Category: Justice

Geeks + Democrats = Net Neutrality


Yes – there’s still the risk of Big Money court battles ahead

Senior Republicans have conceded…that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality…

The new F.C.C. rules are still likely to be tied up in a protracted court fight with the cable companies and Internet service providers that oppose it, and they could be overturned in the future by a Republican-leaning commission. But for now, Congress’s hands appear to be tied.

The F.C.C. plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good. It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization — or fast lanes — for willing Internet content providers.

In addition, it would ban the intentional slowing of the Internet for companies that refuse to pay broadband providers. The plan would also give the F.C.C. the power to step in if unforeseen impediments are thrown up by the handful of giant companies that run many of the country’s broadband and wireless networks…

“We’ve been outspent, outlobbied. We were going up against the second-biggest corporate lobby in D.C., and it looks like we’ve won,” said Dave Steer, director of advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit technology foundation that runs Firefox, a popular Web browser, referring to the cable companies. “A year ago today, we did not think we would be in this spot.”

The net neutrality movement pitted new media against old and may well have revolutionized notions of corporate social responsibility and activism. Top-down decisions by executives investing in or divesting themselves of resources, paying lobbyists and buying advertisements were upended by the mobilization of Internet customers and users.

Our beneficent Telecom rulers and their Republican flunkies will not stop pimping their case, of course. The lies they constructed as part of their agitprop during the campaign to influence the FCC will become a plank in the Republican campaign for the White House in 2016.

Should they win full control of the United States government – those of us who stay behind in the GOUSA to fight a rear-guard action against the building of a Brave New World of Corporatism [Mussolini felt that sounds better than fascism] will no doubt be relegated by law to dial-up, standard def and B&W TV. And flip phones.

Malcolm X challenged America’s vast political and social jailhouse

Fifty years ago today, assassins killed black power activist Malcolm X during a speech to the Organization for Afro-American Unity at New York City’s Audubon Ballroom. Although they ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most dynamic leaders, they did not kill his impact. His insights into racism and freedom are as necessary today as when he first spoke them. A half-century after his murder, Malcolm X may still be one of our best guides for making sense of American racism, the evil that once again roils the country in unrest.

Malcolm X’s enduring influence owes in part to the truth of his metaphors, his way with words and the relentlessness of his criticism — in particular, his depiction of the United States as a prison. In making the comparison, he gave voice to the confinement he saw in a white supremacy still evident.

“Don’t be shocked when I say I was in prison,” he often told his audiences. “You’re still in prison. That’s what America means — prison…”

To Malcolm X, prison was more than its bricks and mortar. It was a metaphor for racism. Prisons use armed force to deny the mobility, insult the integrity and restrict the civic and political participation of its captives. And for the black audiences who heard Malcolm X speak — men and women who went to underfunded schools, worked dangerous and low-paying jobs where they could find them, faced harassment in employment lines or welfare offices, were forced to live in only certain neighborhoods and in many parts of the country were barred from voting by police and vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan — the United States did mean prison.

Prison, then, was an exaggerated form of the daily indignities black women and men faced. What made this metaphor ring so true is that black communities — years before the launch of the war on drugs — were already heavily policed and disproportionately incarcerated…

Imprisonment was the price of blackness. It respected neither class nor crime: Black people were incarcerated for protesting racism, engaging in antisocial activity or simply living in a neighborhood subject to pre-emptive policing.

At the time that Malcolm X began to challenge the prison of America in the late 1950s, the United States incarcerated fewer than 200,000 people in prisons and jails. Today, that number has metastasized to more than 2.3 million people, almost half of whom are black. Accounting for a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

I was lucky to hear, to listen to this wonderful voice calling for freedom. The idiots who rail against Malcolm’s message as intimidating to whites illustrate their own guilt, their fears of being found out. Too ignorant to see that class is as critical as color.

I stood in the middle of hundreds of Black residents of Harlem in the 1950’s. Took the train to New York, to Harlem, to get to Lewis Micheaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore once every month or so. The only white face in a crowd filling an intersection and stopping all traffic from proceeding while a slender giant stood elevated on one corner. He spoke of freedom and justice. And more than once he recognized this class brother willing to stand and say, “Fix it, brother!”

Some of the best early days of my personal awakening.

Jailed months awaiting trial, man released after his “drugs” proven to be vitamins

joseph-burrell

A Minnesota man who was arrested in November on drug charges has been released after the “most expensive and most accurate test” available found that the drugs in his possession were over the counter vitamins…

Joseph Burrell was arrested on two felony counts of drug possession on November 14, 2014. According to police, Burrell was initially stopped for driving out of a grocery store parking lot without his lights on. When police searched his vehicle, they found a bag containing powder that a field test determined could be an amphetamine.

