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The NAACP exposes voter suppression schemes | Kay Dilday December 7, 2011

The NAACP will be sending a delegation to the United Nations Commissioner of Human Rights alleging a concerted effort to deny voting rights to black and hispanic Americans. Given how rarely anyone in the United States looks to the United Nations for justice, and how often the United States ignores the UN, this is both a significant and futile effort. But what’s at issue is so egregious that the NAACP has chosen to shout it from a global stage.

In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, the United States had one of the highest turnouts ever of black and Latino voters. Undoubtedly, this made a difference in the election: Obama won by a slim margin in many states that had traditionally voted Republicans. The high turnout of blacks and Latinos made the difference in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico. And southern states, which have a high percentage of blacks, are traditionally carried by the Republican party – but if enough blacks and Latinos vote, that isn’t the case.

It does not seem like coincidence, then, that since 2008, many of these states have introduced laws that make it much more difficult to register to vote and to actually vote. They have done this in the name of combating “voter fraud”. This poses the question: does the United States have a problem with voter fraud? Not that it can find.

The Bush administration launched an initiative to combat voter fraud. After a five-year effort by the justice department, they found no organised effort, brought charges in 132 cases and obtained prosecutions in about 86, as the New York Times reported in 2007, after summarising the Bush administration’s report on the subject. And numerous other reports have supported the Bush administration’s findings.

But even if the United States can identify a problem with voter fraud, why should anyone take issue with efforts to prevent it, the proponents of these laws ask. After all, proponents say, the laws won’t prevent legitimate voters from voting. Indeed, some of the laws sound reasonable at first: why shouldn’t a potential voter have to produce government-issued identification proving that they are who they say they are and that they live where they say they live, mandates a law passed by eight states and pending in more.

Since I grew up in the Mississippi, which passed such a law ostensibly to prevent fraud, I’ll look at the practical application of it. Mississippi’s population has the highest percentage of blacks in the country: 38%. Compared to the $65 I pay in New York, where I live now, a Mississippi driver’s license seems like a bargain at $21. Unless, of course, you are poor – which abut 35% of blacks are, with 57% of blacks in Mississippi earning less than $25,000 per year according to the 2000 census. Then, it might seem like too much to pay if you don’t have a car to drive.

Well, if you don’t want to pay for a driver’s license, you can obtain an ID card in Mississippi for only $13. But you then have to bring a copy of your state-issued birth certificate, which, if you don’t have it, costs $15. And even if you could afford it, if you were born poor and black in Mississippi in the first half of the 1900s, it’s very possible that you were barred from the white-only hospitals and have only anecdotal evidence of the date of your birth. In the United States, citizens are not required to carry any sort of ID card in their daily life; thus the national government does not issue one without a specific request or fee. Nonetheless, it is difficult for affluent people, involved in all of the trappings of middle-class life – car-owning and driving, check-writing, international traveling, etc – to understand that many people don’t have drivers’ licenses or passports and aren’t asked for them in their extremely localised, cash-transactional lives.

So, this very reasonable-sounding requirement means that many poor people, a disproportionate number of whom are black in Mississippi, will be unable to vote.

This particular law has to be examined closely for one to realise how disenfranchising it is for poor people, blacks and Latinos. Others, though, are just bald efforts to prevent poor people, predominantly people of color, from voting. There are laws, for instance, that prevent early voting, even though this is essential for low-income people who often have little control over their working hours. There are laws, also, that subject voter registrations efforts, which often bring in poor people on the margins of society, to onerous restrictions. This recently forced, for example, the League of Women Voters, one of the nation’s bedrock voting groups, to cancel their annual drive in Florida.

I doubt the NAACP expects to obtain justice by pursuing their case at the United Nations. But the push to limit the ability of poor people, blacks and Latinos to participate in the electoral process is so outrageous, that it must be loudly denounced in front of the nations of the world. I was born after the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s, when white southerners still tried to use billy clubs to prevent blacks from voting. My daughter was born just after the first black president was elected. I thought we were making progress in this country.

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Massachusetts to allow access to Romney paper records

Massachusetts will allow some public access to hundreds of previously off-limits boxes of official records generated by Mitt Romney‘s office when he was governor from 2003 to 2007, a state official said on Tuesday.

Romney has asserted that a 1997 decision by the Massachusetts state supreme court means that while paper records of his administration are property of the state, they are exempt from public disclosure.

