During much of her three years awaiting trial in New York’s Rikers Island jail, Candie Hailey was locked in a solitary confinement cell ventilated by a mold-covered air duct. The purpose of the vent was, of course, to pump fresh air into her 6-by-10-foot concrete room, but the mold infestation instead added to an array of hazards and discomforts that made her life unbearable at Rikers, where she made multiple attempts at suicide. “There was big, dark, gray, blackish mildew around the air vent and that’s where the air was coming from,” Hailey told me. “It’s what I was inhaling — it smelled like death.”
Hailey, who says she developed persisting asthma as a result of mold exposure, described overall conditions at Rikers that were so punishing not even the guards — who spent only a fraction of their time in the building — could withstand them. Hailey says that one officer implored her to complain to authorities about the conditions, as the employee feared she would be punished for doing so herself.
“‘Please call 311 or somebody,’” Hailey recalled a guard telling her. “That’s how bad it was.”
Hailey’s and her guards’ experiences are not unique to New York’s infamous island jail. On the issue of hazardous mold alone, numerous prison employees across the country have asserted that they cannot bear even their limited exposure to a condition that inmates must live with day in and day out, according to workplace safety complaints submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. During a one-year period ending January 15 of this year, OSHA received 81 workplace safety complaints regarding mold in penal institutions across the United States.
Citing alleged hazards at county jails, state penitentiaries, federal prisons, administrative offices, and youth centers, the grievances vary widely, but dozens of them adhere to the common theme that employees of jails and prisons fear for their health as a consequence of hazardous mold. One complaint, for instance, asserts that mold in air ducts in a state “minors unit” in Maricopa County, Arizona, poses a risk to the workers at the facility. A complaint regarding the county jail in Albany, New York, states that several “employees have respiratory ailments. There is no documentation of vents being cleaned.” One complaint from a San Diego federal prison flatly asserts that black mold at the facility is “currently making the employees sick.”
Some of the workplace complaints also note that hazardous mold conditions are making inmates sick.
Three separate complaints cite the GEO Group, a leading private prison corporation, for alleged mold violations at sites across the country. “Mold throughout building,” reads one occupational complaint regarding a GEO-run state prison in Milledgeville, Georgia. Another complaint against the GEO Group regarding a federal detention center in Texas states: “Mold found in housing 2, 3 and file area exposing employees to health issues.”
Multiple media reports have accused the GEO Group of housing inmates in substandard conditions in facilities contracted with local, state, and federal authorities. In 2007, an inmate at a GEO Group prison in Texas slashed his own throat, leaving behind notes that decried conditions such as “floors and walls covered in mold,” according to the Texas Tribune.
The OSHA documents contain no information about whether the individual complaints were judged to have merit or how they were resolved. In response to questions from The Intercept, OSHA said that it had responded to two of the complaints about the GEO Group’s facilities in Texas and that the two complaints did not meet all requirements for a formal complaint. The agency said it had no further records relating to the Milledgeville, Georgia, filing. The GEO Group did not respond to questions from The Intercept about the complaints and its policies regarding prison mold.
Hazardous mold tends to grow in humid spaces that are poorly ventilated, and aging facilities that warehouse prisoners in close quarters appear to be prime real estate for mold growth. Over the past two decades, researchers have linked the presence of excess mold to a number of health problems. In 2009, the World Health Organization asserted that the most significant effects of mold exposure “are increased prevalences of respiratory symptoms, allergies and asthma, as well as perturbation of the immunological system.”
Local news reports from around the country indicate that the OSHA complaints capture only a portion of such concerns. Employees at Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, for instance, have recently voiced concerns about workplace health issues stemming from an alleged mold infestation, which the jail administration has denied. The jail was not cited in the OSHA complaints obtained by The Intercept. “You definitely feel it the first few hours you walk in the door,” said one of the jail’s employees, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation for speaking to the press. The employee said that one area of the jail was particularly infested, and some workers had developed health problems from their exposure. “These are people without ever before having allergies, and they’re suddenly getting irritable eyes, trouble breathing, scratchy throat, sneezing and coughing,” the employee said of co-workers.
Several of the OSHA mold complaints allege that prison workers are subjected to “sick building syndrome,” a term used to describe a structure that has become so infested with chemical or biological pathogens that the entire building seemingly becomes a vector of allergy-like health symptoms, ailments, and discomfort.
Hailey and others have described similar conditions on Rikers Island. Hailey said the ailing building itself felt like another form of punishment meted out to inmates as well as all the jail’s visitors. “It’s torture for us, but you’re also punishing the doctors, the officers, and the other staff who have to be there,” said Hailey, who after three years in jail was ultimately found not guilty on charges of attempted murder. “It’s like an abandoned building, but it’s filled with people.”
