Wednesday, February 29, 2012
As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street," dated October of last year, opens with the observation that "mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas." While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that "large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement."
The five-page report – contained in 5 million newly leaked documents examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks – goes on to sum up the history of Occupy Wall Street and assess its "impact" on everything from financial services to government facilities. Many of the observations are benign, and appear to have been culled from publicly available sources. The report notes, for instance, that in Chicago "five women were arrested after dumping garbage taken from a foreclosed home owned by Bank of America in the lobby one of the bank's branches," and that "OWS in New York staged a 'Millionaires March,' from Zucotti Park to demonstrate outside the homes of some of the city’s richest residents."
But the DHS also appears to have scoured OWS-related Twitter feeds for much of their information. The report includes a special feature on what it calls Occupy's "social media and IT usage," and provides an interactive map of protests and gatherings nationwide – borrowed, improbably enough, from the lefty blog Daily Kos. "Social media and the organic emergence of online communities," the report notes, "have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement."
The most ominous aspect of the report, however, comes in its final paragraph:
"The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged."
Amid heightened tensions with the West over its nuclear program, Iran on Tuesday called for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons and condemned their production or possession as “a great sin.”
The Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in a statement to the Conference on Disarmament here that there were two ways to engage with Iran on its nuclear program: engagement or confrontation. Iran, “confident of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, has always insisted on the first alternative,” he said.
Mr. Salehi’s statement came only days after the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency expressed concern over the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, offered its assessment after Iran denied visiting inspectors access to military facilities linked to the nuclear program.
The agency reported in November that it had “credible” information that the complexes at Parchin, southwest of the capital, Tehran, included an explosives containment chamber used for experiments that were “strong indicators” of possible nuclear weapons development.
Echoing sentiments expressed in speeches by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr. Salehi denied that the nuclear program had a military purpose, saying Iran would be a stronger country without nuclear arms.
“We do not see any glory, pride or power in the nuclear weapons — quite the opposite,” he said. He added that on the basis of a religious decree by Ayatollah Khamenei, “the production, possession, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegitimate, futile, harmful, dangerous and prohibited as a great sin.”
Mr. Salehi said the existence of nearly 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world posed “the gravest threat” to sustainable international security.
He accused the West of having a double standard in its support of Israel, the only Middle East country believed to possess nuclear weapons.
Some regional leaders say it could bring peace and much-needed tax revenue, but both they and supporters of the drug war are missing the real problem.
Last week, the president of Guatemala joined former and current presidents of Colombia and Mexico in expressing interest in considering the regional legalization of the drug trade. The U.S. State Department immediately expressed its disfavor, but the question is out in the open now. The issue of whether to legalize drugs -- and thus reject the U.S. model of "war" against drugs -- threatens to consume the next Summit of the Americas, an April meeting of Western Hemisphere Heads of State in Colombia.
It is easy to see why. The drug war has been a disaster for the Latin American countries fighting it, especially Mexico, and Central Americans' suspicion that legalization could be less painful and costly is reasonable. Whether or not legalization would in fact be a good thing for Central America, the situation is desperate enough that they must at least consider their options.
Since Mexico declared its own war against drugs and drug cartels in 2006, over 50,000 civilians, police, journalists, judges, and soldiers have died. Several cartel kingpins have been arrested or killed, but organized crime is as potent as ever, and there's no indication of a significant drop in the volume of narcotics flowing into the United States. And the Mexican state is suffering mightily for its effort. Despite years of training and hundreds of millions of dollars in police and military modernization and professionalization, there are still episodes like Tuesday's jail break in Nuevo Laredo, where prison officials appear to have helped Zetas cartel gunmen kill 44 inmates -- all members of a rival cartel -- and help 30 Zetas escape. It's depressing.
In Guatemala, the drug war looks even worse. The Guatemalan national budget for public security is $420 million and its military budget is $160 million. The value of the narcotics smuggled through Guatemala each year is in the range of $40 to 50 billion -- about equal to the national GDP -- and that does not include the money made from smuggling weapons, people, and other contraband. In just three years, it appears that the Sinaloa and the Zetas Mexican cartels have come to control as much as 40 percent of the country's territory. They grow poppy, process cocaine and methamphetamines, and run training camps for their new recruits, who include members of Guatemala's elite special forces unit.
Guatemala and other Central American states are understandable worried their drug wars will come to resemble Mexico's, but with far fewer national resources to support the fight, much weaker police and military forces, and far less help from the United States. In 2011, the U.S. gave $180 million to Mexico for military and police assistance, but only $16 million to Guatemala and around $6 million each to Honduras and El Salvador.
So, naturally, the option of legalizing the drug trade, and thus avoiding a further drug war, sounds appealing. Though the Guatemalan government hasn't presented any specific idea or plan, the conventional interpretation would be to legalize personal drug consumption as well as small batch sales and to tax them; to focus on drug use prevention and treatment, instead of criminalizing addicts; and then to focus security efforts against organized crime and violence, instead of constantly watching for, chasing, and interdicting drug shipments.
In Alabama, a death row prisoner could be exonerated by a DNA test. Why are the courts preventing this from happening -- especially when another man has already confessed to the crime?
Another month, another man on death row, another excruciating case that illustrates just some of the ways in which America's death penalty regime is unconstitutionally broken. This time, the venue is Alabama. This time, the murder that generated the sentence took place 30 years ago. And this time, there is an execution date of March 29, 2012, for Thomas Arthur, a man who has always maintained his innocence. He also has the unwelcome distinction of being one of the few prisoners in the DNA-testing era to be this close to capital punishment after someone else confessed under oath to the crime.
Late last month, I profiled the wobbly capital conviction against Troy Noling in Ohio and there are remarkable similarities between it and the Arthur case. Both involve white defendants. Both include contentions of innocence and allegations of bad lawyering at trial. Both include a lack of physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime. Both include crucial witness testimony that borders the farcical. And both include state officials reluctant to permit sophisticated DNA testing that might definitively answer questions about whether the defendants committed the murders they will die for.
Arthur's attorneys are even willing to pay for that testing, the few thousand bucks it would be, and the testing could be completed by the execution date. It is here where prosecutors and judges lose me when they prioritize "finality" in capital punishment cases at the expense of "accuracy." It would cost Alabama nothing to let Arthur's lawyers do the testing. And it might solve a case that already has cost the state millions of dollars. Instead, Alabama wants to finally solve its Arthur problem by executing him. No matter how the new DNA test could come out, the state is more interested in defending its dubious conviction.
