May 25, 2014 Leave a comment
Chapter 12: The Winners and Losers Against the IRS
There are those that have been lucky and I use the term lucky for a reason, in the matter of the IRS collection activities. Read more of this post
August 16, 2011 Leave a comment
Monday, August 15th, 2011
Drivers have no recourse if police say the tape from a dashboard-mounted video camera is not available, according to a ruling Wednesday from the Texas Court of Appeals. Mark Lee Martin wanted to defend himself against drug possession charges filed in the wake of an August 29, 2008 traffic stop, but he was told no video was available.
Travis County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Jennings claimed that he pulled over Martin that evening because he failed to signal a left-hand turn. Within less than two weeks after the incident, Martin’s attorney formally requested that the department preserve video evidence from the stop. Subpoenas were issued to ensure “all videos and dispatch calls” would be saved. At trial, Jennings was asked why the camera evidence had not been kept.
“Since I didn’t put it in my report it wasn’t preserved because I didn’t believe it had any type of evidential value,” Jennings told the court.
The dashcam is automatically activated when an officer turns on his emergency lights. Department policy states that all video must automatically be saved for thirty days. Jennings could not say whether his machine was operating that night, but he would have noted either at the beginning or end of the shift if the device had not been functional. Jennings stated that the only way to know for sure if the video had been taken would have been if he had preserved the video. Martin argued the police were obviously hiding evidence.
“The officers intentionally destroyed the video and thereby put exculpatory evidence as far as the search is concerned or evidence favorable to the accused out of the reach of the accused,” Martin’s attorney claimed. “We feel that for no other reason the search is invalid and any evidence found as a result of that search should be suppressed.”
The appellate court found no merit in this argument.
“We agree with the state that the record supports a finding by the district court that the police did not act in bad faith,” Justice Bob Pemberton wrote. “The United States Supreme Court has held that ‘unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police, failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process of law.’”
The court found no evidence of bad faith because the officer testified that he had “no clue” whether there even was a recording made.
Relevant excerpt from my Reason piece “The War on Cameras”:
Last March, Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot of the Second Court of Appeals in Texas complained in a dissent that when defendants accused of driving while intoxicated in Fort Worth challenge the charges in court, dash-camera video of their arrests is often missing or damaged. “At some point,” Dauphinot wrote, “courts must address the repeated failure of officers to use the recording equipment and their repeated inability to remember whether the car they were driving on patrol or to a DWI stop contained the video equipment the City of Fort Worth has been paying for.”
Well I guess they are addressing it, now. They’re giving cops a how-to guide when it comes to destroying dash cam footage that makes them look bad, or that could exonerate a motorist: Just make it look like you’re incompetent, not malicious.
August 12, 2011 1 Comment
WASHINGTON | Fri Aug 12,
2011 1:48pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An appeals court ruled Friday that President Barack Obama’s healthcare law requiring Americans to buy healthcare insurance or face a penalty was unconstitutional, a blow to the White House. The Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, found that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring Americans to buy coverage, but also ruled that the rest of the wide-ranging law could remain in effect. The legality of the so-called individual mandate, a cornerstone of the 2010 healthcare law, is widely expected to be decided by the Supreme Court. The Obama administration has defended the provision as constitutional. The case stems from a challenge by 26 U.S. states which had argued the individual mandate, set to go into effect in 2014, was unconstitutional because Congress could not force Americans to buy health insurance or face the prospect of a penalty. “This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives,” a divided three-judge panel said.
Obama and his administration had pressed for the law to help halt the steep increases in healthcare costs and expand insurance coverage to the more than 30 million Americans who are without it. It argued that the requirement was legal under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. One of the three judges of the appeals court panel, Stanley Marcus, agreed with the administration in dissenting from the majority opinion.
The majority “has ignored the undeniable fact that Congress’ commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries and is now generally accepted as having afforded Congress the authority to create rules regulating large areas of our national economy,” Marcus wrote. Many other provisions of the healthcare law are already being implemented.
The decision contrasts with one by the U.S. Appeals Court for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, which had upheld the individual mandate as constitutional. That case has already been appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, has yet to rule on a separate challenge by the state of Virginia.