But the state had allowed access to some of the estimated 600 boxes of paper records from Romney’s governorship held by the state archives.

The surge in requests to review the records comes after reports that Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.

The effort to purge electronic records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

The requests to see the paper records and continuing questions about the public disclosure law prompted Massachusetts state officials last month to briefly impose a moratorium on access to the records.

But later they relented and allowed access to about 20% of records that previously had been opened for public inspection.

On Tuesday, Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, the elected official in charge of the state archives, said that officials are still reviewing the law as it relates to Romney’s records, but have decided that they will now allow journalists and the public to request access to any boxes of records that had not previously been released.

However, nonpolitical archivists will review and redact the records before any are made public, McNiff said.

At a campaign appearance on Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Romney said his office had sent the state archives “all that was required under the law.”

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of e-mails and the claim that his paper records are not subject to public disclosure hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.

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Mitt Romney’s staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records December 6, 2011

Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, according to Massachusetts officials.

The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.

When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had emails and other electronic communications by Romney’s administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.

Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of emails – and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure – hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

As Massachusetts governor Romney worked with a Democrat-led state house to close a budget shortfall and signed a healthcare overhaul that required nearly all state residents to buy insurance or face penalties.

The Massachusetts healthcare law became a model for Barack Obama’s nationwide healthcare programme, enacted into law in 2010. As a presidential candidate, however, Romney has criticised Obama’s plan as an overreach by the federal government.

Massachusetts officials say they have no basis to believe Romney’s staff violated any state laws or policies in removing his administration’s records.

They acknowledge, however, that state law on maintaining and disclosing official records is vague and has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records and other modern technology.

Romney’s spokesmen emphasise that he followed the law and precedent in deleting the emails, installing new computers in the governor’s office and buying up hard drives.

However, Theresa Dolan, former director of administration for the governor’s office, told Reuters that Romney’s efforts to control or wipe out records from his governorship were unprecedented.

Dolan said that in her 23 years as an aide to successive governors “no one had ever inquired about or expressed the desire” to purchase their computer hard drives before Romney’s tenure.

The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.

In signing the lease Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost: $108,000.

Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.

As a result of the change in leases the cost to the state for computers in the governor’s office was an additional $97,000.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential campaign, referred questions on the computer leasing deal and records removal to state officials.

Last week Saul claimed that Deval Patrick, the present Massachusetts governor and a Democrat, was encouraging reports about Romney’s records to cast the former governor as secretive. Patrick’s office has not responded to that allegation.

The removal of digital records by Romney’s staff, first reported by the Boston Globe, has sparked a wave of requests for state officials to release paper records from Romney’s governorship that remain in the state archives.

Massachusetts officials are reviewing state law to determine whether the public should have access to those records.

The issue is clouded by a 1997 state court ruling that could be interpreted to mean that records of the Massachusetts governor are not subject to disclosure. Romney has asserted that his records are exempt from disclosure.

State officials and a longtime Romney adviser have acknowledged that before leaving office Romney asked state archives officials for permission to destroy certain paper records. It is unclear whether his office notified anyone from the state before destroying electronic records.

Officials have said the details of Romney’s request to remove paper records, such as what specific documents he wanted to destroy, could be made public only in response to a request under the state’s freedom of information law. Reuters has filed such a request.

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Nigeria’s bill to outlaw gay marriage threatens HIV/Aids cash December 4, 2011

A bill to outlaw gay marriage in Nigeria could jeopardise millions of dollars of western aid given to help stop the spread of HIV and Aids in Africa‘s most populous nation.

Nigeria has the continent’s second highest number of people living with the disease, says the United Nations. More than three million people are infected and many do not know their status.

“There are about 400,000 people on anti-retrovirals in Nigeria at the moment and 95% of those are paid for by donor funds,” said public health doctor and health blogger Chikwe Ihekweazu.

Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria since British colonial rule. Gay and lesbian people face open discrimination in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. In parts of the north where sharia law has been enforced for about a decade, they can face death by stoning.

Under the proposed law passed by the Senate, same-sex couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps a marriage could be sentenced to 10 years. The bill also punishes the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly” with 10 years in prison.

A newly added power, punishing those found guilty of organising, operating or supporting gay clubs, organisations and meetings with a 10-year sentence, worries advocates in Nigeria. They fear the law could be used against groups providing assistance for HIV and Aids outreach programmes that traditionally consider gay men as an at-risk group.

