Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wage Peace, Love and Compassion

Peace, Peace, Peace on Earth and goodwill to men.
This is a time for joy
This is a time for love
Now let us all sing together
of peace, peace, peace on earth
- [version of Silent Night, Holy Night that HMC sang in this past concert 'Holiday Glee'. I can't find a recorded version of us or anyone else doing it concert so here is a recording of our rehearsal cd. It's the second part, after the traditional carol that is of note. [still working on getting that that track online]

The older I get, the more I read about this subject, the more I am completely disgusted with the United States. I guess this is nothing new. It's happened since the beginning of our government, I suppose my awareness of it is the only thing that has changed. Like this email below from the Center for Constitutional Rights says, we are waging war on nearly all corners of the planet. While I do understand it's a scary world, people really want to bring harm to innocent civillians, it seems like in fighting those people, we are killing civillians ourselves. We're (the US) the ones who are exporting terror. For every drone killing, every covert action, there is an immediate backlash. Which creates more hate, then creates more terrorists and then more people for us to kill. It's a never ending cycle that has gotten so out of hand that it seems as if it will seriously never end.

Human Rights Day

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012 will authorize $662 billion dollars for US military operations at a time when the US government is waging overt and covert wars and occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and dangerously escalating sanctions and threats against Iran. The Obama administration has expanded the use of drone strikes and has authorized the targeted killings of individuals beyond any recognized zone of armed conflict. The NDAA also reaffirms the government’s expansive power to hold individuals in indefinite military detention without charge or trial.

The sorry state of our democracy means that the Obama administration is not accountable to anti-war voices and movements seeking an end to a bloated US military and a belligerent US foreign policy that causes harm to the lives and aspirations of millions of people around the globe, and makes people in the United States neither more safe nor more free.

Yet as the NDAA arrives at Obama’s desk, we must continue to raise our voices against this state of affairs. Write and call the White House and tell the President that you oppose $662 billion dollars being spent on war making rather than peace building. Demand that he meaningfully scale back the size of the US military and uphold his promise to veto the NDAA as long as it contains provisions that would essentially prevent him from sending Guantánamo detainees home or resettling those men who need asylum in third countries.

More than half of the men currently detained at Guantánamo – 89 of the 171 – have been unanimously cleared by the CIA, FBI, NSC and Defense Department for transfer or release. Yet no one has been transferred since last January, when Congress created restrictions similar to those the NDAA would make permanent. This marks the longest period without a transfer in the prison camp’s entire 10-year history and only underscores the president’s broken promise and failure to close Guantánamo.

Write and call the White House. Tell the President to veto the NDAA and change Guantánamo from being what it has become—Obama’s forever prison.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lots of Praise for Holiday Glee + Mishmosh

I'm combining a bunch of stuff for this post, so bear with me if I seem to be jumping around from topic to topic. I just had all this stuff and I wanted to consolidate it all into one blog post:



Praises for HMC's Holiday Glee

Dr. Joe, Lamar, Oliver ... and the gorgeous and wonderful Holiday Glee Singers: What a glorious concert you offered to 3 audiences this past weekend! Glorious in its quality; glorious in its presentation; glorious in its experiences of love and laughter. Simply, we all who "participated" in our seats were blessed by your talents. And, somehow, you managed to sound even better than before!! Know the work was arduous at times...but your faces showed your hearts and souls were in each and every note. Thank you for a very, very special holiday gift. Blessings, Kathy Dunn & the HMC Board *****

My Mom and I had a terrific time at the concert yesterday. I think she had more fun than anyone there. She equally loved the funny and the humorous music. Given that my father was Jewish and mother is Catholic, we so got the great humor. When we left, she said, "Be sure to get tickets next year." What you and your fellow singers did last night was a mitzvah. Thank you. Amy *****

The Saturday night holiday concert was a topnotch event. The first number, featuring Lamar Sims, was such a delightful beginning. I think it was very unique to feature the chorus’ accompanist, whose vocal talents we’ve never had the opportunity to hear. Several of the numbers (O Tannenbaum, Dona Nobis Pacem, Shehecheyanu) were very well done, and showed the real musicianship of the group. It was such a pleasure to get to hear and see the talents of Wilson L Allen. The Heartaches came through with well-executed pieces that were comfortable to hear. The variety and selection of numbers made for a fast-moving and fun evening.
Thanks! Congratulations! Anson

What a fun concert! And I had fun, too! (I didn't realize until later that all of those leis lit up!) Joe's intro was most kind. “Three Kings Who Followed a Star” was a hoot!
Don't know from my vantage point just how many folks participated in the “Silent Night” signing... but I sure did...a pretty poignant "song". Guest Conductor Don *****

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the show on Friday night. We had a little family kick off to the holidays (two of my husband's brothers and their wives joined us) and had a great time. Translating “Don't Stop Believin'” into the Christmas story? Genius! And of course, Davey Dinckle in now a holiday fave at our house. This was my first time hearing the chorus and I was sincerely impressed by how good you are. One of my sisters-in-law is a music educator who sang with the Symphony Chorus. She was singing your praises as well.
Great job! Thanks for helping us get into the holiday spirit. : ) Lynne

FROM THE PREZ

When we closed out the first act with that jubilant version of the Hallelujah chorus, we collectively expressed the profound welling up of joy that too often gets suppressed by the challenges and heartaches of our everyday lives. The great power of our singing is that as we release our own pent-up joy, we liberate others' as well. No matter how sacred or serious the song, if we infuse it with this same joy, it cannot help but to enlighten, inspire, heal and empower. Recently I met someone who said if he sang better, he'd join the chorus. I asked if he could carry a tune. He felt he could. I replied, "that's really all you need. Most important of all is the desire." If you know someone who'd like to join HMC but questions how good he is, encourage him to try out or join HeartLight. For me, nothing compares with spreading the "good news" of being part of HMC. I wish each of you a "friendly, furry, funny and fun" holidays. Enjoy the few week's break until rehearsals start again in January. Be safe! Rob

Here's an article not necessarily about our last show, but about HMC in general from a local publication/blog 435 South:

Lysa Allman-Baldwin
December 1, 2011
Heartland Men’s Chorus celebrates 25 years of music magic.

What started out in 1986 as a small group of men desiring to form a choral group has blossomed into the largest and highest profile gay organization in the Kansas City region—The Heartland Men’s Chorus. Featuring close to 140 talented singers, the Chorus presents an eclectic repertoire of men’s choral music including traditional, classical, gospel, jazz, contemporary and popular styles. Last year more than 8,000 people enjoyed a bevy of their stage and community outreach performances designed to make a positive cultural contribution throughout the Kansas City and wider Midwest region.

Empowerment through Song
Using their voices to “enlighten, inspire, heal and empower,” the Chorus performs its major concerts at the Folly Theater, plus numerous community programs at venues across the city. The goal is multifold: to showcase their unique musical ensemble for new audiences; to benefit charities whose missions align with the organization; and to deliver musical messages to people in places where they feel their voices need to be heard. “By taking our music to where people are, we reach groups and audiences who might never have had the inclination to come downtown for a main stage performance,” says executive director Rick Fisher. “Because we engage our art form to engender societal change, our programs deliver important messages about acceptance and celebrating diversity, and express the unique power of our performances and programming.” Despite their focus on diversity, the Chorus (sometimes confused with the Heart of America Barbershop Chorus or the Heart of America Men’s Chorus) is often perceived as only of interest to the gay community. Not so, says Fisher.“The Chorus is an organization of gay and gay-sensitive people who make a positive cultural contribution to the entire community,” says Fisher. “We have a number of women board members, non-singing support members, audience members, and fans involved with us.”
In fact, the Heartland Men’s Chorus audience surveys reflect a 41 percent female, and 36 percent heterosexual fan base.

The Gift is in the Giving
Since its founding, the Chorus has always focused on giving back. This includes through community performances, complimentary concert tickets, and volunteer efforts benefitting the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Kansas City Free Health Clinic, Missouri Citizens for the Arts, AIDS Walk Kansas City, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, KCPT Public Television, SAVE, Inc., the Topeka AIDS Project, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, just to name a few.
“Giving back not only helps us to reach new audiences, but continues to sustain our organization as well,” says artistic director Joseph Nadeau, DMA. “We are made up of a diverse array of individuals from numerous cultural, socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Therefore, we celebrate the diversity of our membership and community, and continue to find ways to reach out and give back.”

