Later On

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Archive for July 10th, 2012

FBI misdeeds

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I’ve written a number of posts about FBI incompetence. It’s breathtaking. Today’s report in the Washington Post by Spencer Hsu tells of a man who spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit—and the FBI knew about it long ago:

Federal prosecutors agreed Tuesday that a Washington man imprisoned for 20 years for rape is innocent and they acknowledged scientific errors in his case after DNA evidence proved that another man committed the crime.

Kirk L. Odom will become the second District man in two months and the third in three years to have his conviction for rape or murder overturned because of erroneous hair matches claimed in court by FBI forensic experts.

Odom’s case was featured in a series of articles in April in which The Washington Post reported that Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people.

Read the previous story: “One day will my name be cleared?”

Odom, 49, served his sentence and was released from prison in 2003. He was convicted of raping, sodomizing and robbing a 27-year-old woman before dawn in her Capitol Hill apartment in 1981. However, court-ordered DNA testing revealed in January that the hair fragment in his case could not have come from Odom.

Further DNA testing of stains on a pillowcase and robe indicated that only another man, not Odom, could have committed the crime.

“More than 30 years after Mr. Odom’s conviction, DNA testing reveals that he suffered a terrible injustice,” U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. wrote in a two-page filing in D.C. Superior Court.

“The United States expresses its profound regret for the harm suffered by Mr. Odom, and requests that this Court immediately vacate Mr. Odom’s convictions and dismiss the indictments against him with prejudice,” Machen wrote.

Odom, who was identified in court as the attacker by the victim, was thrilled at the news.

“Oh my goodness, the storm is over, yes yes!” Odom said from the office of his attorney, Sandra K. Levick, chief of special litigation for the District Public Defender Service.

“There’s no more dark clouds, and the sun is beginning to shine very bright,” said Odom, who lives in Southeast Washington with his wife, Harriet, a medical counselor.

Asked if he would say anything to police or prosecutors, or to the victim, Odom responded, “There’s nothing much to say except, ‘God bless you.’ ”

The Post generally does not name victims of sexual assaults without their permission.

The man whose DNA matched the stains is a convicted sex offender. He will not be charged, because the statute of limitations has expired on the crime, Machen said.

In a written statement, Machen endorsed eliminating the statute of limitations on sex crimes.

“Though we can never give him back the years that he lost, we can give Mr. Odom back his unfairly tarnished reputation,” Machen wrote. “Three decades ago, law enforcement got it wrong: Mr. Odom did not commit this crime. . . . It is never too late to secure justice — even if that means correcting a grave injustice from decades earlier.”

Odom would become the 293rd person cleared by post-conviction DNA testing in the United States, after the judge rules on what is now a joint motion between the prosecution and defense. . .

Continue reading. It makes you wonder how many people have been wrongly executed. We know of one, at least, in Texas, though Rick Perry has desperately tried to cover that up.

And note this story from April, again by Spencer Hsu:

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

The case of a Maryland man serving a life sentence for a 1981 double killing is another in which federal and local law enforcement officials knew of forensic problems but never told the defendant. Attorneys for the man, John Norman Huffington, say they learned of potentially exculpatory Justice Department findings from The Washington Post. They are seeking a new trial.

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

The review was performed by a task force created during an inspector general’s investigation of misconduct at the FBI crime lab in the 1990s. The inquiry took nine years, ending in 2004, records show, but the findings were never made public.

In the discipline of hair and fiber analysis, only the work of FBI Special Agent Michael P. Malone was questioned. Even though Justice Department and FBI officials knew that the discipline had weaknesses and that the lab lacked protocols — and learned that examiners’ “matches” were often wrong — they kept their reviews limited to Malone.

But two cases in D.C. Superior Court show the inadequacy of the government’s response.

Santae A. Tribble, now 51, was convicted of killing a taxi driver in 1978, and Kirk L. Odom, now 49, was convicted of a sexual assault in 1981.

Key evidence at each of their trials came from separate FBI experts — not Malone — who swore that their scientific analysis proved with near certainty that Tribble’s and Odom’s hair was at the respective crime scenes.

