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Archive for December 28th, 2015

Amazing how overt corruption can become: A look at Wisconsin

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Username puddytat blogs at Daily Kos:

As bad as it is to make the GQ List of The Worst People of 2015 with a listing of #13 (i.e. considered worse than Roger Goodell of the NFL, The Confederate Flag, Roger Ailes, Rahm Emanuel, 2 celebrity wife beaters, and pharmaceutical price gouger Martin Shkreli), more bad news is creeping towards Scott Walker.

Despite massive spending by dark money groups, multiple lawsuits at every level in the land (even suing the individual prosecutors and the Government Accountability Board), a corrupt State Supreme Court decision by Justices who were elected to their seats by the same dark money groups being investigated, and media poodles pounding out Walker propaganda, John Doe just won’t die from the plethora of fatal wounds heaped upon it. They keep killing it in every way possible, but it’s still slightly alive.

This summer, the Wisconsin Supreme Court took up the question of whether to stop the investigation into alleged coordination between Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and conservative outside groups that receive unlimited donations from undisclosed donors. The problem was that the election campaigns of two justices on the state’s top court had benefited significantly from spending by those same groups accused of illegal coordination with Walker. The special prosecutor overseeing the investigation, along with legal ethicists, asked the two justices with conflicts of interest to recuse themselves. But no justices stepped aside.

The court shut down the investigation by ruling that the type of coordination at issue was actually legal—that campaigns and outside dark-money groups can coordinate as long as they don’t produce ads that explicitly say “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate. And that was supposed to be the end of the story.

As soon as it became evident that Republican John Doe Chief Prosecutor Francis Schmitz was looking towards appealing the State Supreme Court decision to end the John Doe Probe to the US Supreme Court, the RW majority on the State Supreme Court took swift action; they removed him as Chief Prosecutor. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. It means that any appeal he might mount would be on his own dime which makes even filing a US Supreme Court (with its $25,000 filing fee) financially impossible for the average working stiff.

On top of that, Republicans in Wisconsin just abolished (bill signed by Scott Walker last week) the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board (which was a party to the John Doe Probe) and will replace it with a partisan board of political hacks appointees. So there, another knife in the back to John Doe. Late last year, they also gutted the John Doe Probe laws exempting all but felonious criminal activity from secret investigation (and all John Doe Probes of elected officials, as well). Poison in the John Doe Wine cup, too. There, it’s dead, right?

But …. zombie John Doe just rose from the grave again when 3 county prosecutors signaled that they want the case to be heard by the US Supremes.

… the state justices gave the district attorneys until Friday to seek to intervene in the litigation, which gives them a chance to step in for Schmitz and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state rulings.

Friday’s motion to intervene comes only a day after the state’s elections and ethics agency reached a settlement without financial penalties or admission of wrongdoing with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and one of its directors, Eric O’Keefe, who were among the targets of the John Doe probe.

Considering the nature of the US Supreme Court rulings which have led to the wild west, anything goes nature of current campaign finance operations, the DAs will need to be careful in how they proceed. Their best option is likely to go after the Justices who refused to recuse themselves from a case involving the same groups that spent vast sums getting them elected to the State Supreme Court.

There are two potential issues that the district attorneys could appeal to the Supreme Court: a challenge on the merits of the state court’s campaign finance ruling, and an ethical challenge to the failure of the justices to recuse themselves. It’s the second question that experts believe makes for the stronger case.

“I would not want to bring any campaign finance case to this Supreme Court,” says Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine School of Law, nodding to the conservative bent of the court on this issue. But the recusal question, he says, “has a decent chance.” And that’s where court watchers believe the case will indeed focus.

Nothing has been filed yet, but the motion to intervene by those 3 County District Attorneys indicates that they want to take this matter to a higher court. Even if they limit the appeal to the recusals, the smell of corruption will be stifling and the reasons for the original John Doe will once again come to light.

