Category: Justice

Bernie’s petition

At a time of massive wealth inequality, when 99% of all new income generated in this country goes to the top 1%, and when over half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings, the last thing we should do is cut Social Security.

When the average Social Security benefit is $1,328 a month, and more than one-third of our senior citizens rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income, our job is to expand benefits, not cut them.

Despite what some of my Republican colleagues have said, Social Security is not going broke. It has a $2.8 trillion surplus and can pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 18 years.

The best way to make Social Security solvent for the next 50 years is to scrap the cap on taxable earnings. Join me and my friends at Social Security Works in calling on Congress to scrap the cap and expand, not cut Social Security!

Today, a Wall Street CEO who makes $18 million a year pays the same into Social Security as someone earning $118,500. That’s absurd. If we simply applied the payroll tax on income above $250,000, not only could we extend Social Security’s solvency until 2065, we could also increase benefits to meet the elderly’s higher living expenses.

Despite the logic behind that, some Republicans want to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69 and reduce benefits. I wonder what world these people are living in. To take benefits away from seniors now is simply a continuation of the war being waged by the Republican Party against the elderly, against the children, against the sick and against the poor, in order to benefit millionaires and billionaires…

Stand with me today and call on Congress to scrap the cap and use the increased revenues to expand, not cut Social Security. If we stand together and fight back, we can win this battle.

Sincerely,

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 5.17.25 PM

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

Click on the link in the post. Join the fight.

FBI admits flaws in analysis, forensic testimony over decades

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

RTFA for a long and painful tale. One serious aspect of the questions unanswered by this declaration is the role to be played by prosecutors, local law enforcement, district attorneys in many of these cases who, like so many in state judicial systems refuse to acknowledge any need to revisit these cases. Something the Innocence Project has encountered in state after state.

Judges, prosecutors, district attorneys often are political animals. They refuse to confront fallibility or responsibility for participating in lousy trials. Even in hindsight. This is a completely separate task facing those who came together for these revelations. Updating the science is the easy part. Getting law enforcement to review trials is going to be a much harder task.

I nominate the Flying Mailman Doug Hughes for an Aerial Achievement Medal

Doug Hughes
Click to enlargeJames Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times

Perhaps nobody was more surprised by Doug Hughes’ gyrocopter stunt at the Capitol on Wednesday than his neighbors in Ruskin, Florida.

“It’s weird thinking somebody like that, you know, two doors down,” the U.S. mailman’s neighbor Ian Hopkins said.

“We were so surprised about it because you know he’s a good man… he’s a good neighbor,” another person said.

Hughes is a married father of four who’s been flying gyrocopters for more than a year. According to his website, the 61-year-old grew up in California, served in the Navy and became a mailman more than a decade ago. But Wednesday, he chose to veer off his regular route to draw attention to campaign finance reform…

Hughes’ so-called “freedom flight” had been in the works for some time…In fact, Hughes alerted the Tampa Bay Times last year — after the Secret Service interviewed him about his plans.

“Terrorists don’t announce their flights before they take off. Terrorists don’t broadcast their flight path,” Hughes told the Times…

According to the Times, Hughes’ act of civil disobedience began taking shape more than two years ago after his son committed suicide…His grief prompted him to take a bigger stand on political issues he felt were important.

“We were trying to think of ways to get attention, and it looks like he did that,” Hughes’ co-worker Michael Shanahan said…

Still, Shanahan insists his friend is more patriot than terrorist.

Ahead of his landing at the Capitol, Hughes took to his website writing: “I have no violent inclinations or intent… Let’s keep the discussion focused on reform — not me — I’m just delivering the mail.”

Hughes knew what was at stake in carrying out his mission. The Tampa Bay Times said he expected to lose his job and his freedom. Hughes said he didn’t tell his wife or four children about the plan because he didn’t want them to be implicated.

You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. You don’t need to belong to the Air Force to deliver the air mail. Just maybe – you should receive commendation for courage in the face of politicians afraid to do a damned thing for folks’ civil rights.

American mercenaries get serious prison sentences for Iraq murders


The youngest victim — 9-year-old Ali Kinani

Rejecting pleas for mercy, a federal judge on Monday sentenced former Blackwater security guard Nicholas Slatten to life in prison and three others to 30-year terms for their roles in a 2007 shooting that killed 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded 17 others.

The carnage in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, a crowded traffic circle, caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone and remains one of the low points of the war in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Slatten, who witnesses said was the first to fire shots in the melee, to life on a charge of first-degree murder. The three other guards – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard – were each sentenced to 30 years and one day in prison for charges that included manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using firearms while committing a felony…

Prosecutors described the shooting as an unprovoked ambush of civilians and said the men haven’t shown remorse or taken responsibility. Defense lawyers countered that the men were targeted with gunfire and shot back in self-defense.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Martin urged the court to consider the gravity of the crime as well as the sheer number of dead and wounded and “count every victim.”

