Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
Ryan Koronowski writes at ThinkProgress:
Alpha Natural Resources, the third-largest coal company in the U.S., agreed to pay a $27.5 million fine after violating water pollution permits in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
Over the last seven years, Alpha and its subsidiaries discharged heavy metals into waterways across those five Appalachian states 6,289 times, through 794 different discharge points, sometimes by as much as 35 times the legal limit.
The pollutants that spilled from the coal mines throughout Appalachia include “iron, pH, total suspended solids, aluminum, manganese, selenium, and salinity,” according to an EPA press release.
The giant coal company will also spend $200 million to stop sending toxic discharge into the nations rivers and streams. According to the AP, which obtained details about the settlement on Wednesday, “under the agreement, the mine operators will install wastewater treatment systems and take other measures aimed at reducing discharges from 79 active coal mines and 25 coal-processing plants in those five states.”
Cynthia Giles, who runs the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement office, told the AP that the settlement was “the biggest case for permit violations for numbers of violations and size of the penalty, which reflects the seriousness of violations.”
“This is the largest one, period.”
A big part of the reason this settlement was so comprehensive and expensive is because in 2011, Alpha Natural Resources bought a coal company called Massey Energy. Massey’s coal operations account for more than half of the violations represented in Wednesday’s settlement.
Alpha spent $7.1 billion to purchase Massey, and it has been picking up the pieces ever since. Months after the purchase agreement was announced, Massey was still fighting a legal battle over dumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into old underground coal mines — knowing all the while that the mines leaked into the water supply. Alpha settled the lawsuit with hundreds of West Virginia residents in 2011.
Massey received global headlines for the tragic explosion in 2010 that killed 29 miners, and stayed in the headlines as Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s confrontational relationship with safety regulators prompted shareholder calls for his resignation. In 2009, Blankenship called the idea that safety regulators cared more about coal miners than he did “as silly as global warming.” This despite the small world encompassing coal industry and coal regulators: President Bush appointed a former Massey official to an MSHA review commission in 2002.
In 2012, Massey mine superintendent Gary May pled guilty to charges of criminal conspiracy over deceiving federal safety regulators. When the Mine Safety and Health Administration would come for an inspection, May would warn miners, increase air ventilation, falsify records, and cut corners in order to hide dangerous safety violations.
Though 2014 is barely two months old, the U.S. has seen a raft of coal spills — in West Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia again, and West Virginia again — signalling the problem of dirty coal is not going away.
Andrew Briner writes at ThinkProgress:
Add attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to the list of ailments attributed to the popular painkiller acetaminophen. A new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that more than half of mothers who took acetaminophen during pregnancy were more likely to have children with ADHD-like behavior or hyperkinetic disorder, a severe form of ADHD.
It’s unclear at this point whether acetaminophen use is actually causing these symptoms or if both are a sign of other unnoticed factors, as the Globe and Mail pointed out. And the long, shameful history of blaming and criminalizing pregnant women for pretty much anything they do during pregnancy means this news should be taken carefully. But even if proof of a causal link is demonstrated, the FDA’s record on regulating over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, specifically acetaminophen, shows it wouldn’t be up to the job of dealing with it.
And this news comes just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would berevamping its process for approving and regulating over-the-counter drugs, in response to just such concerns that it’s too slow to respond to new products and safety issues.
Acetaminophen is one such failure, as ProPublica extensively documented in September. The FDA convened a panel of experts to evaluate its safety in 1977, as the drug was first becoming widely popular. The panel determined it was “obligatory” to include a label warning that acetaminophen could cause “severe liver damage.” The FDA didn’t add that warning until 2009.
Acetaminophen is both one of the most commonly-used pain relief drugs in the United States and the primary cause of acute liver failure, nearly half of all cases. Overdoses kill an estimated 458 Americans each year, and are responsible for more than 56,000 emergency room visits and 2,600 hospitalizations.
No painkiller or drug is without risk. But for comparison, the entire class of drugs that includes ibuprofen, the Advil ingredient that is similarly popular to acetaminophen, was responsible for 15 deaths in 2010, according to CDC data as reported in ProPublica. In the same year acetaminophen killed 321, 166 of which were accidental overdoses.
The main problem is that the difference between a therapeutic dose and a life-threatening one is small. . .
Ted Scheinman writes at Pacific Standard:
Fifteen years ago, the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan published what was, at the time, the most lucid and urgent account of American government and its culture of confidentiality. A slim, accessible volume, Secrecy uses a social lexicon derived largely from Émile Durkheim, the French pioneer of the formal study now known as sociology; the book’s chief aim is to interrogate how entrenched systems of secrecy had allowed the Cold War to proceed far too long, benching domestic concerns while digging the U.S. into deep peacetime debt.
An expansion of a bipartisan report from the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the commission was spearheaded by Moynihan), Secrecy is a thorough and vividly scary portrait of a government’s failure to communicate with itself. The results of this failure included willful misinterpretation of Cold War market trends (the CIA’s claim in 1986 that per capita production in East Germany was higher than in the West, say) alongside prejudicially selective choices, on the part of U.S. intelligence chamberlains, of what Truman or Reagan needed to know. Remember the Venona Decrypts? Truman didn’t.
An ambient sense of the covert foments notions of conspiracy on each wing of American politics, driving left and right farther apart and making possible odious phenomena from HUAC to the Patriot Act.
Unlike the demagogues whom secrecy had empowered, Moynihan is precise about his terms:
Secrecy is a form of regulation. There are many such forms, but a general division can be made between those dealing with domestic affairs and those dealing with foreign affairs. In the first category, it is generally the case that government prescribes what the citizen may do. In the second category, it is generally the case that government prescribes what the citizen may know.
To these we must now add a 21st-century category: What the government may know about a citizen.
If Secrecy is concerned in part with tracing the origins and noxious consequences of generational paranoia, revelations about government surveillance in the past year have stoked a new if woefully inadequate debate over the balance between freedom and security. We now know that Big Brother is indeed “watching,” to what extent He is doing so, and at what cost to the taxpayer—in liberty, and in lucre.
The Big Brother thing, quite naturally, dominated last week’s annual RSA security conference in San Francisco—a sticky affair, as a company trafficking in aggressive encryption software for civilian privacy sought to explain its decade-long contract with the NSA. If nothing else, the Edward Snowden leaks gave people something to freak out about. How many tech and security conferences are mere swag and boilerplate? As the Times reports:
In hotel lobbies, conference rooms, panels and coffee shops, American executives and government officials were seen and heard having tortured conversations with their international counterparts as executives tried to convince their clients that their technologies did not contain legal or virtual back doors for the National Security Agency.
