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How One West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Gave Natural Gas a Big Victory and Shortchanged Residents

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Ken Ward, Jr., reports in ProPublica:

This article was produced in partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

The Republican-led West Virginia House of Delegates received national attention last week for impeaching all four of the state’s sitting Supreme Court justices. Lawmakers cited a swirling scandal over court spending that ranged from using state cars for personal business to extravagant office renovations that included a $32,000 couch.

Among the targets was Beth Walker, who was impeached over allegations of irresponsible spending and poorly managing the court’s administrative affairs.

But left unmentioned in the impeachment and the debate around it has been a peculiar vote by Walker that benefited the natural gas industry. In one of her earliest votes, Walker made a highly unusual decision to reopen a case and then reverse a Supreme Court ruling that would have forced drillers to pay more in profits to residents. Walker voted to reopen the case around the time her husband owned stock in a variety of energy companies, including those participating in West Virginia’s growing gas boom.

The case focused on whether natural gas companies are allowed to deduct a variety of expenses — for the transportation and processing of gas, for example — when they calculate payments for West Virginia residents or companies that lease them drilling rights to their gas. Millions of dollars in gas royalty payments, the riches from the industry’s dramatic growth in West Virginia over the past decade, were at stake.

In November 2016, the court — before Walker joined it — voted in favor of the residents, ruling that producers weren’t allowed to take such deductions.

Two months later, just weeks into her term, Walker provided the pivotal vote to have the court reconsider the ruling. The court then overturned it, siding with the industry and against the residents.

The decision has been a source of significant dispute. This year, lawmakers passed a bill to reverse the court’s second decision. That prompted EQT Corp., the state’s second-largest gas producer, to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Legislature’s action, as well as a 36-year-old state law that sets minimum royalty payments for new gas wells. The company said the state law “infringes on EQT’s vested drilling rights” under its leases.

That case is pending in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg and is among the major battles playing out amid the economic shift in West Virginia from coal to natural gas.


Land ownership across West Virginia has often been complex and confusing. Someone may own the surface land, while someone else owns the the coal, oil or gas underneath it. Tracts such as natural gas reserves become divided among multiple owners, as land and minerals are passed down across generations.

Much of the natural gas in West Virginia is produced under leases that are decades or more than a century old. When they were signed in the early 1900s, paying residents and mineral owners $100 to $300 a year for gas was considered reasonable, maybe even generous. Most drillers at the time were after oil. Gas was mostly an undesirable byproduct.

When the market for natural gas increased, it became more common for leases to pay a share of the sales. Residents and others owning the mineral rights would make more money as production increased.

But many West Virginians were stuck with older leases paying a set amount per year, regardless of production. The Legislature decided to step in with a bill in 1982 to increase royalty payments for new wells drilled under older leases. While existing wells were grandfathered in, new wells drilled under those old leases would now have to pay the gas owner at least 12.5 percent of the gas sales price.

It was one of these leases, signed in 1906, that governed the deal between Patrick and Katherine Leggett and EQT, and that led to the case involving Walker.

The Leggetts were supposed to be getting a 12.5 percent royalty on the gas produced from the new wells on their land. But they were actually getting much less, because EQT was taking deductions from their payments for expenses incurred after the gas was extracted.

The Leggetts and their lawyers thought the law was clear: West Virginia courts had already ruled that gas firms couldn’t take deductions unless leases explicitly allowed them. And the 1982 royalty law didn’t mention allowing deductions. (The Leggetts were represented by Charleston lawyer Marvin Masters, who is among a group of local investors who bought the Charleston Gazette-Mail this year.)

EQT, though, argued that the Leggett case was different, because the court was interpreting the 1982 statute, rather than simply deciding a dispute over the language of a gas lease.

So EQT and the Leggetts went to court, and the case ended up before the state Supreme Court — at a very unusual time.


In May 2016, Walker, a Morgantown lawyer, had just won a seat on the five-member Supreme Court. Still, Walker wasn’t scheduled to take her seat until Jan. 1 and wouldn’t be hearing the Leggett case.

The case was decided in November 2016 by a 3-2 opinion written by Brent Benjamin, the justice Walker had defeated a few months earlier. It affirmed that gas companies couldn’t take post-production costs out of the royalties they paid to people like the Leggetts. The ruling was published on Nov. 17, 2016, the last day of the court’s fall term that year.

When Walker was sworn in a few weeks later, one of her first acts was to join the two justices who had voted against the Leggetts — Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum — to rehear the case, at the request of EQT. The court rarely agrees to rehear cases, and the court’s own rules say this can only be done in “exceptional cases,” where the court has “overlooked or misapprehended” points of law or fact.

The Leggetts’ lawyers argued that Walker should not be involved in the case and should never have voted on whether to rehear the case because of her husband’s holdings in industry stock.

Mike Walker had loaned his wife’s campaign $525,000 during the 2016 election, according to campaign finance reports. Financial disclosures Beth Walker filed as a candidate for the court indicated that Mike Walker owned stock in many natural gas and energy companies, including Chevron, Columbia Pipeline Group, ConocoPhillips, Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, General Electric, Portland General Electric and ExxonMobil, whose subsidiary, XTO Energy, has significant operations in West Virginia. (State disclosure forms do not provide dollar amounts or ranges for such holdings.)