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Während sich die katholischen Hilfswerke und Die Linke mit Nachdruck zum Einsatz für Flüchtlinge bekennen, rufen kirchliche Würdenträger aus Syrien dazu auf, die Sanktionen gegen ihr Land unverzüglich aufzuheben und die Bevölkerung nicht länger auszuhungern. -
Von RÜDIGER GÖBEL, 28. Mai 2016 -
Unter dem Motto „Seht, da ist der Mensch“ findet in Leipzig der 100. Katholikentag statt. Die katholischen Hilfswerke bekennen sich dort nachdrücklich zur Hilfe für Flüchtlinge. Die Kirche verstehe sich „aus der Botschaft Jesu heraus als Anwältin der Schutzbedürftigen“, heißt es in einer gemeinsamen Erklärung von Misereor, Adveniat, Renovabis, Missio, Caritas international und des Kindermissionswerks „Die Sternsinger“. „Beim Einsatz
A federal grand jury charged a 26-year old Virginia taxi driver with helping provide support for terrorists after he transported one of his associates, a would-be member of Islamic State, 90 minutes to the airport.
The cabbie, Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, was also charged with making false statements to federal agents. He faces up to 48 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines — more than twice the maximum of 20 years faced by the budding terrorist he transported.
The charges raise questions over the government’s use of informants, three of whom were involved in Elhassan’s case, at least one of them paid. They also underline questions over how involved Elhassan really was in a terrorism plot.
Federal prosecutors say that, before driving aspiring ISIS member Joseph Hassan Farrokh to the airport, Elhassan introduced Farrokh to people Elhassan believed would assist Farrokh in traveling to join Islamic State. Elhassan later lied to FBI agents about where Farrokh was going and how, the government claims.
Farrokh, 28, pled guilty to material support charges this March. Elhassan’s case, meanwhile, has been presented in the press as part of a straightforward prosecution of homegrown terrorism. But the terms of the criminal complaint against him cast doubts on the extent of his complicity.
According to the complaint, no one involved with the case was ever actually in touch with Islamic State, only with the three informants who helped snare Farrokh and implicate Elhassan. While Farrokh, 28, seems to have desired to travel abroad and fight with ISIS, making several belligerent statements to that effect, that goal did not appear to have appealed to Elhassan, who told Farrokh that Farrokh was an “extremist.”
Farrokh was initially reached by a government informant through Elhassan. The informant, a former acquaintance of Elhassan’s, began contacting Elhassan to tell him that he had a “message” for Farrokh, suggesting that he would be able to help him link up with others to facilitate Farrokh’s travel abroad. This man was a paid government informant who had begun cooperating to receive favorable treatment on separate criminal charges.
After connecting with Farrokh, the informant introduced him to another man, also a government informant, who later introduced him to yet another man, who was also government informant, all of whom assured Farrokh (against his openly expressed doubts) that they could be trusted and would help get him to Syria.
Farrokh spent a lot of time with the informants over the next several months, planning his travel and saying he hoped to later bring his family to Syria. At the suggestion of the informants, Farrokh even pledged an oath of allegiance to the leader of ISIS, despite expressing that he “did not understand why he needed to give it here.”
At the close of one conversation with the informants, he told them that he had been asking God to help him get to Syria for over a year, and that they had “made him very happy.”
On January 1st, the informant Elhassan had known previously contacted him. In a recorded conversation, Elhassan allegedly confessed that he knew that Farrokh was planning to leave the country to join ISIS, and that he knew Farrokh had lied to his family by telling them that he was going to Saudi Arabia to study. Elhassan also expressed his own anxieties about the situation, saying that “he didn’t want to see Farrokh go to prison” and adding that he had forwarded Farrokh an article about another government sting operation that had targeted a man in upstate New York.
Two weeks later, Farrokh packed his bags and prepared to depart the United States on a flight to Jordan. The car he took to reach the vicinity of Richmond International Airport was a taxi, driven by Elhassan. The two men spent roughly two hours together before Farrokh proceeded on his own to the airport terminal. Its not known what they discussed in this time.
After Farrokh checked-in at the airport, cleared security, and proceeded to his departure gate, he was arrested by FBI agents.
That same afternoon, FBI agents contacted Elhassan, who consented to be interviewed. According to the complaint, Elhassan told them that he believed Farrokh had been traveling within the United States for family reasons. When asked which airport Farrokh used, the complaint states that Elhassan “hesitated,” and then told them Farrokh had flown from a different airport than he actually had.