That’s some hot stuff, especially with Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) wooing back his Silicon pals and Richard Clarke dropping f-bombs at the Cloud Security Alliance panel: “The U.S. … has to get out of the business of fucking with encryption standards.” . . .
Peter Van Buren has a post at Informed Comment:
The Obama administration has just opened a new front in its ongoing war on whistleblowers. It’s taking its case against one man, former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Air Marshal Robert MacLean, all the way to the Supreme Court. So hold on, because we’re going back down the rabbit hole with the Most Transparent Administration ever.
Despite all the talk by Washington insiders about how whistleblowers like Edward Snowden should work through the system rather than bring their concerns directly into the public sphere, MacLean is living proof of the hell of trying to do so. Through the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to use MacLean’s case to further limit what kinds of information can qualify for statutory whistleblowing protections. If the DOJ gets its way, only information that the government thinks is appropriate — a contradiction in terms when it comes to whistleblowing — could be revealed. Such a restriction would gut the legal protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act and have a chilling effect on future acts of conscience.
Having lost its case against MacLean in the lower courts, the DOJ is seeking to win in front of the Supreme Court. If heard by the Supremes — and there’s no guarantee of that — this would represent that body’s first federal whistleblower case of the post-9/11 era. And if it were to rule for the government, even more information about an out-of-control executive branch will disappear under the dark umbrella of “national security.”
On the other hand, should the court rule against the government, or simply turn down the case, whistleblowers like MacLean will secure a little more protection than they’ve had so far in the Obama years. Either way, an important message will be sent at a moment when revelations of government wrongdoing have moved from the status of obscure issue to front-page news.
The issues in the MacLean case — who is entitled to whistleblower protection, what use can be made of retroactive classification to hide previously unclassified information, how many informal classification categories the government can create bureaucratically, and what role the Constitution and the Supreme Court have in all this — are arcane and complex. But stay with me. Understanding the depths to which the government is willing to sink to punish one man who blew the whistle tells us the world about Washington these days and, as they say, the devil is in the details.
Robert MacLean, Whistleblower
MacLean’s case is simple — and complicated.
Here’s the simple part: MacLean was an air marshal, flying armed aboard American aircraft as the last defense against a terror attack. In July 2003, all air marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the TSA, which oversees the marshals, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to their cell phones cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. Fearing that such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public, MacLean worked his way through the system. He first brought his concerns to his supervisor and then to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Each responded that nothing could be done.
After hitting a dead end, and hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to change its policy, MacLean talked anonymously to a reporter who broadcast a critical story. After 11 members of Congress pitched in, the TSA reversed itself. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency dress and boarding policies that he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize marshals who work undercover. (On your next flight keep an eye out for the young man in khakis with a fanny pack and a large watch, often wearing a baseball cap and eyeing boarders from a first class seat.) This time the TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered that he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.
When MacLean contested his dismissal through internal government channels, he discovered that, months after firing him, the TSA had retroactively classified the text message he had leaked. Leaking classified documents is more than cause enough to fire a federal worker, and that might have been the end of it. MacLean, however, was no typical cubicle-dwelling federal employee. An Air Force veteran, he asserted his status as a protected whistleblower and has spent the last seven years marching through the system trying to get his job back.
How Everything in Government Became Classified
The text message MacLean leaked was retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI), a designation that had been around for years but whose usage the TSA only codified via memo in November 2003. When it comes to made-up classifications, that agency’s set of them proved to be only one of 28 known versions that now exist within the government bureaucracy. In truth, no one is sure how many varieties of pseudo-classifications even exist under those multiple policies, or how many documents they cover as there are no established reporting requirements.
By law there are officially only three levels of governmental classification: confidential, secret, and top secret. Other indicators, such as NOFORN and ORCON, seen for instance on some of the NSA documents Edward Snowden released, are called “handling instructions,” although they, too, function as unofficial categories of classification. Each of the three levels of official classification has its own formal definition and criteria for use. It is theoretically possible to question the level of classification of a document. However much they may be ignored, there are standards for their declassification and various supervisors can also shift levels of classification as a final report, memo, or briefing takes shape. The system is designed, at least in theory and occasionally in practice, to have some modicum of accountability and reviewability.
The government’s post-9/11 desire to classify more and more information ran head on into the limits of classification as enacted by Congress. The response by various agencies was to invent a proliferation of designations like SSI that would sweep unclassified information under the umbrella of classification and confer on ever more unclassified information a (sort of) classified status. In the case of the TSA, the agency even admits on its own website that a document with an SSI stamp is unclassified, but prohibits its disclosure anyway.
Imagine the equivalent at home: you arbitrarily establish a classification called Spouse Sensitive Information that prohibits your partner from seeing the family bank statements. And if all this is starting to make no sense, then you can better understand the topsy-turvy world Robert MacLean found himself in.
MacLean Wins a Battle in Court
In 2013, after a long series of civil service and legal wrangles, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit handed down a decision confirming the government’s right to retroactively classify information. This may make some sense — if you squint hard enough from a Washington perspective. Imagine a piece of innocuous information already released that later takes on national security significance. A retroactive classification can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, but bureaucratically speaking it would at least prevent more toothpaste from being squeezed out. The same ruling, of course, could also be misused to ensnare someone like MacLean who shared unclassified information.
The court also decided that, retrospective classification or not, MacLean was indeed entitled to protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. That act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law,” typically held to mean unclassified material. This, the court insisted, was the category MacLean fit into and so could not be fired. The court avoided the question of whether or not someone could be fired for disclosing retroactively classified information and focused on whether a made-up category like SSI was “classified” at all.
The court affirmed that laws passed by Congress creating formal classifications like “top secret” trump regulations made up by executive branch bureaucrats.
In other words, as the Constitution intended, the legislative branch makes the laws and serves as a check and balance on the executive branch. Congress says what is classified and that say-so cannot be modified via an executive branch memo. One of MacLean’s lawyers hailed the court’s decision as restoring “enforceability for the Whistleblower Protection Act’s public free speech rights. It ruled that only Congress has the authority to remove whistleblower rights. Agency-imposed restraints are not relevant for whistleblower protection rights.”
