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24 Jul 2014

Study: More Than Half Of The People Executed In The United States Have A Severe Mental Illness

A majority of the 100 executed inmates examined in a new study by three legal researchers had “a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis.” Yet, because of an oddity in the Supreme Court’s death penalty cases, it is typically constitutional under existing precedents to execute people with these illnesses.
In a pair of cases decided in 2002 and 2005, the Court held that it is unconstitutional to execute intellectually disabled inmates and individuals who committed a capital offense when they were under the age of 18. As the Court explained in the first of these two cases, these cases are rooted in the fact that certain offenders “have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others” — and thus it would be cruel and unusual punishment to subject them to the most permanent of punishments.

This rationale — that people with diminished mental capacity cannot be executed — applies with equal force to people with severe mental disorders. Indeed, the study by researchers Robert J. Smith, Sophie Cull and ZoĆ« Robinson finds that “the overwhelming majority of executed offenders had intellectual and psychological deficits that rivaled—and sometimes outpaced—those associated with intellectual disability and juvenile status.” And yet the Court has not yet extended the same protections to people with severe mental illnesses that it has to juvenile offenders and people with intellectual disabilities.

White House is expected to release a version of a classified report on torture during the Bush years... the entire thing, five years in the making, clocks in at about 6,700 pages, making it the most exhaustive account yet of what really went on in secret CIA prisons around the world

Sometime this summer, probably when as many Americans as possible are tanning on a beach and not paying attention, the White House is expected to release a version of a classified report on torture during the Bush years. Actually, what's likely to become public is only the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report; the entire thing, five years in the making, clocks in at about 6,700 pages, making it the most exhaustive account yet of what really went on in secret CIA prisons around the world.
President Obama has repeatedly said he favors declassifying the report, which the public really ought to see. And should he release the summary in something close to the form in which it was sent to him, then his decision will likely end an unusually public standoff between top senators and the CIA, each of whom accused the other of spying illegally as the report was being compiled and written.
If, on the other hand, Obama delays the release much longer, or bows to the intelligence community and decides to black out the report's most damaging findings, then we may find ourselves on the brink of a serious escalation between the legislative and executive branches in Washington — a war over what kind of secrets the government should be allowed to keep and, more to the point, who gets to decide.
The doomsday device in this fight, which the Senate has rolled out a few times in the past but has never actually used, is an arcane, almost 40-year-old provision known as Senate Resolution 400. (Not the catchiest name ever, but you know, Hollywood thrillers have worked with less.) It's a drastic measure that's now being openly discussed as a serious option inside the Senate. But before we get to all that, let's take a step back and consider what's really going on here
Remarkably, given the nature of modern Washington, almost nothing specific from the Senate's report has actually leaked into public view. But according to insiders and some published accounts, there are two main headlines that emerge from it, both scathingly critical of the CIA. The first is that, contrary to the agency's assertions, torture as an interrogation tactic  that is, the infamous waterboarding, among other "enhanced" techniques  didn't actually work very well. The second is that intelligence officials lied outright to Congress, repeatedly, about this.
Those who have worked on or read the report sent to the White House say it contains explosive details, even given what we already know about the interrogation program. "I think the American people are going to be profoundly disturbed and genuinely shocked by the content of this," Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, an intel committee member, told me this week.
Obama, you may recall, came to office vowing to overturn Bush-era secrecy, and at the end of his first year in office he issued clear guidelines (by Washington standards, anyway) for declassifying documents. One of the more interesting provisions in that order, half-buried in Section 1.7, was that the government would not be allowed to keep information classified in order to "conceal violations of law" or "prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency."  
It seems like a pretty good bet, considering what's in the report, that the CIA has some concerns about violations of law and potential embarrassment to a person, organization or agency. Maybe even all three.
But of course that's not what the agency's director, John Brennan, has told the president in arguing against declassification. According to people briefed on the issue, Brennan has argued that the report is deeply flawed and might lead to unrest around the world, jeopardizing agents in the field and national security. (The agency has written a detailed rebuttal, which is also likely to be made public.)

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Heartwarming moment 200 strangers joined forces to stop cancer sufferer, 63, being evicted by bank after he lost battle over mortgage payments

When a grandfather fighting cancer was told he would be evicted from the home he had been paying mortgage payments for for more than 20 years, he made a short, desperate video appealing for help and put it on the internet.
Within hours, Tom Crawford's eloquent plea detailing his fight with official 'thugs and bullies' had been seen by thousands on YouTube, many of whom were moved to help him keep the home where he and his wife had raised their three children.
As a result, when the bailiffs turned up to repossess the 63-year-old's modest bungalow in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, yesterday, they were met with hundreds of strangers protesting about Mr and Mrs Crawford's treatment.
 In a scene reminiscent of the James Stewart film It's A Wonderful Life, more than 200 people surrounded the Crawfords' three-bedroom home, prompting police to arrive and warn the bailiffs that going through with the eviction might be a safety risk.

The astonishing display of goodwill came from strangers who been moved after watching Mr Crawford explain his family's plight in the 11-minute clip.

In the film, the retired flooring specialist promised well-wishers a 'lovely cup of tea' if they joined his peaceful protest against evicted from the home he and his wife, Susan, bought with a mortgage for £41,800 in 1988. 
Mr Crawford, who has two grandchildren, said he and his market researcher wife had paid £300-£400 a month for the endowment mortgage for years, and expected to own the bungalow when the mortgage finished last year.

He said: 'That endowment was like an insurance policy that would cover the lump sum at the end of the mortgage.'