Burrell — who acknowledged that he had used drugs in the past, but that he had also just finished in-patient treatment at the New Beginnings drug treatment center in nearby Waverly — insisted that the substance was not illegal, and that he had purchased it to deal with a chronically sore shoulder.

Prosecutors pressured him to plead guilty, but Burrell told the Free Press that he “couldn’t plead guilty [to possessing] something I knew wasn’t a drug. They set my bail at $250,000 for vitamins.”

The charges were dropped after prosecutors used a more sophisticated means of analyzing the powder and discovered that it did, in fact, consist of legally available vitamins.

“I had been sitting in the jail since November with my bail set at $250,000,” Burrell told the Free Press. “Then, two days before trial, they dropped the charges and let me go.”

Accurate field tests, a timely trial, reasonable bail – seems to me I read somewhere these are all part of how a modern police department, justice system, function.

Is that too difficult for Minnesota to comprehend?

Of course, it reminds me of the time I was busted by customs coppers at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. About to be charged for the white powder in a plastic bag in my backpack, I finally convinced the most obstreperous of the lot to snort just the tiniest bit to test for any narcotic effects.

When little bubbles popped out of his nose he finally admitted I was telling the truth when I said it was Woolite! While his mates rolled on the floor laughing.

Thanks, Joseph

Undocumentados obey tax laws — New Mexico refuses to hand over refunds


“How can I be Republican VP candidate if I obey the law?”

A national and a statewide civil rights group have filed lawsuits against New Mexico and the state’s tax department alleging that refunds are being withheld illegally from people filing taxes using federal tax ID numbers.

Two suits filed in state court…on behalf of a couple and two other workers seek refunds and an injunction to block what the organizations call an “unlawful and discriminatory practice.”

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the state Taxation and Revenue Department in 2012 began a policy of denying tax refunds to New Mexico residents who file returns using their federally-issued tax ID.

They say the state has sent at least 14,500 letters to filers citing discrepancies on their returns and seeking supporting documents. Meanwhile, the same people have been receiving federal refunds from the IRS.

Since these folks can’t get a regular social security card they have acquired the federal alternative used by immigrants nationwide. Perfectly legal as witness the IRS forking over refunds when due.

The problem is our so-called moderate Republican governor hates undocumentados as much as she hates unions. So the state – which always paid refunds when owed by the Tax and Revenue Department under previous Democrat administrations – now refuses to hand over folks’ refunds.

So much for asking immigrants to obey the law. When the governor won’t.

A rape victim’s fight for justice in Nepal

Justice, Nepal
Click to enlargePhoto by Navesh Chitrakar

When Pooja Bohara heard that the two men who had dragged her into a toilet and raped her had been released from prison nine months ago, the Nepali teenager, seen above through a door of the Raksha Nepal rehabilitation centre, went into shock.

But despite being blamed and stigmatised by some in her community in western Nepal for reporting the rape and forced to seek refuge in the capital, the 17-year-old says she is not giving up her fight for justice.

“Society and some family members blame me. My uncle even suggested that I should be placed in a heap of straw and burnt to death, but my father was for justice,” said Bohara, sitting in the rehabilitation centre in Kathmandu.

“It is not our fault that we are raped. Victims should come out and tell their story to the courts and seek justice.”

The two men, who had been convicted and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in March 2013, were acquitted by an appeals court last April due to a lack of evidence…

Growing awareness in Nepal of crimes against women has helped an increasing number of victims like Bohara to challenge a culture that often blames or shuns them into silence, say police and activists…

But despite improvements and greater awareness, most women still remain unaware of their rights and do not come forward to report crimes due to fears of stigmatisation, said Menuka Thapa, head of Raksha Nepal, the charity sheltering Bohara…

Mustering the courage to come forward and report violent crimes is just the first step in a long and often painful process to get justice. But Bohara is not waiting. The teenager has appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to hear her case later this month.

Another important chapter in Reuters’ “The Wider Image” series.

Canada Supreme Court strikes down ban on doctor-assisted suicide

kay carter
Kay Carter

The Supreme Court of Canada shifted the goalposts Friday on one of the most fundamental of human laws.

In a charter precedent that will go down in the history books as Carter vs. Canada, the court unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and “irremediable” patients.

The emphatic, unanimous ruling prompted tears of joy and frustration on both sides of the debate, reverberated through provincial health ministries and doctor’s offices across Canada, and left skittish federal parliamentarians groping for time to digest the implications.

“The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice,” the nine justices flatly asserted.

Cripes. Difficult to imagine what opportunities for progressive law and justice we might have in the United States if we didn’t have a Supreme Court half-populated with reactionary lawyers who lied to Congress to cop the gig. And conservatives and lame liberals in Congress knew damned well they were lying.

The judgment — left unsigned to reflect the unanimous institutional weight of the court — gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.

It does not limit physician-assisted death to those suffering a terminal illness.

