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Die LINKE und die Religionen

Rationalgalerie - πριν από 4 ώρες 39 λεπτά
Nur tote Fische schwimmen mit dem Strom : Was glaubst Du?“ – „Ich glaube, dass ein Kilo Rindfleisch eine gute Brühe macht!“ Dieser alte Spruch aus dem Volksmund wird Ende Mai auf dem Magdeburger Parteitag der Linkspartei neu verhandelt. Natürlich wortreicher, feiner, parlamentarisch ziseliert. Und während sich die...

Ein Deutschland-Bild mit DDR

Rationalgalerie - πριν από 4 ώρες 39 λεπτά
Christoph Hein schreibt zur Besserung der Verhältnisse : Ja, darf der das denn? Darf Christoph Hein einen Roman zur verblichenen DDR schreiben, in dessen Zentrum nicht die Staatssicherheit steht, nicht der Versuch einer Revolution im Jahr 1989, nicht mal die mangelnde Versorgungslage und auch nicht die Mängeln der...

NDR-Rundfunk-Rat: Völlig befasst - der Schmock des Monats

Rationalgalerie - πριν από 4 ώρες 39 λεπτά
Eine unendliche Geschichte aus dem Land Bürokratien : Da hatte die TAGESSCHAU-Beobachtungsstelle Bräutigam & Klinkhammer mal nachgefasst, was denn so aus ihrer Programmbeschwerde wegen der obskuren ARD-Quelle namens „Syrische Beobachtungsstelle für Menschenrechte“ geworden ist. Und den beiden tapferen Kollegen ward Antwort: Man habe sich jetzt aber genug mit...

Bill Would Require DNA Samples From Americans When Sponsoring Family Visas

The Intercept - Engl. - πριν από 5 ώρες 11 λεπτά

A new immigration bill under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee would impose unprecedented restrictions on U.S. citizens seeking to sponsor the immigration of their family members, requiring that all parties submit to mandatory DNA testing as part of their visa applications.

H.R. 5203, the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016, would require that “a genetic test is conducted to confirm such biological relationship,” adding that, “any such genetic test shall be conducted at the expense of the petitioner or applicant.”

A public letter from the American Civil Liberties Union protesting the bill notes that its provisions would require “even a nursing mother [to] undergo DNA testing to prove the biological relationship with her infant,” and “would amount to population surveillance that subverts our notions of a free and autonomous citizenry.” It is unclear how the bill would account for adopted children, or those who for a variety of other reasons might not fully share the DNA characteristics of their parents.

The requirement would likely be particularly expensive and onerous in countries where DNA testing facilities are not easily accessible.

“This bill would dramatically overhaul the U.S. immigration system, requiring U.S. citizens and their family members to undergo mandatory DNA testing even when there is no evidence of fraud,” says Joanne Lin, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The rules would apply across the world, to people from all continents seeking to immigrate to the U.S. based on family relationships. Families have historically been a major engine of immigration to the United States, but the provisions this bill puts in place would have unprecedented consequences for that.”

In addition to the genetic testing requirements, which would be applicable across the globe, the bill also prohibits nationals and dual-nationals of seven specified countries –Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from obtaining any type of U.S. visa without undergoing enhanced security screening procedures.

Critics say these changes are discriminatory, targeting individuals based on their country of birth or ancestry rather than their own personal histories. Changes to visa rules contained in the bill would have major impacts on, for instance, students seeking to study at American universities, who would have to submit to onerous burden of proof requirements regarding their projected length of stay in the United States.

“The fact that Iran is on the list of specified countries and Saudi Arabia isn’t, despite its proponents citing 9/11 as a reason for its implementation, speaks volumes about the political motivations here,” said Jamal Abdi, executive director of the National Iranian-American Council, who also notes that there is no way for countries to be removed from the list without further legislation being passed. “The arguments underlying the proposed legislation show how foolish and backwards it is to designate people based on their nationality rather than their own personal behavior.”

Last year, H.R. 158 became law. The bill, targeting dual citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, prohibited their participation in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. H.R. 5203 would further compound the difficulty of such individuals entering the United States, requiring them to obtain a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the State Department before being approved for a visa. Obtaining an SAO could dramatically increase the amount of time it takes to obtain a U.S. visa, adding months or even years to the process.

The cumulative changes would “grind the process to a halt,” for many seeking to immigrate to the United States, said Abdi, while making it nearly impossible for many others to visit the country for business, study or professional purposes. “This bill is from the same family tree as previous anti-immigration legislation passed last year, with assistance from the extreme rhetoric of Donald Trump and others on the campaign trail,” Abdi said.