Elhassan was then arrested.
Even accepting the government at its word, the alleged plot seems to have involved Elhassan in a very marginal capacity, if at all, while the number of informants in the case exceeded the number of supposed conspirators. Elhassan now faces the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence, based primarily on Farrokh’s conversations with several government informants, and on Elhassan’s taxi drive with Farrokh to the vicinity of the airport.
In the days following Elhassan’s arrest, his lawyer at the time, Ashraf Nubani, said that the men had been the victims of public hysteria over ISIS, as well as the overzealous use of informants by the government. “I think it’s unfortunate that in the media and public discourse we allow these cases to be dictated by the position of the government,” he told WTVR. “They had three informants in this case that were looking for people to get in trouble.”
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When Hillary Clinton’s son-in-law sought funding for his new hedge fund in 2011, he found financial backing from one of the biggest names on Wall Street: Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein.
The fund, called Eaglevale Partners, was founded by Chelsea Clinton’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, and two of his partners. Blankfein not only personally invested in the fund, but allowed his association with it to be used in the fund’s marketing.
The investment did not turn out to be savvy business decision. Earlier this month, Mezvinsky was forced to shutter one of the investment vehicles he launched under Eaglevale, called Eaglevale Hellenic Opportunity, after losing 90 percent of its money betting on the Greek recovery. The flagship Eaglevale fund has also lost money, according to the New York Times.
There has been minimal reporting on the Blankfein investment in Eaglevale Partners, which is a private fund that faces few disclosure requirements. At a campaign rally in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, I attempted to ask Hillary Clinton if she knew the amount that Blankfein invested in her son-in-law’s fund.
Watch the video:
After repeated attempts on the rope line, I asked the Clinton campaign traveling press secretary Nick Merrill, who said, “I don’t know, has it been reported?” and said he would get in touch with me over email. I sent the question but have not heard a response back.
The decision for Blankfein to invest in Hillary Clinton’s son-in-law’s company is just one of many ways Goldman Sachs has used its wealth to forge a tight bond with the Clinton family. The company paid Hillary Clinton $675,000 in personal speaking fees, paid Bill Clinton $1,550,000 in personal speaking fees, and donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. At a time when Goldman Sachs directly lobbied Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the company routinely partnered with the Clinton Foundation for events, even convening a donor meeting for the foundation at the Goldman Sachs headquarters in Manhattan.
Clinton has dodged questions about her relationship with Goldman Sachs throughout the campaign. In January, we were the first to ask Clinton if she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. She responded by laughing and turning away. Since our question, other media outlets, including the New York Times editorial board, have called on Clinton to release the transcripts.
Clinton at times tried to conflate the money she received with campaign finance donations to Barack Obama — though the issues are separate; Obama never personally profited from paid speeches before running for president.
Clinton most recently said she would only release the transcripts if Bernie Sanders and her Republican opponents also reveal transcripts of their paid speeches. Disclosures show Sanders made $1,867.42 from two paid speeches and a television appearance last year, and donated the money to a nonprofit in Vermont that assists low-income families.
- Hillary Clinton Laughs When Asked if She Will Release Transcripts of Her Goldman Sachs Speeches
- Hillary Clinton Won’t Say if She’ll Release Transcripts of Goldman Sachs Speeches
- Hillary Clinton Again Declines to Disclose What She Told Big Banks in Her Paid Speeches
- Hillary Clinton Made More in 12 Speeches to Big Banks Than Most of Us Earn in a Lifetime
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While President Obama called for a “moral awakening” in Hiroshima and restated his ambition for a nuclear-weapon free future, back in Washington, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., criticized him for moving forward with a costly plan to renovate the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“The U.S. cannot preach nuclear temperance from a bar stool,” Markey wrote in a Boston Globe opinion piece.
Obama’s Hiroshima speech was reminiscent of the one he gave in Prague, only three months into his presidency, when he announced that he would “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
In 2010, he negotiated a treaty that limited the U.S. and Russia to 1,550 deployed, strategic nuclear weapons each.
But that was as far as he would go. Obama is set to maintain the U.S. arsenal of 1,528 deployed warheads — almost half of which are on 30-minute alert — despite a 2013 White House assessment that he could safely reduce the U.S. arsenal by a third.
Obama is also pushing for a $1 trillion effort to replace the U.S.’s entire stock of long-range strike bombers, cruise missiles, nuclear submarines, and land-based missiles – which experts have said is sure to cause an arms race.
