Obama’s Justice Department Claims To Be Investigating Large Police Departments For Harassing Minorities, False Arrests, And Beatings

May 31, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – In a marked shift from the Bush administration, President Obama’s Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big urban police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force.

In interviews, activists and attorneys on the ground in several cities where the DOJ has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift. To progressives disappointed by Eric Holder’s Justice Department on key issues like the failure to investigate Bush-era torture and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, recent actions by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are a bright spot.

In just the past few months, the Civil Rights Division has announced “pattern and practice” investigations in Newark, New Jersey and Seattle. It’s also conducting a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department, and all this is on top of a high-profile push to reform the notorious New Orleans Police Department — as well as criminal prosecutions of several New Orleans officers.

The “pattern and practice” authority comes from a 1994 law passed by Congress after the brutal beating of Rodney King by white Los Angeles police officers, who allegedly yelled racial slurs as they hit him. The law allows the DOJ to sue police departments if there is a pattern of violations of citizens’ constitutional rights — things like an excessive use of force, discrimination, and illegal searches. Often, after an investigation, the police department in question will enter into a voluntary reform agreement with the DOJ to avoid a lawsuit and the imposition of reforms.

“Under the Bush administration, the Justice Department disappeared here in terms of federal civil rights enforcement. You could see the shift to counterterrorism at the ground level after Sept. 11,” says Mary Howell , a New Orleans civil rights attorney who has been working on police misconduct cases for more than three decades. “Now they’re back doing criminal prosecutions of police and the civil rights investigation, which is huge.”

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Number Of Government Owned Limousines Jumps 73% In First 2 Years Of Obama Administration

May 31, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Limousines, the very symbol of wealth and excess, are usually the domain of corporate executives and the rich. But the number of limos owned by Uncle Sam increased by 73 percent during the first two years of the Obama administration, according to an analysis of records by iWatch News.

Most of the increase was recorded in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Obama administration officials said most of the increase reflects an enhanced effort to protect diplomats and other government officials in a dangerous world. But a watchdog group says the abundance of limos sends the wrong message in the midst of a budget crisis. The increase in limos comes to light on the heels of an executive order from President Obama last week that charges agencies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

According to General Services Administration data , the number of limousines in the federal fleet increased from 238 in fiscal 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 412 in 2010. Much of the 73 percent increase—111 of the 174 additional limos—took place in fiscal 2009, more than eight months of which corresponded with Obama’s first year in office. However, some of those purchases could reflect requests made by the Bush administration during an appropriations process that would have begun in the spring of 2008.

The GSA said its limousine numbers are not reliable, even though the federal fleet numbers are officially recorded every year. In a statement, GSA spokeswoman Sara Merriam said, “The categories in the Fleet Report are overly broad, and the term ‘limousine’ is not defined,” adding that “vehicles represented as limousines can range from protective duty vehicles to sedans.” Asked whether the GSA actually knows how many limos it has in its fleet, Merriam responded that GSA “cannot say that its report accurately reflects the number of limousines.”

Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, was outraged that the GSA’s numbers may not be accurate. “They can’t figure out a way to define a limo? How hard can it be? If the government can’t track limos, I’m not sure we should trust the numbers they put out there on anything,” she said.

Although the overall limo numbers in the fleet report were up in 2010, federal agencies and departments did not benefit equally. The State Department, with 259, had more limos than any other agency in 2010 and has gained 194 limos just since fiscal 2008. Of those new limos, 98 were defined as “law enforcement,” which the GSA said means they are equipped with sirens or lights, high-performance drivetrains, or are used for surveillance or undercover operations.

The State Department in a statement said its limos are deployed by overseas diplomats and in the United States by Secretary of State Clinton and “distinguished foreign visitors.” Many of the limos in its fleet are armored to protect against attack. The department said its Obama-era increase in armored limos is “both in proportion to the increased threat to diplomats serving overseas and is in proportion to the increase number of diplomats we have serving in high threat environments.” Appropriations documents indicate the State Department was engaged in a longer-term effort to increase the number of armored vehicles that would have stretched back to at least 2007.

The department said it defines a limo as a vehicle that carries a VIP or “other protectee,” rather than by the type of car, but said most of its limos are Cadillac DTSs, which cost the taxpayer more than $60,000 for a 2011 base model and support the additional weight of armoring. The department said it also purchased a limited number of 7-Series BMWs for ambassadors in countries where vehicles are right-hand drive.