The new bill is sponsored by Randy Forbes, a Republican Congressman from Virginia. At a press conference announcing the introduction of the bill earlier this month, Forbes cited the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, as providing an impetus. One of the shooters was a Pakistani citizen on a spousal visa. Pakistan is not one of the countries that would be affected by the law.

The bill was marked up by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and is expected to proceed to a vote in the coming weeks.

Top photo: A border patrol official checks papers at Newark airport.

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Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz Pick Influence Peddlers to Guide DNC Platform

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 21:29

Three professional influence peddlers, including a registered corporate lobbyist, have been chosen by Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., to serve on the committee responsible for drafting the party’s platform.

The 15-member panel has six members chosen by Clinton, five chosen by Bernie Sanders and four chosen by Wasserman Schultz.

Wendy Sherman and Carol Browner, two of the representatives chosen by Clinton, work at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a “government affairs” firm that was created in 2009 through a merger with Madeleine Albright’s consulting company and Stonebridge International, a defense contractor lobbying shop.

The website for the company touts its ability to win favors and influence with government officials throughout the world on behalf of corporate clients, from shaping regulatory standards in the U.S. for a European automotive business to engaging “with the highest levels of the Saudi government.” H.P. Goldfield, vice president at the firm, is a registered lobbyist for the Saudi Arabian government.

The Albright Stonebridge Group did not respond to a request to provide a client list. But recent reports reveal that the firm has been tapped in recent months to work for Elliott Management, the hedge fund run by billionaire Paul Singer, one of the most prolific donors to Republican Super PACs.

Sherman, who took a hiatus from her work at Albright Stonebridge to work at the State Department, filed an ethics disclosure in 2011 that revealed many of her former clients, including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Dow Chemical, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Wasserman Schultz appointed Howard Berman, a former congressman who now works at Covington & Burling as a lobbyist. Disclosures show he currently represents the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group for the movie industry, on “intellectual property issues in trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties, copyright, and related legislation.”

The picks stand in contrast to the slate chosen by the Bernie Sanders campaign, which included environmentalist Bill McKibben, philosopher Cornel West, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Related:

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Die doppelte Zweiteilung der Welt: Nord und Süd, Arm und Reich

Hintergrund.de - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 20:49

Conrad Schuhler untersucht in seinem neuen Buch Ursachen und Hintergründe der Fluchtbewegungen -

Eine Rezension von JENS WERNICKE, 25. Mai 2016 -

Was läge dieser Tage näher, als den Papst zu zitieren? „Diese Wirtschaft tötet“, proklamierte Franziskus Ende 2013. Conrad Schuhler macht in seinem jüngsten Buch Die Große Flucht deutlich, dass der Befund auch 2016 Bestand hat – und maßgeblich als Ursache für die derzeitigen Fluchtbewegungen zu nennen ist. Als Vorsitzender des Instituts für sozial-ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (isw) gehört es zu seinem Handwerkszeug, Zahlenmaterial so zu liefern, dass es beim Lesen nicht ermüdet, sondern

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[B] Hintergründe zur Antifa-Kaffeefahrt in den Spreewald am 28. Mai (Teil I)

Linksunten Antimil - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 20:49
0,4%. Am 04. Juli 2006 wurde die BNO aufgrund ihrer Wesensverwandtschaft zum ...

Bundesregierung beschließt Integrationsgesetz

Hintergrund.de - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 17:49

(25.05.2016/hg/dpa) Das Bundeskabinett brachte am Mittwoch auf seiner Klausur im Schloss Meseberg nach langem Ringen ein neues Integrationsgesetz auf den Weg. Kritiker halten wesentliche Teile des Gesetzes für integrationsfeindlich. Wie jedes Gesetz muss es  erst noch durch den Bundestag, bevor es in Kraft treten kann.

In dem Gesetzespaket ist zum einen eine verbesserte Förderung für Flüchtlinge vorgesehen, vor allem beim Zugang zum Arbeitsmarkt. Enthalten sind aber auch zahlreiche Verschärfungen, etwa Leistungskürzungen bei einer Verweigerung von Integrationsangeboten.

Integrationskurse sollen aufgestockt werden, gleichzeitig sollen auch mehr Menschen zur Teilnahme verpflichtet werden. Für Flüchtlinge sollen 100 000 „Arbeitsgelegenheiten“ entstehen also gemeinnützige Tätigkeiten, angelehnt an

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Russland lässt Pilotin frei

Hintergrund.de - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 17:49

(25.05.2016/hg/dpa) Nach monatelangen Geheimverhandlungen hat Russland die verurteilte ukrainische Kampfpilotin Nadeschda Sawtschenko an ihr Heimatland überstellt. Die 35-Jährige landete am Mittwoch in der Ukraine, wie Präsident Petro Poroschenko über Twitter mitteilte. Am Kiewer Flughafen Borispol warteten Poroschenko sowie Sawtschenkos Mutter, ihre Schwester und zahlreiche Parlamentarier.