Apart from the fact that he may have spent decades on death row for a crime he didn't commit -- based upon the testimony of a convicted murderer with a motive to lie -- Arthur isn't exactly a sympathetic figure. In 1986, while awaiting his second trial, he escaped from jail by shooting one of his guards. But any reasonable person looking at the tortuous history of his case through the decades would see that there is something wrong here. Three times Alabama tried Arthur for murdering Troy Wicker on February 1, 1982. Three times the state got a conviction and death penalty against him. Three times there were problems at trial.
Some of this has been litigated -- over and over again -- at both the state and federal level (the back story alone raises important constitutional concerns). What's important today, however, is that Alabama now seems to have based its entire case against Arthur upon the testimony of Judy Wicker, Troy's wife, who said at the time of the murder that she had been raped by a stranger. Over and over again state investigators asked her if Thomas Arthur was involved in the crime. And over and over again she said no. So what happened?
What happened was that Judy Wicker was lying. Turns out she had hired someone to murder her husband -- and got caught doing so! Several months after her husband's death, Wicker was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. A few years later, however, she cut a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a recommended early release from prison, she would change her testimony and accuse Arthur of the crime. And that's what happened. Wicker's testimony secured Arthur's third and final conviction. And this time, for over 20 years now, all of the state and federal courts that have reviewed the case have endorsed that result.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Race baiting has been a focus of debates in various media outlets about programs aiding those whose income is at the pit of that debate. Below are some of the most startling facts that debunk some of the poverty myths and racial stereotypes that surround social benefit programs.
1. President Barack Obama is not a “food stamp president.” According to recent figures, more food stamp recipients were actually added under President George W. Bush than under President Obama. Under President Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million.
2. Blacks are not the primary recipients of assistance through federal benefit programs. 35.7 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, recipients and 43 percent of those on Medicaid—two of the largest public benefit programs—are white.
3. The main reasons why people living in poverty are not employed are illness and inability to find work. Approximately 56 percent of those who did not work in 2010 did not work due to illness, disability, retirement, or an inability to find work.
4. Social Security benefits have saved many senior citizens from poverty. If Social Security were excluded from income, 14 million seniors over the age of 65 would fall into poverty.
5. Many Americans receiving public benefits paid for them. Thirty-nine percent of Americans receive benefits they paid for through payroll taxes taken out of their own paychecks.
6. More white Americans live in poverty than any other group. In 2010 31.6 million white Americans lived in poverty, more than any other racial or ethnic group.
7. Many people of color who receive Social Security benefits do so for survival. Forty-five percent of all black beneficiaries and 58 percent of “other” beneficiaries (those who are neither black nor white) use the program for its survivor and disability benefits, not for its retirement benefits.
8. Social benefit programs like Medicaid really do serve those most vulnerable. Two-thirds of Americans living in poverty are not enrolled in Medicaid because single individuals and childless couples are largely excluded from Medicaid coverage.
9. Many beneficiaries of low-income public benefit programs are elderly, children, or disabled. Among American households receiving food assistance under SNAP, 75 percent have an elderly or disabled person or a child.
10. The federal government does not hand out checks. Only about 10 percent of all federal dollars committed to public benefit programs for low-income Americans are paid in cash, and the majority of cash assistance programs are focused on those who cannot work.
Authorities in Shanghai have accused US Fortune 500 battery maker Johnson Controls and several other companies of emitting excessive amounts of lead blamed for poisoning dozens of children.
The US giant denies a plant it owns was responsible for the pollution in the Chinese city's Kangqiao area, where 49 children, most of them aged between one and three, were diagnosed with lead poisoning in September.
A report posted on the Shanghai government's official microblog page on Saturday blamed three companies for lead pollution and said at least two were directly responsible for the children's condition.
"An investigation found that Johnson Controls expanded its production scale without approval," the government said, adding the plant's lead emissions were excessive.
Two other companies -- Shanghai Xinmingyuan Automobile Parts Co Ltd and Shanghai Kangshuo Waste Recycling Co Ltd -- were also found to be polluting the environment with lead. All three plants have since been shut down.
"The link between children with excessive lead in their blood in Kangqiao and Johnson Controls' lead emissions is quite obvious and there is a definite link with Xinmingyuan's lead emissions," the government said.
Lead poisoning is considered hazardous, particularly to children, who can experience stunted growth and mental retardation.
Fraser Engerman, spokesman for Johnson Controls, denied the link.
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum criticized President Barack Obama's apology for the burning of Qurans in Afghanistan, adding that Afghanistan should apologize to the U.S. for the deaths of four U.S. soldiers during six days of violence sparked by the incident.
"There was nothing deliberately done wrong here," Santorum said Sunday on ABC's "This Week". "This was something that happened as a mistake. Killing Americans in uniform is not a mistake. It was something that deliberate."
More than 30 people have been killed in clashes since it emerged Tuesday that copies of the Muslim holy book and other religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a large U.S. base north of Kabul. Protesters angry over Quran burnings by American troops lobbed grenades Sunday at a U.S. base in northern Afghanistan and clashed with police and troops in a day of violence that left seven international troops wounded and two Afghans dead.
"The response needs to be apologized for by (President Hamid) Karzai and the Afghan people for attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake," Santorum said on NBC's "Meet the Press". "That is the real crime here, not what our soldiers did."
The president's apology suggests that there is blame and that the U.S. did something wrong "in the sense of doing a deliberate act," Santorum said.
Why are gas prices surging to levels unseen since the 2008 oil spike while the oil companies reporting record profits? Much of the problem is actually created by Wall Street traders here in the USA who gamble on oil prices and powerful multinational companies that manipulate the supply and demand by stockpiling oil when the price is low and expected to rise in the near future. And yes, so far this practice is perfectly legal.
Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the federal agency that regulates commodity futures and option trading in the United States, says a very few number of players control too much of the market, allowing them to push the price of gas higher and higher. The American public knows very little about the oil speculation industry because a conservative majority on the CFTC has refused to implement the mandates from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to curb abuses and provide transparency.
One of those players is the petrochemical multinational Koch Industries. Although oil extraction is a small part of the Koch’s oil business the company has major control over every other part of the market as its core venture is shipping crude oil, refining it, distributing it to retailers, then speculating on the future price. The company actively trades about 50 types of crude oil around the world and has trading operations in London, Geneva, Singapore, Houston, New York, Wichita, Rotterdam, and Mumbai.
When future oil prices are expected to rise–which means when demand is expected to exceed supply–big banks and companies like Koch start buying up oil and storing it in massive containers both on land and offshore to lock in the oil for sale later at a set price.
In 2008, Fortune magazine reported that Koch Supply & Trading leased the 2-million-barrel-capacity Dubai Titan that year, the third supertanker the company has leased, because the demand for oil storage was so high that Koch and other big investors who could not secure storage on land have resorted to leasing supertankers and using them as floating oil tanks.
