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Obama Administration makes it easier to designate someone as a “terrorist”

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And, of course, once someone is so designated, the US Patriot Act allows them to be imprisoned indefinitely and in secret.  Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux explain at The Intercept:

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat. Because the government tracks “suspected terrorists” as well as “known terrorists,” individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.” Shamsi, who reviewed the document, added, “These criteria should never have been kept secret.”

The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.

“If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it’s a slippery slope we’re sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. “Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn’t make you a terrorist. That’s the kind of information that gets put in there.”

The fallout is personal too. There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and “private entities.” Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome—or impossible—to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 12:52 pm

“The law is a ass”—sometimes Mr. Bumble is right

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In California, some homeowners face a bad choice: pay a $500 fine to the city for not watering their law or pay a $500 fine to the state for watering their lawn.

I suppose they could try watering half their lawn, and pay $250 to each?

It’s hard to respect the law when it presents this sort of situation.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 8:56 am

Posted in Law

Police reactions to Eric Garner’s death from NYPD chokehold

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You might wonder why the NYPD has such a mixed reputation for its attitude toward citizens, particularly citizens of color. Eric Garner was recently killed on Staten Island by a NYPD officer using chokehold, which the police are not allowed to use. Why would a police officer do that when the offense is merely selling cigarettes. For a look into the mindset, check out this forum where police are posting their thoughts. You have to scroll down some at the link to get to the comments from the police.

In other law-enforcement news, the police union chief in Philadelphia stated that the authors of a book on a corrupt narcotics user paid their informants, which of course the police routinely do. But he offered no evidence whatsoever: just a statement that the book should be banned. The comments to the story are good.

In the light of the comments from the Philadelphia police-union chief, I think it’s a VERY good idea to take disciplining of police officers out of the hands of the police union. The police union exists (apparently) to protect police no matter what they do. To give them the authority and responsibility to discipline police officers is a huge conflict of interest, and they will almost certainly find in favor of those providing their financial support (through union dues). Unions have a role, but disciplining their members doesn’t fit that role.

The problem is that we’re moving rapidly in the direction of a police state, where the police assume the right to do whatever they want—including preventing people from taking photos in public: read this brief article from a reporter trying to take photos of the 7 ugliest buildings in Washington DC. For each building he had checked ahead of time whether it would be okay to photograph the building. It was. The cops disagreed. (Glenn Reynolds, a conservative blogger and a law professor, thinks the police are way out of bounds on this.)

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 8:51 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

US Sentencing Commission votes to make drug sentencing change retroactive

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This is good news, though the DoJ seems to be digging in its heels: too much work, they say.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 8:32 am

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

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The simple answer is that Medicare was not reviewing its billing data and seemed to have little interest in stopping fraud.  Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica:

A few years ago, Illinois’ Medicaid program for the poor noticed some odd trends in its billings for group psychotherapy sessions.

Nursing home residents were being taken several times a week to off-site locations, and Medicaid was picking up the tab for both the services and the transportation.

And then there was this: The sessions were often being performed by obstetrician/gynecologists, oncologists and urologists — “people who didn’t have any training really in psychiatry,” Medicaid director Theresa Eagleson recalled.

So Medicaid began cracking down, and spending plummeted after new rules were implemented. In July 2012 the program stopped paying for group psychotherapy altogether for residents of nursing homes.

Yet Illinois doctors are still billing the federal Medicare program for large numbers of the same services, a ProPublica analysis of federal data shows.

Medicare paid Illinois providers for more than 290,000 group psychotherapy sessions in 2012 — more than twice as many sessions as were reimbursed to providers in New York, the state with the second-highest total.

Among the highest billers for group psychotherapy in Illinois were three ob/gyns and a thoracic surgeon. The four combined for 37,864 sessions that year, more than the total for all providers in the state of California. They were reimbursed more than $730,000 by Medicare in 2012 just for psychotherapy sessions, according to an analysis of a separate Medicare data set released in April.

“That’s not good,” Eagleson said when told of the Medicare numbers.

Medicare’s recent data release has led to a string of analyses showing how waste and fraud is inflating the nation’s bill for health care. This work has echoed the findings of ProPublica’s investigation last year into Medicare’s prescription drug program known as Part D, which had fewer barriers to waste and fraud than other government health care programs – and was making less effective use of its own data.