The ruling made it clear that the TSA had fired MacLean in retaliation for a legally protected act of whistleblowing. He should have been offered his job back the next day.
Not a Happy Ending But a Sad New Beginning
No such luck. Instead, . . .
The Obama Administration has worked hard to close our open government. Note that MacLean followed the course that Obama has said that Edward Snowden should have followed: working within the system, following defined procedure. It doesn’t work, something that I doubt Obama will ever admit.
Read the entire story: the Obama Administration is showing its hand, and their direction is antithetical to American values and American democracy.
UPDATE: Also see Dan Froomkin’s report in The Intercept.
Very interesting article—and I would rate the comments interesting as well. Mark Mazzetti reports in the NY Times:
The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The committee has spent several years working on a voluminous report about the detention and interrogation program, and according to one official interviewed in recent days, C.I.A. officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation.
The events have elevated the protracted battle — which began as a fight over who writes the history of the program, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks — into a bitter standoff that in essence is a dispute over the separation of powers and congressional oversight of spy agencies.
The specifics of the inspector general’s investigation are unclear. But several officials interviewed in recent days — all of whom insisted on anonymity, citing a continuing inquiry — said it began after the C.I.A. took what Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, on Tuesday called an “unprecedented action” against the committee.
The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.
It is not known what the agency’s inspector general, David B. Buckley, has found in the investigation or whether Mr. Buckley has referred any cases to the Justice Department for further investigation. Spokesmen for the agency and the Justice Department declined to comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, gave few details about the dispute on Tuesday as she left a closed committee hearing on the crisis in Ukraine, but she did confirm that the C.I.A. had begun an internal review.
“There is an I.G. investigation,” she said.
Asked about the tension between the committee and the spy agency it oversees, Ms. Feinstein said, “Our oversight role will prevail.”
The episode is a rare moment of public rancor between the intelligence agencies and Ms. Feinstein’s committee, which has been criticized in some quarters for its muscular defense of many controversial intelligence programs — from the surveillance operations exposed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program using armed drones.
The origins of the current dispute date back more than a year, when the committee completed its work on a 6,000-page report about the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program. People who have read the study said it is a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
The report has yet to be declassified, but last June, John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, responded to the Senate report with a 122-page rebuttal challenging specific facts in the report as well as the investigation’s overarching conclusion — that the agency’s interrogation methods yielded little valuable intelligence.
Then, in December, Mr. Udall revealed that the Intelligence Committee had become aware of an internal C.I.A. study that he said was “consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report” and “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”
It appears that Mr. Udall’s revelation is what set off the current fight, with C.I.A. officials accusing the Intelligence Committee of learning about the internal review by gaining unauthorized access to agency databases. . .
Continue reading. And check out those comments. E.g.,
Loved twitter response from Greenwald:
Ironic: Senate Intel Comm – which endorses vast NSA spying on ordinary citizens – gets angry when they’re spied on.
The rise of secret laws, secret courts, and secret decisions that affect us all is a very regressive step. One is astonished to see such things become standard practice in the US and presage the doom of democracy. The virtue of open court proceedings with evidence presented publicly and the defendant able to question the plaintiff or prosecutor is so that we can be assured that justice was indeed done and that fairness prevailed. Once the courts become secret, with secret evidence and secret decisions, then we are moving directly in a totalitarian direction. The next step would be secret prisons, and we have seen those as well in the gulag created by George W. Bush. (We also have prisons that are not secret in terms of location, but who is imprisoned and what goes on in the prison is secret: the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan, for example.) Secrecy is essential for actions that cannot withstand the light of day.
And now our corporate overloads are striving to get secret courts to resolve their inter-corporate disputes: they do not want the issues of the evidence made public because it would reveal to the public the sorts of things corporations now feel free to do. (See, for example, the actions of Duke Energy in North Carolina, where the corporation has placed one of its own in the Governor’s mansion.)
Judith Resnick reports in the NY Times:
Should wealthy litigants be able to rent state judges and courthouses to decide cases in private and keep the results secret?
The answer should be an easy no, but if the judges of Delaware’s Chancery Court persuade the United States Supreme Court to take their case and reverse lower federal court rulings outlawing that practice, corporations will, in Delaware, be able to do just that.
The state has long been a magnet for corporate litigation because of its welcoming tax structures and the court’s business expertise. Yet the State Legislature became concerned that Delaware was losing its “pre-eminence” in corporate litigation to a growing market in private dispute resolution.
To compete, Delaware passed a law in 2009 offering new privileges to well-heeled businesses. If litigants had at least $1 million at stake and were willing to pay $12,000 in filing fees and $6,000 a day thereafter, they could use Delaware’s chancery judges and courtrooms for what was called an “arbitration” that produced enforceable legal judgments.
Instead of open proceedings, filings would not be docketed, the courtroom would be closed to the public and the outcome would be secret. The Delaware Supreme Court could review judgments, but that court has not indicated whether appeals would also be confidential.
A group called the Coalition for Open Government, including news and civic organizations, objected that Delaware’s legislation was unconstitutional. In 2012, a federal judge agreed that the law violated the public’s right of access to civil proceedings under the First Amendment. A divided appellate court concurred. Delaware judges are now asking the Supreme Court to reinstate Delaware’s system.
Proponents argue that keeping sensitive business information secret and avoiding uncomfortable publicity is what makes arbitration attractive. To defend their rent-a-court system’s “conciliatory atmosphere,” conducive to “business relations,” Delaware’s chancery judges invoked the history of privacy in arbitration. This translates into giving control to litigants to make their own rules, use state judges and prevent the public from knowing anything.
Can judges in courts preside over trial-like proceedings in private? Many state constitutions (including Delaware’s) insist that all “courts shall be open.” The United States Constitution does not have those words, but the Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to a “speedy and public trial,” and civil and criminal litigants have rights to jury trials. Those provisions — with First Amendment rights to petition for redress and free speech, due process and English open court traditions — have produced a body of law mandating openness. Before a proceeding can be closed, judges need to make a record of what exceptional circumstances, such as trade secrets or national security, justify secrecy.
What are the stakes? As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham explained centuries ago, when presiding at trial, judges were “on trial.” Publicity (“the very soul of justice”) takes control away from both judges and disputants and shifts power, to the great “tribunal of public opinion.”
