Steven W Thrasher writes: For generations, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have turned to night clubs and bars like Orlando’s Pulse – the scene today of the deadliest shooting in American history – as places of refuge. They have been our sanctuaries.
When our homes would kick us out for being queer, there was the bar. When we were at risk of getting beaten up, as men, for wearing drag on the street, there was the club. When our places of employment might fire us for being queer (as they legally still can in most states), there were leathers bars and glam dance clubs where we could shake our moneymakers.
Bars offered us the illusion of a freedom from terror as queer people, the illusion that there was a place where our sexual desires and our communal need to gather with fellow queers would not be under attack.
This illusion was a lie, of course. Bars were not, and never have been, safe places. This should especially obvious every June when we celebrate Pride month. It’s when we remember the Stonewall riots, when all kinds of queers from all kinds of backgrounds were attacked by police inside a New York City dive bar 47 years ago, in June of 1969.
The police were violent to the queer people there. They thought they could do anything they wanted to them, because they knew queer people lived in fear. The police didn’t see the Stonewall as a sanctuary, but as a disgusting cage. They thought the patrons were sick and would be too ashamed of who they were to make a fuss.
But the brave queers at the Stonewall fought back against that. In finding the best spirit of themselves, they started what would become a worldwide movement – a movement that would evolve to fight legal oppression, challenge homophobia, organize around the holocaust of HIV/Aids, and lead to marriage equality many decades later. [Continue reading…]
Quartz reports: G4S employs 610,000 people in 100 countries, and sources many of its recruits from police and military backgrounds. It has faced criticism (paywall) in the past for breaches of security such as prison escapes. Since 2012, it’s been trying to rebuild its reputation after it failed to provide enough security guards to the London Olympics, and the army had to step into the breach.
The company was one of the US government’s biggest federal contractors after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and employs 57,000 people in North America. [Continue reading…]
Michelangelo Signorile writes: We still know very few details about the horrific, heartbreaking mass shooting in an Orlando gay club, Pulse, where 50 people have been killed and over 50 more were injured. Omar S. Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida, is reported to have entered the club and soon went on a shooting rampage. It’s not yet been confirmed as a hate crime, a terror attack or random shooting.
Whatever the case, a Pride month night of celebration and fun — the weekly Latin Night at the popular club, focused on Latin music, performances and dancing — turned into a morning of mass death and devastation. It happened in an area where LGBT people feel welcome and accepted. Orlando has a large and diverse LGBT community, one in which, like so many across the country, many LGBT people surely feel comfortable and safe.
But the brutal reality that jarred Orlando’s LGBT community, and the entire nation, is something that LGBT have always experienced, as gay and lesbian bars and clubs have been targeted in the past by those who harbor hate toward LGBT people. And it’s a reminder — whatever the motives — of the animus against us, and the ever present danger, with which we still live. [Continue reading…]
America has 4.4% of the world’s population, but almost 50% of the civilian-owned guns around the world
Vox reports: America is an exceptional country when it comes to guns. It’s one of the few countries in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, and presidential candidates in other nations don’t cook bacon with guns. But America’s relationship with guns is unique in another crucial way: Among developed nations, the US is far and away the most violent — in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. These charts and maps show what that violence looks like compared with the rest of the world, why it happens, and why it’s such a tough problem to fix. [Continue reading…]
NBC News reports: While no one may ever know what was truly going through the head of the man who shot over 100 people at a gay Orlando nightclub on Sunday, his family says he may have been motivated by pure hate against the LGBT community.
Various law-enforcement officials have identified the shooter as Omar Mateen, 29, who was born in New York and lived in Port . St. Lucie, Florida.
Because of his name and heritage, there were immediately questions about Islamic fundamentalism — but his father said it may have been a recent incident involving two men showing each other affection that set the gunman off.
“We were in Downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Mir Seddique, told NBC News on Sunday. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’ And then we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.’
“We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident,” said Seddique. “We weren’t aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country.”
Seddique added, “this had nothing to do with religion.” [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: [a] senior law enforcement source reports that Mateen became a person of interest in 2013 and again in 2014. The Federal Bureau of Investigation at one point opened an investigation into Mateen but subsequently closed the case when it produced nothing that appeared to warrant further investigation.
