India: Cops Halt Church Prayer Because Hindu Group Alleges Conversion: Democracy, Really?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

In Uttar Pradesh, cops halt church prayer after Hindu group alleges conversion

INDIA Updated: Apr 08, 2017 07:49 IST

Abdul Jadid
Abdul Jadid
Gorakhpur, New Delhi
Yogi Adityanath

People inside the church on Friday. Eleven US nationals were also present in the church. (HT Photo)

Police stopped a prayer attended by more than 150 people, including 11 American tourists, at an Uttar Pradesh church on Friday after the right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini complained that the event was a cover for religious conversion.The youth group, set up by chief minister Yogi Adityanath in 2002, filed a complaint against Yohannan Adam, the pastor of the church at Dathauli of Maharajganj district.

The organisation accused him of converting Hindus to Christianity, a charge the pastor denied.

“No prior permission was taken before the meeting. We stopped the meet after a complaint was registered. A probe is underway and appropriate action will be taken if the charges are correct,” said police officer Anand Kumar Gupta.

The US tourists were let off after police checked their visas and relevant documents.

“The presence of US nationals indicates that innocent and illiterate Hindus were being converted by the missionaries, who lured them with money to change their religion,” said Krishna Nandan, a Hindu Yuva Vahini leader who surrounded the church with his supporters in the afternoon.

They dispersed after police promised a probe and adequate action, though Nandan was not happy that the Americans were cleared.

The church authorities dismissed the conversion allegations.

“The charges are absolutely baseless. The people were attending a prayer meeting voluntarily. We prayed. Nothing else was done,” pastor Adam said.

The Hindu right wing has been at loggerheads with Christian missionaries, accusing them of converting people through coercion and allurement to their faith.

Several Hindu organisations have conducted ghar wapsi or homecoming of such people, which minority groups say is a couched term for re-conversion.

Earlier this year, Hindu Yuva Vahini activists attacked the Full Gospel Church in Gorakhpur, accusing it of religious conversion.

India: Murders Hide Behind Religion And The Holy Cow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Rise of gau rakshaks: Don’t hide behind euphemisms, this is murder, writes Barkha Dutt

COLUMNS Updated: Apr 08, 2017 08:09 IST

Gau Rakshak

As the list of people murdered by ‘gau rakshaks’ continues to rise, it is time to call murder by its name, instead of cloaking it in euphemisms such as manhandling and vigilantism. (Nitin Kanotra / HT Photo)

End the euphemisms. Call it by its name- Murder. Not manhandling. Not vigilantism. And stop saying, ‘gau- rakshaks,’ please.The men who dragged Pehlu Khan out of his vehicle on the Alwar highway in Rajasthan, flung him on the roadside and lynched him so brutally that he died four days later, are not ‘protectors’, self- appointed or otherwise; they are not even ordinary criminals. They are thugs, who driven by blind religious prejudice, and emboldened by an environment that will justify the perpetrator instead of standing with the victim, brazenly killed an innocent man.

It didn’t matter that Pehlu Khan, a trader from Haryana, pleaded with his assaulters that the cattle he was transporting was with legal documentation and had been purchased at a fair in Jaipur. Quite frankly, even if he were a cow-smuggler it was no one’s business but that of the state police to enforce the law. That the Rajasthan home minister- the man who is meant to be a custodian of the law- sees “two sides” to a singular horrific truth is what is frightening.

Read more

In the India of 2017, we are asked to see these murderous mobs as men whose intent is pure and ennobling, even if their actions are not. In the noisy debates over ‘cow-protectionism’, we gloss over the fact that it is Indian Muslims and, in some cases Dalits, who are being repeatedly targeted. And that bigotry, and not some misguided sacred zeal, is the subtext that ties all the attacks together. The lynch mobs count on two things – the ifs and buts ambivalence of government response as illustrated in the rationalisations of Rajasthan’s home minister and our short, fickle memory that is either too numbed or too distracted to stay focused on the issue.