“We work with them trying to reduce their risk factors, trying to make them more healthy and have safer sex practices,” said Meyiwa Ede of the Society for Family Health, which is funded by donations. “If we can’t work with them anymore, then they are vulnerable.”

Lawmakers playing to the religious antipathy towards gays and lesbians have said donor nations who threaten to cut aid over the bill can keep their assistance, putting at risk the lives of people reliant on anti-retroviral drugs.

The US and British governments funnel huge sums into Nigeria for Aids and HIV outreach. The US, under the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, has given an average of $308m (£197m) a year to groups working in HIV prevention, treatment, and support, according to the US Consulate in Lagos.

Britain spends an average of £19.9m a year on HIV/Aids programmes in Nigeria, the Abuja office of the Department for International Development, funding which local partners spend on projects for gay and straight people. Heterosexual sex accounts for 80% of HIV transmissions in Nigeria, the National Agency for the Control of Aids reported recently.

David Cameron recently threatened to cut British aid to countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Both the US and UK governments say they are watching the Nigerian bill closely, but declined to comment on how it may affect their outreach.

President Goodluck Jonathan promised the UN general assembly in June that his administration was “committing to increase national ownership of HIV and Aids responses” and to make those responses inclusive. Six months later, little has changed.

The health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the bill outlawing gay groups would not affect state-funded HIV and Aids programmes. The health ministry has no programmes specifically targeting these communities, said spokeswoman Rekia Zubairu.

Rights groups say the politicians’ resolve to pass the bill reflects widespread homophobia in Nigeria, but also shows their disconnect from working-class Nigerians, regardless of sexual orientation.

“They have the resources to go abroad for treatment, with their big salaries, so they don’t give a hoot about ordinary people,” gay rights organizer Dorothy Akenova said. “The majority of Nigerians are the ones who will suffer for it.”

The bill must still be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Jonathan before becoming law.

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Gingrich’s ‘path to legality’: How many would benefit? December 3, 2011

(CNN) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently declared his support for a “path to legality” for undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for longer terms, have paid taxes and have strong family and community ties.

“If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out,” Gingrich said at the recent CNN debate on national security.

It turns out that might not include a lot people.

A study released this week by the Pew Hispanic Centers estimates that there are currently 10.2 million unauthorized adult immigrants in the United States, of which two-thirds — or roughly 6.8 million — have been in the country for at least 10 years.

Of that 6.8 million, about 3.5 million of them have lived in the United States without authorization for 15 years or more and around 2.8 million have been here between 10 and 14 years.

Interestingly enough, Gingrich singled out immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally at least 25 years ago: That corresponds to those who were here around 1986. That was the year President Ronald Reagan signed into law the controversial “amnesty” bill that legalized the status of 1.7 million immigrants.

At the time the law was passed, there were about 5 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Today there are twice as many. The Pew study could not determine how many of those immigrants were here 25 years ago yet didn’t take advantage of the amnesty law.

The Pew report, authored by Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, and colleagues Jeffrey Passel and Seth Motel, was based on U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Current Population Survey and paired with the Pew’s own analysis. The report also showed that 22% of undocumented immigrants have been here between 5 and 9 years. Only 15% of those immigrants arrived in the last five years.

The sharpest growth in the immigrant population, according to the report, occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. That inflow, however, has slowed significantly in recent years as the U.S. economy has sputtered and border enforcement has tightened. In addition, the report documented the fact that relatively few long-duration illegal immigrants have returned to their countries of origin.

About half of undocumented immigrants — roughly 4.7 million people — are parents of minors, in sharp contrast with the 38% of legal residents and 29% of all U.S. born adults who are parents.

The report also indicated that unauthorized immigrants are, on average, younger than the rest of the population and have more children.

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Alabama red-faced as second foreign car boss held under immigration law December 2, 2011

To arrest one foreign car-making executive under Alabama‘s new tough immigration laws may be regarded as a misfortune; to arrest a second looks like carelessness.

A judge has acted to put a Japanese employee of Honda Motor Company out of his misery by dismissing immigration charges against him, three days after he was booked under Alabama’s new immigration laws that have been billed as the most swingeing in America. Ichiro Yada is one of about 100 Japanese managers of the company on assignment in southern state.

