Report: DOJ, FBI Admit Years of Flawed Testimony From Forensic Unit

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The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000, The Washington Post reported.

Image: Getty

Twenty-six of the 28 examiners overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, the Post reported Saturday, citing information from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project.

 The organizations are assisting the government with the post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence and provided the statistics under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions, the Post reported.
Posted by Libergirl

Snowden: Calls For Intel Reform Justify NSA Leaks

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Photos of Snowden, a contractor at the NSA, and U.S. President Obama are printed on the front pages of local English and Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong in this illustration photo. (Reuters / Bobby Yip)

Image:Reuters / Bobby Yip

Ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden argued this weekend that calls for sweeping reform of mass government surveillance justify his leaks about the U.S. spy agency’s covert programs, Reuters reported.

In “A Manifesto for the Truth,” published Sunday in German magazine Der Spiegel, Snowden criticized the “persecution campaign” launched by certain governments in the wake of his disclosures and argued it is now apparent his leaks haven’t caused damage, according to Reuters. Instead, he wrote, the leaks provided useful information to the public that paved the way for greater oversight of government intelligence practices.

“At that time the public was not in a position to judge the usefulness of these revelations. People trusted that their governments would make the right decisions,” he said, as translated byReuters. “Today we know that was a mistake and that such behavior does not serve the public interest.”

According to a letter released by a German lawmaker last week, the fugitive ex-contractor indicated that he would like to testify about NSA surveillance before Congress. He also used the open letter to ask the international community for help in persuading the United States to drop espionage charges against him, but U.S. lawmakers said Sunday that Snowden wouldn’t be granted clemency.

From Talking Points Memo

Posted by Libergirl

Obama Nominates Congressman to Lead Mortgage Agency

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President Obama on Wednesday nominated Representative Melvin L. Watt, Democrat of North Carolina, to become the overseer of the government-backed mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

If approved by the Senate, Mr. Watt would replace Edward J. DeMarco, who has been acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency for more than three years.

Mr. Watt is a lawyer who has represented North Carolina in Congress for the last two decades. If he won Senate confirmation, he would become a powerful economic policy maker, as the housing market recovers and the White House contemplates the government’s future role in it.

“Mel understands as well as anybody what caused the housing crisis,” Mr. Obama said in a ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House. “He knows what it’s going to take to help responsible homeowners fully recover and he’s committed to helping folks just like his mom,” who attended the ceremony, and whom Mr.Obama characterized as “Americans who work really hard, play by the rules, day in and day out, to provide for their families.”

Between Fannie, Freddie and other agencies, the government is currently backstopping about nine out of 10 new mortgages, stepping in to foster a functioning mortgage market as the effects of the housing downturn linger. The two financing agencies, which required a massive government bailout in 2008, have returned to profitability and are in the process of repaying taxpayers, who are still owed more than $100 billion.

Thus far, the Obama administration and Congress have shown little interest in restructuring or winding Fannie and Freddie down, lest they disturb the nascent housing recovery. But with the market starting to normalize, what to do with Fannie and Freddie – and what role the government should be playing in the mortgage market more broadly – look certain to become more hotly contested issues.

For months, members of Congress, housing activists and Democratic state attorneys general have campaigned for Mr. Obama to replace Mr. DeMarco, who has blocked an administration proposal to allow underwater homeowners — those who own more on their loans than their house is worth — to reduce the principal on their mortgages.

Such principal reductions could save Fannie and Freddie money by reducing the rate of homeowner default and foreclosure, and many Democrats argue that it would be an important salve for the broader housing market. But the plan might end up costing the taxpayers money, as the Treasury Department would pay increased incentives to Fannie and Freddie to get them to participate.

Mr. DeMarco has argued that he is responsible for protecting taxpayers writ large, and not just for fixing Fannie and Freddie’s books – and thus he has resisted the White House plan. That has stoked liberal frustration with the White House for allowing Mr. DeMarco to remain at the helm of the housing agency.