The Department of Homeland Security, which in 2010 had the second largest number of limos at 118, dropped four limos from 2008 to 2010. A spokesman for DHS said the majority of its limos are used by the Secret Service, which is part of the department, but declined to elaborate on exact numbers, citing security concerns.

Paige, of CAGW, called the new federal limos “one more reason why there is so much cynicism in the public about what goes on in Washington.” She said terrorism and security has become the catchall justification for increased federal spending.

The increase in limos comes at a time when the Obama administration is increasingly working to burnish its green energy credentials by targeting the federal fleet. On Tuesday, Obama released a presidential memorandum requiring agencies to purchase only alternative fuel vehicles by 2015. The memorandum limits executive fleets to mid-sized and smaller cars “except where larger sedans are essential to the agency mission.” It also exempts law enforcement and security vehicles, which could make up the majority of the federal limo fleet.

According to a March report by the GAO, the federal government spent $1.9 billion on new vehicles in fiscal 2009, and burned through 963,000 gallons of fuel a day with its fleet of 600,00 vehicles.

The number of limousines in the federal fleet has varied over the years. In 2007, the number dropped to 217 from 318 a year before. But due to the fuzzy GSA accounting, it’s unclear exactly how many federal limos have been on the road.

According to the GSA report, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which had zero limos in 2008, added six limos to its fleet in 2009. But agency spokesman Lars Anderson said that’s because six standard overseas sedans, including a 1997 Ford Crown Victoria in Bangladesh, and a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis in El Salvador, were incorrectly recorded as limos.

If the data is correct, some federal employees who once rode in style now face more proletarian transportation options. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, ran a fleet of 21 limousines in 2008 under George W. Bush, according to the fleet report. It now makes do with only one. The Government Printing Office also lost

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Terrorists On Every Corner: “Homeland Security” Vendors Still Thriving Due To Post 9/11 Hysteria

May 30, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – A decade after the 9/11 terror attacks, homeland security is still a growth business.

The niche—that includes James Bond-like tools such as infrared cameras, explosive detectors and body scanners—is expected to grow 12 percent annually through 2013, according to Morgan Keegan.

“Homeland security is reactive,” says Tim Quillen, a senior equity analyst at investment banking firm Stephens Inc. “The stocks are hedges against bad things happening.”

One example: the underwear bomber, who was thwarted in late 2009. After that a bell weather homeland security stock OSI Systems [OSIS 39.11 0.04 (+0.1%) ] rocketed 30 percent within a month. “The stock went on a tear,” says Brian Ruttenbur, a research analyst at Morgan Keegan. Why? OSI makes X-ray and metal detectors used to scan people, baggage and cargo that it sells worldwide. During the past 12 months ending yesterday, the stock has popped from $25 to $40, driven by border and port growth.

Much has changed, since the government spent over $20 billion beefing up airport baggage screening nationwide with X-ray devices.

Airline security is a small business: about $1 billion. There’s 2,100 airport security lanes in the U.S., and 90 percent use X-ray scanners.

“The scanners are ten plus years old now,” says Ruttenbur and “going through an upgrade cycle.” Recently, the government has ordered another 500 scanners though.

Screening cargo going on aircraft and boats at ports is also spiking. Now, only a small percentage of all cargo is scanned. Security screening will grow ten percent to 15 percent annually in coming years, says Ruttenbur in a recent report. This driver will help OSI Systems pump out strong security earnings.

Tiny Niche, Big Clout

There aren’t any pure plays within homeland security though—neither stocks or ETFs. Some players like OSI Systems sell their screening devices to healthcare companies too, so their homeland security earnings are diluted.

“You have to spread the net wide and separate reality from hype,” says Quillen

Both OSI Systems and Flir Systems [FLIR 35.52 0.28 (+0.79%) ] are undervalued right now, says Quillen.

Flir Systems is a well-managed market leader in infrared cameras used to protect critical buildings, he says. This fast-growing market is slated to expand 20 percent annually, though only half of Flir Systems’ revenue come from government business. The stock rose from $29 to $36 in the past year. And Quillen has a 12-month price target of $43 on it.

OSI Systems is another favorite. In the first quarter of the year, OSI’s security group revenues grew 27 percent over last year’s.

