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October 27 2012 | Human Rights - USA | 0 comments
Two California Stories
photo: Richard Harris

First story: it seems that there is a surge towards the yes on 34 vote in California. Proposition 34 will repeal the California death penalty. Sounds great, Americans beginning to understand the uselessness and barbarity of the death penalty.*** But it turns out that the surge is due to an economic argument: the death penalty is more expensive than incarceration:

"...Part of the reason for the growing support is an understanding of the inaccurate belief that many previously held that the death penalty was less expensive than life in jail without parole, according to ABC.

But in fact, Prop 34 is expected to save the state about $130 million annually because death row sentencing appeals would cease. With the money saved, Prop 34 would give $100 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies for homicide and rape cases.

And it's this fiscal argument for repealing the death penalty that has attracted unlikely supporters, including Fox News conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly, Fox & Hounds reports. In general, liberals support repealing the death penalty, and conservatives oppose it. But Ron Briggs, El Dorado County Supervisor, explained O'Reilly's position and why Briggs himself, who previously campaigned to strengthen the death penalty, have joined the "Yes on Prop 34" camp.

"California’s death penalty is simply a fiscal disaster that coddles criminals, enriches lawyers, and hurts victims," Briggs wrote..."

Second story: Daniel Larsen is in prison in California for a 28 year sentence for carrying a concealed knife. He has served 13 years so far. Two years ago he was found innocent but he is still in prison due to an appeal filed on a technicality by the California Attorney General. He contracted diabetes in prison and is in danger of dying without the proper care which he is not being provided:

"Daniel Larsen, 46, has spent almost 13 years in prison -- even though he was declared innocent by a federal judge two years ago. Now, his life is at risk because of uncontrolled diabetes for which he's not getting the care he needs, his wife Christina Larsen told The Huffington Post.

Daniel Larsen, imprisoned at the LA County California State Prison, was diagnosed in August with Type 1 diabetes after he fell into a diabetic coma as a result of the treatment the prison hospital gave him for another illness, according to Christina Larsen. Since then, Daniel Larsen has tried various insulin drugs, and none have stabilized his blood sugar.

Christina Larsen said her husband's blood sugar on Friday had risen to the level registered when he went into the diabetic coma. Two days earlier, a prison doctor had given him a new prescription for an insulin injection called NovoLog. But a prison hospital aide later told Larsen the institution doesn't carry the drug, so he continues taking his old medicine that doesn't control his blood sugar level, Christina Larsen said.

Larsen's prison diet also causes his blood sugar to spike, his wife said. The prison serves him meals high in carbohydrates, such as rice and potatoes, because he's vegetarian and has refused to give him a diabetic diet.

"His life is in serious danger because he's not getting the proper medical attention that he has a right to as a human being," Christina Larsen said. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to get him the proper care, but what he really needs is to be home where he can get the care he needs."

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment.

Christina Larsen and Daniel Larsen, both from the San Fernando Valley, have known each other for 15 years. They got married inside the prison a few weeks ago (photo above).

Daniel Larsen is serving a sentence of 28 years to life under California's controversial three-strikes law for a 1999 conviction for possessing a concealed knife. But in 2010, a federal judge overturned the conviction and said Larsen's constitutional rights had been violated because his attorney was incompetent. The court said Larsen was "actually innocent" under the law because it had no confidence in the trial.

Despite the ruling, Larsen wasn't released. California Attorney General Kamala Harris appealed the federal judge's decision based on the technicality that Larsen's lawyers missed the deadline for filing an appeal.

Nearly 130,000 people have signed Christina Larsen’s petition on calling on Harris to drop her opposition to Daniel Larsen's release. The Los Angeles Times editorial board, California Innocence Project and the ACLU of California have also called on Harris to free Larsen.

Larsen's case is at the intersection of California's failed prison health care system and a controversial law that may be changed. In 2005, a federal judge took control of California’s prison health care system because an average of one inmate was dying each week from “incompetence and at times outright depravity," according to the judge.

The law that handed Larsen a 28-year sentence -- the three-strikes law -- is the subject of a Nov. 6 ballot measure, Prop 36. The current law mandates sentences of 25 years to life for people who commit three or more serious crimes, even if the third offense is a misdemeanor.

Prop 36 would change the law so that the third strike must be a felony. In the latest poll of California voters, 63 percent were in favor of Prop 36, and 22 percent were opposed. If the proposition passes, Larsen may be able to petition for a reduced sentence.

Shum Preston, a spokesman for the state Justice Department and Harris' office, wrote in an email to HuffPost, "We want a speedy resolution to this legal question as well." Preston declined to say more, citing legal reasons."

*** From The Atlantic Monthly:

"The club of prisoner-executing nations is an inauspicious one. You've got the world's great dictatorships and autocracies (Iran, Zimbabwe, China, North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cuba, Belarus), its most failed and failing states (Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Congo, Chad, Yemen, Guinea, Bangladesh), not to mention the entire Middle East save Israel.

