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Archive for May 5th, 2018

As California moves to speed up executions, a man is exonerated after 25 years on death row

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

This Los Angeles Times editorial lays out the brutal details of yet another death-row exoneration:

A Kern County Superior Court judge last week ordered that a 68-year-old former farmworker, Vicente Benavides Figueroa, be released from San Quentin’s death row after the local district attorney declared she would not retry him. Benavides had been in prison for more than 25 years after being convicted of raping, sodomizing and murdering his girlfriend’s 21-month-old daughter.

Benavides was freed after all but one of the medical experts who testified against him recanted their conclusions that the girl had, in effect, been raped to death — conclusions they had reached after reviewing incomplete medical records. In fact, the first nurses and doctors who examined the semiconscious and battered girl in 1991 observed no injuries suggesting she had been raped or sodomized, but those details were not passed along to the medical expert witnesses who testified in court. Injuries later observed at two other hospitals were likely caused by that first effort to save her life, which included attempts to insert an adult-sized catheter.

Two points to add some context to this unimaginably horrific story:

First, Kern County, home to Bakersfield, was also the terrain of longtime district attorney Ed Jagels, one of the pillars of the law-and-order movement of the 1980s and 1990s. There was a joke that Bakersfield’s unofficial motto was “Come for vacation, leave on probation.” Jagels used to brag on his official Web page of having a higher per-capita imprisonment rate than any county in California. He was elected head of the state’s district attorneys association multiple times and was often referred to as the dean of California prosecutors. He also led the charge for nearly every draconian crime bill the state passed in that era, including the state’s notorious “three strikes” law. He helped get three anti-death-penalty justices removed from the California Supreme Court and lobbied heavily against medical marijuana.

Jagels was regularly berated by appellate courts for alleged prosecutorial misconduct, and as the journalist Edward Humes points out in his book “Mean Justice,” by his second term the number of misconduct complaints against Jagels’s office was triple that of his predecessor.

Jagels is perhaps best known for making Kern County ground zero for the ritual sex-abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s. Jagels’s office convicted 26 people of unimaginable crimes, including orgies involving children and animals, children forced to drink blood, and infants who were raped and cannibalized. These charges were based almost entirely on the memories of young children. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there was no physical evidence at all. No children showed signs of abuse. No children were reported missing. There was no blood to be found where these alleged crimes took place. Of the 26 convictions, 25 were later reversed. And overall, Benavides is now at least the 26th completely innocent person wrongly convicted by Jagels’s office. Kern County leads the state in exonerations per 100,000 residents, and by a large margin.

Jagels should have been removed from office and faced disciplinary sanctions. Instead, when he announced his retirement in 2009, he was called “the prosecutor’s prosecutor.” A former subordinate told the local paper, “Prosecutors from around the state seek and respect his advice on almost every issue of public safety.”

Since retiring, Jagels has been a criminal-justice policy adviser to various Republican campaigns, including Meg Whitman’s California  gubernatorial campaign. As for Kern County, since Jagels left, the DA’s office has been run by Lisa Green, a Jagels protégé who began working with him in 1983, the year he was elected. Green also personally represented the office in its fight against overturning some of the verdicts in the child sex-abuse cases.

Green’s tenure in Kern County has also been marked by scandal and allegations of misconduct. Last year, the California Supreme Court overturned three convictions, finding that Green’s office was racially discriminatory during the jury selection process. Before that, Robert Murray — one of Green’s top assistants — was suspended for a year by the California State Bar (a punishment that is vanishingly rare) for attaching a forged signature and confession to the statement given by a man accused of child molestation. Green stood by Murray and refused to fire him. (So did then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a senator and possible presidential candidate.) Kern County is consistently among the leading counties in the United States when it comes to both its rate of police shootings and death sentences.

Green is retiring this year, but it doesn’t look like her exit will bring much change to Kern County. The two leading candidates for the job are both already prosecutors in Green’s office. One is Green’s top assistant, who has won her endorsement. The other has worked in the office for more than 30 years and has been endorsed by Jagels.
The second thing worth considering in light of Benavides’s exoneration is Prop 66, the death-penalty law passed by California voters in 2016. As the Los Angeles Times editorial points out, the measure is intended to speed up executions in the state by putting time limits on post-conviction petitions and restricting the grounds on which the condemned can request a new trial. This, even as we continue to learn about staggering prosecutor misconduct across the state, not just in Kern County, but in Orange CountyRiverside CountySanta Clara CountyAlameda County and Los Angeles County.
As the Los Angeles Times editorial above points out, if Prop 66 had been in place when Mr. Benavides was convicted, he’d almost certainly be dead. He’d never have lived to see his exoneration. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2018 at 3:40 pm

A change in formatting. And it’s based on research.

