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Archive for March, 2009

Venuzuela Prez Chavez Rejects U.S. Drug Traffic Report; Takes Poke at Obama

President Chavez

President Chavez

President Chavez continues to flap his jaws and poke a stick at the U.S. This latest incident doesn’t bode well for the relationship between Chavez and the freshly-minted Obama regime. As Rodney King once said: “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

By The Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez on Saturday rejected a U.S. report alleging that drug trafficking is soaring in Venezuela, stepping up his criticism of President Barack Obama following the U.S. leader’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

The State Department report, which covers global anti-drug efforts in 2008, was compiled while President George W. Bush was in office but approved this month by the Obama administration.

“Is there really a new government in the United States, or is Bush still in charge?” Chavez told supporters in a poor Caracas neighborhood. “Don’t mess with me, Mr. Obama.”

The report asserts that drug trafficking soared fivefold in Venezuela from 50 metric tons (55 tons) of illegal drugs in 2002 to an estimated 250 metric tons (275 tons) in 2007 as cartels took advantage of the country’s “geography, corruption, a weak judicial system, incompetent and in some cases complicit security forces and lack of international counternarcotics cooperation.”
Full Story

Read Part 1 of Report

Read Part 2 of Report

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Moving; Could Help Perceptions

Judge Royce Lamberth/court photo

In real estate, they say, it’s location location location. Well, some are saying the same for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington that is moving from the Justice Department to new digs in the U.S. District Court down the street. Some like U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth (in photo) hope the move will erase some perceptions that the court is less than independent.

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — First, the workers encased the room in reinforced concrete. Then came the thick wood-and-metal doors that seal into the walls. Behind those walls they labored in secret for two years, building a courtroom, judge’s chambers and clerk’s offices. The only sign that they were done came recently, when biometric hand scanners and green “Restricted Access” placards were placed at the entrances.

What workers have finally completed — or perhaps not; few really know, and none would say — is the nation’s most secure courtroom for its most secretive court. In coming days, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will move from its current base at the Justice Department and settle into a new $2 million home just off a public hallway in the District’s federal courthouse.

The relocation is a rare public action by a mysterious Washington institution that is judged by its ability to keep secrets while overseeing the government’s efforts to gather them. Its role, generally, is to determine whether the federal government can spy on U.S. citizens or foreigners in the United States in terrorism or espionage investigations.

For Full Story

Fed Prosecutors in Barry Bond’s Case Bump Up Against Big Obstacles: Trial Delayed

The case against Barry Bonds has always been a tough one. For one, the key witness, his trainer, has refused to testify in trial. And two, the judge recently ruled that positive steroid tests were not admissible as evidence. The two developments have been a recipe for disaster for the assistant U.S. Attorneys, who are appealing the ruling. Jury selection was supposed to begin today (March 2), but there’s been a delay. Some speculate this case could just vanish, leaving the big slugger with the home run of his life.

A.J. Perez
USA TODAY

Prosecutors applied a rarely used maneuver Friday that delayed the start of Barry Bonds’ trial on perjury and obstruction charges for several months – if it ever takes place.

“I think they’re going to abandon their case,” said Peter Keane, dean emeritus of the Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. “I think you’ll see them dancing away from it. They’re going to wait for the case to get gray in the beard, and then they’re going to quietly dump it.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office notified the court that it was going to appeal Judge Susan Illston’s Feb. 19 ruling to exclude much of the evidence collected in the BALCO raids from 2003, including three of Bonds’ allegedly positive steroid tests between 2000 and 2001, along with doping calendars that detailed how Bonds was supposed to use banned substances.

Minus that evidence, prosecutors would have a more difficult time proving that Bonds knowingly used steroids, the key element of the case.

For Full Story

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Granddaughter of Slave Audrey Collins is Chief U.S. District Judge in LA

Obviously the election of Barack Obama was a milestone in this country’s racial history. But the story of Audrey B. Collins, the granddaughter of a slave, is also a milestone worth noting.