Koch was one of the companies that lobbied aggressively against President’s financial reform bill-–mentioned above–particularly on provisions related to transparency in the energy trading market. Representatives from the company’s lobbying firm even argued that moderate levels of the toxic chemical dioxin should not be designated as a cancer risk for humans at an EPA hearing last summer.
When we look at the money Koch has spent on lobbying to influence laws and regulations in Washington in recent years–from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008–it is not surprising that Koch’s lobbyists and officials have successfully fought to preserve the industry’s tax breaks and credits, and defeated all attempts by Congress to regulate environmental hazards and transparency requirements.
At the beginning of February 2012, Koch and about 300 other-–invitation only–individuals pledged approximately $100 million to defeat President Obama in the 2012 elections at a private meeting in California. And now at the end of February 2012 we are seeing a distinctive rise in the oil prices at the pump. I will not speculate any further as I have the utmost trust in the intelligence of our readers to connect the dots and fill in the blanks.
Today, Monday 27 February, WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example :
"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase" – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.
The material contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.
The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the "Yes Men", for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.
Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees : "We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either."
Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to "utilise the intelligence" it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS : "What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like". The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested "substantially" more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff : "Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral... It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor... we are already working on mock portfolios and trades". StratCap is due to launch in 2012.
The Stratfor emails reveal a company that cultivates close ties with US government agencies and employs former US government staff. It is preparing the 3-year Forecast for the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and it trains US marines and "other government intelligence agencies" in "becoming government Stratfors". Stratfor’s Vice-President for Intelligence, Fred Burton, was formerly a special agent with the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and was their Deputy Chief of the counterterrorism division. Despite the governmental ties, Stratfor and similar companies operate in complete secrecy with no political oversight or accountability. Stratfor claims that it operates "without ideology, agenda or national bias", yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel.
Ironically, considering the present circumstances, Stratfor was trying to get into what it called the leak-focused "gravy train" that sprung up after WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan disclosures :
"[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ’leak-focused’ gravy train ? This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don’t, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred and Stick know better than anyone on the planet... Could we develop some ideas and procedures on the idea of ´leak-focused’ network security that focuses on preventing one’s own employees from leaking sensitive information... In fact, I’m not so sure this is an IT problem that requires an IT solution."
Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Hizzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).
Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s "Confederation Partners", whom Stratfor internally referred to as its "Confed Fuck House" are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.
WikiLeaks has also obtained Stratfor’s list of informants and, in many cases, records of its payoffs, including $1,200 a month paid to the informant "Geronimo" , handled by Stratfor’s Former State Department agent Fred Burton.
WikiLeaks has built an investigative partnership with more than 25 media organisations and activists to inform the public about this huge body of documents. The organisations were provided access to a sophisticated investigative database developed by WikiLeaks and together with WikiLeaks are conducting journalistic evaluations of these emails. Important revelations discovered using this system will appear in the media in the coming weeks, together with the gradual release of the source documents.
Friday, February 24, 2012
For some older adults, the online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) may provide more than just an opportunity for escapist adventure. Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that playing WoW actually boosted cognitive functioning for older adults – particularly those adults who had scored poorly on cognitive ability tests before playing the game.
“We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits – it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations,” says Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the study. “We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant’s baseline cognitive functioning level.”
Researchers from NC State’s Gains Through Gaming laboratory first tested the cognitive functioning of study participants, aged 60 to 77, to set a baseline. The researchers looked at cognitive abilities including spatial ability, memory and how well participants could focus their attention.
An “experimental” group of study participants then played WoW on their home computers for approximately 14 hours over the course of two weeks, before being re-tested. A “control” group of study participants did not play WoW, but were also re-tested after two weeks.
Comparing the cognitive functioning test scores of participants in the experimental and control groups, the researchers found the group that played WoW saw a much greater increase in cognitive functioning, though the effect varied according to each participant’s baseline score.
Why is the death penalty still legal in the United States?
No seriously, why?
It has already been abolished in every other Western society, and, much like slavery before it, the US lags behind its fellows in following suit. Perhaps, as in 1863, it’s time that we followed their example. Forget the political ramifications of being seen as soft on crime; here is a set of reasons why the death penalty should not be permitted in the American criminal justice system.
The death penalty is too extreme. This is because killing another person is so far separated from the other possible punishments that can be assigned. The chasm between imprisonment and fines and the death penalty is a wide one indeed, filled with countless macabre punishments that would be deemed cruel and unusual.
It simply makes no sense that while a man cannot be beaten for a crime, he can be killed for one.
The death penalty is not a deterrent. A common defense of the death penalty is that it deters the most abhorrent crimes, but the data suggests otherwise. In fact, 88 percent of criminologists do not believe that the death penalty has a deterrent effect. The deterrent claim defies simple logic: The effect could only hold if someone seriously contemplates the potential ramifications of his actions, in particular those of getting caught, before committing a crime. As the latter in particular does not usually happen, there is no reason why knowing whether or not your state has the death penalty — knowledge that is probably not widely held, anyway — would deter the most common murderers.
The death penalty is not cheap. The average cost of an execution is $3 million. Because those who are executed are also kept under 24-hour watch and go through endless appeals, this cost is actually significantly higher than the next most severe sentence, life in prison without parole. As James Ellis, Chief Criminal Judge of Oregon, once said, “Whether you’re for it or against it, I think the fact is that Oregon simply can’t afford it.”
The death penalty is racist. In a spectacular piece of social science, University of Iowa law professors David Baldus and George Woodworth, along with Arizona State Univerity law professor Charles Pulaski, found that people accused of killing white victims were 4.3 times more likely to receive the death penalty thanthose accused of killing black victims, and that black men were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white men. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court struck an attempt to introduce this study as evidence in McClesky v. Kemp, citing that the statistical data was incapable of showing deliberate intent of racial bias, and thus could not prove that the death penalty is discriminatory. This decision was and is one of the low points of Supreme Court jurisprudence.
The death penalty can be wrong. With the advent of DNA testing, 17 people on death row have been found innocent of the crimes for which they sat to be executed. How many people totally innocent of the crimes for which they were found guilty have been executed in the past? There is no clearer or more absolute violation of due process; new evidence does not matter once you are already dead. Justice Potter Stewart once compared being given the death penalty to getting struck by lightning in its random and capricious nature; the fact that it’s irrevocable only makes it worse. These 17 were the lucky individuals; for those whose innocence is found post-mortem, there can be no redemption — for us, anyway.
