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Archive for September 2016

Signs for hope: Whistleblower in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ case gets money and an award

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Marisa Taylor reports in McClatchy:

A senior intelligence official has settled with the federal government after he alleged that he was punished for disclosing that the Pentagon’s watchdog had shielded former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from allegations that he’d leaked sensitive information.

Daniel Meyer, who previously oversaw the Defense Department’s decisions on whistleblower cases, also accused the Pentagon inspector general’s office of targeting him for being gay.

As part of the agreement, the Pentagon inspector general’s office said it would give Meyer an undisclosed monetary settlement, according to three people with knowledge of the negotiations. They asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The inspector general’s office also promised to give Meyer two awards in “recognition for his services,” a Sept. 19 settlement document obtained by McClatchy says.

Meyer, who is now the top official overseeing whistleblower retaliation complaints for the intelligence community, agreed to drop the complaint he’d filed with an administrative panel that handles grievances by federal employees.

Meyer had accused his former Defense Department bosses of “manipulation of a final report to curry favor” with Panetta.

A draft of the inspector general’s report had concluded that Panetta had leaked classified information to the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” Meyer said. That conclusion, however, was removed from the report’s final version.

Since then, the CIA has released documents that support Meyer’s allegations.

Allegations of anti-Semitism against Joseph Schmitz, one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, also surfaced in Meyer’s complaint filed with the federal panel. Meyer contended that Schmitz, then-Pentagon inspector general, had told former Pentagon official John Crane: “I fired the Jews,” while downplaying the extent of the Holocaust. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the story, the plot thickens:

. . . Meyer’s settlement, however, comes as an investigation into a related case advances. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 5:40 pm

“I’ve come to admire Hillary Clinton. What on earth happened?”

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Very interesting column in the Washington Post by Dannielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for the Post. She started out not liking Hillary Clinton very much at all (and she gives her reasons), but then:

. . . Yet somehow between Clinton’s 2015 campaign announcement and the present, I’ve come to admire her. What on earth happened? Call me crazy, but I read her emails. Or at least, I read as many of them as I could. You try it. It’s no small task. And what blazes out of those emails above all is a combination of discipline and dedication to the U.S. cause. Then I started listening to her town-hall events. The discipline and dedication were richly in evidence there, too.

A vast number of her emails concern her schedule. As it happens, I’m obsessed with calendars. I’m a reasonably busy person myself, and I’ve been interested in efficiency and time management ever since as a child I read “Cheaper by the Dozen.” I have never seen anything like Clinton’s discipline and efficiency. This is a woman who knows how to use her time to get things done. As a result, she has already won the greatest reward. As a working mom, she has a daughter who plainly, adoringly loves her. What’s more, this is a woman whose stamina is unlike anything I have ever seen. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Why is the American South so poor?

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Very interesting response to the question, with interesting comments as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 5:00 pm

Lawmaker Who Pushed Bill to Protect People Filming Police Arrested for Filming Police

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Naomi LaChance reports in The Intercept:

An Arkansas State representative who helped pass a state law protecting people who film police was arrested Monday while filming Little Rock police as they put a black man in handcuffs after a traffic stop.

The charges against Rep. John Walker have been dropped, but his colleague, fellow civil rights lawyer Omavi Shukur, faces charges for obstruction of government relations.

Officer Jeff Thompson wrote in his police report: “I ordered Walker several times to leave or be arrested. Walker replied ‘arrest me’ at which point I did.”

Police on Wednesday released dashcam video of the incident. “I’m just making sure they don’t kill you,” Walker told the man who had been pulled over, according to the police report.

Citizens who film police often face arrest or retaliation. For example:

  • Ruben An sued the NYPD in July for arresting him in while he filmed police officers in 2014.
  • Ramsey Orta, who filmed Eric Garner’s arrest in 2014, said he was later arrested in “retaliation.” He is suing the city of New York.
  • Lynwood Keith Golden was arrested after filming police in Wetumpka, Alabama in June. He has filed a lawsuit.
  • Maurice Crawley was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y., in July while filming an arrest, sparking protests.
  • Kenneth Holmes was arrested in May while filming an arrest in Austin, Texas.
  • A lawsuit alleges that police illegally detained Abdullah Muflahi, the man who filmed police officer Blane Salamoni shoot Alton Sterling. They seized his convenience store surveillance video and cell phone in Baton Rouge.

Arrest for filming are actually becoming less common, said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU. “The long time that it took police officers to recognize this right was in many ways an indictment of police management. It also shows that photography is a form of power,” he told the Intercept.

In February, though,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 4:29 pm

‘Do Not Resist’: A chilling look at the normalization of warrior cops

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UPDATE: This NY Times article is highly relevant to the story below.  /update

Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

The haunting thing about the new policing documentary “Do Not Resist” is what it doesn’t show. There are no images of cops beating people. No viral videos of horrifying shootings. Sure, there are scenes from the Ferguson protests in which riot cops deploy tear gas. But there’s no blood, no Tasings, no death. Yet when it was over, I had to force myself to exhale.