In court filings, the Leggetts’ lawyers said the loans from Walker’s husband accounted for 70 percent of her campaign funds, and that his energy stocks created a conflict of interest for her in the royalties case.

The decision on whether a justice should be recused is left up to the justice, and Walker declined to recuse herself.

First, she issued an April 26 memo that said she found “no basis for my disqualification” because “neither I nor my husband has an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy.”

Then, five days later, just a day before an oral argument to rehear the case, Walker issued a second memo that said, “Out of an abundance of caution, my husband has divested himself of ownership of shares of stock of any company engaged in the business of producing coal, oil and gas, wind or solar energy.”

At the time, Walker declined through a court spokeswoman to say exactly when her husband sold his energy stocks or if he sold them before she voted to rehear the case. On Friday, Walker’s attorney declined to answer that question or otherwise comment.

In later court filings, EQT lawyers noted that it wasn’t clear how much energy stock Mike Walker owned and said his holdings represented a “diverse stock portfolio, with investments in many different industries.”

Lawyers for the Leggetts describe the stock sale as having taken place after Beth Walker voted to rehear the case. EQT lawyers said what mattered was that the stock divestiture occurred before Beth Walker took part in the oral arguments and decided on the merits of the case.

Three weeks after the new oral arguments, the court sided with EQT over the Leggett family: Post-production costs could be taken from leases covered by the 1982 law.

After that ruling, lawyers for the Leggetts tried to take the issue of Walker’s involvement to the U.S. Supreme Court. But that court declined to hear the matter, as it does with the vast majority of appeals filed every year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2018 at 7:29 pm

The neo-Nazi murder trial revealing Germany’s darkest secrets

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A fascinating disturbing recent history with a glimpse of what lies beneath is presented by Thomas Meaney and Saskia Schäfer in the Guardian:

In the beginning, they were known as die Dönermorde – the kebab murders. The victims had little in common, apart from immigrant backgrounds and the modest businesses they ran. The first to die was Enver Şimşek, a 38-year-old Turkish-German man who ran a flower-import company in the southern German town of Nuremberg. On 9 September 2000, he was shot inside his van by two gunmen, and died in hospital two days later.

The following June, in the same city, 49-year-old Abdurrahim Özüdoğru was killed by two bullets while helping out after hours in a tailor’s shop. Two weeks later, in Hamburg, 500km north, Süleyman Taşköprü, 31, was shot three times and died in his greengrocer’s shop. Two months later, in August 2001, greengrocer Habil Kılıç, 38, was shot twice in his shop in the Munich suburbs.

The crime scenes indicated that the killers favoured a particular killing method. Typically, several shots were fired at close range to the face. Most of the bullets were traced back to a single weapon, a silenced Česká CZ 83 pistol. Police assumed that the professional method of killing, as well as the intimate nature of the murders – when they died, the victims were presumably looking directly into the eyes of their killers – meant that the murders must have been carried out by Turkish gangsters fighting out turf battles. No hard evidence ever substantiated this theory. Nevertheless, the taskforce assigned by the German authorities to the case was given the name “Bosphorus”.

The Bosphorus team tried to persuade the widow of Enver Şimşek, the first victim, to say that her husband was connected to the Turkish mafia. They invented a false story of marital infidelity – that Şimşek was having an affair and had a secret family elsewhere – in the hope that her fury would lead her to reveal his non-existent underworld ties. She said nothing, but the police continued to waste time and resources attempting to prove the killings were the work of Turkish gangs.

Three years later, in 2004, Mehmet Turgut, 25, was murdered in a kebab shop in the city of Rostock on the Baltic coast. The next attack came later that year in the form of a bomb detonated in the Keupstrasse area of Cologne – a part of town popular among Turkish immigrants. Twenty-two people were wounded. In June 2005, İsmail Yaşar, 50, was shot in his kebab shop in Nuremberg – the third murder in that city.

The following year, a 41-year-old Greek-German locksmith named Theodoros Boulgarides was killed in his newly opened shop in Munich. He was the first victim without a Turkish background. In 2006, a kiosk vendor named Mehmet Kubaşık, 39, was shot in the western city of Dortmund. Only two days after that, Halit Yozgat, 21, was killed while sitting behind his desk in the internet cafe he ran in the central German city of Kassel, 160km away.

The killings occurred in seven different cities across Germany, and were often separated by months or years. This made it difficult to connect them, though no one expected it to take until 2006 for the authorities to grasp how they were related.

From the very start, the investigation was riddled with basic errors and faulty assumptions. First, at least two of the murders took place at locations close to police stations, which should have made them unattractive sites for mafia murders. Then there was the problem of the two “Eastern-European-looking men” on bicycles whom eyewitnesses described leaving several of the crime scenes. More baffling still was a fact that surfaced during the investigation of Halit Yozgat’s killing: a German intelligence agent had been inside the cafe when the murder took place – something he later neglected to report.