But DNA testing this year on the hair and on other old evidence virtually eliminates Tribble as a suspect and completely clears Odom. Both men have completed their sentences and are on lifelong parole. They are now seeking exoneration in the courts in the hopes of getting on with their lives.

Neither case was part of the Justice Department task force’s review.

A third D.C. case shows how the lack of Justice Department notification has forced people to stay in prison longer than they should have.

Donald E. Gates, 60, served 28 years for . . .

Continue reading. How do you describe a government that knowingly keeps innocent people in prison for decades? I would not call it democratic, open, or responsive. I would call it totalitarian and authoritarian.

This is the Federal Department of Justice: the very heart of our legal system. I don’t see much hope for the US, to be honest.


Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 7:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Increasing authoritarianism and bureaucratic bullying

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Marisa Taylor reports in McClatchy:

One of the nation’s most secretive intelligence agencies is pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, pushing the ethical and legal boundaries of a program that’s designed instead to catch spies and terrorists.

The National Reconnaissance Office is so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior that officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with cash bonuses, a McClatchy investigation found.

The disclosures include a wide range of behavior and private thoughts such as drug use, child abuse, suicide attempts, depression and sexual deviancy. The agency, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites, records the sessions that were required for security clearances and stores them in a database.

Even though it’s aggressively collecting the private disclosures, when people confess to serious crimes such as child molestation they’re not always arrested or prosecuted.

“You’ve got to wonder what the point of all of this is if we’re not even going after child molesters,” said Mark Phillips, a veteran polygrapher who resigned from the agency in late May after, he says, he was retaliated against for resisting abusive techniques. “This is bureaucracy run amok. These practices violate the rights of Americans, and it’s not even for a good reason.”

The agency refused to answer McClatchy’s questions about its practices. However, it’s acknowledged in internal documents that it’s not supposed to directly ask more personal questions but says it legally collects the information when people spontaneously confess, often at the beginning of the polygraph test.

After a legal review of Phillips’ assertions, the agency’s assistant general counsel Mark Land concluded in April that it did nothing wrong. “My opinion, based on all of the facts, is that management’s action is legally supportable and corrective action is not required,” he wrote.

But McClatchy’s review of hundreds of documents – including internal policy documents, memos and agency emails – indicates that the National Reconnaissance Office is pushing ethical and possibly legal limits by: . . .

Continue reading. And note later in the story our authoritarian Democratic administration shows its priorities:

Last month, the Obama administration announced that federal agencies, including the National Reconnaissance Office, now may ask employees and applicants during polygraph screenings whether they’ve leaked classified information to the news media.

And related stories:

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 7:07 pm

Welcome to the rest of your life

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I continue to be amazed that the US seems quite okay with going along with global warming. What we’ve had so far is from just a little more than 1ºF in global warming. By 2100 the global temperature will have risen by 9ºF to 11ºF. Think about what it will be like.

And we do nothing. And the GOP says that it is not happening. And energy companies want to put a LOT more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Why is this ignored? How can it be ignored?


More here.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Global warming, Video

Slow-motion collapse of American entrepreneurship

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Very interesting article in The Washington Monthly by Barry Lynn and Lina Khan:

“For all its current economic woes,” the Economist magazine recently asserted, “America remains a beacon of entrepreneurialism.” That idea is at the heart of America’s self-image. Both parties celebrate entrepreneurial small business as the fount of innovation and growth. Even if America no longer manufactures its own smartphones or computers, we cling to the idea that American entrepreneurs invent most of the new products and services that matter to the world.

Americans also view entrepreneurialism as a vital route to upward mobility—a way for average people to build wealth, in the form of a business venture that can be passed on to one’s children or sold upon retirement. Whether it’s the family farm or the local diner, small businesses have traditionally provided citizens not only with income but also with a place to teach kids the value of responsibility and hard work.

Then there’s the role entrepreneurs play in creating jobs. One recent study by the Small Business Administration (SBA) showed that businesses with fewer than twenty employees were responsible for more than 97 percent of all new jobs between 1988 and 2004.