Yada was stopped in Leeds, Alabama, at a checkpoint set up by police to catch unlicenced drivers. He was ticketed on the spot, despite the fact that he showed an international driver’s licence, a valid passport and a US work permit.

Key parts of the new immigration law, HB56, came into effect in late September, including the driving provisions. Under them, the police are required to check up on the immigration status of anyone they stop who they suspect of being in the country illegally.

In addition, all drivers are required to carry a valid driver’s licence, either from a US state or from their native country if they are from abroad. The law is designed to trap undocumented immigrants – in practice, Hispanics largely from Mexico – who are no longer allowed to apply for driving licences.

Over the past two months thousands of undocumented Latinos have fled the state and many more have ceased driving for fear of being caught and incarcerated.

Yada is the second foreign car executive to fall foul of the new law. Last month police officers arrested a German director of Mercedes-Benz for failing to carry a valid driver’s licence. The move exposed Alabama to widespread criticism and ridicule.

The St Louis-based Post-Dispatch newspaper revelled in Alabama’s embarrassment by publishing an open letter to foreign car companies encouraging them to pack their bags and move to the rival car-producing state of Missouri.

“We are the Show Me State, not the Show Me Your Papers State,” it wrote, telling auto bosses: “You’ve got two choices. Either ask your executives to carry their immigration papers at all times, or move to a state that understands gemüchlichkeit.”

The inadvertent discomfort of foreign car executives is no joke for Alabama, though. Mercedes-Benz, which opened a plant in Tuscaloosa in 1993, and Honda, which came to Lincoln in 1999, are major employers. Honda has 4,000 employees in Alabama with an investment of about $1.4bn.

The new law has already caused a labour shortage in the state’s important agricultural sector, with tomatoes rotting in the fields after Hispanic pickers fled. The construction industry has also been heavily hit by whole crews of workers downing tools and disappearing.

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Burmese Opposition Leader, Clinton Promote Closer Ties

Burma’s National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday hosted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what the veteran activist called “a historic moment” for both Burma and the United States.

Following talks with Clinton at her lakeside home, Aung San Suu Kyi told journalists she hoped the visit, (the first by a U.S. secretary of state in over half a century) would renew ties of friendship and understanding.

She said U.S. diplomacy was helping to push for democracy in Burma.

“It is through engagement that we hope to promote the process of democratization,” noted the democracy leader.  “Because of this engagement, I think our way ahead will be clearer and we will be able to trust that the process of democratization will go forward.”

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Washington has shunned Burma since a 1962 military takeover and, in response to rights abuses, maintains economic sanctions.

But President Obama in 2009 began a two-track policy of continued sanctions coupled with engagement.

Some political analysts have characterized the policy as partly aimed at counterbalancing China’s close relations with the government.

The NLD leader said Burma needs help not only from the U.S. but also from other members of the international community.

Aung San Suu Kyi said she was happy to see China’s foreign ministry issue a statement welcoming U.S. engagement with Burma.

“This shows that we have the support of the whole world,” she said. “I’m particularly pleased because we hoped to maintain good, friendly relations with China – our very close neighbor.”

Burmese Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound in Rangoon, December 2, 2011 (VOA Photo – D. Schearf)

The meeting was held at Aung San Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in Rangoon, a crumbling gray and white mansion where authorities kept her under house arrest for 15 years.

She was released a year ago, just days after the first election in two decades brought a military-backed party to power.

Despite his army roots, President Thein Sein surprised critics by allowing more freedoms, holding direct talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and releasing over 200 political prisoners.

Clinton said recent openings by the Burmese authorities gave grounds for encouragement, and that her visit was intended to explore the path forward, with democracy as the goal.  

“The United States wants to be a partner with Burma,” Clinton said.  “We want to work with you as you further democratization, as you release all political prisoners, as you begin the difficult but necessary process of ending the ethnic conflicts that have gone on far too long, as you hold elections that are free, fair and credible.”

Aung San Suu Kyi also stressed more efforts were needed to stop fighting in ethnic minority areas and to establish the rule of law.

“First of all, we need all those who are still in prison to be released and we need to ensure that no more are arrested in future for their beliefs. This is why we put so much emphasis in rule of law,” she said. “And I am confident that the United States and our other friends will help us to bring rule of law to this country.”

Clinton said there was much work to be done to develop the country and the U.S. was willing to assist.  She also offered a personal note of praise for Aung San Suu Kyi.

