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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Don’t Worry About New Alabama Mad Cow, Says CDC, but Facts Suggest Otherwise

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The USDA is supposed to inspect meat, but in order to reduce taxes (and government) they are underfunded and understaffed (thanks to the GOP), so instead of inspecting meat they have meat producers go on the honor system. Of course, producers are rewarded for the amount they ship, and rejecting animals and the meat from them costs them money, which presents an obvious conflict of interest. So we all just agree not to look at that.

Martha Rosenberg reports in AlterNet:

Don’t worry, eat your hamburger. That’s what the CDC is saying as another “mad cow” was found in Alabama in July. The cow suffered from an “atypical” version of Mad Cow (BSE), says the CDC, which occurs spontaneously and cannot harm humans. Sounds good until you read that the atypical assertion is merely a CDC “theory” and the agency admits “transmission through feed or the environment cannot be ruled out.”

There is a reason government officials are quick to defend the safety of the U.S. beef supply. Within hours of the first mad cow discovered in the U.S. in 2003, China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea and 90 other countries banned U.S. beef. Ninety-eight percent of the $3 billion overseas beef market vanished. It has taken 14 years for the U.S. to re-establish its beef exports and other beef-exporting countries have had similar woes. If an atypical version of BSE that threatened no one didn’t exist, governments might want to invent one. In fact, the research behind the atypical theory is primarily floated by government ag departments.

In addition to losing exports, before atypical BSE was described, beef producers were forced to quarantine their ranches, search for tainted food sources and detain herdmates and offspring in a BSE outbreak. They lost huge amounts of money. The debut of atypical BSE means they can just say “these things happen,” and keep doing business.

Mainstream media sources are cooperatively repeating the government statement that, “the Alabama cow was not slaughtered, never entered the food supply and presents no risk to human health in the United States or anywhere else.” But food reporters who have covered BSE since 2003 remember that the same thing was said about the first U.S. BSE cow until both the San Francisco Chronicle and the LA Times reported otherwise.

“In an interview, Alameda County health officer Dr. Anthony Iton recalled that in early January 2004 almost a month after the initial discovery [of a BSE cow], state health officials informed him that five restaurants in the Oakland area had received soup bones from the lot of tainted beef,” reported the Times. “It immediately dispatched inspectors to the restaurants. But it was too late; soup made from the bones had been eaten. He was particularly disturbed to learn that none of the restaurant owners had received written notice of the recall and that federal inspectors did not visit them until 10 days after the recall.”

And there was more government BSE bumbling. A cow, born and bred in Texas, found less than a year after the first one (born in Canada) was suspected of having BSE, but ruled “negative” by government testers for seven months. Phyllis Fong, the inspector general at the time, ordered the more precise “Western blot” over the head of then Ag Secretary Mike Johanns and the cow was diagnosed with BSE.

After the Texas BSE cow, a BSE cow born and bred in Alabama was found. Extensive government investigations were conducted on both to find the source of the deadly disease and there was no mention of the current atypical BSE. Disturbingly, the government protected the identifies of the ranches that produced the BSE cows from food consumers, placing the interests of meat producers above the endangered public.

Government Prion Research Not to Be Trusted

BSE is transmitted by prions, invisible infectious particles that are not viruses or bacteria, but proteins. Though prions are not technically “alive” because they lack a nucleus, they are almost impossible to “kill” because they are not inactivated by cooking, heat, ammonia, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, benzene, alcohol, phenol, lye, formaldehyde or radiation. Yet government research into prion diseases—which include chronic wasting disease found in deer and elk—is extremely inept.

In 2006, BSE research had to be delayed at the National Animal Disease Laboratory in Ames, Iowa because lab workers there accused the facility of failing to properly treat infectious wastes before they were sent to the city’s treatment plant which empties into the Skunk River. The lab, in charge of confirming BSE cases, was also charged with keeping rather than incinerating dead animals for months in containers.

Nor do government protocols for human victims inspire confidence.  . .

Continue reading.

Cutting taxes is all well and good provided everything always goes right, but in general we pay taxes so the government can do its job of protecting the public, among other things. Businesses do not like it when the public is protected (thus the strong drive to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Wall Street and banks do not want consumers to have financial protection because it would cut into profits).