More broadly, Americans have traditionally seen entrepreneurship as a crucial measure of the nation’s political vibrancy and liberty. We hold that the more independent citizens we have, the more widely power, responsibility, and voice will be distributed, and hence the stronger our democracy will be. The basic thinking here was best expressed by James Madison more than 200 years ago, when he wrote that the “greater the proportion” of citizens who are their own masters, “the more free, the more independent, and the more happy must be society itself.”

Yet how much does this faith in the vigor of American entrepreneurialism stand up to scrutiny? To a casual news consumer, it might seem that it has never been easier to launch and grow a new venture. One highly publicized study claimed that the United States leads all major industrial economies in the percentage of the adult population engaged in entrepreneurial activity. “We are in the midst of the largest entrepreneurial surge this country has ever seen,” a CNNMoney article tells us. Or, as the Council on Competitiveness has observed, “One of the critical drivers of America’s economic dynamism and flexibility has been the strength of its entrepreneurial economy.”

Last summer, however, a report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation exposed a big crack at the base of this widely held belief. “Even before the overall economy started its most recent downturn,” the authors noted, the number of business births had already “peaked.” Worse, with the onset of the Great Recession these numbers began to “plummet,” with the number of new independent employers dropping 27 percent in only three years.

This spring Kauffman followed with a second report that was in many ways even more dire. Compared to a generation ago, the report said, it is now much harder to start a business in America and keep it running. In 1980 “young firms”—those less than five years old—accounted for almost half of all going concerns. By 2010, their share of the total had collapsed to less than 35 percent. And as the Kauffman authors made clear, this doesn’t only mean less opportunity for America’s entrepreneurs. It also means millions fewer jobs every year, and much less economic growth.

Inspired by Kauffman’s report last summer, we set out to examine for ourselves the health of America’s entrepreneurial economy. What we discovered is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 11:07 am

Posted in Business

Is the NYPD able to tell the truth?

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I’ve already blogged about the NYPD’s rotten state. Now it turns out that even when they claim great achievements, they are lying. Justin Elliott in ProPublica does some fact-checking on the NYPD’s claimed successes in their anti-terrorism program:

The NYPD is regularly held up as one of the most sophisticated and significant counterterrorism operations in the country. As evidence of the NYPD’s excellence, the department, its allies and the media have repeatedly said the department has thwarted or helped thwart 14 terrorist plots against New York since Sept 11.

In a glowing profile of Commissioner Ray Kelly published in Newsweek last month, for example, journalist Christopher Dickey wrote of the commissioner’s tenure since taking office in 2002: The record “is hard to argue with: at least 14 full-blown terrorist attacks have been prevented or failed on Kelly’s watch.”

The figure has been cited repeatedly in the media, by New York congressmen, and byKelly himself. The NYPD itself has published the full listsaying terrorists have “attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots.”

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in March: “We have the best police department in the world and I think they show that every single day and we have stopped 14 attacks since 9/11 fortunately without anybody dying.”

Is it true?

In a word, no.

A review of the list shows a much more complicated reality — that the 14 figure overstates both the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks.

The list includes two and perhaps three clear-cut terrorist plots, including a failed attempt to bomb Times Square by a Pakistani-American in 2010 that the NYPD did not stop.

Of the 11 other cases, there are three in which government informants played a significant or dominant role (by, for example, providing money and fakes bombs to future defendants); four cases whose credibility or seriousness has been questioned by law enforcement officials, including episodes in which skeptical federal officials declined to bring charges; and another four cases in which an idea for a plot was abandoned or not pursued beyond discussion.

In addition, the NYPD itself does not appear to have played a major role in breaking up most of the alleged plots on the list. In several cases, it played no role at all.

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment on the list of 14 alleged plots and how it was assembled. A spokesman for Bloomberg declined to comment.

The following is a breakdown of the plots on the NYPD’s list. . .