“These four men have refused to accept virtually any responsibility for their crimes and the blood they shed that day,” Martin said…

Mohammad Kinani Al-Razzaq spoke in halting English about the death of his 9-year-old son as a picture of the smiling boy, Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, was shown on courtroom monitors. He demanded the court show Blackwater “what the law is” and claimed many American soldiers died “because of what Blackwater did.”

“What’s the difference between these criminals and terrorists?” Razzaq said.

And that, my friends, has always been the difference between fighting for national liberation, fighting for freedom against a foreign power occupying your nation – and terrorists willing to murder civilians regardless of what kind of freedom they say they’re fighting for.

It started with the brutal bombing of civilians in Madrid by Hitler’s Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War – and was carried on with glorious abandon and self-justification by the US Air Force carpet-bombing, dropping napalm on civilians in VietNam. Contemporary examples include scum from AlQaeda and ISIS – and hired gunslingers like these convicted thugs.

You can actually get down to pretty fine points arguing military history. This ain’t one of them.

Tsarnaev trial: Constitutional answer to Republican fear of democracy

The trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev…has already been a success. The community learned important new details of the bombing, and drew a step nearer to putting the traumatic week of the bombing and Watertown manhunt in the rearview mirror. Just as important, by showing the world that terror suspects can get a fair trial, the proceedings have helped restore some global respect for American justice — and vindicated the Obama administration’s decision to keep him within the conventional justice system from the beginning.

It’s easy to forget that just after Tsarnaev’s arrest, the administration came under criticism for failing to ship Tsarnaev off to military detention. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, along with colleagues John McCain and Lindsey Graham, called for the administration to take Tsarnaev into military custody, rather than charge the suspected bomber in civilian courts. The legal arguments against the senators’ position have been thoroughly aired already, but the advantages of civilian trials are not solely procedural. Should another domestic terror attack like the Marathon bombing strike the United States, the Tsarnaev trial should stand as an example of why keeping terror suspects in the normal justice system is preferable for the communities they target, too…

…No harm has come to national security from treating Tsarnaev, who is a US citizen, as a conventional defendant. Reading him his Miranda rights, a step bemoaned by the senators, did not hamper the case. On the contrary, the United States avoided the needless, self-inflicted black eye that would have come had authorities skirted established protections for criminal defendants. And the jury’s verdict…will have a credibility that would have been lacking had Tsarnaev been subject to military detention and interrogation first.

The fixation on putting domestic terrorism suspects into military custody reflects a longstanding obsession of McCain and Graham, and as long as they continue to beat that drum, civilian trials like Tsarnaev’s will need defending. The good that has come from holding an open, fair, and untainted trial in the United States, near the scene of the crime, cannot be underestimated. It’s unfortunate that the senators tried to derail this healthy constitutional process, but hopefully the Tsarnaev trial will serve as a reminder of its value.

No one argues that a system of trial by jury, peers determined mostly by geography and economics, is faultless. There are a number of things that can go wrong – starting with corrupt police and prosecutors. Regardless, the system works a lot better than anything else our nation has tried.

The system certainly works a lot better than torture and inquisition, the favorites of leading Republicans. Though McCain and Graham, Ayotte and other long-standing conservatives, often offer opportunist blather catering to the Tea Party faction of today’s Republican Party, their opposition to public trials is a reflection of a conservative theme more elitist than lynch mobs. And like most self-concerned politicians, I doubt they will admit their foolishness now that the Marathon Bombing trial is beyond the stage of guilt or innocence.

I’ll keep my opinion on capital punishment separate from this post. It’s radical enough to be a distraction.

The point remains that today’s conservatives continue their disservice to traditions rooted in our Constitution. All that revulsed American colonists about what passed for justice from 18th Century English law would be returned to power by reactionary fools like Graham and McCain if they had their way. If they get their way, someday.

Trial by jury, the right to confront accusers, the right to a timely trial, habeas corpus – were significant standards raised before the whole world by the American revolution. It is too kind to call politicians who would turn their back on this part of our history – fools. Their corruption runs deeper than that.

A reminder: Unarmed people of color killed by police, 1999-2014


Click to enlarge

After the announcement that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted for killing Eric Garner, the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund Twitter posted a series of tweets naming 76 men and women who were killed in police custody since the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo in New York. Starting with the most recent death, what follows are more detailed accounts of many of those included in the Legal Defense Fund’s tweets.

Click here to page through this incomplete record of unarmed people murdered by police.

White copper charged with murder only after video of shooting surfaces

A white North Charleston police officer was arrested on a murder charge after a video surfaced Tuesday of the lawman shooting eight times at a 50-year-old black man as he ran away.

Walter L. Scott…father of four, died Saturday after Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager, 33, shot him in the back.

Five of the eight bullets hit Scott, his family’s attorney said. Four of those struck his back. One hit an ear.