August 4, 2011 Leave a comment
Chris Halsne KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Posted: 4:46 pm PDT August 3, 2011Updated: 1:08 pm PDT August 4, 2011 RENTON, Wash. — The Renton City Prosecutor wants to send a cartoonist to jail for mocking the police department in a series of animated Internet videos. The “South-Park”-style animations parody everything from officers having sex on duty to certain personnel getting promoted without necessary qualifications. While the city wants to criminalize the cartoons, First Amendment rights advocates say the move is an “extreme abuse of power.” Only KIRO Team 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne holds a key document that really lays bare the city’s intent. The document was quietly filed in King County Superior Court last week. It’s a search warrant accusing an anonymous cartoon creator, going by the name of Mr. Fiddlesticks, of cyberstalking (RCW 9.61.260). The Renton Police Department and the local prosecutor got a judge to sign off as a way to uncover the name of whoever is behind the parodies. Halsne talked with three nationally respected legal experts who believe the use of the cyberstalking statute is likely stomping on the constitution. Email Your Tip To Chris Halsne The series of web-based short cartoons feature a mustachioed street cop and a short-haired female bureaucrat. The dry, at times, witty banter between the two touches on some embarrassing insider secrets, some of which seem to match up with internal affairs investigations on file within Renton PD. ——————————————————————————– UNCUT: Locker Room Parody UNCUT: Jail Parody ——————————————————————————– Cartoon Character of Officer: “Is there any reason why an anonymous video, with no identifying information that ties it to the department or city is being taken more seriously than officers having sex on duty, arguing with outside agencies while in a drunken stupor off duty, sleeping while on duty, throwing someone off a bridge, and having inappropriate relationships with coworkers and committing adultery?” Cartoon Character of Bureaucrat: “The reason is that internal dirt is internal. The department will crucify certain people and take care of others.” A criminal court document, uncovered by Team 7 Investigators, not only shows how badly the city of Renton wants to “out” the cartoonist (who goes by the name MrFiddlesticks), but states some of the fake character’s lines discuss real life incidents. For example, the search warrant says one cartoon statement “discussed a past incident that has already been investigated…..regarding a dating relationship (a female detective) had with a suspect.” An embarrassing revelation; yes, but criminal? We asked attorney Venkat Balasubramani to review several parody videos and the court documents. He’s an expert in cyber-law and constitutional issues. “The cyberstalking angle doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Balasubramani told KIRO-TV. “It’s a serious stretch and I’d be surprised if somebody looked at it and realistically thought these acts actually fit the statute and we could make somebody criminally liable.” When we asked about the more likely scenario, Balasubramani said, “I think they were trying to get at the speaker and they looked around for a statute that shoehorned their conduct into and sent that to Google and said ‘turn over the information.” Historically, Google and You-Tube are far more likely to cough up an anonymous animator’s real name when there’s a criminal case, as opposed to just an internal affairs investigation into some personnel issues. KIRO Team 7 Investigators went to the City Attorney’s office to ask the chief prosecutor, Shawn Arthur, his motivations to criminalize cartoon creators. Halsne was told to leave a handwritten note. We did not hear back from Arthur. A similar thing happened at the Renton police department. A spokesperson told Halsne that Chief Kevin Milosevich was unavailable. Team 7 Investigators, however, did track down Penny Bartley. She’s a former Renton Police Public Information Officer and current jail administrator, which court records say is the female bureaucrat in some of the cartoons. The mystery animator makes fun of her ankles and questions her resume, yet Bartley wouldn’t talk about the parodies, except to say the city prosecutor never contacted her regarding the filing of a criminal warrant. Halsne: “The video is insulting to you. Can’t you at least step out and talk about how that makes you feel?” Bartley: “I’m not going to talk about that.” Halsne: “So you’re not offended?” Bartley: “I’m not going to comment on this Chris, I’ve said that.” KIRO-TV found two of the full parodies still hanging around the web (which are now posted on our site), but police say there are 6 or 7 additional cartoons created with animation software at http://www.xtranorma.com and posted under pseudonyms. When KIRO 7 Eyewitness News asked for comment from the city, we were told that there is a point person in charge of comments, and that person is on vacation in Canada. Email Your Tip To Chris Halsne Renton Parody Doc1 8 Copyright 2011 by KIROTV.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
July 30, 2011 2 Comments
July 28, 2011 · 6:02 am
A Florida man will be spending some time in jail for activity that is usually allowed outside a courthouse.
Mark Schmidter was found guilty of “indirect criminal contempt” Tuesday for passing out pamphlets in Orlando during the Casey Anthony trial, according to the Sentinel.
The pamphlets he was handing out described jury nullification, the power of a jury to return “a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged.”
According to the Sentienel, Chief Judge Belvin Perry signed an order early this year banning the distribution of nullification pamphlets that were “meant to influence jurors.” In May, the same judge issued an order that set up “free speech zones” outside the couthouse in preparation for the outrage involved with the Casey Anthony trial.
The judge accused Schmidter of violating his orders and doled out two sentences: 141 days for the first offense and 151 days for the second. In addition, he was belted with a $250 fine for each charge.
