Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Aid cutoff to Egypt would do nothing

The money the U.S. gives Egypt pales in comparison with the billions from Gulf monarchies.

 It doesn't surprise me that Egypt's military decided to use force to end its six-week standoff with supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood government threatened to turn the North African nation into an Islamic state.
What does surprise me is that politicians at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue actually seem to think that on this matter Washington has more influence with the generals in Cairo than do the monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Nothing points out the wrongheadedness of this thinking more than the debate among politicians in the nation's capital over whether President Obama should end the foreign assistance the U.S. gives Egypt.
The call for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Egypt comes a month after Saudi ArabiaKuwait and the United Arab Emirates announced aid packages for Egypt's military government totaling $12 billion — eight times more than $1.5 billion Egypt will lose if U.S. pulls the plug on its financial support to the Middle East's most populous country.
Even so, the call for a cutoff of U.S. aid — with Republicans and Democrats lining up on both sides of this issue — intensified after the military's recent move against Morsi supporters that has taken the lives of more than 800 people. As tragic as this violence is, an end of U.S. aid won't force Egyptian soldiers back into their barracks, or return Morsi to that country's presidency.
As a statement of one of America's most important values — our advocacy for democratic rule — turning off the foreign aid spigot for Egypt makes sense. As a reflection of American interests, it doesn't. America's survival and that of Israel, this nation's principal ally in the Middle East, are threatened by religious fanaticism, not Egypt's military government.
It is the democratically elected, mullah-run government in Iran that is helping to prop up Syria's dictatorship and increase the chances of a nuclear confrontation in the region. And it is the Hamas-led, democratically elected government in the Gaza Strip that recently passed a law criminalizing the efforts of any educational institution to establish an exchange program with Israel or to work to normalize relations with the Jewish state.
Monarchies in the oil-rich nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are the region's bulwark against the spread of the Islamist rule.
To agitate for a return of Morsi's government — or a cutoff of U.S. aid to Egypt — is blind allegiance to democracy that has, at least in this case, been corrupted. It's something akin to defending the right to bear arms for someone who is determined to shoot you. It's like championing free speech for those who radicalized suspectedBoston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; or Richard Reid, the guy who tried to bring down an American passenger jet with a shoe bomb.
In the abstract, spreading democracy throughout the world is a virtuous idea. But in the real world, this commendable value should not be pursued in total disregard of overriding, and legitimate, national interests.
"The UAE stands by Egypt and its people at this stage and trusts the choices of its people. Egypt's security and stability are the basis of Arab security," the United Arab Emirates' national security adviser said last month of his country's portion of the $12 billion Egyptian aid package.
Given their druthers, I'm sure those monarchies would prefer a return of dynastic rule in Egypt, whose last king was ousted in a 1953 military coup. Short of that, they see the country's military leaders as the lesser of two evils.
The Obama administration and Congress should do the same.
DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

"In the case of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf States, the quid pro quo was, for a long time, about access to cheap oil and energy. More recently, it has involved coöperation with the United States and its allies in campaigns against Al Qaeda and its offshoots. In the case of Egypt, since 1979, the basis of its cordial relationship with the United States has been its willingness to stand by the peace treaty with Israel, signed by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. Since the nineteen-nineties, the Egyptian government has also coöperated closely with the C.I.A. and other U.S. agencies in the undercover fight against Islamic radicalism, playing a key role in the rendition and interrogation of suspected terrorists captured by American forces."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Land grab: Israeli govt backs bill to forcibly relocate up to 40,000 Bedouin villagers

Israeli Cabinet ministers are backing a draft law to demolish Bedouin villages in the country's Negev Desert and relocate residents to state-approved settlements. If adopted, the country's latest ethnic cleansing project will affect tens of thousands.
Bedouin leaders have harshly criticized the plan, saying they were not included in discussions of the bill.
Under the Prawer-Begin plan, or 'The Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Houses in the Negev,' the Bedouin population will be relocated to officially recognized Bedouin towns such as Rahat, Khura and Ksayfe, and their current homes will be demolished.
"The government approved a plan that will cause the displacement and forced eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents," Rawia Aburabia, a lawyer from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), told MAAN news agency. "All of this while the government simultaneously promotes the establishment of new Jewish communities, some of which are even planned to be built on the fresh ruins of Bedouin villages."
Israeli Bedouins ride camels during a Bedouin folklore festival, 28 April 2007, in the Negev desert near the southern Israeli town of Arad. (AFP Photo)