The footage filmed by a bystander, which The Post and Courier obtained Tuesday from a source who asked to remain anonymous, shows the end of the confrontation between the two on Saturday after Scott ran from a traffic stop. It was the first piece of evidence contradicting an account Slager gave earlier this week…

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that FBI investigators would work with the State Law Enforcement Division, which typically investigates officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, and the state’s attorney general to examine any civil rights violations in Scott’s death…

The Police Department, which has 343 sworn officers, has fought accusations in the past that aggressive patrolling tactics had unfairly targeted poor, predominately black communities. The newspaper reported in September that 18 percent of the officers were black while the city’s population is 45 percent black.

RTFA. It’s local coverage. It’s long. It ain’t saying anything we don’t already know. It ain’t saying anything that people of color have a right to suspect every time a white cop in the United States pulls his gun.

You know who will defend that shooting no matter how many times they see the video. You know who will raise tens of thousands of dollars for that cop’s defense – without offering a penny to the family of the man he shot in the back.

The sad life of trailblazing South African footballer Steve Mokone

Steve Mokone

When the Dutch journalist Tom Egbers first decided to find out what happened to his father’s footballing hero, he could never have imagined where it would lead. Almost 40 years had passed since the South African striker Steve ‘Kalamazoo’ Mokone spent two seasons playing for Egbers’ hometown club Heracles Almelo in Holland’s third division. But in 1993 no one had heard from him since…

“I decided to try and track him down but of course this was in the pre-Google age so it was not an easy task,” adds Egbers. “I eventually traced him to New York where he lived at the time working as a doctor in psychiatry and political science at a hospital. At first he was a little bit reserved and wanted to know who I was and why I wanted to talk to him. It was only years later that I was able to find out exactly why.”

After spending time with the man who had become the first black African to play professionally in Europe when he signed for Coventry City in 1955, Egbers published ‘De Zwarte Meteoor’ (The Black Meteor) – a novel based on Mokone’s successful spell at Heracles that saw them win promotion at the end of the 1957-58 season. It was remarkably well received and ‘Kalamazoo’ was invited back to the provincial town close to the German border for the first time in almost four decades as the club named the new stand in their Polman Stadion in his honour. Within five years the story had been turned into a film, too…

“Five days after the premiere there was a story in the newspaper by a Dutch journalist who had spoken to a South African who had told him that Steve had been in prison for years in America.

Egbers spent 18 months trawling through the archives looking for information on Mokone’s arrest and trial. Having also enjoyed brief spells at Cardiff, Torino, Barnsley, Salisbury, Marseille, Barcelona and Valencia, he had moved to the United States in 1964 and began studying psychiatry. Thirteen years later, having separated from his first wife and endured an acrimonious but eventually victorious custody battle, Mokone was accused of throwing acid into her face before a similar attack the following week left her lawyer blind in one eye.

“I had promised myself that, if I had found out that Steve was indeed guilty, I would write it down,” Egbers says. “But I became convinced more and more that he was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit.”

RTFA – please. It’s not just the tale of an athlete whose talents were challenged by the racist apartheid system of his home country, South Africa. He suffered through a trial and conviction in his adopted country, the United States. A trial manipulated by the FBI and the CIA.

Mokone’s death at the age of 82 in Washington last month after a prolonged illness was covered extensively in the Netherlands and South Africa’s players wore black armbands in this week’s friendly against Nigeria to commemorate one of their most important pioneers.

Following a ceremony at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium – the venue for the 2010 World Cup Final – next week, the ashes of the man described as “our flag bearer in all the corners of the world” by the sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, will be scattered in his homeland.

Thanks, Martyn

Google loses appeal in Safari cookie tracking case – can face trial in the UK


Security company director Marc Bradshaw, editor and publisher Judith Vidal-Hall

“Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions”

The U.K.’s Court of Appeal has denied Google’s request to block lawsuits from British consumers over the search giant’s disregard for Safari privacy restrictions designed to prevent advertisers from tracking users.

These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial,” the Court said in its judgement, according to the BBC. “They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature…about and associated with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

The case stems from 2012 allegations that Google intentionally bypassed Safari’s default privacy settings, which restrict websites from setting cookies unless the user has interacted with those sites directly. Google skirted this limitation by amending its advertising code to submit an invisible form on behalf of the user — without their consent — thus allowing tracking cookies to be set.

Those allegations prompted a six-month investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which Google eventually settled. The $22.5 million fine levied by the FTC was the largest such sanction in the agency’s history, and Google later agreed to pay a further $17 million in fines to settle cases in 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Google was able to avoid class-action lawsuits in the U.S., but its defense — that consumers had not suffered monetary harm — was not enough to evade British courts.

That’s right. The Feds and 37 states were able to claim damages from Google. But, US courts in their infinite concern for the almighty dollar and little else – ruled that the computer users whose privacy was deliberately abused by Google have no standing to sue in a class action because they didn’t lose any money as a result of Google’ sleazy practices.

But, in the UK, privacy is considered the right of an ordinary citizen and Google’s abuse of that right makes them liable for a class action suit by users. So saith this pissed-off cranky old geek who thinks we should have the same right here in the GOUSA.

And, yes, I think Google is just about the same level of scumbag as the NSA.