Markey attacked the modernization program on the Senate floor on Thursday. “The United States must take the lead,” Markey said, “instead of wasting billions of dollars on dangerous new nuclear weapons that do nothing to keep our nation safe.”
Markey also promoted a measure he introduced to delay the procurement of the new nuclear cruise missile, which he called a destabilizing and “dangerous new weapon.”
Erica Fein, nuclear policy expert with Women’s Action for New Directions, said it was courageous for Markey to “call out [his] party leader, something only a handful of other Democrats have been willing to do on this topic.”
Last month, Republicans on the House Armed Services committee lined up to kill a measure that would require the Congressional Budget Office to simply estimate the modernization’s cost over three decades.
But last week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., broke ranks with his own party, calling the new generation of submarines “very, very, very expensive,” and questioning “do we even need the entire Triad given this situation,” at an event at the Brookings Institution.
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Wells Fargo’s sordid practice of steering minorities into exploitative mortgages burst into public view after the housing crash in 2008. But to a black business group the bank has partnered with — by donating nearly half a million dollars — it’s ancient history.
The U.S. Black Chambers (USBC), an organization dedicated to growing black business, has been collaborating on programs with Wells Fargo since 2014.
But a Wells Fargo-sponsored USBC luncheon held last week was a bridge too far for some observers.
The lunch discussion was titled: “From Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter, the Movement Continues.” One panelist was DeRay Mckesson, a former candidate for mayor in Baltimore and a high-profile Black Lives Matter activist. The Wells Fargo branding was prominent.
The event drew scorn from people incensed that black activism would be linked with Wells Fargo. Dwayne David Paul, a minister at St. Peter’s University in New Jersey, tweeted: “Liberal reformist politics in a nutshell. ‘Black liberation brought to you by orgs that prey upon Black folk.'”
Indiana-based writer Fredrik DeBoer drew attention to the event in a post on Facebook, writing, “this is why I drink.”
Mckesson, who spoke on the panel with Ron Busby, the president and CEO of U.S. Black Chambers, tweeted in response: “I didn’t make/approve this graphic & Wells Fargo didn’t sponsor/pay me. You want a conspiracy here & there is none.”
But the event’s organizers made no such effort to distance themselves from Wells Fargo. In interviews with The Intercept, two board members for the U.S. Black Chambers offered Wells Fargo, without prompting, as an example of a beneficial corporate partner.
And asked about the bank’s accusations of discriminatory lending, USBC board chairman Aubry Stone defended Wells Fargo. “Obviously, they’re trying to do the right thing,” he said. “There were a lot of people caught up in that scenario, some on purpose, some by accident.”
Wells Fargo has donated to USBC since at least 1999. Its donations have been used to give grants to black chambers of commerce, including the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City, KS, and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce in Fresno, CA. Funding has also been used to create webinars on getting loans and to support the Black Male Entrepreneur Institute.
To Stone, the bank is not entirely responsible for the predatory loans made to minority customers: “See, one of the things that is really important to understand and get the slant is that, when someone buys another company, you buy their liability and a lot of that happened in that period, so they inherited a lot of bad paper,” he said. Stone was referring to Wells Fargo’s merger with Northwest Corporation in 1998 and its acquisition of Wachovia in 2008. “So it wasn’t necessarily them doing it. They inherited a lot of bad paper.”
But it was Wells Fargo itself, not any of the banks it merged with, that came under fire in Baltimore, for instance, for targeting black communities, and referring to subprime lending as “ghetto loans” and to blacks as “mud people” — not Wachovia or Northwest.
Wells Fargo has paid millions of dollars in settlements over its practices that contributed to the U.S. housing crisis. Notably, in a 2012 Justice Department settlement, the bank agreed to pay $184 million in relief to borrowers the government alleged “were steered into subprime mortgages or who paid higher fees and rates than white borrowers because of their race or national origin.”
The Justice Department’s investigation found 34,000 cases where black and Hispanic customers were charged with higher fees and rates on mortgages than white customers with similar economic statuses, according to Reuters.
For Antwanye Ford, a U.S. Black Chambers board member and owner of a Washington, D.C.-based technology consulting firm, the partnership helps the organization make sure Wells Fargo keeps giving loans to black businesses. He said Well Fargo provides the organizations with statistics about how many black business owners are getting loans.
Kerwin Brown, another board member, said he does not recall seeing such statistics. Brown is the chairman of the board at the Black Chamber of Arizona, another organization that takes donations from Wells Fargo. He said that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending is not something he’s thought about recently. He also said he cannot remember the issue ever coming up at a board meeting. “We obviously have a very good relationship with our corporate sponsors,” he said.