Israeli Bedouins ride camels during a Bedouin folklore festival, 28 April 2007, in the Negev desert near the southern Israeli town of Arad. (AFP Photo)

The Israeli government promised that those relocated will be given financial compensation and be allotted new plots of land.
The goal of this historic decision is to put an end to the spread of illegal building by Negev Bedouin and lead to the better integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
The bill is expected to soon begin the legislative process in the Knesset. According to ACRI, the Prawer-Begin plan envisions the eviction of around 30 to 40,000 Bedouins, which will destroy their communal and social lifestyle and condemn them to poverty and unemployment.
Bedouin men sit together during wedding celebrations in the village of Kusaifa in Israel's Negev desert (Reuters)

Bedouin men sit together during wedding celebrations in the village of Kusaifa in Israel's Negev desert (Reuters)

Bedouins have argued they purchased their land in the Negev before the establishment of the state of Israel. The agreements, however, are said to have been verbal, and never registered in Israel’s official Land Registry. Israeli law does not recognize land claims that are not backed by some form of written proof of purchase or ownership.
"This is a step that harms the basic rights of the Bedouin. Instead of the state contributing to the Bedouin population, it is acting against it," Haaretz quoted Rahat Mayor Sheikh Faiz Abu Seheban as saying. "I call on all human rights organizations to oppose the decision, since it damages the social framework in the Negev."
Israel refuses to recognize 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, which collectively house approximately 90,000 people – nearly half of Israel's 210,000 Bedouins, according to data published by Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel. The villages are not on official maps and lack basic services like water, paved roads and electricity.
A Bedouin man sits inside a tin shaft at Wadi al-Nam unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva (AFP Photo)

A Bedouin man sits inside a tin shaft at Wadi al-Nam unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva (AFP Photo)

The other half of Israel’s Negev Bedouins lives in government-planned townships. Residents have complained over a lack of basic infrastructure, transportation, school and health facilities. Israel’s Bedouin townships repeatedly rank in the country’s lowest socioeconomic bracket.
The Regional Council of Unrecognized Arab Villages of Negev along with the High Steering Committee of the Arabs of Negev organized a demonstration near Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on Monday, where they protested the bill.
"The plan will under no circumstances be carried out; the Bedouin population will not give up its land," Hussein Al-Rafia, the former head of the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities told Haaretz. "I think the state needs to sit with the Bedouin population and solve the problem once and for all. They have not sat with us seriously."
Knesset member Ibrahim Sarsour addressed the demonstrators, saying that his party, the United Arab List, had rejected the bill. He expressed concern that the recommendations could be approved as a law, and urged the Arab public to use legal methods to prevent its implementation.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Five-year-old boy accidentally shoots, kills sister

A 5-year-old Kentucky boy who received a .22-caliber rifle as a gift accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister on Tuesday, according to state police.
The toddler was shot at just after 1 p.m. local time on Lawson’s Bottom Road in Cumberland County, police said. The girl was taken to Cumberland County Hospital and later pronounced dead.
The mother of the two children was at home at the time of the shooting, Cumberland County Coroner Gary White told the local newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader. He said that the family did not realize that there was a shell inside the gun. The firearm was kept in a corner, he said.
“It’s a Crickett,” Cumberland County Coroner Gary White told the paper. “It’s a little rifle for a kid.”
“The little boy’s used to shooting the little gun,” White said.
The shooting occurred while the boy was playing with the rifle, police said. It was “just one of those crazy accidents,” White told the Herald-Leader.
NRA? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Habeas Corpus Not Suspended but just Too Expensive

Habeas corpus, also known as “The Great Writ” refers to a centuries-old legal concept, fundamental in any democracy. This Latin term, literally meaning, “holding the body”, refers to a legal action that a person can bring in order to seek relief against arbitrary and unlawful detention.

Habeas corpus represents the idea that the king or the President, may not, at his whim, detain whomever he wants without allowing the detainee the opportunity to stand before a fair court to hear the charges against him or her and to have an opportunity to answer the charges. Filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is a legal challenge to the government’s ability to detain an individual. It is brought against the person(s) responsible for holding a detainee and requires that s/he produce the detainee along with the reasons that this person is being held. The petition challenges the legality of the detention based on a legal or a factual error. So, for example, the error could be that the detention violates the Constitution. Or, the petition could assert that the detainee was incorrectly identified and the government arrested the wrong person. The court then decides if the person is being held lawfully or if the detainee ought to be released.

