Friday, February 27, 2009

TSA: Mule skinners need background checks, too

The strict adherence to multitudes of regulations results in needless bureaucracy. The state creates needless hurdles to human cooperation, all the while justifying itself in the name of safety.

TSA: Mule skinners need background checks, too
By Mike M. Ahlers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal anti-terror law that requires longshoremen, truckers and others to submit to criminal background checks has ensnared another class of transportation worker -- mule drivers.

Yes, so-called mule skinners -- in this case, seasonal workers who dress in colonial garb at a historical park in Easton, Pa. -- must apply for biometric Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC), according to the Transportation Security Administration, which says it is bound by federal law.

The requirement has officials of the Hugh Moore Historical Park perplexed.

"We have one boat. It's pulled by two mules. On a good day they might go 2 miles per hour," said Sarah B. Hays, the park's director of operations.

The park's two-mile canal does not pass any military bases, nuclear power plants or other sensitive facilities. And, park officials say, the mules could be considered weapons of mass destruction only if they were aimed at something resembling food.

In December, Hayes wrote to Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pennsylvania, about the requirement. Dent, in turn, wrote to the TSA requesting a waiver, noting the mode of transportation involved was "mule-drawn canal boats."

In January, the TSA responded, noting the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 applies to all mariners holding U.S. Coast Guard-issued credentials.

"We encourage the crew members... who possess Coast Guard mariner credentials to obtain a TWIC at their earliest convenience to comply with these requirements and not risk suspension or revocation of their other credentials," the TSA wrote.

On Wednesday, the mule skinner debate reached Capitol Hill, when Dent asked new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the necessity of conducting background checks on mule drivers. He displayed a photo of two mules, Hank and George, tugging a canal boat in the company of two park employee mule drivers in colonial working attire.

"Now Hank and George, while sometimes are ornery, they are not terrorists," Dent said. Napolitano said she would try to be flexible.

"Obviously this is a picture designed to say 'Hey, isn't it absurd that they be required to have TWIC cards.'" Napolitano said. "Um, let's work with you on this particular case, if we might."

Park officials say four or five park employees typically have Coast Guard credentials to operate the canal boat, and the extra expense of a TWIC card, which is at least an extra $100 on top of fees for Coast Guard credentials, is unwelcome.

"I think the rule was written and the policy was set up for all the big shipping, and they never even considered something outside the normal bounds," Hays said.

Dent said he will work on a "common sense" solution with Napolitano.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

The State Says It's Not Guilty

How convenient. The state has a monopoly over deciding disputes between individuals as well as individuals and the state. Why should anyone be surprised when it decides in it's own favor? Why do we put up with this crap? No person can be trusted with such a power. The state cannot be trusted either.

U.S. says Guantanamo complies with Geneva treaties
Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:56pm EST
By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay prison camp currently complies with the Geneva Conventions' standards for humane treatment, a top U.S. Navy officer concluded on Monday in a review ordered by President Barack Obama.

Vice-Admiral Patrick Walsh led a team of investigators on a 13-day visit to inspect the camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba and said he had found no violations of the Geneva treaties' ban on cruel, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The detention operation has been widely seen as a blot on the United States' human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge.

Walsh said his team interviewed more than 100 guards, interrogators, senior officers and support staff, and more than a dozen captives held at Guantanamo as suspected al Qaeda or Taliban operatives.

He acknowledged his team had not spoken to former prisoners who have claimed they were tortured, nor did they attempt to determine whether the camp had complied with the Geneva standards throughout its seven-year history.

"I was not in a position to look back," Walsh said at a Pentagon briefing. "My mandate was specifically to determine whether the camp was in compliance today, and it is."

His group made several recommendations, chiefly that captives living in one-man cells modeled after maximum-security prisons in the United States be given more opportunities for social interaction and mental stimulation, such as eating and praying with others.

He urged that camp operations be routinely videotaped to provide evidence of how captives are treated.


Walsh also urged that U.S. officials try to ease detainees' anxiety about their future, which could affect their mental health. Frustration about their future prompted some to refuse food and recreation, he said.

"The mental dimension needs to be part of the dialogue on what it takes to be humane," Walsh said.

He said Obama's January order to shut down the detention operation within a year had been posted throughout the camp and that, "Everyone knows that the camp will close."

About 240 captives remain at Guantanamo, including five accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that promoted the U.S. war on terrorism. Only one has been convicted of a crime.

U.S. courts and military review panels have cleared a few dozen others for release, including 17 members of China's Muslim Uighur minority who were cleared years ago. But they remain at the base because U.S. officials fear they would be tortured if returned to China, will not bring them to the United States and can not find another nation to take them in.

"They are very exasperated by this process," Walsh said.

Human rights groups disputed Walsh's findings that the camp was in full compliance with the requirement for humane treatment. They said most Guantanamo prisoners were still held in severe isolation and faced psychological and physical abuse and threats of violence from guards.

"They are caught in a vicious cycle where their isolation causes psychological damage, which causes them to act out, which brings more abuse and keeps them in isolation," said Pardiss Kebriaei, a staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the prisoners.

"If they are going to be there another year, or even another day, this has to end."

(Reporting by Jane Sutton, editing by Jim Loney and Patricia Zengerle)


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dentists Want State To Force Out Competitors

Regulations ultimately are used to protect certain groups from competition. Safety concerns are just pretexts for restricting the market.

Dentists wary of salon teeth-whitening treatments

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — When Kelly Markos started offering teeth whitening in her upscale salon, she thought it would be a nice addition to her lineup of eyelash extensions, temporary tattoos and custom makeup.

But then an inspector for the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners ordered her to stop, accusing her of practicing illegal dentistry.

Markos' ongoing lawsuit with the state has waded into the murky area of regulating teeth-whitening products that are increasingly offered in settings outside the dentist's office, such as salons and mall kiosks.

The dental industry claims it's a health and safety issue; the beauty parlors say the dentists are just trying to brush them out of a lucrative niche.

"As a new business owner, I'm trying to bring something new and innovative to the salon. And then to be threatened to be shut down before I really even had it going was more than a little frustrating," Markos said recently while blow-drying a customer's freshly cut hair. "I believe that this is a cosmetic service and we are on the right side of the law."

But Dr. Leslie Seldin, a dentist for 43 years and now consumer adviser and spokesman for the American Dental Association, said it's hard to know whether those bleaching trays or ultraviolet lights are sanitary or safe.

In some salons, the whitening is sometimes facilitated by people wearing white coats who hand the trays to customers to put into their own mouths or adjust the lights over their teeth.

