Tag: Politcs

Jul 28

Some Would Call This Treason

In 1968, GOP presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon conspired with a foreign government to scuttle the Paris Peace Talks and the election of his Democratic opponent Vice President Hubert H Humphrey. From the FBI wiretaps, (President Lydon B.) Johnson quickly learned about the role of Nixon campaign official (and right-wing China Lobby figure) Anna Chennault …

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Nov 02

Medicaid Gap: A Matter of Life or Death

The presidential election is a year away, the host of HBO’s “Last week Tonight” John Oliver, brought attention to the need for voters to pay attention to local election. Those elections may well be a matter of life or death when it comes to the gap in Medicaid for low income families in states that …

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Jul 24

The Slaughter of Nine African Americans an Act of Terrorism

Cross Posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a 33 count indictment against Dylann Roof on federal hate-crime charges for the June 17 killing of nine African American worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina This leaves a bigger question that was asked by Jenna McLaughlin at “The Intercept,” why wasn’t Roof charged with terrorism?

Some media outlets, lawyers, public figures and activists have called for Roof to be charged not just with a hate crime, an illegal act “motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias,” but with the separate label of domestic terrorism. Critics contend that the label of terrorism is too often only applied to Islamic extremists, and not white supremacists or anti-government anarchists. Many were outraged after FBI Director James Comey balked at the term during a June 20 press conference, telling reporters he didn’t see the murders “as a political act,” a requirement he designated as necessary for terrorism.

Roof’s crime certainly seems to fit the federal description of domestic terrorism, which the FBI defines as “activities … [that] involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law … appear intended to (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.” [..]

It turns out there was one major obstacle in charging Roof with domestic terrorism: The crime does not exist. [..]

Even when the USA Patriot Act, post 9/11, redefined terrorism to include domestic crimes, the provision simply allowed the government to investigate more broadly what it called “terrorism.” Actually charging someone with domestic terrorism remains a separate matter. Even criminals who use bombs or send money to ISIS – or Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – are not charged with the crime of terrorism. [..]

But shootings, regardless of motivation, intention or number of deaths, likely don’t count. “It doesn’t seem like a shooting would fit,” says Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Or else a lot of crime would get caught up” in the terrorism net, she tells me.

There are, however, “aggravating factors” to be considered during sentencing, which prosecutors usually list on a formal indictment, and which can be used to determine whether the death penalty is justified, and those include “substantial planning and premeditation,” to”cause the death of a person” or “commit an act of terrorism.”

In Roof’s case, the DOJ did not mention terrorism as an aggravating factor, but did reference (pdf) “substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person” for several of his charges.[..]

Lynch did not explain why “terrorism” was not listed as an aggravating factor in Roof’s indictment, though she did emphasize that the DOJ views hate crimes as “the original domestic terrorism.” She noted that Roof’s case, including his “discriminatory views towards African Americans” and his decision to target “parishioners at worship,” made his crime a clear-cut case of a federal hate crime. [..]

Lynch was asked whether or not there should be a federal domestic terrorism penalty to help bridge the gap between crimes like the shooting of five military personnel in Chatanooga, Tennessee – which was immediately branded as terrorism, by law enforcement and media alike – and Roof’s case, which was not. Lynch acknowledged the argument that leaving out the word terrorism may cause people to feel like the government “doesn’t consider those crimes as serious.”

Ms. McLaughlin is incorrect in her statement that “domestic terrorism” does not exist in the law. This FBI’s definition of 18 U.S.C. § 2331 which defines “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism”:

“International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

   Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

   Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

   Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.*

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

   Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

   Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

   Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

18 U.S.C. § 2332b defines the term “federal crime of terrorism” as an offense that:

   Is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct; and

   Is a violation of one of several listed statutes, including § 930(c) (relating to killing or attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon); and § 1114 (relating to killing or attempted killing of officers and employees of the U.S.)