Im Gegenzug seien zwei mutmaßliche russische Soldaten, die in der Ukraine zu Haft verurteilt worden waren, in Moskau gelandet, berichteten ukrainische Medien.

Sawtschenko war in Russland in einem umstrittenen Prozess zu 22 Jahren Haft verurteilt worden trotz internationaler Proteste. Die russische Justiz macht die Soldatin für die Ermordung von zwei russischen Reportern im Konfliktgebiet Ostukraine verantwortlich.

Das

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Former 9/11 Commissioner Won’t Rule Out Saudi Royal Family Foreknowledge of 9/11 Plot

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 15:24

A former member of the 9/11 Commission on Tuesday left open the possibility that the Saudi Royal family knew about the 9/11 terror plot before it happened.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., asked members of the panel at a House Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing to raise their hands in response to this question:

“How many of you there believe that the royal family of Saudi Arabia did not know and was unaware that there was a terrorist plot being implemented that would result in an historic terrorist attack in the United States, in the lead up to 9/11?”

Two of the four panelists raised their hands, but Tim Roemer, 9/11 commission member and a former congressman from Indiana, did not. Neither did Simon Henderson, director of the gulf and energy policy program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Congressman, that is just too difficult a question for someone to raise their hand or put their hand down,” Roemer explained. He then suggested Rohrabacher read 28 classified pages of the 9/11-commission report that describe overseas support for the 9/11 attackers.

The exchange begins at the 2 hour, 14 minute and 40 second mark here:

Those 28 pages remain classified  despite calls for their release from several former members of the 9/11 Commission — a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel that from 2002 to 2004 investigated the 9/11 attacks and the intelligence failures that allowed them to succeed.

Senator Bob Graham, co-chairman of the commission, has suggested that the pages contain “substantial” evidence of Saudi involvement – both by the government and private citizens. “I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn’t have a high school education– could’ve carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States,” Graham said on “60 Minutes” last month.

Graham and his Republican co-chair, former Sen. Porter Goss, have joined 9/11 victims’ family members, activists, and Congressional leadership to call for the release of the 28 pages. The chapter was initially classified by the George W. Bush White House, fearful of upsetting a U.S. ally. Despite twice promising to release the pages, President Obama has withheld them.

In response to public pressure in the wake of his fourth visit to Saudi Arabia last month, Obama asked James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, to review the possible declassification of the pages. Obama told CBS’s Charlie Rose last month that “My understanding is that he’s about to complete that process.”

Roemer has previously described the 28 pages as a “preliminary police report,” so it is likely that it lacks definitive conclusions about the knowledge of the Saudi royal family. But he clearly wasn’t ready to rule it out.

Rohrabacher left no doubt about his views, saying  that “the Saudi royal family [has] been right up to their eyeballs in supporting radical Islamic terror in the Middle East.”

Former congressman and 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee on May 24, 2016

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“American Sniper” Chris Kyle Distorted His Military Record, Documents Show

The Intercept - Engl. - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 14:02

No American has been more associated with the Navy SEAL mystique than Chris Kyle, known as the deadliest sniper in military history. His bestselling autobiography, American Sniper —  a story of honor, glory, and quiet heroism —  has sold more than a million copies. The movie adaptation became the highest-grossing war film in American history.

“All told,” Kyle wrote in his book, “I would end my career as a SEAL with two Silver Stars and five Bronze [Stars], all for valor.”

But Kyle, who was murdered by a fellow military veteran several years after leaving the Navy, embellished his military record, according to internal Navy documents obtained by The Intercept. During his 10 years of military service and four deployments, Kyle earned one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor, a record confirmed by Navy officials.

Kyle was warned at least once before American Sniper was published that its description of his medal count was wrong, according to one current Navy officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the case. As Kyle’s American Sniper manuscript was distributed among SEALs, one of his former commanders, who was still on active duty, advised Kyle that his claim of having two Silver Stars was false, and he should correct it before his book was published.

Current and former Navy SEALs interviewed for this article, who agreed to speak on background because they feared being shunned by their close-knit community, did not dispute Kyle’s heroism in combat, but saw the inflation of his medal count as significant because they consider battlefield embellishments to be dishonorable.

The Silver Star, the third-highest award given for battlefield conduct, is considered a prestigious commendation.