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I was taught decades ago in typing class that a period is followed by two spaces.  But that was using a monospaced font, in which each letter had the same width, and when proportional spacing came in, I learned to use one space following the period, since the period constitutes a visual space—thus the lack of spaces in initials such as D.R. Harris and J.R.R. Tolkien.

But now research has convinced me to return to two spaces following a period.  Avi Selk has an entertaining article in the Washington Post on the issue.  From the article:

. . . So the researchers,  Rebecca L. Johnson,  Becky Bui  and Lindsay L. Schmitt,  rounded up 60 students and some eye tracking equipment,  and set out to heal the divide.

First, they put the students in front of computers and dictated a short paragraph, to see how many spaces they naturally used. Turns out, 21 of the 60 were “two-spacers,” and the rest typed with close-spaced sentences that would have horrified the Founding Fathers.
The researchers then clamped each student’s head into place, and used an Eyelink 1000 to record where they looked as they silently read 20 paragraphs. The paragraphs were written in various styles: one-spaced, two-spaced,  and strange combinations like two spaces after commas,  but only one after periods.  And vice versa, too.
And the verdict was: two spaces after the period is better.  It makes reading slightly easier.  Congratulations, Yale University professor Nicholas A. Christakis.  Sorry, Lifehacker. . .

But read the entire article.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2018 at 10:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Science, Writing

One West Virginia County Tried to Break Its Dependence on the Energy Industry. It Was Overruled.

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Ken Ward, Jr. reports in ProPublica:

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — Matt Wender’s vision for Fayette County begins with the New River Gorge. Whitewater rafters, hikers and mountain bikers congregate there every summer. Craft beer and artisan pizza are helping his home emerge as an outdoor tourism hub.

Just upstream from the river, there’s another reality: A company called Danny Webb Construction Inc. pumps waste from natural gas drilling underground. Chloride, strontium, lithium and other markers of gas waste have been found in Wolf Creek, which flows into the river.

In the southeast corner of the county, developers of a 300-mile gas pipeline hope to turn a wooded, 130-acre plot into the site of a gas compressor station, a facility local leaders say would be noisy and would change the inviting nature of the area.

Fayette County is more than 150 miles from the vast reserves in Northern West Virginia that fueled skyrocketing gas production over the past decade. But the infrastructure to support the drilling crisscrosses the state: new pipelines, a host of processing plants, compressor stations and — industry supporters hope — a new generation of sprawling chemical factories and manufacturing plants.

Residents here know both the costs and benefits of serving the country’s energy needs. As recently as a decade ago, roughly 1,200 coal miners worked in Fayette County. Today, there are only about 600.

When Wender, one of three Fayette County commissioners, drives around the county where he grew up, he sees signs of its former life as a coal-mining community: scarred land and polluted creeks. There’s some progress, like the new national Boy Scout camp, built partly on abandoned mine sites reclaimed with federal funding. But there’s also the town of Minden, where federal officials are back again — after a series of failed cleanups — trying to figure out what to do about lingering pollution left behind by a long-closed equipment shop that served the coal industry.

Two years ago, Wender and his fellow commissioners decided they would fight for a different future. In early 2016, prodded by citizen concerns about pollution, they passed a local ordinance that prohibited disposal of natural gas drilling wastes in their county.

Amid a natural gas boom, communities across the country have pushed to put limits on drilling and waste disposal. But Wender, his fellow commissioners and the residents of Fayette County soon found out that taking on natural gas isn’t any easier than it’s been for decades for other West Virginia communities to take on coal. The state’s laws create an almost insurmountable bar.

The day after Fayette County leaders enacted their ban, EQT Corp., a Pittsburgh-based company that is West Virginia’s second-largest gas producer with $1.5 billion in income in 2017, filed suit. Company lawyers said the ordinance was so broad that it would halt any gas production in Fayette.

On the morning of an evidentiary hearing, in June 2016, Wender and a few dozen Fayette County residents drove more than an hour over winding roads to Charleston, so they could fill the courtroom. Wender planned to tell the county’s story. The county’s lawyers lined up a Duke University scientist to describe the pollution found downstream from Danny Webb’s site.

Just before the hearing, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. issued a 45-page ruling that threw out Fayette’s waste disposal ban. No hearing was needed to gather facts, the judge said. It was strictly a legal issue, and the law, at least in this case, was clear: Federal and state statutes govern such matters; county officials can’t ban drilling in their own community.

The state of West Virginia “has concluded that oil and natural gas extraction is a highly valuable activity subject to centralized environmental regulation by” the state Department of Environmental Protection, the judge wrote. The County Commission “cannot interfere with, impede, or oppose the state’s goals.”

There was no testimony. Wender didn’t take the stand. The Duke scientist headed back to North Carolina.

As the judge left the bench, Fayette County residents stood, each with an arm held in the air and a fist clenched. They loudly hummed “America the Beautiful” as they filed out of the courtroom.