We have already moved on from Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that there was beef in his house and whose son, a corporal in the air force continued to believe his country would grant him justice. And I can confidently wager that not too many people would even know, leave alone remember, who Majloom Ansari and Inayatullah Imtiaz Khan are. In March 2016 they were found hanging from a tree in a Jharkhand village, their hands tied together by the nylon chords used to hold cattle. Imtiaz was only 12 years old. A school-going child, he was accompanying Ansari to a cattle fair in the hope of making a few extra bucks for his family. Later it emerged that Ansari had been threatened just a few days earlier by a gang of extortionists who asked him for a 20,000 rupee bribe money to ferry his oxen. The National Commission of Minorities team that investigated the killing reported a “brazen communal bias” in the police handling of the lynching and said that complaints by Muslim traders against the so called cow-protections groups had been ignored. A few months later the Jharkhand Chief Minister declared that “If India is your country; the cow is your mother.” But no mother would allow murder in her name.

If we barely remember Ansari and Khan, we didn’t even pay marginal attention to the death of Zaid Ahmed Bhat, a young man in his twenties who died in a Delhi hospital after being attacked with petrol bombs on the highway in Udhampur, Jammu & Kashmir. His body was unable to recover from the 60% burns the flames had inflicted. And once again the rumours of cow slaughter turned out to be unfounded.

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Now Pehlu Khan joins this growing list of (forgotten) victims. His murder will occupy the news cycle till another story bumps it off. He will be a talking point in Parliament till the next deal has to be negotiated between the government and the opposition. There will be outrage and analysis; we will tell you how cow hide is used in other parts of our life, from leather to musical instruments. The opposition will urge the Prime Minister to break his silence and make a statement. He may even do so, as he did in 2016 after four Dalits were flogged in Gujarat. Back then, he eviscerated what he called the ‘gau-rakhshak business” underlining that nearly 80% were “anti-social” elements hiding under the cover of cow protection. Yet, several BJP leaders of Uttar Pradesh had rallied behind those accused in the Dadri lynching, demanding punishment for Akhlaq’s family instead for eating beef. The opposition outbursts will be replete with hypocrisies as well. (After Dadri, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh boasted that the Congress had banned cow slaughter in 24 states and was even open to a debate around a nationwide ban). And the BJP will fulminate in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat- where a law was just passed on life imprisonment for cow slaughter- but reject any idea of a beef ban in the north-east where it is looking to expand its political presence.

Soon enough the debate will go off the front pages and the prime time headlines and we will all get on with our lives. Till the next murder. In the meantime, the ‘cow’ards will thrive. This has become the New Normal.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

West Virginia Legislature Votes To Legalize Medical Marijuana ‘As Soon As Possible’

 

MPP Blog


WV Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Bill

Posted: 07 Apr 2017 12:34 PM PDT

 West Virginia is on the verge of becoming the next state with an effective medical marijuana law!

The bill received final approval in the West Virginia Legislature on Thursday and is headed to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice. He has publicly expressed support for legal access to medical marijuana and is expected to sign the bill into law, making West Virginia the 29th state to adopt an effective medical marijuana law.

SB 386, titled the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, charges the Bureau of Public Health with regulating medical marijuana growers, processors, and dispensaries. Patients with specifically listed qualifying medical conditions will be allowed to use extracts, tinctures, and other preparations of marijuana, but not marijuana in flower or leaf form. This differs from the original version of the bill and the medical marijuana programs in most other states. A summary of SB 386 is available at http://bit.ly/2nbUAq3.

MPP issued the following statement in a press release:

“Some of the House amendments to the bill are concerning, but it still has the potential to provide relief to thousands of seriously ill WestVirginians,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “We commend the Legislature for passing this compassionate and much-needed legislation, and we encourage Gov. Justice to sign it into law.

“This will be an important and, in some cases, life-saving program,” Simon said. “It is critical that the state implement it promptly. We are committed to working with officials to make sure the program is as effective as possible and to get it up and running in a timely fashion. Many patients cannot afford to wait much longer.

The post WV Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Bill appeared first on MPP Blog.

U.S. Government Targets Twitter User That Is Critical President Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

The government is demanding to know who this Trump critic is. Twitter is suing to keep it a secret.

April 6 at 8:37 PM

U.S. government targets critical Twitter user

Twitter filed a federal lawsuit on April 6 to block an order by the U.S. government demanding that it reveal who is behind an account opposed to President Trump’s tough immigration policies. (Reuters)

Update: The U.S. government has withdrawn its request ordering Twitter to identify a Trump critic 

Twitter filed a lawsuit Thursday to block an order from the Department of Homeland Security that seeks to reveal the user of an account who has been critical of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Tweets from the account — @ALT_uscis — indicate that it is run by someone who is an employee of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division of Homeland Security.