“It’s interesting,” Ford said, “because we try to hold them accountable by saying, ‘We understand you’ve given us funding, but we want to see lending to black-owned businesses going out.’ I think for us, it’s important for them to talk about all of the lending. Have they been increasing lending? So they’ll let us know: ‘Hey, we’ve given this many businesses loans’ and we want to hear the statistics and they’ve been providing that to the board.”
Ford added: “We understand they’re getting better, but I think we want to hold them accountable for that.”
Wells Fargo has given $314,000 to USBC in the two years since the organizations became partners, according to a Wells Fargo spokesperson. That’s a big chunk of USBC’s annual budget, which was $1.3 million in 2014, according to filings with the IRS.
On the same day as USBC’s Black Lives Matter luncheon, Wells Fargo announced it was donating another $180,000 to the organization. A National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Twitter account praised the bank, posting: “thrilled to see our partners going further together!”
The NAACP filed lawsuits in 2007 against Wells Fargo and other banks accusing them of violating the Fair Housing and Equal Credit Opportunity Acts, as well as racial discrimination, but the organization dropped its claims against Wells Fargo in 2010. The next year, the two groups opened a financial literacy center together in Washington, D.C.
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US-Präsident Barack Obama hat bei einem historischen Besuch in Hiroshima für eine Welt ohne Atomwaffen geworben. „Wir müssen Lehren aus Hiroshima ziehen“, sagte Obama in der japanischen Stadt, die vor 71 Jahren von einer amerikanischen Atombombe zerstört wurde. Es war der erste Besuch eines US-Präsidenten am Mahnmal in Hiroshima. Wie zuvor angekündigt entschuldigte sich Obama nicht für die verheerende Zerstörung im August 1945.
An der Gedenkstätte im Friedenspark in der japanischen Großstadt legte Obama einen Kranz mit weißen Blumen nieder. Er schloss kurz die Augen. An seiner Seite stand Japans Regierungschef Shinzo Abe, der ebenfalls einen Kranz niederlegte und sich zu
Die Gruppe der sieben großen Industrienationen (G7) verstärkt den Druck auf Russland und China. Zum Abschluss ihres Gipfels im japanischen Ise-Shima drohten die Staats- und Regierungschefs am Freitag dem russischen Präsidenten Wladimir Putin wegen des anhaltenden Konflikts in der Ukraine mit neuen Sanktionen. Auch schalteten sie sich in den Territorialstreit im Südchinesischen Meer ein, indem sie eine „friedliche Beilegung“ forderten.
Zur Bewältigung der Flüchtlingskrise, im Kampf gegen den internationale Terrorismus und Cyberangriffe kündigte die Siebener-Gruppe energische Maßnahmen an. Dem vom Zerfall bedrohten Irak werden die reichen Industrienationen mit einer Finanzspritze von 3,2 Milliarden Euro beim Wiederaufbau zu helfen, um damit, so
In a unanimous ruling released Thursday, the California Supreme Court overturned the 1997 conviction of Bill Richards for the murder of his wife, Pamela, finding that false forensic testimony had impacted the outcome of his trial. “Needless to say, we are thrilled,” said Richards’s attorney Jan Stiglitz, a founder of the California Innocence Project, which has represented Richards for the last 15 years. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Richards’s controversial conviction for Pamela’s grisly 1993 murder has long been considered a clear case of wrongful conviction that was based on the discredited science of bite-mark analysis. Indeed, it took the state four attempts to convict Richards — two full trials ended in a hung jury and a third ended in a mistrial during jury selection — and prosecutors were successful only after putting on the stand a legendary forensic dentist who testified that Richards’s highly unique lower dentition was a match for a bite mark found on Pamela’s hand. The dentist, Norman “Skip” Sperber, told the jury that based on his 40-plus years in the field, he could say that out of 100 people, only “one or two or less” would have the same “unique feature” in their lower teeth.
In fact, however, Sperber was wrong. In 2008 he recanted his testimony, saying that he had cited statistics that lacked scientific support and never should have done so, “because it’s inappropriate to cite percentages or things resembling percentages unless there has been some prior scientific study” to back up the assertion. Based on Sperber’s recantation (and that of another dentist, Greg Golden, who testified for the defense, along with additional testimony about new DNA evidence that matched an unknown male), a district judge in 2009 said that the evidence now before the court pointed “unerringly” to Richards’s innocence.