“I Didn’t Know It Was Bad Stuff”

For more than 20 years, Wender worked in his family’s department store in Oak Hill, about 10 minutes down the road from Fayetteville. He also was an investment manager at a state government economic development agency. When he was younger, he was not among those who tried to fight coal companies or strip mining.

“I didn’t really pay that much attention,” Wender said. “I was a retailer and I had miners who had pay in their pockets.”

Wender was first elected to the County Commission in 2000, and is running this year for his fourth six-year term.

By 2013, Wender was starting to hear more frequently from Fayette County residents about a natural gas waste disposal site in their community.

“I guess at the time I didn’t even know what fracking fluid was,” Wender recalled. “I didn’t know it was bad stuff.”

Just south of Fayetteville, the county seat, toward the end of a narrow road off the four-lane highway, Danny Webb had, for more than 10 years, been pumping natural gas industry wastes into one, and then two “injection wells.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s grim.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2018 at 9:18 am

New Bipartisan Bill Could Give Any President the Power to Imprison U.S. Citizens in Military Detention Forever

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Jon Schwaz reports in the Intercept:

ONE OF THE most outrageous acts of Barack Obama’s presidency was his failure to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012.

The fiscal year 2012 NDAA included provisions that appeared to both codify and expand a power the executive branch had previously claimed to possess — namely, the power to hold individuals, including U.S. citizens, in military detention indefinitely — based on the Authorization to Use Military Force passed by Congress three days after 9/11.

The New York Times warned that the bill could “give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial.” Not surprisingly, Obama’s decision generated enormous outcry across the political spectrum, from Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, on the right to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the left.

However, the NDAA did provide some weak restraints on the executive branch’s ability to use this power. In theory, the NDAA’s provisions only apply to someone involved with the 9/11 attacks or who “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.”

But now, incredibly enough, a bipartisan group of six lawmakers, led by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., is proposing a new AUMF that would greatly expand who the president can place in indefinite military detention, all in the name of restricting presidential power. If the Corker-Kaine bill becomes law as currently written, any president, including Donald Trump, could plausibly claim extraordinarily broad power to order the military to imprison any U.S. citizen, captured in America or not, and hold them without charges essentially forever.

Even opponents of the bill do not believe this is the goal of Corker, Kaine et al. “I think they’re acting in good faith,” says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center at New York University Law School. Kaine himself has explained that they authored the bill because “for too long, Congress has given presidents a blank check. We’ve let the 9/11 and Iraq War authorizations get stretched. … Our proposal finally repeals those authorizations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when, and with who we are at war.”

But thanks to a combination of sloppy drafting and clear reluctance to take the executive branch head-on, Corker and Kaine’s proposed AUMF could do the opposite, handing genuinely tyrannical powers over to the president. Christopher Anders of the ACLU characterizes the bill as “a legislative dumpster fire.”

There’s such a desire to put Congress back in the game,” says Goitein. The perspective of the new AUMF’s authors, she believes, seems to be “we have to do something. This is something. Therefore, we have to do this.”

Understanding the terrible potential consequences of this bill requires a close look at the relevant history and law.

CAN THE PRESIDENT hold U.S. citizens apprehended far away from a battlefield without charges in the military detention system?

During peacetime, the answer is obvious: absolutely not. It would be one of the clearest violations of the Bill of Rights imaginable.

But this changes in wartime. The 2001 AUMF did not give explicitly give this power to the executive branch, but the George W. Bush administration claimed that this language from the resolution provided it implicitly:

The administration used this purported power after José Padilla, a U.S. citizen born in Brooklyn, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in May 2002 when returning from the Mideast. Bush designated Padilla as an “enemy combatant,” claimed he was “closely associated with Al Qaeda,” and had “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts.” On this basis, Bush placed him in a military prison without charges or a trial.The Supreme Court never ruled on whether this was legitimate; the Bush administration moved Padilla to the civilian court system before it could do so. But prior to Padilla’s transfer, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit declared that the 2001 AUMF did, in fact, give the president “the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla.” At the time, Padilla’s lawyer said this could mean “that the president conceivably could sign a piece of paper when he has hearsay information that somebody has done something he doesn’t like and send them to jail — without a hearing [or] a trial.”

This was the state of play when the FY 2012 NDAA was being written. The executive branch had claimed that the 2001 AUMF gave it the right to indefinitely detain individuals, including U.S. citizens who had not been captured on a battlefield, and a court had concurred.

