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The USA is the most corrupt country in the world and I have 10,000 posts that point heavily to that fact…

Human Rights Watch accuses Alabama of violating constitution December 14, 2011

Alabama is systematically violating US and international conventions by depriving undocumented immigrants of equal protection under the law, according to Human Rights Watch.

HB56, the controversial immigration law that came into effect in Alabama in September, has driven a wedge between Latino residents who lack authorisation papers and the courts that are supposed to afford them equal treatment. In a survey of the impact of the legislation, Human Rights Watch found that discrimination was creeping into both criminal and civil law.

Under the legislation, known as the Beason-Hammon Act, section 27 says that “no court of this state shall enforce the terms of, or otherwise regard as valid, any contract between a party and an alien unlawfully present in the US”. That provision has already been invoked in at least one lawsuit by defendants accused of defrauding undocumented immigrants over the sale of cars – the defendants argued that they could not be sued because their victims were “illegal residents”.

In that case the judge found in favour of the plaintiffs, but only on the grounds that the fraud happened before HB56 was passed.

The watchdog recorded evidence of several cases of unauthorised immigrants who had wages withheld by employers and felt they were unable to take their grievance to court because of the new provision. One man, Alejandro, sought the advice of a lawyer but was told tha because of the new law he could not use the courts to retrieve the wages.

Human Rights Watch said this sent a clear message to employers that they did not need to fear legal redress from employees they had abused. That, the watchdog has pointed out, is a clear breach both of the US constitution and of international law.

In both the constitution and the international covenant on civil and political rights, all individuals must be treated equally before the law irrespective of their status. The 14th amendment of the US constitution says that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.

Other aspects of HB56 have started to disturb the sacrosanct relationship between lawyer and client. Human Rights Watch said it had been told some lawyers were questioning whether they had a duty to inform on their clients should they lack proper papers.

The law prohibits “an officer of a court of this state” – a catch-all phrase that presumably includes lawyers as well as judges and court officers – from doing anything that would restrict the new legislation from being implemented. Human Rights Watch heard a case in which a criminal defence lawyer was confused about whether she was obliged to pass on the unauthorised status of her client. A judge advised that yes, she was obliged.

“Where does this law leave people if they can’t even trust their own lawyer?” said Grace Meng, the survey’s author.

Section 19 of the law denies bail to all undocumented immigrants charged with an offence, no matter how minor in nature. That in itself, the watchdog says, introduces unlawful discrimination into the legal process.

There are signs that the Latino community in Alabama – both documented and undocumented – has sharply reduced its reporting of crime for fear of being harassed by police under the new law even though they were the ones seeking assistance. The number of Latino people presenting themselves at court has plummeted, even to pay parking tickets, with individuals risking far greater punishments later on by allowing their fines to go unpaid.

Alabama’s all-out assault on undocumented Hispanic people has led to widespread criticism and ridicule, particularly after two foreign car executives working for Honda and Mercedes-Benz were apprehended under HB56. In recent days there have been moves to soften some of its provisions.

The courts this week stepped in to prevent undocumented immigrants losing their mobile homes, and the state attorney general Luther Strange has issued guidance saying that the law should not be used to withhold basic amenities from families such as water and electricity.

The Republican governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, who signed HB56 into law in June, has made assuaging noises to foreign car companies that have been inconvenienced by it.

But so far the impact of the law on the legal system itself has passed largely unnoticed. Human Rights Watch warns that it could have a “serious chilling effect on undocumented immigrants seeking justice in the courts … By enacting this law Alabama has already sent a message to unauthorised immigrants that their right to equal protection of the law will not be respected.”

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EPA finds toxic chemicals in water supply near fracking sites in Wyoming December 11, 2011


December 10, 2011

by legitgov

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EPA finds toxic chemicals in water supply near fracking sites in Wyoming 10 Dec 2011 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday it found chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas in water supplies in Wyoming. The EPA’s findings are based on two deep wells drilled to monitor water in the aquifer located in Pavillion, Wyoming. The EPA says that sampling turned up compounds “likely associated with gas production practices” in the monitoring wells in addition to private and public drinking wells.