“You have been an inspiration.  But I know you feel that you are standing for all the people of your country, who deserve the same rights and freedoms of people everywhere,” Clinton told the democracy leader.  “The people have been courageous and strong in the face of great difficulty over too many years.  We want to see this country take its rightful place in the world.”

On the two-day visit Clinton also met with government leaders including President Thein Sein and urged them to expand on the recent reforms.

Photo Gallery: Aung San Suu Kyi’s political career

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Senate Declines to Clarify Rights of American Terror Suspects Arrested in U.S.

December 2, 2011

by legitgov


Senate Declines to Clarify Rights of American Terror Suspects Arrested in U.S. 02 Dec 2011 The Senate on Thursday decided to leave unanswered a momentous question about constitutional rights in the war against Al Qaeda [al-CIAduh]: whether government officials have the power to arrest people inside the United States and hold them in military custody indefinitely and without a trial. Lawmakers voted 99 to 1 to say the bill does not affect “existing law” about people arrested inside the United States. The disputed provision would bolster the authorization enacted by Congress a decade ago to use military force against the perpetrators of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It says the government may imprison suspected members of Al Qaeda or its allies in indefinite military custody. Before voting to leave current law unchanged, the Senate rejected, 55 to 45, a proposal by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to instead say that Americans are exempt from detention under the 2001 authorization to use military force.

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Groups Press Clinton on Burmese Human Rights November 30, 2011

U.S.-based rights groups are urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to raise concerns over human rights when she meets this week with leaders of Burma’s military-backed government.

Twelve human-rights groups, including the broad-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, wrote to Clinton Monday asking her to take advantage of Burma’s interest in a better relationship with the United States. The Washington-based group acknowledged reforms implemented by Burmese President Thein Sein since taking office earlier this year, but warned those positive steps could be reversed “at any time.”

Organization officials called for more pressure on the government to release all political prisoners, which human-rights advocates say number in excess of 1,200. They also called for meaningful dialogue with the democratic opposition and representatives of ethnic minorities.

In Bangkok, Debbie Stothard, spokesperson for Alternative ASEAN Network, a rights group, said concerns about Burma’s commitment to reform are lingering after the passage of new laws that appear to restrict rather than advance democratic reforms.

“The new laws that have been put in place in the past year, including by the parliament, actually contradict a lot of the positive hype what has been going on in Burma,” she said. “[There is a] new law for local government elections, but candidates will be picked by local authorities. We are [also] seeing the so-called peaceful assembly law, which seems to be more about restricting peaceful assembly.”

Reports of ongoing violence

Ethnic violence also remains a key concern for outside aid organizations. Few foreign groups have access to remote areas where fighting occurs, but in a report released this week by Partners Relief Development (PRD), human-rights workers documented recent attacks on ethnic minority Kachin villages, including torture and rape. The report says attacks occurred amid ongoing fighting between the army and the Kachin Independence Army.

Whereas Burmese officials have acknowledged attacks on ethnic minorities, they say the violence has not been systematic and that they are encouraged by what they call positive signs of talks with ethnic groups.

PRD co-founder Oddny Gumaer said she hopes Clinton will take up the issue of the attacks in talks with President Thein Sein.

“Most of our reports are coming from Kachin state, [but] the same kinds of things have been happening in Karen state and in Shan State,” she said. “[And] yes, definitely, I would want Hillary Clinton to bring up these issues as she’s meeting with the leaders in Burma.”

Earlier this month, a Burmese-government-appointed human-rights body urged the country’s president to release all political prisoners or transfer them to prisons closer to their families. Burmese officials have said the government holds no political prisoners, only those who have been convicted under the law.

The Association of South East Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member, has acknowledged reforms enacted by Burma’s government, paving the way for Burma to chair the annual ASEAN leaders’ meetings in 2014.

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Anonymous: ‘We hacked cybercop’s email’ November 26, 2011

November 26, 2011

by legitgov


Anonymous: ‘We hacked cybercop’s email’ –Forensic ‘secrets’ in FuckFBIFriday dump 25 Nov 2011 The Anonymous hacking collective’s AntiSec group has launched a fresh assault on law enforcement agencies with the release of what they claim are personal emails stolen from a Californian cybercrime investigator. The cache of emails – which according to AntiSec are from the account of Fred Baclagan, a retired special agent supervisor of the Californian Department of ‘Justice’ – includes 30,000 emails detailing various computer forensic techniques and cybercrime investigation protocols.

