Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House gets 8 year sentence

Former Massachusetts House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for his conviction on political corruption charges, the longest federal sentence handed out to an elected official in Massachusetts history, climaxing a years-long scandal that had captivated the state’s political establishment.

DiMasi’s codefendant, Richard McDonough, a well-known State House lobbyist, was sentenced to seven years in prison for taking part in the conspiracy to help a software company win state contracts in exchange for kickbacks.

US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf called the sentence appropriate, saying he balanced the ages of both men, 66, and consideration for their families, against the fact that they had betrayed the public’s trust by orchestrating the criminal scheme…

You and Mr. McDonough devised a scheme to sell your office,’’ the judge told DiMasi, who was forced to stand as Wolf handed out the sentence. “You’re standing here today because you committed what I consider to be, what the law considers to be, a most serious crime…’’

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said outside the courthouse…“Public corruption is a very, very serious crime, and it has a tremendous amount of impact on the citizens of this Commonwealth and the trust of the public,’’ Ortiz said. “The reality is that the core of this case was simply about how a high, powerful speaker of the House took kickbacks in exchange for using his political position to benefit himself and his friends…’’

In his remarks, Wolf said he was troubled by the fact that DiMasi was the third consecutive House speaker to be convicted in federal court. His predecessors were Thomas Finneran, who was convicted of obstruction of justice, and Charles Flaherty, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion. They did not serve prison sentences.

Some cases come up to legal standard. Some to American political standards. If that’s what they’re called?

China starts construction on the world’s biggest civil airport


Brown shaded area = Amsterdam City, Green = Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Beijing has started construction on a new mega-airport that will be roughly the size of Bermuda and have nine runways. When Beijing Daxing International airport opens in 2015, the Chinese capital will become the world’s busiest aviation hub, handling around 370,000 passengers a day.

It is only three years since the opening of Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital Airport, a sweeping structure designed by Sir Norman Foster that is far bigger than all of Heathrow’s five terminals combined.

But an enormous boom in China’s aviation industry has already left the capital’s existing facilities stretched to breaking point. “It is impossible to add even one more flight to the tight daily schedule of the Capital airport,” said Li Jiaxing, the minister in charge of China’s Civil Aviation Administration.

“The existing airport in Beijing has an annual capacity of 75 million passengers. Last year it handled 73 million,” said Cao Yunchun, a professor at the country’s Civil Aviation University. “In two years, it will be totally packed. And it cannot be expanded infinitely,” he added.

Instead, Beijing’s planners have found a 21 sq mile site to the south of the city, in the suburb of Daxing. Currently the site is around an hour’s drive from the city centre, but planners are pencilling in an extension to Beijing’s metro, and perhaps even a high-speed train line.

The new facility will not only serve Beijing, but also Tianjin and parts of Hebei as the Chinese capital morphs into a mega-city, its suburbs merging into those of the cities around it. The airport will be Beijing’s third, after Capital and the smaller, primarily military, Nanyuan airport.

Phew! While we prattle on about whether or not it’s “fiscally appropriate” to repair infrastructure built a half-century ago – and crumbling – the nations we compete with for commerce on a global stage are building for future business and other travel.

This is not how we got to be the nation we are; but, it certainly may be how we continue to lose stature and competitiveness.

“We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war” — Jimmy Carter

Where does Jimmy Carter live? Well, close your eyes and imagine the kind of house an ex-president of the United States might live in. The sort of residence befitting the former leader of the most powerful nation on earth. Got it? Right, now scrub that clean from your mind and instead imagine the sort of house where a moderately successful junior accountant and his family might live.

It’s what in America is called a “ranch house”, or, as we’d say, “a bungalow”. There are no porticoes. No columns. No sweeping lawns. There’s just a small brick single-storey structure that Jimmy and his wife, Rosalynn, built on Woodland Drive back in 1961 when he was a peanut farmer and she was a peanut farmer’s wife, right in the heart of the town in which they grew up. Though Plains, Georgia is barely a town. A street, might be a more accurate description. A single road going nowhere much…

Strictly speaking, he’s still Mr President, but it’s hard to give the office its true gravitas in what looks like my mum’s living room. And there’s a plain, homespun quality about him that’s reminiscent of that other great Jimmy, the patron saint of small-town American life: Jimmy Stewart. He’ll turn 87 in October, and is recovering from having both his knees replaced this summer, but the dazzling smile that once captivated America is still there. Though it’s a terrible cliché, not to mention patronising and ageist, to describe any octogenarian as “twinkly”, he undeniably is.