The state appealed that decision and in 2012 the California Supreme Court agreed, knocking down the trial court’s ruling. The decision, which split the justices 4-3 in favor of upholding Richards’s conviction, was tortured: In a decision that was derided as the worst of the year by California Lawyer magazine, the court ruled that expert testimony was merely opinion and therefore could never be considered true or false.
In response, California lawmakers amended the state’s penal code with a measure known as the Bill Richards Bill. That law, which allowed Richards to again appeal his case, made clear that a conviction could be overturned based on an expert recantation or when the science underlying the original testimony had changed.
This time around, the entire court agreed that Sperber’s testimony was false, the bite-mark evidence was material to the case, and there was a reasonable probability that the evidence had impacted the outcome of Richards’s trial. The court noted that aside from the alleged bite mark, there was only circumstantial evidence to suggest Richards had killed his wife — and in its analysis the court seems to have concluded that none of it was particularly persuasive.
It was clear that Pamela had struggled violently with her attacker, for example, but Richards showed no sign of being injured on the night his wife was murdered. The court found that “unusual.” Investigators found no foreign footprints at the murder scene, but that was “not remarkable,” given the desert landscape of the couple’s rural San Bernardino County property. Police said they were immediately suspicious of Richards in part because he was able to identify for them a concrete block and a paving stone that were used to bludgeon his wife — but that too wasn’t exactly persuasive of guilt, since the bloody items were found near her body. “Accordingly, with the exception of the bite-mark evidence, the defense had a substantial response to much of the prosecution’s evidence against [Richards],” the court concluded. “Under these unique circumstances, it is reasonably probable that the false evidence presented by Dr. Sperber at petitioner’s 1997 jury trial affected the outcome of that proceeding.”
The ruling is not only a victory for Richards — though the state could still decide to retry him — but it is also a victory for lawyers who work to exonerate the wrongly convicted. The Richards case was the first test of California’s junk-science statute, which is only the second such law in the country (Texas’s came first). The court’s plain interpretation bodes well for the future of such laws, and for the wrongfully convicted, who face a particularly brutal legal climate in California.
Generally, in order to obtain relief, a wrongfully convicted inmate in California must present a state court with new evidence that “points unerringly to innocence” — an almost impossibly high standard. Not even DNA evidence from some unknown person collected from the murder weapons and from Pamela’s fingernails was enough to vacate Richards’s conviction. The new junk-science statute “makes for an easier path in any situation where the conviction was based on discredited science,” Stiglitz said in a brief interview shortly after the court’s ruling was released.
Experts say that Richards’s case is a prime example of the dangers of allowing junk science into evidence in the first place. Richards’s “wrongful conviction was preventable,” wrote Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project, in an email to The Intercept. “The bite-mark evidence should never have been introduced in the first instance.” Nationally, he said, Richards is the third bite-mark conviction overturned in the last eight months, “and demonstrates, once again, that any conviction resting on bite-mark evidence is inherently unreliable.”
Michael Bowers, a Ventura, California, lawyer and forensic dentist — and longtime critic of bite-mark evidence — noted that Richards’s case “emphasizes the dangers invalidated forensic examiners and bite-mark opinions create for innocent criminal defendants.” And he suspects that, in part, the case will serve as a potent example of why the “use of inadequately researched methods like bite marks” should cease in criminal prosecutions.
The California Supreme Court’s ruling kicks the case back to San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos, who will now have 60 days to decide whether his office will seek to try Richards for the fifth time. A spokesperson for the office did not immediately reply to an email from The Intercept seeking comment. For now, Richards will be released from state prison and moved to the custody of local law enforcement in San Bernardino County pending the DA’s decision.
- How the Flawed Science of Bite-Mark Analysis Imprisoned a Man for Murder
- Junk Science on Trial in Bill Richards Bite-Mark Appeal
- Viva 4N6: In Las Vegas, Embattled Forensic Experts Respond to Scandals and Flawed Convictions
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A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.
If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs—most commonly information about the name, address, and call information associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.
Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.
The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of its provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”
Wyden did not disclose exactly what the provision would allow, but his spokesman suggested it might go beyond email records to things like web-surfing histories and other information about online behavior. “Senator Wyden is concerned it could be read that way,” Keith Chu said.
It’s unclear how or when the provision was added, although Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C, —the committee’s chairman—and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have both offered bills in the past that would address what the FBI calls a gap and privacy advocates consider a serious threat to civil liberties.
“At this point, it should go without saying that the information the FBI wants to include in the statue is extremely revealing—URLS, for example, may reveal the content of a website that users have visited, their location, and so on,” Andrew Crocker, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in an email to The Intercept.