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The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy | Naomi Wolf November 25, 2011

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

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Prosecutors: ‘Jail Conrad Murray’ November 24, 2011

With California’s crowded prisons, any actual time in prison could be quite short

Prosecutors for the state of California have asked a judge to sentence Conrad Murray to four years in prison, the maximum allowed in his case.

His lawyers have asked that he is kept on probation, saying he is serving “a lifetime sentence of self-punishment”.

Murray was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of legendary singer Michael Jackson after a six-week trial.

A new California law passed to combat prison overcrowding could limit Murray’s sentence.

Adopted in October, the law sends low-risk prison inmates to county jails. Los Angeles County jail officials have been releasing inmates early.

‘No remorse’

As well as seeking a four-year term, prosecutor David Walgren also said that Murray, 58, should pay restitution to Jackson’s children.

Murray could also lose his licence to practice medicine.

In a sentencing memorandum delivered to Judge Michael Pastor in advance of a 29 November hearing, Mr Walgren said Murray had shown no remorse for Jackson’s death.

Michael Jackson died on 25 June 2009 from an overdose of the powerful anaesthetic propofol.

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Canadian anti-polygamy law stands

British Columbia’s highest court has ruled that Canada’s anti-polygamy law should stand.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman said the ban on multiple marriages was consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case comes after a judge threw out polygamy charges against two bishops of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

Justice Bauman said the law “minimally impairs religious freedom”.

“I have concluded that this case is essentially about harm,” he wrote in his decision. “The salutary effects of the prohibition far outweigh the deleterious.”

Culture or criminality?

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, the two rival bishops involved in prior polygamy charges, have said the law denied them their constitutional right to religious freedom.

Justice Bauman said the government’s case had shown the law limits the harms expected to rise from polygamy, including spousal abuse, child neglect, and higher infant mortality.

The judge said, however, that the law should be changed to avoid criminalising the actions of minors in polygamous marriages.

Anne Wilde, a Mormon fundamentalist from Utah, testified at the hearing in support of striking down the law.

“There are already laws in place to address any criminal activity in any marriage lifestyle. Why don’t they go ahead and enforce those laws rather than single out our culture?” she told the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court’s decision could lead to prosecutions of members of the FLDS who practice polygamy in a settlement called Bountiful, in the south-east of the province.

The FLDS split from the mainstream Mormon church over the issue of polygamy, and has an estimated 10,000 followers in parts of the US and Canada.

Warren Jeffs, the group’s leader, is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two child brides.

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Aung San Suu Kyi to Run for Burma Parliament November 21, 2011

A spokesman for Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she will run for a seat in parliament in the country’s next bi-election, expected by the end of the year.

Nyan Win, a member of the National League for Democracy’s executive committee, told reporters Monday the Nobel Peace laureate will run for one of the 48 seats available in Burma’s new Senate, but has not yet decided which district she will represent.

The democracy activist hinted that she would run for office at a meeting of party delegates Friday, when they decided to re-register as a political party and take part in elections.  

The NLD boycotted elections last year because of a law that prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from competing.  The government recently repealed that law.

This will be the first time Aung San Suu Kyi has competed for a seat.  Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in Burma’s 1990 general election.  However, she was under house arrest by the time the elections took place.

Burma’s then-military government ignored the election results and placed Suu Kyi under a lengthy house arrest.  She has spent 15 of the past 22 years in some form of detention.

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Oddly, Texas can teach the UK a thing or two on criminal justice | Ian Birrell

Hang ‘em high Texas is not the first place you might look for lessons in criminal justice. The lone star state prides itself on its toughness, with more executions and fewer bleeding hearts than elsewhere in the US. Texas locks up more miscreants than anywhere else in the world. But it is the unlikely centre of a revolution in prison reform sweeping the US, overthrowing decades of failed polices and sterile debate driven by politicians scared of being seen as soft. The state has cut crime, costs and the numbers in jail to such an extent it has just shut a high-security prison for the first time in history.

What makes this prison revolt even more unexpected is that it is led by some of the most conservative figures in politics. They have decided – correctly – that an expensive prison system repeatedly locking up the same people is a sign of failure. As a result, they have endorsed policies traditionally seen as liberal to keep people out of jail.