As a legal concept, habeas corpus is centuries-old. Habeas rights are typically traced back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and have since become a cornerstone of democratic governance and of international human rights law. In the U.S., the Constitution requires that habeas rights can only be suspended under very limited circumstances: “the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

President Bush tried to suspend habeas when he issued a military order entitled, Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism. He declared the right to indefinitely detain individuals that he claimed were suspected of having links to terrorism as “unlawful enemy combatants”. In violation of international and Constitutional law, he asserted that these detainees could be held forever without legal counsel, without knowing what they were accused of doing, and without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

Over the course of years, the Bush administration held over 700 such designated “unlawful enemy combatants” on a U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. All the while, in American court rooms, a vigorous legal battle over the legality of the detentions has ensued. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court in Boumediene, held that those held at Guantanamo Bay have the right of habeas corpus and can bring such claims in U.S. federal court.
...But, Can We Pay For It?

Sequester Effects: Top Public Defender Forced To Fire Himself

WASHINGTON -- As he looked over his office's budget sheets alongside his administrative assistant, Steve Nolder, the director of the public defender's office in southern Ohio, was confronted with no good options.
It was early March. Sequestration had already been triggered, forcing his office to find an 11 percent reduction in expenditures. They had cut travel, gotten rid of cell phones, and stopped paying for expert witnesses, workforce education and training. They would keep using old computers despite promises of new ones. A receptionist had quit and wouldn't be replaced. A lawyer was set to retire that June without replacement. The entire staff was going to be furloughed for 17 days. Even after all that, they were in the hole.
"It was a pimple on the elephant's ass," explained Nolder.
The numbers couldn't be fudged. Nolder had to reduce staff. He looked around and studied his no-good options before concluding that the best path forward was to fire himself.
It was a solemn end to an 18-year run in the public defender's office. But the self-sacrifice helped save the jobs of three, potentially four, fellow lawyers who would have been let go if he himself hadn't fallen on the sword.
"They uprooted themselves and moved to this district to work in my office," Nolder explained of his decision in an interview with The Huffington Post. "And one of the curses or benefits of being in the legal community for as long as I have is hopefully you have established a reputation and, through that reputation, you maybe can do something else."
"I'm going to do criminal defense work," he said of his future plans. "That's all I have ever known. I don't have anything else in my DNA to do. And you know what, I'll be all right ... I will be fine. I worry about the office. I hope they are fine, too."

As the effects of sequestration take hold, one of the most harmed professional groups has been federal public defenders. The federal public defender system has been forced to absorb an estimated $43 million cut this year alone. In Nolder's case, his office, which handled 1,100 cases last year alone (many dealing with drug, gun and child pornography crimes) was forced to reduce its budget by $308,000 in roughly six months' time. Unlike many other federal agencies, the majority of the budget for federal public defenders' offices goes toward salaries and rent, meaning that sequestration is having a direct impact at the human level.
In the Northern District of Texas, an appellate lawyer described by his boss as one of the "best and brightest" in the district is leaving the job he loves at the end of the month. Richard Anderson, the top federal public defender in the district, said an "outstanding" young lawyer with four children is leaving his office because he couldn’t afford a 25 percent pay cut.
"I have spent the last seven years really investing in the legal acumen of my office. To see that start to disintegrate..." Anderson said. "I have already moved from infinite rage to some sort of degree of quiet acceptance on my grief cycle, but I hope that articles will shine a light where we can get some relief."
Anderson called his budget "incredibly lean" and said that "almost all" of it was tied up in either salaries or rent.
The dramatic cutback with which Anderson and others have to contend in the wake of sequestration won't leave indigent defendants without legal representation -- the federal public defender system, which provides legal representation to such defendants accused of felonies, will go on. But it will be far more dependent on private attorneys with limited experience in federal court proceedings to pick up the slack through pro bono work, a development that could severely hamper the legal defense process.
"The sequester has hit the public defender program very hard," Dennis Terez, the top federal public defender for the Northern District of Ohio, told HuffPost last week. His office has been forced to swallow roughly 21 furlough days to make budget just for this fiscal year alone -- what he said is the average number of furlough days being applied throughout the industry -- even though the caseload remains the same.
"I've had to cut travel budgets, it's cut everyone's budgets," Terez said. "It's forced every defender to find money for benefits and salaries to avoid layoffs, but the problem is, nationwide, roughly 85 percent of every defender office [budget] is either salaries and benefits or rent -- and you can't change the rent."
"It's a little bit unpredictable. We don't quite know how this will get handled in every regard," Terez said. "But certainly it's a very, very serious problem."
And it's a problem being experienced throughout the country. Rene Valladares, the top federal public defender for Nevada, said that he has been forced to lay off several employees, in addition to implementing furlough days.
"Things, I gotta tell you, are really tough right now," he said. "It's unfortunate that this public defender decided to go ahead and resign, but can't blame him, I guess. Things are very difficult right now."
"One of the hallmarks that makes this a great system -- the federal system of justice -- is that the indigent are given representation that is quality representation," Valladares said. "That's under siege, that principle is under siege right now."
Federal public defenders in Northern Mississippi expect to face about 22 days of furloughs, but told a local newspaper they expect to ignore the mandate. In Maryland, federal public defenders are facing 15 days of furlough. In Peoria, Ill.,three members of the public defender's office have been cut, while those who remain face 10 furlough days.
Courts, too, are feeling the pinch. The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles announced that it will close its clerk's office for seven Fridays over the next few months. Utah officials said they would limit Friday federal court openings beginning in April. In Nevada and several other districts, federal courts are "going dark" on criminal cases on Fridays, the day that many federal public defenders will be furloughed. The federal court in Washington, D.C., is planning to do the same beginning April 26, according to the Washington Post.
Friday, indeed, appears to be the day that some justice will rest.
"We get daily emails from people, 'It's furlough Friday, I wouldn't be in but you can reach me at home at this number,'" Christine A. Freeman, the executive director of Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama, told HuffPost. "It's an impact that just doesn't seem to be making it into the news."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cuba to hand over couple accused of kidnapping sons