But the ADA is worried customers might wrongly think salon employees are health care professionals.

"We do not know about what level of sterilization and disinfection is being done. You're dealing with something that is totally unregulated," Seldin said.

Many of the same products are available in stores for customers to use on themselves at home.

"What we ultimately feel this boils down to is a consumer-rights issue, because consumers should have the right to whiten their teeth any way they want to whiten their teeth as long as it's safe," said Paul Klein, vice president of White Smile USA. The Atlanta-based company licenses its whitening products to locations in 23 states, including Markos' salon.

Whitening at a salon or mall shop using bleaching trays or ultraviolet light usually costs about $100 to $200. It can cost up to $400 and more at a dentist's office.

A Montgomery judge has ruled in favor of Alabama's dental board in a lawsuit brought by White Smile USA and Markos, finding that whitening constitutes the practice of dentistry and requires a license.

Birmingham attorney Jim Ward, who represented the Alabama board in the case, said the issue is being addressed in several states, including Wyoming, Louisiana, North Carolina, Minnesota and New Mexico, and that many have reached the same conclusion as the Alabama judge.

Klein said his company has been discussed in New Mexico and Tennessee but there's never been any court involvement until Alabama.

"We feel the state is trying to use their regulatory power to protect a monopoly for the dentists, and we don't think that's right," he said.

Last month, the Tennessee Board of Dentistry, following complaints about mall kiosks, changed its rules to clarify that whitening can only be performed by licensed dentists or hygienists and dental assistants under their direct supervision.

"It's amazing — we never touch the customer's mouth, never touch the customer, period, and we don't see how that could possibly be practicing dentistry," said Klein, who was visibly agitated as he discussed the situation.

Ohio's dental board agreed with Klein last year, finding that while it does have some concerns about unregulated use of the materials, whitening by non-dentists is OK as long as consumers position the light by themselves, put the material on their own teeth, and no one else touches their mouths.

"Simply providing a consumer with the materials to make a tray and demonstrating to them how to apply materials to their teeth for bleaching purposes is not the practice of dentistry," the board said in its decision.

The ADA's Seldin said that he first saw such whitening being done on a cruise about seven years ago, but that the practice has really taken root within the past four or five years.

"The American Dental Association has a policy but that's not enforceable in any way," he said. "The dental boards and governments of states are going to have to figure out how they're going to handle it."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fight For Your Right Not To Party

The authoritarian mind sees no boundaries to their control. Not even your celebrations.

China orders Tibet to celebrate New Year

China has told Tibetans they must hold New Year celebrations after activists called for a boycott in a sign of support for the Dalai Lama.

By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Last Updated: 6:02PM GMT 24 Feb 2009

Losar, or Tibetan New Year, falls on Wednesday and is usually an occasion for feasting and communal celebration. This year, however, a growing number of Tibetans have decided to boycott the party as a silent protest.

Tenzin Taklha, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama said: "Usually it's a day of festivity and gaiety when everyone gets together. But this year it's going to be observed as a day of prayer in memory of all the Tibetans who died and all those who are still suffering under Chinese rule."

Many living overseas have already cancelled their parties, but Chinese authorities have told Tibetans at home to celebrate.

Officials have handed out 800 yuan (£80) each to nearly 70,000 poor Tibetans "to enable people in difficulty to enjoy a happy and auspicious Tibetan New Year," according to a government website.

A four-hour-long television gala has also been organised and Ma Zhaoxu, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: "Tibetans will go ahead with celebrations."

Tensions are already high in the region, and China has closed off Tibet to all foreigners, creating a news blackout. Last weekend, 24 people were arrested in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, while Chinese police said they had discovered several pounds of explosives under a bridge in the east of Tibet.

In Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in neighbouring Sichuan, hundreds of anti-riot police were seen drilling in barracks on the outskirts of the town, wearing protective clothing and carrying batons and guns.

March 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile from Tibet, and fears are growing that the events of last March, when riots broke out across Tibet, could repeat themselves.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Ban On Consensual Economic Activity A Big Failure

Embargoes hurt regular people who are then presented with fewer options being denied access to the world economy. Leaders maintain a lush lifestyle at the expense of their citizens.

Senate Report Calls Cuban Embargo A Failure
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is suggesting that the U.S. re-evaluate its trade sanctions with Cuba since they have failed to move the country toward democracy.

Senator Richard Lugar, in a written statement dated Monday, said "We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests."

During his campaign and his initial days in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama has said he would be open to meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro. While he believes the embargo does provide some leverage, Obama has said he would support easting the limits on the amount of money that can be sent to the people of Cuba by their relatives in the U.S.

Lugar's suggestion on re-evaluating the embargo is included in a new report on U.S.-Cuban relations that will be distributed to the Senate this week. The report was written by Lugar's senior staffer, Carl Meacham, who visited Cuba in January.

The report charges that the existing embargo provides the Cuban government a convenient "scapegoat" for their economic difficulties and keeps the U.S. from gaining a "broader understanding of events on the island."

"By directing policy toward an unlikely scenario of a short-term democratic transition on the island and rejecting most tools of diplomatic engagement, the U.S. is left as a powerless bystander, watching events unfold at a distance," the report states.

An end to the embargo would require congressional approval due to a 1996 law which forbids the U.S. from normalizing relations with Cuba as long as Fidel or Raúl Castro is involved in the Cuban government.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gang Forbids Victims to Protect Themselves

Notice that they insist on having their citizens unarmed. Why not allow people to arm themselves? These rapists might think twice if they know their victims might be armed. The state will not allow their citizens to be armed, because it doesn't want the competition. Besides, they want their victims to be unarmed to make them easier to control.

Italy passes emergency rape law
Italy's government has rushed through a decree law to crack down on sexual violence and illegal immigration after a spate of rapes blamed on foreigners.

The decree sets a mandatory life sentence for the rape of minors or attacks where the victim is killed.

It goes into effect immediately but must be approved by both houses of parliament within 60 days.

The number of sexual assaults fell last year, but three high-profile rapes last weekend sparked national outrage.

The decree, passed by premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government, also speeds up trials for sex offenders caught in the act, takes away the possibility of house arrest, and gives free legal assistance to victims.

It also establishes rules for citizen street patrols by unarmed and unpaid volunteers.

The move came after groups of self-styled and unregulated vigilantes began patrolling some towns, alarming law enforcement officials.

A series of rapes has shocked Italy in the last weeks and most have been blamed on foreigners, especially Romanians.