The death penalty has an alternative. If the goal is to get known, dangerous criminals off the streets, then life in prison without parole is just as effective as the death penalty. It’s cheaper, too. More, to any rational individual, life in prison has just as much deterrent effect as the death penalty could have; thus, if the death penalty has any deterrent effect at all, it is matched by life in prison without parole. Indeed the American public, about 60 percent of which prefers the death penalty, favors this option over the death penalty when given it as an explicit alternative. There is no reason people have to be put to death when a better, more preferred option exists, particularly when that option allows for the convicted to be set free on the off chance that new evidence finds them innocent. The only individuals for whom this may not be better are the friends and family victimized by the criminal, but the criminal justice system exists to protect society from its worst members, not to act as an instrument of vengeance for past crimes.
The death penalty does not rehabilitate. A secondary goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate criminals. While prison may have some small chance of changing these individuals for the better, killing them has zero chance of doing so.
The death penalty violates human rights. It is commonly held that the right to life is the most fundamental human right. It does not make sense for a nation that so cherishes human rights around the world (indeed, to the extent of intervening militarily when other nations kill their civilians) to execute its own people, no matter how horrible those they kill happen to be.
What, then, could possibly be the purpose of the death penalty in American society? It is an irrevocable, unfair, expensive, and racist punishment that has a natural alternative. One hundred and fifty years ago we let go of one peculiar institution; today, we should do so again. It is time that we moved past our draconian past and let go of this outdated and barbaric punishment forever.
A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland was approved by the state Senate, which advanced a measure that narrowly cleared the House of Delegates last week.
The final vote by the state Senate ended a yearlong drama in Annapolis over the legislation, and marked the first time an East Coast state south of the Mason-Dixon line has supported gay nuptials.
With the vote, the measure moves to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has said he will sign it.
Maryland would join the District and seven states in allowing same-sex marriages. Supporters have cast the bill as a major advance in equal rights. Opponents have called it a misguided attempt to redefine the institution of marriage.
Despite one of the largest Democratic majorities in any state legislature, backers of gay marriage in Maryland had to overcome fierce opposition from blocks of African American lawmakers and those with strong Catholic and evangelical views to cobble together coalitions big enough to pass both chambers.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Chicago’s G8/NATO organizing committee has landed on a slogan for the city as it hosts the twin summits this May: “The Global Crossroads.” This is certainly an appropriate moniker for a town built by immigrants, with its neighborhoods still bearing the names of the ethnic enclaves they once were: Ukranian Village, Greektown, Little Italy and Andersonville, to name a few. Recognizing the inherently global character of the Metropolis of the Midwest would be honorable, if that is what the organizers intended. However, when they say “global,” they are invoking the 1 percent sense of the word, as Don Welsh of the city’s Convention and Tourism Bureau makes clear: “To penetrate international markets takes time and money, and this is going to help us showcase to the international markets in a quick way.” It is the global markets that will cross paths as the world’s political and financial elite sets its agenda behind closed doors at McCormick Place.
Meanwhile, on the outside, there will be thousands of protesters expressing their dissent with the flagrant militarism and economic exploitation inherent to this agenda. Protest organizers in Chicago are busily coordinating with community groups, labor unions, and occupiers everywhere to plan what figures to be a riveting display of resistance. What’s more, the Canadian culture-jamming magazine Adbusters, which put out the call for Occupy Wall Street last year, has issued a similar “tactical briefing” regarding NATO/G8:
Against the backdrop of a global uprising that is simmering in dozens of countries and thousands of cities and towns, the G8 and NATO will hold a rare simultaneous summit in Chicago this May. The world’s military and political elites, heads of state, 7,500 officials from 80 nations, and more than 2,500 journalists will be there.
And so will we.
Commentators have spent months speculating about the potential for a resurgent movement this spring. Will Occupy simply dissipate like so many movements before, or will it regain the headlines? The hosting of NATO/G8 in one the country’s preeminent cities certainly seems to provide occasion for a re-emergent movement. Meanwhile, there are a number of other factors pointing to momentous actions around these events. Here are four signs that the American Spring is coming to Chicago:
1) Political Provocation
Political processes are reactive in nature. Social movements, in particular, tend to attain added momentum in response to elite provocation. As frustration grew over the increased complicity of this country’s two principal political parties in the crimes of the 1 percent, Occupy Wall Street rose as a vehicle to express this disaffection. Meanwhile, the widespread popularity of the movement is rooted in public disgust over the oft-violent crackdowns of peaceful protesters from coast-to-coast.
The political establishment in Chicago has been particularly brash in its treatment of the movement. Occupy Chicago is one of the few to never succeed in maintaining an encampment, as two attempts were met with over 300 arrests in the city’s famed Grant Park last fall. While clearly intended to deflate the movement’s momentum ahead of the coming summits in May, this political repression only served to place the plight of Occupy in the limelight.
Not content with cracking down on the Occupy camps, the mayor then escalated his assault by introducing a whole new set of rules for protests. Just prior to the holiday recess in December, he proposed changes to the two city ordinances dealing with demonstrations and parades, including increased fines for offenses to draconian new filing requirements for parade organizers. While he retreated on some of the major measures, including the four-fold increase in the minimum fine for resisting arrest, some of the more egregious elements remained in the bill approved by the city council on January 18th. According to the updated parade ordinance, organizers making permit applications will still have to “provide description of any sound amplification or other equipment that is on wheels or too large to be carried by one person, and description of the size and dimension of any sign, banner, or other attention-getting device that is too large to be carried by one person, to be used in connection with the parade”. Long-time Chicago protest organizer Andy Thayer could not emphasize the significance of this enough: “They still have quadrupled the fine for violating this ordinance, and they have used this technicality time and time again to ding us.” He suggests that the economic cost to organizers associated with these almost inevitable fines will deter people from exercising their 1st amendment rights.
Meanwhile, Thayer says that the resisting arrest law is bad enough as is. Regarding the mayor’s apparent retreat on raising the fine, Thayer told AlerNet: “The untold story that was lost is Chicago’s unique interpretation of what resisting arrest entails is egregious enough: going limp is considered resisting arrest.” He also elucidated the fact that the costs of a resisting arrest charge go beyond the fine: “A lot of people, like teachers, cannot afford to have this on their record.”
In placing blame for the passage of this ordinance, Thayer did not limit his criticisms to the Mayor. He reserved especially harsh words for the aldermen that enabled its passage, including 49th ward councilman Joe Moore. Moore had previously cultivated a progressive image by introducing an anti-Iraq War resolution in 2003, and spearheading a lawsuit against the city for the wrongful arrests of hundreds of anti-war protesters during a demonstration that March. In voting for this ordinance, he claimed critics were engaging in “overheated rhetoric and over-the-top hyperbole." When asked to respond to the alderman’s comments, Thayer said: “Joe Moore played an absolutely despicable role in this. Any credibility this guy has had for being progressive has been proven to be utterly false. He totally sold us out by deliberately misrepresenting what this legislation is about.” For their part, Occupy Chicago visited the alderman after the vote and handed him a plaque in “recognition of his service to the 1%.”
