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Archive for January 24th, 2013

Advancing the war on women: In New Mexico, a proposal making an abortion following a rape become a felony

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Aviva Shen has the story in ThinkProgress:

Should a recently introduced bill in New Mexico become law, rape victims will be required to carry their pregnancies to term during their sexual assault trials or face charges of “tampering with evidence.

Under HB 206, if a woman ended her pregnancy after being raped, both she and her doctor would be charged with a felonypunishable by up to 3 years in state prison:

Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

Sexual assault trials are infamously grueling for survivors, who are often subjected to character assassination and other attempts to discredit their accounts. State Rep. Cathrynn Brown’s (R) bill would add the forced choice between prison or an unwanted pregnancy to these proceedings.

After several failed GOP candidates, including Todd Akin (R-MO) and Richard Mourdock (R-IN), made offensive comments about rape victims during the last election season, Republican consultants launched sensitivity training to teach candidates how to avoid talking about rape. But GOP policy speaks for itself. At the federal level, former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a failed bill that would negate sexual assault that are not deemed “forcible rape.” And another New Mexico lawmaker, Gov. Susana Martinez (R), advanced a proposal to require women who become pregnant from rape to prove they were “forcibly raped” in order to qualify for childcare assistance.

In addition to burdening victims of sexual assault, Brown’s bill also reveals some hypocrisy in the anti-abortion community. While anti-choice advocates maintain that a fetus should be afforded the full rights of personhood, charging abortion as “tampering with evidence” effectively turns the fetus into an object. This isn’t the first time so-called pro-life supporters have dropped the fetal personhood crusade when it was convenient — last year, a Catholic hospital in Colorado reversed its stance on fetal personhood in a malpractice suit, arguing in court that the term “person” should only apply to individuals who have already been born.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Medical

Catholic church advances argument to support abortion

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This is interesting—and news on the principle that “dog bites man” is not news, but “man bites dog” is. John Thomasic reports in The American Independent a completely novel position for the Catholic church to take:

Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Stodghill’s husband Jeremy, a prison guard, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins.

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

The directives can complicate business deals for Catholic Health, as they can for other Catholic health care providers, partly by spurring political resistance. In 2011, the Kentucky attorney general and governor nixed a plan in which Catholic Health sought to merge with and ultimately gain control of publicly funded hospitals in Louisville. The officials were reacting to citizen concerns that access to reproductive and end-of-life services would be curtailed. According to The Denver Post, similar fears slowed the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth’s plan over the last few years to buy out Exempla Lutheran Medical Center and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in the Denver metro area.

But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.” . . .

Continue reading. Interesting. I suppose the Church is willing to abandon sacred principles in order to protect its wealth—just as they did with the pedophile priests. Truly, the priorities and values of the Catholic church today are becoming glaringly obvious.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Law, Medical, Religion

Lessons about Afghanistan from a rapid education

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Jonathan Gourlay writes in The Morning News:

U.S. Army Specialist Mihkel Gilmete spends his days flying in a UH 60 Black Hawk helicopter in Afghanistan. Two hours of show time, prepping the helicopter. Then six or seven hours in the air, looking down at the brown expanse of the Afghan steppes. Thousands of feet in the sky, he snaps a picture for Facebook through the open side-door of the helicopter. A door-mounted M60 machine gun is in the foreground; the vast yellow-brown plains of Afghanistan are far below. The shadows of high clouds dapple the desert. There is no sign of human activity in the desolate land below except a pair of tire tracks that appear to travel from nowhere to nowhere. He is sitting atop the whole of central Afghanistan, staring at it, as so many have, through the sights of his gun.

Gilmete, a Micronesian, spends hours watching Afghanistan from above. It’s peaceful, mesmerizing, almost like staring at the ocean from his home on the sunset side of a small island in the central Pacific. The Afghans below him would never guess that there is an islander hovering above, one of many U.S. military enlistees from tiny island countries all over the Pacific. In fact, per capita, there are more casualties from Gilmete’s home island of Pohnpei than from any U.S. state. Afghans who wonder what life will be like after the U.S. leaves should look to Micronesia, which the U.S. never really left after the end of the Cold War brought an end to its military significance. Basically: more political independence and more economic dependence. The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional democracy whose economy is now run by a five-member board—three Americans, two Micronesians.

