Category Archives: Justice System Abuse of Power

Am I the only one?

  • Am I the only one who gets a laugh out of TV news anchors asking, with a straight face, current and former government officials whether the NSA is broadly collecting the internet data from U.S. citizens knowing that those officials either don’t know or are bound by oath not to reveal classified information, a category to which electronic data collection obviously belongs?
  • Am I the only one who thinks Obama’s denials are hollow?   I mean, a couple months ago he would probably have claimed no one at the IRS is targeting conservative non-profit groups for extra scrutiny.
  • Am I the only one who finds the denials of outfits like Google and Facebook unconvincing given the fact that they are bound by the law to not divulge the extent to which the government is collecting data from them?   And let’s not forget that the law indemnifies them should they suffer any consequences as a result of their cooperation with the government.  Hell, for all they know, a backdoor could have been installed in their equipment by the manufacturer without their knowledge.
  • Am I the only one who thinks, given the government’s clear lack of regard for the privacy of ordinary citizens, that data encryption is the only recourse left for people who don’t want the government recording everything they say and do?
  • Am I the only one who thinks that, regardless of all the outrage over the NSA data collection, nothing will be done about it and, in fact, it will continue to get even more extensive.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that, instead of urinating on the very Constitutional protections that define the U.S., a more effective way to fight terrorism is for the U.S. government to quit incessantly interfering with the political processes of middle eastern countries, quit supporting Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and quit launching drone strikes targeting people we don’t even know to be enemies.

Glenn Greenwald joins the ranks of whistle blowers targeted by the U.S. government

Yesterday, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, a personage frequently referenced on this website, released an article exposing how the NSA has technology giving them direct real time access to the servers of the nation’s largest internet networks, essentially permitting them to collect the private communications of millions of people both internationally and domestically.  From the sound of it, the NSA has the technology to reach into servers and gather the information it wants without the permission or intervention by the service providers.  The only assurance that the agency won’t abuse this power is based on their promise not to do so.

From the New York Times:

The article, which included a link to the order, is expected to attract an investigation from the Justice Department, which has aggressively pursued leakers.

That, all by itself is a stunning revelation, not only confirming what many already suspected, but clearly exposing the denials on the part of Obama officials as blatant lies.  But, the story is just beginning.  As a result of yesterday’s article, Greenwald is rightly anticipating an aggressive response on the part of the Obama Justice Department.   The Obama administration has already established himself as the leader in pursuing whistleblowers, having already charging more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined.  This puts Greenwald on the same U.S. government shit list as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and others.

While whistleblowers are heavily demonized as being self-interested traitors by government officials, Greenwald makes this point:

They could easily enrich themselves by selling those documents for huge sums of money to foreign intelligence services. They could seek to harm the US government by acting at the direction of a foreign adversary and covertly pass those secrets to them. They could gratuitously expose the identity of covert agents.

None of the whistleblowers persecuted by the Obama administration as part of its unprecedented attack on whistleblowers has done any of that: not one of them. Nor have those who are responsible for these current disclosures.

They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power.

Governments rely on secrecy to give them the power to dominate any narrative about what government does.  And, just like a cop who routinely fabricates a story to cover up his abuses of power, the government likes to control what citizens know.  But, just as abusive cops are increasingly being exposed with video evidence, government abuses are being exposed by leaks from whistle-blowers.

In a democracy, where people are supposed to wield the ultimate control over government, transparency is critical.  It is virtually impossible for a citizen to cast a meaningful vote on election day if his government is intentionally keeping him ignorant.  When the U.S. government fires a missile from a drone and kills eleven children, it is doing so in the name of and under the authority of the people of the United States.  And retaliation for those kinds of attacks can be expected to fall on ordinary American citizens.  This is not rocket science.  The power to watch what people say and do its the power to control what they say and do.  Governmental harassment of activist groups is always preceded by surveillance.

Since the U.S. government is increasingly relying on secrecy in order to avoid oversight or challenge, the role of the whistle blower becomes increasingly more critical.  Furthermore, the government, now having more to lose from leaks, cracks down on whistle blowers, making it far more dangerous to be one.  And that’s what makes people like Manning, Assange, and Greenwald heroes.  There is no doubt it takes an immense amount of courage to challenge an entity as powerful as the U.S. government.  What’s worse is knowing that the evidence so far uncovered by whistle blowers shows the U.S. government to be an unscrupulous and ruthless opponent.