Several violent attacks on immigrants have been reported.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Monopoly Behaves Like a Monopoly

If you allow someone to monopolize an industry through force, and you give them the power to set their own price for providing this particular good or service, then this is what you can expect. Quality of the product or service will fall, while the price for it will continually rise.

City to OK water-bill surcharge
Fee will pay for court-ordered rebate checks

Last updated February 15, 2009 7:43 p.m. PT


The Seattle City Council is expected Tuesday to approve a surcharge on city water customers to help cover the cost of a $22 million court-ordered rebate to water customers.

The rebates are for fire hydrant costs that were wrongly charged to water customers. Fire hydrants are a basic city responsibility and have to be paid for from the general fund, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

Arthur Lane, a former Seattle city attorney who, together with Rud Okeson, filed about a half-dozen lawsuits against the city in recent years to protect the rights of ratepayers, called the council's move "interesting."

"It's really ironic to say the least. I think that it is something we have to explore," Lane said Friday.

Lane and Okeson won rebates for Seattle City Light customers several years ago in connection with the way streetlights were paid for. They have also challenged taxpayer spending for public art, and Seattle City Light reimbursements in connection with carbon footprints.

As a result of the latest court decision, anyone who was a Seattle Public Utilities water customer between March 2002 and December 2004 is due a refund under a court order issued in October. But current water customers will be the ones paying the bill.

Eligible water customers will get their full rebate in May or June. The surcharge and tax will be spread over 21 months.

By increasing the utility tax to cover the rebates, the city doesn't have to spend money from the general fund, which covers most other city services.

The plan, proposed by Mayor Greg Nickels, comes at a sticky time. The city just approved a water rate increase in the fall, and council members aren't anxious to add a new tax on top of it.

However, new revenue projections are expected in a few weeks, and it isn't looking good. At least $25 million might have to be cut out of the general fund budget in the spring.

Six council members attending Friday's Finance and Budget Committee meeting approved the plan to impose the surcharge. Councilman Bruce Harrell opposed the plan.

He said he wants the council to be more proactive in its approach to the budget and finding solutions.

"The easy thing would be to pass it on to the citizens. I suggest we slow it down and buy ourselves some strategic time," said Harrell.

He suggested the council take more time to figure out how to pay the bill.

"I am trying to get them to protect the citizens in the tough economy," Harrell said later.

More than $4 million of the lawsuit cost is for lawyer fees and interest that accrued while the city appealed the court decision.

Harrell said when the city was discussing water rate increases in the fall, the lawsuit and rebates didn't come up.

To keep the surcharge amount slightly lower, Seattle Public Utilities will cut about $1.5 million from its budget, likely by freezing hiring in some positions and reducing some conservation and other programs temporarily.

"Calling this a rebate is not accurate," City Council President Richard Conlin said. "The only party benefitting from this is the law firm that is going to get $4.2 million. "I have a hard time cutting $4 million out of the budget to pay these lawyer fees."


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The G in GPS May Soon Stand For Government

"One mile ahead pull to side of road. Surrender. Go to jail. You may not ask why."

Massachusetts may consider a mileage charge
By GLEN JOHNSON – 1 day ago
BOSTON (AP) — A tentative plan to overhaul Massachusetts' transportation system by using GPS chips to charge motorists a quarter-cent for every mile behind the wheel has angered some drivers.

"It's outrageous, it's kind of Orwellian, Big Brotherish," said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, who drafted legislation last week to prohibit the practice. "You'd need a whole new department of cronies just to keep track of it."

But a "Vehicle Miles Traveled" program like the one the governor may unveil this week has already been tested — with positive results — in Oregon.

Governors in Idaho and Rhode Island, as well as the federal government, also are talking about such programs. And in North Carolina, a panel suggested in December the state start charging motorists a quarter-cent for every mile as a substitute for the gas tax.

"The Big Brother issue was identified during the first meeting of the task force that developed our program," said Jim Whitty, who oversees innovation projects for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "Everything we did from that point forward, even though we used electronics, was to eliminate those concerns."

A draft overhaul transport plan prepared for Gov. Deval Patrick says implementing a Vehicle Miles Traveled system to replace the gas tax makes sense. "A user-based system, collected electronically, is a fair way to pay for our transportation needs in the future," it says.

Patrick, who had yet to settle on any of the ideas contained in the draft, told reporters last week, "I like any idea that is faster, cheaper, simpler."

The idea behind the program is simple: As cars become more fuel efficient or powered by electricity, gas tax revenues decline. Yet the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges is increasing. A state could cover that gap by charging drivers precisely for the mileage their vehicles put on public roads.

"There needs to be a new way of thinking about, `How do we pay for all of this?'" said Richard Dimino, president of A Better City, a business-friendly group that considers transportation issues.

"One of the ways is thinking about the automobile like a utility: When we turn on our automobile and use it, we would be charged like we do when we turn on the lights and we start using electricity."

In Oregon, the state paid volunteers who let the transportation department install GPS receivers in 300 vehicles. The device did not transmit a signal — which would allow real-time tracking of a driver's movements — but instead passively received satellite pings telling the receiver where it was in terms of latitude and longitude coordinates.

The state used those coordinates to determine when the vehicle was driving both within Oregon and outside the state. And it measured the respective distances through a connection with the vehicle's odometer.

When a driver pulled into a predetermined service station, the pump linked electronically with the receiver, downloaded the number of miles driven in Oregon and then charged the driver a fee based on the distance. The gas tax they would have paid was reduced by the amount of the user fee. Drivers continued to be charged gas tax for miles driven outside Oregon.

Under such systems, one of which is already used in London, drivers are charged more for entering a crowded area during rush hour than off-peak periods.

"What the mileage charge does, if it's structured properly, is simply charge for the basic responsibility of people to pay for the amount of wear they put on the state's roads," said Whitty, whose state is still considering the mechanics of broadening the program.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Surprise! The Biggest Scam Is The State

Being a member of the legal monopoly has its benefits.

A 'fraud' bigger than Madoff
By Patrick Cockburn in Sulaimaniyah, Northern Iraq
Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions

In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.

"I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad," said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.

In one case, auditors working for SIGIR discovered that $57.8m was sent in "pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr, who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money. He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud.

American federal investigators are now starting an inquiry into the actions of senior US officers involved in the programme to rebuild Iraq, according to The New York Times, which cites interviews with senior government officials and court documents. Court records reveal that, in January, investigators subpoenaed the bank records of Colonel Anthony B Bell, now retired from the US Army, but who was previously responsible for contracting for the reconstruction effort in 2003 and 2004. Two federal officials are cited by the paper as saying that investigators are also looking at the activities of Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald W Hirtle of the US Air Force, who was senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004. It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, who have both said they have nothing to hide.