Perhaps it’s karma at its best when we remember how fast and furiously they worked to kill the John Doe in order for Scott Walker to announce his Presidential ambitions and run without a corruption scandal nipping at his heels. And some of that haste, particularly the lack of recusals from State Supreme Court Justices that benefitted from the huge spending of the same groups under investigation, is rising up to bite them in the ass.

Just as they thought the John Doe was dead and buried …..

Stay tuned.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government, Law

Yet Another American Military Mission Is Failing

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Our military is not learning from experience—nor is Congress. Kevin Drum posts:

I suppose you have to read the whole thing to get the true flavor of the situation,but here’s the latest from Afghanistan:

In September, the Taliban briefly seized Kunduz, the first city to fall since the demise of its regime, prompting the U.S. military to dispatch SpecialOperations troops and stage airstrikes to help the Afghan security forces retake control.

Now, the insurgents are on the doorsteps of several provincial capitals, applying more pressure on urban areas than in any year of the conflict. The clashes in Helmand have reflected the Taliban strategy that led to the takeover of Kunduz — seizing surrounding districts before moving in on the provincial capital. Already, the Taliban are in the enclave of Ba­baji, within the borders of Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah.

….Afghans, including senior military officials, no longer even pretend that they can fight the Taliban effectively on their own. “When the foreigners were here, we had plenty of facilities and equipment,” said 1st Lt. Naseer Ahmad Sahel, 30, a civil-order police company commander who was wounded last month in a firefight in Marja. “There were 100 cameras overlooking Marja alone.”

Faqir, the commander of the 215th Corps, said, “We don’t have the air support that we should have.”

There isn’t a single country from Libya to Afghanistan where American military intervention has succeeded, nor a single country where American military training has been anything but a disaster. We can’t do counterinsurgency on our own, and the troops we’ve tried to train are too divided in their loyalties to be effective.

But we’re supposed to believe that if only we’d picked a side in the Syrian civil war two years ago, that would have made all the difference? Or that if only we’d kept a few thousand more troops in Iraq for a few more years, ISIS never would have become a threat? Spare me. How many times does Lucy have to pull away the football before Charlie Brown finally figures out what’s going on?

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 11:40 am

Posted in Military

Ben Carson is actually fairly pathetic

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Kevin Drum has a short post quoting Ben Carson, who seems exceptionally weak and insecure, possessing zero self-awareness.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 11:38 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Shopping at a gardening center is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

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Something is very seriously wrong, not only with law enforcement agencies and police departments, but also with the judiciary, which seem increasingly less judicious (e.g., judges who order people arrested for handing out leaflets on jury nullification, an arrest in violation of free-speech rights). In the Washington Post Radley Balko reports a recent incident:

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of  “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

The investigation leading to the raid began at least seven months earlier, when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes,merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminaldrug investigation.

More than half a year later, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department began investigating the Hartes as part of “Operation Constant Gardener,” basically a PR stunt in which the agency conducts multiple pot raids on April 20, or “4/20.” On several occasions, the Sheriff’s Department sent deputies out to sort through the family’s garbage. (The police don’t need a warrant to sift through your trash.) The deputies repeatedly found “saturated plant material” that they thought could possibly be marijuana. On two occasions, a drug testing field kit inexplicably indicated the presence of THC, the active drug in marijuana. It was on the basis of those tests and Harte’s patronage of a gardening store that the police obtained the warrant for the SWAT raid.

But, of course, they found nothing. Lab tests would later reveal that the “saturated plant material” was actually loose-leaf tea, which Addie Harte drinks on a regular basis. Why did the field tests come up positive for pot?  As I wrote back in February, it’s almost as if these tests come up positive whenever the police need them to. A partial list of substances that the tests have mistaken for illegal drugs would include sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins. Back in 2009, the Marijuana Policy Project demonstrated how easily the tests could be manipulated to generate positive results:

As a lab-coated and rubber glove wearing researcher from the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology dumped a sample of oregano into a field test kit, Mintwood Media’s Adam Eidinger produced a positive test result for cocaine with another kit simply by exposing it to the atmosphere. “This is just air,” Eidinger said, opening up a test and waving it as the reagent turned orange, indicating a positive result. (See the YouTube video here.)