Free speech advocates said the DHS order appeared to be the first time the government has attempted to use its powers to expose an anonymous critic — a development that, if successful, would have a “grave chilling effect on the speech of that account” as well as other accounts critical of the U.S. government, Twitter said.

DHS is “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool” to find out who is behind the @ALT_uscis account, according to Twitter’s court filings.

DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The case sets up a potential showdown over free speech between Silicon Valley and Washington, which has tussled over whether tech firms can resist government orders seeking the identity or personal information from criminals and suspected terrorists.

Apple, for instance, declined in early 2016 to unlock the phone of the shooter in San Bernardino, Calif., and has refused to build “back doors” that would enable law enforcement to break into smartphones. The move sparked a pitched battle between the company and the FBI, which eventually paid a private expert to unlock the device.

But the Homeland Security case struck free speech advocates as more remarkable because the information request was about the identity of a government critic, rather than public safety.

“Twitter has a pretty strong argument,” said Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It does look and smell like the government is going after a critic. There’s nothing in the summons that CBP [Customs and Border Protection] sent to Twitter that authorizes this request under the power that they have.”

The @ALT_uscis account, which was created in January, has not held back in firing attacks against the Trump administration.

In a Jan. 26 tweet, the @ALT_uscis account tweeted: “Fact: More than 40% of illegal aliens in the US are Visa overstays from other developed countries not sounding like MEXICO #TheResistance.”

The account has also called attention to mismanagement in agency operations. In a March 12 tweet, it said that “USCIS turns down regularly private companies who propose collaboration to streamline the intake process, reducing costs and processing time.”

The account’s description stresses that its views are “Not the views of DHS or USCIS.” As of the time of the court filing, the account had been active for two months and amassed more than 32,000 followers. By 8:15 p.m., that figure had grown to more than 86,000.

In its court filing with the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, Twitter said that DHS officials delivered an administrative summons to the social-networking site on March 14, via a CBP agent, demanding that the company provide records that would “unmask or likely lead to the unmasking” of the person or people behind the account.

Twitter maintains that CBP does not have jurisdiction to demand such information, which includes “names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses,” associated with the account.

But its primary objection, the company said, is that allowing the government to unmask Twitter critics violates the Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech. Twitter has defended its users’ rights to free expression — a position it has held for years, notably during the widespread Arab Spring protests in 2011. That right, the company said, is particularly important when discussing political speech.

“First Amendment interests are at their zenith when, as here, the speech at issue touches on matters of public political life,” the filing said.

Twitter added that it feared the government wants to punish the person or people responsible for the account. The summons, Twitter said, “may reflect the very sort of official retaliation that can result from speech that criticizes government officials and agencies.”

The company also has a lot at stake for its business, which could see a huge hit if anonymous users could suddenly be unmasked by the government. Unlike other social networks, Twitter allows its users to create accounts without publicly revealing their true identity.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has tangled with officials over its users’ personal information.

The company in 2012 appealed an order from the state of New York to reveal the identity of Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris. It lost that appeal. Twitter sued the Justice Department in 2014 for the right to make federal information requests for user data public. And it has lent its support to other companies’ fights against the government, including Apple’s opposition to the FBI order.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the user in the DHS case, expressed concern that the order is an attempt to curb free speech. “To unmask an anonymous speaker online, the government must have a strong justification,” ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler said in a statement. “But in this case the government has given no reason at all, leading to concerns that it is simply trying to stifle dissent.”

ACLU said it plans to make its own filing in the court on behalf of the user in the next few days.

“It’s about the broader right to speak anonymously on the Internet,” said Esha Bhandari, an ACLU staff attorney.

The @ALT_uscis account is one of many “alternative government” accounts that have popped up since Donald Trump’s election. Accounts apparently run by employees (or former employees) of the National Park Service, the National Weather Service, the Labor Department and other agencies have appeared to question the Trump administration’s policies and fact-check its assertions
on a variety of topics.

The @ALT_uscis account didn’t respond to a tweet asking for comment on the suit, but was tweeting about the case and the account’s new followers.