The end of the Bush administration which launched the war may give fresh impetus to investigations into frauds in which tens of billions of dollars were spent on reconstruction with little being built that could be used. In the early days of the occupation, well-connected Republicans were awarded jobs in Iraq, regardless of experience. A 24-year-old from a Republican family was put in charge of the Baghdad stock exchange which had to close down because he allegedly forgot to renew the lease on its building.

In the expanded inquiry by federal agencies, the evidence of a small-time US businessman called Dale C Stoffel who was murdered after leaving the US base at Taiji north of Baghdad in 2004 is being re-examined. Before he was killed, Mr Stoffel, an arms dealer and contractor, was granted limited immunity from prosecution after he had provided information that a network of bribery – linking companies and US officials awarding contracts – existed within the US-run Green Zone in Baghdad. He said bribes of tens of thousands of dollars were regularly delivered in pizza boxes sent to US contracting officers.

So far, US officers who have been successfully prosecuted or unmasked have mostly been involved in small-scale corruption. Often sums paid out in cash were never recorded. In one case, an American soldier put in charge of reviving Iraqi boxing gambled away all the money but he could not be prosecuted because, although the money was certainly gone, nobody had recorded if it was $20,000 or $60,000.

Iraqi ministers admit the wholesale corruption of their government. Ali Allawi, the former finance minister, said Iraq was "becoming like Nigeria in the past when all the oil revenues were stolen". But there has also been a strong suspicion among senior Iraqis that US officials must have been complicit or using Iraqi appointees as front-men in corrupt deals. Several Iraqi officials given important jobs at the urging of the US administration in Baghdad were inexperienced. For instance, the arms procurement chief at the centre of the Defence Ministry scandal, was a Polish-Iraqi, 27 years out of Iraq, who had run a pizza restaurant on the outskirts of Bonn in the 1990s.

In many cases, contractors never started or finished facilities they were supposedly building. As security deteriorated in Iraq from the summer of 2003 it was difficult to check if a contract had been completed. But the failure to provide electricity, water and sewage disposal during the US occupation was crucial in alienating Iraqis from the post-Saddam regime.


Monday, February 16, 2009

All Your Base Belong To The State

The internet's golden age of freedom will soon be over...

No warrant needed to trace Internet use

TORONTO, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A judge in Canada has ruled that Internet users have no expectation of privacy and police can use track people through Internet protocols without warrants.
The ruling by Ontario Superior Court Judge Lynne Leitch is binding on lower courts, and gives law enforcement a new tool to use in investigating such matters as child pornography, the National Post reported Friday.

Ruling in a child pornography possession case, Leitch found that the Canadian Charter does not provide a "reasonable expectation of privacy" regarding subscriber information retained by Internet service providers.

Police asked Bell Canada in 2007 for subscriber information on an IP address used by someone who had allegedly accessed child pornography. Bell provided the requested information without inquiring whether police had a search warrant.

The defense argued that police should have been required to obtain a search warrant before seeking such information.

Privacy rights advocates cautioned the ruling could have consequences for law-abiding Internet users, the Post said.

"There is no confidentiality left on the Internet if this ruling stands," James Stribopoulos, a law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, said.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Merchants of Death Lose Merchandise

What, me worry?

US military loses 222,000 weapons sent to Afghanistan since 2001
Tom Coghlan
The US military has lost track of about 222,000 weapons shipped to Afghanistan since 2001, a leaked report compiled by the US Government Accountability Office revealed.

The report shows that the US military failed to keep proper records of 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars and other weapons sent to Afghanistan between December 2004 and June 2008. It also failed to track 135,000 weapons donated to Afghan security by 21 other countries. The UN spent more than $100 million (£70 million) on a disarmament programme that sought to remove weapons from the hands of illegal armed groups after November 2003. Many militiamen are known to have handed over antique or faulty weapons and UN officials reported First World War and even 19th-century flintlock rifles surrendered, rather than AK47s and rocket launchers.

There remains a thriving arms trade in the country, one of the most heavily armed societies on Earth. Afghan police units, in particular, are frequently accused of selling weapons and ammunition to the Taleban. The report comes as the US considers proposals to begin arming village militias.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pa. judges accused of jailing kids for cash

The state's system of special privileges are great temptations, distorting market forces and enticing people to do a great many evil things.

Judges allegedly took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juveniles in lockups
The Associated Press

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.

No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on.

The high court, meanwhile, is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles’ records expunged.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.

'I have disgraced my judgeship'
The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.

Ciavarella, 58, who presided over Luzerne County’s juvenile court for 12 years, acknowledged last week in a letter to his former colleagues, “I have disgraced my judgeship. My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Ciavarella, though, has denied he got kickbacks for sending youths to prison.

Conahan, 56, has remained silent about the case.

Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day.

In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.

One of the contracts — a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million — was later canceled by the county as exorbitant.

The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006.

Allegations of extortion
Robert J. Powell co-owned PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care until June. His attorney, Mark Sheppard, said his client was the victim of an extortion scheme.

“Bob Powell never solicited a nickel from these judges and really was a victim of their demands,” he said. “These judges made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies.”

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters’ constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

The criminal charges confirmed the advocacy groups’ worst suspicions and have called into question all the sentences he pronounced.

Hillary Transue did not have an attorney, nor was she told of her right to one, when she appeared in Ciavarella’s courtroom in 2007 for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal.

Her mother, Laurene Transue, worked for 16 years in the child services department of another county and said she was certain Hillary would get a slap on the wrist. Instead, Ciavarella sentenced her to three months; she got out after a month, with help from a lawyer.

“I felt so disgraced for a while, like, what do people think of me now?” said Hillary, now 17 and a high school senior who plans to become an English teacher.

'I was completely destroyed'
Laurene Transue said Ciavarella “was playing God. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children.”

Kurt Kruger, now 22, had never been in trouble with the law until the day police accused him of acting as a lookout while his friend shoplifted less than $200 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart. He said he didn’t know his friend was going to steal anything.

Kruger pleaded guilty before Ciavarella and spent three days in a company-run juvenile detention center, plus four months at a youth wilderness camp run by a different operator.

“Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away. I was completely destroyed,” said Kruger, who later dropped out of school. He said he wants to get his record expunged, earn his high school equivalency diploma and go to college.

“I got a raw deal, and yeah, it’s not fair,” he said, “but now it’s 100 times bigger than me.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thieves Announce $1.8 Trillion Robbery

Don't steal. The state hates competition.