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2017 at 1:11 pm

Jeff Sessions: Feds Have the Right to Seize Your Cash, Property

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Of course, Jeff Sessions’ love of civil asset forfeiture is not why Donald Trump wants to dump him. Still, it’s worth looking at. Lucy Steigerwald writes in The American Conservative:

He hasn’t yet sent federal agents into the ever-growing number of states that legalize medical and recreational marijuana, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions is becoming the kind of law enforcement officer that criminal justice reformers feared he would be from the start.

On Wednesday, Sessions declared that civil asset forfeiture was back. It didn’t go anywhere, mind you. The controversial process in which police can not only seize property like cars and cash they suspect are connected to a crime, but profit from it too, was gently restricted at the federal level by former-Obama Attorney General Eric Holder. Now, under Sessions, no matter what state law says, “Under the Attorney General’s Order, federal adoption of all types of assets seized lawfully by state or local law enforcement under their respective state laws is authorized whenever the conduct giving rise to the seizure violates federal law.”

Sessions claims that law enforcement is going to prioritize assets associated with violent drug crimes, but there is no reason why police won’t just go back to using the Drug War to buy their departments new toys, as they’ve been doing for the past 30 years.

A decade ago, only a handful of astute people realized that this confusing-sounding policy was a scam. Today that knowledge has spread, helped along by fun facts, like more money was taken through asset forfeiture in 2014 than burglary (some $5 billion total). Those startling numbers, along with the desire to see police cleaned up in general, has made forfeiture reform popular indeed, with 84 percent of Americans now saying they want to see the practice ended altogether.

It was Holder who put up a few tepid safeguards, and restricted (some) aspects of the federal money-pot  called “equitable sharing.” This happened because of a gradual movement towards justice reform on both sides of the aisle over the past 10 years.

Until Sessions put the brakes on Wednesday.

Sessions told law enforcement officials that asset forfeiture is “a key tool.” He detailed how wonderful and vital it is because, in part, it “helps return property to the victims of crime.” Does it? Since when is the U.S. justice system more about restitution than punishment?

No, hang on, Sessions continued, “Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement….” Well, that sounds a little better. But the core objection that most people have is not that money from criminals is transferred to police. The fundamental problem is taking money and property from people who have not yet been convicted of a crime, or even charged in some cases.

Forfeiture, a Prohibition-era tool, came back with zeal during President Reagan’s increasingly militarized War on Drugs. It is both a federal and a state matter. The ease with which property can be taken varies from state to state, though most of them (except the half dozen states such as New Mexico and Missouri which don’t let law enforcement keep any assets) are overly lax. Unfortunately, however, the DOJ equitable sharing program, which is a legal slush fund, can effectively ruin any state safeguards. Basically, it means that if there is even a tentative federal involvement in an investigation, the state agency can keep 80 percent of the profits, and the feds get 20 percent.

In his statement, Sessions defended the process. He used the fact that “four out of five administrative civil asset forfeitures filed by federal law enforcement agencies were never challenged in court,” as proof that the system is working well. The fact that it costs money to take someone (not just someone, the federal government) to court to prove that your money is your money takes time and effort.

Yes, a drug dealer might be carrying $15,000 in cash. So might an antiques-buyer, a car-buyer, a horse trader, a would-be business owner, or lots of other people who shouldn’t have to go to court to get their money back. Sessions says that law enforcement will be careful and that innocent bystanders won’t become victims. These vague safeguards feel more like a PR move to counter bad press in which cops tried to take homes where an adult child dealt a small amount of drugs, or a motel owner fought for years to keep his property, or a hundred other stories of people with cash being screwed over.

None of his assurances has any weight beyond “trust us.” It’s reassurance and regression, not reform.

This regression is proof that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2017 at 12:04 pm

Life in the US? or life in Hell? Outcome of case where a family was raided by a SWAT team over loose leaf tea

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Read all of Radley Balko’s column, which begins:

Here at The Watch, we’ve been closely following the case of Robert and Addie Harte, a Kansas couple who, along with their 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, were raided by a SWAT team in April 2012, after police mistook Addie Harte’s loose leaf tea for marijuana. Read the linked posts for a full recap, but here’s a quick summary:

Seven months before the raid, a state trooper was surveilling a hydroponic plant store, writing down descriptions of customers and recording their license plates. The trooper saw Robert Harte and his son emerge from the story carrying a small bag. Months later, local police conducted a trash pull at the Harte home, which police can do without a warrant. They did three pulls and each time found the wet remnants of Addie Harte’s loose leaf tea. On two occasions, drug field tests on the tea registered false positives for pot. On this basis — and this basis alone — the cops staged a full-on raid of the Harte home. There was no further investigation.