Staff writer Craig Timberg contributed to this report

 

Australia Seizes Huge Drugs Haul From China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

HOME » NATION

Australia seizes huge drugs haul from China

AUSTRALIAN police have seized 903 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine smuggled from China inside boxes of hollow floorboards — the largest haul of the illicit drug in Australia, officials said yesterday. methamp

Law enforcement agencies valued the seizure, mostly found in a Melbourne warehouse in February, at almost A$900 million (US$680 million).

Two Australian men, aged 53 and 36, have been charged with commercial drug trafficking and face life in prison if convicted, police said. A search is underway for another two suspects in Melbourne.

Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan described the concealment of the drug inside 70 boxes of wooden floorboards as “quite complex, quite unique.”

Gaughan said police knew the identity of the syndicate that supplied the drug, best known as ice. He would not be more specific than to say the drug originated from somewhere in Asia.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan praised Australia’s cooperation with China’s National Narcotics Control Bureau which he said had stopped 7.5 tons of drugs from reaching Australian streets. Australia was the only Western country that had a joint taskforce with the Chinese bureau based in Guangzhou.

“It is a very serious blow to organized crime around the country,” Keenan said of the latest seizure.

Australia’s drug users pay up to 80 times the price the drug would fetch in China, Keenan said.

Australia’s previous largest haul of ice was almost 880 kilograms seized in Sydney in November 2014. The country’s largest seizure of cocaine was in February when a yacht was intercepted with 1.4 tons of the drug.

Freedom Of Religion: But What If A Religion Orderers It’s Followers To Kill All Politicians?

 

 

I used and extreme for the purpose of getting your attention, if you are reading this, it must have worked. No, I do not condone any violence except in the necessary need of self-defence.  But I am not most people, I’m just a broken down, old used to be Truck Driver. I can only comment on that which I know, or think that I know. For several decades I drove our Nation’s Interstates, Highways and back roads of the U.S. and Canada. You see people from all over Our Country as well as some visitors from other Countries. You see and you hear people in their own comfort zones. If you listen, you might get a pretty good idea on what people are thinking from all over our Country. Age, time, are they not supposed to give those of gray hair, wisdom, knowledge?

 

I got the idea for this article this evening from reading several news articles from around the World, some of those would be the BBC, CNN and Reuters. These articles were speaking of Free Speech and Freedom of Religion at the same time. Folks, is it possible for any country to have both at the same time? Somewhere there will become a boundary, a line that the human race must decide for itself that they will not allow to be crossed, in the name of Religion, or anything else. If a new Religion moved into your town, your State, your Country and they believed in eating small animals alive while they were being roasted on the fire, would that bother you? Would you join all of the local Animal Rights Groups? People would be outraged but would it continue to be allowed because it is being done in the name of a Religion?

 

O, wait, there is a compromise offer, the Religious Group agrees to quit eating all critters while they are still alive, if they will be allowed to have an open season on all Politicians, would you accept their offer? Are all things truly only able to be seen through the eyes of a true ‘Believer’? If in a Doctrine of a Religion, it’s very base fundamentals, teach, in fact they order, their followers to commit mass murder and to take the plunder. If you were a conscious observer would you not consider this ‘Group’ with its Charter, to be a ‘Terrorist Organization’? O, but wait, if this Organization says that they are protected, because they call it a Religion, when is it okay to arrest them if they are breaking lots of your other longstanding laws in the name of their religion?  There are a lot of  ‘Religions’ that are really nothing but Cults, some have only 20-30 members some have 5,000 members, some have a billion. Folks, countries like Germany and the Netherlands are fighting for their Nation’s Cultural Soul. When you load your house down with Rattlesnakes don’t act all shocked when you get yourself bit.

Federal Lawmakers Introduce Sweeping Marijuana Policy Legislation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF MPP)

 

MPP Blog


Federal Lawmakers Introduce Sweeping Marijuana Policy Legislation

Posted: 30 Mar 2017 02:30 PM PDT

Legislation was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday that would end marijuana prohibition at the federal level and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.

Bills filed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, leaving states to determine their own marijuana policies, and impose federal regulations on marijuana businesses in states that choose to regulate marijuana for adult use. Wyden’s bill would also enact a federal excise tax on marijuana products. In the House, the tax is being proposed in a separate bill introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Wyden and Blumenauer also filed marijuana policy “gap” bills that would eliminate many of the collateral consequences associated with federal marijuana convictions without removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

An additional bill filed by Wyden with Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) would reform section 280E of the U.S. Tax Code to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses from their federal taxes. A companion bill was filed in the House by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Rep. Blumenauer.

