March 31, 2015

Five of the six officers face life sentences for their participation in what authorities say is a corrupt organization whose members dangled a drug dealer from an 18th story balcony to get him to divulge the password to his computer

The trial of six former Philadelphia narcotics officers accused of robbing drug dealers in a 42-page indictment that read like a script for a Hollywood action movie is expected to begin in federal court Monday.
Five of the six officers face life sentences for their participation in what authorities say is a corrupt organization whose members dangled a drug dealer from an 18th story balcony to get him to divulge the password to his computer. Others were beaten with with metal bars, according to court documents, and kicked detainees in the teeth.
The officers, Perry Betts, Thomas Liciardello, Linwood Norman, Brian Reynolds, John Speiser, and Michael Spicer, were taken into custody July. All but Liciardello, the accused ringleader, have been out on bail.
Defense attorneys declined to comment on the case, citing a gag order. But court filings indicate that lawyers plan to challenge the credibility of witnesses, many of whom are criminals with unsavory pasts.
That list includes Officer Jeffrey Walker, a police officer who planted cocaine on a a drug dealer as a ruse to steal the dealer's house keys. He then stole $15,000 from the man's home in a 2013 sting orchestrated by an FBI informant. Walker pleaded guilty last year, but agreed to testify against these officers.
To convict the former officers on the most serious charges under racketeering and corrupt organizations, or RICO statutes, prosecutors have presented a list of more than 100 potential witnesses, along with bank records, credit card statements and casino receipts. They also say they plan to present text messages between Walker and Liciardello made after Walker became a confidential informant, and a recorded conversation between Liciardello, Reynolds and an FBI informant.
Prosecutors have been forced to withdraw a handful of counts against the six police officers, citing difficulties with witnesses. In one instance, prosecutors were forced to dismiss two charges against the police officers after the facts alleged in a lawsuit against the city did not match statements he made before a grand jury.

An Immigrant Arrives In NYC, What Happened Next Was SHOCKING

House Would Have To Work 5 Days A Week Under Democrat's Proposal

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives may have to start working five-day weeks if a resolution introduced last Thursday passes.
The resolution's author, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), argues that the House's workweek should run as long as most constituents' workweeks. Typically, the House sits from Monday evening through Thursday afternoon, according to The Hill.
"Average Americans work five days a week so there is no reason Congress should not be required to as well," a statement from Peters' office reads.
Peters predicts multiple benefits from more time spent in Washington. "A five-day work week would increase the time members of Congress are able to spend together working on substantive legislation and would help foster bipartisan working relationships. It would also save taxpayer money by reducing travel costs of members traveling between Washington and their districts," his statement says.
The resolution would also increase the number of weeks that the House is in session from its currently scheduled 34 to 39, according to The Hill.
Other lawmakers might argue that they're not resting simply because they're not in Washington and that time in their districts can include a lot of work.
Still, most members of Congress earn $174,000 a year, more than triple the U.S.median household income. And the last two sessions of Congress have each enacted fewer than 300 bills, making them the two least productive sessions in historyaccording to records dating back to the 1940s, when even the "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1947-48 passed more than 900 measures.

While Dent was sitting in the back seat of a cruiser, police say they found a small bag of cocaine ... a video released this week shows [the officer] pulling a bag of drugs from his pocket.

Floyd Dent never felt pain like he did the night of 28 January.
At about 10pm, the Detroit native says he went to visit a blind friend in the neighboring city of Inkster, to deliver a bottle of Rémy Martin and a 40oz of Bud Ice. He stayed for a few minutes, then left to drive home.
Moments later, a police cruiser behind him flipped on its overhead lights. According to a police report on the incident, Dent, 57, had failed to use a traffic signal and disregarded a stop sign. He continued to drive at roughly the same speed for about three-quarters of a mile, to a well-lit area where he says he felt comfortable. There, near an old police station, he pulled to the side of the road.