The discrepancy raises new questions about Kyle’s credibility and highlights a continuing controversy in the SEAL community over members exaggerating or distorting their war records. In one high-profile controversy, two members of SEAL Team 6 engaged in a public dispute over who deserved credit for the fatal shots that killed Osama bin Laden.

Within the military community, embellishing medals and achievements — so-called stolen valor — is considered a serious ethical violation. In 1996, Adm. Jeremy Boorda, who was then the highest-ranking uniformed naval officer, committed suicide after questions were raised about two valor pins — known as “devices” — he wore on his uniform for service during the Vietnam War. It was later determined that he was not authorized to wear the “V” devices.

According to two current Navy officials, inaccurate information about Kyle’s awards is also contained in his separation document, known in the military as a DD214, which usually reflects a veteran’s official service record. Kyle’s DD214 form, which lists two Silver Stars and six Bronze Stars with Valor among his decorations, also differs from the number of Bronze Stars with Valor — five — that Kyle listed in his book.

Bronze Star and Silver Star on display at an awards ceremony on March 12, 2012.

Photo: U.S. Marines

The Navy provided records for one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor after The Intercept requested all documentation related to Kyle’s medals. The Navy Department Awards System maintains records of the official awards. Navy officials could not say why Kyle’s separation papers contained inaccurate information about his medals, but one official described Kyle as a “decorated war hero” and questioned the “motivations” of looking into Kyle’s account.

“The Navy considers the individual service member’s official military personnel file and our central official awards records to be the authoritative sources for verifying entitlement to decorations and awards,” said Cullen James, a spokesperson for the Navy Personnel Command, in a statement emailed to The Intercept. “The form DD214 is generated locally at the command where the service member is separated. Although the information on the DD214 should match the official records, the process involves people and inevitably some errors may occur.”

Normally, the personnel clerk handling a sailor’s separation is required to ensure that the awards match the service member’s official personnel file. It is unclear whether that done in the case of Kyle’s DD214.

“Given [Kyle’s] celebrity, you’d think the Navy would have gone back and fixed the discrepancy,” said one Navy official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “But he’s only got the three Bronze and one Silver Star.”

Kyle separated from the Navy in 2009 after almost 11 years as a SEAL. In 2013, he was murdered in Texas by a fellow veteran struggling with mental health problems.

A public memorial service for Kyle held at Cowboys Stadium near Dallas drew nearly 7,000 people.

Since the publication of American Sniper, Kyle’s exploits in Iraq during the height of the war have taken on almost mythic proportions and many of his fellow soldiers regard his actions during his four deployments in Iraq as heroic. During the November 2004 American siege of Fallujah, for example, Kyle saved an injured Marine’s life by dragging him to safety while taking and returning fire down an alleyway.

Kyle also wrote in his book that he had 160 “confirmed kills” as a sniper. Service members in battle largely self-report the number of enemy combatants they kill.

“SEALs are silent warriors, and I’m a SEAL down to my soul,” Kyle wrote in American Sniper. “If you want to check me out, ask a SEAL.”

Two members of the SEAL community said that while Kyle’s actions under fire were commendable, he tarnished his accomplishments through misrepresentation.

“It takes away from the legitimate heroism he showed,” said a retired SEAL who was deployed to Iraq when Kyle was also deployed there.

The 2004 incident resulted in a Bronze Star with Valor, one of three that Kyle was awarded. That action was recommended by his commanding officers for a Silver Star, but it was denied by the secretary of the Navy at the time. Kyle was aware that the Silver Star was denied, according to his autobiography, and did not count it among the two Silver Stars he claimed to receive. He did not say in the book what either of those Silver Stars were for.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, a military historian, said that public reports of stolen valor became more common in the decade after the Vietnam War. Bateman also said it was inexcusable that Kyle, or any other veteran, would inflate his record, even if the veteran, like Kyle, had demonstrated clear heroism during his service.

Résumé inflation may be less of a scandal for civilians, Bateman said, but for those in the military “some elements are paid in blood.”

A retired SEAL officer said several of Kyle’s commanding officers were aware that he had misrepresented how many decorations he had collected. The retired officer attended the ceremony for Kyle’s single Silver Star, which was awarded to him for a 2006 deployment in Ramadi, Iraq. “During 32 sniper overwatch missions,” the citation reads, “he personally accounted for 91 confirmed enemy fighters killed.”

When asked if he had been aware of Kyle’s inaccurate accounting of his awards, Jocko Willink, one of Kyle’s former commanding officers, said, “Chris Kyle, like many of the SEALs, soldiers, and Marines I had the honor to serve with, deserve much more than whatever ribbons and medals they received.”