Continue reading. Bloomberg seems completely uninterested in reforming the NYPD, so I expect the department will continue to be a troublespot.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 10:54 am

Posted in Government, Law

Interesting pattern of withheld reports by the NY Times

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You may recall that in the lead-up to the Bush-Gore election—an election so close the Supreme Court stepped in to overrule the Florida Supreme Court in order to give the election to Bush (a decision the Supreme Court said should not be used as a precedent for any further cases: it was just a one-off, simply to make sure Bush became president)—the NY Times had an explosive story on Bush’s wholesale illegal wiretapping of American citizens. Bill Keller, the editor at the time, held the story back and did not release it until after the election, presumably because he thought reporting the wrong-doing by the Bush White House would help Al Gore, as it undoubtedly would have, had the NY Times heeded its own slogan, “All The News That’s Fit To Print.” But that slogan—and the editorial integrity of the NY Times—were no longer operational.

Yesterday I blogged about how a NY Times story about recent extreme weather events—exactly the kind of extreme weather that has been predicted to be a result of global warming—did not mention global warming at all. I suddenly realized that, if the Times had included the connection with global warming in the report, it may have hurt the GOP, since the GOP has completely embraced the idea that global warming is not happening. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has many times stated that the whole idea is a hoax perpetuated by some conspiracy of scientists, who wish to fool the public.

So apparently the NY Times is following its previous practice of keeping back stories that might hurt the GOP in a presidential election. If I’m right, once the election is decided, such stories will start to include global warming as a contributing factor—after the Bush-Gore election was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of Bush, the NY Times did release the story. (Although, to be fair, they made that decision only after one of the reporters, who had left the Times to work for another paper, was about to break the story there. If that had not occurred, perhaps the Times would never have released the story.)

I hate to see the old institutions lose their integrity. But it happens. And Keller is still with the Times, though now as a sort of mediocre occasional columnist.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 10:37 am

GOP explicitly opposes critical thinking skills

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Interesting and, I might say, revealing. They’re doing it in Texas, so it’s possibly redundant, but still. Danny Wells reports:

The Republican Party of Texas has issued their 2012 political platform and has come out and blatantly opposed critical thinking in public schools throughout the state. If you wonder what took them so long to actually state that publicly, it is really a matter of timing. With irrationality now the norm and an election hovering over the 2012 horizon, the timing of the Republican GOP announcement against “critical thinking” instruction couldn’t be better.  It helps gin up their anti-intellectual base.

The Texas GOP’s declarative position against critical thinking in public schools, or any schools, for that matter, is now an official part of their political platform. It is public record in the Republican Party of Texas 2012 platform. With regard to critical thinking, the Republican Party of Texas document states: “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” (page 20, Republican Party of Texas, 2012).

Yes, challenging beliefs or claims is considered insubordinate, immoral and could lead to rebellion, disobedience or perhaps worse: revolution. For the Republican Party and their followers, thinking is subversive, imagination is a sin and the Republican Party in Texas and elsewhere is working to codify this into public policy. The plutocrats can’t have a working-class citizenry that is asking questions of those in power, be they parents or bosses; instead, the people must be taught the ideology of what is morally acceptable, what rules and regulations to follow. and even more importantly, how to accept and internalize hierarchical authoritarianism. Critical thinking is a direct challenge to the “leaders” and their claims on authority, and any opposition to vertical arrangements is ethically unacceptable to those in power.

Reactionaries have long known that enshrining ignorance and hierarchy in both thought and practice within the school curriculum is essential if the control of young minds is to be accomplished softly and quietly yet profoundly through propaganda and perception management. In the quarters of obedience training, “education” has nothing to do with “schooling” under capitalism.

This thinking is not new. [Well, of course not. This is the GOP, after all. – LG] The ideological underpinnings for such repugnant beliefs sorrowfully tread back throughout the history of the 20th century and undoubtedly before. William Bagley’s book, . . .

Continue reading. From later in the article, a review of other points in the Texas GOP platform:

Prohibitions against thinking critically or scientifically comprise just one of 30 pages of the anti-Enlightenment thinking seen in the Texas GOP platform document. Here is some more of its chilling content:

  • Abstinence-only sex education
  • Trying juveniles as adults
  • Emphasis on faith-based drug rehab
  • Opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Flat-rate income tax
  • Repeal of the minimum wage
  • Opposition to homosexuality in the military
  • Opposition to red light cameras
  • Opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because firms should be able to fire people for what they consider “sinful and sexually immoral behavior.”
  • Continued opposition to ACORN (even though it has not existed since 2010!)
  • Opposition to statehood or even Congressional voting rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia
  • And no-questions-asked support for Israel because, and this is another direct quote: “Our policy is based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise.”