So who's left? Which countries use the death penalty but are neither among the world's most failed states nor its most autocratic? The outliers make a strange list: India, Japan, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and the United States. This is our league of capital punishment nations. Whatever the legal, ethical, social, and political arguments for and against the death penalty, its role in U.S. foreign policy, especially at a time when we are trying to convince leaders around the world to loosen restrictions and democratize, can be burdensome."

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December 11 2010 | Human Rights - USA | 0 comments
Reviving The Espionage Act
The latest from Naomi Wolf:

"This week, Senators Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein engaged in acts of serious aggression against their own constituents, and the American people in general. They both invoked the 1917 Espionage Act and urged its use in going after Julian Assange. For good measure, Lieberman extended his invocation of the Espionage Act to include a call to use it to investigate the New York Times, which published WikiLeaks' diplomatic cables. Reports yesterday suggest that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder may seek to invoke the Espionage Act against Assange.

These two Senators, and the rest of the Congressional and White House leadership who are coming forward in support of this appalling development, are cynically counting on Americans' ignorance of their own history -- an ignorance that is stoked and manipulated by those who wish to strip rights and freedoms from the American people. They are manipulatively counting on Americans to have no knowledge or memory of the dark history of the Espionage Act -- a history that should alert us all at once to the fact that this Act has only ever been used -- was designed deliberately to be used -- specifically and viciously to silence people like you and me.

The Espionage Act was crafted in 1917 -- because President Woodrow Wilson wanted a war and, faced with the troublesome First Amendment, wished to criminalize speech critical of his war. In the run-up to World War One, there were many ordinary citizens -- educators, journalists, publishers, civil rights leaders, union activists -- who were speaking out against US involvement in the war. The Espionage Act was used to round these citizens by the thousands for the newly minted 'crime' of their exercising their First Amendment Rights. A movie producer who showed British cruelty in a film about the Revolutionary War (since the British were our allies in World War I) got a ten-year sentence under the Espionage act in 1917, and the film was seized; poet E.E. Cummings spent three and a half months in a military detention camp under the Espionage Act for the 'crime' of saying that he did not hate Germans. Esteemed Judge Learned Hand wrote that the wording of the Espionage Act was so vague that it would threaten the American tradition of freedom itself. Many were held in prison for weeks in brutal conditions without due process; some, in Connecticut -- Lieberman's home state -- were severely beaten while they were held in prison. The arrests and beatings were widely publicized and had a profound effect, terrorizing those who would otherwise speak out.

Presidential candidate Eugene Debs received a ten-year prison sentence in 1918 under the Espionage Act for daring to read the First Amendment in public.
The roundup of ordinary citizens -- charged with the Espionage Act -- who were jailed for daring to criticize the government was so effective in deterring others from speaking up that the Act silenced dissent in this country for a decade. In the wake of this traumatic history, it was left untouched -- until those who wish the same outcome began to try to reanimate it again starting five years ago, and once again, now. Seeing the Espionage Act rise up again is, for anyone who knows a thing about it, like seeing the end of a horror movie in which the zombie that has enslaved the village just won't die.

I predicted in 2006 that the forces that wish to strip American citizens of their freedoms, so as to benefit from a profitable and endless state of war -- forces that are still powerful in the Obama years, and even more powerful now that the Supreme Court decision striking down limits on corporate contributions to our leaders has taken effect -- would pressure Congress and the White House to try to breathe new life yet again into the terrifying Espionage Act in order to silence dissent. In 2005, Bush tried this when the New York Times ran its exposé of Bush's illegal surveillance of banking records -- the SWIFT program. This report was based, as is the WikiLeaks publication, on classified information. Then, as now, White House officials tried to invoke the Espionage Act against the New York Times. Talking heads on the right used language such as 'espioinage' and 'treason' to describe the Times' release of the story, and urged that Bill Keller be tried for treason and, if found guilty, executed. It didn't stick the first time; but, as I warned, since this tactic is such a standard part of the tool-kit for closing an open society -- 'Step Ten' of the 'Ten Steps' to a closed society: 'Rename Dissent 'Espionage' and Criticism of Government, 'Treason' -- I knew, based on my study of closing societies, that this tactic would resurface.

Let me explain clearly why activating -- rather than abolishing -- the Espionage Act is an act of profound aggression against the American people. We are all Julian Assange. Serious reporters discuss classified information every day -- go to any Washington or New York dinner party where real journalists are present, and you will hear discussion of leaked or classified information. That is journalists' job in a free society. The White House, too, is continually classifying and declassifying information.

As I noted in The End of America, if you prosecute journalists -- and Assange, let us remember, is the New York Times in the parallel case of the Pentagon Papers, not Daniel Ellsberg; he is the publisher, not the one who revealed the classified information -- then any outlet, any citizen, who discusses or addresses 'classified' information can be arrested on 'national security' grounds. If Assange can be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, then so can the New York Times; and the producers of Parker Spitzer, who discussed the WikiLeaks material two nights ago; and the people who posted a mirror WikiLeaks site on my Facebook 'fan' page; and Fox News producers, who addressed the leak and summarized the content of the classified information; and every one of you who may have downloaded information about it; and so on. That is why prosecution via the Espionage Act is so dangerous -- not for Assange alone, but for every one of us, regardless of our political views.