In 2006, Alexander Horn, a young police profiler who prepared a report on the case for the Bosphorus team, began to cast doubts on the idea that the murders were connected to the Turkish mafia. In several cases, the victims were killed on days when they had broken with their daily routine, and were in places that no one could have predicted. It seemed more plausible that the victims had been chosen randomly by the killers, rather than singled out for vengeance by professional hitmen.

By using the same weapon, the killers also appeared to be drawing attention to their crimes and underlining the connection between them. Horn identified this as a typical tactic of far-right groups. Some officers were assigned to pursue this lead, but the focus of the investigation remained on the police’s initial theory. The media continued to refer to the killings as dieDönermorde.


In November 2011, more than a decade after the first murder, DVDs containing a curious recording were dropped off at the offices of several German newspapers. They featured a doctored episode of the 1960s cartoon series, the Pink Panther, which appeared to be a message from the killers. For the first few minutes, the Pink Panther strolls around a city, where he sees a poster calling on citizens to “Stand with your country” and “Stand with your people”. Accompanied by the jaunty chords of Henry Mancini’s theme song, the character bombs a grocery store – then the video cuts to news footage of a shop that had been similarly attacked in Cologne in 2001.

The Pink Panther lounges on his couch and watches television news clips about the so-called Dönermorde. The clips flickering on his cartoon television are of real news reports from the murder scenes, with gruesome photographs of the victims. The Pink Panther’s eyes glaze over with boredom at how long it takes the German public to realise who is behind them. With a huff of impatience, the narrator indicates a sign on the screen: the murders, the video suggests, are the work of a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

By the time the German press was puzzling over the Pink Panther video, the investigators’ focus had finally narrowed to a cluster of extreme rightwing groups operating in the country. The authorities had still not figured out how to find the killers, but their confusion was brought to an abrupt end on 4 November 2011, when two men used bicycles in a bank robbery in Eisenach, a town in the central German state of Thuringia. After the robbery, they loaded the bikes into a rented camper van.

After a tip-off, police found the vehicle nearby. The two men had a vast stockpile of guns and ammunition inside the vehicle, but they did not try to fight their way out. Instead, according to investigators, they chose to kill themselves and set fire to the van. (An official report later concluded that one of the men had set the van alight, killed the other and then himself.)

The bodies were identified as those of Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, two longstanding but hitherto unremarkable members of Germany’s enduring far-right scene, who had escaped the police with their friend Beate Zschäpe 13 years earlier. Even before identifying the corpses, investigators had found in their van the gun of a murdered police officer, Michèle Kiesewetter, whose killing five years earlier had never been solved.

Four days after the death of Mundlos and Böhnhardt, Zschäpe called the police in the Thuringian city of Jena. “Beate Zschäpe here,” she said. “I’m the one you’re here for.” The local authorities did not immediately grasp the significance of the call, even though more than a decade earlier the police had searched for all three in connection with a series of smaller crimes. German intelligence services had also been keeping tabs on the rightwing radical scene that Zschäpe was a part of, but had lost track of her, along with Mundlos and Böhnhardt when they went underground.

The three had been living together in the town of Zwickau in an apartment that Zschäpe burned down after she learned of the deaths of Mundlos and Böhnhardt. When police later searched the scorched apartment, they found newspaper clippings about the murders of the Turkish-German businessmen, copies of the Pink Panther DVD, and the Česká pistol. This was early evidence that linked Mundlos, Böhnhardt, and Zschäpe to the murders that had first been investigated by the Bosphorus group.


On 6 May 2013, after two years of sensationalist speculation about the NSU in the German press, Zschäpe appeared for the first time in a Munich courtroom, charged with nine murders, an attack on police that included a murder, and two attempted murders by bombing. Four other men also stand accused of providing support to the NSU.

Rather than investigating how far-right killers could have operated undetected for so long, most of the German media opted for lurid coverage of the NSU, insisting that it consisted of only three people. Der Spiegel took the lead with a cover story dedicated to “ice-cold precision” of what it called the “Brown Army Faction”, with photographs that portrayed Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt as natural-born killers, ready for their Hollywood close-ups. For the media, it was Bonnie and Clyde and Clyde – offering the salacious possibility of a murderous menage a trois. The German tabloid Bild ran the headline “The Devil has dressed up,” after Zschäpe appeared at the opening of the trial in a trouser-suit, jewellery and freshly dyed hair.

Zschäpe, now 41, has been sitting in court every weekday morning in Munich for the past three years, but she has revealed almost nothing – despite the urgent pleas of the families of the victims. While she claims that she now understands that Mundlos and Böhnhardt had conducted bank robberies and killings, she claims not to have known anything about their plans or activities while she lived with them. “They had become my family,” she said. Her plea is not guilty.

But the significance of the trial is far larger than what Zschäpe did or did not know about the killing spree. Germany’s sense of itself is also on trial. The findings of the prosecution suggest that Germany, a nation that prides itself on having confronted the dark recesses of its past with unique diligence, has left a thriving underground culture of rightwing extremism untouched.