“This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws,” said MPP’s Robert Capecchi in a press release. Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it. It’s time for Congress to come to grips with the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and most Americans think it should be treated that way.

The post Federal Lawmakers Introduce Sweeping Marijuana Policy Legislation appeared first on MPP Blog.

Bill to Regulate Marijuana Introduced in Delaware

Posted: 30 Mar 2017 02:22 PM PDT

After years of advocacy on the part of MPP and our local partners, Delaware Rep. Helene Keeley and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry introduced HB 110, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act. The bill seeks to legalize and regulate cannabis for adults 21 years of age or older. The marijuana tax revenue would be used to fund education, public health campaigns, and to support re-entry campaigns for ex-offenders, among other programs.

An October 2016 poll by the University of Delaware found that 61% of state residents favor this important policy change. Now it is up to voters to let their lawmakers know they want to see them vote in favor of this bill!

In a press briefing to announce the bill’s introduction, sponsors of the bill — which enjoys bipartisan support — spoke about why they see this topic as a social justice issue, and how the failed “reefer madness” policy views of the past should come to an end.

The post Bill to Regulate Marijuana Introduced in Delaware appeared first on MPP Blog.

West Virginia Senate Approves Medical Marijuana

Posted: 30 Mar 2017 02:15 PM PDT

The West Virginia Senate has voted to approve a medical marijuana bill Wednesday. SB 386, sponsored by Sen. Richard Ojeda, passed the Senate in a 28-6 vote! The bill will now move to the House.

In the past, House Speaker Tim Armstead has not been willing to allow medical marijuana bills to be considered. However, if enough delegates are willing to stand up and support this critical reform, it will be possible to overcome the speaker’s opposition.

“We applaud the Senate for standing up for seriously ill West Virginians and giving them hope with this much-needed legislation,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs. Any delegates who are serious about addressing the opiate crisis in West Virginia need to consider the substantial benefits this law could have on that front.  We hope Speaker Armstead will review the facts and give this bill a fair shake in the House.”

If you are a West Virginia resident, please call your delegates’ offices right now, and urge them to support allowing medical marijuana in West Virginia.

It’s also imperative that you call House Speaker Tim Armstead’s office at (304) 340-3210, and urge House leaders to stop stonewalling on this important issue.

The post West Virginia Senate Approves Medical Marijuana appeared first on MPP Blog.

Vermont House Moves Legalization Bill Back to Committee

Posted: 30 Mar 2017 02:07 PM PDT

On Tuesday, the Vermont House of Representatives appeared to be ready to pass H. 170, which would legalize marijuana possession and cultivation for adults. Unfortunately, instead of calling for a vote on the floor, House leaders decided to send the bill to the Human Services Committee for further consideration.

If you are a Vermont resident, it is critically important that the House speaker’s office hear from you on this issue. Please call the speaker’s office now at (802) 828-2245, and urge House leaders to bring H. 170 to the floor for a vote as soon as possible and pass it on to the Senate.

The post Vermont House Moves Legalization Bill Back to Committee appeared first on MPP Blog.

Navy Promotes SEAL Commander In Defiance Of Congress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Navy promotes SEAL commander in defiance of Congress

March 31 at 3:29 PM
In defiance of Congress, the Navy has granted a retroactive promotion, back pay and a bigger pension to an admiral whom lawmakers forced to retire last year after multiple investigations found he had retaliated against whistleblowers, records show.Brian L. Losey, a former commander of the Navy SEALs, rose in rank to become a two-star Rear admiral in January after the Navy conducted a secretive and unusually rapid review of his case during the final days of the Obama administration, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Losey’s promotion came two months after he retired from the military under duress, the casualty of a clash between Navy leaders who wanted to reward the combat-hardened SEAL commander and a bipartisan group of senators who demanded his ouster after the investigations determined he had violated whistleblower-protection laws.

The dispute represented a rare public challenge by senior military leaders to congressional oversight of the armed forces, and left lingering resentments on both sides. Lawmakers thought they had prevailed by blocking Losey’s promotion last year, but the newly obtained documents reveal the Navy had the last word.

The promotion capped a long-running controversy over Losey’s record as a commander of the SEALs and other elite Special Operations forces during a highly decorated 33-year military career.