Only in the second half of the 20th century did courthouse doors really welcome all persons, regardless of race, gender and ethnicity. Congress, creating new rights for consumers and employees, supported access by funding legal services. Class actions enabled pursuit of claims. Information poured out, as technologies let people read briefs online, watch proceedings streamed live, and download data on courts’ budgets. Courts demonstrate how to have civilized debates about deeply contested views of what law is or ought to be.
In contrast, the public face of private dispute resolution depends on what providers decide to put on it. Information may dribble out, through corporate disclosure statements, academic studies, state mandates for disclosures (such as insurance payments for malpractice) and anecdotes.
Delaware’s program points to a broader problem: the growing privatization of judging and the closing of access to courts. The Supreme Court has accelerated this trend through its expansive interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, intended to ensure that if parties’ contracts include private arbitration, federal courts would enforce them.
In a series of recent decisions, the court stretched that law to apply to consumers and employees, with no bargaining power over terms. For example, purchasers of cellphones and prospective employees are frequently required to sign “contracts” replacing court access with procedures companies choose. These are take-it-or-leave-it deals. If you want a cellphone or a job, you have to agree to private dispute resolution.
Because of this one-sidedness, . . .
Aaron Cantú writes at Latino Rebels:
On the eve of World War II, the Nazis began to describe the European Jews as “Untermenschen.” The word literally means “subhumans”—a creature that resembles a person, but is nevertheless a bestial humanoid aberration.
This was a way to dehumanize them in preparation for a statewide programm of mass extermination. Since the Holocaust, scholars have recognized the process of dehumanization as a central part of genocidal campaigns, one that erases the moral dilemmas normally associated with hurting others by sanding down innate empathic capacities.
In any campaign of hatred, dehumanization is not the final endpoint; rather, it is a milestone that must be reached in order to enable a desired degree of violence. Dehumanization doesn’t always end in ethnic cleansing. It can take other forms, which, while they may be less extreme, are equally sordid, like teaching children how to shoot at effigies of people who are different from them.
At a community event to honor fallen agents in San Diego last year, the local Customs and Border Patrol outfit facilitated an activity in which children were given less-than-lethal rifles and shotguns and instructed by agents on how to fire at cut-out targets resembling adolescent migrants. One of the targets is even wearing a “Tapout” t-shirt, a common article of clothing donned by young people on either side of the border. In one of the images, a youth seems to be aiming his gun at the target’s head.
For its part, CBP San Diego absurdly justified the event as a part of a community-wide expo meant to “build relationships and increase awareness about law enforcement.” The agency has reportedly claimed that they will continue to host the event in the future, but will use neutral targets to assuage public outrage.
It’s bad enough that the CBP fails to connect the dots between its showy display of mock violence and the renewed controversy in the media over its agents’ slaying of migrants. But even worse, the fact that CBP defended the activity as a community-building event indicates they see an aggressive disdain for migrants as a way to strengthen communal bonds. United in dehumanization we stand.
Activist Pedro Ríos of the American Friends Service Committee said that the incident is indicative of how border communities have become areas of low intensity conflict, where the specter of violence is something expected and even sanctioned. “ . . .
UPDATE: A follow-up story giving the response from the US Border Patrol.
The US Border Patrol has repeatedly killed people in highly questionable shootings, with no accountability in sight. Tim Johnson reports for McClatchy:
On a chilly January night near the Mexican border, a Border Patrol agent peeled away from colleagues and chased Gabriel Sanchez Velazquez through desert scrub. Two shots rang out.
When the agent returned, he said that Sanchez, a sinewy 5-foot-9 car mechanic who spoke English well after spending 15 years in the United States, had leapt from under a mesquite bush and lunged to seize the agent’s service firearm, forcing him to shoot. No one else has come forward to contradict his story.
Sanchez’s death was the 20th fatal shooting of a civilian by a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2010 as the agency expanded rapidly. Last week, another shooting took place, bringing the total to 21.
The killings expose what lawyers and civil rights advocates assert are far-reaching problems in the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency.
Those problems, critics charge, include a resistance to adopting safeguards on the use of lethal force, watered-down training standards amid rapid expansion and a mentality that anything goes in the battle to secure America’s borders.
Of the 21 dead, 16 were Mexican or Guatemalan. Most of the victims were unarmed, and some were on Mexican soil. One was a 16-year-old who was shot multiple times in the back as he stood on the Mexican side of the border fence. None of the shooters is known to have been disciplined, and the circumstances of most of the cases have not been aired in public. Sanchez’s wife and children – all American citizens – are still trying to learn the name of the man who shot him.
The spate of homicides raises an uncomfortable question, the critics say: Do Border Patrol agents have a green light to fire on and kill Mexican and Central American migrants?
Guarding the U.S. border is an issue of national security, and Border Patrol advocates argue that the agency’s mission can be dangerous, though the number of armed confrontations appears minimal. One agent died in a shootout on Dec. 14, 2010, with bandits in Arizona’s Peck Canyon. Another notorious case happened Oct. 2, 2012, when an agent was shot and killed not far from the canyon. That incident, however, turned out to be “friendly fire,” when two agents responded to a tripped motion-detection sensor.
“You’re working in remote areas that are intimidating and desolate. You’re often many miles from backup. You’re dealing with groups that outnumber you and that you must handle alone,” said Shawn Moran, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, a union for agents.
“To claim that the Border Patrol has an itchy trigger finger, we dismiss that. It’s a very restrained force,” Moran said.
Border Patrol public affairs officer Douglas Mosier said he couldn’t comment on the agency’s policies and referred a reporter to the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, where a spokesman, Peter Boogaard, declined to comment.
The Mexican government calls the use of lethal force against its migrants disproportionate and is demanding more thorough inquiries.
If anyone other than a lone Border Patrol agent saw what happened to Sanchez shortly after 8:30 p.m. on the cold night of Jan. 16 not far from Arizona’s southeastern border with New Mexico, they’re not talking.
A deeper look into the Sanchez case reveals discrepancies among various federal, state and county agencies over what occurred.
It also reveals something else: The death of the 31-year-old Sanchez left a wake of grieving kin who are American citizens. Sanchez had spent half his life in the United States. Among his immediate family are an 11-year-old son with cerebral palsy, who lives with his mother in California, and an 8-year-old son who lives with Sanchez’s widow in Phoenix. All hold U.S. citizenship.
The widow, Nataly Molina Tebaqui, says she’ll file a federal lawsuit once her attorney can identify the Border Patrol agent who shot her husband in the head and chest. The federal government has refused to release his name.