Nassau County DA proudly creates crime for fame, fortune, and something to do

This is another story of a parasitic politician feeding on ordinary people to get some free news coverage and create a name for herself in the sex crimes arena.  In the process, she destroys people’s lives while  accomplishing absolutely nothing of value for the community.  As part of a sting operation, Nassau County, New York arrested 104 men trying to solicit an undercover cop.  The DA then followed that up with a self-serving press conference and gratuitous public display of the mug shots of all the men before they’ve even been prosecuted..

As Reason Magazine’s Jacob Sullum says in the New York Daily News:

It is hard to imagine a bigger waste of law enforcement resources than “Operation Flush the Johns,” the month-long sting that resulted in 104 arrests announced by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice on Monday.

Like the drug war, the preferred strategy for anti-prostitution crusaders is to set up a sting operation and con people into committing a crime.  As with most victimless crime, both parties engage in the transaction voluntarily, so neither one complains to the cops.  As attitudes about consensual “crime” have relaxed, “women’s rights” organizations have stepped up their strategy of trying to characterize all prostitution as human trafficking wherein women are forced into the business, usually as children.  To the anti-prostitution movement, any woman who says she’s doing it voluntarily, is simply in denial.  It would be hard to conjure up more of an insult to the intelligence and free will of women.

As with the drug war, keeping prostitution illegal benefits no one, least of all women in the profession. It forces suppliers and customers into a dangerous underground market where real crime thrives and there are few protections.  To claim it’s for their own good is the height of arrogant hypocrisy.

In the 1920s, the U.S. experimented with alcohol prohibition and found it to be a complete and utter failure.  We now see history repeating itself with similar prohibitions.  In an effort to limit the hazards of some activity, government outlaws the entire activity, but human proclivities are rarely so easily suppressed.  In the end, such a prohibition becomes little more than a full employment program for control freaks, law enforcement neanderthals, judges, prison employees, and overly ambitious fame-chasing DAs.

Thanks to people like District Attorney Kathleen Rice women are less safe, not more safe.

More evidence that Barack Obama is just George Bush disquised as a black guy

Today the media is all abuzz about a secret court order, requested by the FBI, demanding that Verizon turn over to the NSA all call metadata both international and domestic for its subscribers.  Glenn Greenwald and the New Your Times have amazingly similar articles about it, making one wonder if one copied from the full movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017 online

Essentially, the stunning lack of regard for privacy under Bush has continued and probably increased under Obama. The only difference is that Obama is using the secret FISA court to rubber stamp its abuse of power and sidestep Constitutional protections.  The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is telling the American public to “Trust us.  While we are secretly collecting information about everything you do, we are also secretly respecting your Constitutional rights.”  Only idiots and mindless loyalists could possibly fall for such a ridiculous line.

There have been never ending attempts by government to leverage off the 9/11 attacks to gain unfettered access to all private information for individuals and businesses. Most well known of these invasions of privacy is the USA Patriot Act.  Another is the Total Information Awareness program advocated by SAIC and Admiral John Poindexter and established under DARPA.  When that drew lots of public and Congressional ire, the government simply disbursed the program’s constituent parts which have continued to be further developed over the years.  Carnivore (FBI) and Echelon (NSA) are among the more well known electronic communications interception programs operated by U.S. government, but it’s safe to assume that the government also has finger-tip access to all electronic medical and financial records of U.S. citizens as well.

While it is not clear whether such orders have been served on other U.S. telecom companies, I think it is fair to assume that to be the case.  Given the adversarial stance that the federal government has taken with respect to ordinary citizens and given their aggressive attempts to access and gain gain control over all personal information of U.S. citizens, the only conclusion one can come to is that this is probably only the tip of the iceberg rather than some anomaly.

I think this establishes beyond any doubt that both democrats and republicans will continue to advance the American surveillance state regardless of lip service to the contrary.  But that’s okay, folks.  Later on you can still play dumb and claim you never saw it coming as is always the case when people suddenly open their eyes and find themselves living under the thumb of a totalitarian government.