Another former commanding officer, Leif Babin, declined to comment. Willink and Babin co-authored a book, Extreme Ownership, which details their time commanding SEALs in Iraq. It includes a section about Kyle’s prowess as a sniper, but does not tally his medals.

This is not the first time that Kyle has been accused of misrepresentation. In 2014, just over a year after Kyle’s death, a Minnesota jury found that he had lied in American Sniper and defamed former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura by claiming to have punched Ventura out at a bar in Coronado, California. The jury awarded Ventura, who served in a precursor unit to the Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War, $1.8 million in damages and ordered Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, to pay. (Taya Kyle is appealing the ruling.)

When contacted by The Intercept, Taya Kyle, through a representative, declined to comment about her husband’s service record.

The former SEAL officer who attended Kyle’s Silver Star ceremony said it was a poorly kept secret in the naval special operations community that Kyle embellished his record. “The SEAL leadership was aware of the embellishment, but didn’t want to correct the record because Kyle’s celebrity status reflected well on the command.”

“Everybody went on a pilgrimage to his funeral at Cowboys Stadium,” the ex-SEAL said, “knowing full well his claims weren’t true.”

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Lieferungen trotzen den Verboten

RIB/DAKS - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 05:15

Seit 2013 sind Waffenlieferungen nach Ägypten verboten. Zahlreiche EU-Länder ignorieren dieses Lieferverbot – auch Deutschland, wie die Kollegen von Amnesty International berichten.

Angesichts der blutigen Auseinandersetzungen in Ägypten im August 2013, bei welchen viele der Demonstranten getötet wurden, hatte die Europäische Union einen grundsätzlichen Lieferstopp für Waffen und Munition in das nordafrikanische Land erlassen. insgesamt 12 EU-Staaten – darunter eben auch Deutschland – ignorieren diesen Lieferstopp jedoch nach Informationen der Menschenrechtsorganisation Amnesty International.

Deutschland genehmigte Amnesty zufolge 2014 Rüstungsexporte im Umfang von 22,7 Millionen Euro, darunter vor allem Technik für U-Boote. zudem wurden in den Vorjahren immer wieder Zulieferungen für gepanzerte Fahrzeuge genehmigt, die auch gegen Demonstranten eingesetzt wurden, wie die Menschenrechtsorganisation mitteilte. Nach Aussagen von Transparency International wurde auch die FinFisher–Überwachungssoftware an den ägyptischen Staat geliefert, die möglicherweise dazu genutzt wurde, um friedliche Oppositionelle auszuspionieren.

 

Mathias John, Amnesty-Rüstungsexperte meint hierzu „Angesichts der andauernden Menschenrechtsverletzungen des ägyptischen Militärs und der Sicherheitskräfte sind weitere Rüstungsexporte aus Deutschland das falsche Signal. Die Ausfuhr von Rüstungsgütern nach Ägypten, mit denen die Bevölkerung weiter unterdrückt werden kann, missachtet nicht nur den gemeinsamen Standpunkt der EU zu Rüstungsexporten, sondern verstößt auch gegen den internationalen Waffenhandelsvertrag, dem die meisten EU-Mitgliedsstaaten beigetreten sind“, 2015 gab die Bundesregierung laut vorläufigen Zahlen grünes Licht für Rüstungsexporte im Umfang von rund 19 Millionen Euro.

Zur Erinnerung: 2011 wurde der langjährige Machthaber Hosni Mubarak durch die Proteste von Hunderttausenden Ägyptern aus dem Amt vertrieben. Um einen erneuten Aufstand gegen den vom Militär gelenkten Machtapparat gar nicht erst aufkommen zu lassen, geht Abdel Fattah al-Sissi rigoros gegen Andersdenkende vor.

 

Die NATO wächst

German Foreign Policy - Τετ, 25/05/2016 - 00:00
(Eigener Bericht) - Die von Berlin befürwortete engere Anbindung Schwedens an die NATO stößt zunehmend auf Protest. Tausende sind am Wochenende in Stockholm auf die Straße gegangen, um gegen ein "Host Nation Support"-Abkommen mit dem Kriegsbündnis zu demonstrieren, das der schwedische Reichstag am heutigen Mittwoch endgültig ratifizieren will. Möglicherweise wird die Verabschiedung im Parlament sogar verzögert. Das Abkommen ermöglicht es NATO-Einheiten, darunter auch deutschen, im Rahmen von Manövern oder Militäreinsätzen schwedisches Territorium umfassender als bisher zu nutzen. Ein identisches Abkommen mit Finnland öffnet den Weg für NATO-Operationen unmittelbar an der Grenze zu Russland. Die Vereinbarungen, die bereits vor der Eskalation des Machtkampfs gegen Moskau initiiert wurden, setzen die schwedisch-finnische Annäherung an die NATO fort, die bereits in den 1990er Jahren eingeleitet wurde. Die NATO-Aktivitäten des offiziell neutralen Schweden beinhalteten Berichten zufolge auch die Beteiligung an Entscheidungen über illegale Exekutionen von Aufständischen in Afghanistan - an der Seite der Bundeswehr. Zusätzlich zur Annäherung Schwedens und Finnlands hat die NATO in der vergangenen Woche beschlossen, Montenegro aufzunehmen - gegen massive Proteste in der montenegrinischen Bevölkerung.