This is far from a feverish projection: if you study the history of closing societies, as I have, you see that every closing society creates a kind of 'third rail' of material, with legislation that proliferates around it. The goal of the legislation is to call those who criticize the government 'spies', 'traitors', enemies of the state' and so on. Always the issue of national security is invoked as the reason for this proliferating legislation. The outcome? A hydra that breeds fear. Under similar laws in Germany in the early thirties, it became a form of 'espionage' and 'treason' to criticize the Nazi party, to listen to British radio programs, to joke about the fuhrer, or to read cartoons that mocked the government. Communist Russia in the 30's, East Germany in the 50's, and China today all use parallel legislation to call criticism of the government -- or whistleblowing -- 'espionage' and 'treason', and 'legally' imprison or even execute journalists, editors, and human rights activists accordingly.

I call on all American citizens to rise up and insist on repeal of the Espionage Act immediately. We have little time to waste. The Assange assault is theater of a particularly deadly kind, and America will not recover from the use of the Espionage Act as a cudgel to threaten journalists, editors and news outlets with. I call on major funders of Feinstein's and Lieberman;s campaigns to put their donations in escrow accounts and notify the staffers of those Senators that the funds will only be released if they drop their traitorous invocation of the Espionage Act. I call on all Americans to understand once for all: this is not about Julian Assange. This, my fellow citizens, is about you.

Those calling for Julian Assange's criminalization include:

1. Rep. Candice Miller
2. Jonah Goldberg, Journalist
3. Christian Whiton, Journalist
4. Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Journalist
5. Sarah Palin, Member of the Republican Party, former candidate
6. Mike Huckabee, Politician
8. Prof. Tom Flanagan
9. Rep. Peter King
10. Tony Shaffer
11. Rick Santorum
12. Rep. Dan Lugren
13. Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Journalist The Washington Times
14. Rep. Virginia Foxx
15. Sen. Kit Bond, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee
16. Sen. Joe Liberman"
17. Sen. Charles Schumer
18. Marc Thiessen, Columnist
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June 20 2010 | Human Rights - Sociology | 0 comments
The Human Rights Project

video: Richard Harris

On a recently cleared lot on Law Street in the heart of the European Quarter behind the Crowne Plaza (which is also slated to be demolished Thank God!), The Human Rights Project (artists for human rights in co-operation with Ithuba Skills College, Johannesburg, South Africa) has mounted a photographic exhibition which is composed of 360° analog photos of staged scenes commenting on human rights, as well as a history of human rights legislation and informational panels.
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October 19 2009 | Politics - Human Rights | 0 comments
All Two is Both
Since October 8th, Belgium has welcomed an ex-prisoner from Guantanamo. The 31 year-old Syrian was held prisoner and tortured by the Taliban and Al-Quaeda and then held prisoner and tortured by the United States. Al-Quaeda was certain that he was an American spy and forced him, under torture, to make a video-taped confession. After the American invasion, the Taliban retreated, leaving him in the prison where he was found by Times (of London) reporter Tilm Reid, who offered to put him in touch with the coalition forces. Unfortunately, in Kabul, the American forces had discovered, in an Al-Quaeda strong house, video tapes, including the Syrian's forced confession. Now, either no one among the Americans spoke Arabic, or no one cared, but, because they had him on video, he immediately made the FBI's most wanted terrorist list. He was held and tortured by the Americans in Khandahar, before being flown to Guantanamo where he was held for 7 years. The torture by the Taliban and Al-Quaeda included "being beaten with sticks, electric shocks, being suspended from the ceiling, water torture, being hit on the soles of my feet with a cane, being hit on my hands with a rifle, being denied sleep...they put out their cigarettes on my legs." By the Americans he was " hit on the forehead, was threatened with having his fingernails ripped out, denied sleep, exposed to bitter cold, forced until exhaustion to run with my chains, and do push-ups and sit-ups, forced to maintain painful positions for hours, threatened with police dogs..." And, of course, held for 7 years.
We can only trust, and I wish it him, that his new life in Belgium will be an improvement.
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October 12 2009 | Gay - Human Rights | 0 comments
My higher-ups seemed to think that gave them the right to bind me to chairs, ridicule me, hose me down and lock me in a feces-filled dog kennel.
Reading this testimony by Joseph Rocha on his experiences in the Navy is infuriating and frustrating. There is no reason why that sort of situation should continue for even one more day. There are dozens of countries in world with fully integrated armed forces that have encountered no problems. There are a number of army top brass who have voiced their support for the elimination of DADT. Polls show a majority in favor of integrated armed forcees. But Obama can only make vague promises (over and over again)? What a spineless wuss. If Truman had been so gutless, how long would it have been before racial integration occurred in the armed forces?
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