“The stock is a long-term play,” says Jonathan Richton, an analyst at Imperial Capital, citing OSI’s developing cargo scanning business. Analysts peg five-year earnings growth at 20 percent. Another plus driving earnings: OSI Systems is aggressively tightening operating margins.

A third player, American Science and Engineering [ASEI 86.07 -0.11 (-0.13%) ] makes cargo and parcel search systems. But the stock is expensive right now, say analysts, since the company missed first-quarter revenue targets.

In the past year, the stock has risen from $77 to $88. Ruttenbur expects only 4-percent earnings growth this year but 10 percent to 15 percent in the next few years, as orders pick up. His 12-month price target: $94.

For investors casting a wide net, L-3 Communications [LLL 81.60 0.30 (+0.37%) ] is a homeland security monolith. It’s also the sixth largest U.S. defense contractor.

The company makes surveillance equipment for airports and checkpoint scanners. “They’re playing a meaningful role,” says Quillen, “but security revenue is only about 5 percent.”

Its stock price has been flat over the last year.

These days, homeland security niche players are a safe bet though — even after the recent death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

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A-Hole Cordova Alabama Mayor Jack Scott Won’t Allow Single-Wide FEMA Trailers For Tornado Victims – But Of Course Exempts Its Police Department

May 30, 2011

CORDOVA, ALABAMA – A mayor in a small town devastated by a tornado has sparked outrage over his refusal to let homeless residents stay in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Jack Scott has been branded heartless after his decision not to waive a local law banning single-wide trailers in the town of Cordova, Alabama.

He said he fears the temporary accommodation could become permanent and says he doesn’t want run-down mobile homes parked all over town.

Angry residents met on Saturday night and called for Mr Sciott’s removal from office.

One resident, James Ruston, said his house was knocked off its foundation by the tornadoes that blasted through the town last month and is still uninhabitable.

He thought help had finally arrived when a truck pulled up to his property with a mobile home from FEMA.

Then he was informed of the ban on single-wide mobile homes.

Mr Ruston and many others see the city’s decision as a sign that leaders don’t care that some people are barely surviving in the rubble.

Felicia Boston, standing on a debris-strewn plot where a friend lost his home in the tornado, said: ‘People have to live somewhere. What’s it matter if it’s in a trailer?’

Mr Scott, however, has heard all the complaints but is unrepentant.

He said: ‘I don’t feel guilty. I can look anyone in the eye.’

Blue-collar Cordova has a population of about 2,000 and is 35 miles north west of Birmingham.

It was hit by a pair of powerful tornadoes on April 27, the day twisters killed more than 300 people across the South east.

Officials say 238 died in Alabama, the highest death toll for any state in a spring of violent weather, the Associated Press reports.

An EF-3 tornado with winds of at least 140mph walloped the town around 5.30am, knocking out power and damaging numerous buildings.

An EF-4 with winds around 170mph struck about 12 hours later, killing four people and cutting a path of destruction a half-mile wide through Cordova.

On Main Street, virtually every storefront was destroyed and is now deserted, blocked by a chain-link fence.

Scores of homes, businesses and city buildings were destroyed.

Residents assumed they would be living in hundreds of the skinny FEMA mobile homes like people in neighbouring towns hit by tornadoes.

The Cordova Police Department, a pharmacy, a bank and City Hall all have moved into similar trailers since the storm.

But the city enacted a law three years ago that bans single-wide trailers.

Mr Scott said that older single-wide mobile homes are allowed under the law as well as double-wide mobile homes.

The law is the law, he said, and a tornado isn’t any reason to change it.

The residents disgust and despair is exacerbated by the decisions of other towns with similar laws that have granted waivers.

At Saturday night’s meeting resident Harvey Hastings said: ‘There are trailers all over here but Scott wants to clean all the trash out. He doesn’t like lower-class people.’

The cotton mill, brick plant and coal mine that once made Cordova prosperous shut down years ago.

Resident Tony Tidwell said residents simply can’t afford to new houses to replace the homes that the twisters blew away.

He accused the city of double standards over it decision to the local authorities to use trailers but not residents.

‘Let the people have a place to live,’ he said.

Mr Scott defended that decision by saying the city can use small trailers because it is for the common good.

The mayor said: ‘It’s temporary and we know it’s temporary. We’re trying to provide services for everyone.’