Three separate investigations by the Defense Department’s inspector general found that Losey had wrongly fired, demoted or punished subordinates during a vengeful but fruitless hunt for an anonymous whistleblower under his command.

Losey denied wrongdoing. Navy leaders dismissed the findings after conducting their own review and decided in October 2015 to promote him anyway. But members of Congress objected strenuously when they learned about the case from a report in The Post, and pressured Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to block Losey’s advancement.

Mabus resisted at first as many other admirals pushed him to stand behind Losey. After the Senate upped the ante by freezing the nomination of the Navy’s second-ranking civilian leader, the service announced in March 2016 that Mabus would reluctantly deny Losey’s promotion, effectively ending his military career.

The documents obtained by The Post, however, show that Mabus later reopened the case. On Jan. 12, during his last week in office as an Obama political appointee, Mabus signed a memo boosting Losey’s rank from a one-star to a two-star admiral.

Losey, 56, will stay retired, but the documents show that his promotion will benefit him financially for the rest of his life.

His higher rank entitles him to a bigger annual military pension. It will swell to about $142,000 this year, an increase of $16,700, according to Defense Department figures.

He will also receive a one-time check for about $70,000 in back pay because the Navy dated his promotion retroactively to the date when he first became eligible for a second star.

Sen. Grassley: Navy commander denied promotion ‘can only blame himself’

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Speaking on the Senate floor April 6, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey was “an honored naval officer” but was “a serial retaliator” who deserved to be denied a promotion. (United States Senate)

Mabus declined to comment. His decision to promote the admiral was based on a recommendation from the Board for Correction of Naval Records, a quasi-judicial panel that fields requests from veterans to review potential errors in their personnel files.

The board has the authority to fix mistakes or “remove injustices” from a veteran’s permanent military record, according to its mission statement.

Losey retired Nov. 1. Three weeks later, he submitted a petition to the board, arguing that he had been unfairly denied promotion because the inspector general and his critics in Congress were biased against him.

“The damning assertions against my leadership are not supported by the facts, and these errors in fact contributed to an unjust outcome,” he wrote.

The Board for Correction of Naval Records receives 12,000 applications annually and typically takes between 10 and 18 months to issue a final decision, according to Navy officials.

Losey’s application was approved by the board and Mabus in seven weeks.

Experts in military law said they had never heard of a case being reviewed so quickly.

“I’m not passing any judgment on his promotion and whether he deserves it or not, but the process certainly does look suspicious,” said Raymond J. Toney, a Utah attorney who specializes in such cases and who reviewed Losey’s file at The Post’s request. “It suggests to me that the Rear Admiral has some friends who did not want to see him go down in flames at the end of his career.”

Eugene R. Fidell, a lecturer on military justice at Yale Law School, said the speed in which Losey’s appeal was heard made it appear that the outcome was predetermined. “The circumstantial evidence suggests to me that this was wired,” he said.

Navy officials denied that Losey was given special treatment.

In a statement, Capt. Amy Derrick, a Navy spokeswoman, said the Board for Correction of Naval Records “provides a full and fair hearing on all requests that are complete and submitted in accordance with established procedures.”

Thomas Oppel, who served as Mabus’s chief of staff until both left office in January, said in an interview that any suggestion the Navy rushed the process during the waning days of the Obama administration was “a whole lot of speculation without foundation.”

“This is a case that had been freshly investigated, and the facts were fairly well-known,” Oppel added.

Losey deferred questions about how his petition was handled to the Navy. “I followed processes available to me,” he wrote in a brief message to The Post. “I do business by the book and have always aimed to be fair.”

Members of Congress who had urged the Navy to hold Losey accountable for punishing whistleblowers said they were dismayed to learn about the admiral’s promotion.

“Cases like these send the wrong message about whistleblower retaliation,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an emailed statement. “When accountability is lacking, retaliation continues. Good government suffers.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who held up the confirmation of the Navy’s second-ranking civilian leader last year in a tactic to block Losey’s rank advancement, said he was disappointed but not surprised.

“The Navy leadership has long sought to sweep away the inspector general’s findings and make excuses for one of its own, and Secretary Mabus’s decision to grant Admiral Losey a backdoor promotion is yet another disappointing example,” Wyden said.

A spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee said the panel was not informed of Losey’s post-retirement request for promotion until after it was finalized. Other lawmakers said they were unaware of his new rank until they were told by The Post.