The focus on Moore, just one of 41 aldermen to support the new law, stems from people having higher expectations of him. This is reflective of the larger Occupy movement nationwide, which is born of frustration with a Democratic Party establishment that has ceased being responsive to progressive ideals. The “selling out” of ostensibly “liberal” politicians is an integral part of the provocation that informs the historic rise in social movement activism throughout this country today.
2) Climate of Repression
The American Spring will not materialize out of resentment from just a few isolated incidents of political repression. Like its Arab-world counterpart, it will be the product of a population that has reached its breaking point after years of systemic abuse. The fact is that the assault on basic civil liberties in this country has been so widespread that focusing on a handful of examples risks trivializing the issue. From the Patriot Act and FISA to NDAA to the president’s newfound right to assassinate, the federal government has acted with marked impunity from Bush to Obama. Meanwhile, the state and local level governments maintain the bulk of the world’s largest system of incarceration, still rooted in age-old prejudices and sociological biases. In many ways, Occupy is reflective of an awakening generation: the babies of the baby-boomers who no longer buy the petty propaganda spoon-fed in school about this nation being a “beacon of peace.”
A few measures designed to create a climate of repression in Chicago are especially noteworthy. One provisions in the new protest ordinance allows for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to “deputize” outside law enforcement. Originally billed as a temporary measure that would sunset after NATO/G8, the final bill left it permanent. CPD superintendant Gerry McCarthy has said this is “common practice” at events of this nature, while also noting that federal authorities will ultimately decide what amount of help the city needs. Meanwhile, many protesters fear that the bill could open the door to private firms like Blackwater. The language of the ordinance is unclear on this, and the CPD did not respond to questioning for this article.
However, multiple reports have already circulated about the use of private security trainers in preparation for the protests. In particular, the local FOX news affiliate documents the hiring of “Controlled FORCE” by the Cook County Sheriffs Department to train officers in crowd control technique. According to its website, the company has been “providing a low-liability method of subject control for law enforcement, adult corrections, juvenile justice, security, and military across the nation since incorporating in 1997.” The fact that they are providing law enforcement and private security forces the same training as members of the armed forces is an alarming example of the increased militarization of American police forces.
Further evidence of this process in Chicago comes from an appeal by a law enforcement non-profit for help from returning combat veterans. The local ABC affiliate in Chicago reports: “The Illinois State Crime Commission says it is urgently seeking Iraq-Afghanistan combat veterans to work security positions for the G8 summit. The commission's chairman clarifies that is for private security. They will not be working with Chicago police."
With so many police and security officers trained in military policing techniques out on the streets, one might think it wise to come armed with a camera to document abuse. However, pointing any recording device at police in Illinois can land one in prison for fifteen years. Still think you live in the “Land of the Free”? This oppressive rule comes from the state’s long-standing “Eavesdropping Law.” According to a New York Times report, “audio-recording a law-enforcement officer, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney, attorney general, assistant attorney general or judge in the performance of his or her duties is a Class 1 felony." With thousands of people in the streets armed with smart phones and other recording gadgetry this spring, this draconian measure will pose a poignant threat to their freedom.
Chicagoans know political repression and threats of state violence at all levels of government. This encroachment on civil liberties has been a serious issue for many years, but the public fight-back has only just begun to manifest on a widespread scale. While the state clampdowns are designed to discourage dissent, the opposite effect can occur when a population has passed the breaking point. With the democratic awakening ongoing throughout this country, Americans may have gotten there.
3.) Elite-Driven Hysteria
Another important factor informing a possible American Spring is the promulgation of hysteria by the political, economic and media elite. As with the enactment of repressive policies, hysteria is designed to drive fear into the masses in order to dissuade them from protest. It is also an indication of a ruling elite that has become increasingly desperate and a political class that is rapidly losing its moral authority. As people begin to recognize this, they may be less inclined to trust the vilification of protesters as “destructive and dangerous anarchists,” and may be more likely to identify with them.
Take, for example, the Fox News handling of the report about the employment of private security trainers. In tossing the story over to the on-scene reporter, anchor Corey McPherrin leads in with: “Anita Padilla is live now with how police and security forces will handle the protesters who try to incite these riots.” In her report, Padilla says: “No one knows for sure just how many protesters will descend on Chicago for the G8 and NATO summits, but the potential for violence is great. “ They speak of “riots” and “violence” as inevitabilities, and wrongly attribute past violence to “anarchists,” rather than the police who are often the provocateurs.
This kind of coverage mirrors warnings coming from a range of civic officials. The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police has warned of a “bunch of wild, anti-globalist anarchists,” while CPD superintendent Gerry McCarthy has spoken of plans being made for “mass arrests.” Meanwhile, the leader of the downtown Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Roper, has insisted that Michigan Avenue businesses hire private security guards to protect their property, and that they plan ahead for a potential emergency. In an interview with the Sun-Times he said: “If places need to be evacuated, you’ve got to know where to tell your employees to gather. The same things you would focus on for a disaster like the  Loop flood have to be put in place for an event like this.”
The anarchists are coming! The anarchists are coming! Oh no! These antics are designed to drum up public fear, and they have worked quite well in this country’s past. However, Americans may now resonate too strongly with the messages on the signs carried by protesters to believe all of what they hear in the corporate press.
4) Dynamic Political Organizing Capacity
Another compelling sign of a coming American Spring is the inspiring level of political organization present in Chicago. On the one hand, there is the “Coalition Against the NATO G8 War and Poverty Agenda” (CANG8), which has been planning the massive demonstration on May 19th since the summits were announced. They also organized much of the resistance to the city’s new anti-protester ordinance, including a picket at City Hall on the day of the vote. In that latter effort, they were joined by dozens of supporters of Occupy Chicago in what culminated a strong joint effort among protest groups throughout the city. Organizer Andy Thayer told me: “The battle over the ordinance really brought together these various movements. I think the city was really taken aback by the response.” He further said that he was expecting to see the same few regular faces at the work-time picket at City Hall, only to find that Occupy had substantially energized their efforts.
Since the crackdown on the encampment-to-be in Grant Park, Occupy Chicago has refocused on community organizing. For this article, I interviewed Rachael Perrotta, a member of the Press Committee. She spoke with a marked elegance, reflective of the political refinement of this high-functioning Occupy. When asked about the group’s plans to help with the NATO/G8 protests, she said: “We are focused on our neighborhood organizations. We would like to elevate the struggles of community groups, and labor and immigrant rights groups . . . We are hoping to show the world what people in Chicago are fighting for, and we hope to connect the policies of NATO/G8 with these local issues.”