Alternative für Deutschland – the first far-right populist party in Germany to enjoy sustained electoral success since the second world war – is only the latest in a series of symptoms of a widespread animosity toward the postwar liberal consensus. Darker currents of discontent are openly displayed on the internet – and on newsstands and television, where rightwing arguments have increasingly found favour.

The German government has been content to write off the NSU as a stand-alone terror cell of sociopaths – an unfortunate, but exceptional recrudescence of a political syndrome that the country has long since inoculated itself against. However, the NSU murder investigation and Zschäpe’s trial suggest that the organisation may have been carefully supported and protected by elements of the state itself.


The first thing to understand about the National Socialist Underground is that it was never really underground. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2018 at 6:39 pm

Can the Catholic Church Reform From Within?

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The short answer is “No, it cannot. That’s been tried, and it didn’t work.” Sarah Jones writes in the New Republic:

The numbers alone are staggering: 1,000 victims, 300 priests. On Tuesday, to collective horror, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the results of its grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses. The report spans all but one of the state’s dioceses and documents abuse that goes back decades. “There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church,” the report begins. “But not on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: It happened everywhere.”

Tale after tale of unimaginable exploitation and cruelty make up the grand jury report. One priest tried to tie altar boys up with rope. That same priest also belonged to a child porn ring with other priests. In a detail that reads like a fever dream, clergy gave victims large gold crucifix necklaces, which marked the children as prey to other members of the ring. One priest collected trophies of urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood from female victims. Another impregnated a minor and urged her to get an abortion.

Throughout it all, the church stumbled over itself to protect its priests and its reputation. In 1996, the Pittsburgh diocese received a report that one priest had been repeatedly accused of “sexual impropriety”—he remained a priest until 2004. When dozens of parents complained that a different priest had inappropriately touched and ogled their naked sons at a Catholic school, the diocese removed him from the school, but issued him a letter of good standing in 2014 that denied that there had ever been any report of wrongdoing.

What happened in Pennsylvania is similar to what infamously occurred in the archdiocese of Boston, where victims were bribed into silence and accused priests were transferred to new parishes. What happened in Pennsylvania and Boston is similar again to what happened on the island of Guam, where there are 200 clergy sex abuse cases for a population of under 160,000 people and where the archbishop himself stood accused of rape. Other clergy scandals are unfolding in the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, New York; in Baltimore, Maryland; in Chicago, Illinois; in the countries of Ireland, Poland, Argentina, Australia, and Paraguay. The scandal is as universal as the church.

At this point, what could the church possibly do to cleanse itself in the eyes of its congregants and the world? And if the church cannot police itself, is there anything outside authorities can do to intervene?


The church’s secrecy is a repeating fact throughout the Pennsylvania grand jury’s narrative of predation. While dioceses did take some complaints seriously and removed priests from ministry, it’s clear that accused priests did not consistently face justice from their own church. Instead, dioceses shuffled priests from parish to parish. The report implicates some prelates: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as the bishop of Pittsburgh before becoming archbishop of Washington, D.C., repeatedly allowed accused priests to remain in ministry, usually at the recommendation of the church’s own treatment centers for abusive priests.

How deep does the problem go? The sheer size of the Catholic Church means it’s difficult to know the extent of clerical abuse. In recent years, however, church officials have made efforts to provide a systematic approach to oversight and accountability. The Dallas charter, first created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018, requires dioceses to publicize procedures for reporting abuse and to create review boards for investigating claims—boards that will include lay people as well as clergy. It further orders dioceses to “demonstrate a sincere commitment” to the “spiritual and emotional well-being” of victims and forbids dioceses from entering settlements that require confidentiality from victims unless it’s at a victim’s request.

The most important documents to emerge from the charter include two reports commissioned by the church in conjunction with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first, released in 2003, examined the church’s abuse record from 1950 to 2002; the second, released in 2011, examined the “causes and context” of Catholic clergy abuse, and says the absence of “human formation” courses at Catholic seminaries contributed to abuse. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. The article concludes:

. . . On Thursday, two full days after the grand jury report broke, the Vatican released a six-sentence statement about the report’s findings. Lessons must be learned, said the Holy See; abuse is “morally reprehensible.” It urged accountability, but did not explain how it planned to achieve that goal. Meanwhile, Pope Francis’s current itinerary for an upcoming visit to Ireland lacks a visit with victims of clergy abuse. Victims and faithful Catholics alike must then hope and trust that the church’s current procedures are enough to prevent future outbreaks of abuse—that the Vatican takes the problem seriously, though its prelates and even the pope either contribute to the problem or respond tepidly to its moral and criminal outrages.

One of the most disturbing details of the Pennsylvania report did not describe the abuse of children. “Abuse complaints were kept locked up in a ‘secret archive.’ That is not our word, but theirs; the church’s Code of Canon Law specifically requires the diocese to maintain such an archive,” the report states. “Only the bishop can have the key.”

 

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2018 at 11:50 am

How America Convinced the World to Demonize Drugs

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J.S. Rafaeli has an interesting article in Vice, with this subhead:

Much of the world used to treat drug addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one. And then America got its way.

