March 24, 2015 archive
Mar 24 2015
Mar 24 2015
Debtors prisons were supposedly banned in the United States under federal law in 1853 and in 1983, the US Supreme Court rule unanimously ruled that only “willful” non-payers (those with the means to pay who refuse to) could be incarcerated for nonpayment. The recent report from the Department of Justice on the city of Ferguson, Missouri revealed a pattern of abusive use of municipal fines that put a heavy burden on the poor and black population of the city. It resulted in the resignation of municipal court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer and the transfer of all the city’s cases to the St. Louis County circuit court. It also put the spotlight on the modern version of debtor’s prisons run by states and cities around the country.
Help John Oliver #ShutDownTheF**kBarrel
By Ed Nazza, The Huffington Post
Fees from traffic tickets and other minor offenses are often a major source of revenue for many communities. But what happens when you can’t afford to pay even a small penalty?
In some cases, you don’t work off the fine with community service. Instead, you could find yourself trapped inside what John Oliver calls “the fuck barrel.” [..]
We cannot have a system where committing a minor violation can end up putting you in — and I’m going to use a legal term of art here — the fuck barrel,” Oliver said. “We can’t have that. And it might be time that we all stood up and said so.”
Check out the clip above to learn more and to see the stirring ad Oliver’s team created to push the effort to #ShutDownTheFuckBarrel.
If you have money, committing a municipal violation may pose you a minor inconvenience. If you don’t, it can ruin your life.
“Most Americans drive to work,” he explained. “If you can’t do that, you’ve got a problem. In New Jersey, a survey of low-income drivers who had their license suspended found that 64 percent had lost their jobs as a result, which doesn’t help anyone. You need them to pay their fine but you’re taking away their means of paying it. That’s the most self-defeating idea since gay conversion camp!”
For-Profit Company Threatened To Jail People For Not Paying Traffic Fines, Lawsuit Says
By Ben walsh, The Huffington Post
The pitch is simple: For no cost, a private company will help collect fines and fees owed to cities. These for-profit firms, called probation services companies, don’t charge cities anything.
Instead, these companies put citizens who can’t afford to pay fines, such as traffic tickets, on payment plans that slam them with exorbitant fees, and then illegally threaten people with jail time if they fail to make payments, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The lawsuit alleges that an Atlanta-based company called Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and the city of Clanton, Alabama, violated federal racketeering law and Alabama state law by putting citizens on what is known as “pay-only probation” — basically, threatening citizens with jail time if they can’t pay fees and fines. [..]
Municipal use of private companies to collect the fines appears to be on the rise due to many cities’ increasing strapped finances. Smaller budgets can mean that when cities look to raise funds, they don’t have the resources to collect those fines themselves. Overall, however, strong historical data about the use of these practices does not exist because these private probation companies largely deal with city or county courts and are generally not transparent with their business practices.
The number of individual cases assigned to private probation services companies by those court systems is staggering. The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall noted that the HRW report found that in “Georgia in 2012, in ‘a state of less than 10 million people, 648 courts assigned more than 250,000 cases to private probation companies.'”
Not only does this system destroy the lives of people who are struggling to just survive, it also costs tax payers thousands of dollars to incarcerate them. So what is the purpose of these contracts, other than line the pockets of private debt collection agencies and private prison company executives. So yes, let’s #ShutDownTheF**kBarrel.
Mar 24 2015
There is a double standard when it comes to the Obama administration prosecuting individuals for leaking information under the Espionage Act of 1917. If you’re a general in the US military leaking information to a reprter or head of the CIA having an affair, it’s fairly safe to say that you won’t be prosecuted for espionage. The sweetheart deal that was given former CIA director and retired General David Petraeus is a prime example, not a day in jail and he is still in good graces with the White House. I guess when you know where all the bodies are buried you can get away with anything. But that doesn’t excuse the Obama administrations fervor for prosecution the whistleblowers who outed crimes and constitutional violations.
Obama’s war on whistleblowers leaves administration insiders unscathed
By Spencer Ackerman and Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Five key political players enjoy ‘virtual impunity’ – while four lower-level figures are in prison or facing time
Since Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, his government has waged a war against whistleblowers and official leakers. On his watch, there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act – more than double those under all previous presidents combined.
And yet other apparent leaks have gone entirely unpunished or have been treated, as in the case of General David Petraeus, as misdemeanors. As Abbe Lowell, lawyer for one of the Espionage Act eight, Stephen Kim, has argued in a letter to the Department of Justice, low-level officials who lack the political connections to fight back have had the book thrown at them, while high-level figures have been allowed to leak with “virtual impunity”.
Lawyers for CIA Leaker Cite Selective Prosecution After Petraeus Plea Deal
By Peter Maas, The Intercept
Lawyers for Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official convicted earlier this year of leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter, have requested a reconsideration of his conviction because two former generals, David Petraeus and James Cartwright, have received far more lenient treatment for what they call similar offenses. [..]