US Senate approves stimulus plan
The US Senate has passed an economic stimulus plan expected to cost some $838bn (£573bn).

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 61-37 to approve the measure, with few Republicans opting to back it.

Tough negotiations are now expected in order to reconcile the Senate bill with the House of Representatives's version.

President Barack Obama welcomed the vote as a good start. It came as the US Treasury Secretary unveiled a bank bail-out plan worth some $1.5 trillion.

'No assurance'

The president, who says the stimulus measure is needed to create up to four million jobs and lift the economy, has said he wants the final package to reach his desk by 16 February.

Speaking at a public event in Fort Myers, Florida, Mr Obama said the passage of the Senate legislation was "good news" but warned there was still work to do.

"We've still got to get the House bill and the Senate bill to match up before it gets sent to my desk, so we have a little more work to do over the next couple of days," he said.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would send a completed version of the legislation to Mr Obama "as soon as possible".

But Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Minority Leader, complained that the bill was "full of waste", adding: "We have no assurance it will create jobs or revive the economy."

Democrats in the Senate secured support for the bill from three Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe from Maine and Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania.

The House and Senate measures are largely similar, but there are differences over how to expand the federal medical programme, Medicaid, and on spending priorities.

While the House bill would give more money to schools, local governments and individual states, the Senate bill devotes more resources to tax cuts.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mr Obama would address a joint session of the House and the Senate on 24 February to outline his agenda.

Meanwhile, under Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's bank bail-out plan, the size of a key Federal Reserve lending program will be expanded to $1 trillion from $200bn.

In addition, a public-private investment fund of $500bn will be created to absorb banks' toxic assets and could be expanded to $1 trillion.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Torture of Binyam Mohamed

The video below is a horrifying description of the type of torture used as a result of the US kidnapping suspected terrorists (Extraordinary Rendition) and taking them to certain friendly countries accomplices.


Monday, February 9, 2009

New Hampshire to air its views on Mass. tire sale case

Thieves squabble over victims and territory.
By Associated Press
February 05, 2009 8:03 PM
CONCORD — New Hampshire's governor and attorney general say they're getting involved in a sales tax case between Massachusetts and a tire vendor to protect New Hampshire businesses from having to collect sales taxes on behalf of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts officials say the case before its Supreme Judicial Court applies only to one company, Connecticut-based Town Fair Tire Centers Inc., and one set of circumstances. The company sold tires in New Hampshire to customers who appeared to be from Massachusetts, yet didn't collect the 5 percent sales tax that would have been levied on similar sales at one of the Town Fair's Massachusetts stores.

Gov. John Lynch says he thinks it's outrageous that Massachusetts thinks it can impose its sales tax in New Hampshire, which doesn't even have a sales tax.

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte plans to file a brief with the Massachusetts court.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Army deserter deported from Canada, placed in Whatcom County Jail

The Fugitive Slave Act is still in effect. If a private business treated an employee like this (not allowing him to quit), they would face jail. When the state does it however...


Cliff Cornell fled the U.S. Army four years ago for British Columbia when his Georgia artillery unit was ordered to serve in the Iraq War.
On Wednesday, Feb. 4, Cornell was deported from Canada, arrested in the U.S. and booked into the Whatcom County jail.
Cornell, who is from Arkansas, is going to be released on his own recognizance and ordered to report to Fort Stewart in Georgia, said Gene Marx, a local peace activist and member of the Bellingham Veterans for Peace, Chapter 111.
He and other local peace activists are asking officials to make Bellingham a "sanctuary city" so military deserters will not be arrested by locals and handed over to federal officials.
Cornell is the second soldier, along with Robin Long in July 2008, to be deported from Canada and placed in the county jail in recent months. Long was eventually sentenced to serve a 15-month prison sentence in Miramar Naval Consolidated Brig near San Diego.


Chronically ill girl eyes vaccine

The state is needed to insure our health, right? It alone knows what is best for us, right? Riiiiight....

By Judi Villa

Monday, February 2, 2009

Suddenly, Ashley Ryburn was sick all the time, and her mother didn't understand why.

Ashley, 16, played four sports, danced in her high school's show choir and earned top grades without even trying.

But now, Ashley was exhausted all the time. She was nauseated. She passed out at show choir and blacked out at school.

And then one day Ashley's legs went numb. She couldn't walk.

"You see somebody touch your legs and you can't feel it," Ashley recalled. "That's the scariest thing in the world."

For a year this has gone on: four episodes of temporary paralysis. Back spasms so painful Ashley would tell her mom "bye" and stop breathing. Hospitalizations. More 911 calls than Ashley can count. Trip after trip to doctors who couldn't seem to find anything wrong.

"I've heard so many times I'm crazy, I'm bulimic, I'm on drugs," Ashley said. "It's not your first thought that it's a vaccine."

A vaccine? Lisa Holtman is convinced that's what turned her perfectly healthy daughter into a chronically ill teenager.

In August and October 2007, Ashley was given doses of Gardasil, a vaccine recommended for adolescent girls to prevent cervical cancer. Her first Gardasil shot was given in conjunction with a meningitis vaccine.

The combination is said to be safe - and is commonly administered - but Gardasil was never clinically tested with the meningitis vaccine.

Research from the National Vaccine Information Center indicates reactions to Gardasil increase when it is given with the meningitis shot. But Neal Halsey, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said general guidelines allow for two or three inactivated vaccines, such as the HPV and meningitis vaccines, to be given at the same time without expecting increased rates of adverse reactions.

The meningitis vaccine was not available when Gardasil began clinical testing, so the Food and Drug Administration agreed to test it post-licensure, Halsey said.

Results of those tests are expected to be released soon.

"There is no reason that I know of that there may be an increased risk of any serious complications associated with the simultaneous administration of these two inactive or killed vaccines," Halsey said in a recent interview.

Ashley didn't receive any other shots with her second dose of Gardasil. It was a month or so after the second Gardasil vaccine that she started getting sick.

"She didn't go to the doctor at all, then after she got the shots, it's boom, boom, boom," Holtman said. "We haven't stopped."

Across the country, there are reports of girls like Ashley becoming chronically ill, and even dying, after being vaccinated with Gardasil - raising questions about whether the vaccine is indeed safe and if there has been enough testing done on its side effects.

Gardasil, manufactured by Merck and Co., was licensed in 2006 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Merck both say the vaccination is safe. So does Dr. Judith Shlay, director of the immunization and travel clinic at Denver Health Medical Center.