“I want him to go to jail. I want him to feel my pain. I want his wife and his sons to feel the pain,” said Molina, a 30-year-old accountant. “Why couldn’t he have shot him in the leg or the arm?”
In statements immediately after the death, Customs and Border Protection, a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security, and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which was called in to probe the killing, stated as fact that Sanchez had struggled for the agent’s gun and was killed as a result.
A 12-page autopsy report by the Medical Examiner’s Office in Pima County, however, offers a different picture. The report, dated Feb. 5, notes that Sanchez was shot in the upper part of his right temple and in his chest.
“Manner of death: homicide,” it says.
The trajectory of the bullet wound to the head, it adds, is downward and the bullet appears lodged in the neck. The pathway of the wound to the chest is also downward, indicating that Sanchez was below the agent’s firing hand, squatting or perhaps on the ground. . .
Roy Gutman reports for McClatchy:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tightened his grip Wednesday on the judiciary and the Internet in an effort to tamp down a corruption scandal that’s rattled his government and now appears to implicate his immediate family and him.
Evidence mounted that a series of audio recordings in which Erdogan can be heard instructing his son, Bilal, to get rid of enormous sums of money are authentic, with the government firing two senior officials at the state scientific agency responsible for the security of encrypted telephones and a U.S.-based expert on encrypted communications, after examining the recordings, telling McClatchy that the recordings appear to be genuine.
Erdogan on Tuesday called the five purported conversations an “immoral montage” that had been “dubbed.” But he acknowledged that even his secure telephone had been tapped.
The only apparent “montage” was combining the five different conversations into one audio file, said Joshua Marpet, a U.S.-based cyber analyst who has testified in court on the validity of computer evidence in other Turkish criminal cases. He said there was no sign that the individual conversations had been edited.
“If it’s fake, it’s of a sophistication that I haven’t seen,” he said.
The purported telephone conversations took place over a 26-hour period, beginning on the morning of Dec. 17, when Turkish police launched raids on the houses and offices of members of the Erdogan government, businessmen and their families.
“Whatever you have in the house, get rid of it, OK?” the prime minister can be heard telling Bilal in the opening conversation. Erdogan tells Bilal that his sister Sumeyye is on her way to help him and admonishes Bilal to tell others in the family also to get rid of cash, including Sumeyye’s husband, Bilal’s brother Burak, his uncle Mustafa Erdogan, and Erdogan’s brother-in-law, Berat Albayrak.
“It will be good if you completely ‘zero’ it,” the prime minster is heard saying in the second conversation, which took place later that morning. In the fourth conversation at 11:15 that night, Bilal says he had almost “zeroed” out the money, but that there were some 30 million euros (about $39 million) left. When his father asks why he didn’t transfer all the money to Mehmet Gur, a contractor who was building the Erdogan family villa, Bilal responds: because “it takes a lot of space.”
At different points, Erdogan can be heard warning Bilal not to use a regular telephone. In the final conversation on the morning of Dec. 18, after Bilal admits that the money had not been “zeroed out,” the prime minister again says Bilal should get rid of all the funds.
“OK, Dad, but we are probably being monitored at the moment,” Bilal said. His father replied: “Son, you’re being wiretapped,” to Bilal responds: “But they are monitoring us with cameras as well.”
Two more conversations were published on . . .
The Guardian reports:
Israeli forces are using excessive, reckless violence in the occupied West Bank, killing dozens of Palestinians over the past three years in what might constitute a war crime, Amnesty International said.
In a report entitled Trigger Happy, the human rights group accused Israel of allowing its soldiers to act with virtual impunity and called for an independent review of the deaths.
The Israeli army dismissed the allegations, saying security forces had seen a “substantial increase” in Palestinian violence and Amnesty had revealed a “complete lack of understanding” about the difficulties soldiers faced.
According to UN data, 45 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank between 2011 and 2013, including six children. Amnesty said it had documented the deaths of 25 civilians during this period, all but three of whom died last year.
“The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank,” said Philip Luther, the charity’s director of the Middle East and north Africa programme.
Amnesty said that in none of the cases it reviewed did the Palestinians appear to be posing any imminent threat to life. “In some, there is evidence that they were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes,” it said.
After a three-year hiatus Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last July, which the Palestinians hope will give them an independent state on territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, including the West Bank.
Although their decades-old conflict has become a low-intensity confrontation, violence still occurs regularly, with Palestinians accounting for the vast majority of casualties.
The 87-page report, published on Thursday, focused only on violence in the West Bank, not the Gaza Strip. It highlighted a number of the deaths, including that of Lubna Hanash, a 21-year-old who was shot in the head on 23 January 2013 as she left an agricultural college near the flashpoint city of Hebron.
Amnesty quoted witnesses saying a soldier opened fire 100 metres from where Hanash was standing. A relative standing alongside her was shot in the hand. Neither had been taking part in any protest.
A few days earlier, a 16-year-old schoolboy . . .
A new low for the Catholic church: It blames the parent of children who were victims of pedophile priest
The Catholic church seems to have become a deeply corrupted and immoral institution. Travis Gettys reports in Raw Story:
A Minnesota mother says Catholic Church officials are blaming her for not protecting her two sons from the priest who abused them.
The Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in St. Paul, pleaded guilty in 2012 to abusing the boys, ages 12 and 14, and possessing child pornography.
Wehmeyer is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.
The family has sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which claimed in a Feb. 7 court filing that the mother – who worked at the church — knew that one of her sons was spending time with the priest.
“She was aware of the time [he] spent with Mr. Wehmeyer, and she knew that such interaction was contrary to established Archdiocese policy,” the filing said.
MPR News reported in September that archdiocese officials knew about Wehmeyer’s risky sexual behavior, such as cruising for sex in a park and approaching young men in a bookstore, when he was appointed pastor in 2009 of two churches that later merged.
“The fact that there were memos flying around that were dated before certain events of abuse happened is bloodcurdling to me, that they had the opportunity to stop this man dead in his tracks before he ever harmed any of my children,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her sons.
The woman said she thought Wehmeyer was odd, but she just thought he was lonely and never suspected he was sexually interested in children.
“I sort of felt that he was the geeky kid,” she said. “He needed some friends. I thought it was almost like a, for lack of a better word, like a pity project to take this priest under our wing.”
Wehmeyer lured the boys into a white camper he kept parked outside the parish with drugs, alcohol, and pornography.