The article begins:

In Baltimore, a young black man is sent to prison for felony cannabis possession. In Glasgow, Scotland, an apartment door is kicked in by the drugs squad. In Afghanistan, a field of poppies is incinerated from the air. In Mexico, police corrupted by drug cartels are implicated in disappearances and massacres.

The War on Drugs is generally presented as a global phenomenon. Each country has its own drug laws and enforces them as they see fit. Despite small regional differences, the world—we are told—has always been united in addressing the dangers of illicit drug use through law enforcement.

This is a lie.

When one traces back the history of what we now call the War on Drugs, one discovers it has a very specific origin: the United States. The global development of the drug war is inseparable from the development of US imperialism, and indeed, is a direct outgrowth of that imperialism.

Prior to the 19th century, drugs now illegal were widely used across the world. Remedies derived from opium and cannabis were used for pain relief, and less widely for “recreation.” Queen Victoria herself was fond of both opium and cannabis, before being introduced to cocaine later in life.

Then came the American railroads.

Thousands of Chinese workers came to America during the mid-1800s to build the Central Pacific Railroad. Once the track was complete, however, they immediately became regarded as a threat to white American workers. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only US law to ever successfully ban immigration solely on the basis of race.

One method of stirring up anti-Chinese hatred was to attack the practice of opium smoking. Although morphine and laudanum were popular as a medicine throughout the US, Chinese opium was seen as a threat to American Christian morality, and particularly to American Christian women.

By 1881, as the Exclusion Act was being debated in Congress, reports began flooding out of San Francisco of opium dens where “white women and Chinamen sit side by side under the effects of this drug—a humiliating sight to anyone with anything left of manhood.”

Newspaper editorials thundered that the Chinese opium menace must be wiped out lest it “decimate our youth, emasculate the coming generation, if not completely destroy the population of our coast,” and that for white Americans, smoking opium was “not at all consistent with their duties as Capitalists or Christians.”

Crucially, however, the first modern prohibition regime was not founded in America itself, but in its first overseas colony. In 1898, America conquered the Philippines in the Spanish–American War. Charles H. Brent, the openly racist Episcopal bishop of the Philippines, despised opium users, and appealed to President Roosevelt to ban this “evil and immoral” habit. By 1905, Brent had succeeded in installing the first American prohibition regime—not in the US itself, but in the Philippines.

Unsurprisingly, the ban failed. Bishop Brent decided that continued opium use must be the fault of the booming trade in China, and wrote again to President Roosevelt, urging that the US had a duty to “promote some movement that would gather in its embrace representatives from all countries where the traffic and use of opium is a matter of moment.” The idea of international control of the drug trade had been born.

In the American debate, drug addiction had been framed as an infection and contamination of white America by foreign influences. Now, that vision was internationalized. To protect white American moral purity, the supply of drugs from overseas had to be curtailed at their source. As the campaigner, Richard P. Hobson had it, “like the invasions and plagues of history, the scourge of narcotic drug addiction came out of Asia.”

In 1909, America succeeded in convening the first International Commission on Opium in Shanghai. Representing the US was Bishop Brent and the doctor Hamilton Wright, who was to become a major force in the American prohibitionist movement. For the next century, almost every major international conference and commission on drug control was formed through American pressure and influence.

Interestingly, despite what we are told about the “special relationship,” the country that offered the most consistent and organized resistance to the American drive toward drug prohibition was the United Kingdom. Time and again, Great Britain diplomatically frustrated American attempts to impose prohibition regimes and establish international protocols.

This was partly because the British were themselves operating lucrative opium monopolies in their own overseas colonies, but also because they resented “overtones of high-mindedness and superior virtue.” Britain had its own system of dealing with drug addiction—treating it as a medical rather than a law enforcement issue—and, for a long time, resisted the moralizing hysteria of the American approach.

But it was difficult for the US to push the prohibition of drugs on the rest of the world while not enforcing it itself. Wright began spearheading a fresh campaign for full drug prohibition within the US—once again built almost entirely on racial prejudice.

But this time, a new drug had emerged to capture America’s fevered imagination, with a fresh racial minority to use it to persecute. The drug was cocaine, and the minority was African Americans. In 1910, Wright submitted a report to the Senate stating that “this new vice, the cocaine vice… has been a potent incentive in driving the humbler negroes all over the country to abnormal crimes.”

There followed an explosion of headlines linking black people to cocaine use and criminality. The New York Times ran a typical story under the headline “NEGRO COCAINE FIENDS—NEW SOUTHERN MENACE.” The story tells of “a hitherto inoffensive negro” who had reportedly taken cocaine and been sent into a frenzy. The local police chief was forced to shoot him several times to bring him down. Cocaine, it was implied, was turning black men into superhuman brutes. As the medical officer quoted in the article put it, “the cocaine nigger sure is hard to kill.”