The Chorus’ philanthropic efforts resonate with Johnson County resident Steve Dodge. Initially a season ticket holder inspired by the organization’s vision and focus, he joined to “just sing.” Not long afterwards, Dodge recalls, “I realized that we had a much greater opportunity and responsibility to use our voices to touch people’s hearts and change lives.”
In addition to lending his voice in every concert since joining in 1995 Dodge has also served on the board of directors, and co-chaired their major fundraiser—the Dinner of Note—and their 25th Anniversary Celebration earlier this year. “I have seen tremendous growth in our membership [which] has been matched with growth of our operations, budget, and audiences,” says Dodge.
Now That’s Entertainment!

A Chorus performance is much more than stationary singers on a stage. It is a complete entertainment experience.

“Many of our programs are highly entertaining,” Fisher explains. “We use sets, props, costumes, choreography, lighting and a host of other production elements. It is probably for this reason that we draw large numbers of attendees from a seven-state region for our concerts. Over our 25 years of singing out in Kansas City, we have become a vital part of our city’s diverse arts scene.” Nadeau agrees. “Our performances are engaging, enlightening, emotional and funny,” he says. “Though we often address relevant issues in our concerts, we also sing beautifully and have a great time. Every performance is a unique experience unlike any other choral performance in town.” From December 2-4 the Heartland Men’s Chorus will perform Holiday Glee at the Folly Theater. To learn more about the Chorus and other upcoming performances visit www.hmckc.org.

“We Are All One”
According to Heartland Men’s Chorus board member and Johnson County resident Phyllis Stevens, the organization’s message “really is that we are all one—your uncles, fathers, sons, neighbors, and coworkers. It is what I want to get out to the community at-large, to those who may have a resistance to that message.”

The singing members, who are all volunteers, truly step out in joy to reach others, Stevens says. “The Chorus has gone into smaller communities, houses of worship, and other places where they may not have anticipated a welcoming environment, but in fact turned out to be very welcoming. That gives me hope that people are open to a different message of inclusion and acceptance.” Singing member and Johnson County resident David Pasley is a living testament to how the Chorus changes lives. Invited to attend a performance in 2004 in support of a friend, he had his own internal struggles.

“At that time I had only been separated from my wife for a little over a year, and was not ‘out’ to anyone yet,” he recalls. “I remember being nervous about attending because I was afraid I might see someone I knew, or worse yet, that they would see me and then the truth would be out.”
The next concert he attended was All God’s Children, which included lyrics about someone who attended his first choral concert by a gay men’s chorus. “I remember thinking, ‘This is about me!’” Pasley says. “The chorus and that song reached out to me and touched me, and I was changed.”

A little more than a year later, Pasley joined the Chorus and found himself singing the same song that spoke to him, to others. “That was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, singing the song that changed everything for me and maybe changing someone else’s life as well,” he says. “It took all I had to not cry. Instead, I stood there with my chest out and head held high, proud of who I am and finally ‘out’ to everyone that I know.” To others Pasley says, “Life gets better and there is a world of happiness to be discovered. Be yourself and be proud.”

I read this and thought it was an amazing story From GLAAD:

Imagine answering the phone and hearing, "Hello Janice, this is Barack Obama." That's exactly what happened to me in April of last year. President Obama called to tell me he had issued a memorandum requiring hospitals to grant visitation to same-sex partners after reading a news article about my family. My story, which GLAAD helped me and the media tell, begins with the death of my beloved partner Lisa in 2007.

When we set out on a family cruise with three of our adopted children in South Florida, we could never have known that Lisa would experience a brain aneurysm. At the hospital, I tried to follow the gurney carrying a critically ill Lisa into the trauma bay, but was told to go to the waiting area. After a short while, I was approached by a social worker who told me that I was "in an anti-gay city and state" and that I would not be allowed to see Lisa or make decisions about her care without a health care proxy. I contacted close friends back in Olympia who faxed the necessary documents over to the hospital while I continued to pace the tiny waiting room with our anxious children.

We watched as other families were welcomed back to see their loved ones, and the anger and frustration grew inside of me as I waited for someone to acknowledge receipt of the forms that guaranteed my legal rights as Lisa's partner. Finally, a surgeon came out to inform me that Lisa had suffered massive bleeding and asked my consent to place a pressure monitor on her brain. That was the only indication I had that the hospital had received our documents.

I was not able to join Lisa until the priest arrived to administer her Last Rites. For the first time since arriving at the hospital, I was allowed to hold her hand for a few minutes. Then, I was ushered back out into the waiting room.

The children and I needed to be with Lisa during her final hours, yet we were repeatedly denied. The hospital, in their unwillingness to recognize us as a family, forced Lisa to leave this Earth without us by her side. I felt like a failure

After Lisa's passing, I decided something needed to be done to spare other couples the despair and helplessness that I felt. I filed a federal lawsuit against the hospital. During this process, I was asked if I would tell my story to the media. I knew it was a story that needed to be told, but I soon realized that I was not prepared to deal with the media on my own. That's when I reached out to GLAAD, because I knew that they are experts in helping LGBT people share their stories in the media and in making sure that LGBT stories are told fairly and accurately.

GLAAD helped me tell my story and helped me explain that this is not a "gay right" it's a human right to be there for the one you love in their moment of greatest need. In the months that have passed, my story has touched the hearts of so many people thanks to GLAAD.

It was only with GLAAD's help that I began championing a much larger cause that touches all of our lives the struggle for equality. And through the power of storytelling, Americans all over this country heard my voice, including President Obama who saw my story in the New York Times and took action by issuing an executive order to make sure this never happens to gay or lesbian families again. I also recently received the Presidential Citizens Medal for telling our story and bringing the issue of hospital visitation for same-sex partners to the forefront of national attention.

GLAAD stood by me to help share my story; a story that changed federal law.


If you have a second, go check out my great friend Bukeka's blog. She's arrived back from her trip to South Africa and has blogged about her experiences. Get your tissues ready, it's seriously some amazing reading.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yet Another Death Row Inmate Is Innocent

in missouri:

Governor Nixon, we the undersigned believe that the facts surrounding the murders of Julie and Robin Kerry on the Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1991 have yet to be fully uncovered. Beatings, forced confessions by the police, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective counsel and other factors make this a classic case of reasonable doubt. Reggie Clemons has not received due process and justice yet he sits on Missouri’s death row awaiting execution. Please exercise your authority to halt Reggie’s execution and allow the facts to be thoroughly uncovered and reviewed in the case. We cannot let another innocent person be wrongfully executed.

Reggie Clemons on Death Row
in Missouri:
A Case of Reasonable Doubt
Race, Ineffective Counsel, Police Brutality and
Prosecutorial Misconduct Characterize a Classic Case
of Reasonable Doubt

Reggie Clemons is a 33 year-old African-American man sentenced to death in Missouri after an unfair trial biased in favor of execution. There are many significant and troubling questions about who committed the crime for which Reggie was sentenced to death. Reggie’s case is filled with many injustices, including police brutality,
gross prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective defense counsel. Reggie was sentenced to death for the 1991 rape and murder of two young women, who drowned after plunging from the Chain of the Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River. At the time of his arrest, Reggie was a teenager with no criminal history, living with his family in suburban St. Louis and studying to become a mechanic. He was among a group of four youths (all teens except one) who encountered the victims and their cousin, Thomas Cummins,on the Chain of the Rocks Bridge. Even though prosecutors conceded that Reggie neither pushed the women nor planned the crime, he was convicted on the theory that he was an accomplice. There was no physical evidence linking Reggie to the crime for which he received the death penalty: no fingerprints, no DNA, no hair or fiber samples.