Storm victims are supposed to live in FEMA accommodation for a maximum of 18 months after a disaster, yet about 260 campers are still occupied by survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coast more than five years after those storms.

Mr Scott said the same thing could happen in Cordova if the city bends it rules to help tornado victims.

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San Antonio Texas Police Officer Daniel Alvarado Shot And Killed Unarmed 14 Year Old Boy – Troubled Past Includes 12 Warnings And 4 Suspensions – History Of Not Following Orders

May 28, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – Shortly after a supervisor told Daniel Alvarado to stay with the victim of a minor assault and not search for the suspect, the school district officer ran into the backyard of a Northwest Side home with his gun drawn.

Moments later, Alvarado fired his weapon, killing an unarmed 14-year-old boy.

The November incident was not the first time the officer had ignored an order, according to records recently obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.

Since 2006, Alvarado’s supervisors at the Northside Independent School District Police Department had reprimanded or counseled him on at least 12 occasions — six for not following orders. In other cases, Alvarado failed to show up for assignments, and his bosses appeared to suspect him of lying.

Alvarado was suspended at least four times, and his supervisors warned of impending termination four times — once even recommending it.

But Alvarado, 46, never was fired. Six months after the death of student Derek Lopez, as an investigation into the shooting continues, the 17-year veteran of the Police Department remains with the school district.

For Denys Lopez Moreno, the teen’s mother, such revelations about Alvarado’s employment have compounded her grief.

“They should’ve taken action a long time ago,” Moreno said through tears. “He never followed orders. What makes you think he can deal with children?”

At school, Lopez was troubled. Expelled from elementary school, he spent years rotating through alternative schools and the county’s juvenile justice academy. He’d been disciplined for possessing drugs, assault and theft, school officials said.

But at home, his family says he was a loving child who would cook for his younger brother and sister and help them with their homework.

Moreno hired an attorney in December to investigate the shooting.

The attorney, Wally Brylak, filed actions in court to force the school district to release records, including Alvarado’s disciplinary history and a dispatch recording. He also subpoenaed witnesses for depositions, some of which contradict Alvarado’s version of events.

Reached by phone, Alvarado declined to discuss the shooting. NISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said the officer has been placed on administrative duty since the incident.

The San Antonio Police Department has ruled the case a justified shooting. The Bexar County district attorney’s office still is investigating.

The question of whether the shooting was justified is unrelated to the officer’s history of disobeying orders, Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said. The former is a legal matter; the latter, administrative.

Gonzalez echoed the distinction in a prepared statement.

“We are aware of Officer Alvarado’s work history,” he said. “While there are some documented incidents, it’s important to note that they were administrative in nature, and had nothing to do with student safety.”

But David Klinger, a former police officer who’s now a professor of criminology and an expert in the use of deadly force, was surprised by Alvarado’s disciplinary history.

“It sounds like they knew this guy was a problem,” Klinger said. “If someone’s insubordinate in a bunch of circumstances, it’s logical to believe they’ll be insubordinate in an important circumstance.”

He added, “Mercifully, from what I know, these are rare. Most of the time when an officer has a problem following an order or doing their job, they get counseled so they learn how to do their job.

“If they don’t, at some point they’re terminated.”

‘Stay with the victim’

Recorded in depositions, witnesses’ recollections offer a closer look at the Nov. 12 incident.

About 4:30 p.m., at Vista West Drive and Hunt Lane, a 13-year-old student from the Bexar County Juvenile Justice Academy was talking on a cell phone at a bus stop when Lopez, one of his classmates, punched him in the face.

“He just hit me once,” the boy said in his deposition. “It wasn’t a fight. It was nothing.”

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Feds Tell Arizona They Obtained Death Penalty Drug Illegally

May 28, 2011

ARIZONA – Hours before the scheduled execution of an Arizona death row inmate, the Department of Justice informed the state that it should not use a controversial drug as part of the execution protocol because the state had illegally obtained the drug from a foreign source.

The last-minute move stunned lawyers for convicted murderer Donald Beaty who had argued for months that Arizona hadn’t been in compliance with federal law regarding the importation of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs commonly used for lethal injection executions . The drug is no longer manufactured in the U.S.

The Arizona Supreme Court delayed Beaty’s scheduled execution by several hours and Beaty is now set to die at 7:30pm MST.

Arizona had consistently argued that it had properly obtained the drug.