This hysteria resulted in the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, instituting the prohibition of drugs across the United States. Over the next 50 years, America would aggressively seek to internationalize its form of prohibition across the world. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, to America’s shame.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 2:43 pm

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Says Church Had a ‘Playbook for Concealing the Truth’

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Scott Dodd reports in the NY Times:

Avoid scandal. Use euphemisms. Ask inadequate questions. Lock complaints away in a “secret archive.” Above all, don’t tell the police.

Those are some of the tactics that leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania used to conceal child sexual abuse by priests over a period of 70 years, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.

“It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth,” said the grand jury, whose investigation identified more than 1,000 sexual abuse victims in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

Special agents from the F.B.I.’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime reviewed evidence collected by the grand jury, the report says, and identified a series of practices that were regularly used by the six dioceses to cover up reports of abuse.

“While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same,” the report says. “The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’ That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered.”

[Read: Church covered up child sex abuse in Pennsylvania for decades.]

Here is how the grand jury, in caustic terms, described the Catholic Church’s methods for covering up abuse and protecting priests:

First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”

Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self-reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.

Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.

Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.

Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.

Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”

This from an organization that presumes to lecture others on morality.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 2:09 pm

Rod Rosenstein still doesn’t get the problem with forensics

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein gave a speech on Tuesday to the National Symposium on Forensic Science in Washington. This isn’t his first such speech: He gave a similar talk in February to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference and another about this time last year to the International Association for Identification.

I critiqued that last speech here at The Watch. In the year since, nothing much has changed. Despite a stream of crime lab scandals, the doubt cast on forensics by DNA exonerations and blistering critiques of entire fields of forensics from the scientific community, Rosenstein insists that we should stop insisting that “forensic science” meet the standards of “science,” and that we should trust the Justice Department to fix these problems internally, without input from independent scientific bodies.

For decades, police and prosecutors have pushed the fields of forensics known as pattern matching as a science.

They got away with it because the scientific community largely steered clear of the criminal-justice system. But in the 1990s, DNA testing — a field that was developed and honed in the scientific community — became common. DNA tests started to show that some of the people that forensics experts had declared guilty were, in fact, innocent. In the years since, the scientific community has become increasingly vocal about, well, the lack of science in forensic science, particular in pattern-matching disciplines.

In most pattern-matching fields, an analyst looks at two pieces of evidence — fingerprints, bite marks, the ballistics marks on bullets, footprints, tire tracks, hair fibers, clothing fibers, or “tool marks” from a screwdriver, hammer, pry bar or other object — and determines whether they’re a match. In others, like blood-spatter analysis, experts don’t even attempt to match two pieces of evidence. They simply draw conclusions based on assumptions about how blood moves through the air. These are entirely subjective fields. And that’s the heart of the problem. Even objective fields of science are plagued by confirmation bias. Scientists have to be vigilant about combating unconscious bias by conducting double-blind studies and subjecting their work to peer review and statistical analysis. To gain acceptance in the scientific community, studies must also be reproducible. To be legitimate, a scientific test should have a calculable margin for error.

None of this is true in the pattern-matching fields of forensics. So in response, defenders of these disciplines have shifted: These fields aren’t really science. They’re “soft sciences,” similar to fields such as psychiatry or economics. They might not undergo the rigors of the scientific method, the argument goes, but they still have evidentiary value.

This is the line that Rosenstein and his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have taken at the Justice Department in brushing aside scientists’ criticism. The Obama administration created the National Commission on Forensic Science so that scientists could assess the reliability and validity of some of these areas of forensics. One of Sessions’s first acts as attorney general was to allow the commission’s charter to expire without renewal. In his talk last year, Rosenstein announced a new program that would evaluate forensic fields, but it would be within the Justice Department, it would not include any “hard” scientists, and it would be led by a career prosecutor with a history of opposing efforts to bring transparency, accountability and scientific accuracy to forensics. Here’s Rosenstein’s argument from his talk on Tuesday.

Most of you work on the front lines of the criminal justice system, where forensic science has been under attack in recent years. Some critics would like to see forensic evidence excluded from state and federal courtrooms.

You regularly face Frye and Daubert motions that challenge the admission of routine forensic methods.

Many of the challenged methods involve the comparison of evidence patterns like fingerprints, shell casings, and shoe marks to known sources.  Critics argue that the methods have not undergone the right type or amount of validation, or that they involve too much human interpretation and judgment to be accepted as “scientific” methods.

Those arguments are based on the false premise that a scientific method must be instrument-based, automated, and quantitative, excluding human interpretation and judgment. Such critiques contributed to a recent proposal to amend Federal Rule of Evidence 702 for cases involving forensic evidence. The effort stems from an erroneously narrow view of the nature of science and its application to forensic evidence.

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 uses the phrase “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge,” which makes clear that it is designed to permit testimony that calls on skills and judgment beyond the knowledge of laypersons, and not merely of scientists who work in laboratories.

Forensic science is not only quantitative or automated. It need not be entirely free from human assumptions, choices, and judgments. That is not just true of forensic science. It is also the case in other applied expert fields like medicine, computer science, and engineering.