Obama Overtime Plan Won’t Hurt Businesses, Executives Admit

The Intercept - Engl. - Τρί, 24/05/2016 - 22:40

Business interest groups and their allies engaged in hyperbolic rhetoric about the supposed negative impact of overtime regulations before they were announced last week. By changing a salary threshold, the new rules will make millions of workers newly eligible to be paid for their overtime hours.

“Businesses will be forced to look for cuts in the face of such massive costs,” Competitive Enterprise Institute policy analyst Trey Kovacs predicted. Right-wing economist analyst Michael Carr even worried that the overtime rules could help start another recession.

House Speaker Paul Ryan warned that it would “cause people to lose their livelihoods.”

“You just can’t do this!” said a former McDonald’s CEO.

But in investor calls over the past week, executives at some leading American retailers quietly admitted that the rule will only have a modest impact on their bottom lines, if any at all.

“We’ve looked at it and any impact at all would be non-material and we’re comfortable with our guidance as we go forward,” Ross Stores CEO Michael Hartshorn said during an earnings call on May 19.

“We don’t see it as a material impact in either … 2016 or 2017 as we go forward,” said Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Andre Hawaux said. “The regs just got published the other day, and we’re going through that. But we don’t see that as a meaningful cost increase year over year.”

Scott Bowman, chief financial officer at Hibbett Sports, told investors that while it is a “little bit too early to have all of the details” on the new rule,” he doesn’t “think it is going to be a significant impact on SG&A,” an accounting acronym standing for Selling, General & Administrative expenses.

Staples CEO Ron Sargent pointed out to analysts that his company operates a lot of stores in California, which already had aggressive overtime rules. “Several years ago, we re-classified some of those assistant managers to hourly just because of this issue. So I think we’re pretty far ahead on the issue,” he said. “You know most of our managers, our assistant managers, are kind of working similar to our store managers, we don’t have a whole lot of 80 hour a week manager types like you may have heard about in the press.”

Home Depot’s president of U.S. Retail, Craig Menear, said he does not view the rule as overly difficult to adjust to. “We look at all factors when we put together our plans. Clearly we were aware that this was possible to come,” he said.

Top photo: President Obama signing a memorandum directing the Department of Labor to draw up new overtime rules in 2014.

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Oklahoma’s Insane Rush to Execute

The Intercept - Engl. - Τρί, 24/05/2016 - 18:57

Ever since the dramatic last-minute halt of the execution of Richard Glossip in Oklahoma last fall, exactly what happened that day has remained a mystery. In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court had given the green light for Oklahoma to proceed with the execution using a protocol the justices had upheld just months before, in Glossip v. Gross. Outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary that afternoon, Glossip’s lawyers, his family, and members of the press were all convinced the execution was imminent. Inside, witnesses thought they were about to be escorted to the death chamber. Glossip, meanwhile, stood in his boxer shorts inside a holding cell, waiting to be taken to the gurney.

Instead, just before 4 p.m. on September 30, 2015, Gov. Mary Fallin — who had repeatedly denied relief for Glossip despite his vociferous claims of innocence — suddenly intervened, stopping the execution while making an embarrassing admission: The state did not have the correct execution drug in its possession. In a short statement, Fallin announced a temporary stay of 37 days to determine whether a drug named potassium acetate was “compliant” with the state’s lethal injection protocol.

How Oklahoma authorities could have discovered they were about to use the wrong drug so close to Glossip’s slated execution was completely unclear. Even more stunning was a revelation that came less than a week later: Oklahoma had already killed a prisoner using potassium acetate on January 15, 2015, in the execution of a man named Charles Warner. This was just four months before the state argued its case before the Supreme Court.

In the months since its execution fiasco put Oklahoma in the national spotlight, a grand jury has been investigating how things could have gone so egregiously wrong, in both the Warner execution and the run-up to Glossip’s aborted execution. Last week, a multi-county grand jury finally provided some answers, releasing its findings in a sweeping 106-page report.