Of the Illinois ob/gyns billing for group psychotherapy, . . .

Continue reading.

Some of these physicians should face criminal charges for fraud and also lose their license to practice medicine.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:09 am

Hedge funds seem to operate from a scam mentality

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Pam Martens reports at Wall Street on Parade:

Only one word comes to mind to describe the testimony taking place before the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations this morning: Machiavellian.

The criminal minds on Wall Street have twisted banking and securities laws into such a pretzel of hubris that neither Congress, Federal Regulators or even the General Accountability Office can say with any confidence if the U.S. financial system is an over-leveraged house of cards. They just don’t know.

According to a copious report released last evening, here’s what hedge funds have been doing for more than a decade with the intimate involvement of global banks: the hedge fund makes a deposit of cash into an account at the bank which has been established so that the hedge fund can engage in high frequency trading of stocks. The account is not in the hedge fund’s name but in the bank’s name. The bank then deposits $9 for every one dollar the hedge fund deposits into the same account. Some times, the leverage reaches as high as 20 to 1.

The hedge fund proceeds to trade the hell out of the account, generating tens of thousands of trades a day using their own high frequency trading program and algorithms. Many of the trades last no more than minutes. The bank charges the hedge fund fees for the trade executions and interest on the money loaned.

Based on a written side agreement, preposterously called a “basket option,” the hedge fund will collect all the profits made in the account in the bank’s name after a year or longer and then characterize millions of trades which were held for less than a year, many for just minutes, as long-term capital gains (which by law require a holding period of a year or longer). Long term capital gains are taxed at almost half the tax rate of the top rate on short term gains.

There are so many banking crimes embedded in this story that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the one most dangerous to the safety and soundness of banks: extension of margin credit.

Under Federal law known as Regulation T, it is perceived wisdom on Wall Street that a bank or broker-dealer cannot extend more than 50 percent margin on a stock account. But since the banks involved in these basket options called these accounts their own proprietary trading accounts, even though the hedge fund had full control over the trading and ultimate ownership of profits, the banks were justified (in their minds) with thumbing their nose at a bedrock of doing business on Wall Street.

We learn from a footnote in the Senate’s report that hedge funds have gamed Regulation T further. The report . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in Business, Law

Church Lawyer Details Cover-up Claims on Sex Abuse

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How the Catholic church betrayed its parishioners by helping pedophiles, explained by a church lawyer in an ABC  News article:

A canon lawyer alleging a widespread cover-up of clergy sex misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has made her most detailed claims yet, accusing archbishops and their top staff of lying to the public and of ignoring the U.S. bishops’ pledge to have no tolerance of priests who abuse.

Jennifer Haselberger, who spent five years as Archbishop John Nienstedt’s archivist and top adviser on Roman Catholic church law, also charged that the church used a chaotic system of record-keeping that helped conceal the backgrounds of guilty priests who remained on assignment.

Haselberger said that when she started examining records in 2008 of clergy under restrictions over sex misconduct with adults and children she found “nearly 20″ of the 48 men still in ministry. She said she repeatedly warned Nienstedt and his aides about the risk of these placements, but they took action only in one case. As a result of raising alarms, she said she was eventually shut out of meetings about priest misconduct. She resigned last year.

“Had there been any serious desire to implement change, it could have been done quickly and easily with the stroke of a single pen,” Haselberger wrote in the affidavit, released Tuesday in a civil lawsuit brought by attorney Jeff Anderson. “The archbishop’s administrative authority in his diocese is basically unlimited.”

The archdiocese has for years pledged it was following the national bishops’ policy, known as the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which lays out a series of requirements — from conducting background checks to alerting parishioners about offender priests and barring guilty clergy from parish assignments. Archbishop Harry Flynn, who led the Minneapolis archdiocese until retiring in 2008, was an architect of the 12-year-old plan.

But Haselberger said she discovered in 2008 that the archdiocese hadn’t conducted background checks on most priests since the early 1990s. When she drew attention to the lapse, she said she was told to eliminate references to the date of background checks in a form pledging a priest is suitable for ministry. . .

Continue reading.