“And it’s particularly sneaky because this bill is debated behind closed doors,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, said in an interview.
In February, FBI Director James Comey testified during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats that the FBI’s inability to get email records with NSLs was a “typo”—and that fixing it was one of the FBI’s top legislative priorities .
Greene warned at the time: “Unless we push back against Comey now, before you know it, the long slow push for an [Electronic Communications Transactional Records] fix may just be unstoppable.”
The FBI used to think that it was in fact allowed to get email records with NSLs, and did so routinely until the Justice Department under George W. Bush told the FBI they had interpreted their powers over broadly.
Ever since then, the FBI has tried to get that power and been rejected, including during negotiations over the USA Freedom Act.
The FBI’s power to issue NSLs is actually derived from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act—a 1986 law that Congress is currently working to update to incorporate more protections for electronic communications – not fewer. The House unanimously passed the Email Privacy Act in late April, while the Senate is due to vote on its version this week.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., is expected to offer an amendment that would mirror the provision in the intelligence bill.
Privacy advocates warn that adding it to the broadly supported reform effort would backfire.
“If [the provision] is added to ECPA, it’ll kill the bill,” Gabe Rottman, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s freedom, security, and technology project wrote in an email to The Intercept. “If it passes independently, it’ll create a gaping loophole. Either way, it’s a big problem and a massive expansion of government surveillance authority.”
NSLs have a particularly controversial history. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine in 2008 blasted the FBI for using NSLs supported by weak evidence and documentation to collect information on Americans, some of which “implicated the target’s First Amendment rights.”
“NSLs have a sordid history. They’ve been abused in a number of ways, including… targeting of journalists, and…use to collect an essentially unbounded amount of information,” Crocker wrote.
One thing that makes them particularly easy to abuse is that recipients of NSLs are subject to a gag order that forbids them from revealing the letters’ existence to anyone, much less the public.
[This story has been updated to provide a comment from Wyden’s office.]
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In January, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon delivered a speech to the Security Council about, as he put it, violence “in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory,” noting that “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation” and that “it is human nature to react to occupation.” His use of the word “occupation” was not remotely controversial because multiple U.N. Security Resolutions, such as 446 (adopted unanimously in 1979 with 3 abstentions), have long declared Israel the illegal “occupying power” in the West Bank and Gaza. Unsurprisingly, newspapers around the world – such as the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the BBC, the LA Times – routinely and flatly describe Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza in their news articles as what it is: an occupation.
In fact, essentially the entire world recognizes the reality of Israeli occupation with the exception of a tiny sliver of extremists in Israel and the U.S. That’s why Chris Christie had to grovel in apology to GOP billionaire and Israel-devoted fanatic Sheldon Adelson when the New Jersey Governor neutrally described having seen the “occupied territories” during a trip he took to Israel. But other than among those zealots, the word is simply a fact, used without controversy under the mandates of international law, the institutions that apply it, and governments on every continent on the planet.
But not the New York Times. They are afraid to use the word. In a NYT article today by Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman on the imminent conflict over Israel and Palestine between Sanders-appointed and Clinton-appointed members of the Democratic Party Platform Committee, this grotesque use of scare quotes appears:
A bitter divide over the Middle East could threaten Democratic Party unity as representatives of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.
Two of the senator’s appointees to the party’s platform drafting committee, Cornel West and James Zogby, on Wednesday denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government. They said they would try to get their views incorporated into the platform, the party’s statement of core beliefs, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.
The refusal to use the word occupation without scare quotes is one of the most cowardly editorial decisions the New York Times has made since refusing to use the word “torture” because the Bush administration denied its validity (a decision they reversed only when President Obama in 2014 gave them permission to do so by using the word himself). This is journalistic malfeasance at its worst: refusing to describe the world truthfully out of fear of the negative reaction by influential factions (making today’s article even stranger is that a NYT article from February on settlers’ use of Airbnb referred to “illegal settler outpost deep in the occupied West Bank”). And the NYT‘s editorial decision raises this question, posed this morning by one man in the West Bank:
— A Man In The Sun (@AManInTheSun) May 26, 2016
The cowardice of the NYT regarding Israel is matched only by the Clinton campaign’s. Clinton has repeatedly vowed to move the U.S. closer not only to Israel but also to its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Pandering to Israel – vowing blind support for its government – is a vile centerpiece of her campaign.
The changes to the Democratic Party platform proposed by Bernie Sanders’ appointees such as Cornel West, Keith Ellison and James Zogby – which Israel-supporting Clinton appointees such as Neera Tanden and Wendy Sherman are certain to oppose – are incredibly mild, including echoing the international consensus in condemning the Israeli occupation. As the Israeli writer Noam Sheizaf put it this morning, the NYT’s use of scare quotes is “just as pathetic as the Democratic fear that their platform would actually say Palestinians deserve civil rights.”