The police say Dent was driving with a suspended license. According to the office of Dent’s attorney, Greg Rohl, his driving record indicates the suspension was related to an unpaid driving ticket from several years ago.
Dent opened his door and put both his hands out of the window.
“I wanted to let them know I’m unarmed,” he told the Guardian.
But officer William Melendez – believing Dent was reaching for a gun – approached with firearm drawn. What happened next was captured on a patrol car camera.
No audio of the incident exists. According to Dent, one of the officers told him to “get out the car, before I blow your fucking head off”.
Dent opened his door and was dragged out of his Cadillac; almost immediately, Melendez put him in a chokehold. Melendez then proceeded to deliver 16 blows to Dent’s temple. This all took place in about 15 seconds. Another officer arrived moments later and proceeded to use a taser stun gun against Dent, three times. In the video, Dent, with blood dripping from his forehead and cheek, appears not to be resisting Melendez’s efforts to arrest him.
In the police report, Melendez contended that as he had approached Dent’s open car door, the 37-year veteran Ford employee, who had no criminal history, looked at him “with a blank stare as if on a form of narcotic” and plainly stated: “I’ll kill you.”
Dent says Melendez choked him so tightly he couldn’t breathe.
“At one point, I just gave up,” he said in an interview on Sunday at his attorney’s office. “I thought that was it for me.”
At a later hearing, Melendez testified that even before any traffic violation occurred, he planned to investigate Dent simply because he had stopped to visit someone in a part of Inkster known for problems with drugs.
Melendez, 46, claimed Dent was immediately combative and bit his forearm, though he would later testify there were no marks because he was wearing several layers of clothing. Dent denies the accusation. Melendez said the bite was enough reason to begin repeatedly punching Dent.
“I was afraid that I might contract something,” Melendez testified, earlier this month. “I needed to assure that Mr Dent would not do that again.”
For that, Dent says he spent two days in hospital for a fractured left orbital, blood on the brain and four broken ribs.

March 30, 2015

FL Mom of epileptic son caught in Charlotte's Web medical marijuana bureaucracy: "None of the politicians care about us. They don't know how it is. They don't live it every day. Sleep next to my son and watch him seize. Then you tell me if you would do something illegally."

Just as 13-year-old Branden Petro flops into the passenger seat of his mom's car, his eyes roll back. His face twitches uncontrollably. He curls into a fetal position.
It is his third seizure on a particularly bad day. His mother, Renee Petro, 36, jumps from her seat and runs around the car. She pulls the backpack off her son and grabs his hand.
"Squeeze my hand if you can hear me," she pleads. "Squeeze my hand, Branden. Come on baby, squeeze my hand."
Every seizure terrifies her. Any seizure could cause more brain damage. Any one could be the first sign his condition is getting worse. Other children with his condition have taken a turn for the worse and been dead within a year.
She has heard medical marijuana helps children with seizures. The Florida Legislature passed a bill last year, which the governor signed, legalizing Charlotte's Web, a form of medical marijuana that does not produce a "high." But its use is still tied up in political fights and legal bureaucracy. Other forms of medical marijuana remain off-limits.
She knows many people think marijuana should remain illegal. She recognizes law-enforcement fears that legalization could make marijuana easier for recreational users and addicts. She's heard how pill-mill doctors would line up to dispense pot. She respects that it is illegal in Florida, and she does not want to break the law.
But being a good mother means far more to her than being a good citizen.
"I have said it a thousand times. I will not bury my son. But I should not, not for a split second, have to think about doing something illegal to be a good mother. We live in the United States of America," she said.
During summer vacation in 2011, Branden had what seemed like a routine fever. A few days later, he had a seizure and ended up in the emergency room. He fell into a coma. The seizures have not stopped since.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome. The condition is a medical mystery and it is treated with high-dose drugs, including antipsychotics.
A balancing act began. The drugs helped control seizures, but if he took too many, he became extremely lethargic. If he took too few, or the wrong mix, the seizures were not controlled
For his parents — dad is an active duty, deployed Army colonel, Renee occasionally works part time — the drugs have become as dangerous as the seizures they try to control.
"It isn't the disease that is taking Branden away from me. It's the medications that are taking him," Renee said. "And how many times have we had to watch him be suicidal or the times he saw things that aren't there?"
Renee heard about children with epilepsy who did better with medical marijuana than they did on pharmaceuticals. So, last October they flew to California, where medical marijuana is legal. Brandon began treatment under a doctor's supervision and they began to wean him from his other drugs. Renee said he went seizure-free for the three-week trial. She said his mood seemed to improve.
"Stories of epileptic children responding to medical marijuana are legitimate," said Dr. Selim Benbadis, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital. "If it was available, I would prescribe it next week."
But Benbadis is cautious. "There is very strong anecdotal evidence, but we need clinical trials. There are also people who do not respond, but you don't hear about any of them in news stories."
"Do I think it's going to be miraculous?" Renee said. "No. Nothing is perfect. To be honest with you I don't want perfect. Perfect is overrated. All I want is for him to have a chance to live a life, be happy. Maybe fall in love."