In a filing with the Arizona’s Supreme Court the state’s Attorney General said that it in order to “avoid questions about the legality ” of the drug it had decided to comply with the request from United States Associate Deputy Attorney General Deborah A. Johnston.

In the filing it said it planned to substitute another fast-acting barbiturate?pentobarbital?for the sodium thiopental. Arizona law allows it to change its protocol without hearings and legislative review required by some other states?

Long before the surprise announcement from Arizona’s prison, Dale Baich, Beaty’s public defender, had contacted the Department of Justice seeking guidance why the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had seized the drug from five other states this year but not Arizona.

The DEA seized the imported drug from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee informing prison officials that it believed they had failed to follow federal importation laws. But the agency it did not seize the drug from Arizona and four other states who had also obtained the drug from abroad.

In his letters to Washington Baich had argued that he believed that Arizona had also failed to properly import the drug and that its supply should also have been seized.

“I sent three letters to the DOJ and made calls to the DEA that were not returned,” said Baich. He said that he was at a loss to understand why the agency hadn’t treated all the states uniformly.

After the announcement Baich said, “The question of whether Arizona legally imported the drug has now been answered.”

Sodium thiopental is used to induce a coma like unconsciousness. It is usually followed by another drug that paralyzes the inmate and a third that induces cardiac arrest. Should the first drug be ineffective, a prisoner could feel tremendous pain by the time the third drug is injected.

Beaty was sentenced to death in 1985 for the brutal rape and murder of Christy Ann Fornoff who was 13 years old and on her paper route when she disappeared.

Controversy about sodium thiopental began in 2009 after the lone US supplier stopped production. Several of the 35 states that allow lethal injection have found themselves in short supply, and some began to import the drug from overseas suppliers. Other states have changed their protocol to use pentobarbital.

Across the country, attorneys representing death row inmates began to file challenges questioning whether the drug should be imported from foreign sources at all and whether proper import guidelines had been met.

The ACLU of Northern California has been tracking the issue.

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New York City Police Officers Fixed Tickets For Famous Folks

May 28, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Star-struck cops have fixed tickets for big-time celebs, including Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and former team owner George Steinbrenner, sources told the Daily News. Celebrities

Cops also made tickets disappear for three current City Council members, sources told The News. Two ofthe elected officials are from the Bronx and the third is from Manhattan.

Cops even showed Brooklyn love, letting rap superstar Jay-Z’s driver off the hook for a speeding ticket, sources said.

Two sources familiar with the A-Rod speeding ticket said he was driving on the West Side Highway near W.57th St. in 2009. A highway cop issued the ticket, but an NYPD sergeant later squashed it, the sources said.

Yankees officials refused to comment last night. Rodriguez’s spokesman declined to talk about the allegations.

Revelations of special treatment for bigwigs emerged as Bronx prosecutors and the Internal Affairs Bureau conduct separate investigations into suspected ticket-fixing.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the allegations about A-Rod, Steinbrenner or Jay-Z’s driver were part of the ongoing probe.

Three sources gave the Daily News names of celebrities who had tickets after Edward Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, called on members to give testimonials about the longstanding NYPD practice.

“It was very easy for a big name towalk away from a summons,” onepolice source said. “[Celebrities] have contacts everywhere. There’s aneagerness to help because of who theyare.”

About 40 cops could be indicted for improperly voiding tickets, losing paperwork or purposely missing court dates in order to squash summonses, sources said.

Sources say the practice was so rampant, representatives for celebrities or politicians would sometimes call Police Headquarters directly to get their clients off the hook.

Summonses were fixed for bold-faced names who committed a wide array of infractions, sources said.

In addition to A-Rod, they include:

– At least three Council members had tickets fixed after they phoned friends in the NYPD. The city legal department said it had no information on the matter.

– Ex-Knick and current Denver Nuggets star Raymond Felton was pulled over blocks from Madison Square Garden, but his summons for a moving violation never made it to court, two sources said. A team spokesman declined to comment.

– A driver for Jay-Z was hit with a ticket last year after cops caught him speeding on the West Side Highway. A friendly cop “lost” the paperwork, and the case was nixed. The rapper’s publicist declined to comment.

– Before his death, Steinbrenner used his clout with city officials to nix numerous tickets for family, friends and staffers. A Yankees spokesman did not return calls.

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