This craven posture is particularly appalling as Israel just this week has taken an even harder turn toward extremism, prompting its former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, to warn that Israel has been “infected by the seeds of fascism.” While the former Israeli Prime Minister issues warnings that grave, establishment Democrats are petrified of even the most tepid stances.
But Democratic Party cowardice on Israel is nothing new. In 2003, the pre-lobbyist-money-infected Howard Dean was publicly mauled by top Democrats – led by Nancy Pelosi – for the crime of saying the U.S. should be “even-handed” in its attempts to forge a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Even worse was the disgraceful scene from their 2008 Convention: the Platform Committee had omitted any reference to “God” and, worse, had decide not to say that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. Obama campaign officials were eager to rectify this blasphemy, so arranged for an “amendment” to the Platform to be introduced to the full Convention, which required 2/3 approval from the delegates. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came to the podium to ask delegates to vote, it was obvious that the majority was opposed. Confused and bewildered at the refusal of delegates to obey the script of party leaders, he asked for a vote three separate times, and on the third time, even when it was clear that they did not have the votes, he simply lied and proclaimed the pro-Israel and pro-God amendment passed with 2/3 approval:
That is the level of Orwellian distortion needed to maintain the blatantly false narratives about Israel that have prevailed for so long as bipartisan U.S. orthodoxy. As today’s article demonstrates, the New York Times not only submits to that propagandistic orthodoxy but plays a leading role in sustaining it.
* * * * *
For anyone who wants to claim that Israel only occupies the West Bank but not Gaza (a point irrelevant to the critique in this article), see this outstanding two-minute video.
UPDATE: After publication of this article, the NYT edited their own to remove the scare quotes around “occupation,” though did so quietly, with no editorial explanation or note. The original version, however, appeared on A1 of this morning’s print edition.
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Uber is a traditional employer recruiting employees. Or Uber is a non-employer facilitating the work of independent contractors. Or Uber is a technology company supplying an app to small businesses.
It depends on which lawsuit you read. The company, valued at over $62 billion, changes its description of what it does depending on what best allows it to avoid regulatory scrutiny.
In a series of cases over the past year, Uber has denied that the roughly 400,000 people who work as Uber drivers — and are paid by Uber for those services — are employees of the company. The company took that position in numerous class-action lawsuits in California, Massachusetts, and Florida.
The California Labor Commission ruled last June that an Uber driver is an employee, however, and therefore entitled to benefits under labor law like reimbursement for expenses and overtime pay. The class actions in California and Massachusetts settled for $100 million, with the company agreeing to policy changes around deactivating drivers and recognizing a “Driver’s Association” to bring complaints of drivers to the company’s management.
But a separate spate of lawsuits, the most recent released this week, accuse Uber of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by text-messaging advertisements without “prior express written consent.” The text messages say things like “You’re invited to drive Uber. No schedule. No boss. Sign up now and get a $500 bonus.”
In these cases, Uber consistently claims that they are not sending ads, but offers of employment, which don’t require written consent. That would make Uber an employer seeking workers.
That argument has met with success. In one suit dismissed last July, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar ruled that “Uber is primarily a transportation business that provides ride services, not a technology business,” and that their text messages were “an attempt to recruit drivers so that those potential drivers could provide services to riders.”
So Uber is an employer when trying to wriggle away from unsolicited advertising laws, but not an employer when trying to wriggle away from labor laws.
A third type of court case argues that, if Uber’s drivers are independent contractors, the company is guilty of fixing prices among competitors, as all the contractors charge the same rate for rides, based on an algorithm managed by Uber.
In this antitrust case, Uber calls itself a software company, supplying an app that drivers can use to find fares. “Uber is not a transportation company and does not employ drivers to directly provide transportation services,” Uber claimed in its motion to dismiss. That motion to dismiss was denied.
A recent study from New York University researchers found that Uber heavily monitors the activities of its drivers, setting the payment rates, performance targets, and a review process through the use of customer ratings. These represent a digital version of the typical manager/worker relationship. “The company produces what many reasonable observers would define as a managed labor force,” said researcher Alex Rosenblat, who conducted the study with Luke Stark.
Uber officials would probably agree with this — if they were trying to avoid fines for unsolicited text messages. They wouldn’t, if they were trying to avoid fines for uncompensated employees or price-fixing among contractors.
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