What makes this movie so powerful is its terrifying portrayal of the mundanities of modern policing. I watched the movie weeks ago, but there are scenes that still flicker in my head. We all remember the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson. We’ve seen the photos. We saw the anger and the animus exchanged across the protest lines. What we didn’t see were the hours and hours before and after those moments. We didn’t see the MRAPs and other armored vehicles roll in, one at a time, slowly transforming an American town into a war zone. We didn’t hear the clomp of combat boots on asphalt in the quiet hours of the early morning, interrupted only by fuzzy dispatches over police radio.

It’s one thing to show an MRAP — a vehicle built for war, and for a very specific purpose in a very specific type of war — being misused after a small-town police agency obtained it from the Defense Department. “Do Not Resist” takes you to the base where those vehicles are stored. A camera trained on the window captures hundreds of MRAPs — rows and rows and rows of them — scrolling by, all destined for a police agency somewhere in America. Meanwhile, an Army specialist explains how the troops who use the vehicles get hours and hours of training before they’re entrusted to drive the trucks on a battlefield. The Pentagon then gives the trucks to police agencies to use on U.S. streets with no accompanying training at all. Sometimes, the specialist says, a police agency will find a body part in one of the trucks. They try to avoid that. But after all, these are machines of war.

The film crew then takes a ride with a small-town sheriff as he drives his hulking new MRAP through business districts and quiet neighborhoods — that is, once he figures out how to operate it. The most disturbing thing about this scene isn’t the truck itself, or the striking images of the truck in the town, or even the sheriff’s statement that it will probably mostly be used for drug raids. The most disturbing thing is that it simply doesn’t occur to the sheriff that the footage might be disturbing. He has no problem letting a film crew show this massive contraption built to withstand roadside bombs in a military convoy lumbering through his small town, because the notion that military vehicles aren’t appropriate for domestic policing is foreign to him.

Then there’s the drug raid. It’s one thing to read about a “dynamic entry” drug raid in which the police mistakenly or intentionally kill someone, or in which someone mistakenly or intentionally kills a police officer. It’s awful and tragic and unnecessary. “Do Not Resist” doesn’t show one of those. It instead shows the sort of drug raid that’s far more common. The movie depicts the raid from the beginning, as the officers from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department tactical team are meeting to discuss strategy. Some are wearing T-shirts with the tactical team’s logo. It’s a human skull imposed over two crossed AR-15s.

There are no children at the residence, the lead officer assures his colleagues. (There were.) There would be a significant quantity of illegal drugs at the house, another says. (There weren’t.) The tactical team then proceeds to raid the home of a black family in Richland County. Most officers storm the front door with their guns while one shatters some side windows as a distraction. Minutes go by. The officers’ body language eventually shows signs of frustration as their search for contraband continues to come up empty. Finally, someone finds a book bag with traces of marijuana at the bottom — not enough to smoke, much less sell. They arrest a young black man with long braids for possession.

“I never one time said you’re a bad person,” the lead officer tells his arrestee, with an odd cordiality. “I just have a job to do, and you happen to be in the middle of it.”

The officer also seems to know that the man is a student at a local technical college. He’s working toward a degree in construction. The man also runs a landscaping company to help pay for his education. The man later tells the officer that he was on his way to pick up some lawnmowers that morning. Knowing that he’s about to be arrested, he asks the officer if he could tell his employee that he was arrested and won’t be able to pick up the lawnmowers. He then gives the officer $876 in cash and asks it to give it to his employee to go pick up the mowers, along with a weed-eater.

Instead, the officer confiscates the money under civil asset forfeiture laws. There is no obvious connection between the money and the pot residue. The man volunteered the cash, mostly because he didn’t want his arrest to hurt his business. In doing so, he provided ample evidence that the cash had nothing to do with illegal activity. Still, if unchallenged, the $876 will go back to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, even if the man is never charged with a crime. The cost of hiring an attorney for such a challenge would likely exceed $876.

Meanwhile, the man’s father asks the officers whether the police would pay for the windows they just shattered. The lead officer tells him that breaking the windows was a tactic, then adds, “The moral of the story is, don’t sell drugs from your residence.” Perhaps realizing that he had no evidence for what he had just accused the man of doing, he tried to correct himself. “I didn’t say you were actually doing it, I just said — said you were associated with … ” and then there’s some mumbling.

The striking thing about the footage is, again, the utter mundanity of the raid. A family was just violently raided over an immeasurable amount of pot. A man was arrested over that pot. The money he needed for his business was taken from him. Yet there’s no shame or embarrassment from the officers. There’s no panic that the whole thing was captured on video. That’s when it hits you.  They don’t think they’ve made a mistake. This is what they do. The lead officers later tells the camera, matter-of-factly, that the raid turned up “a personal use amount of marijuana.” Perhaps realizing that he was also on camera back at the police station promising a much larger stash of drugs, he adds, “It happens. Drug warrants are, you know, 50-50.”