Among the local initiatives is the increasingly national movement to help keep people in foreclosed homes, which Occupy has taken up with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. They also maintain a “labor outreach committee,” which has made significant gains in attracting rank-and-file support from the local teachers union, amalgamated transit union and postal worker union, according to Perrotta. She further explained that the group is planning to kick off its “Chicago Spring” with a mass action on April 7th. They will also point to May 1st, the international workers’ holiday, as a chance to support the local immigrant community, which has taken on an increasingly active role in organizing actions for that day in recent years.
May Day is also meant to be when the Adbusters’ month-long encampment begins. When asked if there were any plans to entertain that call to action, Occupy Chicago organizer Babur Balos said: “As far as Adbusters goes . . . we support them, but we haven’t set up any plans yet for a camp.” He emphasized that “May 1st in Chicago is more of a union and immigrant type of movement, so we are going to focus on that.” Perrotta also said that Occupy Chicago is more concentrated on its April 7th action, in addition to May 1st and another event on May 12th, than tackling another encampment attempt. When asked about any corroboration with the magazine, she said “”We are in direct contact with Adbusters. We are excited for anyone to help us promote our plans, but our focus is more on our neighborhood organizations.” Neither Perrolta or Balos had harsh words for Adbusters, despite reports that some in the movement were resentful about the call going out without the magazine first consulting anyone on the ground in Chicago.
In the end, organizers seem to have overcome any animosity about the tact of Adbusters’ briefing, while embracing the value of the garnered publicity. To a large extent, the magazine inspired Occupy Wall Street with its September 17th call to action. However, it did not do the drudgework of erecting the camp, enduring the oft-brutal crackdowns, sleeping through the increasingly chilly nights, and navigating the range of everyday logistics and planning inherent to such a major undertaking. Likewise, the magazine will not be organizing things in Chicago. That job will be done by the hundreds of people who have actively engaged themselves in the process already, by participating in GA’s, “mic-checking” aldermen and the mayor, fighting City Hall on the new protest ordinance, and organizing resistance at the neighborhood level. They will pave the way for thousands more that will arrive through the month of May to swell the numbers of protesters in the city as a human counterbalance to the NATO/G8 1% agenda. While the power elite make their destructive plans inside, the American people will be constructing a better world on the outside.
Insurgents unleashed a barrage of coordinated car bombings and small-arms attacks across Ira on Thursday, killing at least 40 people in what Iraqi officials called a “frantic race” to shatter people’s faith in the government’s strained grip on security.
Although civilians suffered the worst casualties, most of the attacks were aimed at police officers, security convoys and other signposts of government authority. Bombs exploded outside a police station, a court, a political office and a local council building.
Several assailants targeted the roadside checkpoints where police officers and soldiers check drivers’ identification cards and sometimes search cars. The ubiquitous checkpoints, decorated by security forces with fabric flowers and emblems of religious pride, are an almost daily target of violence.
More than a hundred people across the country were wounded in the attacks.
I can still remember when I first realized how naïve I was in thinking—hoping—that laying out the “facts” would suffice to change politicized minds, and especially Republican ones. It was a typically wonkish, liberal revelation: One based on statistics and data. Only this time, the data were showing, rather awkwardly, that people ignore data and evidence—and often, knowledge and education only make the problem worse.
Someone had sent me a 2008 Pew report documenting the intense partisan divide in the U.S. over the reality of global warming.. It’s a divide that, maddeningly for scientists, has shown a paradoxical tendency to widen even as the basic facts about global warming have become more firmly established.
Those facts are these: Humans, since the industrial revolution, have been burning more and more fossil fuels to power their societies, and this has led to a steady accumulation of greenhouse gases, and especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. At this point, very simple physics takes over, and you are pretty much doomed, by what scientists refer to as the “radiative” properties of carbon dioxide molecules (which trap infrared heat radiation that would otherwise escape to space), to have a warming planet. Since about 1995, scientists have not only confirmed that this warming is taking place, but have also grown confident that it has, like the gun in a murder mystery, our fingerprint on it. Natural fluctuations, although they exist, can’t explain what we’re seeing. The only reasonable verdict is that humans did it, in the atmosphere, with their cars and their smokestacks.
Such is what is known to science--what is true (no matter what Rick Santorum might say). But the Pew data showed that humans aren’t as predictable as carbon dioxide molecules. Despite a growing scientific consensus about global warming, as of 2008 Democrats and Republicans had cleaved over the facts stated above, like a divorcing couple. One side bought into them, one side didn’t—and if anything, knowledge and intelligence seemed to be worsening matters.
Buried in the Pew report was a little chart showing the relationship between one’s political party affiliation, one’s acceptance that humans are causing global warming, and one’s level of education. And here’s the mind-blowing surprise: For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.
For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science—among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.
This was my first encounter with what I now like to call the “smart idiots” effect: The fact that politically sophisticated or knowledgeable people are often more biased, and less persuadable, than the ignorant. It’s a reality that generates endless frustration for many scientists—and indeed, for many well-educated, reasonable people.
Whether or not you ever break the law, you should be prepared to protect yourself and your property just in case police become suspicious of you. Let's take a look at one of the most commonly misunderstood legal situations a citizen can encounter: a police officer asking to search your belongings. Most people automatically give consent when police ask to perform a search. However, I recommend saying "no" to police searches, and here are some reasons why:
1. It's your constitutional right.
The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. Unless police have strong evidence (probable cause) to believe you're involved in criminal activity, they need your permission to perform a search of you or your property.
You have the right to refuse random police searches anywhere and anytime, so long as you aren't crossing a border checkpoint or entering a secure facility like an airport. Don't be shy about standing up for your own privacy rights, especially when police are looking for evidence that could put you behind bars.
2. Refusing a search protects you if you end up in court.
It's always possible that police might search you anyway when you refuse to give consent, but that's no reason to say "yes" to the search. Basically, if there's any chance of evidence being found, agreeing to a search is like committing legal suicide, because it kills your case before you even get to court.
If you refuse a search, however, the officer will have to prove in court that there was probable cause to do a warrantless search. This will give your lawyer a good chance to win your case, but this only works if you said "no" to the search.
3. Saying "no" can prevent a search altogether.
Data on police searches are interesting, but they don't show how many searches didn't happen because a citizen said no. A non-search is a non-event that goes unrecorded, giving rise to a widespread misconception that police will always search with or without permission.
I know refusing searches works because I've been collecting stories from real police encounters. The reality is that police routinely ask for permission to search when they have absolutely no evidence of an actual crime. If you remain calm and say no, there's a good chance they'll back down, because it's a waste of time to do searches that won't hold up in court anyway.