Gilmete has been fired upon four times in the past year. A Black Hawk just like the one he rides was shot down near Kandahar in August, all crewmen dead. But most days nothing much happens: The Black Hawk crew transports soldiers where they need to go. Gilmete helps provide a kind of armed valet service in a country with few working roads.

Sometimes there is a distress call and an order. Then they swoop down and extract troops from these little nothing villages or ancient, dry waterways or steep mountains where, periodically, the enemy sees an easy target and attacks. The enemy? It’s better not to think about the enemy because there is no one cohesive enemy, no “Taliban,” to go attack. There are just locals, villagers, who one day are farmers and the next day “insurgents.” This lack of a fixed enemy poses a problem for big armies. There is no way to win such a fight short of just killing everybody, a tactic that some have tried. But wondering about the enemy is above Gilmete’s pay grade. He has just has one role: Move the troops. The rest is just flying and staring at the landscape. All of this time looking at Afghanistan and yet the country remains as abstract to him as it is to the rest of us. “I don’t interact with the locals too much because we fly,” he says. “We do fly low over the locals sometimes and it gives me great sadness to see these people living in such poverty.”

Years ago, I was Gilmete’s poetry teacher on the lush, tropical island of Pohnpei. He was a pain in the ass, spitting red juice from a cheek full of betel nut, defying me to teach him anything, wanting nothing more than to leave the island. He had no patience at all for the Romantics. That’s too bad because one could imagine the face on Shelley’s statue of Ozymandias, his sneer of cold command disappearing in the sand below the Black Hawk. Through the centuries, kings, warlords, traveling English gadabouts, Western-educated technocrats, and iron-fisted Soviets have contemplated the same blank map of Afghanistan from the same top-down perspective. They come to this country, declare some version of, “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” and soon enough find their works ground into the dust. But Gilmete is just here to do the job he enlisted to do. He’s counting the days before he returns to his base in Hawaii with the rest of the Tropic Lightning Division. Most of the troops will follow him back home, far from the lone and level sands of central Afghanistan.

It is often joked that Americans don’t really know a country exists until we invade it. But even that isn’t always true. Even today, how many (few?) of us can actually find Afghanistan on a map, without computer help? Like most Americans, I knew next to nothing about Afghanistan when we began bombing the country in the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks. Like most Americans, I still know next to nothing about Afghanistan. More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed, more than 3,000 civilians dead in just one year of the conflict (2011), and somehow it still doesn’t register. Why is that? There are reporters on the ground; we get updates when something particularly horrific happens; many of us read or watched The Kite Runner; and although the main author may be a shyster, there was Three Cups of Tea. Yet the whole decade-plus of war seemed distant and bloodless to me until I read a college scholarship essay written by an Afghan girl, Sabera, that made me pause to consider her country.

Through the centuries, kings, warlords, traveling English gadabouts, Western-educated technocrats, and iron-fisted Soviets have contemplated the same blank map of Afghanistan from the same top-down perspective.

“I was born in the middle of a civil war,” she wrote, “when people were running from one house to another to seek shelter from heavy rocket and mortar bombardment.” She was born in Kabul, in chaos, in a period when Mujahedin were fleeing the city and the Taliban were destroying it. In her essay, she wondered why they were fighting over pools of blood, piles of debris, the ashes of a city. “What were they trying to gain from each other when they had already destroyed everything the country possessed?” To read this essay—well, the poetry teacher in me must refer you to the Wallace Stevens poem “Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself” —Sabera’s essay, like the bird’s cry in the poem, caused “a new knowledge of reality.” I considered that there exist people, girls in particular, in that antique land that Gilmete gazes upon all day, who are targeted for death or beating or maiming because they go to school. There exist families for whom educating their children is so important that they would risk their lives to do it. There is nothing—not bombs, guns, tanks, missiles, God, love, or money—that so upsets the Taliban and other groups of their ilk as much as a girl who can read, write, and speak her mind. These girls, their families, and the country they could create deserve our support.

It’s a good policy to be thoughtful about one’s own righteous indignation, especially when one is feeling that indignation on behalf of other people in cultures one does not understand. As Teju Cole reminds us, there is nothing more frightening to much of the world than an American who wants to help fix things. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Afghanistan War

Is Cannabis Really That Bad?

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Sabrina Richards reports in The Scientist:

Marijuana is a tricky drug, alternately demonized as a gateway drug and lionized for its medical promise. And while the juries remain out on both sides of the coin, one thing is clear: its use is on the rise. According to the US Department of Human Health and Services, the number of people in the United States who admit to smoking pot in the last month climbed from 14.4 million in 2007 to over 18 million in 2011.