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Senate Republicans Block Obama Pick to Lead Consumer Panel December 9, 2011


December 8, 2011

by legitgov

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Senate Republicans Block Obama Pick to Lead Consumer Panel 09 Dec 2011 The Senate blocked President Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as filibustering Republicans who oppose the very powers of the new agency successfully challenged one of the administration’s main responses to the [GOP-created] financial crisis. The nomination of Richard Cordray was rejected after Democrats failed to achieve the 60 votes they needed to move his nomination forward. The vote was 55 yes, 45 no.

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Hillary Clinton’s world tour brings brickbats, but more bouquets

Hillary Clinton knows it’s been a good tour when the US secretary of state’s critics deride her as a “radical scold” trying to turn the world into gay-friendly San Francisco. Or claims that she is wrong to meet Burma‘s “military thugs” as the US presses for continued political reform in that long closed country.

Then there are the Russians and Israelis, upset with her for stating the obvious.

Clinton’s recently completed foreign tour took her on a controversial visit to Burma, where the country’s leading dissident, Aung San Suu Kyi, praised her for “careful and calibrated” engagement with a country moving from brutal military rule toward tentative civilian control.

A few days later, Clinton gave a historic speech that committed Washington to putting the protection of gay rights at the centre of US foreign policy, drawing astonished praise and virulent criticism.

John Norris, director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Centre for American Progress, said the tour has added to Clinton’s standing in the US, where she has consistently high approval ratings, and abroad, where she has done much to reverse hostility.

“I have a hard time thinking of a secretary of state in recent memory who inherited a portfolio that was more of a mess. She had wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a very troubled relationship with Pakistan, and a full-blown economic crisis on her watch,” he said.

“Her ability to reconstruct the United States as a player on the multilateral stage is some of the most important and least acknowledged work. If you look at the broad architecture of US foreign policy, she really has done a pretty remarkable job of helping us emerge from what was something of a smouldering train wreck when she took office.”

Clinton’s groundbreaking visit to Burma was widely questioned, including by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican member of Congress, who said it “sends the wrong signal to the Burmese military thugs”.

“Secretary Clinton’s visit represents a monumental overture to an outlaw regime whose DNA remains fundamentally brutal,” she said.

But Norris describes the visit as “an interesting culmination of idealism and realpolitik”.

“Certainly the idea of opening up the relationship with Burma is not uncontroversial in some quarters, but I think people also recognise that there has been some significant change on the ground and it makes sense for the United States to respond positively to encourage further change as well as not wanting Burma to see itself as a Chinese client state,” he said.

Clinton moved on to Geneva, where she said that protection of human rights for gay people will now be “a priority of our foreign policy”. She also took on myths prevailing in parts of the world, particularly some parts of Africa and the Middle East, that discrimination and even persecution of gay people is justified because homosexuality is a white, western phenomenon and against local culture.

“Being gay is not a western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only western governments do,” she said.

Clinton swiftly came under attack from the American right. Rick Perry, the Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, said that the speech was part of “this administration’s war on traditional American values”.

The rightwing American Spectator called Clinton a “radical scold” and accused her of trying to turn the world in to San Francisco.

But Norris argues that Clinton’s speech is in line with the US’s claim to defend individual and minority rights across the globe.

“The best comparison there – although it’s one that folks on the left and right here would find unusual – is the US’s long history of protecting religious rights around the globe,” he said.

Clinton has also drawn criticism in recent days from Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, for criticising the conduct of Russia’s election, and from Israel, for comments about the threats to democracy there by political moves to stifle the work of human rights organisations.

Clinton’s diplomacy is not always so assured. She contibuted to the White House’s inertia at the beginning of the Arab spring when the State Department initially backed the view that Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt could be saved to the recognition that he had to go. But Clinton was instrumental in pushing for Washington to back military force in support of Libya’s rebels.

Contrast that with Obama’s more hesitant approach on healthcare, Afghanistan and Congress. That has given rise once again to speculation that Clinton may yet make a move on the White House.

Two Democratic party pollsters, Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen, last month said in the Wall Street Journal, in an article called The Hillary Moment, that Obama is politically doomed and Clinton should step in to the breach.

They said Clinton is “the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy”.