By Scott Glover
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Not long after Audrey B. Collins was named chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, she found herself pondering what she might say at an upcoming luncheon, the sort of affair she’d routinely be expected to attend in her new capacity as the public face of the court.

But as Collins considered her remarks, she realized there was nothing routine about this gathering. She’d been asked to speak to a group of female Afghan attorneys and judges visiting the United States, women who risked their lives every day by practicing law in defiance of the Taliban.

The standard fare for lunchtime speeches, such as court statistics, judicial vacancies and cost-of-living increases for federal judges, wasn’t going to cut it with this crowd, Collins concluded.

So she decided to tell her own story, one that makes her, in at least one respect, a highly unusual member of the federal judiciary: Collins, 63, is the granddaughter of a slave.

For Full Story

Feds In San Francisco Go After Death Penalty For First Time Since 1948

Interestingly, the Justice Department trumped the local U.S. Attorney and decided to go for the death penalty in one of these cases even though the local U.S. Attorney had already worked out a plea agreement.  The Bush Administration was not shy about pushing the death penalty, but that’s likely to change under the Obama regime. In fact, it’s expected  that the new Justice Department may turn around and let the original guilty plea stand for one of the defendants.

By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — For the first time since 1948, lives are at stake in a San Francisco federal courtroom.

Two alleged gang members went on trial before separate juries last week, each accused of three murders as part of a racketeering enterprise to control local drug trafficking. The Justice Department is seeking the death penalty for both defendants, in one case over the objections of the U.S. attorney’s office, which had agreed on a 40-year prison sentence.
They are the first two federal death penalty trials in California’s Northern District, based in San Francisco, since two Alcatraz inmates were convicted, sentenced to death and executed in the San Quentin gas chamber in 1948 for an escape attempt two years earlier in which two guards and three prisoners were killed.

They’re also the first life-or-death trials of any kind in San Francisco since 1991, when a convicted murderer was sentenced to death in Superior Court.

For Full Story

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Mexican Drug Cartels Get Their Way (N.Y. Times)

FBI Dir. Robert Mueller to Visit Pakistan

Director Robert Mueller III

Director Robert Mueller III

During the J. Edgar Hoover days it would have been shocking to hear that the big guy was taking a little trip to Pakistan. But in this jet-setting era, and at  a time the FBI has expanded its role around the world, it doesn’t seem that far fetched for a director to head off to a far off land like Pakistan.

By Agence France Press
ISLAMABAD — The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will lead a team visiting Pakistan next month to help investigate the Mumbai attacks, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

New Delhi blamed the attacks, which killed 165 people last November, on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the siege soured a five-year peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

“Headed by Robert Mueller, the team will arrive in Pakistan on March 4,” foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit told a press briefing in Islamabad.
For Full Story

MSNBC at 10 p.m. Sunday: DEA Goes Undercover in Baltimore to Bust Pill Pushers

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Calls For U.S. To Step It Up In Helping Mexico With Drug War

Mexican drugs seized in large-scale DEA operation/dea photo

Mexican drugs seized in large-scale DEA operation/dea photo

The paper’s editorial calls for action now to take on the violent Mexican drug cartels that pose great dangers to the U.S. Sec. of Defense Robert Gates said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that the U.S. is in a position to help Mexico with training, resources, surveillance and intelligence. Well, no better time than the present to act.

By The Philadelphia Inquirer
Imagine if murders in Philadelphia tripled. Imagine if they quadrupled. Imagine living in Juarez, Mexico. With a population about the same as Philadelphia’s 1.4 million, Juarez had 1,600 murders last year; Philadelphia had 332.

Last month, Juarez had more than 80 murders. If you think that sounds like a war zone, you would be right. Juarez is on the front lines of the so-called war on drugs. That multi-decade misadventure has filled U.S. prisons with thousands of drug-law violators, but hasn’t done enough to stem our demand for drugs.

Overall drug use among America’s youth is down 25 percent since 2001, according to a University of Michigan study. But 32 percent of 12th graders said they used marijuana over the past year.

To Read Entire Editorial