I do not think Catholic officials in the US are excused from obeying the law, but many seem to act as though that were true. If you read the complete article you will see that Catholic officials quite deliberately broke the law because they thought it was “better for the Church” to keep pedophile priests (some of whom were paid extra) in the Church.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 9:46 am

Posted in Law, Religion

Glaser, Cuomo, and the Refusals That Made the Story

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I blogged earlier on Andrew Cuomo, who increasingly seems to be corrupt, and his relationship with Howard Glaser. Nicole Bronzan has a brief article in ProPublica—and there’s a podcast at the link:

Justin Elliott (@JustinElliott) was doing his poking around a year ago when he uncovered a story he hadn’t even known existed, he tells Assistant Managing Editor Eric Umansky (@ericuman) in this week’s podcast.

Looking into the relationship between Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry lobbyist, and Andrew Cuomo, now New York’s governor, he filed a Freedom of Information request for Glaser’s emails in that capacity. The state denied the request, citing Glaser’s role as a consultant in Cuomo’s investigation into the mortgage industry during his time as attorney general — a previously unreported fact.

It was a surprising twist on the revolving door between government and industry, Elliott says: “Howard Glaser was on both sides of that door at the same time, and not only that, at least two of the companies that Andrew Cuomo was investigating as attorney general were actually acknowledged clients of Glaser.”

Umansky takes a moment to “savor the deliciousness” of that turn of events. “In the course of objecting to and fighting our open records request,” he says, “their argument for that actually turned out to be revealing another story to us.”

In the end, one of Glaser’s clients ended up getting immunity, Elliott says, which may have made sense for the investigation, but it’s never been reported that Cuomo ever used any information obtained as part of the deal with the due diligence firm Clayton. “It’s not clear why this deal was made,” he says.

Meanwhile, Glaser had a prominent role in news reports about Cuomo’s investigations, including the story that broke the news of the 2007 deal with Clayton, Elliott says– but without mention of his role consulting for the attorney general’s office. “If you read the New York Times story, which we link to in our story, who’s quoted in it? None other than Howard Glaser, as a mortgage consultant,” he says. “Story doesn’t mention the fact that Glaser had worked for both Clayton and Cuomo.”

Asked for answers about all this, Glaser instead began a Twitter campaign against ProPublica and its founding funder weeks before the article was published, Elliott says.

That “prebuttal” of the story actually worked against him in the end, Umansky says, calling it one of the “great moments in PR management.” In response to Glaser’s tweets, “a number of reporters started tweeting about their interest in seeing what the story was.”

By publishing time, ProPublica’s publicity team already had a head start, thanks to Glaser.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

D.C. man exonerated in 1982 rape and murder; DNA reveals FBI error in conviction

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This was an FBI “elite” unit. God knows what their regular units do. Keith Alexander and Spencer Hsu report for the Washington Post:

A D.C. Superior Court judge concluded Monday that DNA evidence exonerates a man who spent 26 years in prison for the 1982 rape and murder of a Washington woman.

Kevin Martin’s case marks the fifth time in as many years that federal prosecutors in D.C. acknowledged that errors by an elite FBI forensic unit have led to a wrongful conviction.

U.S. attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. joined defense calls to vacate Martin’s conviction and declare him innocent of the rape and murder of Ursula C. Brown. Machen cited DNA evidence that contradicts a previous finding by forensic experts linking Martin to a hair collected at the scene.

Martin, who had long professed innocence in the killing, left the D.C. courthouse with his name cleared. He was paroled in 2009 and lives in San Francisco.

“I am free at last. I am humbled. I never gave up,” Martin said, hugging and high-fiving his attorneys. Martin’s younger sister, his fiancée, his 6-year-old niece and other family members gathered around.

“I just want to live,” said Martin, 50,

The hearing came as Machen’s office nears the end of a 2-1 / 2 year review of all local convictions involving FBI hair matches that was launched in 2012 after demands by the D.C. Public Defender Service. The service has worked to exonerate four men convicted by such matches since 2009. And the troubling problems exposed in the FBI lab’s methods have led the FBI and Justice Department to undertake a nationwide review of more than 2,100 convictions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Martin’s is the first exoneration uncovered by District prosecutors, who also say it is the only one found by the local review. PDS praised the effort to clear Martin’s name but criticized the U.S. Attorney’s Office review as secretive and the disclosure of results as incomplete and overdue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 11:29 am

The government doesn’t seem to care about protecting your data

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You credit card numbers and expiration dates sent (and stored) without encryption, for example. See this article at Ars Technica by Cyrus Farivar. From the article:

. . . Hasbrouck pointed out that the more information the airlines choose to retain, the more of an opportunity the government has to build a profile on me. “They have seat assignments [and] could probably search who is seated next to you for social network analysis,” he said. “You have no way of knowing when you’re using this website which information they are storing.”