“He’s a known quantity,” the source said. “He’s been on the radar before.” [Continue reading…]
NBC News reports: The gunman who opened fire at a gay Florida nightclub early Sunday, shooting over 100 people, had called 911 moments before to pledge allegiance to the leader of ISIS, law enforcement sources told NBC News. [Continue reading…]
Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán and Luis Jorge Garay-Salamanca report: In the early morning hours of Friday, January 8, 2016, Mexican marines closed in on the world’s most wanted man: Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, a notorious drug trafficker with a net worth estimated near $1 billion. The climactic shootout in Sinaloa, Mexico, took place after Guzmán made a getaway into the sewer system from a house that the authorities had been watching. He was finally apprehended after he reemerged and stole a car. His capture brought to a close six months of humiliation for the Mexican government, which had struggled to explain how Guzmán could escape from a maximum-security prison by walking into the shower, under full view of a video camera, and slipping away through a tiny hole in the floor that led to a 30-foot-deep, mile-long tunnel that had taken perhaps a year to construct. It was the second time that El Chapo had broken out of prison under the noses of Mexican officials. Mexican officials are currently debating whether to hold Guzmán — really, whether they can hold him or — extradite him to the United States, where he faces indictments in multiple federal courts on drug trafficking and murder charges. His organization, the Sinaloa cartel, has smuggled vast quantities of drugs into the United States through elaborate tunnel systems near the border between the two countries.
In Mexico, the confrontation between cartels such as Sinaloa, Los Zetas, and Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) has cost nearly 44,000 lives during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. Human rights organizations counted more than 100,000 deaths during the tenure of Nieto’s predecessor. These and other criminal networks originating in Mexico pay bribes and co-opt police chiefs, mayors, local legislators, and municipal and state police. They infiltrate state institutions, such as courts and attorney offices, especially at the local level, spreading corruption and violence across the country. Though usually defined as “Mexican drug cartels,” they don’t confine their operations to Mexico or their activities to drug trafficking. They extort, kidnap, and murder across Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Los Zetas has perpetrated mass murders in Guatemala, while members of Sinaloa operate in Colombia and Venezuela.
As the United States’ interest in extraditing Guzmán shows, the impact of these activities is often felt beyond Latin America. In 2012, the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division pointed out that at least $881 million in proceeds from drug trafficking, some of which involved Sinaloa in Mexico and the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia, had been laundered through HSBC Bank USA, without being detected. A U.S. district court requested extradition of former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo in 2013, and convicted him in 2014, for laundering millions of dollars through American bank accounts with the help of Jorge Armando Llort, whom he had appointed director of a semi-state-owned bank, Banco de Crédito Hipotecario Nacional. No Guatemalan courts sentenced the bank’s director or the former president.
What few observers realize is that, while El Chapo’s capture made for a dramatic story, the criminal operations of his Sinaloa cartel will proceed almost as if nothing happened. In his notorious Rolling Stone interview with Sean Penn, El Chapo observed: “The day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking does not depend on just one person.”
Sinaloa and other criminal cartels have evolved structures that no longer depend on the direction of single leaders. They have become transnational criminal networks — enormous, decentralized, and difficult to map and control. Their operations, too, have become more varied, not only in their criminal activities but in their infiltration and co-optation of legal entities, including government and law enforcement. Even in some countries with strong rule-of-law traditions, they have overcome judicial systems, reconfigured state institutions, and influenced formal democratic processes. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Over the years, William R. Ponsoldt had earned tens of millions of dollars building a string of successful companies. He had renovated apartment buildings in the New York City area. Bred Arabian horses. Run a yacht club in the Bahamas, a rock quarry in Michigan, an auto-parts company in Canada, even a multibillion-dollar hedge fund.
Now, as he neared retirement, Mr. Ponsoldt, of Jensen Beach, Fla., had a special request for Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm well placed in the world of offshore finance: How could he confidentially shift his money into overseas bank accounts and use them to buy real estate and move funds to his children?
“He is the manager of one of the richest hedge funds in the world,” a lawyer at Mossack Fonseca wrote when the firm was introduced to Mr. Ponsoldt in 2004. “Primary objective is to maintain the utmost confidentiality and ideally to open bank accounts without disclosing his name as a private person.”
In summary, the firm explained: “He needs asset protection schemes, which we are trying to sell him.”
Thus began a relationship that would last at least through 2015 as Mossack Fonseca managed eight shell companies and a foundation on the family’s behalf, moving at least $134 million through seven banks in six countries — little of which could be traced directly to Mr. Ponsoldt or his children.