The right in Britain should take note as our prison population hits record highs. Just as in this country, politicians in Texas were desperate to be seen as being tough on crime. There was reckless rhetoric and endless headline-grabbing legislation, including the ludicrous three-strikes law that led to life sentences for a third offence – even when that was stealing a slice of pizza.

Inevitably, prison populations and spending soared. The costs of incarceration rose fourfold in two decades. America now accounts for a quarter of all prisoners on the planet – and two-thirds of new inmates are recidivists.

Then Texas decided enough was enough. Four years ago, it was told to spend another $2bn on 17,332 new prison places. Instead, the state opted to invest in halfway houses to help those leaving prison and schemes to aid addicted and mentally ill offenders. Since then, taxpayers have saved a billion dollars, violent crime has fallen to its lowest level for three decades, and the right has seen the light on criminal justice. More than a dozen states have made similar moves, with some of the most doughty bastions of conservatism softening sentencing policies and shifting emphasis to treatment, training, early release and community-based punishments. A campaign called Right On Crime has been launched to promote the idea, supported by conservative standard-bearers such as Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich.

The driving force was financial. But it makes perfect sense for the right. As the group’s website says, turning law-breakers into law-abiding citizens should be a conservative priority because it advances public safety and the rule of law. The cause unites libertarians wanting to scale back the state, fiscal conservatives seeking to reduce spending, social conservatives concerned by family breakdown, and a religious right that believes in redemption.

Is it too much to hope for a similar outbreak of common sense in Britain? Among the biggest disappointments of the Blair and Brown governments was their pandering to the right on crime, with 28 criminal justice bills. The coalition has tried to adopt a more evidence-based approach, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and payment by results, but is wobbling in the face of fury on the backbenches and in the media.

Such is the hysteria that the sensible abandonment of cruel indeterminate sentencing had to be smuggled out last month under cover of tougher sentences for knife crimes. There was relief in Downing Street at the strategy’s success – but they are still kicking around a keynote speech on crime by the prime minister already postponed for a year.

It is clear from several countries, notably Finland, that imprisonment has no impact on crime rates. Putting fewer people in prison means more money can be spent on more effective community-based punishments, which are often tougher than lying around stoned all day in prison. In the Netherlands this approach has been so successful prisons built in expectation of rising crime are being rented to Belgium.

Locking people up and throwing away the key is a costly failure. The alternatives are smart, not soft.

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South Sudan Releases Journalists Held For Criticizing President November 20, 2011

Two journalists, detained for two weeks by government security in the new nation of South Sudan, have been released. The two were arrested for publishing an article critical of President Salva Kiir’s daughter.

The editor of the Destiny Newspaper, Ngor Garang and deputy editor Dengdit Ayok were released on Friday evening by South Sudan’s National Security Service. They were detained after publishing an article on October 26, criticizing President Kiir for allowing his daughter to marry an Ethiopian.

Ayok, the author of the piece, said President Kiir had “stained his patriotism” by giving his daughter to “an alien.” Garang was detained on November 1 and Ayok was arrested four days later.

Speaking on Saturday, Dengdit Ayok said he was released without warning and no charges were filed against him.

“The security handed us over to police and then we were taken to the minister of interior. We met the inspector general of the police. He informed us the president of the republic Salva Kiir Mayardit has pardoned us and that he has decided not to take us to court,” he said.

Internal Security Chief Akol Kur initially accused Garang and Ayok of publishing “illicit news” which invaded the privacy of the president.  When reached by VOA News, Akol Kur refused to comment about the detentions and alleged beating.

Ayok said security officers beat him when he was arrested on November 5. He said he was then taken to a cell and fed only one meal per day. According to Ayok the prison held as many as 30 others accused of various crimes, including terrorism and cattle rustling.

After the arrest of Garang and Ayok,  the Destiny was forced to shut down publication. Officials from the paper say they do not know when they will be allowed to publish again.

Despite spending 13 days in prison, Ayok stands behind his controversial article.

“I didn’t break the law. My article was complying with the law,” he said. “We have the only law which is the supreme law of the land. That is the transitional constitution of the republic of South Sudan. The press bill is not yet passed and even the security bill is not yet passed.”

A draft bill to govern media in South Sudan has been submitted to parliament, but has yet to be passed. Speaking at a meeting last week, the Executive Secretary of the Association For Media Development in South Sudan called on lawmakers to pass the press law as soon as possible.