“This is not to catch people under suspicion; this is for the purpose of finding new suspects,” Hasbrouck added.

I asked Travelocity about its practices and received a statement from Keith Nowak, a company spokesman.

“As the ticketing agents to the airlines, travel agencies like Travelocity routinely provide ticketing and other relevant passenger data to the airlines to help facilitate passenger flight requests,” he said, declining to answer further specific questions. “Once this data has been transferred, the airlines use the data for appropriate operational purposes, and the airlines determine how and when the data may be shared with other parties. As a partner in this process, Travelocity consistently complies with all relevant data privacy and data security requirements.”

He declined to respond to how or why my credit card number was transmitted in the clear.

Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, said that my story raises a lot of questions about what the government is doing.

“Why isn’t the government complying with even the most basic cybersecurity standards?” Cate said. “Storing and transmitting credit card numbers without encryption has been found by the Federal Trade Commission to be so obviously dangerous as to be ‘unfair’ to the public. Why do transportation security officials not comply with even these most basic standards?”

The goal of PNR collection, according to CBP, is “to enable CBP to make accurate, comprehensive decisions about which passengers require additional inspection at the port of entry based on law enforcement and other information.”

This information is retained for quite some time in government databases. CBP publicly states that PNR data is typically kept for five years before being moved to “dormant, non-operational status.” But in my case, my earliest PNR goes back to March 2005. A CBP spokesperson was unable to explain this discrepancy. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 11:08 am

The drawbacks of videotaped confessions and interrogations

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Very interesting article on how choices of camera angles can completely change the conclusions one draws from a videotaped interrogation. Obviously, adding background music would make it even worse…

The CIA made sure that its videotapes of its own brutal interrogations did not get misinterpreted by destroying all the videotapes. (Obvious reason for destruction: war crimes and heinous brutality.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 9:29 am

FBI shutters site prostitutes used to protect themselves, ostensibly to protect prostitutes

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This reminds me of an earlier post this morning: how “humanitarian intervention” is the phrase used to whitewash a war of aggression.

The article by Radley Balko in the Washington Post shows how cynical the FBI is. He quotes the following from CNN:

 Late last month, the FBI raided and shut down MyRedbook, a website that allowed escorts to advertise their services and negotiate with clients.

Women in the industry relied heavily on MyRedbook to do background checks on their clients. Sex workers would post about instances of violence or circumstances in which they felt unsafe.

Without MyRedbook, prostitutes are having a difficult time vetting their clients.

“It’s like sex workers lost their Yelp,” said Bay Area sex worker and activist “Siouxsie Q.”

Male clients also used the site to review and discuss their experiences.

That’s why call girls say that the further underground sex work goes, the more dangerous it is for everyone involved.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 9:23 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

The “Show Me” state refuses to be shown re: Prescription drug database

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Missouri is the only state that refuses to create a prescription drug database to detect and prevent prescription drug abuse. The reasons seem to be a refusal to be shown. The NY Times story by Alan Schwarz begins:

On his office phone at L & S Pharmacy, Richard Logan listened as a doctor’s office detailed how a patient had just left with her third prescription for painkillers in only nine days — and was quite possibly getting more, illegally, elsewhere.

Mr. Logan, 61, holstered two guns, slipped on a bulletproof vest and jumped into his truck. Because in his small corner of America’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse, Mr. Logan is no ordinary pharmacist. He is also a sheriff’s deputy who, when alerted to someone acquiring fraudulent drug prescriptions, goes out to catch that person himself.

“I’m only one guy, and for every person we get to, there are probably 100 who we can’t,” Mr. Logan said. “How many people have to get addicted and die for us to do what everyone else is doing about it?”
Continue reading the main story

His frustration stems from this: Missouri is the only state in America that has declined to keep a prescription drug database — the primary tool the other 49 states use to identify people who acquire excess prescriptions for addictive painkillers and tranquilizers, as well as the physicians who overprescribe them.