It should have been immediately clear that the marijuana grow they were looking for was actually a school project. Robert Harte was helping his son grow tomatoes. Yet the police held the Hartes and their children under armed guard for more than two hours. Though they were clearly looking for a marijuana grow, when they didn’t find one the police then re-searched the home for evidence of personal-use quantities of drugs. They even brought in a drug dog. They found nothing. They ended the raid by telling the Hartes that they should have their children tested for drug use.

The raid was part of a series of raids across the state conducted on April 20 — that is, 4/20. Police agencies across the state had conducted similar raids the previous year. Before the raids even happened, the local sheriff’s department had already scheduled a press conference to gloat about its bounty. Despite relatively weak results — the raids on April 20 produced two arrests for misdemeanor possession, but not a single marijuana plant — they went ahead with the press conference, which produced news reports about how police had halted drug activity “in good neighborhoods” in places such as Leawood (where the Hartes live) and at the homes of “average Johnson County families.”

According to court records, the raid on the Harte family became something of a joke among local police. (Hilarious!) At the time, Kansas open-records laws were enormously deferential to police agencies. The Hartes had to spend more than $25,000 in legal fees just to get a copy of the affidavit for the search warrant. Which is to say they had to spend $25,000 just to learn why armed police officers stormed their home early in the morning. It was only then that they learned about the police mistaking tea leaves for pot.

The field tests the police used on the tea leaves are notoriously unreliable. Studies have shown them to have error rates as high as 70 percent. The tests themselves say that they should only be used to establish suspicion of an illicit substance, and that the substance itself should then be sent to a lab for more conclusive tests. The police never did that, likely because they were facing pressure to conduct the raid in time for it to be part of that 4/20 press conference. Though the state trooper had spotted Robert Harte more than six months earlier, he didn’t give the sheriff’s department Harte’s name until March. The trash pulls were conducted on April 3, 10 and 17. There just wasn’t time for a lab test.

Despite all of this, in 2014 a federal district court judge dismissed every one of their claims on summary judgment. Here’s a summary of the decision from a post I put up at the time: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2017 at 2:49 pm

DOJ: No Sessions recusal paper trail

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have a press release:

The Department of Justice has no unreleased documents or notes on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, according to information made public by a FOIA lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

According to the DOJ, the only two records ever created regarding his recusal were a press release and a short email to top DOJ officials that was made public in June. Documents obtained by CREW in the lawsuit also show that Sessions announced his recusal about an hour before he was scheduled to meet with his staff to discuss the recusal.

“For such a major decision, it’s a little odd that there’s virtually no paper trail,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “This suggests the whole process was haphazardly done, and it provides the Department with very little guidance on the scope of the recusal.”

Assuming the DOJ is correct that there were no records beyond a press release and a short email, that means that no written analysis or detailed explanation accompanied Sessions decision, suggesting he may have made the decision alone in the immediate aftermath of reports of his meeting with Russian officials.

“Whatever the explanation, the story behind the Sessions recusal is noteworthy,” said Bookbinder, a veteran of the Justice Department. “This is not how the Department of Justice normally does business.”

Read the documents here

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2017 at 8:46 pm

A Timeline: Russia and President Trump

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Steven Harper has an interesting timeline at BillMoyers.com:

This timeline was originally published on Feb. 15, 2017 and was last updated on July 17, 2017 at 10:08 p.m. ET. We update the timeline each week.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2017 at 4:45 pm

How Fake Cops Got $1.2 Million in Real Weapons

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Eli Hager reports for the Marshall Project:

When you think of a federal sting operation involving weaponry and military gear, the Government Accountability Office doesn’t immediately jump to mind. The office is tasked with auditing other federal agencies to root out fraud and abuse, usually by asking questions and poring over paperwork.

This year, the agency went a little more cowboy. The GAO created a fictitious law enforcement agency — complete with a fake website and a bogus address that traced back to an empty lot — and applied for military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense.

And in less than a week, they got it.

A GAO report issued this week says the agency’s faux cops were able to obtain $1.2 million worth of military gear, including night-vision goggles, simulated M-16A2 rifles and pipe bomb equipment from the Defense Department’s 1033 program, which supplies state and local law enforcement with excess materiel. The rifles and bomb equipment could have been made functional with widely available parts, the report said.