He leads me slowly into the family room at the back of the house. Photographs of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren line the walls, and an old throw covers an even older sofa. Mary, the housekeeper who’s been with the family for 40-odd years, brings Carter coffee in an ancient plastic cup, so old that the “Royal Caribbean” logo on it has faded nearly clean away. (Mary first came to work at the governor’s mansion as a convicted murderer on day release, and – how’s this for living your liberal beliefs? – the Carters asked her to look after their three-year-old daughter, Amy.)…

Jimmy’s early years on the family farm just outside Plains coloured his entire life. As a boy during the Great Depression, he recalls, “streams of tramps, or we called them hobos, walked back and forth in front of our house, along the railroad”. Even more influentially, it was a mostly black community. “I learned at first hand the deprivation of both white and black people living in a segregated community, which was then not challenged at all.” Except by his own mother; thanks to her liberalism all his earliest playmates were black.

RTFA. Long, detailed, even though I never voted for Carter [and didn’t vote for that corporate pimp, Reagan, who followed] my respect continues to grow for the man who stands better by his principles year after year since he left office. Criticisms of foreign alliances that he wouldn’t have made in office – that still stand as rote in the Democratic Party – grow and change, altered by events and more understanding.

Commitment to the needs of ordinary working people worldwide guides his life and style. Again, more than it did when he was constrained by representing one of our two corrupt political parties. That headline up top is not something that gets you elected to office – just the respect of a nation that wearies time and again of lying politicians who take advantage of nationalism and patriotism in the game of pillage and profit.

Supreme Court to rule on GPS surveillance, Fourth Amendment


Tracking gear planted on Arab-American student’s car by FBI

In a series of rulings on the use of satellites and cellphones to track criminal suspects, judges around the country have been citing George Orwell’s “1984” to sound an alarm. They say the Fourth Amendment’s promise of protection from government invasion of privacy is in danger of being replaced by the futuristic surveillance state Orwell described…

Last month, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn turned down a government request for 113 days of location data from cellphone towers, citing “Orwellian intrusion” and saying the courts must “begin to address whether revolutionary changes in technology require changes to existing Fourth Amendment doctrine.”

The Supreme Court is about to do just that. In November, it will hear arguments in United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade. The justices will address a question that has divided the lower courts: Do the police need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car and track its movements for weeks at a time?

Their answer will bring Fourth Amendment law into the digital age, addressing how its 18th-century prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures” applies to a world in which people’s movements are continuously recorded by devices in their cars, pockets and purses, by toll plazas and by transit systems.

The Jones case will address not only whether the placement of a space-age tracking device on the outside of a vehicle without a warrant qualifies as a search, but also whether the intensive monitoring it allows is different in kind from conventional surveillance by police officers who stake out suspects and tail their cars.

There is little if any difference between the Big Brother practices ordered by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama. Either flavor of government agrees with the other that national interest – as defined by the politicians in charge – supersedes any individual right to privacy. No due process or habeus corpus is required because no warrant should be required to spy on anyone in this nation.

For some of you this will come as an affront, a shock. If you don’t fight back, you will not only be required to get used to it – you will be told to “lay back and enjoy it”. Various levels of police, local, state and federal, have been utilizing illicit tactics like this for decades – whether officially banned or not. That’s no reason to give up and stop fighting. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Turkey will provide armed escort for Gaza humanitarian aid

Turkey has set the stage for a potential naval confrontation with Israel by announcing that Turkish ships attempting to breach the maritime blockade of Gaza will be given an armed escort…

Incensed by Israel’s refusal to apologise for its deadly raid on a Gaza bound aid flotilla last year, which led to the deaths of nine Turkish activists on board the MV Mami Marmara, Mr Erdogan has announced a series of sanctions against the Israeli government in recent days…

“Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Arabic television network Al Jazeera.

From now on, we will no longer allow these ships to be the targets of attacks by Israel like the one on the Freedom Flotilla, because then Israel will have to deal with an appropriate response…”

He did not reveal whether Turkish naval vessels would enter the territorial waters of either Israel or Gaza. The raid on the Mavi Marmara took place in international waters just outside the blockaded zone.

The saddest commentary of all is that an armed escort is needed to bring humanitarian aid to a region under the thumb of Israeli military occupation.