Not having the database has not only hampered Missouri’s ability to combat prescription drug abuse, but also attracted people from neighboring states looking to stockpile pills and bring them home to take themselves or sell to others, according to law enforcement officials, legislators and data compiled by a prescription drug processing firm.

“Welcome to Missouri — America’s Drugstore,” said Dr. Douglas Char, an emergency room physician in St. Louis. “We aren’t just allowing abuse, we’ve created a business model for dealers.”

Drug monitoring programs, whose procedures and powers can vary significantly from state to state, all share a similar strategy: to require doctors, pharmacists or both to enter all prescriptions into a database that can — or, in some states, must — be consulted later to make sure patients do not get excess medication.

Because many states’ programs appear effective, Missouri has been urged to put one into effect. Among those calling for a change are Missouri medical associations, members of Congress from neighboring states, the White House and even Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, the St. Louis-based manufacturer of oxycodone, the highly abused prescription painkiller.

But while proponents say the vast majority of the Legislature supports the measure, it has been blocked by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 8:33 am

Uber as a target of law enforcement

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Very interesting incident, well reported: Denver Police harassing Uber driver (and passenger as well). Being able to use a smartphone to do research on the spot (not to mention the camera and video capabilities) certainly changes the nature of interactions with police.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 7:47 am

DEA may be losing the war on marijuana politics

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Amazing article in the LA Times by Evan Halper:

For narcotics agents, who often confront hostile situations, Capitol Hill has been a refuge where lawmakers stand ready to salute efforts in the nation’s war on drugs.

Lately, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration has found itself under attack in Congress as it holds its ground against marijuana legalization while the resolve of longtime political allies — and the White House and Justice Department to which it reports — rapidly fades.

“For 13 of the 14 years I have worked on this issue, when the DEA came to a hearing, committee members jumped over themselves to cheerlead,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group. “Now the lawmakers are not just asking tough questions, but also getting aggressive with their arguments.”
Q&A
Related story: The mother of marijuana legalization: Pot comes ‘out of the shadows’
Related story: The mother of marijuana legalization: Pot comes ‘out of the shadows’
Maria L. La Ganga

So far this year, the DEA’s role in the seizure of industrial hemp seeds bound for research facilities in Kentucky drew angry rebukes from the Senate’s most powerful Republican. The GOP-controlled House recently voted to prohibit federal agents from busting medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws. And that measure, which demonstrated a shared distaste for the DEA’s approach to marijuana, brought one of the Senate’s most conservative members together with one of its most liberal in a rare bipartisan alliance.

How much the agency’s stock has fallen was readily apparent in the House debate, when Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) denounced the agency’s longtime chief.

“She is a terrible agency head,” Polis said of Administrator Michele Leonhart.

The two had previously clashed over the DEA’s insistence that marijuana continue to be classified as among the most dangerous narcotics in existence.

“She has repeatedly embarrassed her agency before this body,” Polis said.

Leonhart, who declined through a spokesman to be interviewed, is not getting much backup from the White House.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 1:47 pm

“Not enough bullets”

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Read this column by Radley Balko on a drug-raid in Utah that ended badly—and from which the police took all the wrong lessons. The police seem to see themselves at war with civilians and operate as though they are in enemy territory.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 9:52 am

The police state in action

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Lisa Falkenberg writes in the Houston Chronicle:

“Sir, I don’t know anything else,” the young mother of three told a Harris County prosecutor on an April morning in 2003.

But the prosecutor, Dan Rizzo, didn’t believe her. And neither did the Harris County grand jury listening to her testimony.

They seemed convinced that Ericka Jean Dockery’s boyfriend of six months, Alfred Dewayne Brown, had murdered veteran Houston police officer Charles R. Clark during a three-man burglary of a check-cashing place, and they didn’t seem to be willing to believe Dockery’s testimony that he was at her house the morning of the murder.

“If we find out that you’re not telling the truth, we’re coming after you,” one grand juror tells Dockery.

“You won’t be able to get a job flipping burgers,” says another.

Dockery tells the group that if she believed Brown actually killed people, she’d turn him in herself: “If he did it, he deserves to get whatever is coming to him. Truly,” she says.