“They never did any verification, like visit our ‘location,’ and most of it was by email,” said Zina Merritt, director of the GAO’s defense capabilities and management team, which ran the operation. “It was like getting stuff off of eBay.”

In its response to the sting, the Defense Department promised to tighten its verification procedures, including trying to visit the location of law enforcement agencies that apply and making sure agents picking up supplies have valid identification, the GAO report said. The department also promised to do an internal fraud assessment by April 2018.

A Defense Department spokesman declined to comment further.

The sting operation has its roots in the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. At the time, many were surprised to see law enforcement respond to protests with armored trucks, sniper rifles, tear-gas bombs and other weapons of war.

Reporting by The Marshall Project and others found that much of the equipment came from the obscure 1033 program, which dates back to the Clinton era. Any equipment the U.S. military was not using — including Humvees, grenades, scuba-diving gear and even marching-band instruments — was available to local cops who could demonstrate a need.

The program has transferred more than $6 billion worth of supplies to more than 8,600 law enforcement agencies since 1991.

After Ferguson, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the military from giving away some equipment and deeming other equipment “controlled,” establishing strict oversight and training requirements for law enforcement agencies that wanted it. The order also required a Defense Department and Justice Department working group to ensure oversight.

But since President Donald Trump took office, the group has not met, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan thinktank that had been participating in the meetings. Trump has said that he will revoke Obama’s executive order, although he has not yet.

Congress ordered the GAO to look into the program last year. A survey of local law enforcement did not turn up any instances of outright abuse at the state level but did find one illegitimate agency that had applied as a federal entity and was approved for equipment, Merritt said.

That’s when the agency launched the sting. Contrary to its public image, GAO has snagged other agencies with undercover work in the past, including an investigation of the Affordable Care Act in which the agency submitted fictitious applications and was approved for subsidized healthcare coverage.

In this case, the GAO created the fake law enforcement agency — whose name the agency would not reveal — and claimed it did high-level security and counterterrorism work. Once approved, the agency easily obtained the items from a Defense Department warehouse of unused military goods.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which lists rescinding Obama’s executive order one of its top priorities for the Trump administration, said the possibility of fraud does not indict the whole program. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2017 at 3:19 pm

Can the President Be Indicted? A Long-Hidden Legal Memo Says Yes

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Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?

The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.

“It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”

Mr. Starr assigned Ronald Rotunda, a prominent conservative professor of constitutional law and ethics whom Mr. Starr hired as a consultant on his legal team, to write the memo in spring 1998 after deputies advised him that they had gathered enough evidence to ask a grand jury to indict Mr. Clinton, the memo shows.

Other prosecutors working for Mr. Starr developed a draft indictment of Mr. Clinton, which The Times has also requested be made public. The National Archives has not processed that file to determine whether it is exempt from disclosure under grand-jury secrecy rules.

In 1974, the Watergate special counsel, Leon Jaworski, had also received a memo from his staff saying he could indict the president, in that instance Richard M. Nixon, while he was in office, and later made that case in a court brief. Those documents, however, explore the topic significantly less extensively than the Starr office memo.

In the end, both Mr. Jaworski and Mr. Starr let congressional impeachment proceedings play out and did not try to indict the presidents while they remained in office. Mr. Starr, who had decided he could indict Mr. Clinton, said in a recent interview that he had concluded the more prudent and appropriate course was simply referring the matter to Congress for potential impeachment.

As Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the latest inquiry, investigates the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia and whether President Trump obstructed justice, the newly unearthed Starr office memo raises the possibility that Mr. Mueller may have more options than most commentators have assumed. Here is an explanation of the debate and what the Starr office memo has to say.

Why do some argue presidents are immune?

Nothing in the Constitution or federal statutes says that sitting presidents are immune from prosecution, and no court has ruled that they have any such shield. But proponents of the theory that Mr. Trump is nevertheless immune for now from indictment cited the Constitution’s “structural principles,” in the words of a memo written in September 1973 by Robert G. Dixon Jr., then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

This argument boils down to practicalities of governance: The stigma of being indicted and the burden of a trial would unduly interfere with a president’s ability to carry out his duties, preventing the executive branch “from accomplishing its constitutional functions” in a way that cannot “be justified by an overriding need,” Mr. Dixon wrote. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2017 at 7:04 pm

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