A prominent figure in the military’s secretive Special Operations forces, Losey served as the head of the Naval Special Warfare Command from 2013 to 2016. He formerly commanded SEAL Team Six, the clandestine unit known for hunting terrorist targets. He deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Panama and other conflict zones.

The Navy first tried to promote Losey to become a two-star admiral in 2011. The Senate confirmed his nomination that year. But the move was put on hold when the Defense Department’s inspector general began investigating Losey’s actions while serving as commander of Special Operations forces in Africa.

Five of Losey’s subordinates filed complaints that he had unfairly fired or punished them during a ham-handed hunt for a suspected whistleblower. After spending four years interviewing more than 100 witnesses and reviewing 300,000 papers of emails, the inspector general determined that Losey had violated whistleblower-protection laws in three of the cases.

The outcome marked a rare instance of a commander being found guilty of misconduct in a whistleblower case. The Defense Department’s inspector general receives more than 1,000 whistleblower cases each year, but upholds only about three percent of them.

Losey asserted that he had acted within his rights as a commander and that he had merely held his staff accountable for mediocre work.

Despite the findings of the inspector general, the Board for Correction of Naval Records sided with Losey, concluding that there was “insufficient evidence” that Losey had violated whistleblower-protection laws.

Moreover, the board found that Mabus had never signed paperwork formally denying the admiral’s promotion before he retired.

In a unanimous vote on Jan. 11, the panel recommended that Mabus grant Losey’s request for the higher rank and back pay, documents show.

Mabus signed a memo approving the decision the next day.

‘Stunning’ Drug Lab Scandal Could Overturn 23,000 Convictions

 

(THIS CASE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 29 2017, 9:29 AM ET

Stunning’ Drug Lab Scandal Could Overturn 23,000 Convictions

In the annals of wrongful convictions, there is nothing that comes close in size to the epic drug-lab scandal that is entering its dramatic final act in Massachusetts.

About 23,000 people convicted of low-level drug crimes are expected to have their cases wiped away next month en masse, the result of a five-year court fight over the work of a rogue chemist.

“It’s absolutely stunning. I have never seen anything like it,” said Suzanne Bell, a professor at West Virginia University who serves on the National Commission of Forensic Science. “It’s unbelievable to me that it could have even happened. And then when you look at the scope of the number of cases that may be dismissed or vacated, there are no words for it.”

Annie Dookhan
Annie Dookhan was arrested outside her home in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 2012. Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP, file

The dismissals will come in the form of filings from seven district attorneys ordered by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to decide who among 24,000 people with questionable convictions they can realistically try to re-prosecute.

Their answer, due by April 18, is expected to be “in the hundreds,” a spokeswoman for Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said this week. An exact number was not available because the prosecutors are still working through the list, the spokeswoman, Meghan Kelly, said in an email.

The development was first reported by the Boston Globe.

Related: How One Texas County Drove a Record Rise in Exonerations

The prosecutors didn’t want the scandal to end like this. They fought for a way to preserve the convictions, and leave it to the defendants to challenge them.

Civil rights groups and defense lawyers argued for all the cases to be dropped, saying that was the only way to ensure justice.

The state’s high court chose its own solution, ruling in January that district attorneys should focus on a small subset of cases it wanted to retry, and drop the rest.

Court Handles Cases Tainted By Drug Lab Scandal
A special drug lab session handled motions by drug defendants whose cases were handled by chemist Annie Dookhan. Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe via Getty Images

It has taken five years to get to this point, longer than it took to discover, prosecute and punish the chemist, Annie Dookhan. She worked at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston for nearly a decade before her misconduct was exposed in 2012. She admitted to tampering with evidence, forging test results and lying about it. She served three years in prison and was released last year.

By then, most of the people Dookhan helped convict — most of whom pleaded guilty to low-level drug offenses based on her now-discredited work — had finished their sentences.

Is not entirely clear why Dookhan, a Trinidadian immigrant mother, felt compelled to change test results on such a massive scale. She was by far the lab’s most prolific analyst, a record that impressed her supervisors but also worried her co-workers — a red flag that went overlooked for years. She seemed driven to stand out, even if it mean lying, former colleagues have said. She also maintained friendly relationships with prosecutors, even though her role was to remain objective.