THE POLICE INVESTIGATION
The police charge the victims’ cousin, Thomas Cummins, with the crime but drop the charges and instead target three black teenagers. The police first arrested Thomas Cummins for the crime. Cummins called police to the scene and told them he and the Kerry sisters had driven to the abandoned bridge to look at graffiti on the bridge deck. Cummins said that while on the bridge, he and his cousins had met four male
youths, three blacks and one white. He claimed that the youths had raped his cousins and robbed him. Thereafter, Cummins stated, one of the youths pushed the sisters off the bridge into the river, and he was ordered to jump in after them, which he did. Cummins claims that he eventually swam to the Missouri shore where he hailed a passing truck driver. But Cummins had no injuries and his hair was clean, dry, and neatly-combed. The police and the Coast Guard were skeptical of Cummins’s story. After consulting with the Missouri Water Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard, the police doubted that Cummins could have survived — at least without serious
injury — the fall, which they estimated at 80 feet, into near-freezing water with rough surf and a strong current. According to the Coast Guard, “to accomplish the feat that [Cummins] claimed to have done, i.e.: jump into the river from the bridge, swim against the strong current and through the extremely strong whirlpool to reach the Missouri bank, would be extraordinary.” The police noted that “there had been several changes in Thomas’ statement as to what actually took place on the bridge.” Police skepticism grew after Cummins took a lie detector test and his
answers were found to be deceptive. When Cummins’s father, Gene, was given his son’s
polygraph test results, he told police that “he was afraid of that,” adding that when Thomas was an adolescent he would concoct elaborate stories. Gene Cummins later told the police that “he was bothered by the feeling that Thomas was not telling the truth.” Thomas Cummins eventually implicated himself in the death of his cousins, stating that the two women had fallen from the bridge as a result of an altercation that began after he made a sexual advance toward one of them. The police arrested and charged Cummins with the murder of his cousins. The arrest of Reggie Clemons. On April 7-8, 1991, Reggie and co-defendants Antonio Richardson, Marlin Gray and Daniel Winfrey were arrested for the murder of the Kerry sisters. The police traced a flashlight found on the bridge to 16 year-old Antonio Richardson. After initial denials, the police obtained a statement from Richardson in which he implicated himself and three other local youths: Daniel Winfrey, Marlin Gray and Reggie. Cummins was subsequently released from police custody. Reggie was beaten by the police and coerced into making a statement. Two police detectives
picked up Reggie, without a warrant, at his home in suburban St. Louis and took him to police headquarters for questioning. Although Reggie asked for an attorney, he was denied one. Instead, Reggie was subjected to several hours of threats and police beatings. He was slapped, punched in the head, choked and beaten about the chest. As a result of these beatings, Reggie’s face became visibly swollen. After five hours of violent interrogation, Reggie made a coerced statement in which he admitted to the rapes but denied pushing the girls off the bridge. He was
subsequently arrested and charged with rape and murder, although the rape charges were dismissed. At his arraignment, a state judge saw that Reggie was injured and sent him to the hospital. Cummins later retracted his confession, saying that he had been beaten by the police and coerced into a confession. Like Cummins, Reggie and his co-defendant, Marlin Gray, claimed that they had been beaten and threatened by the St. Louis police and were coerced into giving scripted confessions. While Cummins was released and eventually settled his police brutality lawsuit with the City for $150,000, Reggie and Marlin Gray’s allegations of police brutality were ignored. Instead, they were charged with a capital crime and ultimately sentenced to death.

THE INADEQUATE DEFENSE
Inexperienced lawyers provide ineffective counsel.

Reggie’s trial counsel was grossly ineffective. The attorneys who agreed to represent Reggie were a couple who had been married and had recently divorced. They had little death penalty experience and did hardly any pre-trial investigation. Six months prior to trial, the lawyer who was responsible for conducting all of the pre-trial investigation moved to California and took a full-time job at a corporation doing tax work, and worked at her new job and other cases during
the remaining pre-trial period of Reggie’s case. Neither Reggie nor his family was told of this move until a week after it occurred. Prior to the trial, the lawyer only made six trips to Missouri, dividing her time between Reggie’s case and approximately ten others, including a civil rights case which went to trial. Reggie’s mother, Mrs. Vera Thomas, who acted as his liaison with his lawyers, found her essentially unavailable for consultation. Reggie’s second lawyer was so unprepared that he did not even read the police reports or interview any witnesses prior to the trial. Although co-defendant Marlin Gray had been tried in
October 1992 by the same prosecutor who would try Reggie’s case, using the same witnesses, Reggie’s lawyers did not even obtain a transcript of testimony in the Gray case until several days after Reggie’s trial began. As a result of their ineffectiveness, Reggie’s lawyers failed to uncover facts and evidence that
would have been uncovered by minimally competent defense lawyers. At the sentencing phase, they failed to prepare, investigate and develop evidence. In fact, they were so ill-prepared that Reggie’s mother, who is not an attorney, was asked to prepare written questions to be asked of certain witnesses. If Reggie’s attorneys focused the amount of attention that a reasonably competent attorney would have on this stage of the proceedings, a strong case for life could have been presented. It was not. During the trial Reggie’s counsel even stopped making objections, claiming that they became tired of being overruled. Eventually, one of Reggie’s lawyers would have his law license suspended after repeatedly being disciplined for neglecting his duties to his clients.

THE UNFAIR PROSECUTION
Race and unfairness undermine the pursuit of justice. Nels Moss engaged in a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct that deprived Reggie of his Constitutional rights. The prosecutor’s goal was to secure as many convictions as possible, and
he ultimately obtained death sentences against all three African-American defendants, offering a plea to the only white defendant in the case. He improperly struck qualified prospective jurors, leading to the creation of a jury predisposed to convict Reggie and sentence him to death. Moss prevented a key witness from testifying in Reggie’s favor by threatening him and intimidating him into refusing to testify. Reggie was tried by an almost all white jury, after Nels Moss used tactics to remove African-Americans from serving on the jury. The trial judge noted that his past experience in St. Louis had involved an almost equal proportion of African-Americans on juries, and he recognized that a disproportionate number of African-Americans had been stricken from Reggie’s jury. The State presented only three pieces of evidence that in any way linked Reggie to the crime. The first was the testimony of alleged victim Thomas Cummins, who had earlier confessed to
the crime himself and who could not attribute any specific wrongdoing to Reggie. The second was the testimony of Daniel Winfrey, the one white co-defendant, who sought and was granted a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony. Winfrey had made prior inconsistent statements to the police and in Gray’s trial and told a jailhouse friend that he would lie to obtain a plea bargain, but this was kept from the jury by Moss’s tactic of witness intimidation. Finally, the State offered Reggie’s audio taped statement that was obtained under coercion after being
beaten and threatened by the police and in violation of his constitutional rights. Nowhere in the statement does Reggie admit to having committed the murders. Moss chose to conclude this highly publicized, racially charged case with inflammatory appeals to the jury’s emotions and religious sensibilities. Moss misrepresented the evidence, including falsely suggesting that Reggie had a history of criminal activity. Moss even flouted a specific court order by inflaming the jury with an improper and highly prejudicial comparison of Reggie — who had no criminal record or history of having harmed anyone — to two notorious serial killers. So severe was the prosecutorial misconduct in Reggie’s case that the prosecutor was held in criminal contempt and fined for his conduct. Two federal courts later found that Moss’s actions in Reggie’s case were “abusive and boorish.” The misconduct on the part of the prosecutor was not isolated: a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity found Moss to be one of the most criticized prosecutors in the country who repeatedly broke the rules. Many of Reggie’s claims have never been heard in a court of law because of procedural rules that have barred the presentation of important evidence. Notwithstanding, the evidence that has been examined led two federal judges to vote to overturn his death sentence and find that Reggie was
denied a fair trial.

REGGIE TODAY
A loving father and son and productive inmate. Reggie is the loving father of a 14 year-old daughter, Pauline, with whom he corresponds on a regular basis. He is in regular contact with his family, including his parents, Vera and Pastor Reynolds Thomas. While in prison, Reggie has worked hard to remain a productive member of
society. He has held several jobs, including a position in the law library. While on death row, he has been actively involved in a suicide watch program (that aided prison officials in monitoring other inmates), and has become a member of the NAACP. Reggie has pursued intellectual endeavors as well —he obtained his General Equivalency Diploma while on death row, and is a writer of poems and fiction and the creator of a number of inventions.

Reggie has exhausted all of his legal appeals. His only recourse now is clemency.
Reggie Clemons with his mother, Vera Thomas.

ACT NOW! Support the Justice for
Reggie Clemons Campaign!
For more information about how you can help, call (314) 367-5959 or
visit www.justiceforreggie.com

Friday, November 18, 2011

CQ Behind The Lines

I know I haven't posted in quite a while...sometimes life has a way of getting in the way.

By David C. Morrison, Special to Congressional Quarterly
War surplus: Vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan wars may find jobs operating surveillance technologies stateside for CBP . . . Vote of absolutely no confidence: Ex-DHS chief Tom Ridge "would be the worst person you could think of to clean up the mess at Penn State" . . . Comedy of terrors: Chataugua Airlines pilot accidentally locks himself in bathroom of LaGuardia-bound plane and sparks terror scare. These and other stories lead today's homeland security coverage.
---------------------------------

DHS balks at Texas lawmakers’ proposals to redirect equipment returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to the U.S.-Mexican border, fearing CBP could be saddled with the long-term costs of operating high-tech systems, The Houston Chronicle’s Stewart Powell relates. On the other hand, vets returning from those fronts may find jobs operating satellite comm, blimps and other surveillance technologies stateside for border control, Nextgov’s Aliya Sternstein hears a DHS official testifying.

