Sunday, June 27, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sides with Rutgers-Camden law professor in human rights decision

 professor at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden has achieved an extraordinary accomplishment in the legal field:  on Tuesday, June 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of her clients in Samantar v. Yousuf, a case filed by Somalian civilians seeking damages for torture and other human rights abuses.

On March 3, Rutgers–Camden Law Professor Beth Stephens was seated as “second chair” at the plaintiffs' counsel table for the Supreme Court oral argument in Samantar, a case in which her clients sought to hold accountable the former defense minister of Somalia, who is now living in Virginia. The defendant claimed immunity from the suit under a U.S. immunity statute on the grounds that he committed the acts on behalf of his government. The Supreme Court held that the statute does not protect individual foreign government officials such as Samantar.

Through her work on the Board of Directors of the Center for Justice and Accountability, Stephens assisted lead counsel from the Supreme Court practice of the Washington, DC, firm of Akin Gump.  They were joined by attorneys from the U.S. Solicitor General's office.

In the 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Stephens and her clients.  As a result, the Center for Justice and Accountability will be able to proceed with its case against the former Somalian official.  According to CJA Executive Director Pamela Merchant, “Faced with a choice between accountability and immunity, the Supreme Court came down squarely in favor of accountability – holding that former government officials are not immune from lawsuits under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.”

“This is an exceptional victory for human rights, and the entire Rutgers community is proud of the role the Beth Stephens played in making it happen,” says Rayman Solomon, dean of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.  “The opportunity to litigate before the U.S. Supreme Court is rare, and to have the Court decide in favor of your argument is a signature accomplishment for any attorney.  Beth Stephens' achievement is a sterling example that Rutgers–Camden law students learn from some of the very best scholars and practitioners in the nation.”

Stephens is no stranger to either litigation or the subject at hand:  her research examines issues related to human rights litigation in U.S. courts on behalf of victims of human rights abuses in other countries, and she has litigated at various levels of the U.S. judicial system.

Now, she adds the U.S. Supreme Court to that already-impressive list.

“The goal of my litigation is to hold accountable perpetrators of human rights violations,” Stephens said.  “The decision in this case removes an obstacle that had enabled abusers to evade responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

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The ultimate libertarian anthem: - Copper Kettle

Copper Kettle is a song composed by Albert Frank Beddoe and made popular by Joan Baez. Pete Seeger's account dates the song to 1946, mentioning its probable folk origin. while in a 1962. The song praises the good aspects of moonshining as told to the listener by a man whose "daddy made whiskey, and granddaddy did too". Moonshine is a common name for illicitly-distilled liquor. The term is commonly believed to derive from early English smugglers (called moonrakers because of a 17th century legend) and Appalachian home distillers who often engaged in illegal distillation and distribution of moonshine whiskey clandestinely (i.e., by the light of the moon). The line "We ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792" alludes to an unpopular tax imposed in 1791 by the fledgling U.S. Federal Government. The levy provoked the Whiskey Rebellion and generally had a short life, barely lasting until 1803.

The Whiskey Rebellion was a resistance movement in the western frontier of the United States in the 1790s, during the presidency of George Washington. The conflict was rooted in the dissatisfaction in western counties with various policies of the eastern-based national government. The name of the uprising comes from the Whiskey Act of 1791, an excise tax on whiskey that was a central grievance of the westerners. The tax was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton's program to centralize and fund the national debt.

The federal government, at the behest of the 1st Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, assumed the states' debt from the American Revolutionary War. In 1791 Hamilton convinced Congress to approve the Whiskey Act, which placed an excise tax on alcohol. This was to be the first "internal" tax levied by the national government. Although Hamilton's principal reason for the tax was raising money to service the national debt, he also justified the tax "more as a measure of social discipline than as a source of revenue." Most importantly, however, Hamilton "wanted the tax imposed to advance and secure the power of the new federal government."

There were two methods of paying the whiskey excise: paying a flat charge or paying by the gallon. The tax effectively favored large distillers, most of which were based in the east, who produced whiskey in volume and could afford the flat fee. Western farmers who owned small stills did not usually operate them at full capacity, and so they ended up paying a higher tax per gallon. Large producers ended up paying a tax of 6 cents per gallon, while small producers were taxed at 9 cents per gallon.

But Western settlers were short of cash to begin with and, being far from their markets and lacking good roads, lacked any practical means to get their grain to market other than by fermenting and distilling it into relatively portable distilled spirits. Additionally, whiskey was often used among western farmers as a medium of exchange or as a barter good.

The tax proved to be unpopular among small farmers in the western states, where government officials were prevented through violence and intimidation from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a U.S. marshal arrived in western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed Pennsylvanians attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. The Washington administration responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time raising a force of militia to suppress the violence. The insurrection collapsed before the arrival of the army; about 20 people were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned.