Monday Afternoon Links

Deland, Florida police officer, James P. Harris, has been fired for running over Marlon Brown in his police cruiser.  Cops started chasing Brown when a Volusia County deputy noticed he wasn’t wearing his seat belt.  The cop has apparently not been charged with any crimes, but the investigation still isn’t over, so a miracle could still happen.

Remember that case of the Kern County Sheriff’s confiscating video of their deputies beating a David Sal Silva to death?  Well, the coroner’s report now says that the guy’s death was an accident.  Probably not surprising since the Kern County Sheriff, Donny Youngblood, just happens to also be the Kern County coroner.  An independent autopsy is out of the question since Silva’s body was cremated.

According to the Star Tribune, Minneapolis has paid out $14 million to settle 95 police misconduct cases.  Only eight of the 95 cases resulted in any officers being disciplined and, of the 12 costliest cases, no officers were disciplined.   So, basically, cops who abuse their powers get a pass while taxpayers are left holding the bag.  I doubt that Minneapolis differs from most large city police departments in that regard.

New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler was famously quoted by Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities that “a grand jury would ‘indict a ham sandwich,’ if that’s what you wanted.”   Unless the accused is a cop

The Court Martial of Bradley Manning begins today.  This, like the leak of the Pentagon Papers by Danial Ellsberg, Manning will almost certainly be hailed as a hero in the future, but governments learn very slowly and Manning will continue to suffer as the public continues to be largely apathetic.

Meanwhile, the British government is considering talks with Ecuador to discuss the fate of Julian Assange who has been penned up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden relating to a rape investigation.  Assange has agreed to return to Sweden if given a guaranty that he won’t be extradited to the U.S. as part of the Bradley Manning witch hunt.  Assange is currently pursuing a remote campaign for the Australian Senate.  The election will be held in September, 2012. [NOTE:  The link for this story isn’t working because has been down a good part of the afternoon]

A 3-year-old deaf preschooler in Nebraska is being forced by the Grand Island school district to change the hand sign he uses for his name because it resembles a gun.  “We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child,” a school spokesperson said.

Why doesn’t the FBI doesn’t record interrogations?

Harvey Silverglate has an interesting OpEd in the Boston Globe about how the FBI goes about conducting interrogations.  Basically, it has a policy against electronically recording teh questioning of suspects.  Instead, it relies on one FBI agent to taking notes while another asks the questions.

Of course, if the FBI were an unscrupulous law enforcement agency, this could be seen as a convenient arrangement by which the FBI can fabricate select details if not an entire interview.  Then, to top it off, if the recorded version of the interrogation is contradicted by the facts, the subject of the interrogation can be charged with making false statements punishable by up to eight years in prison.

In 2006 the FBI defended its no-electronic-recording policy in an internal memorandum, which The New York Times later made public. The memo in part attempts to defend the policy as logistically necessary, but given that virtually every cellphone today has sound recording capabilities, any “inconvenience” or “non-availability” excuse for not recording seems laughably weak. The more honest — and more terrifying — justification for non-recording given in the memo reads as follows: “. . . perfectly lawful and acceptable interviewing techniques do not always come across in recorded fashion to lay persons as proper means of obtaining information from defendants. Initial resistance may be interpreted as involuntariness and misleading a defendant as to the quality of the evidence against him may appear to be unfair deceit.” Translated from bureaucratese: When viewed in the light of day, recorded witness statements could appear to a reasonable jury of laypersons to have been coercively or misleadingly obtained.

In short, a jury might not come to the government-preferred conclusions if they are presented with an actual recording of the interrogation instead of the government interpretation.  As in all cases of police conduct, a recording vastly curtails their ability to take liberties in describing what happened or what was said at trial time.  This is just one more means by which the government stacks the cards in its favor when it comes to criminal prosecution.

Recording has now become so easy and cheap, that law enforcement should be required to record, not just interrogations, but every encounter with any citizen during the course of an investigation.  If they can gather trillions of electronic communications (not to mention surveillance video), then surely it is within their technical reach to record exchanges with people they are investigating when such exchanges could be used to destroy someone’s life.