Often when pattern-matching analysts testify, they go to great lengths to describe how careful and precise they are at collecting and preserving evidence. They talk about all the precautions and steps they take before performing their analysis. It can sound impressive — and it’s all entirely beside the point. You can be the most careful, precise and cautious expert witness on the planet when it comes to preparing evidence for analysis, but if your actual analysis is no more than “eyeballing it,” your method of analysis still isn’t science.

Rosenstein’s speech on Tuesday has a similar effect. It’s all true, it all sounds impressive … and it all misses the point entirely. That the federal rules of evidence allow for expert testimony that “is not only quantitative or automated” is precisely the problem. That’s how the system got into trouble.

Rosenstein then went on to describe what the Justice Department is doing to improve forensic testimony, such as closer monitoring and evaluation of the testimony of FBI experts, and instituting uniform language that experts should use to quantify their level of certainty. Both initiatives, he said, are “designed to maintain the consistency and quality of our lab reports and testimonial presentations to ensure that they meet the highest scientific and ethical standards.”

Again, both of these initiatives sound impressive. But if the testimony of pattern-matching experts is being evaluated by other pattern matching experts, by federal law enforcement agents who buy into pattern-matching analysis, or really by anyone who stands to benefit from a less-skeptical outlook on forensics, you aren’t really changing anything. I’ve used this analogy many times, but it fits: If you were to assemble a commission to evaluate the scientific validity of tarot card reading, you wouldn’t populate that commission with other tarot card readers. Yet this is one of the most common critiques law enforcement officials make of the various scientific bodies that have issued warnings about forensics — that they lack any members who actually practice the fields of forensics being criticized.

There’s a similar issue with uniformity of language. Yes, if there were a standard set of phrases all forensic analysts used to express their level of certainty about a piece of evidence, that would be preferable to not having such a system. But if the analysis itself is based on little more than each expert’s subjective judgment — if there’s no measurable, quantifiable, reproducible explanation for why a hair sample is “consistent with” a suspect rather than “a match” to the suspect — then everything boils down to the credibility of that expert.

None of this is to say that all pattern-matching fields are useless. Some — like bite-mark matching — have little to no value at all and should be prohibited from courtrooms. Other fields could be useful in excluding possible suspects but are less reliable at identifying one suspect to the exclusion of all others, such as hair fiber analysis. And a few, like fingerprint analysis, could still be useful for that sort of identification, though even here analysts often overstate their certainty.

So how should we assess which fields of forensics are legitimate and which aren’t? Since Rosenstein and other advocates object to the term “scientific” — though note that in the very same speech, Rosenstein can’t help using the term to describe the Justice Department’s reforms — let’s set that debate aside. If we’re going to allow forensic expert witnesses to “match” two or more pieces of evidence in order to implicate a suspect, what is it that we want that testimony to be? If it isn’t that it be scientific, or that it adhere to Justice Department standards, or that it be within the guidelines of some obscure forensic governing body, what is it?

I think there are two things we’re looking for. First, we want these analysts to be right. If an expert says the evidence implicates a suspect, we want that suspect actually to be guilty. If a fingerprint analyst says a print found at the crime scene matches a suspect, we want that suspect to at least have been at the crime scene.

Second, we want expert testimony to be reliable. In too many areas of pattern-matching forensics, you’ll often have two reputable, certified experts offer diametrically opposing testimony about the same piece of evidence. If two well-regarded experts can look at the same piece of evidence and come to opposite conclusions, there isn’t enough certainty about that particular field to include it in a court of law. (Of course, if two experts contradict one another at trial, that also invokes the first rule — one of them must be wrong.) At this point, jurors are no longer assessing the facts; they’re assessing which expert they find more credible. And when we assess experts’ credibility, we tend to look at all sorts of factors that have little to do with the facts, such as their clothes, their mannerisms and the attorney questioning them. In fact, witnesses who offer their opinions with resolute yet baseless certainty will often seem more credible to jurors than experts who couch their opinions in the careful language of a scientist.

So here’s a proposal: For each field of pattern-matching forensics, we need an independent body to administer a proficiency test that measures accuracy, reliability or both. In the field of ballistics, for example, it wouldn’t be difficult to ask analysts to match a given number of bullets to a given number of guns. If they don’t meet a minimum level of accuracy, they’d be barred from testifying in court. (Given the stakes, that minimum standard should probably be close to 100 percent.) You could do the same for many other fields: If you’re giving testimony about footprint matches that sends people to prison, it doesn’t seem overly onerous to ask you to first prove that you know how to match footprints.

For some fields — such as bite-mark or blood-spatter analysis, or tool marks on human skin — an accuracy test would be difficult: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 9:38 am

“Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.”

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David Glosser writes in Politico:

Let me tell you a story about Stephen Miller and chain migration.

It begins at the turn of the 20th century in a dirt-floor shack in the village of Antopol, a shtetl of subsistence farmers in what is now Belarus. Beset by violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army, the patriarch of the shack, Wolf-Leib Glosser, fled a village where his forebears had lived for centuries and took his chances in America.

