May 23, 2013
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and ALAN FRAM | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The man who led the Internal Revenue Service when it was giving extra scrutiny to tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status told Congress on Tuesday that he knew little about what was happening while he was still commissioner.
Douglas Shulman, who vacated his position last November when his five-year term expired, told the Senate Finance Committee he didn't learn all the facts until he read last week's report by a Treasury inspector general confirming the targeting strategy.
In his first public remarks since the story broke, Shulman said: "I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain. And they didn't. I don't know why."
Shulman testified at Congress' second hearing on an episode that has largely consumed Washington since an IRS official acknowledged the targeting and apologized for it in remarks to a legal group on May 10. Shulman and the two officials who testified at Tuesday's three-and-a-half hour session — the outgoing acting commissioner, Steven Miller, and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who issued the report — were all sworn in as witnesses, an unusual step for the Finance panel.
Shulman said he first learned about the targeting and about the inspector general's investigation in the spring of 2012, during the presidential election. He said that in a meeting with Miller, he was told that IRS workers were using a list to help decide which groups seeking tax-exempt status should get special attention, that the term "tea party" was on that list and that the problem was being addressed. But he said he didn't know what other words were on that list or the scope and severity of the activity.
Pressed by committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., on how the improper screening system could have occurred in the first place, Shulman said, "Mr. Chairman, I can't say. I can't say that I know that answer."
Shulman said he took what he thought were the proper steps — making sure the inspector general was looking into the situation. He said he did not tell Treasury officials about the improper activity.
"I don't recall talking to anyone about it," Shulman told the committee. "This is not the kind of information" that, with an inspector general's probe underway, "should leave the IRS."
Asked by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whether he owed conservative groups an apology, Shulman said, "I'm certainly not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it."
That was a reference to a list of words IRS workers looked for in deciding which groups to screen, a list that included the terms including "tea party" and "patriot."
"I very much regret that it happened and that it happened on my watch," Shulman said.
The testimony by Shulman and Miller drew skepticism from lawmakers of both parties, including critical remarks from people who have been unhesitant to say anything negative about the IRS since its activities were revealed nearly two weeks ago. Republicans openly rejected George's assertion that he has no evidence that the decision to target conservative groups was politically motivated.
A lack of political motivation "is almost beyond belief," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.
George's report blamed ineffective management for allowing agents to inappropriately target conservative groups for more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 elections. Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush and served from March 2008 until last November.
At a separate hearing, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the IRS's actions against conservative groups were "unacceptable and inexcusable."
Lew told the Senate Banking Committee that he has directed the agency's incoming acting director, Daniel Werfel, to hold people accountable and to fix any flaws in IRS management to make sure there is no recurrence of the problems.
Lew said he first learned about the inspector general's investigation in March but that he was unaware of the findings until they became public this month. Lew became Treasury secretary in February, and was White House chief of staff before that.
For more than a year, from 2011 through the 2012 election, members of Congress repeatedly asked Shulman about complaints from tea party groups that they were being harassed by the IRS. Shulman's responses, usually relayed by a deputy, did not acknowledge that agents had ever targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny.
At one House hearing on March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials, saying, "There's absolutely no targeting."
On Tuesday, Republicans expressed anger that Shulman and Miller didn't reveal the screening of conservative groups to Congress, despite lawmakers' repeated inquiries. Miller learned of the situation in early May 2012.
"Mr. Miller, that's a lie by omission," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, top Republican on the Finance committee. "There's no question about that in my mind. It's a lie by omission and you kept it from people who have the obligation to oversee this matter."
President Barack Obama has forced Miller to resign, and he is leaving office this week.
Shulman said he didn't later tell lawmakers about the targeting because he didn't have full information about the situation.
"I had a partial set of facts," Shulman said. "Sitting there then, sitting here today, I think I made the right decision" to let George, the inspector general, conduct his audit of the targeting.
Shulman said that when he did finally read about the details of the targeting in the inspector general's report, "I was dismayed and I was saddened."
Hatch and Baucus both criticized the agency and said they would investigate how and why the improper screening occurred.
"I intend to get to the bottom of what happened," Baucus said.
George, the Treasury inspector general, has said he told Shulman on May 30, 2012, that his office was auditing the way applications for tax-exempt status were being handled, in part because of complaints from conservative groups. However, George said he did not reveal the results of his investigation.
The IRS agents were conducting the screening to determine whether the groups were engaged in political activity. Certain tax-exempt groups are allowed to engage in politics, but politics cannot be their primary mission. It is up to the IRS to make the determination, so agents are supposed to look for clues when reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.
In March 2010, agents starting singling out groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" on their applications. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria for identifying groups that required more scrutiny, according to George's report.
Agents did not flag similar progressive or liberal labels, though some liberal groups received additional scrutiny because their applications were singled out for other reasons, the report said.