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Pollywood goes to war

June 24, 2010: In Afghanistan, the Taliban are faced with many enemies, one of the most dangerous is a new one; Pollywood.. The Taliban has many enemies. Not just the government (which is corrupt, and disliked by many Afghans), the foreign troops (which are foreign, and thus, at best, tolerated), and the non-Pushtun majority (who are 60 percent of the population, and who are very hostile to the Taliban, who are a Pushtun movement), but also new ideas and entertainment. The most threatening new enemy is video. The Taliban, and Islamic radicals in general, are hostile to video based entertainment (unless it involves Islamic scholars providing religious instruction, and sometimes not even that.) But video entertainment is very popular in Afghanistan, especially the amateur movies made in Pushto and Dari (the common language of Afghanistan, and most popular among the non-Pushtuns) and sold, cheap, everywhere. This new industry is sort of a Pushtun Hollywood, or "Pollywood."

Such movies are not unusual. They are increasingly common in poor countries that do not possess a large enough audience to support professionally made films. Nigeria, the largest country in Africa, produces thousands of these films (which vary greatly in length and quality) a year, in several different local languages. The films are sold on cheap CDs and DVDs, to discourage piracy (which happens anyway). Called "Nollywood" (as a play on Hollywood), it generates over $250 million a year in sales. The Hindi language movie industry ("Bollywood") generates over a billion dollars a year in sales, and produces mainly professional films, many matching Hollywood releases in terms of production values. For example, the recent Oscar winner, Slumdog Millionaire, was made in India with a largely Indian crew (technicians), and many Indian actors in front of the cameras. There are several other smaller film industries in South Asia, each specializing in a different language (there are two dozen major language/cultures in South Asia, of which Pushto is one.)

Subtitled or dubbed videos from India or Pakistan have long been popular in Afghanistan, especially with all that drug money making it possible for so many more people to buy televisions or PCs to watch the CDs and DVDs on. While Pollywood films avoid religion, nudity, and women in general, they do hew to traditional Pushtun values and stories, but in a modern setting. This annoys the Taliban, who want Pushtuns, and everyone else in Afghanistan, to live a sort of neo-Medieval lifestyle, under the rule of Islamic clerics and warlords. Most Afghans are opposed to this, and Pollywood product feeds that opposition. The Taliban have threatened, and even killed, people creating (or just watching) Pollywood films, but that has not even slowed down the growth of this entertainment industry. And the more the Taliban persecute Pollywood, the more likely that some of the films will become blatantly anti-Taliban.

~ Source: Strategy Page ~

Ferlinghetti documentary a hit with the locals

One thing is clear from the start of Chris Felver's Ferlinghetti – a documentary film shown at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival: The man himself, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was one of the most powerful and influential poet, author, painter and political figure this city has seen since the mid-20th century.

Felver traces Ferlinghetti's humble beginnings back to Yonkers, New York, where he never knew his Italian father, as he died before Ferlinghetti was born. His French and Portuguese mother had a nervous breakdown after his birth and spent the rest of her life in a mental institution. His aunt Emily, who brought him to France for the first five years of his life, before she ran out of money and was forced to return to New York City, giving Lawrence up for adoption.

Ferlinghetti attended North Carolina University at Chapel Hill and later obtained a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne. Soon after completing his education, Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco and bought a corner bookstore that grew into North Beach's landmark City Lights Booksellers and Publishers. Today, Ferlinghetti is one of the most important living figures in the Bay Area.

At age 90 and still vibrant, Ferlinghetti continues his active life in North Beach and also with quiet times at his cabin in Bixby Canyon near Big Sur, where he chops wood, while admiring the beautiful seaside, the surrounding Santa Lucia Mountains and the golden sunshine.

Ferlinghetti has often been described as a poet of the Beat Generation along with America's literary greats like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder and Micheal McClure. However, Ferlinghetti would be the last person to call himself a Beat writer.

According to Felver's documentary, Ferlinghetti considers himself part of the World War II generation. He served in the Navy and was at D-Day where he witnessed some of the bloodiest atrocities of the war that changed him forever. During the Normandy invasion, Ferlinghetti was somewhat safe on a U.S. Navy boat in the back line of combat; however, horror unfolded before his eyes as American GIs were mowed down by the German fire. Ferlinghetti also went to Japan for what he was told would be a ground invasion. Instead the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and one week later, he arrived and witnessed the devastation. Ferlinghetti became an instant pacifist after the experience.

In Ferlinghetti, Felver does a fantastic job interviewing the poet as an older man, integrating these clips with biographical footage that shows his transformation as a young Boy Scout type, into somebody who returned from World War II a disillusioned pacifist, ready to embark on an activist career that continues today. Felver's richly constructed film makes it clear that Ferlinghetti exemplifies free speech — his work from the 1950s on had a revolutionary affect on American society, ensuring for future generations the true meaning of the First Amendment. As owner of City Lights, he enthusiastically published new writers who had fresh and often controversial ideas.