This increase may in part be due to the lack of strong evidence supporting the suspected risks of cannabis use. Indeed, though marijuana smoke carries carcinogens and tar just as tobacco smoke does, definitive data linking marijuana to lung damage is lacking. And a recent long-term study that seemed to conclusively link chronic marijuana initiated in adolescence to a lowered IQ in New Zealanders was quickly challenged by a counter-analysis that pointed to socioeconomic status as a confounding factor. According to survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cannabis use increases in teenagers as marijuana’s perceived risks decline, and researchers—and undoubtedly some parents—are anxious to get to the bottom of the matter.

Take a deep breath

In 2012, a study at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) calculated that even smoking a single joint every day for 20 years might be benign, though most participants only smoked two or three joints each month. “I was surprised we didn’t see effects [of marijuana use],” said UCSF epidemiologistMark Pletcher, who led the study.

One assessment of various epidemiological studies points to small sample size and poor study design as reasons for scientists’ inability to nail down a link between cannabis and cancer risk. But some suspect that such a link doesn’t exist, and that marijuana may even have cancer-preventive effects. A 2008 study, for example, suggested that smoking marijuana may reduce the risk of tobacco-associated lung cancer, calculating that people who smoke both marijuana and tobacco have a lower risk of cancer than those who smoke only tobacco (though still a higher risk than non-smokers).

But even Pletcher isn’t sanguine about marijuana’s effects on the lungs, and suspects that there may still be long-term lung damage that can be hard to detect. “We really can’t reassure ourselves about heavy use,” he explained.

Your brain on drugs

There is some evidence to suggest that stoned subjects exhibit increased risk-taking and impaired decision-making, and score worse on memory tasks—and residual impairments have been detected days or even weeks after use. Some studies also link years of regular marijuana use to deficits in memory, learning, and concentration. A recent and widely discussed report on the IQs of New Zealanders followed since birth found that cannabis users who’d started their habit in adolescence had lower IQs than non-users.

In this study, led by researchers at Duke University, “you could clearly see as a consequence of cannabis use, IQ goes down,” said Derik Hermann, a clinical neuroscientist at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany who was not involved in the research.

But not 4 months later, a re-analysis and computer simulation at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Oslo countered the Duke findings. Ole Rogeberg contended that socioeconomic factors, not marijuana use, contributed to the lower IQs seen in cannabis users.

Rogeberg’s conclusion counters a sizeable literature, however, which supports a link between pot use and neurophysiological decline. Studies in both humans and animals suggest that people who acquiring a marijuana habit in adolescence face long-term negative impacts on brain function, with some users finding it difficult to concentrate and learn new tasks.

Notably, most studies on the subject suggest that while there may be negative consequences of smoking as a teen, users who begin in adulthood are generally unaffected. This may be due to endocannabinoid-directed reorganization of the brain during puberty, Hermann explained. The intake of cannabinoids that comes with pot use may cause irreversible “misleading of the neural growth,” he said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 3:54 pm

GOP’s plans to rig the next presidential election

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Who needs votes when you can manipulate the system in order to win? Josh Israel at ThinkPorgress:

In a subcommittee vote Wednesday, Virginia State Sen. and former Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) abstained on a key vote on a bill to rig the state’s electoral college vote. The bill advanced (on a three-to-three party-line vote) to the full Committee on Privileges and Elections, without recommendation.

National Republicans, frustrated with their failure to win the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, are pushing to change the electoral allocations only in states Obama carried. With control of the state governments in Michigan,OhioPennsylvania, Virginia, and elsewhere, they are hoping to pass legislation to ensure that most of those states’ electors go to their 2016 nominee — even if he or she does not carry those states.

Sen. Charles “Bill” Carrico Sr. (R) is the author of Senate Bill 723, which would allocate Virginia’s 13 electoral votes by congressional district, rather than the current winner-take-all system. With the state’s GOP-gerrymandered Congressional districts, Republicans hold eight of the 11 Virginia House districts. Even though President Obama won Virginia by four points, under this plan vast majority of Virginia’s electors would have gone to loser Mitt Romney.

Another report, by Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect:

This morning, I wrote on an emerging Republican plan—in swing states won by President Obama—to rig presidential elections by awarding electoral votes to the winner of the most congressional districts. Because Democratic voters tend to cluster in highly-populated urban areas, and Republican voters tend to reside in more sparsely populated regions, this makes land the key variable in elections—to win the majority of a state’s electoral votes, your voters will have to occupy the most geographic space.