He made the boys touch themselves, investigators said, and he also touched the boys on multiple occasions. . .
It seems very much as though the Catholic church has no shame as well as no moralityl.
And the DOJ does nothing. The Obama Administration does nothing. The government seems to have decided that wealth places one above the law. Danielle Douglas writes in the Washington Post:
Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse helped wealthy Americans hide billions of dollars from U.S. tax collectors for several years and federal prosecutors have done little to hold violators accountable, according to a U.S. Senate subcommittee report due out Wednesday.
The allegations were particularly stunning in the face of the budget cuts and deficits that the United States faces, lawmakers said. The report casts the Justice Department as a hapless enforcer that has dragged its feet in getting Credit Suisse to turn over the names of some 22,000 U.S. customers.
Lawmakers have accused the bank of helping wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes on as much as $12 billion in assets held at the institution. Prosecutors have been aware of the misconduct at Credit Suisse for at least four years, in which time they have indicted seven bankers and launched a probe of the institution, according to the report. But no one has stood trial, and the bank has not been held legally accountable, the report says.
Justice spokeswoman Emily Pierce bristled at the report’s characterization of the department, pointing out that it has charged 73 account holders and 35 bankers and advisers with offshore tax evasion offenses since 2009.
“We have acknowledged that as many as 14 Swiss financial institutions are currently under investigation, and we won’t hesitate to indict if and when circumstances merit,” Pierce said.
Prosecutors have been hampered by the Swiss government, which has prevented banks from handing over information after its largest bank, UBS, turned over 4,700 accounts in 2009. Justice has yielded 238 names of Credit Suisse customers through treaty requests.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee on investigations, insisted at a news conference Tuesday that the department could do more, including using civil summons and a grand jury subpoena to get information.
“The Department of Justice must use the legal tools that it has and not depend on Swiss courts,” he said. “Collecting taxes owed by tax evaders is vitally important for our fiscal situation. Beyond that, there is a basic question of fairness. These individuals are cheating not just the government but honest Americans who pay what they owe.”
Credit Suisse chief executive Brady W. Dougan and Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole were scheduled to appear at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
The 175-page report, the culmination of a two-year investigation, alleges that from 2001 to 2008 Switzerland’s second-largest bank helped customers disguise Swiss accounts by opening them in the name of offshore shell entities. Bankers used cloak-and-dagger tactics to conceal their misdeeds, according to the report.
One former customer told investigators that a Credit Suisse banker once handed him bank statements hidden in a Sports Illustrated magazine during a breakfast meeting at a Mandarin Oriental hotel.
About 1,800 Credit Suisse bankers were opening and servicing Swiss accounts for wealthy Americans by 2008. Some of those bankers helped American clients structure large cash transactions to avoid U.S. reporting requirements, in violation of U.S. law. The bank also used outside parties to supply clients with credit cards that enabled them to secretly draw upon the cash in their Swiss accounts, according to the report.
The situation at Credit Suisse changed in 2008 when UBS came clean about its role in aiding U.S. tax evasion, which led the bank to disclose thousands of accounts as part of a $780 million settlement with Justice. Credit Suisse embarked on a five-year process of closing the Swiss accounts of Americans who refused to disclose them to U.S. authorities. About 18,900 wealthy Americans closed the accounts rather than pay taxes, according to the subcommittee. . .
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussein report in The Intercept:
Moazzam Begg, a native-born British citizen of Pakistani descent, spent three years incarcerated in the most notorious detention camps created in the post-9/11 “War on Terror”: all without ever being charged with any crime.
Arrested in Pakistan in 2002, he was transferred to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where he suffered torture and witnessed U.S. interrogators beat an innocent taxi driver to death, and then onwards to Guantanamo Bay where he would be detained for the next three years in conditions he’d describe as “torturous”.
Throughout this time Begg, now 45, was repeatedly deprived of legal counsel and was prohibited from even viewing the alleged evidence against him. After public outcry in his home country resulted in his repatriation to England in 2005, Begg went on to become a human rights activist — writing books, and advocating for other post-9/11 detainees through his organization Cageprisoners, whose self-described mission is: “working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror”; “campaigning against the War on Terror”; and “working with survivors of abuse and mistreatment across the globe.”
Much of this work has included investigating the claims of others who were tortured with the complicity of the British government. It is in retaliation for this activism, he says, that he has been repeatedly harassed, including repeated interrogations and the confiscation of his passportlast December at Heathrow Airport, when agents told him it was “not in the public interest” for him to retain it. In an article he published about that incident, Begg two weeks ago wrote: “I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed….[is because of] investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.”
On Tuesday, Begg was arrested in an “anti-terror raid” on his home outside Birmingham, charged with “terrorism” offenses for having allegedly traveled to Syria to assist Syrian rebels. He was among four other people arrested that day, all due to Syria-related offences.
Curiously, however, Begg’s last visit to Syria was in the relatively distant past. He visited the country last in December 2012 — for what he said were advocacy purposes and to continue his investigation on torture victims renditioned to the country by Western intelligence agencies. Several individuals of Syrian descent were notoriously renditioned to the Assad regime by the U.S. for interrogation and torture, including the Canadian citizen Maher Arar, whose treatment resulted in a formal apology from the Canadian government and compensation of close to $10 million.
Crucially, it appears that Begg was given explicit permission to take this trip to Syria by Britain’s MI5. In his last article, he described:
[I]n October 2012, I was called by an MI5 officer who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria…I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in East London. Both MI5 and I had our lawyers present. At the end of the meeting I was assured by MI5 that my proposed return to Syria to continue my work would not be hindered, and it wasn’t.
This raises the obvious question: if the British government had concerns about his involvement with militant groups in Syria, why did it specifically meet with him to green-light his trip there? Furthermore, if his arrest was related to his December 2012 trip, why would the government wait more than a year to arrest him for it?
That’s all independent of the bizzare spectacle of charging someone with “terrorism” offenses for allegedly helping rebels which the U.S. government itself is aiding and for whom intervention was advocated by the U.S. president as early as last year. Indeed, in 2012, the year Begg made his trip, the widespread view in the west of Syrian rebels was that they were noble freedom-fighters who deserved as much help as possible, not “terrorists” whom the law made it a crime to assist. In the same year another major visiting supporter to the opposition movement was John McCain – an indication of how much mainstream Western support the uprising enjoyed at the time.