Emphasis mine

And just as a note, to those in this piece who don’t think that guns are not “dangerous weapons,” well, they are

By his own statement and the fact that Rev. Clementa Pinckney was an elected state official, Dylann Roof’s acts, under this definition, is clearly an act of terrorism.

The argument against the charge of terrorism by a young white man who was clearly influenced by the politics of racial hatred is specious. It is clearly indicative of the Obama administration and its Justice Department think that black lives do not matter as much as instilling the fear in US citizens of attacks by those who have been influenced by Islamic extremism. Racism is political and it is an extremist view and it is endemic in this country. it is long past time that the law is brought down to bear on the greater threat that racism is to Americans and our democracy.  

Mar 26

As the Crow Flies

How do you get a government agency to fix a rule that isn’t working? Simple. Get Jon Stewart to do a funny, but factually accurate, segment that highlights the flaw and, bingo, less then 24 hours situation remedied.

On Monday night Jon mocked the Veterans Administration’s Choice Program which was put in place to speed up medical care for veterans who lived far from a VA facility. The problem was that to be eligible the vet must live forty miles from the nearest facility. The rule was worded like that to keep down the cost of the program. But that distance was measured by “as the crow flies,” because, as Jon put it, “that is the least-meaningful way to judge how hard it is to get somewhere for non-crows.”

Then low and behold, less than 24 hours later the VA announced that they were “relaxing the rule” that made it difficult for veterans living in rural areas to prove they live 40 miles from the nearest VA facility.

The change comes amid complaints from lawmakers and advocates who say the VA’s current policy has prevented thousands of veterans from taking advantage of a new law intended to allow veterans in remote areas to gain access to federally paid medical care from local doctors. [..]

The VA said it will now measure the 40-mile trip by driving miles as calculated by Google maps or other sites, rather than as the crow flies, as currently interpreted. The rule change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible veterans. [..]

Under the new interpretation, the distance veterans must travel will be calculated through commercial products such as Google maps or other websites, rather than a straight line.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., hailed the rule change but said it did not go far enough. The VA policy applies to any VA medical facility within 40 miles of a veteran’s home, even if the veteran needs specialized care that is farther away.

While this change will help a good many veterans, congress still will need to tweak the program for those requiring special care.

Thank you, Jon, for your “damning piece of investigative joke-a-lism.” We will miss you when you’re gone.

Dec 03

Again No Indictment

A Staten Island grand jury returned a no bill of indictment against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, in the strangle hold death of Eric Gardner, an African American, during a struggle with police when they attempted to arrest him for what was essentially a misdemeanor.

Only 17 July, police stopped the heavy-set father of six on Staten Island under suspicion of peddling untaxed “loose” cigarettes. Garner had been arrested previously for selling untaxed cigarettes, marijuana possession and false impersonation.

A video shot by an bystander shows Garner resisting arrest as a plainclothes officer attempts to to handcuff him. Backing away from the office, Garner tells him: “This stops today,” which has become a rallying cry for protesters in New York.

A struggle ensues. Eight-year NYPD veteran Daniel Pantaleo responds by putting his arm around Garner’s neck in a chokehold – banned under police policy – and wrestling the asthmatic man to the ground with the aid of several officers. Garner gasps “I can’t breathe” until his 350lb body goes limp. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. [..]

The NYPD outlawed chokeholds over two decades ago, exactly because they can be deadly if administered inappropriately or carelessly. Still, between January 2009 and June 2014, the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates police misconduct, received 1,128 civilian complaints involving chokehold allegations. Of these, only a small fraction of the cases are ever substantiated, just ten over the five and a half year window.

In the days after Garner’s death, Bratton said all 35,000 officers would be retrained on the department’s use of force policy.

The family has sued the city and the police department, as well as several officers involved in the incident.

Unlike the shooting of Michael Brown, the struggle that resulted in Mr. Garner’s death was caught on video that went viral.