These transactions and others like them for a stable of wealthy clients from the United States are outlined in extraordinary detail in the trove of internal Mossack Fonseca documents known as the Panama Papers. The materials were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and have now been shared with The New York Times. [Continue reading…]
Robert Kolker writes: The trouble with modern interrogation technique… is that, despite its scientific pose, it has almost no science to back it up. Reid and Inbau [authors of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, which in 1962 set the mold for police interrogations in America] claimed, for instance, that a well-trained investigator could catch suspects lying with 85 percent accuracy; their manual instructs detectives to conduct an initial, nonaccusatory “behavioral analysis interview,” in which they should look for physical tells like fidgeting and broken eye contact. But when German forensic psychologist Günter Köhnken actually studied the matter in 1987, he found that trained police officers were no better than the average person at detecting lies. Several subsequent studies have cast doubt on the notion that there are any clear-cut behavioral tells. (Truth tellers often fidget more than liars.) In fact, the more confident police officers are about their judgments, the more likely they are to be wrong.
But the scientific case against police interrogations really began to mount in the early 1990s, when the first DNA-based exonerations started rolling in. According to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, about a third of the 337 people who’ve had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence confessed or incriminated themselves falsely. These and other exonerations furnished scientists with dozens of known false-confession cases to study, giving rise to a veritable subfield of social psychology and the behavioral sciences. (At least one confession elicited by John Reid himself — in a 1955 murder case — turned out to be inaccurate; the real killer confessed 23 years later.)
Researchers have even broken down these false confession cases into categories. There are “voluntary” false confessions, like the many presumably unstable people who claimed credit for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in order to get attention. Then there are “compliant,” or “coerced,” false confessions, in which people are so ground down by an intense interrogation that, out of desperation and naïveté, they think that confessing will be better for them in the long run. The third category, “persuaded,” or “internalized,” false confessions, may be the most poignant. Here, the interrogator’s Reid-style theming is so relentless, the deployment of lies so persuasive, that suspects — often young and impressionable or mentally impaired — end up believing they did it, however fleetingly. [Continue reading…]
David Cay Johnston writes: For the first time we have a reliable estimate of how much money thieving dictators and others have looted from 150 mostly poor nations and hidden offshore: $12.1 trillion.
That huge figure equals a nickel on each dollar of global wealth and yet it excludes the wealthiest regions of the planet: America, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
That so much money is missing from these poorer nations explains why vast numbers of people live in abject poverty even in countries where economic activity per capita is above the world average. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the national economy’s output per person comes to 60 cents for each dollar Americans enjoy, measured using what economists call purchasing power equivalents, yet living standards remain abysmal.
The $12.1 trillion estimate — which amounts to two-thirds of America’s annual GDP being taken out of the economies of much poorer nations — is for flight wealth built up since 1970.
Add to that flight wealth from the world’s rich regions, much of it due to tax evasion and criminal activities like drug dealing, and the global figure for hidden offshore wealth totals as much as $36 trillion.
In 2014 the net worth of planet Earth was about $240 trillion, which means about 15 percent of global wealth is in hiding, significantly reducing the capital available to spur world economic growth. [Continue reading…]
RFE/RL reports: A Spanish judge has issued international arrest warrants for several current and former Russian government officials and other political figures closely linked to President Vladimir Putin.
The named Russians include a former prime minister and an ex-defense minister, as well as a current deputy prime minister and the current head of the lower house of parliament’s finance committee.
The Spanish documents detail alleged members of two of Russia’s largest and best-known criminal organizations — the Tambov and Malyshev gangs — in connection with crimes committed in Spain including murder, weapons and drug trafficking, extortion, and money laundering.
But Spanish police also conclude that one of the gangs was able to penetrate Russian ministries, security forces, and other key government institutions and businesses with the help of an influential senior legislator. [Continue reading…]
The 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died while attending a football match in the North of England might to some distant observers sound like a local story of concern primarily to the bereaved and their fellow citizens, but what happened in Sheffield that day speaks to the wider issue of state powers and responsibilities as they are exercised in every democracy.
During an era in which politicians never tire of speaking solemnly about their duty for protecting national security against the threat of terrorism, the task of providing public safety now (as in the past) has much less to do with thwarting foreign and domestic threats, than it does with an ongoing commitment to public service. In turn, serving ordinary people hinges on viewing and treating them with respect.