The document is a scathing indictment of Oklahoma authorities. It details a stunning pattern of incompetence and disregard for protocol at every stage of the execution process. The report also reveals that officials lied to the public about key aspects of what happened.

The actions of the governor’s general counsel at the time, Steve Mullins, are particularly damning. Despite the state’s previous denials, the report confirms what local investigative journalists found last year, that Mullins pushed to proceed with Glossip’s execution even after discovering the prison had obtained the wrong drug. “Google it,” Mullins told the attorney general’s office over the phone about the drug potassium acetate, arguing that it was interchangeable with potassium chloride. Confronted with evidence that Charles Warner had been erroneously killed using potassium acetate, Mullins argued that stopping Glossip’s execution “would look bad for the state of Oklahoma,” because authorities would be forced to admit they had carried out an execution with the wrong drug.

Both Mullins and Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton have since resigned. Mullins’s behavior appears to have particularly offended the grand jury, which wrote, “It is unacceptable for the governor’s general counsel to so flippantly and recklessly disregard [the protocol] and the rights of Richard Glossip.”

Former Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton answers questions from reporters in Oklahoma City, Jan. 8, 2015.

Photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP

By Any Means Necessary

The details of the grand jury report underscore why Oklahoma’s drive to execute Richard Glossip launched an activist movement. His case perfectly illustrates the way death penalty states will rush to execute a prisoner despite persistent problems, whether it’s a dubious execution protocol or a questionable conviction. Sentenced to die for the 1997 murder of his boss, a man named Barry Van Treese, Glossip was found guilty almost entirely on the word of one person: a 19-year-old meth addict named Justin Sneed. Sneed, who worked with Glossip at a cheap motel in Oklahoma City, admitted to bludgeoning Van Treese with a baseball bat but claimed that Glossip made him do it. In exchange for his testimony, Sneed received a life sentence.

Last year, The Intercept investigated Glossip’s case, raising a number of serious problems and unanswered questions. In the run-up to Glossip’s scheduled execution last fall, his attorneys uncovered more and more evidence casting doubt on his conviction — including new witnesses who came forward to say that Sneed had openly admitted to killing Van Treese. In response, the state of Oklahoma dug in its heels, refusing to consider the evidence and even taking retaliatory action against some of the witnesses. In this sense, the findings of the grand jury are just another dimension of the state’s rush to execute Glossip by any means necessary.

While the push to execute Glossip despite his innocence claims has been largely driven by the Oklahoma attorney general — along with the Oklahoma City district attorney — the report makes clear that Attorney General Scott Pruitt was nevertheless unwilling to proceed with the execution when it was discovered that the state had ordered the wrong drug. When it comes to this mistake, the blame falls squarely on three people: Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton, who pawned off many of the duties assigned to him by Oklahoma’s protocol (a disregard for his duties that he also displayed while overseeing executions in Arizona, as BuzzFeed’s Chris McDaniel has reported); Department of Corrections General Counsel David Cincotta (who assumed the responsibilities Patton was supposed to carry out, and who is unnamed in the report); and the anonymous pharmacist from whom Cincotta ordered the drugs, in a process the report describes as “questionable at best.”

On September 30, the day of Glossip’s scheduled execution, the state’s official plan was to use a three-drug cocktail ending with a large dose of potassium chloride. Glossip had been informed of this plan, as had the press, yet no one ever verified that the correct drug had been purchased. According to the grand jury report, that day a prison staffer picked up the drugs from the pharmacist in a “sealed cardboard box” and took the box to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester without inspecting or documenting its contents on a chain-of-custody form as required. At the prison, the vials of drugs — which were clearly labeled — were unpacked and photographed, just as they had been prior to the execution of Charles Warner earlier that year. On that occasion, apparently, no one noticed that the labels read “potassium acetate” rather than “potassium chloride.”

This time around, according to the grand jury report, a warden at the prison — referred to only as “Warden A” — spotted the discrepancy yet chose to say nothing. Under questioning by the grand jury, Warden A explained that he figured the drugs were interchangeable and that it simply wasn’t his job to know anything about the drugs being ordered or used. In fact, the state execution protocol makes clear that the warden had a duty to speak up: “If at any point any team member determines that any part of the execution process is not going according to procedure,” the protocol reads, “they shall advise the IV Team leader who shall immediately notify the director.”