The NSA had considered ceasing mass surveillance before Snowden. Officials were concerned that it cost too much money, was ineffective, unpopular and not a key tool in the fight against terrorism

THE US NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY (NSA) considered dropping its local mass surveillance practices before Edward Snowden made his revelations, but decided that perhaps this was not the best idea.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Us spectators can see why it might have a been a good idea for the NSA to cancel that controversial programme back then, and perhaps the NSA can too.
It would still have been controversial, but it might have been far less controversial and the NSA might not quite be as damned as it is today.
The Huffington Post reports about the NSA cancelling blanket local surveillance, quoting sources who say that the idea was mooted at lower levels but did not make it quite as far as former director General Keith Alexander.
Associated Press sources claim that some sage bodies at the NSA felt that the incredible cost of dragnet snooping on innocent communications for the occasional mention of terror chat outweighed the benefits.
Officials were concerned that it cost too much money, was ineffective, unpopular and not a key tool in the fight against terrorism. Higher level officials, or presumably just more people, disagreed, and the system that we have come to know and be appalled by continued.
The timing of this is handy, as the US government will get a chance this year to rule on the work of the NSA and an opportunity to act on talk of change that came from President Obama last year.
Obama's proposals from early 2014 made it clear that changes should happen, that Edward Snowden existed, and that the NSA was not operating in quite the way that it should.
"The task before us now is simply bigger than repairing the damage done, or preventing more disclosures. We need to make some important decisions. The threat of terrorism and cyber attacks will continue," Obama said at the time.
"The combination of increased digital information and powerful computers gives intelligence agencies the chance to sift through bulk data that may include impending threats. But the government collection and storage of this data also gives a potential for abuse."

Republicans can’t overturn the FCC’s new net neutrality rules without this Democrat. And he’s not playing along.

It's no secret that Republicans want to replace the Federal Communications Commission's new net neutrality regulations with legislation. But they need Democrats to do it — and at least one prominent liberal is signaling that he won't go along with the plan unless the GOP substantially changes the deal on the table.
Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. On Wednesday, he reiterated what he's been saying for weeks: That he's open to working with Republicans on a "truly bipartisan" bill aimed at preventing Internet providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking Web sites. But he'll only cooperate, he said, "provided such action fully protects consumers, does not undercut the FCC's role and leaves the agency with flexible, forward-looking authority to respond to the changes in this dynamic broadband marketplace."
It's a subtle critique of a bill proposed by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That legislation would enshrine many of the FCC's regulations into new law. But there's a catch: It would also strip the FCC of some of its powers. And for Democrats like Nelson, that's a non-starter.
"Nelson's comments draw the battle lines," said Paul Gallant, a telecom analyst at Guggenheim Securities. "He's definitely open to moving a bill, but he wants to keep some type of safety-net power for the FCC over ISPs. Republicans don't like open-ended authority for agencies. So, game on."
The Thune-Upton bill would prohibit the FCC from regulating Internet providers using the same tool it uses to police legacy phone service — Title II of the Communications Act. Consumer advocates, Web companies and President Obama all pushed hard for Title II last year, while Internet providers warned it would hurt their ability to offer faster, better service.
The Republican-backed proposal would also limit the FCC's authority to police Internet providers under another part of the law known as Section 706. The FCC has used 706 to knock down state limits on city-run Internet services, and some lobbyists want the agency to flex that muscle even more.
Together, those provisions would make it difficult for the FCC to protect consumers on the Internet, consumer groups say. Republicans argue that their bill would give the FCC ample authority to enforce net neutrality without granting it a blank check.
"I think that you could provide some clear direction for the FCC so that you eliminate some uncertainty and ambiguity, and still retain a lot of authority," Thune told reporters Thursday.