Mr. Watt looks certain to face a confirmation fight. A prior White House nominee for the position, Joseph A. Smith Jr., a North Carolina banking commissioner, failed to win the support of the Senate. Many Republican members of Congress have expressed skepticism about the principal-reduction plan because it might cost taxpayers money and might make homeowners more likely to default on their mortgages.

Still, Mr. Watt is well known in Congress, and sits on the powerful House Financial Services Committee. He is also known for promoting lending to low-income and minority borrowers, but is not considered unfriendly to banks: financial firms and insurers are among his biggest donors, in no small part because Charlotte, part of which is in Mr. Watt’s district, is a major banking center. Should Mr. Watt fail to win Senate confirmation, the White House could name him as a recess appointment.


Posted by The NON-Conformist

Richie Havens, Folk Singer Who Opened Woodstock, Has Died

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R.I.P Havens is the only cat I know who can take a Beatles song and make it his. His version of strawberry fields is perfect!

The crowd at Richie Havens’ Woodstock-opening set on Aug. 15, 1969.

Paul DeMaria/New York Daily News via Getty Images

Richie Havens, a Brooklyn-born singer who sang gospel as a teenager, began playing folk music in Greenwich Village clubs in the 1960s and was the opening act at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969, died Monday of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, N.J., according to his agent. He was 72 years old.

Havens had a long career as a musician, but if he had done nothing else, his performance at Woodstock would secure his place in American music history. Havens was the first performer to walk onto the stage at the festival; he sat on a stool and performed for nearly two hours — including an improvisation that incorporated the spiritual “Motherless Child,” later called “Freedom.” It became a highlight of the documentary about the festival and introduced him to audiences around the world.

As a black performer, he was a rarity in the folk-dominated Greenwich Village scene. His sandpaper soft voice and percussive guitar playing caught the ear of folk impresario Albert Grossman, who first signed Bob Dylan and helped create Peter, Paul and Mary. Havens released his breakout album, Mixed Bag, in 1967.

Havens went on to act in films and on television, and he continued recording for more than 40 years. He had a Top 20 hit in 1971 with a cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” and released his last album, Nobody Left to Crown, in 2008. But it was onstage — with his guitar — that Havens was in his element. He toured constantly and in 2008 told NPR that he never planned his shows beyond the opening and closing songs.

“Many times people have come up to me after and they’d, they’d say, ‘Richie, do you know what you did?’ I’d say, ‘What?’ They’d go, ‘I wrote these songs down for you to sing and you sang ’em all in a row.’ That’s the kind of communication happens, you know,” Havens said. “It’s like if you let the audience lead, then you are the audience.”

Havens connected with audiences from stages large and small for more than 50 years.

richie-havens-1969Jan Persson/Redferns/Getty Images

More by Tom Cole/NPR/video

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Viewpoint: You Can’t Be An “Accidental” Racist

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I was driving home toward Brooklyn when Questlove called, out of breath with excited indignation. “Yo man, have you heard ‘Accidental Racist’?” I hadn’t. He was apoplectic. “You’ve gotta listen to this song! I can’t believe they went there. And LL’s worse than Brad! You gotta write something about this.”

I Googled it as I drove. I know I shouldn’t have but I couldn’t help it. The title had me nervous: racism is the exercise of power so you can’t really be an accidental racist though you can benefit from and receive white privilege without attempting to. Maybe that’s what Brad and LL meant. I was trying to have an open mind, but the phrase conjured up an apology rooted on a disavowal of fault that made me cringe. To hear whites say that their privileged position isn’t their fault is insulting. And while recording artists can sometimes discuss race in smart ways (think of the work of Public Enemy or Sly Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,”) it’s hard to have a nuanced conversation within the constraints of lyrics. Still, as I pressed play, I wondered if the song would find its way over my low expectations. It did not.