Shlay says Denver Health administers thousands of vaccines each year, including Gardasil, and rarely has any problems. The biggest issue with Gardasil was reports of adolescent girls fainting, but Shlay said Denver Health devised a protocol that involved monitoring teens before they left and that has alleviated the concern.

"It's considered a very safe vaccine," Shlay said. "We haven't seen people get sick from it."

As of Aug. 31, the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) had logged 10,326 reports of reactions to Gardasil, according to the CDC. Of those reports, 94 percent were considered to be "nonserious."

The serious reports included Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder that causes muscle weakness, blood clots and death. Each incident was "carefully analyzed by medical experts," the CDC said in a report last updated in October.

"Experts have not found a common medical pattern to the reports of serious adverse events reported for Gardasil that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine," the CDC said.

'No safety issue'

Merck issued its own statement in July, saying it was "proud of the public health benefit that Gardasil can provide in helping to prevent cervical cancer" and maintaining that "no safety issue related to the vaccine has been identified."

Still, in 2007 and 2008, Gardasil accounted for about 20 percent of reactions reported to VAERS, said Barbara Loe Fisher, co- founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a watchdog group in Virginia.

Fisher calls the percentage "unusual" given that Gardasil is new and isn't mandated.

"This is a whitewash of this vaccine. To say that almost 10,000 reports of reactions, injuries, 30 deaths is all a coincidence is simply not scientifically responsible," Fisher said. "You have perfectly healthy girls go in and get this shot and then suffer a pattern, a very clear pattern of injury, and some of them are dying. This is not acceptable."

The side effects all look a lot like what's been happening to Ashley, Fisher said: brain inflammation, immune system dysfunction, tingling and numbness in the hands, feet and legs, severe headaches, strokes, joint pain, muscle weakness, seizures and memory loss.

"Usually, these girls are very high functioning," Fisher said. "They're honor roll students. They're athletes. They're usually in extremely good health before they have a severe downward turn after receiving one or more Gardasil vaccinations."

But Halsey, of the Institute for Vaccine Safety, said people need to be "very careful not to jump on the bandwagon" that vaccines caused illness. Such allegations have surfaced before only to be disproved in resulting studies.

Serious allergic reactions to the HPV vaccine are rare, about one in a million, putting them in "the same ballpark" as any other vaccine, Halsey said.

"The evidence does not support a causal relationship," he said. "It's much more likely to be coincidental."

Can't go back

Still, Ashley's life looks nothing like it did before Gardasil. Her days consist mostly of going to school, coming home and sleeping. Her hair falls out in clumps. Her nausea is ever present. Her blood pressure drops dangerously low. She can't breathe.

Ashley looks back on pictures of summer camp just before she received the first Gardasil shot. She is saddling horses, hoisting a counselor for fun and leg wrestling.

"It hurts to know that if I went back to that day in my health now, I couldn't do it," Ashley said. "I can't do those things anymore."

Ashley received her vaccinations in Iowa before she and her mother moved to Arvada. It was recommended during a routine physical. Since then, Ashley has had to quit sports and her grades have slipped from A's and B's to B's and C's. Most of the time, she can't remember what she's read from one day to the next.

When she tried out for basketball at her high school this year, her legs were shaking and she couldn't breathe after two drills. Ashley cried.

She takes a handful of pills every day and has to carry a special bag of medical supplies in case she has an "episode."

Even when Ashley has good days, she knows the twitches in her back and the funny feeling in the back of her head will always come back, signaling another episode. Her blood pressure will plummet. She will hear her mother or her boyfriend talking to her, but she won't be able to answer. She will have trouble breathing and she will pass out.

"If I had never got the shot, I would be a normal teenager," Ashley said. "I wish I could go back."

Genital human papillomavirus (HPV)

* Most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States

* At least half of sexually active people will have it at some point in their lives, accodring to CDC estimates. There often are no symptoms, and it usually goes away on its own without causing any serious health problems.


* Three shots over six months

* It protects against four strains of HPV, which are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. It is recommended for girls as young as 9.

* Several states, including Colorado, have introduced legislation mandating the vaccine for girls entering the sixth grade. Only Washington, D.C., and Virginia have passed the mandates, to take effect in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

* Colorado has had no reports of serious reactions to the vaccine, according to Joni Reynolds, immunization program director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

* The Institute of Medicine is about to convene a two-year study of injuries and deaths related to four vaccines, including HPV.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Army official: Suicides in January 'terrifying'

Support the troops! Bring them all home!

From Barbara Starr and Mike Mount
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after the U.S. Army announced record suicide rates among its soldiers last year, the service is worried about a spike in possible suicides in the new year.

The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone -- six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday.

The Army said it already has confirmed seven suicides, with 17 additional cases pending that it believes investigators will confirm as suicides for January.

If those prove true, more soldiers will have killed themselves than died in combat last month. According to Pentagon statistics, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January.

"This is terrifying," an Army official said. "We do not know what is going on."

Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard, said that the long, cold months of winter could be a major contributor to the January spike.

"There is more hopelessness and helplessness because everything is so dreary and cold," she said.

But Platoni said she sees the multiple deployments, stigma associated with seeking treatment and the excessive use of anti-depressants as ongoing concerns for mental-health professionals who work with soldiers.

Those who are seeking mental-health care often have their treatment disrupted by deployments. Deployed soldiers also have to deal with the stress of separations from families.

"When people are apart you have infidelity, financial problems, substance abuse and child behavioral problems," Platoni said. "The more deployments, the more it is exacerbated."

Platoni also said that while the military has made a lot of headway in training leaders on how to deal with soldiers who may be suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, "there is still a huge problem with leadership who shame them when they seek treatment."

The anti-depressants prescribed to soldiers can have side effects that include suicidal thoughts. Those side effects reportedly are more common in people 18 to 24.

Concern about last month's suicide rate was so high, Congress and the Army leadership were briefed. In addition, the Army took the rare step of releasing data for the month rather than waiting to issue it as part of annual statistics at the end of the year.

In January 2008, the Army recorded two confirmed cases of suicides and two other cases it was investigating.

Last week, in releasing the report that showed a record number of suicides in 2008, the Army said it soon will conduct servicewide training to help identify soldiers at risk of suicide.

The program, which will run February 15 through March 15, will include training to recognize behaviors that may lead to suicide and instruction on how to intervene. The Army will follow the training with another teaching program, from March 15 to June 15, focused on suicide prevention at all unit levels.