Homies: “For what it’s worth, DHS rejects the accusation [that it has] been coordinating Occupy Wall Street evictions with local law enforcement agencies,” Salon’s Peter Finocchiaro relates. In his new book, veteran Dem pol George McGovern calls for TSA and the entire DHS to be eliminated, The Hill’s Keith Laing recounts. DHS launched a review yesterday of all deportation cases currently before the immigration courts with the goal of speeding ejections of convicted criminals and sparing those without a felony record, The New York Times’ Julia Preston reports. The budget being proposed by the House for DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate “is so bare bones it would essentially terminate most research and development,” National Defense Magazine’s Stew Magnuson hears undersecretary Tara O’Toole testifying.

Feds: “When it comes to the war on terror, the GOP has struggled to find an Obama soft spot . . . Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan and the Taliban is on the ropes,” USA Today’s DeWayne Wickham writes. The White House yesterday threatened to veto a defense authorization bill over a provision forbidding stateside criminal trials for terrorism suspects, The Hill’s Jeremy Herb relates. Justice’s civil rights probe into Alabama’s draconian illegal immigration measure has led to a state-federal deadlock over access to children’s enrollment data, The Washington Post’s Jerry Markon mentions. California and Texas lawmakers formed a rare alliance to secure $240 million in federal funds to pay for jailing illegal immigrants despite a congressional drive to reduce Washington’s red ink, the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Simon relates.

State and local: A top ICE official has accepted responsibility for his agency failing to notify Milford (Mass.) Police that a witness in a hot-button DUI case had cut off his monitoring bracelet and gone walk-about, the Daily News updates. In West Milford, N.J. yesterday, DHS agents reviewed more than 15 apparent attacks on local water and sewage facilities since summer, The Bergen County Record records. South Texas law enforcement officials and Democratic congressmen debunk claims by Republicans that the border has become a war zone, The Houston Chronicle, again, recounts — while Calexico’s KXO Radio News reports a delegation of Southwest border officials meeting yesterday with DHS’s Janet Napolitano and CBP’s Alan Bersin. A Georgia man was arrested for allegedly placing “Car Bomb” and “50-Foot Clearance IED” signs on a woman’s disabled car parked near his home, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution records.

Bugs ‘n bombs: The Lansing, Mich., Police Board of Commissioners was treated to a special presentation on bioterrorism at a Tuesday meeting, WLNS 6 News notes. Scientists and security specialists are in the midst of a fierce debate over airing data about experiments on a strain of bird flu virus that made it more contagious and thus a powerful potential bioterror weapon, NPR reports. The cybersecurity of the North American power grid is “in a state of near chaos,” The Montreal Gazette sees a white paper from a U.S. energy consultancy declaring. The Michigan State Police bomb squad was called out this week to investigate the discovery of an explosive device on the grounds of Oakland Southwest Airport, Detroit’s WDIV News relates.

Close air support: A Chataugua Airlines pilot who accidentally locked himself in the bathroom of his LaGuardia-bound plane caused a terror scare, The New York Post reports. “Jersey Shore” reality starlet Jwoww’s complaints to the contrary, TSA insists she was not singled out for an individual “enhanced screening” at a Fargo, N.D. checkpoint, Government Security News updates. A TSA officer at O’Hare Airport has been fired for posting anti-Muslim, racist statements on his Facebook page, Chicago’s ABC 7 News notes. Permitting holders of federal security clearances to access expedited airport security lines, as suggested by TSA’s John Pistole, “overlooks some disturbing implications,” Fierce Homeland Security frowns. Canada’s airport security agency is collecting too much info about innocent travelers and failing to protect it properly, Postmedia News reports a federal privacy watchdog finding. With the E.U. having decided this week that full-body scanners pose a risk to passenger health to the point that they cannot be used, “TSA is not pleased,” SlashGear says.

Borders & Papers: Federal and state authorities “are working hard to stay ahead of a new and dangerous trend: fake IDs that are so good it can be very difficult to tell them from the real thing,” Cleveland’s FOX 8 News leads. Washington’s “Whatcom County is almost all farmland [but] that calm has been jarred by a bursting paramilitary force,” as Border Patrollers in CBP’s Blaine Sector swell to 327 agents from 45 in 2000, The Seattle Times tells. DHS, the Texas Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies “are all coming together to ensure border towns such as ours remain safe,” Laredo’s KGNS 8 News notes. A nondescript white warehouse in southern California hid a sophisticated smuggling tunnel used to transport tons of cannabis into the United States, CNN notes — and check The New York Times: “Cat-and-Mole Games on the Mexican Border.”

Ivory (Watch) Towers: A Harvard Law School professor criticizes the “homeland security feel” of the university’s lockdown of Harvard Yard against the 99 Percent movement, ThinkProgress relates. Former Pennsylvania governor and DHS chief Tom Ridge “would be the worst person you could think of to clean up the mess at Penn State,” The Philadelphia Daily News inveighs. A fugitive animal rights terrorist believed to be hiding in western Massachusetts would be within striking distance of several research labs that use animals in experiments, the Boston Herald reports.

Courts and rights: An Idaho man accused of firing two shots at the White House last week has been charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama or his staff, The Associated Press reports — while The Christian Science Monitor predicts a second look at White House security procedures. A white supremacist convicted last month of a gun charge related to a domestic terrorism plot has been indicted for an alleged identity theft scheme, The Spokane Spokesman Review relates. A judge denied bond to four North Georgia seniors accused of plotting to bomb federal buildings and disperse the toxin ricin because they “may still intend to harm federal authorities,” the Journal-Constitution recounts.

Rulings reconsidered: A lawyer representing the first person ever convicted for violating narco-terrorism laws told a D.C. federal appeals court yesterday that the evidence in the case was insufficient to support the charges, Legal Times relates. “A closer examination of the evidence and the way in which the FBI carried out the investigation casts serious doubts about the Fort Dix Five’s convictions,” a Guardian op-ed objects. A commonly invoked anti-hacking law is so overbroad that it criminalizes conduct as innocuous as using a fake user name on Facebook, The Register hears a legal authority attesting.

Over there: A Texas man convicted Monday of seeking to abet al Qaeda terrorists attempted to enter Canada a couple years ago but was turned back at the border, Postmedia News learns. Urging aspiring jihadists to emulate its practices, a 144-page field manual being distributed by Afghanistan’s Haqqani network gives special praise to al Qaeda as a small Muslim group that “terrifies” its enemies, Newsweek notes. The intentions of the tiny emirate of Qatar “remain murky to its neighbors and even allies — some see a Napoleon complex, others an Islamist agenda,” The New York Times spotlights. Libya’s secularists warn that Qatar is using its leadership position to bring its Islamist allies to power, FrontPage Magazine, relatedly, frowns. Anti-terror experts met Thursday in Algiers to discuss ways of preventing the financing of armed militant groups, focusing on north Africa’s Sahel region, Agence France-Presse reports.

Holy Wars: That Balkan jihadists “are eager to wage holy war reveals the moral depravity and spiritual darkness at the heart of Islamic fundamentalism,” Jeffrey T. Kuhner comments in The Washington Times. “Travel for many from the Middle East has often been quite difficult, but following 9/11 and the Arab Spring, it seems to be worsening,” The Kuwait Times tells. “In the past 20 years, prison conversions to Islam and the Internet have become the two most common ways people become associated with extremist groups,” Futurity Research News relays from a new academic study. Target-hardening measures taken by Jewish organizations receiving DHS dollars include upgrades to surveillance and alarm systems, stronger doors and windows, shatter-resistant windows and security barriers in front of buildings, Homeland Security Today tells.