He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian, and Yiddish he understood no English. An elder son, Nathan, soon followed. By street corner peddling and sweat-shop toil Wolf-Leib and Nathan sent enough money home to pay off debts and buy the immediate family’s passage to America in 1906. That group included young Sam Glosser, who with his family settled in the western Pennsylvania city of Johnstown, a booming coal and steel town that was a magnet for other hard-working immigrants. The Glosser family quickly progressed from selling goods from a horse and wagon to owning a haberdashery in Johnstown run by Nathan and Wolf-Leib to a chain of supermarkets and discount department stores run by my grandfather, Sam, and the next generation of Glossers, including my dad, Izzy. It was big enough to be listed on the AMEX stock exchange and employed thousands of people over time. In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens.

What does this classically American tale have to do with Stephen Miller? Well, Izzy Glosser is his maternal grandfather, and Stephen’s mother, Miriam, is my sister.

I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants— been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America First” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

Like other immigrants, our family’s welcome to the USA was not always a warm one, but we largely had the protection of the law, there was no state sponsored violence against us, no kidnapping of our male children, and we enjoyed good relations with our neighbors. True, Jews were excluded from many occupations, couldn’t buy homes in some towns, couldn’t join certain organizations or attend certain schools or universities, but life was good. As in past generations there were hate mongers who regarded the most recent groups of poor immigrants as scum, rapists, gangsters, drunks and terrorists, but largely the Glosser family was left alone to live our lives and build the American dream. Children were born, synagogues founded, and we thrived. This was the miracle of America.

Acting for so long in the theater of right wing politics, Stephen and Trump may have become numb to the resultant human tragedy and blind to the hypocrisy of their policy decisions. After all, Stephen’s is not the only family with a chain immigration story in the Trump administration. Trump’s grandfather is reported to have been a German migrant on the run from military conscription to a new life in the USA and his mother fled the poverty of rural Scotland for the economic possibilities of New York City. (Trump’s in-laws just became citizens on the strength of his wife’s own citizenship.)

These facts are important not only for their grim historical irony but because vulnerable people are being hurt. They are real people, not the ghoulish caricatures portrayed by Trump. When confronted by the deaths and suffering of thousands our senses are overwhelmed, and the victims become statistics rather than people. I meet these statistics one at a time through my volunteer service as a neuropsychologist for the Philadelphia affiliate of HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the global non-profit agency that protects refugees and helped my family more than 100 years ago. I will share the story of one such man I have met in the hope that my nephew might recognize elements of our shared heritage.

In the early 2000s, Joseph (not his real name) was conscripted at the age of 14 to be a soldier in Eritrea and sent to a remote desert military camp. Officers there discovered a Bible under his pillow which aroused their suspicion that he might belong to a foreign evangelical sect that would claim his loyalty and sap his will to fight. Joseph was actually a member of the state-approved Coptic church but was nonetheless immediately subjected to torture. “They smashed my face into the ground, tied my hands and feet together behind my back, stomped on me, and hung me from a tree by my bonds while they beat me with batons for the others to see.”

Joseph was tortured for 20 consecutive days before being taken to a military prison and crammed into a dark unventilated cell with 36 other men, little food and no proper hygiene. Some died, and in time Joseph was stricken with dysentery. When he was too weak to stand he was taken to a civilian clinic where he was fed by the medical staff. Upon regaining his strength he escaped to a nearby road where a sympathetic driver took him north through the night to a camp in Sudan where he joined other refugees. Joseph was on the first leg of a journey that would cover thousands of miles and almost 10 years.

Before Donald Trump had started his political ascent promulgating the false story that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim, while my nephew, Stephen, was famously recovering from the hardships of his high school cafeteria in Santa Monica, Joseph was a child on his own in Sudan in fear of being deported back to Eritrea to face execution for desertion. He worked any job he could get, saved his money and made his way through Sudan. He endured arrest and extortion in Libya. He returned to Sudan, then kept moving to Dubai, Brazil, and eventually to a southern border crossing into Texas, where he sought asylum. In all of the countries he traveled through during his ordeal, he was vulnerable, exploited and his status was “illegal.” But in the United States he had a chance to acquire the protection of a documented immigrant.

Today, at 30, Joseph lives in Pennsylvania and has a wife and child. He is a smart, warm, humble man of great character who is grateful for every day of his freedom and safety. He bears emotional scars from not seeing his parents or siblings since he was 14. He still trembles, cries and struggles for breath when describing his torture, and he bears physical scars as well. He hopes to become a citizen, return to work and make his contribution to America. His story, though unique in its particulars, is by no means unusual. I have met Central Americans fleeing corrupt governments, violence and criminal extortion; a Yemeni woman unable to return to her war-ravaged home country and fearing sexual mutilation if she goes back to her Saudi husband; and an escaped kidnap-bride from central Asia.

President Trump wants to make us believe that these desperate migrants are an existential threat to the United States; the most powerful nation in world history and a nation made strong by immigrants. Trump and my nephew both know their immigrant and refugee roots. Yet, they repeat the insults and false accusations of earlier generations against these refugees to make them seem less than human. Trump publicly parades the  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2018 at 1:14 pm

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