In addition to disenfranchising voters in dense areas, this would end the principle of “one person, one vote.” If Ohio operated under this scheme, for example, Obama would have received just 22 percent of the electoral votes, despite winning 52 percent of the popular vote in the state.

For this reason, I didn’t expect Republicans to go forward with the plan—the risk of blowback is just too high. My skepticism, however, was misplaced. In Virginia, a local news station reports that just this afternoon, a state Senate subcommittee recommended a bill to end Virginia’s winner-take-all system and apportion its 13 electoral votes by congressional district.

Unlike similar proposals in Pennsylvania and Michigan, this one wouldn’t award the remaining electoral votes to the winner (Virginia has 11 districts). Rather, the winner of the most congressional districts would get the final two votes. If this were in effect last year, Obama would have gotten just 4 of the state’s votes, despite winning 51 percent of its voters.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, says the change is necessary because Virginia’s urbanized areas can outvote rural regions, weakening their political strength. In other words, Carrico thinks winning land is more important than winning people when it comes to presidential elections.

It should be said that this scheme, if carried out on a large scale, will guarantee an explosion of recounts. In any district where there is a narrow margin between the two candidates, there will be every incentive to challenge the results. Republicans present this as a way to streamline elections, but in reality, it would complicate them, and drag out the process for weeks—if not months. It would be Florida in the 2000 election, multiplied by 435.

It should also be said, again, that this constitutes a massive disenfranchisement of African American and other nonwhite voters, who tend to cluster near urban areas. When you couple this with the move on Monday to redraw the state’s electoral maps—eliminating one state senate district and packing black voters into another, diluting their strength—it’s as if Virginia Republicans are responding to Obama’s repeat victory in the state by building an electoral facsimile of Jim Crow.

Though the Privileges and Elections committee is also Republican controlled — an eight-to-seven majority — the 40 member Senate is evenly divided, with Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling breaking ties. Assuming the bill passes from the full committee and comes up on the floor, if all 20 Democrats vote against it and Vogel abstains again, it will fail.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

How Britain Enthusiastically Teamed Up with Bush’s Horrific Torture and Rendition Agenda

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Another lengthy excerpt from Ian Cobain’s book A Secret History of Torture.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Tony Blair took a train from Brighton to London, where he issued a statement that pledged unswerving support for the US. He described terrorism as “the new evil in our world,” perpetrated by people with no regard for the sanctity of human life. There was now to be a battle between the free world and terrorism, he said. “We therefore here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy and we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world.”

Quietly, Britain pledged logistics support for the rendition program, which resulted in the CIA’s Gulfstream V and other jets becoming frequent visitors to British airports en route to the agency’s secret prisons. Over the next four years, a 26-strong flight of rendition aircraft operated by the CIA used UK airports at least 210 times. Dozens of other private executive jets that the agency chartered were also regular visitors to the UK. Nineteen British airports and RAF bases were used, including Heathrow, Birmingham, Luton, Bournemouth and Belfast. The agency’s favorite destination was Prestwick in Scotland, which it used more than 75 times. One CIA pilot described Prestwick as an ideal refueling stop. “It’s an ‘ask no questions’ type of place, and you don’t need to give them any advance notice you’re coming.”

The US authorities also asked the UK government for permission to build a large prison on Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean that operates as a US military base. A Royal Marines officer made some preliminary plans, before the project was dropped, for logistical rather than legal reasons. Diego Garcia continued to be used as a stopover for rendition flights, however, and senior United Nations officials believe that a number of prisoners were held and interrogated there between 2002 and 2003.

The UK would do more than offer mere logistics support to the rendition program, however. It would “perform,” in Bush’s words, by becoming an enthusiastic participant in the rendition and torture program. As in the summer of 1940, its first victims would be British. But as then and since, Britain would enshroud its use of torture in the greatest possible secrecy.

In October 2001, when the United States and its allies went to war in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime that had harbored al-Qaida, it was inevitable that a small number of those captured on the battlefield would be British.