In May, I reported that a land-line phone record supporting Brown’s contention that he called Dockery that morning from her apartment phone had mysteriously turned up in a homicide detective’s garage, more than seven years after he was convicted and sentenced to death. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office maintained Rizzo, now retired, must have inadvertently lost the record, and agreed to a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals inexplicably has sat on the case for more than a year.

Initially, Dockery’s story meshed with Brown’s. She told grand jurors he was indeed asleep on her couch at the early morning hour when prosecutors believed he was scouting venues. Dockery also confirmed the land-line call to her workplace – made at the same time prosecutors placed Brown at an apartment complex with suspects, changing clothes and watching TV news coverage of the crime.

Neither the prosecutor nor the grand jury would take Dockery’s “truth” for an answer.

The young woman, a home health aide who made Subway sandwiches by night, had no attorney. No experience dealing with authorities. No criminal history aside from traffic tickets.

She caved. At Brown’s capital murder trial in October 2005, Dockery was a key prosecution witness, helping seal her boyfriend’s death sentence by telling the court that when she asked him if he did it, he had confessed, saying, “ ’I was there. I was there.’ ”

How she got from one point to another would be hard to imagine. But thanks to a formerly confidential document in Brown’s court file, we don’t have to imagine.

Part of public record

In a rare, disturbing glimpse into the shrouded world of the Texas grand jury system, we can read with our own eyes the beginnings of the young woman’s tortured evolution.

Appellate attorneys were so outraged by a 146-page transcript of Dockery’s testimony before the 208th Harris County grand jury on April 21, 2003, that they entered it into the public record for judges to review.

In it, grand jurors don’t just inquire. They interrogate. They intimidate. They appear to abandon their duty to serve as a check on overzealous government prosecution and instead join the team.

“Unbelievable,” veteran criminal defense attorney Pat McCann said after I asked him to read the document. “When she went in there, Mr. Brown had an alibi. When they were finished browbeating her with her children, he didn’t. That’s the single biggest misuse and abuse of the grand jury system I have ever seen.”

Rizzo and Lynn Hardaway with the DA’s office declined comment, citing a state law that keeps grand jury proceedings secret.

At first, the fact that Dockery seemed to be “a good, nice, hard-working lady,” in the words of one grand juror, gave her credibility with the group. But jurors soon seized on her vulnerabilities and fear.

“Hey, Dan,” the foreman calls to the prosecutor. “What are the punishments for perjury and aggravated perjury?”

“It’s up to 10 years,” Rizzo responds.

“In prison. OK,” the foreman says.

“Oh no,” says another grand juror as if on cue, echoing other commentary that reads at times like a Greek chorus.

Every word challenged

“I’m just trying to answer all your questions to the best of my ability,” Dockery says.

A bit later, a female juror asks pointedly: “What are you protecting him from?”

“I’m not protecting him from anything. No ma’am. I wouldn’t dare do that,” Dockery eventually responds. As Rizzo and the grand jurors parse Dockery’s every word and challenge each statement, she complains they’re confusing her.

“No, we’re not confusing you,” a grand juror says. “We just want to find out the truth.”

Although Dockery says repeatedly that she knew it was Brown on her couch that morning, the foreman tries to get her to subscribe to an implausible theory that it was somebody else on her couch.

She doesn’t budge. The group takes a break – one of several.

When the grand jury returns, the foreman says the members are not convinced by Dockery’s story and “wanted to express our concern” for her children if she doesn’t come clean.

“That’s why we’re really pulling this testimony,” the foreman tells her.

The foreman adds that if the evidence shows she’s perjuring herself “then you know the kids are going to be taken by Child Protective Services, and you’re going to the penitentiary and you won’t see your kids for a long time.” . . .

Continue reading. It is astonishing.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 9:15 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

One example of why it is difficult to have respect for Obama’s Dept of Justice

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Evan McMorris-Santoro reports in Buzzfeed:

Earlier this year, the Obama administration Justice Department announced sweeping reductions in the sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, an announcement that was heralded in the press and by advocates, liberal and conservative alike.

But when it comes to people already in prison for those very same drug offenses, the Justice Department is taking a very different stance: Officials have recommended a policy that would keep tens of thousands behind bars under the old guidelines, a decision that has set off a firestorm among advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle.