This just another instance of the failure of prosecutors around the country to hold police accountable for the deaths of mostly black and mentally ill civilians. This needs to end.

Oct 01

Afghanistan: The Forever War, Forever Forgotten

New Afghanistan pact means America’s longest war will last until at least 2024

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Bilateral security deal ensures that President Obama will pass off the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor  

The longest war in American history will last at least another decade, according to the terms of a garrisoning deal for US forces signed by the new Afghanistan government on Tuesday.

Long awaited and much desired by an anxious US military, the deal guarantees that US and Nato troops will not have to withdraw by year’s end, and permits their stay “until the end of 2024 and beyond.”

The entry into force of the deal ensures that Barack Obama, elected president in 2008 on a wave of anti-war sentiment, will pass off both the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor. In 2010, his vice-president, Joe Biden, publicly vowed the US would be “totally out” of Afghanistan “come hell or high water, by 2014.”

Obama called Tuesday “a historic day” for the US and Afghanistan, as the security pact, which puts US troops beyond the reach of Afghan law, “will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan.”

Sep 30

Drones: Fear in the Sky

John Oliver’s “This Week Tonight” on HBO is fast becoming the show to watch, especially his longer segments. This past Sunday John explains how drones are making the blue skies terrifying.

“Drone strikes will be as much a characteristic of the Obama presidency as Obamacare or receiving racist email forwards from distant relatives.” [..]

“Drone strikes are one of those things that it’s really convenient not to think about that much,” Oliver lamented. “Like the daily life of a circus elephant or that Beck is a Scientologist.” [..]

“When children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky,” he insisted, “it might be time to ask some hard questions.” [..]

“Congratulations everyone. We did it. We managed to make blue skies completely terrifying.”

It’s all in how you define “imminent.”

Jun 25

Water, Water Everywhere But Not A Drop to Drink for Detroit’s Poor

Also posted at Humanitarian Left

Most Americans take water for granted. We get up in the morning shower, brush teeth, flush the toilet, run water to drink, clean and on and on. What would you do if you couldn’t do those things? How would it effect you daily life? You ability to work? Support yourself and your family? How would it effect you health?

Those questions are all being faces right now by hundreds of thousands men, women and children, not in some third world country, but Detroit, Michigan.

In March, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is resuming efforts to shut off water service to thousands of delinquent customers.

Crews will be targeting those who have received a shutoff notice and whose bills are more than two months late. Customers with late bills can avoid a shutoff by entering into a payment plan. Typically, it takes a payment of 30% to 50% of the amount owed to start such a plan. [..]

There are 323,900 DWSD accounts in Detroit. Of those, 150,806 are delinquent. Some of those delinquencies are low-income customers who are struggling to keep their utilities on, said some who work in providing assistance to those in need.

But agencies aiding the mostly low income families currently without water are short on cash

“The need is huge,” said Mia Cupp, director of development and communications for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. “There are families that have gone months and months without water.”

The group is among a handful of local agencies that provide assistance to those who need help with their water bills. The Water Access Volunteer Effort, a Detroit-based nonprofit, is another. [..]

The organization has very limited resources. Cupp said the group raised about $148,000 during a charity walk; that money could go to helping people pay water bills. [..]

Mayor Mike Duggan’s spokesman John Roach referred to the Water and Sewerage Department questions about how the city handles community outreach to inform residents about programs to help with water bills. Detroit’s Human Services Department used to perform outreach but no longer does, Latimer said. So the water department is finalizing an agreement with The Heat And Warmth Fund, or THAW, to do so, he said. THAW provides low-income Michigan residents with emergency energy assistance.

Jill Brunett, vice president for marketing and communication for THAW, confirmed that the group is in talks with the water department. She said the extreme weather this winter increased heating bills, putting a strain on finances.

Al Jazeera reported that the average Detroit water bill is nearly double the national average of $40 per month (pdf). Tho add insult to injury, DWSD said it would again raise rates, this time by 8.7 percent.