Such sweet torture: “Pentagon officials expressed outrage when an independent audit revealed that defense contractor KBR Inc. had charged them up to five times more than market price for the service of torturing Iraqi citizens,” The Onion reports. “’At a time when our government is facing budget cuts across the board, it is reprehensible that someone would charge $150,000 to grab an innocent civilian off the street, fly him to a prison in an undisclosed location, and deprive him of sleep while forcing him to maintain an excruciatingly painful stress position for 40 hours,’ said Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, adding that the service should have cost ‘$40,000, tops.’ ‘Sure, they got this particular individual to talk, but is that any reason to tack on $250 dollars per nipple-clamp used to electrocute him?’ The Defense Department later confirmed it looked forward to continuing its work with KBR on projects throughout the region.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

U.S. Is Undeniably Guilty Of War Crimes

CIA Kidnapped, Tortured "the Wrong Guy," Says Former Agency Operative Glenn Carle

Sunday 23 October 2011
by: Jason Leopold, Truthout | Video Interview and Report

Former CIA Operative Glenn Carle. (Photo: Lance Page / Truthout [3])

Rob Richer, the No. 2 ranking official in the CIA's clandestine service, paid a visit to Glenn Carle [4]'s office in December 2002 and presented the veteran CIA operative with an urgent proposal.

"I want you to go on a temporary assignment," Carle recalls Richer telling him. "It's important for the agency, it's important for the country and it's important for you. Will you do it?"

Richer, who resigned from the CIA in 2005 [5] and went to work for the mercenary outfit Blackwater, told Carle that agency operatives had just rendered a "high-value target," an Afghan in his mid-forties named Haji Pacha Wazir [6], who was purported to be Osama bin Laden's personal banker as well as financier for a number of suspected terrorists. Wazir was being held at a CIA black site prison in Morocco, and the agency needed a clandestine officer who spoke French to take over the interrogation of the detainee.

Carle, formerly the deputy national intelligence officer for transitional threats, who had no prior interrogation experience, agreed, and within 72 hours, he boarded a CIA-chartered jet bound for Morocco.

The Interrogator

Carle recounts what unfolded next in his riveting book, "The Interrogator: An Education," [7]which stands as a damning indictment of the CIA's torture and rendition program and the Bush administration's approach to the so-called Global War on Terror.

Carle refers to Wazir in his book as CAPTUS. The CIA, which did not respond to requests for comment for this report, would not allow Carle to print Wazir 's name in his book, nor was he permitted to disclose the locations of the two black site prisons where Wazir was imprisoned and tortured.

A report published [8] in Harper's in July first disclosed that CAPTUS is Wazir [8] and the location of the CIA black site prisons [8] where he was held.

During an on-camera interview with Truthout in Washington, DC, Carle said he originally believed the agency had captured a "significant Al-Qaeda leader" who had been a concern to US intelligence agencies "for a long time."

"The assessment that was made of [Wazir] was quite compelling and I accepted it," Carle said. "I knew my colleagues to be hard-working and careful and that they reviewed their assessments regularly and the assessment was that [Wazir] was one of the top players in Al-Qaeda."

Although Carle was told by a top agency official that he should do "whatever it takes to get this man to talk," which he said he understood meant using torture to "break this fellow's will" and obtain intelligence, Carle said he "would not do it [because] it was wrong."

Instead, Carle said he interrogated Wazir using standard rapport-building techniques and "psychological manipulation" that led the detainee to believe Carle was his "friend."

Carle concluded not long after he began interrogating Wazir that the agency had "kidnapped" the "wrong guy" and Wazir, who ran an informal money-transfer business known as a Hawala [9], was not a "committed jihadist" or Bin Laden's personal banker.

Wazir was "more like a train conductor who sells a criminal a ticket," Carle writes in "The Interrogator." "Slowly, progressively, first in dismay, then in anger, I had realized that on the CAPTUS case the Agency, the government, all of us, had been victims of delusion."

Wazir's life had been "destroyed" based on what Carle characterized as an "error."

But the CIA's position did not change. The agency believed Wazir was withholding intelligence due to the fact that he could not answer specific questions. So in an attempt to convince him to reveal information about Al-Qaeda, agency operatives kidnapped his older brother, Haji Ghaljai, in December 2002 and held him captive for six months at the same black site prison.

Carle documented his conclusions about Wazir, and called for his immediate release, in top-secret cables he prepared that were supposed to be sent to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. However, Carle said when he later inquired about his cables he discovered they "were never transmitted so they never formerly existed."

The US government eventually moved Wazir from Morocco to the infamous Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan, which Carle refers to as "Hotel California," and then transferred him to the Bagram prison facility.

Psychological Torture

Carle described in great detail the conditions in which Wazir and other detainees were held at the black site prisons.

“It was instantaneously, completely black,” Carle said about the black site prisons. “Not dark, black. A darkness where literally I could not see my hand…Totally black. And there was loud incessant noise or a series of other sounds. Babies wailing, sounds that would appear to be someone being hit or car crashes or wheels screeching. The goal is to play upon the senses so as to disorient the prisoner.”

Carle said he believed the psychological methods used to disorient detainees rose to the level of torture. He said that if "things got out of hand" during an interrogation a CIA psychologist would step in. Carle said, however, he “never saw any of the physical techniques being administered [to Wazir]” while he was present.

“Whenever anything came up to make that possible I wouldn’t allow it,” Carle said. “I stopped it. So I wasn’t aware of that happening. But I don’t know what happened to him after I left” the black site prison.

Habeas Denial

Blogger Marcy Wheeler reported that in September 2006 Wazir filed a habeas petition [10] and "his suit was ultimately consolidated with the three Bagram detainees whose DC Circuit habeas denial remains the relevant decision denying Bagram detainees habeas."

"But Wazir’s petition was denied in spite of the fact that a former Bagram detainee revealed that Wazir had been told some time in June or July 2008 there was no evidence against him," Wheeler wrote.

Tina Foster, a constitutional attorney who represented Wazir in his habeas petition against the US government [8], told Harper's, “the Justice Department maintained that Pacha Wazir was legally detainable on unspecified grounds, but that the determination had been properly made by those with knowledge of his case.”

“Had the conclusions reached by [Carle in cable assessments he sent about Wazir] not been destroyed, and instead acknowledged and disclosed by the government to the court, it would likely have tipped the scales of justice in his case and possibly also in other cases,” Foster said.

Wazir was not freed until February 2010, eight years after his capture.

Heavily Redacted

The CIA's Publications Review Board, "under the guise of 'protecting sources and methods,' imposed numerous redactions and elliptical phrases on my manuscript," Carle writes in "The Interrogator," which was published following a year-long battle with the agency. "These have eliminated or softened harsh facts about what our government has done in pursuit of terrorists, rounded edges of wrongdoing, and obscured the corruption of our institutions and of our system of government caused by the rendition, detention, and coercive interrogation of terrorists or terrorist suspects."

Still, Carle footnoted the redactions and summarized, in general terms, what the agency had censored. For example, in response to a redacted paragraph on page 134, Carle added this footnote:

The deleted passage concerns my assessment of why Headquarters would persit in its conceptual and operational errors in [Wazir's] case. The passage is acidic. This is the only reason I can see why it would be redacted, for it reveals no source or method--other than contemptible institutional incompetence.

Carle told Truthout that since his book was published in June, he has been the subject of a "whispering campaign," where "unnamed anonymous representatives and supporters of [torture] and defenders of them will speak to significant members of the media and say, 'You shouldn't take a chance on [reporting] his story because you don't want to damage your access to useful sources."

"That's had some effect on my ability to get this story out," Carle said, without citing the media outlets that were allegedly contacted. "The effort clearly has been, and I have heard this from multiple sources, to keep me from having access to the major media networks and newspapers and magazines. It has worked. I have not been able to share my story on a major network."

Prosecutions Would "Divide Us"

Yet Carle, who retired from the CIA in 2007, refuses to endorse an investigation and/or prosecution of key Bush administration and CIA officials who he said they were responsible for violating numerous laws in the name of national security, claiming it would "divide" the country.

"It's not to protect the guilty," Carle told Truthout about the reasons he does not support accountability. "I think a trial or series of trials would divide us, polarize us and become a he said, she said, 'I attempted to protect the nation' - and I am sure everyone sincerely intended to do that - and 'You're just for political reasons coming after me.' I think that would be counterproductive."

"The country is already 'divided,'" Truthout responded, "even without a full-scale investigation or prosecution. You're well aware of the partisan bickering currently taking place in Washington, DC. How would a criminal probe further polarize the country?"

"Well, we are divided in a more distressing way than at any time since the the Vietnam War," Carle said. "But Vietnam was over an issue not over a political philosophy. By taking steps that fuel the divisions we don't end them. My objective is to make the feeling more broad among the American public that [torture is] un-American and unacceptable and doesn't work. I think that comes not by going after the designers of them, but by taking steps that make the average American think, 'well, yeah these methods don't work and are incompatible with what it means to be an American citizen. So, I think strengthening the feeling that the measures are wrong is more important than having three or four people pay a penalty for this."