The documentary also . . .

Continue reading. At the link is the trailer for the documentary.

OTOH, US police may be better than Filipino police: see this report in the NY Times: “Duterte, Citing Hitler, Says He Wants to Kill 3 Million Addicts in Philippines.” Apparently Duterte taks Hitler as a role model.

UPDATE: The comments section pointed out this post by David Grossman, the man who teaches Killology 101 “The Science of Killing” to police departments all over the country.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 3:36 pm

Teh stupid in Congress, explained in Vox

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Jennifer Williams reports in Vox:

The Senate on Wednesday voted 97-1 to override President Obama’s veto of a controversial bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged financial support of al-Qaeda.

And then things got weird.

Almost immediately after the vote, 28 senators who had just voted for the bill sent a letter to the bill’s Senate sponsors, Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, saying they were concerned about the “potential unintended consequences that may result from this legislation for the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The Obama administration has long argued that the bill could end up putting the United States at risk of being similarly prosecuted in foreign courts by undermining a long-standing tradition in foreign relations known as “sovereign immunity.” They made this argument when the bill was first up for a vote back in May and promised to veto it if it passed. Then, when it did pass, Obama vetoed it, citing once again his argument for why he thought the bill was a bad idea.

When Congress announced it would hold a vote to override the veto, Obama wrote a letterto Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, yet again making the case against the bill. But Congress voted to override the veto anyway — the first time they’d ever done so in Obama’s entire presidency.

It was only after that final vote on Wednesday to override the veto that Congress apparently figured out that — uh oh! — there might be some negative consequences to the bill they had just voted into law.

Their excuse for why they’d passed this potentially harmful bill? The Obama administration never told them it was a bad idea.

“Nobody really had focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said. “I think it was just a ball dropped.”

Never mind the fact that the Obama administration most definitely did explain, again and again, why they thought the bill was a bad idea, the fact is that it’s Congress’s job to understand the potential impact of any legislation they pass.

As White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest aptly put it, “what’s true in elementary school is true in the United States Congress, ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it comes to our national security and the safety and security of our diplomats and our service members.”

Regardless, Congress still seems a little confused about all of this. Luckily, we have an explainer that should clear everything up for them — and you. Here, then, is the Obama administration’s case against the JASTA bill, and why top national security experts think he’s right. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Congress, Law, Mental Health

Teh stupid takes over the country

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In addition to the stupidity of the veto override (followed immediately by complaints that Obama should … what? refuse to accept the veto?), we have this report from David Epstein in ProPublica:

You probably heard the one about the “darkly-complected” (he’s Italian) mystery man (Penn econ professor) who caused an American Airlines flight to be grounded because of his seatmate’s concerns over the inscrutable notes (math) he was intensely scribbling (still math) while the plane taxied. In the seatmate’s defense, humans have been freaking out at the sight of differential equations since the dawn of grades. This sort of troubling misunderstanding of technical material isn’t restricted to the Bloody Mary-and-peanuts set, though. Last year, the Justice Department arrested Xi Xiaoxing, chair of Temple University’s physics department, on charges that he was a spy — he was facing a cool 80 years in prison — after they obtained schematics he had shared with Chinese colleagues of a restricted piece of research equipment. Except, it turns out the schematics were for something completely different and not restricted. The feds just didn’t know how to interpret them. As pretty woman Julia Roberts would tell a haughty store clerk: Big mistake. Big. Huge. According to an article in the Washington Post’s eclectic Outlook section, Xi’s case is a great example that “tech law needs a reboot.” Your four W’s:


As Garrett M. Graff writes in the Post article: “Both federal prosecutors and the attorneys who represent executive agencies in court are bungling lawsuits across the country because they don’t understand what they’re talking about.” OMG Garrett, do you know how high our unemployment rate would be if everyone had to know what they’re talking about??

What else?

Apparently Xi’s case is just one of a growing body of investigative tech flubs that have wasted time and resources and, ya know, sent a dozen FBI agents through a physics professor’s door. (Surprise!) Just last week, according to the Post piece, a federal judge in Iowa tossed evidence collected by the FBI in a child pornography case because the Justice Department didn’t seem to understand how its own digital investigative tools worked. … And all this after the Justice Department went to the trouble of unplugging it and plugging it back in.

What else?

The Post article details a litany of technical failings in government legal investigations. For example: “Government attorneys frequently confuse content and metadata, even though the two types of information face very different legal standards. One possible reason: The Justice Department’s decade-old Electronic Surveillance Manual is incorrect about the basic mechanics of how email works, according to a forthcoming article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.” Is it just me or does it seem like the author is kind of obsessed with people knowing what they’re talking about? I bet Garrett M. Graff’s head totally does that Exorcist thing when he listens to talk radio.

What’s needed? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 3:10 pm

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