In 1957, Ferlinghetti went on trial for publishing Allen Ginsberg's poem “Howl,” which caused a sensation for being “obscene.” While Ferlinghetti risked a prison sentence if found guilty, Ginsberg, on vacation in Europe, was unaware of the severe circumstances his friend was facing. He was found not guilty, surprisingly by a judge who was known to be extremely conservative.

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Psychological Operations may get name makeover

 While the saying is that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, no one in advertising or image control believes it. Psy Ops or psychological operations to control perceptions etc. by the military may get a new name. Some bureaucrats demand often idiotic acronyms so that they can have their own short form ways of referring to anything. The new acronym would be MISO. However this does have the advantage over the old Psy Ops of not telling the public a thing about what might be done in MISO. Ignorance is bliss is part of psy ops, slogans I suppose. Now PSYOP may become MISO (Military Information Support and/to Operations.) Of course if you spelled this out you might get some idea expressed euphemistically of what these people do although it is nowhere nearly as exciting as Psychological Operations.

Reaction by the people who actually are in Psy Ops has been mostly negative, a sign that there may be some intelligent operatives in the group. Many have made numerous caustic comments about the projected name change.

~ Source: Allvoices ~

Supreme Court ruling makes ‘it a crime to work for peace and human rights’: CCR

Group: Former President Carter could be prosecuted for monitoring fair elections in Lebanon

The US Supreme Court endorsed Monday a broad reading of the law criminalizing "material support" to terrorism, a statute that critics argue targets legitimate free speech.

In a six to three vote, the highest US court sided with the government and found that an NGO could face prosecution for providing non-terror-related support, including rights training, to US-designated terror groups.

The case involved the Humanitarian Law Project, a human rights group, which the court ruled could face prosecution under the material support statute for providing human rights or conflict resolution training to groups including the Kurdish PKK or the Tamil Tigers.

"The material-support statute is constitutional as applied to the particular activities plaintiffs have told us they wish to pursue," the court ruling said.

In a press release sent to RAW STORY, the Center for Constitutional Rights argues that the ruling "criminalizes" free speech, and that even former President Jimmy Carter could face potential prosecution.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to criminalize speech in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the first case to challenge the Patriot Act before the highest court in the land, and the first post-9/11 case to pit free speech guarantees against national security claims. Attorneys say that under the Court's ruling, many groups and individuals providing peaceful advocacy could be prosecuted, including President Carter for training all parties in fair election practices in Lebanon. President Carter submitted an amicus brief in the case.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the case back to the lower court for review; Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The Court held that the statute's prohibitions on "expert advice," "training," "service," and "personnel" were not vague, and did not violate speech or associational rights as applied to plaintiffs' intended activities. Plaintiffs sought to provide assistance and education on human rights advocacy and peacemaking to the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey, a designated terrorist organization. Multiple lower court rulings had found the statute unconstitutionally vague.

Created in 1996, the "material support" language was strengthened under the Patriot Act, which Congress passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks and reauthorized with some changes in 2004.

It has usually been used to prosecute individuals who have helped organize or finance terrorist attacks.

The law has become a popular tool for prosecutors, who have prosecuted some 150 people under the statute in the United States, obtaining convictions in around 60 cases, and sentences ranging up to life in prison.

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Now scientists read your mind better than you can

Brain scans may be able to predict what you will do better than you can yourself, and might offer a powerful tool for advertisers or health officials seeking to motivate consumers, researchers said on Tuesday.

They found a way to interpret "real time" brain images to show whether people who viewed messages about using sunscreen would actually use sunscreen during the following week.

The scans were more accurate than the volunteers were, Emily Falk and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"We are trying to figure out whether there is hidden wisdom that the brain contains," Falk said in a telephone interview.

"Many people 'decide' to do things, but then don't do them," Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology who led the study, added in a statement.

But with functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, Falk and colleagues were able to go beyond good intentions to predict actual behavior.

FMRI uses a magnetic field to measure blood flow in the brain. It can show which brain regions are more active compared to others, but requires careful interpretation.

Falk's team recruited 20 young men and women for their experiment. While in the fMRI scanner they read and listened to messages about the safe use of sunscreen, mixed in with other messages so they would not guess what the experiment was about.

"On day one of the experiment, before the scanning session, each participant indicated their sunscreen use over the prior week, their intentions to use sunscreen in the next week and their attitudes toward sunscreen," the researchers wrote.

After they saw the messages, the volunteers answered more questions about their intentions, and then got a goody bag that contained, among other things, sunscreen towelettes."

"A week later we did a surprise follow up to find out whether they had used sunscreen," Falk said in a telephone interview.

About half the volunteers had correctly predicted whether they would use sunscreen. The research team analyzed and re-analyzed the MRI scans to see if they could find any brain activity that would do better.

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