For more than a decade, MI5 had been aware that British Muslims had been traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive training at camps run by al-Qaida or associated groups. Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, operated some of the camps, and graduates were encouraged to take up arms against Indian forces in Kashmir. Before al-Qaida began targeting the West in the late 1990s, MI5 saw these trips as evidence of little more than exuberant adventurism among a small section of young British Muslim males: a form of jihadi tourism that posed no threat to the UK. All that changed after 9/11, when both MI5 and MI6 became anxious to extract as much information as possible from any British prisoners in order to assess the al-Qaida threat.

It was not long before prisoners were being taken during battles in the north and southeast of Afghanistan. Many more foreign fighters were captured while attempting to slip across the border into Pakistan. Hundreds were handed over to US forces by Afghan and Pakistani bounty hunters, who received large bundles of dollars for every non-Afghan they captured.

Among the handful of British nationals seized in Afghanistan were Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed. These men from the West Midlands, who became known as the Tipton Three, spent around a month in captivity in the north of the country before being flown to an interrogation center at Kandahar airport. By this time, the Red Cross was already complaining to US authorities about the systematic mistreatment prisoners suffered at Kandahar. On arrival all three were severely beaten. According to Iqbal: . . .

Continue reading.

Obama, of course, is absolutely determined that torturers will go unpunished.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 3:42 pm

How the Obama administration protected Wall Street from prosecutions

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Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian:

PBS‘ Frontline program on Tuesday night broadcast a new one-hour reporton one of the greatest and most shameful failings of the Obama administration: the lack of even a single arrest or prosecution of any senior Wall Street banker for the systemic fraud that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis: a crisis from which millions of people around the world are still suffering. What this program particularly demonstrated was that the Obama justice department, in particular the Chief of its Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, never even tried to hold the high-level criminals accountable.

What Obama justice officials did instead is exactly what they did in the face of high-level Bush era crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping: namely, acted to protect the most powerful factions in the society in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious criminality. Indeed, financial elites were not only vested with immunity for their fraud, but thrived as a result of it, even as ordinary Americans continue to suffer the effects of that crisis.

Worst of all, Obama justice officials both shielded and feted these Wall Street oligarchs (who, just by the way, overwhelmingly supported Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign) as they simultaneously prosecuted and imprisoned powerless Americans for far more trivial transgressions. As Harvard law professor Larry Lessig put it two weeks ago when expressing anger over the DOJ’s persecution of Aaron Swartz: “we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House.” (Indeed, as “The Untouchables” put it: while no senior Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, “many small mortgage brokers, loan appraisers and even home buyers” have been).

As I documented at length in my 2011 book on America’s two-tiered justice system, With Liberty and Justice for Some, the evidence that felonies were committed by Wall Street is overwhelming. That evidence directly negates the primary excuse by Breuer (previously offered by Obama himself) that the bad acts of Wall Street were not criminal.

Numerous documents prove that executives at leading banks, credit agencies, and mortgage brokers were falsely touting assets as sound that knew were junk: the very definition of fraud. As former Wall Street analyst Yves Smith wrote in her book ECONned: “What went on at Lehman and AIG, as well as the chicanery in the CDO [collateralized debt obligation] business, by any sensible standard is criminal.” Even lifelong Wall Street defender Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chair, said in Congressional testimony that “a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud.”

New York Times editorial in August explained that the DOJ’s excuse for failing to prosecute Wall Street executives – that it was too hard to obtain convictions – “has always defied common sense – and all the more so now that a fuller picture is emerging of the range of banks’ reckless and lawless activities, including interest-rate rigging, money laundering, securities fraud and excessive speculation.” The Frontline program interviewed former prosecutors, Senate staffers and regulators who unequivocally said the same: it is inconceivable that the DOJ could not have successfully prosecuted at least some high-level Wall Street executives – had they tried.

What’s most remarkable about all of this is not even Wall Street had the audacity to expect the generosity of largesse they ended up receiving. “The Untouchables” begins by recounting the massive financial devastation the 2008 crisis wrought – “the economy was in ruins and bankers were being blamed” – and recounts:

“In 2009, Wall Street bankers were on the defensive, worried they could be held criminally liable for fraud. With a new administration, bankers and their attorneys expected investigations and at least some prosecutions.”

Indeed, the show recalls that both in Washington and the country generally, “there was broad support for prosecuting Wall Street.” Nonetheless: “four years later, there have been no arrests of any senior Wall Street executives.”