The Orlando paper reports that someone else had tested the pamphleteering order with no consequences so Schmidter decided to do the same. He also said he didn’t believe he violated the “speech zone” order . “I said this must not apply to me because I’m not talking about any [particular] case,” he said.
Schmidter and his lawyer, Adam Sudbury, accuse the judge’s order of being too broad and “patently unreasonable.
“It is prohibited for any person or group to engage in any type of First Amendment activities within the main Orange County courthouse complex grounds, unless the First Amendment activities occur within a designated Exempt Zone…”
Schmidter said it could be construed to mean “nobody could carry on a conversation outside the free speech zone.”
During his trial, Schmidter reportedly read the First Amendment out loud in the court. He later told the judge, “I apologize to the court. In my brain, I was just fighting for my country.”
His attorney has already filed for appeal, according to a Facebook page set up to support Schmidter.
Jury nullification isn’t as widely practiced or desired in our current legal system. However, it was encouraged as part of the sytem of checks and balances in the early history of the nation. Cheif Justice John Jay once said to a jury, “You have a right to take upon yourselves to judge [both the facts and law].”
As to the ban on pamphlets and “free speech zones”, both have been deemed unconstitutional by sensible judges. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has fought the same tyranny on college campuses for years, with judges usually shooting down the bans.
In February, Judge Andrew Napolitano blasted Judge Perry for his pamphlet ban: “It’s irrelevant what the pamphlet said. In America, we have the natural and constitutional right to free speech. Where on Earth does this judge presume to get the authority to stop anyone from saying anything outside a public courthouse? Has he ever heard of the First Amendment?”
Speaking of judicial authority, it seems that there is another flaw contained in our justice system that is relevant to this case. Since Schmidter was held in contempt, he faced the same judge that charged him. “I’m not getting a trial by jury, just thought I’d throw that in,” he said.
It would seem, that in a “fair” system, a defendant would face an impartial judge, instead of the same judge that has filed the charge. Seems to me like the judge has a bit of conflict of interest.
To learn more about jury nullification and jury rights, visit the Fully Informed Jury Association.
July 28, 2011 Leave a comment
July 27, 2011
A new filing in the King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell case includes a copy of the Ohio Secretary of State election production system configuration that was in use in Ohio’s 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush.
The filing also includes the revealing deposition of the late Michael Connell. Connell served as the IT guru for the Bush family and Karl Rove. Connell ran the private IT firm GovTech that created the controversial system that transferred Ohio’s vote count late on election night 2004 to a partisan Republican server site in Chattanooga, Tennessee owned by SmarTech. That is when the vote shift happened, not predicted by the exit polls, that led to Bush’s unexpected victory. Connell died a month and a half after giving this deposition in a suspicious small plane crash.
Additionally, the filing contains the contract signed between then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and Connell’s company, GovTech Solutions. Also included that contract a graphic architectural map of the Secretary of State’s election night server layout system.
Cliff Arnebeck, lead attorney in the King Lincoln case, exchanged emails with IT security expert Stephen Spoonamore. Arnebeck asked Spoonamore whether or not SmarTech had the capability to “input data” and thus alter the results of Ohio’s 2004 election. Spoonamore responded: “Yes. They would have had data input capacities. The system might have been set up to log which source generated the data but probably did not.”
Spoonamore explained that “they [SmarTech] have full access and could change things when and if they want.”
Arnebeck specifically asked “Could this be done using whatever bypass techniques Connell developed for the web hosting function.” Spoonamore replied “Yes.”
Spoonamore concluded from the architectural maps of the Ohio 2004 election reporting system that, “SmarTech was a man in the middle. In my opinion they were not designed as a mirror, they were designed specifically to be a man in the middle.”
A “man in the middle” is a deliberate computer hacking setup, which allows a third party to sit in between computer transmissions and illegally alter the data. A mirror site, by contrast, is designed as a backup site in case the main computer configuration fails.
Spoonamore claims that he confronted then-Secretary of State Blackwell at a secretary of state IT conference in Boston where he was giving a seminar in data security. “Blackwell freaked and refused to speak to me when I confronted him about it long before I met you,” he wrote to Arnebeck.
On December 14, 2007, then-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who replaced Blackwell, released her evaluation and validation of election-related equipment, standards and testing (Everest study) which found that touchscreen voting machines were vulnerable to hacking with relative ease.
Until now, the architectural maps and contracts from the Ohio 2004 election were never made public, which may indicate that the entire system was designed for fraud. In a previous sworn affidavit to the court, Spoonamore declared: “The SmarTech system was set up precisely as a King Pin computer used in criminal acts against banking or credit card processes and had the needed level of access to both county tabulators and Secretary of State computers to allow whoever was running SmarTech computers to decide the output of the county tabulators under its control.”