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Stop the tar sands destruction – outlaw this ecocide | Polly Higgins November 17, 2011

Imagine this: ecocide is already a crime. Pipelines will no longer exist because we shall no longer be extracting oil. Instead, governments will be granting permits for clean energy solutions. Oil will no longer be part of our energy strategy – instead of pipelines for oil we will be building supergrids for clean energy to be transported. Supergrids can be laid easily and have far less environmental impact. But it goes further back than that. The real source of the problem is the extraction of oil in the first place. When ecocide is a crime, we shan’t be destroying vast tracts of arboreal peat lands and ancient forests to extract energy. When ecocide is a crime, we shall be harnessing the energy from the sun, wind and sea.

This week the Obama administration announced an environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which is likely to last through to early 2013. People from Nebraska, Texas, Montana and others had fought hard for protection of their land and water. Masses of students, teachers, faith leaders and others asked for a strong stance against oil from the Athabasca tar sands. Instead of putting in place policy to create a viable clean alternative, Nebraska and TransCanada Corp announced on Monday that they would find a new route. The battle was won by the people, but the war rages on.

At the end of September, two CEOs were found guilty on two indictments of ecocide of Canada’s Athabasca tar sands when the law of ecocide was tried and tested for the first time in a mock trial at the UK supreme court on 30 September 2011. The event was live-streamed by Sky News to thousands across the world who tuned in to watch the drama unfold. Leading QCs Michael Mansfield and Chris Parker and their teams of lawyers fought for and against the indictments laid at the feet of Mr Bannerman of Global Petroleum Company and Mr Tench of the Glamis Group. Although the CEOs were actors and the companies fictional, the evidence was real and the issues the same as if the real CEOs of the companies involved in the events were being examined.

Put in place a law of ecocide and the door is locked to any further destructive activity that is adversely impacting on our land as well as our people. Ecocide is a crime against humanity, nature and future generations and the tar sands proposal is one of the largest ecocides in the world. As was stated in the trial, it’s all about getting a sense of perspective; while an oil spill might not constitute an ecocide for the purposes of the law, the destruction of land the size of England and Wales most certainly is a crime of enormous proportions.

Ecocide is not a crime of intent, and that must never be forgotten. No one is intending to destroy the world, but we have put profit first without looking to the consequences. Now we know just how damaging oil extraction has become, and we know that it creates one legacy that we cannot afford to ignore any longer. Barack Obama has the golden opportunity to take a different route and help those companies face the future and become the new clean energy companies we most urgently need.

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Scalia and Thomas dine with healthcare law challengers as court takes case

November 17, 2011

by legitgov


Scalia and Thomas dine with healthcare law challengers as court takes case 14 Nov 2011 The day the Supreme Court gathered behind closed doors to consider the politically divisive question of whether it would hear a challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, two of its justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, were feted at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court. The occasion was last Thursday, when all nine justices met for a conference to pore over the petitions for review. One of the cases at issue was a suit brought by 26 states challenging the sweeping healthcare overhaul passed by Congress last year, a law that has been a rallying cry for conservative activists nationwide.

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US top court to take on Obama healthcare law November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011

by legitgov


US top court to take on Obama healthcare law –Obama administration, 26 states appealed to high court 14 Nov 2011 The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide the fate of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, with an election-year ruling due by July on the U.S. healthcare system’s biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years. A Supreme Court spokeswoman said oral arguments would take place in March. There will be a total of 5-1/2 hours of argument. The court would be expected to rule during its current session, which lasts through June.

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London Olympics Security: FBI Agents, Surface-to-Air Missiles

November 15, 2011

by legitgov


London Olympics Security: FBI Agents, Surface-to-Air Missiles 15 Nov 2011 U.S. and British officials will meet today in Washington to plan security for next summer’s Olympic games in London, where the massive U.S. law enforcement presence will include more than 500 federal agents. U.S. and U.K. security and terrorism officials told ABC News that thousands of police officers, soldiers, intelligence officers, firefighters and private guards — a force that could at times top 40,0000 — will be on hand at 32 sports venues. U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told Parliament Monday that security measures might even include surface-to-air missiles. British officials have closely coordinated their efforts with their American counterparts, and the meetings that begin today are only the latest in a series of high-level meetings stretching back more than a year, officials from the CIA, State Department and FBI told ABC.

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