In response to the DOJ’s excuse-making that these criminal cases are too hard to win, numerous experts – Senators, top Hill staffers, former DOJ prosecutors – emphasized the key point: Obama officials never even tried. One of the heroes of “The Untouchables”, former Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, worked tirelessly to provide the DOJ with all the funds it needed to ensure probing criminal investigations and even to pressure and compel them to do so. Yet when he and his staff would meet with Breuer and other top DOJ officials, they would proudly tout the small mortgage brokers they were pursuing, in response to which Kafuman and his staff said: . . .

Continue reading.

Obama has continued the corruption of the Federal government, and in particular the Department of Justice. History will not treat him kindly.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 3:32 pm

DNA for long-term data storage

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Very clever idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Science

Obama continues to protect Wall Street wrongdoers

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From a report by David Sirota in Salon:

. . . However, Mary Jo White isn’t just any prosecutor. Her name should ring a bell, or really, sound a frightening alarm. I knew I had heard of her before, and not in a good way. So I fired up Google this morning and sure enough, I discovered why my superficially good feeling was quickly turning into a deeply ominous nausea. I suddenly remembered that this is the same Mary Jo White who has built the latter part of her career leveraging her position in governmental law enforcement positions to land lucrative private-sector jobs defending Wall Streeters. In moving through that revolving door, she has been a part of a corrupt culture that has weakened the power of the very law enforcement agency President Obama is now nominating her to run.

As journalist Matt Taibbi has reported, the revolving door White has passed through “isn’t just a footnote in financial law enforcement.”

“When you look at the revolving door situation with all these — the Mary Jo Whites and the Gary Lynches and the Linda Thompsons, these former high-ranking financial cops who leave government service and they go to work in these millionaire partnerships on Wall Street, it creates this collegial atmosphere where it’s just a small group of lawyers who all know each other, and they’re in this constant merry-go-round, from government, back to private service, back to government again,” he told“Democracy Now.”

With this revolving door spinning so fast, Taibbi shows how it has created a culture whereby prosecutors and SEC officials have an incentive not to enforce the law. Simply put, if you know your next lucrative job is on Wall Street, you aren’t all that interested in prosecuting Wall Street, because that might limit your private-sector career prospects.

Not surprisingly, this revolving door involves the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York — aka the one that is supposed to help oversee Wall Street. In his epic piece about this for Rolling Stone magazine, Taibbi documents how that office and the SEC have built up a culture of letting Wall Street criminals off the hook, quoting one of those officials lovingly telling White that “you’ve spawned all of us” from her U.S. attorney perch.

The New York Times notes that when White left that governmental post, “she went on in private practice to defend some of Wall Street’s biggest names, including Kenneth D. Lewis, a former head of Bank of America.” Taibbi reports that she also was deeply involved in an SEC scandal involving Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack.

Recounting the iconic story of an SEC regulator named Gary Agguire who was literally fired after he questioned the agency’s failure to pursue an insider-trading case against Mack, Taibbi reports (emphasis added):

The deal looked like a classic case of insider trading. But in the summer of 2005, when Aguirre told his boss he planned to interview Mack, things started getting weird. His boss told him the case wasn’t likely to fly, explaining that Mack had “powerful political connections.”

Aguirre also started to feel pressure from Morgan Stanley, which was in the process of trying to rehire Mack as CEO … It didn’t take long for Morgan Stanley to work its way up the SEC chain of command. Within three days, another of the firm’s lawyers, Mary Jo White, was on the phone with the SEC’s director of enforcement

Pause for a minute to take this in. Aguirre, an SEC foot soldier, is trying to interview a major Wall Street executive — not handcuff the guy or impound his yacht, mind you, just talk to him. In the course of doing so, he finds out that his target’s firm is being represented…by the former U.S. attorney overseeing Wall Street, who is going four levels over his head to speak directly to the chief of the SEC’s enforcement division…

Aguirre didn’t stand a chance. A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued.

So to review: The president’s nominee not only made her name preventing the agency she’s going to run from investigating Wall Street CEOs, she was involved (whether directly or indirectly, it’s not clear) in the firing of an SEC enforcement official for daring to try to do his job. Her work in compromising the SEC was so shady, in fact, that it became the subject of an official U.S. Senate investigation. Oh, and on top of all that, Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith notes that “her husband, John White, who headed the SEC’s corporate finance section under Chris Cox [but] is back at (a white shoe lawfirm) Cravath, has been lobbying against regulation.”

And yet, for all that, she hasn’t just been rewarded with a fat salary at a white shoe law firm, she is now being nominated to head the SEC. . .

Read the whole thing.

