it final legislative approval.

No one expected pot-smoking Republican politicians to vote sensibly, courageously.

According to the Journal, the Democratic-backed bill cleared the state legislature without a single Republican vote in either the house or senate.

Not counting Delaware, 17 states have passed laws to decriminalise personal marijuana use and possession in small amounts, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a lobbying group.

Delaware is one of 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, that allow the use of pot for medical reasons. Voters in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC have approved ballot measures legalising cannabis for adult recreational use.

Marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic under US federal law.

A regulation which requires joint stupidity and cowardice from politicians in both parties.

The Confederate flag remains the favorite of white supremacy

racist flag

The American flag and the South Carolina state flag are flying at half-staff at the state’s capitol after a gunman murdered nine people at a Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME church Wednesday night.

The Confederate flag on the capitol grounds, on the other hand, is still flying at its usual height, 30 feet in the air, lighted at night. And it isn’t going anywhere. A compromise that took the flag down from over the statehouse in 2000 did all it could to make sure it didn’t budge any further from the seat of state government. Moving it requires a two-thirds vote from the state’s general assembly.

A mass murder apparently motivated by white supremacy has sparked yet another debate about what the Confederate flag really symbolizes. Yet the facts of the matter are clear: from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement, the flag has always been about white supremacy. It’s always been embraced hardest when white Southerners felt most threatened. Fights over the South Carolina Capitol’s Confederate flag have been going on for more than 40 years.

But the flag’s meaning hasn’t really changed since the Civil War. The only thing that has is how the rest of the country sees the cause it represents.

The Confederate flag has always been about white supremacy…

The Confederacy itself was founded to preserve slavery and promote white supremacy. See, for example, Mississippi’s declaration of secession: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world,” or the speech from the Confederacy’s vice president that declared the Confederacy’s cornerstone “rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition”.

And from the moment the design of its best-known flag was proposed, some Southerners began imbuing it with the symbolism of their cause.

Racist terrorism against Black folks in America was codified under the reign of slavery. The only modifications since – are just that, modifications to suit changing times. The national context has changed as the majority of the United States rejected racism, making the fight for equal rights a standard worth fighting for at all levels.

Some of the rationales for racism, for defense of the flag of slavery have had to change with the times; but, all they are is new lies for new times. In truth, not much different from their origins.

RTFA for a detailed history. One of the things VOX does particularly well.