This is pretty much the direction they wish to take the country.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 9:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, GOP

The GOP’s approach to healthcare: You don’t get any

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Alex Seitz-Wald reports on how Florida is handling healthcare for its citizens:

On March 26 this year, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that slashed the state Department of Health’s budget and closed a state hospital where bad cases of tuberculosis were treated. Nine days later, the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) detailed in a report that Florida was experiencing its worst TB outbreak in 20 years in Jacksonville. Since then, the governor’s office has either ignored or suppressed news of the outbreak, and it rushed ahead with plans to close the TB hospital as local officials kept information about the outbreak from the public. This, all according to an excellent investigation by the Palm Beach Post’s Stacey Singer, who was stymied by state officials at every turn when she tried to learn more about the outbreak and about why the state hadn’t responded to it in a concerted way.

While the CDC report came out after Scott had signed the law, the strain of TB responsible for the outbreak had been identified as early as 2008, and the report only existed because local officials in Duval County requested federal help in dealing with the overwhelming uptick in new TB cases. Meanwhile, the Duval Health Department is also a victim of budget cuts. In 2008, when the TB outbreak was first identified in an assisted living facility for people with schizophrenia, the department had 946 staffers and $61 million in revenue. “Now we’re down to 700 staff and revenue is down to $46 million,” Director Dr. Bob Harmon told the Post.

The fact that the outbreak began where it did and that it has so far spread mostly among homeless people, mental health patients and drug addicts who encounter each other in soup kitchens and shelters may have made the issue seem less urgent to state officials. Setting aside the dignity of all human life, there is already evidence that the disease has spread beyond the underclass and is continuing to grow, unmonitored, in the Sunshine state. The governor’s office did not comment for Singer’s story, and the state health department has stuck to its message that statewide TB cases are down over last year, suggesting the closure of the hospital was valid. (The hospital closed at the end of June.)

The case underscores the real human consequences of austerity budgeting and conservatives’ drive to slash government whenever possible. Since austerity came into vogue with the Tea Party beginning in 2009 and was then put in place nationally after the Republican wave in 2010, there have been countless examples where cuts or attempted cuts impact preparedness. After the the Japanese tsunami, it was noted that Republican budget cuts targeted the agency responsible for tsunami warnings. The same was true about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 9:50 am

Billie Holiday: Don’t Explain

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And via, another site well worth subscribing to, here’s Billie Holiday singing a song she wrote,Don’t Explain:

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 9:29 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

Sidney Bechet: Blue Horizon

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When I was in high school, I joined the Jazztime record club: 12″ LP jazz records, with a few new selections every month. It was absolutely wonderful, and I developed some strong favorites: Sidney Bechet, with his trumpet-like soprano saxophone, was one; Omer Simeon from the same region (New Orleans) and era, played a wonderful clarinet, usually in a low register. Zutty Singleton was my favorite drummer—really, a percussionist, because he made excellent use of bells, blocks, cymbals, and many other non-drum targets for his sticks. Bechet moved to France in 1950 and lived there until his death in 1959.

Via, here’s that Bechet sound:

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 9:25 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

Terrific shave, thanks to Dr. Selby and the ARC

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I had forgotten just how very good Dr. Selby’s 3x concentrated shaving cream is. It acts like a soap, but a superb soap, and the lather it makes is simply wonderful. I decided to get one more silvertip badger brush from Whipped Dog, and above you see it before first use. As is typical of these, it lost about 5 hairs in the first shave, and will probably lose a few more over the next 2-3 shaves, but then it’s solid. And, as I write, a terrific lather.

The ARC Weber with a Swedish Gillette blade did its usual wonderful job: a completely smooth and trouble-free shave except for one tiny nick on the upper lip that I did not notice at all while shaving: operator error. Finally, a splash of the wonderful Klar Seifen Klassik aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2012 at 9:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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