Again I say: Obama has corrupted the Department of Justice. It has been deliberate, and I would imagine he’s expected to be well rewarded for his efforts to protect the financial industry from any accountability whatsoever.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 2:20 pm

The out-of-control NYPD faces yet another lawsuit

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Bloomberg really doesn’t seem to care, but the NYPD is out of control. (Story at the link includes a disturbing video.) This is similar in a way to the vicious prosecution of Matt Davies: someone doing something completely legitimate and with permission, but the law pounces on him because he is helpless.

Not to mention the cannibal cop.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Government, Law

UN launches investigation into drone strikes

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Natasha Lennard reports in Salon:

The U.N. announced Thursday the launch of its investigation into targeted killings carried out by the U.S. and its allies. U.N. special rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who monitors counter-terrorism programs, will lead the Geneva-based investigation, which will look at civilian deaths in drone strikes and the legality of extradjudicial executions.

As Salon reported last year when Emmerson first announced the U.N. project, the human rights attorney told a Harvard conference that his team would be weighing up evidence as to whether the Obama administration was guilty of war crimes. He said:

[It is] alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. [U.N. consultant, professor of human rights] Christof Heyns … has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.

The investigation’s launch comes just as the Obama administration finalizes a manual on guidelines for targeted killings, further cementing kill lists into the U.S. national security apparatus.

According to the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, not only will the U.N. team examine drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen,  but also “drone strikes by U.S. and U.K. forces in Afghanistan, and by Israel in the Occupied Territories. In total some 25 strikes are expected to be examined in detail.”

“The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay,” Emmerson told reporters. “It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law”

The ACLU welcomed the investigation in a statement released Thursday. “Virtually no other country agrees with the U.S.’s claimed authority to secretly declare people enemies of the state and kill them and civilian bystanders far from any recognized battlefield. To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government’s ever-expanding targeted killing program,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

The civil liberties group also expressed hope that U.S. officials would cooperate with Emmerson and his team. “We hope the U.S. cooperates with the inquiry, and whether it does or not will show whether it holds itself to the same obligation to cooperate with U.N. human rights investigations that it urges on other countries,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “Early signs indicate Emmerson’s team may have assistance from relevant states. He told journalists that Britain’s Ministry of Defence was already co-operating, and that Susan Rice, the US’s ambassador to the United Nations, had indicated that Washington ‘has not ruled out full co-operation.’”

The results of the investigation will be reported to the U.N. General Assembly in the fall.

One question that’s occurred to me lately: the drone strikes that kill civilians are discretionary strikes, not made in the heat of battle. The operator (thousands of miles away) looks at the scene on his screen and decides whether or not to launch the missile. He can see whether the militant target is accompanied by civilians or not. My question is this: If a militant is observed to be walking near a group of American soldiers, who are in the kill zone, will the missile be fired? I imagine not. What if the militant is among a group of British tourists? Would the missile then be fired, killing tourists and the militant? I imagine not. What if the militant is among a group of Pakastani or Afghan civilians? Will the missile be fired in that case? Obviously, the answer is a resounding and repeated, “Yes.” The fact is that the US really does not value Pakastani or Afghan lives—as is shown by the insultingly small sums paid in recompense to any surviving family members. We, as a nation, simply DO NOT CARE. And this makes them hate us for our freedoms, apparently.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 2:07 pm

Oklahoma woman refused medical treatment and jailed instead—and she died

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This is shocking, but reflects the mentality of the War on Drugs. Phillip Smith reports:

A pregnant Oklahoma woman who went to a hospital seeking treatment for extreme pain was instead jailed after police found pain pills on her and died in jail shortly thereafter. Jamie Lynn Russell, 33, becomes the third person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to KFOR-TV News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City, Russell went to the hospital in Pauls Valley seeking help for severe abdominal pain. Hospital staff reported that Russell wouldn’t cooperate and was in too much pain to even lie down, so they asked a Paul’s Valley police officer to assist.
And that’s when Russell’s medical emergency morphed into a drug bust. The police officer found two prescription pills on her for which she did not have a prescription, so she was arrested and jailed on drug possession charges. She was found unresponsive in her cell less than two hours later.

“There is nothing my staff in the jail could’ve done differently,” Garvin County sheriff Larry Rhodes said. “She had a medical release from the hospital stating that she was fit for incarceration,” Rhodes said. “It’s very regrettable for the family. My heart and prayers go out to them.”