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Tuesday said an American accused of kidnapping his two young sons in Florida and fleeing with them by boat to the communist-led island would be turned over to U.S. authorities.

The foreign ministry announced the decision in a terse statement saying Joshua Michael Hakken, a fugitive from U.S. justice, would be handed over with wife Sharyn and their children.

Hakken had surfaced in Cuba on Tuesday and was holed up with his family at the Hemingway Marina near Havana.

Reuters and other media outlets had attempted to speak with Hakken when he appeared briefly before reporters to stow away gear and secure the hatch on a small blue and white sailboat named Salty at the marina.

But Hakken, a stocky man who was bearded and wearing shorts and a dark green baseball cap, shook his head 'no' when asked if would answer any questions.

He then disappeared into a nearby building which was roped off and plainclothes security guards equipped with walkie-talkies at the marina prevented journalists from asking any further questions.

The foreign ministry said Hakken had arrived at the marina on Sunday afternoon.

A State Department official said earlier that the United States was receiving "very good cooperation from the Cuban authorities" in the Hakken case and was providing "all appropriate assistance to the family."

Washington and Havana have no extradition agreement and tensions flared between the two Cold War enemies during the Elian Gonzalez child custody battle more than a decade ago. But there were few if any parallels between the Hakken case and Gonzalez saga, which involved a boy plucked from an inner tube off Florida after his mother and others drowned while fleeing Cuba. He was ultimately returned to his father in Cuba.

Hakken, who is wanted on two counts of kidnapping and other charges including interference with child custody, is accused of breaking into his mother-in-law's home north of Tampa, Florida, last Wednesday and tying her up with zip ties. He then fled with his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Hours later, Hakken, his wife, and the children left from a dock in Madeira Beach, Florida, aboard the Salty, their recently purchased 25-foot (7.6-meter) sailboat, investigators said.

Hakken knew long before he went to his mother-in-law's home that he and his wife had lost custody of the children, authorities said.

The boys wound up with their maternal grandmother after the Hakkens attended an "anti-government" rally in June in Louisiana, where police said they found Hakken in the family's hotel room with a gun, marijuana and knife, talking about a "journey to Armageddon," according to the Tampa Times newspaper.

Hakken was charged with marijuana possession and the boys were placed in a foster home, where Hakken later showed up armed with a gun, the Times quoted authorities as saying.

Louisiana officials then sent the boys to live in Tampa with their maternal grandmother Patricia Hauser.

Warrants issued in Hillsborough County, in addition to kidnapping and interfering with child custody, charges of child neglect, false imprisonment, burglary with battery and stealing Hauser's car.

(Additional reporting by Saundra Amrhein in Tampa; Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Walsh)