Begg has long been a vituperative critic of the British government’s conduct during the War on Terror but throughout this time he has always been a public figure under constant media and government scrutiny. The notion that he’d be able to engage in terrorism surreptitiously on a trip sanctioned by MI5 — then hide this for over a year — seems dubious in the extreme.
While the timing of his arrest makes little evident sense from a national security perspective, it does appear to correspond remarkably to his advocacy work. . . .
The US and UK intelligence services are out of control. President Obama is no help whatsoever.
An article by Alma Guillermoprieto in the NY Review of Books makes an interesting case: Guzman just wanted out.
At 6:40 AM last Saturday, Joaquín Guzmán Loera was taken prisoner by Mexican Navy special forces in the pretty little seaside resort of Mazatlán, where senior Americans love to retire and where the juniors of the drug trade love to party. Since his escape from jail in 2001, he had moved freely around Mexico, and, it would seem, much of the rest of the world. People who know about these things even say that he was frequently in San Diego, California, shopping for the designer tennis shoes and fancy moccasins he favored. But in the end the best-known, and possibly even the most powerful of Mexico’s many, many drug traffickers was pretty much where he’d always been: in his home state of Sinaloa. He was found dozing peacefully in a plain furnished apartment overlooking Mazatlán’s oceanfront drive—the kind of place rented by families looking to save money on a comfortable vacation. Reportedly, there was a pot of beans on the kitchenette stove at the time of his arrest. His fortune is legendary, but Guzmán has always been a country boy at heart.
His capture was so easy that one wonders if he was tired of the hard life, looking to be caught, needing some relief from the pressure of transporting thousands of tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, you name it, in addition to the daily agony of deciding whom to kill, whom to trust. And then there was all the money requiring cleaning, tons of that too, literally, barrels and cratefuls of cash coming in every week: What to do with the boxes of it left over once the bodyguards, spies, goons, hit men, police officers, judges, mayors, governors, customs officials, army generals, prison guards, railroad workers, trucking bosses, journalists, ranch hands, relatives, cabinet ministers, bank officers, helicopter, jet, and airplane pilots, business associates, and barbers have been paid off? This last item is not negligible; the person who comes in to wield scissors very close to your neck once a month or so and monitor your half-hearted attempts at a disguise—a moustache, a dye job—is someone you definitely want to tip richly if you’re Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán.
Everyone has to be tipped, in fact, every single person you come into contact with—if you’re Guzmán and there’s a seven-million-dollar reward on your head. Tipped and feared. The jefe was reported to drive around Sinaloa and the states of Durango, Chihuahua, and Sonora with an army of bodyguards, in armored cars, lookouts everywhere. It’s a tiresome business, and so it becomes a real question: What was Guzmán doing, slumbering in an apartment building right on Mazatlan’s main tourist drag, five days after Navy special forces knocked down the reinforced metal door to one of his seven houses in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacán, giving him just enough time to escape through one of the tunnels that connected the houses to each other and to the public water system? In the mountains and craggy valleys of the Sierra Madre, Guzmán has been impossible to capture even on those occasions when the security forces showed some interest in doing so. But he fled from Culiacán last week not to the Sierra but to Mazatlán. Perhaps he thought he’d been tipping to everyone´s satisfaction, and miscalculated.
Until the Gulf Coast traffickers made their bid for national coverage starting in the late 1970s, . . .
The tactics to besmirch individual and institutional reputations that the NSA and GCHQ have embraced, as detailed by Glenn Greenwald yesterday, seems to me of questionable legality and unquestionable inappropriate conduct and bad faith. (In today’s military, with its repeated rapes, lies, scandals, and cover-ups, does “conduct unbecoming” have any meaning at all? Certainly “honor” seems long since drained of meaning in the military use of the term.)
At Informed Comment Juan Cole has a good post on what the US and the UK have so wholeheartedly undertaken:
Researchers on online behavior have shown that internet trolls (people who use insincere techniques to disrupt conversations) really are psychopaths, marked by narcisssism, sadism, Machiavellianism. Professors Eric Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus administered surveys to students and found that about 6 percent of them enjoyed messing with other people’s heads on the internet, or trolling. This same group scored high on the four most vicious personality traits, known as the dark tetrad. They agreed when asked questions like this:
I have been compared to famous people (narcissism)
It’s not wise to tell your secrets (Machiavellianism)
Payback needs to be quick and nasty (psychopathy)
Hurting people is exciting (sadism)
In video games, I like the realistic blood sports (vicarious sadism)
Now it turns out that Western intelligence agencies who say that they are fighting al-Qaeda are actually spending time trolling the internet, displaying all the same Dark Tetrad characteristics. Their victims include “hacktivists,” but note that they are targeting these individuals on suspicion of hacking and that the persons targeted have not been convicted of any crime.
Glenn Greenwald at Firstlook reveals the powerpoint slides used by British intelligence (GCHQ) to train its operatives in how to deceive Western publics. It must also be underlined that we simply don’t know who exactly is targeted in cyberspace in this way or why. Some anti-war activists, e.g., may be among the victims.
The powerpoint slides instruct cyber-spies to entrap their “targets” in sex scandals (the “honey trap”), to write deceptive emails to their friends and colleagues (did anyone you know suddenly stop talking to you and wouldn’t explain why?), to change their photos on social media, and to create a blog in which the individual posed as a purported victim of some alleged dastardly deeds falsely attributed to the target. Where the target is a company, the slides advise “post negative information on appropriate forums,” “ruin business relationships”.
The mantra of these dirty tricks units is the “4 D’s”: deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive.
The slides, in short, exhibit signs of sadism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism, the Dark Tetrad. The “d’s” in “four d’s” are best understood as standing for “Darknesses.”
Again, these things were being done by government employees to people they just didn’t like. There is no pretense of law or due process here.
When political organizations and political cults, or when corrupt politicians pull these tricks, it makes them disreputable. Nixon used this playbook, e.g. But here we have civil servants being paid to act this way.
To have such institutions, pay for by taxpayers, engaging in trolling the internet is highly corrosive of the values of a democratic country. Democratic politics depends on . . .
It will be particularly galling later to read some offensive and outrageous comment by an obvious troll and realize that there’s a reasonable likelihood that you paid to have that comment made through your taxes. We are paying the government to troll us. Does that strike anyone else as odd?