Since the warden failed to alert anyone of his discovery, the doctor continued to prepare for the lethal injection. As he readied the syringes, he spotted the discrepancy, realizing one set of vials read “potassium acetate” rather than “potassium chloride.” Yet even that wasn’t enough to immediately stop the execution. According to the report, the doctor alerted prison officials while also assuring them that the two drugs were “medically interchangeable.” Cincotta told the doctor to carry on while he went to discuss the matter with Patton. He then contacted the pharmacist, who gave various explanations, saying he had ordered the acetate by mistake, while also saying that there just wasn’t any potassium chloride available.

The portions of the pharmacist’s testimony included in the grand jury report are particularly disturbing. While the pharmacist “denied intentionally sending the department potassium acetate,” his recollections suggest a stunning lack of attention to his job. “When I was looking through my ordering system, I looked for potassium,” the pharmacist said, “frankly not paying attention to whether it was acetate or chloride.” How this particular pharmacist was selected to provide the execution drugs is itself unsettling. Cincotta told the grand jury he made a series of phone calls, then simply chose “the first pharmacist that agreed to supply the department with the execution drugs.”

According to the report, it was during Cincotta’s September 30 phone call with the pharmacist that he realized that potassium acetate had been used for Warner’s execution. Cincotta checked photos of the drug vials from the Warner execution, then called Attorney General Pruitt and Steve Mullins. In compliance with the state’s protocol, which provided no alternative for potassium chloride, Pruitt’s office determined that the execution should be halted. Mullins, for his part, pushed for the execution to go forward. Gov. Fallin ultimately agreed to order the stay of Glossip’s execution, but not before a “heated discussion” over the language that would appear in the stay. Mullins did not want to include any mention that the “wrong drug” had been ordered, in part to avoid revealing that Warner had been killed using potassium acetate. But the attorney general’s response was firm: The wrong drug had been used “and there was no legal ambiguity” about it.

Anti-death penalty activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in a final attempt to prevent the execution of Oklahoma inmate Richard Glossip on Sept. 29, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Larry French/Getty Images

Incompetence Shrouded in Secrecy

At a time when death penalty states are struggling to carry out lethal injection amid legal challenges and drug shortages, the Oklahoma grand jury report is a serious wake-up call. It should be particularity sobering to states that have passed secrecy laws to shield the identity of those who sell drugs for execution. As the report makes clear, secrecy did much to contribute to the disaster in Oklahoma. “This investigation revealed that the paranoia of identifying participants clouded the department’s judgment and caused administrators to blatantly violate their own policies,” the grand jury concluded.

It is especially significant that the state’s new execution protocol — revised after the grisly botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014 — actually stripped away critical components that would have made the process more transparent, if not totally reliable. On the day of Charles Warner’s execution, for example, a corrections agent picked up the drugs from the pharmacist. Both individuals “signed a chain of custody form documenting delivery,” but did not bother to fill out “any information on the type or amount of items delivered.” The agent cited “privacy concerns,” while giving no specific explanation for these concerns. But part of the problem was the form itself, which was adopted as part of Oklahoma’s new protocol and “removed any and all references to the drugs it was intended to track.” Again the explanation was a need to conceal the identity of the pharmacist involved — a justification that made little sense, given that the pharmacist signed the form upon handing the drugs over to the corrections agent.

Senseless secrecy also corrupted the process of acquiring the drugs. “The surreptitious manner in which the department’s general counsel obtained the drugs appears largely based on confidentiality concerns,” the report found, directly linking it to Oklahoma’s secrecy law, which conceals the identity “of all persons who participate in or administer the execution process, and persons who supply the drugs, medical supplies, or medical equipment for the execution.” Moreover, to avoid “accidental disclosure” of drug suppliers’ identities, Oklahoma law also makes the purchase of execution drugs exempt from state purchasing laws — eliminating, among other things, requirements for written records.

In its recommendations, the grand jury calls for restoring internal documentation of the way drugs are ordered and obtained. “There should be no question about which drugs are being purchased or what is entering the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for purposes of executions.”

Yet in recommending that Oklahoma revise its execution procedures and consider approving potassium acetate for use, the report also suggests that the grand jury retains undue confidence in the state’s ability to carry out lethal injection. The grand jury also recommends that the state take advantage of a new law authorizing nitrogen gas for executions, saying that research suggests it would be “quick and seemingly painless.”

For now, all executions remain on hold in Oklahoma. While the state continues to tinker with its death machinery, advocates for Richard Glossip point to the grand jury report as yet another reason why his execution must not go forward, period. As Glossip’s defense attorney told reporters last week, “It is apparent that Oklahoma’s flawed system nearly caused the execution of an innocent man.”

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The post Oklahoma’s Insane Rush to Execute appeared first on The Intercept.

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