"I Did My Best"

Another CIA officer took over Wazir’s case in 2003 and Carle returned to the United States. He said he did not inquire about what happened to the detainee until he reluctantly typed his name into Google in December 2010.

"I was an undercover CIA operations officer for most of my career,” Carle said. “I was known to foreign services around the world as a CIA officer. It would be unwise for me to associate my name with an operation. I never asked [about Wazir] and I never looked. I learned only last year, nine months after [Wazir] had been freed, that in fact he had been freed. I knew nothing about it."

Ultimately, Carle said, "I did my best and I think in this case I made the right decisions and acted honorably, although I was unable to accomplish much of what I tried."

[11]

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License [11].
[2]

Jason Leopold [13]
News
Source URL: http://www.truth-out.org/cia-kidnapped-tortured-wrong-man-says-cia-operative-glenn-carle/1319214209
Links:
[1] http://www.truth-out.org/print/7856
[2] http://www.truth-out.org/printmail/7856
[3] http://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout
[4] http://glenncarle.com/
[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/08/AR2005090801796.html
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacha_Wazir
[7] http://www.amazon.com/Interrogator-Education-Glenn-L-Carle/dp/1568586736/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319163473&sr=8-1
[8] http://harpers.org/archive/2011/07/hbc-90008135
[9] http://boingboing.net/2007/11/23/hawala-an-ancient-gl.html
[10] http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2011/07/11/how-the-government-hid-their-pacha-wazir-mistake-by-denying-habeas-corpus/
[11] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/
[12] http://www.truth-out.org/printmail
[13] http://www.truth-out.org/content/jason-leopold
[14] http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6694/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=2160
[15] https://members.truth-out.org/donate
[16] http://www.truth-out.org/?q=interview-with-former-cia-officer-john-kiriakou59396
[17] http://www.truth-out.org/?q=government-quietly-recants-bush-era-claims-about-
[18] http://www.truth-out.org/?q=cia-psychologists-notes-reveal-bushs-torture-program68542
[19] http://www.truth-out.org/?q=army-accuses-reservist-classified-information-truthout-guantanamo/1314206461

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

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Oh You Love Us, You Really Love Us! Best Taking of the High Road

The Pitch | Best of Kansas City 2011 | Arts & Entertainment | Best Taking of the High Road

The voices of 200 singers filled Redemptorist Catholic Church in midtown one Sunday in February. The performance of French composer Gabriel Fauré's Requiem raised money for the church's organ. The church staff had invited the Heartland Men's Chorus to participate in the program, a move that didn't sit well with those Catholics who think gay men should renounce their gay ways. In advance of the event, a conservative blogger faulted the church for inviting "a group with an open agenda of proselytizing their message of first tolerance, then acceptance, finally conversion." Members of the men's chorus brushed aside the complaints and focused on the music. In the end, the performance of Fauré's "Lullaby of Death" packed the pews, and there were no reports that the statue of Mary above the church door shed a tear upon the arrival of of gay and gay-sensitive men wearing tuxedoes."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Remarks by the President at the Human Rights Campaign's Annual National Dinner

Can I get a hallelujah? I have to say he came out swinging last night and frankly my dear, I loved it. Two favorite moments? On anti-gay bullying:
"This isn’t just “kids being kids.” It’s wrong. It’s destructive. It’s never acceptable. And I want all those kids to know that the President and the First Lady is standing right by them every inch of the way. I want them to know that we love them and care about them, and they’re not by themselves. That’s what I want them to know."
and on the GOP:
"We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders -- one of whom could end up being the President of the United States -- being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be Commander-in-Chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient."



Release Time:
For Immediate Release
Washington Convention Center

Washington, D.C.

7:26 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. It is great to be back. (Applause.) I see a lot of friends in the house. I appreciate the chance to join you tonight. I also took a trip out to California last week, where I held some productive bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga. (Laughter.) She was wearing 16-inch heels. (Laughter.) She was eight feet tall. (Laughter.) It was a little intimidating.

Now, I don’t want to give a long speech. Cyndi Lauper is in the house. I can’t compete with that. (Applause.) But I wanted to come here tonight, first of all, to personally thank Joe for his outstanding years of leadership at HRC. (Applause.) What he has accomplished at the helm of this organization has been remarkable, and I want to thank all of you for the support that you’ve shown this organization and for your commitment to a simple idea: Every single American -- gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -- every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society. It’s a pretty simple proposition. (Applause.)

Now, I don’t have to tell you that we have a ways to go in that struggle. I don’t have to tell you how many are still denied their basic rights -- Americans who are still made to feel like second-class citizens, who have to live a lie to keep their jobs, or who are afraid to walk the street, or down the hall at school. Many of you have devoted your lives to the cause of equality. So you know what we have to do; we’ve got more work ahead of us.

But we can also be proud of the progress we’ve made these past two and a half years. Think about it. (Applause.) Two years ago, I stood at this podium, in this room, before many of you, and I made a pledge. I said I would never counsel patience; that it wasn’t right to tell you to be patient any more than it was right for others to tell African Americans to be patient in the fight for equal rights a half century ago. (Applause.) But what I also said, that while it might take time –- more time than anyone would like -– we are going to make progress; we are going to succeed; we are going to build a more perfect union.

And so, let’s see what happened. I met with Judy Shepard. I promised her we would pass a hate crimes bill named for her son, Matthew. And with the help of my dear friend Ted Kennedy we got it done. Because it should never be dangerous -- (applause) -- you should never have to look over your shoulder -- to be gay in the United States of America. That’s why we got it done. (Applause.)

I met with Janice Langbehn, who was barred from the bedside of the woman she loved as she lay dying. And I told her that we were going to put a stop to this discrimination. And you know what? We got it done. I issued an order so that any hospital in America that accepts Medicare or Medicaid -– and that means just about every hospital -– has to treat gay partners just as they do straight partners. Because nobody should have to produce a legal contract to hold the hand of the person that they love. We got that done. (Applause.)
I said that we would lift that HIV travel ban -- we got that done. (Applause.) We put in place the first comprehensive national strategy to fight HIV/AIDS. (Applause.)

Many questioned whether we’d succeed in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And, yes, it took two years to get the repeal through Congress. (Applause.) We had to hold a coalition together. We had to keep up the pressure. We took some flak along the way. (Applause.) But with the help of HRC, we got it done. And “don’t ask, don’t tell” is history. (Applause.) And all over the world, there are men and women serving this country just as they always have -- with honor and courage and discipline and valor. We got it done. (Applause.) We got that done. All around the world, you’ve got gays and lesbians who are serving, and the only difference is now they can put up a family photo. (Laughter.) No one has to live a lie to serve the country they love.

I vowed to keep up the fight against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. There’s a bill to repeal this discriminatory law in Congress, and I want to see that passed. But until we reach that day, my administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts. I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all. It should join “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the history books. (Applause.)

So, yes, we have more work to do. And after so many years -- even decades -- of inaction you’ve got every right to push against the slow pace of change. But make no mistake -- I want people to feel encouraged here -- we are making change. We’re making real and lasting change. We can be proud of the progress we’ve already made.

And I’m going to continue to fight alongside you. And I don’t just mean in your role, by the way, as advocates for equality. You’re also moms and dads who care about the schools your children go to. (Applause.) You’re also students figuring out how to pay for college. You’re also folks who are worried about the economy and whether or not your partner or husband or wife will be able to find a job. And you’re Americans who want this country to succeed and prosper, and who are tired of the gridlock and the vicious partisanship, and are sick of the Washington games. Those are your fights, too, HRC. (Applause.)

So I’m going to need your help. I need your help to fight for equality, to pass a repeal of DOMA, to pass an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill so that being gay is never again a fireable offense in America. (Applause.) And I don’t have to tell you, there are those who don't want to just stand in our way but want to turn the clock back; who want to return to the days when gay people couldn’t serve their country openly; who reject the progress that we’ve made; who, as we speak, are looking to enshrine discrimination into state laws and constitutions -- efforts that we’ve got to work hard to oppose, because that’s not what America should be about.

We’re not about restricting rights and restricting opportunity. We’re about opening up rights and opening up opportunity -- (applause) -- and treating each other generously and with love and respect. (Applause.)