The sentencing rules for federal drug crimes were established in the 1980s, sending thousands to prison for long sentences with the goal of reducing drug crime — a policy demonstrated to disparately affect minorities, and the subject of intense advocacy in recent years. The Justice Department announced its support earlier this year for new guidelines recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that will lower the sentences for future offenders by an average of 11 months versus sentences handed down today.

Since that decision, however, the department has asked the commission, an independent board that creates sentencing guidelines for federal courts, to make thousands of drug offenders currently serving time exempt from those rule changes. On Friday, the commission will vote on the issue. Sources familiar expect the ruling to come sometime in the mid-afternoon.

In the balance: Whether 50,000 drug offenders serving time will be able to petition a judge to review their sentences according to the new standards.

That number represents around 25% of the total federal prison population — approximately 210,000 convicts — a daunting figure that has made even the advocates for change in the Justice Department blanch.

“The Justice Department is being very pragmatic here,” said Doug Berman, a professor at Ohio State law school and a leading expert on the Sentencing Commission and its decisions. Inside the department, there are fears about what allowing 50,000 prisoners to have their sentences reevaluated will mean. . .

Continue reading.

Shorter version: The Justice Department could reduce unjust sentences for thousands of prisoners, but it would be a lot of work, so DOJ will just let them stay in prison. After all, no skin off the DOJ’s nose, eh?

Contemptible.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 9:09 am

What Gil Kerlikowske is doing at Border Patrol

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I’m sort of keeping an eye on the US Border Patrol to see what changes Gil Kerlikowske will make. He certainly seems to have done a good job as chief of police in Seattle, but his tenure at DEA did not produce any positive changes in that organization. The Border Patrol, another out-of-control law-enforcement operation, may give him a better chance to make positive changes, since the Border Patrol was in crisis, and it seems likely that Kerlikowske was given the authority to make serious change.

In this NPR interview (transcript at the link), he describes some of his initiatives—for example, getting a new head of internal affairs from outside the Border Patrol—someone on loan from the FBI. This is highly encouraging.

Read the interview for more. It sounds good. And it’s an extremely interesting article—for example, the drawbacks of putting police in riot gear (face masks, body shields, etc.) instead of in normal police uniforms.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 7:47 am

The case for decriminalizing heroin, cocaine, and all other drugs

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German Lopez makes a strong case at Vox.com. It is really unclear why we don’t try experimenting with wholesale legalization, regulation, taxation, and treatment.

America’s war on drugs has, by several measures, failed to live up to its goals.

Over the past couple of decades, illicit drug use has not decreased in a significant way. At the same time, the war on drugs has fallen short of its key economic goal: to make drugs more expensive, and therefore make them less accessible to drug users.

Even the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to agree with this point. In a release detailing the Obama administration’s new anti-drug strategy, Michael Botticelli, acting director of ONDCP, wrote, “This Strategy … rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.”

The White House’s strategy, to be sure, doesn’t completely do away with incarceration and law enforcement in the fight against drugs, but the statement acknowledges that the last 40 years of the war on drugs have not produced the desired results.

Given the failures of the war on drugs and the spread of marijuana legalization, many drug policy experts are now thinking about what’s next. What should happen with other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, if the war on drugs isn’t working? Should illicit drugs even be considered illegal in the first place?

I reached out to three drug policy experts for answers. They agreed that the criminalization of drugs has clearly failed, but where drug policy should go next remains a matter of debate.

There’s one point of agreement: the war on drugs is a failure

No matter their academic background or political leanings, there seems to be a consensus among many drug policy experts that the criminalization of drugs hasn’t worked. This is the one point of agreement among Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert at UCLA; Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the libertarian Cato Institute; and Isaac Campos, a drug historian at the University of Cincinnati.

The war on drugs goes after drug producers and dealers in an attempt to cut drugs at the source — before they reach the user. The idea is to cut down the supply, so drugs are more expensive and, therefore, less affordable and accessible for a drug user. [And, OTOH, with more money at stake and to be made, you have created a lucrative opportunity for miscreants who don't shirk from breaking the law. It seems counter-productive---and, in fact, it is, as the article demonstrates. - LG]

One way to check whether this strategy has succeeded is by looking at whether the price of drugs has gone up during prohibition. According to the most recent report from the White House’s ONDCP, that’s not the case. The prices of cocaine, crack, and heroin plummeted then stabilized in the past few decades, and meth’s price has remained largely stable since the 1980s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Law, Politics, Science

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