Eric Holder is not much of an Attorney General, IMO. Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:
On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a new set of guidelines designed to make it harder for law enforcement officials to seize the records of journalists:
Among other things, the rules create a presumption that prosecutors generally will provide advance notice to the news media when seeking to obtain their communications records….The rules also address a law forbidding search warrants for journalists’ work materials, except when the reporter is a criminal suspect. It says that the exception cannot be invoked for conduct based on “ordinary news-gathering activities.”
….The rules cover grand jury subpoenas used in criminal investigations. They exempt wiretap and search warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and “national security letters,” a kind of administrative subpoena used to obtain records about communications in terrorism and counterespionage investigations.
But Marcy Wheeler points out that most of the DOJ leak investigations that prompted media outrage last year and led to these new rules are, in fact, related to national security. And NSLs have the least oversight of any form of subpoena: they can be issued by just about anyone, and require no approval from a court.
Does this mean, as Wheeler pungently puts it, that these new guidelines are “worth approximately shit” in any leak investigation that’s actually likely to take place? I’m not sure about that. You can’t get a wiretap with an NSL, for example. Still, it certainly seems to be a Mack-truck-sized loophole in these new rules. There’s less here than meets the eye.
Ola Claësson writes at Informed Comment:
The government’s response to the Gezi protests in June 2013 and its obstruction of a graft probe targeting ministers in December the same year has tarnished the perception of Turkey as an improving democracy. But the foreign media tend to ignore to report the combined seriousness of the developments currently taking place in the country. I will now present 3 laws put forward by the democratically elected AK Party, in order to illustrate how they are stepwise trying to dismantle the Turkish democracy.
Law no. 1 – the end of judicial independence
A law aiming to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecuters (HSYK) was passed by the parliament on February 15. The HSYK is the legal organ that appoints prosecutors and judges in Turkey and its structure was aligned with EU standard as a part of the accession process to the European Union in 2010.
The new law, once enacted, will dismiss the entire staff of the board and allow the justice minister to directly appoint its new members. It will thus be the end of judicial independence in the Turkey.
Law no. 2 – the last blow to critical debate
Another law passed by the parliament on February 5 will give the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), a government controlled agency, the power to close down or block any website without a court order. On top of that the law will also enable the agency to store personal data for up to two years, thus raising fears that critical voices on the Internet will be silenced.
The law comes in handy for the government, since incriminating sound recordings of Erdogan and his family has leaked to the Internet. Considering that Turkey already ranks on place 154 of 180 countries in terms of press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders annual list of 2014, this law might as well be the last blow to critical debate in the country.
Law no. 3 – [A Bad Samaritan law - LG]
Last but not least, just to illustrate the ruthless pragmatism practiced by the AK Party in order to stay in power and avoid any criticism, a law making it illegal to give emergency care to an injured person without approval from the health ministry has already been enacted.
This law was tailored as a direct response to the Gezi protests, where many medical students and doctors helped protesters injured by the police brutality. Any one that performs unattained emergency care now risks up to three years in prison. The fact that this law contradicts the very essence of the Hippocratic oath, sworn by doctors all around the world, unfortunately did not stop it from being approved by president Abdullah Gül.
All three laws above have met strong critique from both domestic and international organizations. The government, however, defend them with blatant lies, such as that the Internet law will result in a freer Internet, claiming that the critics does not understand what it means. In meetings with the European Parliament, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also said that the restructuring of the judiciary also would not harm the judicial independence in Turkey.
This way of responding to critical questions has . . .
Amazing report by Billy Corriher at ThinkProgress. The judges in question seem to be inviting an appeal.
A criminal probe in Wisconsin targets several major spenders on state supreme court races. Yet the justices who benefited from that spending will likely get to decide whether this probe moves forward.
Wisconsin prosecutors have been conducting a 2011-2012 campaign finance investigationtargeting Republican candidates in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections and interest groups that spent money to support them. Though some targets of the investigation have not been publicly named, two business groups and a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker (R) have been named as targets.
State campaign finance law prohibits independent spenders—many of which can accept unlimited, secret contributions for political ads—from “coordinating” with candidates’ campaigns. According to the Wall Street Journal, the trial court judge found that the groups did not cross the line into “coordinating” with Republican candidates because the groups’ ads did not explicitly ask voters to “vote for” or “against” candidates. After the court of appealsallowed the investigation to move forward, the groups on Wednesday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear the case and potentially end the investigation.
Two of the targets of the investigation — Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America — are also big spenders on judicial races. Indeed, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, the two groups spent $1.8 million in 2011 on just one candidate — conservative Justice David Prosser.
Yet, despite the potential conflict of interest presented by Prosser and some of his colleagues sitting on a case that concerns his donors, they are under no obligation to recuse. The court’s recusal rule was co-written by a third business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, that reportedly spent more than $5 million supporting conservative members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Under this rule, justices are free to sit on cases involving their donors.
Because many of the details of this case are secret, it’s not entirely clear what role the specific groups that donated to Wisconsin Supreme Court races are playing in this particular litigation — a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicates that “[t]hree anonymous targets of a John Doe investigation of the recall elections” filed this appeal. Nevertheless, the Center for Media and Democracy noted that, “An order from the Wisconsin Supreme Court halting the John Doe campaign finance investigation would directly affect the same organizations that helped put four of the justices on the bench, calling into question whether any of those justices can be impartial.” It’s also worth noting that Wisconsin Club for Growth, which provided Citizens for a Strong America with all $4.62 million of its operating budget in 2011, filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the investigation at the heart of this litigation.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, like the citizens of the state, has become more deeply divided into liberal and conservative factions in recent years. In 2011, as progressives angry about Walker’s union-busting bill organized recall elections for Republican legislators, the court heard a constitutional challenge to Walker’s bill. While the court was deliberating the case, the pressure of Justice Prosser’s reelection campaign and the court’s partisan schism culminated in a physical confrontation. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley claims that Justice Prosser put her in a “chokehold,” although this claim did not lead to criminal charges.
As the political pressure mounted, the court also voted more often along party lines. A 2013 Center for American Progress report examined the court’s rulings in tort cases and found an increase in party-line votes. The report also found that, “As the campaign cash poured in over 10 years, the percentage of unanimous decisions fell from 83 percent to just 25 percent.”
Because of the secretive nature of the “John Doe” investigation, we may not immediately know how the justices vote in the case. But given the court’s clear partisan divide, and its previous actions in highly politicized cases, this case could easily divide on partisan lines as well.