The testing done at the press conference replicated that done earlier by the researchers, who found that a surprisingly large number of common substances generated false positive results for the presence of drugs. “While testing the specificity of the KN Reagent test kits with 42 non-marijuana substances, I observed that 70% of these tests rendered a false positive,” said Dr. Omar Bagasra, director of the Center for Biotechnology, who conducted the experiments.

That research came as part of new report, False Positives Equal False Justice, by forensics expert John Kelly in collaboration with former FBI chief scientist and narcotics officer Dr. Frederick Whitehurst. In the report, the pair uncovered “a drug testing regime of fraudulent forensics used by police, prosecutors, and judges which abrogates every American’s constitutional rights,” as Kelly wrote in the executive summary.

“Law enforcement officials, forensic drug analysts, and prosecutors knowingly employ the flawed Duquenois-Levine and KN Reagent tests as well as mere conclusory police reports to wrongfully prosecute and convict millions of individuals for anti-marijuana law violations,” Kelly wrote.

This is the same brand of test kit used in the Harte case. Despite the fact that the sheriff’s department didn’t begin investigating the Hartes until at least seven months after their allegedly suspicious activity (again — shopping at a gardening store) first attracted the notice of police, the sheriff’s department couldn’t wait for the more accurate laboratory tests to confirm that the “saturated plant material” was marijuana before sending a SWAT team into the Harte home. Doing so would have jeopardized the news hook of tying the raids to 4/20. It took all of 10 days to complete those lab tests. The lab not only concluded that substance wasn’t pot, the analysts added, “It does not look anything like marijuana leaves or stems.”

At the conclusion of the raids, the Sheriff’s Department held a press conference to tout their success. News reports emphasized that the raids had turned up drug activity “in good neighborhoods” in places like Leawood (where the Hartes live), and at the homes of “average Johnson County families.”

Once they had been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Hartes wanted to know what happened. Why had they been raided? What possible probable cause could the police have had for sending a SWAT team into their home first thing in the morning? But even that information would prove difficult to obtain. Under Kansas law, the sheriff’s department wasn’t obligated to turn over any information related to the raid — not to the Hartes, not to the media, not to anyone. The couple eventually had to hire an attorney to get a judge to order the sheriff to release the information. They spent more than $25,000 in legal fees just to learn why the sheriff had sent a SWAT team into their home. Once they finally had that information, the Hartes filed a lawsuit.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Harte found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search, and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid. The only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

Keep in mind that this was a ruling for summary judgment. This was not a trial. To dismiss the suit at this stage, Lungstrum needed to view the facts in a light most favorable to the Hartes. And yet he still found that at no point did the police violate the family’s constitutional rights. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and it’s important.


Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 11:27 am

The greatest chess game ever?

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There is a fairly large number of really amazing chess games: the Game of the Century (1956, Bobby Fisher v. Donald Byrne), the Evergreen Game (1852, Adolf Anderssen v. Jean Dufresne). This one is the 1999 game between Gary Kasparov and Veselin Topalov. If you have 10 minutes, it’s worth seeing.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 10:24 am

Posted in Games

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Colonia Asylum and the 37G

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SOTD 28 Dec 2015

A very nice shave today, albeit with a couple of upper-lip nicks: the 37G is just a little less comfortable than the #102, a little more nick-prone.

The shaving soap is a special offered by Bullgoose Shaving, a 70th anniversary special. It’s made by Coloniali, or by Asylum Brush Works, or by Saponificio Varesino (a beta version, 4.1). That’s not entirely clear to me, but the soap did a fine job.

The 37C is a good razor, just somewhat outclassed by its modern-day competition. It did produce a BBS result, but also a couple of nicks, stopped with the alum block.

A good start to a sort of in-between week.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2015 at 10:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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