“[Obama] should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favour of a clear alternative, one capable not only of saving the Democratic party, but more important, of governing effectively and in a way that preserves the most important of the President’s accomplishments. He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party: secretary of state Hillary Clinton,” they wrote.

That remains unlikely, but not impossible.

Others favour Clinton to replace Joe Biden as vice-president because she remains popular with many liberal voters who are disenchanted with Obama, including a not insignificant number who are questioning their support for America’s first black president over the woman who would have been its first female president in the 2008 Democratic party race.

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Republicans block Obama appointee

Mr Obama told reporters that Republicans have held up multiple appointments ‘for no reason’

Senate Republicans have blocked the appointment of Richard Cordray to head a new US consumer protection agency.

A majority of Republicans have pledged to block any appointee to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) until the administration agrees to decrease the agency’s powers.

The CFPB has existed since July but cannot fully act without a director.

The agency was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, bitterly opposed by many Republicans.

Mr Obama has not ruled out appointing Mr Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, on a temporary basis when Congress is in recess.

He has also signalled that he will veto any attempt to change the structure of the CFPB or defund the agency.

‘Fair play’

Republicans said they had no qualms on Mr Cordray’s qualifications, but voted against the measure that would have brought his nomination to a vote.

With one Republican voting in favour, the measure failed to reach 60 “aye” votes necessary to move forward.

Mr Obama said he would not give up on the appointment.

“We have a Congress right now, Republicans in Congress right now, who seem to have entirely forgotten how we got into this mess,” Mr Obama said on Thursday.

“And part of the reason was because we did not empower our regulators to make sure that they were ensuring fair play.”

Senate Republicans are asking that the CFPB’s directorship should be replaced with a bipartisan board of directors and that the agency should be subject to the congressional appropriations process.

“This has nothing to do with Mr Cordray,” said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. “It has everything to do with accountability for how money is spent in government.”

Administration officials dispute that the agency has no accountability.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin told reporters at the White House that the CFPB must consult with other bank regulators before issuing rules, and can also have its rules overturned by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a Treasury department board largely made up of heads of other financial agencies.

Mr Wolin said the new agency, which falls under the supervision of the Federal Reserve, follows other federal bank regulators in not being subject to congressional appropriation.

“The reason for that is we want to make sure that our bank regulators are free of political influence.”

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Gary McKinnon’s mother urges MPs to support extradition motion December 5, 2011

The mother of the alleged hacker Gary McKinnon has urged MPs to support a backbench motion calling for UK-US extradition rules to be “urgently renegotiated”.

Janis Sharp wrote an open letter printed in the Daily Mail as MPs prepared to consider whether the government’s treaty allowing fast-tracking of suspects to the US needed reform to “strengthen the protection of British citizens”.

Sharp, whose son has Asperger’s syndrome, has for six years been fighting extradition to the US on charges of alleged computer hacking. She said no one else should “ever be subjected to a decade of mental torture as my son Gary has”.

“We’re counting on you – don’t let us down,” she wrote.

The vote on Monday is expected to see widespread support for reform to the treaty – which is widely seen as giving US citizens far greater protection than British nationals.

The US ambassador to the UK told MPs last week the extradition treaty between the two countries worked well.

Louis Susman told the Commons foreign affairs committee it was “fair and balanced” and “promotes the interests of justice” in both countries.

But many in the UK argue that existing laws governing extradition are unbalanced and need reform. The motion calls for the treaty to be redrafted to enable the government to refuse extradition requests if UK prosecutors have decided against beginning proceedings at home.

The backbench motion has cross-party support and also calls for changes to the European arrest warrant amid fears that it is increasingly being used to target British citizens in other EU countries.

Sharp urged David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to unite “on this matter of principle” and allow “a truly free vote today for all MPs” rather than “be swayed by America’s tantrums”.

“Extradition was meant to bring someone back to a country they had fled from after committing a heinous crime,” she wrote. “But British pensioners, students and computer geeks with autism are being targeted by America even when never having set foot there.”

“The US are abusing the treaty simply because they can, since our safeguards were, shockingly, dispensed with.”

The result of the vote, triggered by the backbench business committee after cross-party demands, is not binding on ministers. But if the motion is passed, as expected, it will up the pressure on David Cameron to find a way of intervening in the case of McKinnon.