Related: Rogue East Cleveland Cops Framed Dozens of Drug Suspects

Many likely did commit the offenses, but many did not, defense lawyers say. All of them are now burdened with dubious convictions that have made it difficult to find jobs and housing or to obtain student loans, the lawyers say. Some defendants were convicted of more serious crimes, and the drug convictions were used to stiffen their sentences. Non-citizens have been threatened with deportation.

Civil rights advocates say the case has exposed the folly of aggressive enforcement of low-rung drug offenders, many of whom are addicts in need of treatment.

“It’s a soup-to-nuts indictment of the war on drugs,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, whose lawsuit led to the supreme court’s ruling. “These scandals happen around the country because our war on drugs is based on cutting corners.”

The William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute, which houses the Massachusetts state drug lab. Steven Senne / AP, file

The reliance on forensic science in the criminal justice system has improved policing and prosecutions, but the misuse of science has also fueled wrongful convictions, researchers say. Drug labs play a distinct role in that machinery.

Lab scandals have undermined thousands of convictions in eight states in the past decade, according to data maintained by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Critics say forensic chemists feel a duty to help prosecutors rather than remain neutral. And they point out that many labs — including Hinton when Dookhan worked there — lack professional accreditation or proper protocols to prevent and detect misconduct. Some of her superiors have lost their jobs for failing to notice or report her misdeeds.

“This drug lab scandal is another example of why the criminal justice system needs to reform its approach to forensic science,” said Dan Gelb, a Boston attorney who helped write an amicus brief on the Dookhan case for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. “Labs shouldn’t be an extension of law enforcement.”

Annie Dookhan
Former Massachusetts state chemist Annie Dookhan before entering a guilty plea in November 2013. David L. Ryan / Boston Globe via AP, file

Because of the system’s reliance on plea bargains to keep cases moving, defendants often don’t have a chance to challenge results from drug labs, Bell added.

That’s become a big point of discussion at the National Commission of Forensic Science, she said. But the commission, which was formed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013, is facing an uncertain future, with no clear message from the Trump administration if its work will continued to be funded, Bell said.

The Dookhan case awakened Massachusetts to the crisis, Bell said.

But the end of the Dookhan saga will not bring the end to Massachusetts’ problems.

That’s because it is dealing with a second scandal, at a second lab, this one the result of a chemist who admitted to doing drugs — including an array of substances submitted as evidence — while on the job.

Thousands of convictions in that case are now in doubt.

SEC Denies A Second Application To List Bitcoin Product

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

SEC denies a second application to list bitcoin product

By Trevor Hunnicutt | NEW YORK

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday denied for the second time this month a request to bring to market a first-of-its-kind product tracking bitcoin, the digital currency.

The SEC announced in a filing its decision denying Intercontinental Exchange Inc’s NYSE Arca exchange the ability to list and trade the SolidX Bitcoin Trust, an exchange-traded product (ETP) that would trade like a stock and track the digital asset’s price. Previously, the regulatory agency said it had concerns with a similar proposal by investors Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss.

“The Commission believes that the significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated,” the SEC said in its filing, echoing language from its decision earlier this month on the application by CBOE Holdings Inc’s Bats exchange to list The Bitcoin ETF proposed by the Winklevoss brothers. On Friday, Bats asked the SEC to review its decision not to allow that fund to trade.

“We are reviewing the SEC’s order and evaluating our next steps,” said Daniel H. Gallancy, chief executive officer of SolidX Partners Inc, a U.S. technology company that provides blockchain services. NYSE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bitcoin had scaled to a record of more than $1,300 this month, higher than the price of an ounce of gold, as investors speculated that an ETF holding the digital currency could woo more people into buying the asset.

But after denial of the Winklevoss-proposed ETF, the digital currency’s price plunged as much as 18 percent. It has rebounded partially since then and was at $1,041 on Tuesday, roughly unchanged from the previous day.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that can be used to move money around the world quickly and with relative anonymity, without the need for a central authority, such as a bank or government.

Yet bitcoin presents a new set of risks to investors given its limited adoption, a number of massive cybersecurity breaches affecting bitcoin owners and the lack of consistent treatment of the assets by governments.

There is one remaining bitcoin ETP proposal awaiting a verdict from the SEC. Grayscale Investments LLC’s Bitcoin Investment Trust, backed by early bitcoin advocate Barry Silbert and his Digital Currency Group, filed an application last year.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

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