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has cleared the jail staff of any criminal wrongdoing.

The state medical examiner’s office later confirmed that Russell died from a ruptured ecoptic pregnancy, where the embryo implants outside the uterus.

Russell’s friends and family are pointing the finger at the hospital. “Jamie was seeking help; she was in extreme pain,” family friend Kemper Kimberlin told KFOR. “We want to see this come to light. Something’s wrong and needs to be fixed.”

It may take a civil wrongful death lawsuit to find out exactly what’s wrong — and how a hospital can turn a pain-tormented woman over to police to be jailed instead of treated.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 2:00 pm

More on the Obama DoJ and its priorities

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Dean Baker writes in TruthOut:

Many people have been asking about the Justice Department’s priorities in the wake of the suicide of computer whiz and political activist Aaron Swartz. As has been widely reported, the Justice Department was pressing charges that carried several decades of prison time against Swartz. He was caught hacking M.I.T.’s computer system in an apparent effort to make large amounts of academic research freely available to the public.

The Justice Department’s determination to commit substantial time and resources to prosecuting Swartz presents a striking contrast to its see no evil attitude when it comes to financial fraud by the Wall Street banks. People should recognize that this is not just a rhetorical point. It is clear that the Justice Department opted to not pursue the sort of investigations that could have landed many high level people at places like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup behind bars.

First, it is important to acknowledge that stupidity, not fraud, was probably the largest factor driving the housing bubble. In the years when the bubble was peaking, 2002-2006, I met many people with no obvious stake in lying who would tell me stories of how housing was always a great investment. The same was true when the stock market was selling at twice its historic valuations in the late 1990s.

Unfortunately, many of the people who control large amounts of money at banks, pension funds, mutual funds and elsewhere can be pretty clueless when it comes to understanding the economy. This mismatch of jobs and skills imposes large costs on the economy, but does not involve criminality.

However there clearly was a substantial component of criminality in the housing bubble, which the Justice Department has chosen not to pursue. Specifically, we know that large numbers of fraudulent mortgages were issued. The FBI publicly warned about an “epidemic of mortgage fraud” as early as 2004.

This was not an issue of people lying to qualify for mortgages; it was overwhelmingly a case of issuers putting down false information to give people mortgages for which they were not qualified. This could mean, for example, that a couple applying for a $400,000 mortgage accurately reports their income at $60,000. Since this income would be grossly inadequate, the bank issuing the mortgage changes the income number to $120,000.

I received numerous e-mails during these years from people telling me about friends or relatives working at major subprime lenders who were being told to change numbers so that people would be able to get mortgages for which they were not qualified. Unless there was a conspiracy to fool Dean Baker, this sort of practice must have been commonplace.

The way the Justice Department would prosecute this fraud would be to find some of the worst branches and put together a case against the worst loan officers. They would then offer them the option of substantial prison time or explaining why their supervisors were unconcerned about them writing in phony numbers on loan forms. When they have two or three loan officers to make a case against a supervisor, they then offer the supervisor the option or jail time or explaining how he/she decided that it was clever to have their branch office engage in mortgage fraud. It is impossible to say whether this sort of investigation would have nailed an Angelo Mozilo (the CEO at Countrywide), but there is no evidence the Justice Department even started down this path.

In the case of the investment banks, . . .

Continue reading. The fact is, Obama’s DoJ seems much more interested in prosecuting the powerless (like Matt Davies, facing 10 years of prison for conducting a medical marijuana operation that was in complete conformity with state law—the very sort of operation that Obama and Holder promised not to prosecute) than in challenging the powerful and wealthy. The DoJ has been corrupted by Obama.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 1:57 pm

Vetivery nice shave

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SOTD 24 Jan 2013

Extremely nice shave today. I used my Vie-Long 11737C “Bombito” boar brush, which is certainly one of my favorite boar brushes and pretty high up there in the overall brush collection. A short soak, and it works very like a horsehair brush.

I got an excellent lather from Honeybee Soap’s Lavender Vetiver shaving soap, though the fragrance is extremely light: not the nose-grabbing vetiver of (say) the Cyril R. Salter Vetiver shaving cream. But the lather was superb, and did a fine job with the Tradere Solid Bar holding a Gillette Rubie blade on its last legs. Despite that, I got a fine shave, and swapped out the blade at the end.

A good splash of Very V aftershave from Saint Charles Shave, and I’m up for a new day.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2013 at 11:24 am

Posted in Shaving

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