A coalition of groups including the Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch, Blue Planet Project and Michigan Welfare Rights Organization have appealed to the United Nations for assistance (pdf)

“We are asking the UN special rapporteur to make clear to the U.S. government that it has violated the human right to water,” said Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a key member of the coalition that put the report together. In addition to creating international pressure to stop the Detroit shutoffs, Barlow said, the UN’s intervention could lead to formal consequences for the United States. “If the US government does not respond appropriately this will also impact their Universal Periodic Review,” she said, “when they stand before the Human Rights Council to have their [human rights] record evaluated.”

Two of those activists, Maureen Taylor, state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project, spoke with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman about Detroit’s water crisis.



Trancript can be read here

The US may be the wealthiest country in the world but it is rapidly turning it’s cities into third world slums, endangering thousands of lives.

May 12

Obama Court Nominee OK’d Targeted Assassinations

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This week Senator Rand Paul has threatened to filibuster President Barack Obama’s nominee to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The nomination of David Barron, who was a Justice Department lawyer at the start of the administration and is now a Harvard Law School professor was the author of the contentious memo that authorized the assassination of an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki.  

(M)embers of both parties say they are disturbed by Mr. Barron’s authorship of legal memos that justified the United States’ killing of an American citizen overseas with a drone.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to all 100 senators on Monday urging them to put off a vote on Mr. Barron’s confirmation until the White House allowed them to read all of his writings on the drone program. [..]

The A.C.L.U.’s objections, along with the announcement by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that he would use his power to slow down the confirmation unless the administration released one of the legal memos written by Mr. Barron, raised fresh questions on Capitol Hill on Monday about whether the nomination would survive. [..]

Two Democrats who are up for re-election in states where Republicans have a political edge – Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana – are said to be unsure if they will vote yes on Mr. Barron.

A court has ordered the administration to release some of Mr. Barron’s legal work as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. But White House lawyers have not done so while they weigh whether to appeal. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who is in a tight race, said Monday that he would vote no unless the White House released what the court ordered.

Republicans are not alone in their objections of this nominee. Democrats, who are up for reelection and those who have questioned the administration’s legal right to assassinated American citizens without due process and the drone program, have expressed doubts about voting to confirm Mr. Barron

But with so many Democrats concerned about the administration’s drone policy, sufficient support for Barron is uncertain. Senate leaders have yet to set a vote on his nomination to join the appeals court with jurisdiction over federal cases in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. He faces opposition from a mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans concerned with his involvement in establishing the administration’s drone policy.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and a frequent critic of Obama’s counterterrorism policies, said Thursday that “the public has a right to know” the administration’s justification for drone strikes on American citizens.

“To me, the central question has always been on intelligence matters,” Wyden told reporters. “There is a difference between secret operations. They have to be kept secret, because otherwise Americans can die and be hurt. But the rules and the underlying policies — those ought to be public.”

Other Democrats, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), have also expressed concern about Barron’s work and this week called for the public release of Barron’s memos.

Marcy Wheeler of emptywheel, writing for The Week, weighs in on why Sen. Paul’s threat of filibuster should be taken seriously

Eleven years ago, the Senate confirmed Jay Bybee to a lifetime appointment on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. At the time, almost no senators knew about – much less had reviewed the contents of – a set of memos authorizing torture that Bybee had signed when he was head of the OLC in 2002. Paul is trying to prevent similarly rewarding Barron before senators can review the legal arguments he made authorizing another troubling executive branch action: killing an American citizen with no due process.

Barron, who is currently a Harvard Law School professor, served as the acting head of the OLC from 2009 until 2010. The office provides legal advice to executive branch agencies that can provide (usually secret) legal sanction for controversial positions.

A July 16, 2010, memo written by Barron authorizing the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist Yemeni-American cleric, is one such opinion. Awlaki died in a CIA drone strike (along with Samir Khan, another American citizen who had become an extremist propagandist) on Sept. 30, 2011. [..]