In January, Sterling was convicted by a jury on nine criminal counts, including violations of the Espionage Act, for leaking classified information to Times reporter James Risen about a CIA effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Sterling is to be sentenced in April and faces a maximum sentence of decades in jail. In a statement after the verdict was announced, Attorney General Eric Holder called the guilty verdict a “just and appropriate outcome.”
But the government is coming under increasing criticism for its uneven prosecution of leakers.
Earlier this month, Petraeus, who led U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and was the director of the CIA, reached an agreement with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information when he gave his lover and authorized biographer, Paula Broadwell, eight notebooks filled with highly-classified information about military plans and secret programs, covert agent names, and confidential discussions he had with senior officials including President Obama. Petraeus, who resigned from the CIA when his affair with Broadwell was revealed, also admitted to lying to the FBI, but he was not charged for that. The plea agreement calls for two years probation and a $40,000 fine but no jail time.
No charges have been filed against Cartwright even though it has been reported that federal prosecutors believe he leaked highly classified information to Times reporter David Sanger about a joint effort by the U.S. and Israel to cripple Iran’s nuclear centrifuges through a cyber-attack with a computer worm called Stuxnet. According to The Washington Post, the FBI has interviewed Cartwright on at least two occasions but has stopped short of indicting him.
National Security & Human Rights director Jesselyn Radack, who is also the lawyer for whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, spoke with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté about the White House’s double standard.
The full transcript can be read here
It’s OK if you’re a white general and know where all the bodies are.
Mar 24 2015
I have 4 things for your perusal this morning.
First, on the FISA Court:
The expiration of key surveillance authorities this spring will force Congress to grapple with the sprawling spying activities exposed by Edward Snowden. Defenders of the status quo sound a familiar refrain: The National Security Agency’s programs are lawful and already subject to robust oversight. After all, they have been blessed not just by Congress but by the judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court.
When it comes to the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, however, the FISA court is not acting like a court at all. Originally created to provide a check on the executive branch, the court today behaves more like an adjunct to the intelligence establishment, giving its blanket blessing to mammoth covert programs. The court’s changed role undermines its constitutional underpinnings and raises questions about its ability to exercise meaningful oversight.
Mar 24 2015
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
March 24 is the 83rd day of the year (84th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 282 days remaining until the end of the year.
March 24th is the 365th and last day of the year in many European implementations of the Julian calendar.
On this day in 1989, Exxon Valdez runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
The worst oil spill in U.S. territory begins when the supertanker Exxon Valdez, owned and operated by the Exxon Corporation, runs aground on a reef in Prince William Sound in southern Alaska. An estimated 11 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the water. Attempts to contain the massive spill were unsuccessful, and wind and currents spread the oil more than 100 miles from its source, eventually polluting more than 700 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were adversely affected by the environmental disaster.
It was later revealed that Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the Valdez, was drinking at the time of the accident and allowed an uncertified officer to steer the massive vessel. In March 1990, Hazelwood was convicted of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service. In July 1992, an Alaska court overturned Hazelwood’s conviction, citing a federal statute that grants freedom from prosecution to those who report an oil spill.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound‘s Bligh Reef and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (41,000 to 119,000 m3) of crude oil. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. As significant as the Valdez spill was-the largest ever in U.S. waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill-it ranks well down on the list of the world’s largest oil spills in terms of volume released. However, Prince William Sound’s remote location, accessible only by helicopter, plane and boat, made government and industry response efforts difficult and severely taxed existing plans for response. The region is a habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds. The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oil field, eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean. Then Exxon CEO, Lawrence G. Rawl, shaped the company’s response.
Exxon Valdez left the Valdez oil terminal in Alaska at 9:12 pm on March 23, 1989, bound for Long Beach, California. The ship was under the control of Shipmaster Joseph Jeffrey Hazelwood. The outbound shipping lane was obstructed with small icebergs (possibly from the nearby Columbia Glacier), so Hazelwood got permission from the Coast Guard to go out through the inbound lane. Following the maneuver and sometime after 11 p.m., Hazelwood left Third Mate Gregory Cousins in charge of the wheel house and Able Seaman Robert Kagan at the helm. Neither man had been given his mandatory six hours off duty before beginning his 12-hour watch. The ship was on autopilot, using the navigation system installed by the company that constructed the ship. The ship struck Bligh Reef at around 12:04 a.m. March 24, 1989.
Beginning three days after the vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil on to the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain. In this photograph, pooled oil is shown stranded in the rocks.