But Mr Crawford, who has prostate cancer, said the first hint of trouble came 12 years after taking out the mortgage, when his wife was informed that they 'would never pay off our mortgage'.

He said the couple spoke to their bank manager, who reassured them this was not the case and sent flowers and champagne by way of apology.

But he said he was then told that the mortgage had been changed from an endowment to an interest-only scheme, and that he and his wife still owed £43,000 in repayments.

He said: 'Now they say they cannot find a record of the endowment: they have lost it somewhere, and they won’t even let me see the deeds to the house.

'Now they say I owe them for that, and a mysterious arrears of £1,350 which I know I never owed. 

Despite Mr Crawford claiming that he had paid off his mortgage, which he took out with the now defunct bank Bradford and Bingley, a judge ruled against him earlier this year, ordering that he pay off his mortgage by 9am yesterday or face a forced eviction.

In desperation, he took to the internet to appeal to strangers for help, saying: 'Please come and help us, but don’t use violence, they are the ones who use violence. This is a war, for the people.'

He added: 'It may only be a small bungalow, but it is my bungalow, my land, my home.'

Mr Crawford said: 'I complained to the ombudsman, but they said there was nothing they could do as my claim was date restricted.' 

23 Jul 2014

''FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals'' - report

Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School have just released a damning report in which they accuse the US government of repeated abuses in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases. 

Well, you might still be surprised by the report's most troubling allegation: that US government agents, by employing methods of investigation that border on entrapment, have actively encouraged ordinary Americans to become terrorists.
The HRW and HRI focused their investigation on 27 post-9/11 terrorism cases involving 77 defendants. They based their report on information from court documents, publicly available documents, Freedom of Information Act requests, and more than 215 interviews with people involved in terrorism cases, including defendants, lawyers, family members, academics, and government officials.
They found a pattern of encouragement, facilitation, and grooming of targets that's worrying if not illegal.
“Indeed, in some cases,” the report claims, “the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act... All the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually sting operations, splots conducted with the direct involvement of law enforcement informants or agents, including plots that were proposed or led by informants.”
A former FBI agent, Michael German, explained it to HRW and the HRI this way:
"Today’s terrorism sting operations reflect a significant departure from past practice. When the FBI undercover agent or informant is the only purported link to a real terrorist group, supplies the motive, designs the plot and provides all the weapons, one has to question whether they are combatting terrorism or creating it. Aggrandizing the terrorist threat with these theatrical productions only spreads public fear and divides communities, which doesn’t make anyone safer."
Take the case of Hosam Smadi. The FBI began investigating Smadi in Jan. 2009 because he'd been posting to jihadist discussion boards. FBI agents initiated contact with him online, and during these early conversations, Smadi insisted that he didn’t want to hurt innocent people and was unsure about violent jihad.

Read more: 

On Monday, a guy from West Virginia who doesn't want to pay $21 a year for health insurance scored a victory over the Obama administration in a lawsuit that could deprive nearly 5 million Americans of their newly won health care.

On Monday, a guy from West Virginia who doesn't want to pay $216 a year* for health insurance scored a victory over the Obama administration in a lawsuit that could deprive nearly 5 million Americans of their newly won health care.
In a 2-1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sided with plaintiff David Klemencic and gutted a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that provides premium subsidies to millions of low-income Americans. The decision in Halbig v Burwell, a case spearheaded by a battery of conservative groups who backed Klemencic and his co-plaintiffs (many of whom are GOP political operatives), is based on what is essentially a typo in the ACA. The opinion is a symptom of what happens when a dysfunctional Congress can't manage to do even the simplest part of its job, such as correcting routine drafting errors in legislation.
Hours later, though, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, issued a diametrically opposed decision affirming Obamacare and perhaps setting up a future battle before the Supreme Court.
Here's the backstory, 
When Congress wrote the ACA, it said that premium subsidies would be available for certain qualifying citizens who were "enrolled through an Exchangeestablished by the State." (Emphasis added.) The law doesn't say that those subsidies are available to people in the 34 states that declined to set up exchanges, where residents must utilize the now-infamously buggy, the federal exchange.
That's where Obamacare opponents see a fatal flaw in the law. The plaintiffs inHalbig claim that they won't be eligible for tax credits because their states didn't start an exchange, so they won't be able to afford insurance. As a result, they argue that they'll be subject to the fine for not buying insurance, or to avoid the fine, they'll have to pay a lot for insurance they don't want. They want the court to block the IRS from implementing the law...
The Obama administration argues that the language Halbig's case is premised on is merely a drafting error common in legislation and routinely reconciled after passage. (Indeed, if Congress were functioning normally, such copy mistake would have been corrected by now, but given the level of polarization in that body, it's been impossible to make such fixes that were once routine.) An amicus brief in the case filed by Families USA, a nonprofit health care advocacy group helping the administration combat some of the bad PR surrounding Obamacare, argues that the plaintiffs are disregarding the vast body of evidence showing that Congress intended for all low-income Americans to be eligible for tax subsidies, regardless of which exchange they used to purchase insurance. 
But the DC Circuit stuck religiously to the text when it rendered its verdict, siding with Klemencic, the only plaintiff the court recognized as having enough of an "injury" to give him standing in the case.
Klemencic's alleged "injury" is a dubious one at best. West Virginia is one of the states that whiffed on starting its own exchange and simply left the job to the feds. Klemencic argued that he technically shouldn't qualify for a premium subsidy, because West Virginia does not have an exchange. But because the IRS has treated state and federal exchange as interchangeable, he has become eligible for subsidies he doesn't want.

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