Significantly, however, Congress had not explicitly affirmed anything on this subject. That changed with the now-notorious Section 1021 of the NDAA: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2018 at 9:00 am

“We’re Gonna Take Everyone” — Border Patrol Targets Prominent Humanitarian Group As Criminal Organization

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The Border Patrol is becoming, in its attitudes and actions, an American version of the Gestapo, including their own prisons (aka “detention centers”). Ryan Devereaux reports in the Intercept:

FROM THE MOMENT Scott Warren was arrested by Border Patrol agents on a remote property just north of the Mexican border, in January this year, there were questions. The 35-year-old college instructor, with a doctorate in geography and a history of academic and humanitarian work along the border, was found in a building known locally as “the Barn,” in the company of two young undocumented men from Mexico.

Accused of supplying the men with food, water, clothing, and a place to sleep, he was indicted by a grand jury in February, on two counts of harboring illegal aliens and one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. The humanitarian aid volunteer could spend up to two decades in prison if convicted and sentenced to consecutive terms.

Warren is also one of nine volunteers with No More Deaths, an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, to be hit with federal charges in recent months for leaving water in a remote federal wilderness preserve where migrants routinely disappear and die. His arrest came just hours after No More Deaths published a report that documents evidence of Border Patrol agents destroying jugs of water that the group leaves for migrants in the desert.

Now, more than three months after the raid on the Barn, filings in the criminal case against Warren reveal new details about the January operation, bolstering suspicions that law enforcement has come to see No More Deaths, an organization focused on preventing the loss of life in the borderlands, as a criminal organization aimed at aiding the unlawful entry of migrants into the U.S.

A motion to suppress evidence that was filed by Warren’s attorneys, who claim that the warrantless search of The Barn was unlawful, includes text messages between Border Patrol agents from before and after the raid, as well as reports written by agency officials at the time. The materials include talk of open investigations into No More Deaths as an organization, descriptions of Warren as a “recruiter” for the group, and links made between Warren’s arrest and prior enforcement actions that stemmed from the organization’s “illicit” work.

The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector declined to comment on the recently filed materials, referring The Intercept’s questions, initially sent Friday, to the U.S. attorney’s office. The U.S. attorney’s office refused to say whether an investigation has been opened into No More Deaths as an organization, citing office policy. By Monday, the documents had been removed from the federal government’s online database of court records.

For those working to address the humanitarian crisis along the border, the documents underscore the challenges of continuing that work in the Trump era. Echoing the sentiments of her fellow No More Deaths volunteers, Kate Morgan-Olsen, abuse documentation and advocacy coordinator for the organization, said the records disclosed in Warren’s case confirmed what the group has always suspected: that the government views her organization as a target. “The documents, particularly the text messages, show what we thought was the case, which is that there is some sort of investigation into our organization,” she said.

The Barn, and the work that goes on there, is no secret. The Ajo, Arizona, property is openly used by humanitarian aid groups that provide food, water, and medical care to the adults and children who come stumbling out of the Arizona desert exhausted, dehydrated, and sometimes on the verge of death. The most prominent group to make use of the space, No More Deaths, has worked along the border for nearly a decade and a half. Warren has volunteered with the organization, among others, since 2014.

Border Patrol agents and humanitarian groups in Arizona, such as No More Deaths, have long operated with an understanding that spaces used to save human lives are generally off limits to law enforcement. The verbal agreement upheld by Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector and volunteers in the area is built on a set of written principles modeled after Red Cross guidelines on the treatment of humanitarian aid organizations, which include a passage that reads, “Medical treatment provided by humanitarian aid agencies should be recognized and respected by government agents and should be protected from surveillance and interference.”

The internal communications of law enforcement as they descended on the Barn in mid-January shows that those past practices are no longer being respected.

“Toncs at the barn,” wrote agent Brendan Burns at 4:38 p.m., in group text titled, “Los Perros Bravos part 3.”

Common in Border Patrol slang, the word toncs, or tonks, is used to refer to migrants. Though its precise etymology is unclear, the word, by some accounts, refers to the sound a law enforcement-issued flashlight makes when it connects with a human skull.

“Get ready to roll this way all who are available,” Burns wrote. “Came out of the house.”

“10-4,” replied agent Albert Ballesteros, whose avatar featured white letters and an image on a black background — “WATERBOARDING — BAPTIZING TERRORISTS WITH FREEDOM SINCE 2003” — encircling a stick figure strapped to a rack with a bucket of water being poured into his mouth. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2018 at 8:55 am

Sandalwood and the iKon 101

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My Simpson Emperor 2 Best worked up a very nice lather from my pre-reformulation-and-outsourcing Geo. F. Trumper Sandalwood shaving soap. It was a good soap back then.

I haven’t used the iKon 101 for a couple of weeks, and even though I know that I like it, when I return to it after a break, I am always surprised by how very good it is: totally comfortable, very efficient, and altogether a delight. Three passes, no damage, totally smooth face.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave Sandalwood aftershave, and the weekend is officially launched for me.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! (It doesn’t seem to be so big a holiday here as it is in Monterey CA.)

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2018 at 8:45 am

Posted in Shaving

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