Meanwhile, a conservative organization that says its tax-exempt status is being unfairly held up by the IRS filed a federal lawsuit in Washington against the agency. True the Vote, a Houston group that watches for voting irregularities, is seeking damages and asking to immediately be granted tax-exempt status.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a campaign finance watchdog, also sued the IRS on Tuesday, seeking to force it to write new rules clarifying restrictions on political spending by some non-profit groups. The law says some groups qualify for tax-exempt status if they engage "exclusively" in social welfare projects, but IRS regulations allow the status if they are "primarily engaged" in social welfare — giving them leeway for some political activity as well.
May 23, 2013
LAWT Wire Service
“Ranking first in dog bites is a title that no community strives to attain,” according to representatives of the American Veterinary Medical Association. To help reduce the number of dog bites across America, they said, the AVMA is offering Californians concrete ways to help reduce the number of dog bites in their community during National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
As a partner in National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the United States Postal Service released its 2012 U.S. Postal Service Dog Attack City Rankings. Los Angeles ranked as No. 1, San Francisco ranked as No. 4, and Sacramento tied for the rank of No. 8 for attacks of postal workers. According to State Farm Insurance, California ranks No. 1 on the list of states with the most dog-bite related insurance claims.
“Dogs are wonderful, intelligent and loyal creatures, but they depend on responsible owners to teach them how to behave around people,” said Dr. Douglas G. Aspros, president of the AVMA. “Understanding how dogs behave and how to behave around dogs could save countless people from the serious physical and emotional consequences of a dog bite. The AVMA has a multitude of educational resources and experts available to help individuals and community groups understand how they can help prevent dog bites.”
The AVMA offers information on preventing dog bites on its website, including brochures, a video, The Blue Dog Parent Guide and CD, podcasts and many other materials to teach people of all ages how to prevent dog bites.
Here are some simple tips from the AVMA that could help prevent a dog bite:
· Don’t run past a dog. Dogs naturally love to chase and catch things.
· Never disturb a dog that is caring for puppies, sleeping or eating.
· If a dog approaches to sniff you, stay still. In most cases, the dog will go away when it determines you are not a threat.
· If you are threatened by a dog, remain calm. Don’t scream or yell. If you say anything, speak calmly and firmly. Avoid eye contact. Try to stay still until the dog leaves, or back away slowly until the dog is out of sight. Don’t turn and run.
· If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck. Protect your face.
May 23, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Jersey State Police called a press conference to name Assata Shakur, a 65-year-old-Black women and political refugee living in Cuba, to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, the move left many political activists puzzled.
Shakur is the first woman named to the list that also includes leaders of jihadist groups that have been linked to global terror plots. And she was added to the list 40 years after the crime.
Also known as Joanne Chesimard, Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party and later the Black Liberation Army, an organization that called for the revolutionary change in race relations in the United States and believed that armed conflict was the appropriate tool for that change.
Shakur was charged and convicted in the 1973 “execution-style” murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster on the New Jersey State Turnpike during a traffic stop. Medical and forensic evidence disproved the prosecution’s assertions that Shakur fired the fatal shots that killed Foerster or any shots at all.
Another trooper at the scene later admitted fabricating the story he told of seeing Shakur, fire shots from the passenger side of the vehicle, but she was still found guilty of murder. In New Jersey, being an accomplice to a murder is equivalent to actually pulling the trigger and carries the same life sentence.
During that period of turmoil, Shakur was cleared or judges dismissed the case against her in a half dozen trials and indictments against her ranging from armed robbery and kidnapping to murder. An all-White jury found her guilty of murder and assault during the trial for the murder of the New Jersey State trooper.
In a bold action, three-armed men helped Shakur escape Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in November 1979. Although the group took prison guards as hostages, none were injured. Five years later, Shakur reappeared in Cuba where she has lived since her escape.
On the anniversary of Trooper Foerster’s death this year, Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of the Newark Division, called Shakur a “domestic terrorist. That same day, the reward for her capture and return to the U.S. was doubled, from $1 million to $2 million.
“Justice has no expiration date, and our resolve to capture Joanne Chesimard does not diminish with the passage of time. Instead, it grows ever stronger with the knowledge that this killer continues to live free,” said Attorney General Chiesa.
According to news accounts, FBI officials said that neither President Obama nor Attorney General Holder had anything to do with adding Shakur to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, although they likely knew of the decision.
Recently, demonstrations were held in more than a half-dozen cities in support of Shakur. In addition, Change.org has launched a petition drive objecting to Shakur being added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist’s List.
The petition to President Obama states, “This new decree, announced some 40 years after initial her arrest, gives open license and motivation for Cuban residents or anyone else to abduct Ms. Shakur and deliver her to Federal authorities to answer for crimes she did not commit. In effect, Ms. Shakur committed no crimes. The crimes in fact were committed against her.”
During an interview with “Democracy Now,” shortly after the FBI’s announcement, Angela Davis, a political activist and professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said that it was a major shock to hear that Assata Shakur was named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists.