The 2008 numbers were the highest annual level of suicides among soldiers since the Pentagon began tracking the rate 28 years ago. The Army said 128 soldiers were confirmed to have committed suicide in 2008, and an additional 15 were suspected of having killed themselves. The statistics cover active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

The Army's confirmed rate of suicides in 2008 was 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers. The nation's suicide rate was 19.5 per 100,000 people in 2005, the most recent figure available, Army officials said last month.

Suicides for Marines were also up in 2008. There were 41 in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006, according to a Marines report.

In addition to the new training, the service has a program called Battlemind, intended to prepare soldiers and their families to cope with the stresses of war before, during and after deployment. It also is intended to help Linkdetect mental-health issues before and after deployments.

The Army and the National Institute of Mental Health signed an agreement in October to conduct research to identify factors affecting the mental and behavioral health of soldiers and to share strategies to lower the suicide rate. The five-year study will examine active-duty, National Guard and reserve soldiers and their families.
CNN's Adam Levine contributed to this report.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

City police sued over strip search

The Drug War villains are not the drug users.

By Tricia Bishop |
February 4, 2009
A Baltimore man filed a $210 million civil lawsuit yesterday against the city Police Department, a former commissioner and several officers in connection with a 2006 incident during which he says a band of rogue cops held him at gunpoint in the street, stripped him and searched his rectum in front of about 30 onlookers.

The federal suit is the second filed since March in U.S. District Court in Baltimore alleging "widespread and persistent" civil rights violations by police officers who belonged to an elite "Special Enforcement Team" that worked mainly in the southeastern part of the city.

The SET unit was dismantled and its officers reassigned in 2006 after allegations of misconduct surfaced, leading the city prosecutor's office to dismiss more than 100 Circuit Court cases the officers had investigated in the previous two years.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment yesterday on the lawsuits, the employment status of the named officers, the department's procedural regulations regarding rectal examination and the outcome of internal investigations.

"We take all lawsuits very seriously and investigate in the most efficient manner possible," Guglielmi said. Until the department's legal team has thoroughly reviewed the case, he said, he "can't comment specifically" on it or "anything that touches" it.

The physical violation described in yesterday's 43-page complaint is the "ultimate degradation of a person's civil rights," said Steven D. Silverman, the attorney representing plaintiff Daryl A. Martin, a 35-year-old Navy veteran who works as a manager at a retail shop.

According to the complaint, Martin and a friend were on their way to a tailor for a custom suit fitting on a weekday afternoon in April 2006 when their Buick Lucerne was pulled over in the 900 block of Patterson Park Ave. by two sets of officers. A marked police car carrying Officer Antonio Rodriquez and an unidentified officer blocked the Buick in front, while an unmarked car holding Officers Shakil Moss and William Harris blocked the back end, the complaint says.

Rodriquez asked Martin for his license and registration, then ordered both passengers out of the car and began to search the Buick while Moss frisked the plaintiff under gunpoint, the complaint says. Moss then donned a rubber glove and lowered Martin's pants and underwear, according to the document.

"To the Plaintiff's complete and utter horror, in broad daylight and in the presence [of] the gathered crowd, Moss forced a gloved finger into the Plaintiff's rectum," found nothing, then threw the glove to the ground, the court document states. Shortly thereafter, with no explanation, the officers "sped away."

Martin reported the incident to a police internal investigation division, which retrieved the glove and sent it to a lab for examination. DNA from both Moss and Martin was found, according to the complaint.

Martin, who is black, contends that he was targeted because of his race. He says that the officers' behavior was systemic and tolerated by Police Department leadership, including then-Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm and current Deputy Commissioner Deborah Owens, both of whom are also named in the suit.

Silverman said that his office reviewed "scores and scores of prior arrest records" and found numerous "obvious and blatant constitutional violations by this rogue group."

The complaint alleges nearly 50 instances of questionable activity by officers, which frequently included spotting drugs from vast distances, eliciting spontaneous confessions and regular "serendipitous discovery of individuals possessing contraband."

"It's clear the department should have had every obligation to review their prior arrest [records], and if they had done so, would have clearly seen that they were running all over the civil rights of the city of Baltimore," Silverman said.

A similar lawsuit, filed in March by 17 plaintiffs, alleges that officers, including Moss, illegally detained, assaulted, searched, humiliated and generally terrorized residents without justification. In a court filing, Hamm and Owens denied the allegations against them in the earlier suit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jail for photographing police?

Who watches the watchmen? Not you if they have any say about it...

Date: 28 January 2009

The relationship between photographers and police could worsen next month when new laws are introduced that allow for the arrest - and imprisonment - of anyone who takes pictures of officers 'likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'.

Set to become law on 16 February, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer.

The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who 'elicits or attempts to elicit information about (members of armed forces) ... which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'.

A person found guilty of this offence could be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years, and to a fine.

The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places. 'Who is to say that police officers won't abuse these powers,' asks freelance photographer Justin Tallis, who was threatened by an officer last week.

Tallis, a London-based photographer, was covering the anti-BBC protest on Saturday 24 January when he was approached by a police officer. Tallis had just taken a picture of the officer, who then asked to see the picture. The photographer refused, arguing that, as a press photographer, he had a right to take pictures of police officers.

According to Tallis, the officer then tried to take the camera away. Before giving up, the officer said that Tallis 'shouldn't have taken that photo, you were intimidating me'. The incident was caught on camera by photojournalist Marc Vallee.

Tallis is a member of the National Union of Journalists and the British Press Photographers' Association. 'The incident lasted just 10 seconds, but you don't expect a police officer to try to pull your camera from your neck,' Tallis tells BJP.

The incident came less than a week after it was revealed that an amateur photographer was stopped in Cleveland by police officers when taking pictures of ships. The photographer was asked if he had any terrorism connections and told that his details would be kept on file.

A Cleveland Police spokeswoman explained: 'If seen in suspicious circumstances, members of the public may well be approached by police officers and asked about their activities. Photography of buildings and areas from a public place is not an offence and is certainly not something the police wish to discourage. Nevertheless, in order to verify a person's actions as being entirely innocent, police officers are expected to engage and seek clarification where appropriate.'

The statement echoes the Prime Minister's answer to a petition signed by more than 5700 people. Gordon Brown reaffirmed, last week, that the police have a legal right to restrict photography in public places.

'There are no legal restrictions on photography in public places. However, the law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place. So there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or raise security considerations,' Downing Street says.

'Each situation will be different and it would be an operational matter for the officer concerned as to what action if any should be taken in respect of those taking photographs. Anybody with a concern about a specific incident should raise the matter with the chief constable of the relevant force.'