According to official reports, the ship was carrying approximately 55 million US gallons (210,000 m3) of oil, of which about 11 to 32 million US gallons (42,000 to 120,000 m3) were spilled into the Prince William Sound. A figure of 11 million US gallons (42,000 m3) was a commonly accepted estimate of the spill’s volume and has been used by the State of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Some groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife, dispute the official estimates, maintaining that the volume of the spill has been underreported. Alternative calculations, based on an assumption that the sea water rather than oil was drained from the damaged tanks, estimate the total to have been 25 to 32 million US gallons (95,000 to 120,000 m3).
Multiple factors have been identified as contributing to the incident:
* Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the master and provide a rested and sufficient crew for Exxon Valdez. The NTSB found this was wide spread throughout industry, prompting a safety recommendation to Exxon and to the industry.
* The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.
* Exxon Shipping Company failed to properly maintain the Raytheon Collision Avoidance System (RAYCAS) radar, which, if functional, would have indicated to the third mate an impending collision with the Bligh reef by detecting the “radar reflector”, placed on the next rock inland from Bligh Reef for the purpose of keeping boats on course via radar.
In light of the above and other findings, investigative reporter Greg Palast stated in 2008 “Forget the drunken skipper fable. As to Captain Joe Hazelwood, he was below decks, sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate never would have collided with Bligh Reef had he looked at his RAYCAS radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker’s radar was left broken and disabled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was (in Exxon’s view) just too expensive to fix and operate.” Exxon blamed Captain Hazelwood for the grounding of the tanker.
In 1991, following the collapse of the local marine population (particularly clams, herring, and seals) the Chugach Alaska Corporation, an Alaska Native Corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has since recovered.
According to several studies funded by the state of Alaska, the spill had both short-term and long-term economic effects. These included the loss of recreational sports, fisheries, reduced tourism, and an estimate of what economists call “existence value”, which is the value to the public of a pristine Prince William Sound.
The economy of the city of Cordova, Alaska was adversely affected after the spill damaged stocks of salmon and herring in the area. Several residents, including one former mayor, committed suicide after the spill.
Mar 24 2015
Batman was always Black
Like my coffee.
Chess News Roundup!
This Week’s Guests-
- Monday 3/23: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
- Tuesday 3/24: Jon Ronson
- Wednesday 3/25: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
- Thursday 3/26: John Hargrove
Have you ever read Rational Wiki? you might give it a try. Here’s some of what it says about Ayaan Hirsi Ali–
I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that…there comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
-Ayaan Hirsi Ali, replacing the word “Communism” with “Islam” in Joseph McCarthy speeches
Whet your whistle (TMC told me never to do that, she has an ex who whistled and besides it hurts her ears)? There’s more-
She is married to wingnut historian Niall Ferguson, with whom she has one son, Thomas.
Ali is a rabid critic of Islam and multiculturalism, going so far as to advocate amending Western constitutions to make it possible to shut down all Muslim schools because “the jihadi genie is out of the bottle”. Her books, columns and talk-show appearances helped pave the way for the rise of Dutch populist wackaloon Geert Wilders.
Ali was elected to the Dutch Parliament in 2003, but had to resign in 2006 because she had given some false information to obtain citizenship. She then moved to the United States and now works for the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank.
Ali has authored several books: Infidel, her autobiography; The Caged Virgin, a set of essays on the role of women in Islam; and Nomad, the story of her life after leaving Somalia. In the Netherlands, her main impact came from her criticism of the country’s diversity policies, and her openly hostile attitude to Islam. The fact that she was a refugee, a woman, an African, and an ex-Muslim atheist lent political credibility to her views. She worked with other Dutch critics of multiculturalism, such as Paul Scheffer and Paul Cliteur, and was to some extent their spokesperson. She advocated a rigorous policy of ‘integration’ (cultural assimilation) for immigrants, insisting that they must abandon their identity, or actually not their identity, but rather those traditions being practiced by Muslim immigrants that ran contrary to the beliefs and practices of the established community.
Ali is perhaps unique in that unlike many wingnuts she splits her time fairly evenly between having genuine critiques of Islam and being a raving Islamophobe. She is probably one of the best examples of “Your mileage may vary” when it comes to her writings on the subject.
To be fair she was subjected to female genital mutilation under the influence of her traditionalist Grandmother and received a death threat pinned with a bloody knife to the chest of the assassinated Theo van Gogh.
While a famous critic of religious and societal norms, van Gogh wasn’t really the most eloquent writer in the business. He was well known for consistantly calling Muslims ‘goatfuckers’, dubbed Jesus the ‘rotten fish of Nazareth’ and apparently found the Holocaust hilarious, joking about ‘copulating yellow stars in the gas chamber’ and ‘the smell of caramel because they’re burning diabetic Jews’. While these are of course extreme examples, Theo van Gogh often expressed himself in this confrontational style and there is still much discussion over whether he should be seen as a ‘martyr’ for free speech or someone who willingly made those statements to piss people off.
I wonder what she will talk about?
The real news below.