The victims at Hillsborough were betrayed by authorities (and the media) which placed the protection of their own interests above those they were meant to serve.
The events leading up to the disaster are described in this video:
The Guardian reports: It was a year into these inquests, and 26 years since David Duckenfield, as a South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, took command of the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, that he finally, devastatingly, admitted his serious failures directly caused the deaths of 96 people there.
Duckenfield had arrived at the converted courtroom in Warrington with traces of his former authority, but over seven airless, agonisingly tense days in the witness box last March, he was steadily worn down, surrendering slowly into a crumpled heap. From his concession that he had inadequate experience to oversee the safety of 54,000 people, to finally accepting responsibility for the deaths, Duckenfield’s admissions were shockingly complete.
He also admitted at the inquests that even as the event was descending into horror and death, he had infamously lied, telling Graham Kelly, then secretary of the Football Association, that Liverpool fans were to blame, for gaining unauthorised entry through a large exit gate. Duckenfield had in fact himself ordered the gate to be opened, to relieve a crush in the bottleneck approach to the Leppings Lane turnstiles.
The chief constable, Peter Wright, had to state that evening that police had authorised the opening of the gate, but as these inquests, at two years the longest jury case in British history, heard in voluminous detail, Duckenfield’s lie endured. It set the template for the South Yorkshire police stance: to deny any mistakes, and instead to virulently project blame on to the people who had paid to attend a football match and been plunged into hell. [Continue reading…]
Following two years of harrowing evidence, the verdicts in the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 are a complete vindication of the 27-year campaign for justice for the 96 victims and their families. It is difficult to imagine the fortitude required to continue their fight for justice against the arrayed institutional might of the police, government and even sections of the media for so long.
But this fight for the truth did not take almost three decades, millions of pounds, and the longest court hearing in UK history because of its complexity. It was because within hours, the South Yorkshire police organised a conspiracy to protect themselves by defaming the dead and injured.
It is now clear that the police did not take blood from children to run alcohol tests or send a photographer to find empty beer cans because they wanted to understand what had really happened. It was simply to find any prop that could support the false narrative that the fans were drunk and abusive and were somehow responsible for their own deaths, and that the police had done their best under the circumstances.
We now know, from evidence heard at the inquest and admissions of senior police officers themselves, that this was so far from reality that the police had to collude to invent evidence. But even that wasn’t enough to hide the truth. There were thousands of fans there that day who knew what really happened – even in an age before everyone carried a phone with a camera, images existed that didn’t tally with the police’s claims.
But at the time the police had the most powerful allies there were: South Yorkshire police had been instrumental in breaking the miners’ strikes in 1984-1985, during which then prime minister Margaret Thatcher deployed them like her army in the north of England. The force also had form for blaming victims: we now know that South Yorkshire police had committed perjury during failed prosecutions of miners following the battle between police and strikers at Orgreave in 1984, and that senior officers were well aware of it and said nothing.
In 1989, the police needed support for their cover-up, and the Conservative government was happy to help. Thatcher herself toured the ground the morning after the disaster, and was aware that privately there were serious questions about the police propaganda, but it didn’t stop her government from backing the police. Her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, relied upon what he was told about the disaster by the police and blamed “tanked-up yobs” for the deaths. “Liverpool,” he later said, “should shut up about Hillsborough.”
The home secretary warned of potential criminal proceedings against police officers and other responsible groups over the 1989 tragedy while speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Reporting to MPs on the damning findings of the Hillsborough inquests, which gave their verdicts on Tuesday, May said the Crown Prosecution Service would decide later this year whether charges should be brought when two criminal investigations into the disaster were complete.
“It was this country’s worst disaster at a sporting event. For the families and survivors, the search to get to the truth of what happened on that day has been long and arduous,” May said. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Municipal police officers encircled the bus, detonated tear gas, punctured the tires and forced the college students who were onboard to get off.
“We’re going to kill all of you,” the officers warned, according to the bus driver. A policeman approached the driver and pointed a pistol at his chest. “You, too,” the officer said.
With a military intelligence official looking on and state and federal police officers in the immediate vicinity, witnesses said, the students were put into police vehicles and taken away. They have not been seen since.
They were among the 43 students who vanished in the city of Iguala one night in September 2014 amid violent, chaotic circumstances laid bare by an international panel of investigators who have been examining the matter for more than a year. The reason for the students’ abduction remains a mystery. [Continue reading…]