And together, we also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they’re gay or transgender -- who may be getting picked on or pushed around because they’re different. We’ve got to make sure they know that there are adults they can talk to; that they are never alone; that there is a whole world waiting for them filled with possibility. That’s why we held a summit at the White House on bullying. That’s why we’re going to continue to focus on this issue. (Applause.) This isn’t just “kids being kids.” It’s wrong. It’s destructive. It’s never acceptable. And I want all those kids to know that the President and the First Lady is standing right by them every inch of the way. (Applause.) I want them to know that we love them and care about them, and they’re not by themselves. That’s what I want them to know. (Applause.)

Now, I also need your help in the broader fight to get this economy back on track. You may have heard, I introduced a bill called the American Jobs Act. (Applause.) It’s been almost three weeks since I sent it up to Congress. That’s three weeks longer than it should have taken to pass this common-sense bill. (Applause.) This is a bill filled with ideas that both parties have supported -- tax breaks for companies that hire veterans; road projects; school renovations; putting construction crews back to work rebuilding America; tax cuts for middle-class families so they can make ends meet and spend a little more at local stores and restaurants that need the business.

Now, you may have heard me say this a few times before -- I’ll say it again: Pass the bill. (Applause.) Enough gridlock. Enough delay. Enough politics. Pass this bill. Put this country back to work. (Applause.) HRC, you know how Congress works. I’m counting on you to have my back. Go out there and get them to pass this bill. (Applause.) Let’s put America back to work.

Now, ultimately, these debates we’re having are about more than just politics; they’re more about -- they’re about more than the polls and the pundits, and who’s up and who’s down. This is a contest of values. That’s what’s at stake here. This is a fundamental debate about who we are as a nation.

I don’t believe -- we don’t believe -- in a small America, where we let our roads crumble, we let our schools fall apart, where we stand by while teachers are laid off and science labs are shut down, and kids are dropping out.

We believe in a big America, an America that invests in the future -- that invests in schools and highways and research and technology -- the things that have helped make our economy the envy of the world.

We don’t believe in a small America, where we meet our fiscal responsibilities by abdicating every other responsibility we have, and where we just divvy up the government as tax breaks for those who need them the least, where we abandon the commitment we’ve made to seniors though Medicare and Social Security, and we say to somebody looking for work, or a student who needs a college loan, or a middle-class family with a child who’s disabled, that “You’re on your own.” That’s not who we are.

We believe in a big America, an America where everybody has got a fair shot, and everyone pays their fair share. An America where we value success and the idea that anyone can make it in this country. But also an America that does -- in which everyone does their part -- including the wealthiest Americans, including the biggest corporations -- to deal with the deficits that threaten our future. (Applause.)

We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders -- one of whom could end up being the President of the United States -- being silent when an American soldier is booed. (Applause.) We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. (Applause.) We don’t believe in them being silent since. (Applause.) You want to be Commander-in-Chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient. (Applause.)

We don’t believe in a small America. We believe in a big America -- a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America -- that values the service of every patriot. (Applause.) We believe in an America where we’re all in it together, and we see the good in one another, and we live up to a creed that is as old as our founding: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. And that includes everybody. That’s what we believe. That’s what we’re going to be fighting for. (Applause.)

I am confident that’s what the American people believe in. (Applause.) I’m confident because of the changes we’ve achieved these past two and a half years -– the progress that some folks said was impossible. (Applause.) And I’m hopeful -- I am hopeful --

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Fired up!

THE PRESIDENT: I’m fired up, too. (Laughter.) I am hopeful -- (applause) -- I am hopeful -- I am still hopeful, because of a deeper shift that we’re seeing; a transformation not only written into our laws, but woven into the fabric of our society.

It’s progress led not by Washington but by ordinary citizens, who are propelled not just by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard. (Applause.) It’s playing out in legislatures like New York, and courtrooms and in the ballot box. But it’s also happening around water coolers and at the Thanksgiving table, and on Facebook and Twitter, and at PTA meetings and potluck dinners, and church socials and VFW Halls.

It happens when a father realizes he doesn’t just love his daughter, but also her wife. (Applause.) It happens when a soldier tells his unit that he’s gay, and they tell him they knew it all along and they didn’t care, because he was the toughest guy in the unit. (Applause.) It happens when a video sparks a movement to let every single young person know they’re not alone, and things will get better. It happens when people look past their ultimately minor differences to see themselves in the hopes and struggles of their fellow human beings. That’s where change is happening. (Applause.)

And that’s not just the story of the gay rights movement. That’s the story of America -- (applause) -- the slow, inexorable march towards a more perfect union. (Applause.) You are contributing to that story, and I’m confident we can continue to write another chapter together.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)

END
7:45 P.M. EDT

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Troy Davis

The last words of Troy Davis before he was murdered by the state of Georgia. From the AP:

Georgia inmate Troy Davis was defiant to the end, proclaiming his innocence in the 1989 slaying of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.

Here are his final words, as witnessed by an Associated Press reporter:

"I'd like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I'm not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.

The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight.

For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Unbelievable

I can't even write anything about this right now. Call parole board 404-656-5651. Call DA: 912-652-7308. I've been trying to call, all yesterday both numbers were busy.

Dear William,

It is with a very heavy heart and a deep sense of outrage that I let you know that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny clemency to Troy Davis.

This means that very little is standing in the way of the state of Georgia executing a potentially innocent man this Wednesday, September 21 st at 7pm.

The actions of the Board are astounding in the face of so much doubt in the case against Troy Davis. However, we are not prepared to accept the decision and let anyone with the power to stop the execution off the hook.

Join us in calling on the Board to reconsider its decision, and on the Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm to do the right thing. They have until the final moments before Troy's scheduled execution to put the brakes on this runaway justice system.

We have seen an unprecedented level of support from our members, coalition partners and all sorts of concerned individuals across the political spectrum.

I was blown away as I carried one of the many boxes containing your petition signatures up to the Parole Board office last Thursday. Close to a million signatures have been collected from the many organizations working with us. I looked back as we were marching down Auburn Avenue in Atlanta Friday night and I could not see an end to the crowd. About 3,500 people came out!

The movement here is very alive. It is electric. And I have no doubt that we will raise the volume together against what could be an unthinkable injustice.

Join your voices with us - we will not allow Troy Davis to be executed, not in our names! Troy Davis and his family have counted on us for many years now and we will not let them down. Please take action - human rights and a human life are on the line. Please contact Georgia's District Attorney and urge him to stop the execution of Troy Davis.

Make the state of Georgia hear you! Tell them that executing Troy Davis will only deepen the cycle of violence and injustice.

In Solidarity,
Laura Moye
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA

P.S. We'll be organizing a Day of Protest today to express our outrage at the recent decision to deny Troy Davis clemency. And on Wednesday (Sept. 21), we're calling for a Day of Vigil on Troy's impending execution date. If you are able to organize locally for either of these events, please tell us about your plans.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jay Carney Speaks For Obama RE: Troy Davis

I hope this is a transcript error. He's supposed to be executed Wednesday night midnight.

R. CARNEY: Thank you, guys.

Okay, let’s move on here. April, you have your hand up?

Q Jay, I want to ask you a couple of questions about the death penalty issue, especially as we’re seeing September 31st [sic] as the date for Troy Davis to possibly be executed. Where does this administration stand on issues of the death penalty, particularly when there is a question about a person’s guilt or innocence?

MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President has written that he believes the death penalty does little to deter crime but that some crimes merit the ultimate punishment. Some of you may also recall that when the President was in the Illinois State Senate this was an issue where he worked across the aisle to find common ground.

With regard to the specific case, I haven’t talked to the President about that, and I would refer questions about it to the Department of Justice.

Q A follow-up on that, please. Congress has several bills that I understand the Justice Department is in support of review of the criminal punishment system, as well as death penalty. Why is there a review when some things, particularly in a death penalty case, on racial aspects, there are -- we know that certain groups of people are on death row and a lot of those cases those people are found to be innocent. So is there any thought of a moratorium on death penalty cases right now with all the questions that are --

MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of a review of that nature. There may be one, but, yes, I would direct you to the Department of Justice if, in fact, they're doing that kind of review. But I’m not aware of that kind of discussion going on.

Q Can you get Justice to talk about it at least?

MR. CARNEY: Well, honestly, Justice is an independent -- is an agency that decides when it deals with the press how it will answer those questions.