Eventually, at least 31 members of Congress made at least 23 attempts to obtain the memo permitting the executive branch to kill an American citizen with no due process. Most of Congress still hasn’t seen it. [..]

Paul may have the courts on his side. He invoked an April 21 decision by New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that the government must release a redacted version of the memo to the ACLU and two New York Times reporters who had sued in 2011 to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request for the memo. The court order makes it easier to for Paul to call for a public release, rather than just a release to Congress. [..]

Four years ago, David Barron opened a Pandora’s box, giving presidents an inadequately limited authority to kill Americans outside all normal judicial process. As Paul notes in his letter, it would simply be “irresponsible” for the Senate to confirm his nomination without discovering what the memo could reveal about his views on due process, civil liberties, and international law. In a letter to all 100 senators, the ACLU echoed this language, recalling the precedent of Jay Bybee. “No senator can meaningfully carry out his or her constitutional obligation to provide ‘advice and consent’ on this nomination to a lifetime position as a federal appellate judge without being able to read Mr. Barron’s most important and consequential legal writing.”

The Senate took such an irresponsible step in 2003 with Jay Bybee. It can avoid that mistake here.

Instead of appointing those who justify torture, rendition and assassinations to hight courts, we should be looking into their criminal culpability in the crimes that they are justifying in their legal briefs. Yet those briefs and memos remain classified as our representatives are asked to appoint these people to high positions for life.

Apr 09

#NotABugSplat

This is #NotABugSplat

#NotABugSplat photo jr_kpk_full_zps7f10cd11.jpg

Click on image to enlarge.

In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.

To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.

The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in order to make it a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites.

Pakistan 2004-2014 CIA Drone Strikes

Total strikes: 383

Obama strikes: 332

Total killed: 2,296-3,718

Civilians killed: 416-957

Children killed: 168-202

Injured: 1,089-1,639

New bill would force Barack Obama to publish US drone strike casualties

by Jack Serle, Bureau of Investigative Journalism

A bipartisan Bill that would force President Obama to reveal casualties from covert US drone strikes has been put before the US Congress.

If successful, the bill would require the White House to publish an annual report of casualties from covert US drone strikes.

The reports would include the total number of combatants killed or injured, the total number of civilians killed or injured, and the total number of people killed or injured by drones who are not counted as combatants or civilians.

The Bill would also compel the White House to reveal how it defines combatants and civilians in its covert drone war.

Past time to stop this wanton killing. It won’t win the nebulous, never ending “war on terror.”

Apr 04

The Bidding on The Republic Begins in Earnest

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Get out your check books, folks, the Supreme Court opened the bank for the deposits of big money to flood the US political system.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.

The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will very likely increase the role money plays in American politics.

The 5-to-4 decision, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority, echoed Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Wednesday’s decision seemed to alter campaign finance law in subtle but important ways, notably by limiting how the government can justify laws said to restrict the exercise of First Amendment rights in the form of campaign contributions.

Power Surge for Donors

By Nicholas Confessor, The New York Times

The ruling opens the door for each party’s establishment to reclaim some power from the super PACs and other independent spending groups that are now playing an outsize role in campaigns. Experts said the decision would permit party leaders to form joint fund-raising committees and solicit multimillion dollar checks on behalf of candidates. The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, for example, could in theory approach a donor seeking to help Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, and solicit as much as $2.3 million – $5,200 for each Democratic candidate in every House race, plus a contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A donor could also, in theory, give $5,000 per year to every political action committee currently registered with the Federal Election Committee. That would total more than $13 million, versus the $74,600 allowed under the existing aggregate cap.

The bidding is now open.

Mar 14

The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One

William Black is an associate professor of economics and law at UMKC. He has held many prestigious positions, including executive director for Fraud Prevention. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae’s former senior management. He is a criminologist and former financial regulator.

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