Spoonamore also swore that “…the architecture further confirms how this election was stolen. The computer system and SmarTech had the correct placement, connectivity, and computer experts necessary to change the election in any manner desired by the controllers of the SmarTech computers.”
Project Censored named the outsourcing of Ohio’s 2004 election votes to SmarTech in Chattanooga, Tennessee to a company owned by Republican partisans as one of the most censored stories in the world.
In the Connell deposition, plaintiffs’ attorneys questioned Connell regarding gwb43, a website that was live on election night operating out of the White House and tied directly into SmarTech’s server stacks in Chattanooga, Tennessee which contained Ohio’s 2004 presidential election results.
The transfer of the vote count to SmarTech in Chattanooga, Tennessee remains a mystery. This would have only happened if there was a complete failure of the Ohio computer election system. Connell swore under oath that, “To the best of my knowledge, it was not a fail-over case scenario – or it was not a failover situation.”
Bob Magnan, a state IT specialist for the secretary of state during the 2004 election, agreed that there was no failover scenario. Magnan said he was unexpectedly sent home at 9 p.m. on election night and private contractors ran the system for Blackwell.
The architectural maps, contracts, and Spoonamore emails, along with the history of Connell’s partisan activities, shed new light on how easy it was to hack the 2004 Ohio presidential election.
July 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Military contract whistleblower Bunny Greenhouse‘s legal win is welcome, but US taxpayers are out $5tn for Bush’s wars.
“War is a racket,” wrote retired US Marine Major General Smedley D Butler, in 1935. That statement, which is also the title of his short book on war profiteering, rings true today.
One courageous civil servant just won a battle to hold war profiteers accountable. Her name is Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse. She blew the whistle when her employer, the US Army Corps of Engineers, gave a no-bid $7bn contract to the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) as the US was about to invade Iraq. She was doing her job, trying to ensure a competitive bidding process would save the US government money. For that, she was forced out of her senior position, demoted and harassed.
Just this week, after waging a legal battle for more than half a decade, Bunny Greenhouse won. The US Army Corps of Engineers settled with Greenhouse for $970,000, representing full restitution for lost wages, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.
Her “offence” was to challenge the KBR contract. It was weeks before the expected invasion of Iraq, in 2003, and Bush military planners predicted Saddam Hussein would blow up Iraqi oilfields, as happened with the US invasion in 1991. The project, dubbed “Restore Iraqi Oil“, or RIO, was created so that oilfield fires would be extinguished. KBR was owned then by Halliburton, whose CEO until 2000 was none other than then Vice President Dick Cheney. KBR was the only company invited to bid.
Bunny Greenhouse told her superiors that the process was illegal. She was overridden. She said the decision to grant the contract to KBR came from the office of the secretary of defence, run by VP Cheney’s close friend, Donald Rumsfeld. As Bunny Greenhouse told a congressional committee:
“I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”
The oilfields were not set ablaze. Nevertheless, KBR was allowed to retool its $7bn no-bid contract, to provide gasoline and other logistical support to the occupation forces. The contract was so-called “cost-plus”, which means KBR was not on the hook to provide services at a set price. Rather, it could charge its cost, plus a fixed percentage as profit. The more KBR charged, the more profit it made.
As the chief procurement officer, Greenhouse’s signature was required on all contracts valued at more than $10m. Soon after testifying about the egregious RIO contract, she was demoted, stripped of her top secret clearance and began receiving the lowest performance ratings. Before blowing the whistle, she had received the highest ratings. Ultimately, she left work, facing an unbearably hostile workplace.
“Bunny Greenhouse risked her job and career when she objected to the gross waste of federal taxpayer dollars and illegal contracting practices at the Army Corps of Engineers. She had the courage to stand alone and challenge powerful special interests. She exposed a corrupt contracting environment where casual and clubby contracting practices were the norm. Her courage led to sweeping legal reforms that will forever halt the gross abuse she had the courage to expose.”
The National Whistleblowers Centre’s executive director, Stephen Kohn (brother of Michael Kohn), told me:
“Federal employees have a very, very hard time blowing the whistle … I hope it’s a turning point. The case was hard-fought. It should never have had to been filed. Bunny did the right thing.”
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone will exceed $5tn. With a cost like this, why isn’t war central to the debate over the national debt?
Two-time congressional medal of honour winner Maj Gen Smedley Butler had it right, 75 years ago, when he said of war:
“It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious [racket] … It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives … It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.”
As President Barack Obama and Congress claim it is Medicare, Medicaid and social security that are breaking the budget, people should demand that they stop paying for war.
• Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column
© 2011 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate
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