Q I’m sorry, Jay. Just to piggyback on what April said, because she and I are obviously on the same plane today. The President was supposed to speak at the Martin Luther King Memorial dedication. And two of the people that I got a chance to interview at that dedication said that if Dr. King were alive today, an issue that would be most on his mind would be the mass incarceration of African Americans. I just wanted to maybe follow up with -- just wanted to get the President’s stance on that. Do you know where he stands on this issue?

MR. CARNEY: Again, this is an issue, broadly speaking, both the death penalty and broader issues in terms of crime and punishment, that the President as a state senator or senator and a candidate, as well as President, has addressed with regards to -- in terms of his views on it. And he will, as you know, speak when the ceremony has been rescheduled, he'll speak at that event.

We Sing Out

The audio/video/pictures just keep rolling in from yesterday's performance at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts. This song is a commissioned piece from the previous concert entitled "We Sing Out". Amazing to see it from the audience perspective. I saw someone else comment that he was proud because we sang this with no rehearsal beforehand so we had no idea how the room would sound and how the acoustics would play. I think it sounds amazing!

Three men dead in 'gruesome' triple slaying

The only reason that I'm posting this is 1. It's in my neighborhood and 2. I think I heard the shots last night. I could be mistaken but I could have sworn I heard a bunch of gunshots ringing out last night. Lovely description, especially when you consider the details.

Three men dead in 'gruesome' triple slaying

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Police are trying to piece together what led to a gruesome scene they discovered Sunday evening.

A police spokesperson said it may have been an execution-style killing and that the victims may have known their killers.

Police got a call on multiple shots fired just after 7 p.m. Sunday on East Linwood Blvd. near Campbell Ave.

When police arrived on the scene, they found three men, believed to be in their 30s, shot dead inside a second floor apartment in the 900 block of East Linwood Blvd.

Police said they caught five men running out of the building.

They are now being held as persons of interest and being questioned at police headquarters.

Officers said they now need the community's help filling in the gaps of their investigation.

"There was no sign of forced entry into the apartment. From the evidence, they were possibly let in. At this point, we don't know how many suspects or even a description," said officer Darin Snapp with the Kansas City, MO Police Department.

Police have not released the names of the victims.

If anyone has any information that can help their investigation, call the tips hotline at 816-474-tips.

Copyright 2011 KCTV. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spare Troy Davis

From Crooks and Liars:Spare Troy Davis



I want to tell you a story. It isn't about Troy Davis, but it is about Troy Davis. It is about murder, loss, vengeance, and victims. It is about how our justice system treats defendants of color and about how our justice system does not necessarily deliver justice. It is my plea to you as a family member of a murder victim not to become what you loathe.

On May 29, 1971, Charles Hayes got up, got dressed, brushed his teeth and kissed his wife goodbye. It was their 40th wedding anniversary that day, but he had a full day of work as a Southern Pacific railroad clerk in South Central LA to put in before they could celebrate that night.

At 5:45 that evening, my grandmother called, hysterical. My grandfather, Charles Hayes, had not returned from work at 5:00 as he had every Saturday for 40 years. Something was wrong. I was 12 years old at the time. I handed the phone off to my parents, who suggested calling the police. You had to understand this about Charles -- he was as reliable as the sunrise and sunset. He was a creature of habit, of routine. The only reason he would possibly have not been home on their 40th wedding anniversary was because something had happened, though we fiercely hoped it hadn't.

I was the only one of us to remember the license plate of his car. I remember it like it happened yesterday. The police were skeptical that a twerp kid would have a clue as to the license, but I still remember it. KAH204. A brown Chevy Impala, the car he always wanted. Enough room for passengers, but lots of muscle, too.

On June 1, 1971, the car was found several blocks away from where he worked, and so was he, or at least his body. Shot twice through the neck on one side and then the other, life drained away in the spare tire well of the trunk of his car.

The world stopped for awhile. Nothing seemed especially right, but we spent a long time pretending it was anyway. We still moved through the days, pretended like it wasn't really as awful as it was and tried to manage my grandmother, who quite nearly lost her mind. There were days where I hated that unknown person who had taken a gun and put it point-blank to my grandfather's neck. The same man who had shown me how to hit a baseball and mow a lawn. The same man who could dance his way across a floor like he was still 20 and who had such a gentle laugh you had to lean in to hear it.

They did arrest a man. They arrested him while he was in the process of kidnapping a woman and shooting her boyfriend. Ultimately they pinned three murders on him. The judge in the case railed against the jury for sentencing him to life in prison instead of the death penalty in January, 1972. The LA Times article I found 20 years later said the judge called his case "one of the most brutal, one of the most vicious cases ever to come to [his] attention. If ever there was a reason to justify capital punishment, this is the one."

Perhaps that judge was right, but the same jury who had convicted Hendrix of three premeditated, cold-blooded murders felt otherwise. There was something there, some reason which I will not ever know, that caused them to choose life over death.

Over time, we got on with life, graduated from high school, went to college, had careers, but I was always haunted by the question of why. Detectives assured my parents that John Philip Hendrix was, indeed, the man who pulled that trigger twice. Case closed. Closure. If you think closure means accepting something without evidence, then yes. I suppose it was closure. Except it wasn't.

20 years later, I did my best to track down the police records on the case, only to discover they had been destroyed. I went to the Los Angeles District Attorney's office and begged them to pull the court records. Internet friends reached out to their contacts there, too, but as it turns out, the files were destroyed -- court, police and evidence records. All gone. Since there was no direct linkage on the record from Hendrix to Hayes, my grandfather's case was closed but not solved. Closed for them, but not for me. Not by a long shot. How could it be closed on the word of police who weren't even part of the investigation or trial?

Here is what remained: Nothing. No direct physical evidence. The little information I was able to get confirmed this much: No match between the gun and the wounds. No fingerprints. Nothing that said Hendrix pulled that trigger. Nothing. No relationship between his victims whatsoever, either physical or otherwise. Different locations, different cities, different ages, different ethnicities. Nothing in common. Zero.

Here's what Hendrix had that led the police to believe he was the shooter: He was black, he was arrested while committing a violent crime, and he had petty crimes in his background. He was 35 at the time of these crimes, but had no adult record prior to picking up a gun in May, 1971 and offing three people (according to police). This is their argument, and they seemed to have at least enough evidence to prove to a jury that Hendrix did kill three people, just not that he killed three others who were lumped together as victims by the police despite having even one common tie.

I don't believe them. I don't have enough evidence to believe them. I don't have enough evidence to believe that this man, who had not committed any crimes since he was a juvenile, who was employed, got up one morning and decided to start shooting people, execution-style, for wallets with five-dollar bills in them, if that. I don't have enough evidence to logically connect the crimes to the one that changed me in ways I'm still learning to understand.

John Philip Hendrix has evidently died a natural death in prison sometime between when I first looked into the details of this case back in the early 90s and now. He is erased from the California prison rolls as clearly as if he never existed. Were it not for those who remain with a memory, he would just be another dead prisoner. He might as well have not existed. This is good.

But he did. He did exist, he served his life out in Vacaville and died. No one put a gun to his head. No one suffocated him. No one made the decision that they had authority over when he should die. He just died. Naturally, in his time, and the people of this state were spared the burden of murdering someone they condemned for murder.

If I have these doubts, these deep doubts that I was told the truth, that the police told me everything, that the police even tried to find out who might have done this, that the police even tried to get physical evidence, then the very last thing on earth I would want is to know I lived in the state that strapped him to a table and suffocated him with lethal gas.

I would be the murderer I loathe. I would be the person who decided I had the right to rob another human of their life.

There is no "good murder." There is only murder.

There is no "justified murder." There is only murder.

And if the state of Georgia allows an agent of the state to pick up a vial of poison, put it in a syringe and inject it into Troy Davis on September 21st, the people of that state will become what they loathe. Murderers.

They will have murdered someone as sure as if they'd put a gun to his neck and shot him, through and through.

They will have robbed the family of that slain officer to ever learn the truth instead of the story they were told.

They will have the same blood on their hands as the person who did murder him.

We, the family members of beloveds lost because someone decided their lives were worthless, will be victims yet again.

Executing Troy Davis is not justice. It is murder.

The way back rests in clemency, in admitting mistakes. Will Georgia listen? To those readers who made it this far, thank you for listening. And sharing.

[Note: The Amnesty International petition for Troy Davis is here. Please sign it, and share it with as many as you can. It matters, not only to Troy Davis but to all of us, who should not cheer the death of a likely-innocent man.]