4. Searches can waste your time and damage your property.
Do you have time to sit around while police rifle through your belongings? Police often spend 30 minutes or more on vehicle searches and even longer searching homes. You certainly can't count on officers to be careful with valuables or to put everything back where they found it. If you waive your 4th Amendment rights by agreeing to be searched, you will have few legal options if any property is damaged or missing after the search.
5. You never know what they'll find.
Are you 100 percent certain there's nothing illegal in your home or vehicle? You can never be too sure. A joint roach could stick to your shoe on the street and wind up on the floorboard. A careless acquaintance could have dropped a baggie behind the seat. Try telling a cop it isn't yours, and they'll just laugh and tell you to put your hands behind your back. If you agreed to the search, you can't challenge the evidence. But if you're innocent and you refused the search, your lawyer has a winnable case.
Remember that knowing your rights will help you protect yourself, but no amount of preparation can guarantee a good outcome in a bad situation. Your attitude and your choices before, during, and after the encounter will usually matter more than your knowledge of the law. Stay calm no matter what happens, and remember that you can always report misconduct after things settle down.
Finally, please don't be shy about sharing this information with your friends and family. Understanding and asserting your rights isn't about getting away with anything, and it isn't about disrespecting police either. These rights are the foundation of freedom in America, and they get weaker whenever we fail to exercise them.
A U.S. judge on Wednesday ruled that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and said a federal government worker should be allowed to enroll her same-sex spouse in her health insurance coverage. The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco. Congress passed DOMA in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. It prevents same-sex couples who are legally married in a handful of states from enjoying more than 1,000 federal benefits awarded to heterosexual married couples. Karen Golinski, the plaintiff in the case, has worked as a staff attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for several years. She sued the U.S. government after it refused to enroll her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, on her federal family health insurance plan. The couple married during a five-month legal window in California before voters in 2008 passed Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban. Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice initially argued that DOMA prohibited Cunninghis from receiving the same benefits as she would receive if Golinski were a man. Last year, however, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama called DOMA unconstitutional and said that while they would continue to enforce it, they would quit defending it in court. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives - which is controlled by Republicans - stepped in to defend the law. In his ruling on Wednesday, White wrote that animus towards gays "is clearly present" in the legislative history from when the law was passed. The federal government has traditionally refrained from inserting itself into spousal relations, White wrote.
A U.S. judge on Wednesday ruled that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and said a federal government worker should be allowed to enroll her same-sex spouse in her health insurance coverage.
The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco.
Congress passed DOMA in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. It prevents same-sex couples who are legally married in a handful of states from enjoying more than 1,000 federal benefits awarded to heterosexual married couples.
Karen Golinski, the plaintiff in the case, has worked as a staff attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for several years.
She sued the U.S. government after it refused to enroll her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, on her federal family health insurance plan. The couple married during a five-month legal window in California before voters in 2008 passed Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban.
Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice initially argued that DOMA prohibited Cunninghis from receiving the same benefits as she would receive if Golinski were a man.
Last year, however, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama called DOMA unconstitutional and said that while they would continue to enforce it, they would quit defending it in court.
In response, the U.S. House of Representatives - which is controlled by Republicans - stepped in to defend the law.
In his ruling on Wednesday, White wrote that animus towards gays "is clearly present" in the legislative history from when the law was passed. The federal government has traditionally refrained from inserting itself into spousal relations, White wrote.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
There’s a reason liberals look at conservatives like they might be insane. Often, a conservative will say one thing and then, almost immediately, contradict it. Pointing out the contradiction often angers the conservative who then accuses you of either being “stupid” or “twisting their words.” But, because it’s funny to look at crazy people, let’s take a look at conservative contradictions: 1. There is no need to regulate corporations! The free market dictates that all corporations will act in the best interest of the consumer or be put out of business by the “Invisible Hand.” The Contradiction: Corporations only exist to make money. You cannot expect them to do anything that will interfere with the bottom line. They cannot concern themselves with environmental issues or customer safety if it is more profitable to ignore them. You, as the consumer, need to be more careful!
2. Corporations should have all the rights of a person. They should be free to exercise their First Amendment rights and
buyinfluence elections just like any other citizen of the United States. The Contradiction: Corporations are not people so they cannot be treated like any other citizen of the United States. You can’t arrest them for manslaughter or negligent homicide even if they DID add known carcinogens to that baby food on purpose. Ultimate Contradiction: Unions (basically, a group of people pooling their resources) should not be allowed to influence elections. It corrupts the democratic process.
3. You should never try to organize labor. That’s selfish. Unions extort money from corporations, inflate the salaries of workers and give them unearned benefits, like maternity leave and pensions. Union workers are greedy and do not care about the companies they work for. The fact that they are paid so well is a sure sign that they are wrong. The Contradiction: How dare you try to limit CEO pay and severance packages?! Those people work hard and earn every penny they get, even if they drove the company right into bankruptcy! So what if they took billions of tax payers’ money to stay afloat, they still deserve those bonuses!
4. All liberal celebrities should shut the hell up. They don’t know what they’re talking about and should leave politics to politicians. Liberal celebrities aren’t real Americans anyway because they’re from Hollywood! The Contradiction: Here to explain to you how liberal policies are unpatriotic and probably illegal are Victoria Jackson, Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight.
5. The Government cannot create any jobs at all and can never reduce unemployment, only the private sector can do that. The Contradiction: The Government has too many people on its payroll; we have to reduce the number of public sector jobs. Ultimate Contradiction: See how many public sector jobs we’ve lost under Obama? He made unemployment worse!
6. We really invaded Iraq to get rid of a terrible dictator and it had nothing to do with 9/11. The Contradiction: Why is Obama invading Libya?! To take down a terrible dictator?! How is that our problem?!
7. Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 because he gave the order to carry out the attack. The Contradiction: President Obama can’t take ANY credit for the death of Osama bin Laden because all he did was give the order to carry out the attack.
8. Any journalist, politician or private citizen that questions President Bush during a time of war is a traitor. The Contradiction: During this time of war it is our patriotic duty to question President Obama about every little detail of his agenda.
9. Providing billions of tax-payer money to people in dire financial straits is Socialism and will lead to the destruction of the country. The Contradiction: Providing trillions of tax-payer money to banks in dire financial straits is Capitalism and will lead to the salvation of the country.
10. We must protect innocent fetuses by any means necessary. Terrorism and assassination is justifiable because we are protecting children! The Contradiction: Providing pregnant women with medical care and proper nutrition is a burden on the tax-payers and we can’t afford it. We need that money to fight terrorism!