Dominic Raab, the Tory MP who secured the debate, told the Today programme five Americans had been extradited to the UK, while 29 Britons had gone to the US.

He said “no one wants to scrap extradition”, but UK citizens such as McKinnon could be better protected by the law.

Lack of transparency was “the key issue” in extradition cases with the US, as most cases took place “between prosecutors, behind closed doors” rather than in open court.

He said: “The US has treaties with Mexico, Brazil and Australia, giving their authorities much greater discretion to refuse to extradite their citizens. So why shouldn’t Britain, ask for this very modest change?”

But he added: “The real horror stories are under the European arrest warrant.”

David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, told Today that he had twice visited the Department for Justice in Washington in an attempt to persuade the Americans to allow McKinnon to stay in the UK while his trial takes place in the US. He said McKinnon could participate by video link, and serve his sentence in the UK if found guilty.

“I did that privately, but I have to say it publicly now because tonight’s debate will get very, very hot indeed,” he said.

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Harrisburg bankruptcy ‘illegal’ November 24, 2011

The court’s decision was watched as a barometer for other municipalities looking for debt solutions

The city of Harrisburg, state capital of Pennsylvania, will not be allowed to file for bankruptcy protection, a federal judge has ruled.

The move was ruled illegal after a hearing lasting more than two hours.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who objected to the Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition, wants the city to pay down around $300m (£193m) of debt.

Harrisburg filed for bankruptcy in October, to avert a state takeover of the city’s financial operations.

Bankruptcy protection, which would enable the city to seek leniency from its creditors, was also opposed by Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson, who said the city council lacked a credible debt repayment plan.

But Neil Grover, a lawyer from the taxpayer group Debt Watch Harrisburg, said that the city would be reduced to a shell if forced to pay all its debt.

“This is the kind of issue that goes to the Supreme Court,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

Financial overhaul

At Wednesday’s hearing, bankruptcy Judge Mary France said that according to state law the Harrisburg City Council did not have the authority to bypass the city mayor and file a petition for bankruptcy.

“We are certainly disappointed at the judge’s ruling and while we respect her opinions we will take some time after Thanksgiving to determine whether we want to file an appeal,” said City Councilman Brad Koplinski.

Mark Schwartz, the lawyer representing the city council, also said he was “leaning” towards filing an appeal.

The city council did not inform the mayor (above) of their decision to file for bankruptcy

Most of the debt facing the city of Harrisburg stems from a costly overhaul of a 40-year-old waste incinerator.

In 2003 – facing $100m of debt, environmental problems and fines already associated with the project – the Environmental Protection Agency shut down the incinerator.

But the city council chose to finance an overhaul of the incinerator rather than abandon it.

Ensuing complications meant the overhaul became much more expensive than initially thought and residents of Harrisburg now pay some of the highest rates in the country for garbage disposal. Meanwhile, the incinerator itself became mired in even more debt.

Correspondents say the Harrisburg case is being watched closely by those involved in other municipal bankruptcies around the US.

Earlier in November, Jefferson County, Alabama, filed a Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition for $3bn – the largest municipal claim in US history.

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Egypt’s Ruling Council Calls for Crisis Talks with Political Forces November 22, 2011

Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has called for crisis talks with the country’s political forces after the interim civilian cabinet submitted its resignation and three days of anti-military protests and a fierce security crackdown killed at least 24 people.

In a statement late Monday, the military council urged calm and called for a national dialogue “to look into the reasons behind the current crisis and ways to resolve it as quickly as possible.”

Related video by Elizabeth Arrott:

The statement, carried by Egypt’s state news agency MENA, also voiced its “deep sorrow over the deaths during the recent painful events,” and said the council ordered security forces to take all necessary measures to protect the demonstrators.

MENA said the civilian cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf will continue to perform its duties until the military council decides whether to accept the resignations.

The White House said Monday it was “deeply concerned” about the violence and urged restraint by all sides.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored the loss of life and called on authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights and civil liberties for all Egyptians, including the right to peaceful protest.”

Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Egypt’s rulers of brutality sometimes exceeding that of former President Hosni Mubarak.  The group’s Philip Luther said that “by using military courts to try thousands of civilians, cracking down on peaceful protests and expanding the emergency law, the military council has continued the tradition of repressive rule which the January 25 demonstrators fought so hard to get rid of.”

Protests continued across the country Monday, including Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, in what some are calling “Egypt’s second revolution.”

Clashes also erupted near Egypt’s Interior Ministry. Reuters quotes an army official as saying the ministry requested protection against the protesters, who want the head of the ruling military to swiftly hand over power to a civilian government.

Some demonstrators called for a “million man” rally across Egypt Tuesday.

The military-led government held an emergency meeting Sunday and promised to begin staggered parliamentary elections as planned on November 28.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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Herman Cain asks for and receives Secret Service protection November 18, 2011


November 18, 2011

by legitgov

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LOL! Herman Cain asks for and receives Secret Service protection 17 Nov 2011 Herman Cain on Thursday became the first Republican presidential candidate to receive Secret Service protection, a spokesman for the agency said. Cain asked for the security and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and congressional leaders approved his request Thursday, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said. Elite agents were expected to begin protecting the former pizza company executive sometime Thursday.

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WWF Russia seeks foster parents for 500 polar bears November 16, 2011


November 16, 2011

by legitgov

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WWF Russia seeks foster parents for 500 polar bears 15 Nov 2011 Under a new initiative by WWF Russia, individuals and companies can become a foster parent of a polar bear for a one-time contribution of 30,000 rubles (about $1,000). The money will be spent on conservation, protection and research of wild polar bears in the Russian Arctic, home to about 5,000-6,000 white bears or about a quarter of the worldwide polar bear population.

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Gadhafi’s Killing in Libya Has Repercussions for Syria October 22, 2011

The killing of Libya’s ex-leader Moammar Gadhafi may prove a cautionary tale to autocrats in the region who face uprisings of their own. Those upheavals are keenly watched by Arab Spring protesters – especially in Syria.

Libyan expatriates partied well into the night outside the White House, celebrating the end to the 42-year reign of Moammar Gadhafi.

“I’m on cloud 9 right now,” said one man participating in the celebration. “I’m on Cloud 9 of Cloud 9.”

“Oh my gosh, we are so happy, everyone wants to rent a plane and we all want to go back to Libya,” said a woman who was swept up in the moment.

But on the streets of Syria, there is violence at such celebrations. Activists say security forces killed at least 13 demonstrators as they cheered Libya’s victory. Syrians are afraid to speak openly, but we contacted this Syrian who was there. VOA disguised the person’s identity for protection and spoke via Skype.

“We feel so great – we feel like our brothers in Libya. We get more energy from his [Gadhafi's] death. We are calling for international protection and no-fly zone,” said this person in Syria.

It took seven months from the first uprising to officially end autocratic rule in Libya. NATO provided air support with the United States playing only a part. The U.S. suffered no casualties and spent far less than in other recent conflicts. U.S. officials consider their $1 billion to $2 billion share a bargain, and give Libyans the credit.

“You have won your revolution,” said President Barack Obama.

Now the Obama administration is reviewing the formula, hoping to transfer it to other countries.

“This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “So, that’s an example of how the world’s beginning to work together a little better.”

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia and moved to Egypt. Now there’s success in Libya.

Former White House adviser Marc Ginsberg said, “Syrians are going to say, ‘Why not us? Why, are we not as deserving as the Libyan people?’ And it may in the end put more pressure on the administration to determine how and what to do about Syria.”

The Syrian opposition has followed the lead of Libyans and formed the Syrian National Council. So far, they have not fought back with weapons. For that, Syrians would need international help… which no country is yet offering.

 

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Border bill would expand Homeland Security powers September 28, 2011


September 27, 2011

by legitgov

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Border bill would expand Homeland Security powers –Bill to let DHS waive 36 federal environmental protection laws 27 Sep 2011 A controversial bill would give the Department of Homeland Security sweeping authority over federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection [sic] Act would give the secretary of Homeland Security authority over federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. international and maritime borders for “activities that assist in securing the border (including access to maintain and construct roads, construct a fence, use vehicles to patrol and set up monitoring equipment).” The measure also waives the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Clean Air Act.

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