And to put an exclamation mark on the ruling, the court awarded special costs against the government of Canada for the entire five-year course of the litigation, less 10 per cent to be paid by the government of British Columbia.

The court suspended its judgment for 12 months, during which the current law continues to apply, placing enormous pressure on Parliament to act in what is an election year…

The political toxicity of the issue was immediately apparent Friday: Not a single MP asked the government a question about the decision during question period, despite the presence of Justice Minister Peter MacKay in the House…

Cowards.

For the families of Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter, two now-deceased women who originally sought a B.C. court’s help to end their suffering, it was an unqualified victory.

Lee Carter, who accompanied her 89-year-old mother to Switzerland to legally end a life ravaged by debilitating disease, raised a bouquet of flowers to the heavens in the Supreme Court lobby as she tearfully recalled her mother’s legacy.

“Justice, dignity and compassion were the defining qualities of my mother,” Carter, flanked by her family, told a crush of reporters.

“We just felt that it was a fundamental right for Canadians that they should have this choice…”

The decision reverses the top court’s 1993 ruling in the case of Sue Rodriguez, a fact the decision attributes to changing jurisprudence and an altered social landscape.

Drop something like this in our Congress’ lap and they would try to defend a ruling from 1793.

Meanwhile, I wonder if you would be required to be a citizen, merely resident to utilize the ruling or if visiting – as in Switzerland – would be sufficient. I have no plans or need for this, right now; but, I might have to ring up my kin and put things in motion for dual citizenship.

Wrongly convicted of murder in North Carolina – Free after 37 years in prison

Is he Black? You betcha!

A North Carolina man is free after nearly four decades in prison after forensic evidence proved he was not responsible for the murder of two women.

Joseph Sledge, 70, was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder in the 1976 stabbing deaths of Josephine Davis, 74, and her daughter, 57-year-old Aileen Davis, who was also sexually assaulted.

Sledge was 37 years into a life sentence when a three-judge panel voted unanimously on Friday that Sledge was innocent of the crime.

Forensic evidence that had been lost for years was discovered by a court clerk who was cleaning out a high shelf of a vault. A hair sample within — found on one of the bodies and believed to belong to the attacker — was not Sledge’s, nor were fingerprints and DNA collected from the scene, according to forensics experts.

Last year a key witness whose testimony led to Sledge’s conviction had recanted his evidence, saying he had been promised leniency in a separate case and was coached by police on what to say.

No surprises there.

Sledge left court after being freed Friday and headed to Georgia to live with his brother. He told reporters he was looking forward to relaxing and sleeping in a real bed, and that he would likely “get in a pool of water and swim.”

No apology from the lawmen who coached the key witness how best to lie. No apology from the state of North Carolina about their consistent history of locking up – or executing – Black men who were easy targets for legal lynching.

Hard to fool a detainee with a fake letter from mom – when he knows she can’t write


Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Guantánamo prison camp authorities tried to trick inmate Mohamedou Ould Slahi by forging a letter purportedly from his mother whom he had been unable to see for years, his brother Yahdih has said.

The ploy, which was intended to persuade him to cooperate with his interrogators, failed not only because they misspelt Slahi’s name but also because his mother could not write.

This week Slahi became the first inmate to publish a memoir while still incarcerated when Guantánamo Diary was published in 20 countries and serialised in the Guardian.

Speaking on Tuesday at an event organised by the Guardian in partnership with Canongate, the publisher of Guantánamo Diary, and PEN, the writers’ association, Yahdih Ould Slahi said his brother had not been able to see his mother before she died at their home in Mauritania in 2013…

The 44-year-old engineer was first detained in 2001 in Mauritania at the request of the US government, then rendered to Jordan and Afghanistan and tortured, and then flown to Guantánamo.

He is one of two inmates whose “additional interrogation techniques” were personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, according to a US Senate inquiry. Slahi was dressed in a burqa, deprived of sleep, subjected to strobe lights, doused in water, threatened with dogs, sexually assaulted by female interrogators and forced to bark and perform dog tricks.

He wrote his memoir by hand after learning English, his fourth language, from his Guantánamo guards and interrogators, and it was published this week after his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, battled for six years to have the document declassified.

Hollander told the event that Slahi’s descriptions of the abuse that he had suffered at Guantánamo had already been confirmed by both the Senate inquiry and a separate investigation by the FBI…

Hollander said her client had been in a form of legal limbo since the US government lodged an appeal after a US district court judge ordered his release…

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an online petition demanding Slahi’s release.

One more case where Obama’s Administration matches the incompetence of his neo-con predecessor. Incompetence, that is, at differentiating liberal foreign policy from the conservative flavor. There may be some small difference in the total number of civilians killed. But, the destruction of civil liberties, civil rights, human rights guaranteed by international treaty seem to be consistent between both flavors of imperial arrogance.