However, Liberty, which campaigns on human rights, has decried the excessive use of stop-and-search powers given to police officers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. The group's legal director, James Welch, said the powers were used too widely.

In December, freelance press photographer Jess Hurd was detained for more than 45 minutes after she was stopped while covering the wedding of a couple married in Docklands.

She was detained under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. Her camera was forcefully removed from her, and while she showed her press card, three police officers insisted on viewing the footage she had taken.

'Any officer who suspects an offence has been committed has the right to detain you,' a Metropolitan press officer told BJP at the time. 'Because you are a press photographer does not preclude you from being stopped under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. If the officer thought the photographer acted suspiciously, and especially if it was in a sensitive place, he had a right to detain and question the photographer.'

The tension between police officers and photographers is not limited to the UK. Last week, Icelandic police fired pepper spray on photojournalists as they were covering protests in front of the country's parliament building.

Kristjan Logason, a press photographer in Iceland, tells BJP that he was targeted along with other press photographers. 'The Icelandic police systematically tried to remove photographers by pepper-spraying them,' he says.


The photographers were covering a protest in front of the Althing parliament building in the capital Reykjavik. Iceland's financial system collapsed in October under the weight of billions of dollars of foreign debts incurred by its banks.

Already seven photographers have come forward as having been targetted by the Icelandic Police.

Nothing to lose: how Mugabe’s banker turned Z$1,000,000,000,000 into Z$1

Zimbabwe's inflation rate is estimated to be 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (five sextillion) per cent! Money creation and the state do not mix.

February 3, 2009
Nothing to lose: how Mugabe’s banker turned Z$1,000,000,000,000 into Z$1

Martin Fletcher in Harare
Gideon Gono, widely regarded as the world’s most disastrous central banker, knocked another 12 zeros off the Zimbabwean dollar yesterday in an attempt to bring the national currency back from the realms of the fantastical.

In a stroke, the governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank slashed the street value of the Zimbabwean dollar from $250 trillion to one US dollar to 250, because the computers, calculators and people could no longer cope with all the zeros.

To counter an inflation rate that economists now estimate to be 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (five sextillion) per cent, Mr Gono has now struck 25 zeros from the plunging national currency since August 2006. One American dollar would now buy Z$2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000 (2.5 octillion) had he not done so.

Mr Gono’s announcement came just weeks after the introduction of a Z$100 trillion note, the latest and biggest of 35 denominations that he has brought in since January last year but only enough yesterday to buy half a loaf. “The zeros are too many for our machines to handle,” said Obert Sibanda, the chairman of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce.

Economists poured scorn on Mr Gono’s announcement, pointing out that four months after he knocked ten noughts off last year they had all returned.

One Western diplomat suggested that the governor’s reputation would be buried at “Zeros Acre” – a play on Heroes’ Acre, the name of the national monument to Zimbabwe’s independence leaders.

Tony Hawkins, a University of Zimbabwe economist who taught Mr Gono 20 years ago, observed that the governor was not the student of whom he was most proud. “He was a good student but forgot whatever economics he learnt when he became a political player.”

Mr Gono is not a man plagued by self-doubt, however. In an interview published in Newsweek magazine yesterday he said that he printed money simply so the Zimbabwean people could survive but the rest of the world was now following his example because of the credit crunch.

“I had to print money,” he said. “I found myself doing extraordinary things that aren’t in the textbooks. Then the IMF asked the US to please print money. The whole world is now practising what they have been saying I should not. I decided that God had been on my side and had come to vindicate me.”

Mr Gono, 49, recently published an autobiography – sold only in US dollars, in violation of his own currency regulations – in which he claimed that President Bush had offered him the post of senior vice-president at the World Bank last July.

Economists said that knocking off 12 more zeros would make not the slightest difference because hyper-inflation would render the new denominations equally worthless within weeks. The demise of the Zimbabwean dollar will also be hastened because last week the Government sanctioned the use of the US dollar, the British pound, the South African rand, the euro and the Botswana pula as legal tender.

In effect, Zimbabwe now has two parallel economies, one using foreign exchange and the other using the increasingly irrelevant national currency. This is exacerbating the problems facing Mr Mugabe’s faltering regime because his security forces and the civil service are paid in Zimbabwean dollars. Soldiers have rioted on the streets of Harare, and most of the public sector – teachers, doctors, nurses, municipal workers – are on strike, demanding to be paid in foreign currency.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, is trying to make Mr Gono’s removal a condition for his party joining a unity government next week. Mr Gono’s record is also coming under fire from within his own Zanu (PF) party. But asked by Newsweek if he considered his governorship a success, Mr Gono replied: “I am modestly credited with the survival strategy of my country. No other [central bank] governor has had to deal with the kind of inflation levels that I deal with. [The people at] my bank [are] at the cutting edge of the country.”

He added: “What keeps me bright and looking forward to every day is that it can’t be any worse.”

A chronology of troubles

1998 Economic crisis sparks riots

1999 World Bank and IMF suspend aid to Zimbabwe

Feb 2000 Seizure of white-owned farms begins

July 2001 Zimbabwe suffers food shortages that critics blame on farm seizures. Several Western countries withdraw economic aid

March 2002 Robert Mugabe wins elections. Observers condemn poll

April 2002 State of emergency is declared amid dire food shortages

Aug 2006 Inflation rises above 1,000 per cent

Oct 2008 Official inflation hits 231 million per cent

Feb 2009 The price of a loaf of bread is nearly 200 trillion Zimbabwe dollars and rising


Monday, February 2, 2009

Fines fraud hits Italian drivers

I'm absolutely shocked that the state would rig speed cameras! Shocked!

Thousands of drivers in Italy are expected to seek compensation after it was revealed that a system to catch them jumping red lights was rigged.
More than 100 people, including police officers, are being investigated as part of the fraud.
The T-Redspeed system - a revolutionary camera technology - has been in use for two years in 300 areas across Italy.
Cameras linked to traffic lights capture 3-d images of vehicles if they jump the lights or are speeding.
It can also detect offences like illegal u-turns.
Fraudulent fines

It is believed more than a million drivers have been trapped by the system.
But it is now claimed the lights were rigged to change from yellow to red in three seconds instead of the regulation five or six seconds.
The fraud was uncovered by a senior police officer who noticed an unusually high number of fines being issued.
Instead of an average 15 fines a day in some places, the figure jumped to more than 1,000.

The fraud may have netted as much as $170m (£116.4m) for those involved.
The scheme's inventor is now under house arrest, though his lawyers say he is innocent.
More than 100 other people including 63 police commanders are also being investigated as part of the scam.