Lack of consequences leads the federal government to routinely violate the constitution

We are hearing a story that the federal government has secretly been collecting communications records of journalists at the Associated Press for months.  The government provided no reason for the surveillance, but there is some speculation that this is part of the Obama administration’s war on whistle blowers and other leakers of classified information.  As  government operations become increasingly more classified, almost any unauthorized leak to the press can be prosecuted.

When questioned about the legality of the surveillance, a spokesman for the Justice Department said that they follow “all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations.”  Of course, the Justice Department has a long history of abusing it’s surveillance powers which effectively makes such pronouncements laughable.  They have routinely targeted people for political reasons going back at least to the Kennedy administration with leaders of the anti-war and civil rights movements being subjected to such abuses.

Recent cases of abuse of power include the Clinton administration’s unauthorized use of hundreds of FBI security clearance files and the NSA’s massive warrantless wiretap program ordered under Bush after 9/11.  Even more recently is the case of the IRS targeting right-leaning political organizations.  The bottom line in every one of these cases is that no one ever suffered any repercussions from these abuses of power and that will continue to be the pattern going forward.  Just as President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for his criminal abuse of power, Congress granted immunity to the telecom companies that were complicit in the NSA wiretapping scandal.  Regardless of which party is in power, government always protects its own if there is a way to do so.  After every abuse of power (or at least those that are discovered), government officials either deny that there was abuse or they apologize and declare that it won’t happen again.  But, they always have their fingers crossed.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation weighs in on the AP wiretaps:

The widespread collection of information, as well as the apparent delay in notifying AP, both appear to be yet another violation the government’s own regulations, 28 C.F.R. sec. 50.10. In 2010, the DOJ Inspector General reported on three other violation, involving the Washington Post and New York Times. The regulations require that, “wherever possible” subpoenas of records of the news media should be “directed at material information regarding a limited subject matter, should cover a reasonably limited period of time and should avoid requiring production of a large volume of unpublished material.”

If the federal government doesn’t follow its own rules with regard to wiretaps, how could anyone with a brain think they will follow their own rules with regard to targeted killinng?   I keep asking myself why the public enthusiastically trusts the government when the government is so often caught lying to them.  The answer is that the each of the two parties tend to trust their own guy and are mostly blind to abuses of power by the guy they help elect.  So, any president can usually count on roughly half of the electorate to support whatever he does.

Glen Greenwald writes::

The ACLU last night condemned the DOJ’s acts as “press intimidation” and said it constitutes “an unacceptable abuse of power”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation denounced it as “a terrible blow against the freedom of the press and the ability of reporters to investigate and report the news”. The New York Times’ Editorial Page Editor Andy Rosenthal called the DOJ’s actions “outrageous” while Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said they were “shocking” and “disturbing”.


50 New York muder cases to be reopened

Retired NYPD detective Louis Scarcella, now 61, is accused of fabricating false confessions, coaching witnesses, and rewarding witnesses for testimony in cases going back at least 20 years.   One witness, drug addict Teresa Gomez, was used as a witness in several different murder trials.  She was the only witness in when Alvena Jennette, 49, was convicted.

“How is it possible a detective could use a witness in that many murder trials without any red flags being raised?” Jennette asked.

Derrick Hamilton, who was paroled in 2011 after the Daily News reported Scarcella’s only witness had recanted her claim that Hamilton killed her boyfriend.

When Scarcella arrested him, the detective made a shocking admission, according to Hamilton.

“He told me, ‘I know you didn’t commit this murder, but I don’t care,’ ” he said.

Of course, this kind of thing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Cops and prosecutors are rarely unaware of the corrupt behavior of their associates, but they are rarely held accountable.  Law enforcement has a culture of secrecy that permeates the profession.  Finding the truth and ensuring that justice is done takes a back seat to cranking out arrests, getting convictions, and supplying the prison industrial complex with fresh warm bodies.  Even judges are part of the problem.

Lawyer Ron Kuby is representing another man Scarcella helped put away, Shakaba Shakur, 48, who is 26 years into a 40-years-to-life murder sentence.

Scarcella somehow managed to get admissions — which were not witnessed, recorded or written.