11. Islam is a religion of terrorists! They murder innocents in the name of Allah and that’s just wrong! That’s why we’re better than they are! The Contradiction: All homosexuals should be put to death! They are the work of Satan! If we cannot pray away their gay then we must do as the Jayzus commands and stone them to death!
12. My freedom of religion is absolute! It says so right there in the Constitution! You can’t restrict my right to worship where and how I want! The Contradiction: Those damn Muslims keep putting up mosques wherever the hell they want! Who do they think they are?! That should be illegal!
13. The Constitution is inviolate! Why are liberals always trying to shred the Constitution?! The Contradiction: We should just ignore the 14th Amendment! It allows anchor and terror babies! We have to protect ourselves from the furrners!
14. Damn liberals always trying to select activist judges that will just “interpret” the Constitution however they want to fit their Socialist agenda! The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing and we should also follow their intent, not just make it up as we go along! The Contradiction: Citizens United? I think the Supreme Court did a fine job of interpreting the Constitution to fit our much more complex times, don’t you? Edited by Sherri Yarbrough Feel free to tell me what a terrible person I am on Facebook here (public) or here (not so public) or follow me on Twitter @FilthyLbrlScum. Share and Tweet the love.
Under pressure from campaigners, the government has decided that women will not have to choose how to describe themselves on official documents.
Unlike men, women have been forced to choose between a married "madame" or unmarried "mademoiselle".
Feminist groups welcomed the move from Prime Minister Francois Fillon, but noted that in an election year they want to ensure it is applied.
"Everywhere we are asked to declare our marital status. This is not imposed on men, it's not important whether they are married," said Julie Muret of the group, Osez le Feminisme.
Her group also wants candidates for the presidential elections in April to support other pledges reducing the pay gap between men and women, supporting the right to abortion and birth control, and limiting sexist advertising.
Campaigners have been trying to get the term "mademoiselle" removed from French life for years, saying it is a condescending term.
A circular from Mr Fillon's office says the state should no longer be interested in the marital status of women.
It also says the choices of "maiden name" and "spouse's name" will be replaced with "family name".
President Barack Obama is topping 50 percent support in match-ups against each of the four Republican presidential candidates, a new poll finds.
In a general election contest against Mitt Romney, the president leads his Republican opponent 51 to 43 percent, according to an Associated Press-GfK survey on Wednesday. This demonstrates a significant lead for Obama compared to the December poll when the two were virtually tied at 47 to 46 percent.
Meanwhile, Obama would lead Rick Santorum 52 to 43 percent, Newt Gingrich 52 to 42 percent, and Ron Paul 53 to 44 percent.
While both candidates are trailing well behind Obama, Santorum is virtually tied with Romney as the preferred presidential nominee among Republican voters. Thirty-three percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters said they would like to see Santorum seize the party’s nomination, while 32 percent chose Romney. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were both the preferred nominees of 15 percent of Republicans.
Romney was shown with the highest favorability rating in the GOP field at 50 percent; Paul and Santorum were next with 47 and 44 percent favorability ratings, respectively, while Gingrich trailed behind at 33 percent.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Scientists in Russia have grown plants from fruit stored away in permafrost by squirrels over 30,000 years ago.
The fruit was found in the banks of the Kolyma River in Siberia, a top site for people looking for mammoth bones.
The Institute of Cell Biophysics team raised plants of Silene stenophylla - of the campion family - from the fruit.
Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they note this is the oldest plant material by far to have been brought to life.
Prior to this, the record lay with date palm seeds stored for 2,000 years at Masada in Israel.
The leader of the research team, Professor David Gilichinsky, died a few days before his paper was published.
In it, he and his colleagues describe finding about 70 squirrel hibernation burrows in the river bank.
"All burrows were found at depths of 20-40m from the present day surface and located in layers containing bones of large mammals such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse, deer, and other representatives of fauna from the age of mammoths, as well as plant remains," they write.
"The presence of vertical ice wedges demonstrates that it has been continuously frozen and never thawed.
"Accordingly, the fossil burrows and their content have never been defrosted since burial and simultaneous freezing."
The squirrels appear to have stashed their store in the coldest part of their burrow, which subsequently froze permanently, presumably due to a cooling of the local climate.
A leading defender of climate change admitted tricking the libertarian Heartland Institute into turning over confidential documents detailing its plans to discredit the teaching of science to school children in last week's sensational expose.
In the latest revelation, Peter Gleick, a water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute who has been active in the climate wars, apologised on Monday for using a false name to obtain materials from Heartland, a Chicago-based think tank with a core mission of dismissing climate change.
"My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts – often anonymous, well-funded and co-ordinated – to attack climate science," Gleick wrote in a piece for Huffington Post.
The admission – nearly a week after Heartland's financial plans and donors' list was put online – looked set to further inflame the climate wars, in which a network of fossil fuel interests, rightwing think tanks and politicians have been working to block action on climate change.
In a sign of combat to come, Gleick has taken on a top Democratic operative and crisis manager, Chris Lehane. Lehane, who worked in the Clinton White House is credited for exposing the rightwing forces arrayed against the Democratic president. He was Al Gore's press secretary during his 2000 run for the White House.
As one environmental campaigner said: "Now it's gone nuclear."
Heartland's president Joseph Bast said the unauthorised release of confidential documents – and a two-page memo it has condemned as a fake – had caused permanent damage to its reputation.
"A mere apology is not enough to undo the damage," he said in a statement.
Bast also disputed Gleick's account that he had received the first document – the faked two-page memo – from an anonymous source.
He said Heartland was consulting legal experts.
In the piece, Gleick made the odd claim that he carried out the hoax on Heartland as a means of verifying the authenticity of a document that appeared to set out the think tank's climate strategy. Heartland declared the two-page memo a fake.
"At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate programme strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it," Gleick wrote.
"Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues."
Gleick's admission was seen by some as crossing a new line in the increasingly vitriolic debate between scientists, campaigners, businesses and politicians who want action on climate change and a small but well-funded group of those who deny the existence of man-made climate change.
Some were dismayed the revelations. Others suggested that Heartland had got what it deserved – given its support for efforts to discredit science.
"Heartland has been subverting well-understood science for years," wrote Scott Mandia, co-founder of the climate science rapid response team. "They also subvert the education of our school children by trying to 'teach the controversy' where none exists."
He went on: "Peter Gleick, a scientist who is also a journalist just used the same tricks that any investigative reporter uses to uncover the truth. He is the hero and Heartland remains the villain. He will have many people lining up to support him."
Gleick, a well regarded water scientist, has been an important figure in the increasingly heated climate wars, and has sparred often in print against Heartland and others who deny the existence of climate change, such as the Republican Senator Jim Inhofe.