Brad Paisley’s apology song, dripping with white guilt, is a mea culpa for wearing a symbol of the confederacy — a symbol of slavery and white supremacy. To claim, as Paisley does, that wearing a confederate flag is actually about being a Lynard Skynard fan so we should ignore the dominant meaning, is silly. You can’t wear a swastika and say, “Oh don’t be upset–I’m thinking of the way the Chinese used it before it was appropriated by the Nazis.” That’s not how symbols work. If you choose to walk around wearing a confederate flag tee, instead of one with the words “Lynard Skynard,” then you’ll make some people rightly uncomfortable and wondering how deep your nostalgia goes and how insensitive you are. I have no problem with Southerners being proud of the South, but Paisley does have a lot to learn, as he concedes.

Then there’s LL. His first verse is fine, many of us feel like “new dangled Djangos dodging invisible white hoods,” because racism now often operates in secret. And I’m glad LL stands his ground to say the confederate flag is off-putting. But in the chorus things go astray. First there’s an egregious false comparison: “If you don’t judge my doo rag I won’t judge your red flag.” The flag is a symbol of a time and a place where slavery was legal and may communicate a sentimentality for that time. A doo rag is a piece of clothing that has no inherent symbolism. That some whites are frightened by blacks in doo rags or hoodies or Starter jackets (back when people wore those) doesn’t make them equivalent to the flag of what was once a nation.

But then things go completely off the rails. I wonder if LL was drugged when he wrote and recorded the lyrics, “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chain.” How could he have not recognized that as a possibly career-ending moment that would offend almost all of his fans to the core? He follows with other references to amnesia about a multi-century atrocity that still has a deep impact on America. Let bygones be bygones? Slavery is a formative event that led us to the current racial disparities in income inequality and incarceration trends. It’s not excuse-making to recognize the pervasive, continuing impact of slavery. It’s not necessary to speak of slavery every day. But it’s critical to never forget.

I hope to never hear this horrible song again. I’m sure some will walk away from this bizarre episode concluding that white artists are better off not discussing race at all because it can only get them into trouble. That’s not the message people should take. It’s their right to discuss race, but artists must be thoughtful when dealing with this topic or risk hurting the audience. But that’s a message to Brad. My message to LL: You’ve got some explaining to do. I know that both of them say that the song was supposed to be about forgiveness and they are standing by it, but that’s not enough. They may want to consider doing a remix called “Accidental Song” saying how they didn’t mean for “Accidental Racist” to come out, that it was just an accident.

I hope to never hear this horrible song again. I’m sure some will walk away from this bizarre episode concluding that white artists are better off not discussing race at all because it can only get them into trouble. That’s not the message people should take. It’s their right to discuss race, but artists must be thoughtful when dealing with this topic or risk hurting the audience. But that’s a message to Brad. My message to LL: You’ve got some explaining to do. I know that both of them say that the song was supposed to be about forgiveness and they are standing by it, but that’s not enough. They may want to consider doing a remix called “Accidental Song” saying how they didn’t mean for “Accidental Racist” to come out, that it was just an accident.

By Touré/TIME

Posted by The NON-Conformist

21 states file for secession

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The number of states with thousands of signatures requesting secession is growing by the day
Angry and churlish citizens from 21 states, who have absolutely no political power whatsoever, have filed petitions at We The People on for their states to be granted permission to leave the union.
So far, the states include Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Colorado, New Jersey, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New York, Arkansas, and Oregon. (Links to each state show the number of citizens from each state that have requested secession.)

From New York Amsterdam News

Posted by The NON-Conformist


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Dark skies scream

with cacophony explosions

of terror filled eyes

The smell of flesh

and the sound of cries

fill the gut with fear

Happiness is only a thought

away but imminent destruction

is oh so near

Boys playing chasing each other

with gun pointed fingers only to

realize the bullets do pierce the soul

But the wars we fight, are they for

the better good of humanity or

someone else’s allusion

We carry the banner of freedom

but is the banner of freedom

When we look in the mirror

to see once that was is there

an image anymore

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