“You’d think after two or three or five of these magical confessions, some judge somewhere would say, ‘Hmm . . . ’ ” Kuby said.



Cops demand video of them beating a man to death. You know, so they can safeguard the evidence. *wink wink*

A Bakersfield woman and her boyfriend were just leaving the Kern Medical Center last Tuesday night when they claim to have witnessed eight cops attacking a man and beating him with nightsticks until he was dead.

According to the Bakersfield Californian, both the woman, Sulina Quair, 34, and her boyfriend recorded the beating on their cell phones and told the 911 operator she was “sending it to the news”.  Nothing stirs cops into action quite like a threat of having their behavior recorded for the whole world to see.  Video  makes it extremely difficult for them to fabricate a story.  By early the next morning, they were at the woman’s house demanding that video.

“We had stopped by Taco Bell to get something to eat, and we were eating and at about 3 a.m. two detectives showed up, barged in without my permission and demanded to see my boyfriend for his phone,” Melissa said.

In that video, Melissa said Friday, it is very clear that the deputies were beating Silva. At one point, she recalled,  the deputies had Silva hogtied and they lifted him and dropped him twice and asked if he was still with them.

She said she and her boyfriend were essentially kept captive inside their own home until they released their phones.

Quair and her boyfriend apparently already guessed the implications of turning the video over to the very people (or their associates) likely to be incriminated by the video.  Kern County is no stranger to police corruption and misconduct.  The attorney for the family of the beating victim, David Sal Silva, is doing his best to keep public attention focused directly on the Kern County sheriff’s department.  Without that attention that video would probably mysteriously disappear.  Even with the attention, there are no guaranties that it will ever see the light of day.  And when cops lose evidence that incriminates them, they very rarely face any repercussions, so they have very little incentive to safeguard that video and every reason to make it magically disappear.

To witness a crime committed by a gang of cops and then being forced to turn over the only evidence of that crime to the cops themselves has to be frustrating.

“I have been crying a lot and his voice just plays over and over in my head,” Quair said Friday. “I sit there and I can still hear him choking in his own blood, trying to gasp for air.”

Eventually people are going to realize that they need to post the video on Youtube before they tell the cops they have video of police misconduct.  The safest way is to record the video and immediately send it to someone else so the video can’t be destroyed when the cops confiscate the phone.  In fact, cell phone apps are becoming available to help bystanders record cops and automatically send the recording to a third party.  The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) offers one such app.

Another review of “The Central Park Five”

Scott McConnell at The American Conservative reviews the Ken Burns documentary of the 1989 rape and assault of a Central Park jogger.  I wrote about the PBS documentary here.

The “Central Park Five” leaves one important question unanswered, says McConnell:

If Burns’s film has a failing, it is its failure to explore the real thoughts of the detectives, or subsequently, the two prosecutors, Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein, who put their game faces on and successfully prosecuted young people most in the city thought deserved to rot in jail. We now want to know whether the two suspected at the time their case was bogus. They must have, it seems to me. They had authority, and expertise, and they misused it. On the other hand, they had  ambitions, and a city which needed arrests and convictions. Some unseen voice—expressing the general will of crime-fearing New York—must have overridden their professional judgment.

Did these two prosecutors knowingly prosecute five innocent kids for purposes of expediency and career-building kudos?  I think the answer is very probably yes, but maybe not.  I have a saying:

There are no bad people, just people who have a great capacity to rationalize.

They could have convinced themselves that they were really doing the right thing.  In an interview in Think Progress, Ken and Sarah Burns speculate that Elizabeth Leder had “grave doubts” about the case, but has never openly discussed it.  Should Lederer and Fairstein have realized they were perverting justice?  Of course.   But I also think they, especially Fairstein, refuse to face that fact.  To believe they carried out their responsibilities in good faith requires a delusional perspective.  But, for them there is nothing to be gained by admitting that they, at worst, knowingly crucified innocent people or, at best, didn’t care.  They suffered no significant repercussions for their role in the perversion of justice during the Central Park Jogging case.  Their strategy is what the Central Park Five should have done from the beginning: deny, deny, deny.  Or, at least keep their mouths shut.