“Really, it seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism. I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today,” Davis said.
Lennox Hinds, criminal justice professor at Rutgers University and a member of the team of lawyers representing Shakur during the New Jersey State Trooper murder trial, said that the move was politically motivated and that placing her on terrorists list was misguided.
“We have to look at it in the context of what has just happened in Boston. I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of has nothing to do with terrorism,” said Hinds during an interview with Democracy Now. “The acts that she was convicted of, if you look at the evidence, she was convicted of aiding and abetting, and therefore was present during the shootout.”
Davis called the continued pursuit of Shakur a “vendetta.” Davis added: “To represent her as a person who continues to be a threat to the U.S. government in the way that is described is, it seems to me, an effort to strike fear in the hearts of young people who would be active in the struggles that are represented historically by Assata and struggles that continue today.”
Since Shakur’s escape, the United States government and the New Jersey State Police have made efforts to push Cuban officials to return Shakur, but the two countries don’t have an extradition treaty, requiring Cuban officials to do so. Congress passed a non-binding resolution in 1998 urging Cuban officials to return Shakur and about 90 other fugitives that were believed to be living in the island country. In 1997, the New Jersey State Police wrote to Pope John Paul II urging him to talk to Fidel Castro about returning Shakur to the United States during the pontiff’s visit to Cuba.
In 1998, Shakur penned her own letter to Pope John Paul II, saying: “I have advocated and I still advocate revolutionary changes in the structure and in the principles that govern the United States. I advocate self-determination for my people and for all oppressed inside the United States. I advocate an end to capitalist exploitation, the abolition of racist policies, the eradication of sexism, and the elimination of political repression. If that is a crime, then I am totally guilty.”
May 16, 2013
By KEN RITTER | Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The last time O.J. Simpson was in a Las Vegas courtroom, he stood next to defense attorney Yale Galanter before being handcuffed and hauled off to prison for up to 33 years.
On Monday, the former football hero returns to Clark County District Court with a different set of lawyers hoping to convince a judge that Galanter shouldn't have been handling his armed robbery-kidnapping case — that the lawyer who was paid nearly $700,000 for Simpson's defense had a personal interest in preventing himself from being identified as a witness to the crimes and so misled Simpson that the former football star deserves a new trial.
"To me, the claims are solid. I don't know how the court can't grant relief," said Patricia Palm, the Simpson appeals lawyer who produced a 94-page petition dissecting Galanter's promises, payments and performance as Simpson's lawyer in the trial that ended with a jury finding Simpson and a co-defendant guilty of 12 felonies.
Galanter declined to comment ahead of his is scheduled testimony.
Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel that Palm raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.
The five-day proceedings are technically neither a trial nor appeal. There won't be any opening statements. The judge will listen to testimony before deciding whether Simpson deserves a new trial. It's not clear whether Bell will rule immediately.
Simpson now says that Galanter knew ahead of time about his plan to retrieve what he thought were personal mementoes and met with Simpson in Las Vegas to discuss the plan the night before Simpson and five other men confronted two sports memorabilia dealers and a middleman in a cramped casino hotel room in September 2007.
Simpson maintains the plan was to take back what he expected would be family photos and personal belongings stolen from him after his 1995 "trial of the century" acquittal in the slayings of his wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
Galanter blessed the plan as within the law, as long as no one trespassed and no force was used, Simpson said.
The first witness on Monday is scheduled to be Dr. Norman Roitman, a Las Vegas psychiatrist who is expected to say that Simpson's perception of what took place in the Palace Station hotel room might have been hampered by football brain injuries and the effects of several vodka and cranberry juice cocktails he consumed before the confrontation.
H. Leon Simon and Leah Beverly, the Clark County deputy district attorneys representing the state, are scheduled to call another psychiatrist later in the week for another opinion.
Simpson trial co-counsel Gabriel Grasso is also scheduled Monday to testify.
Grasso and Galanter split in months after the trial, and Grasso later sued Galanter in federal court alleging breach of contract and nonpayment of legal fees. Grasso alleges that Galanter promised him $250,000 but paid just $15,000. Galanter responded with a defamation and slander lawsuit, filed in Miami.
In a sworn statement outlining what he will say, Grasso said he doesn't know if Galanter advised Simpson about recovering property before the incident, and doesn't know if Galanter told Simpson about a prosecution offer of a plea deal.
But Grasso said he thought Simpson should testify before the jury.
During trial, Simpson contends, Galanter "vigorously discouraged" him not to testify, and never told him that prosecutors were willing to let him plead guilty to charges that would have gotten him a minimum of two years in prison.
"He consistently told me the state could not prove its case because I acted within my rights in retaking my own property," Simpson said in a sworn statement outlining what he plans to say when he testifies this week.
Some who've watched the Simpson saga say he might have a chance.
"I think there's a lot to this," said John Momot, a lawyer nearing 40 years of criminal defense in Las Vegas who played himself in the 1995 movie "Casino" and provided expert cable TV commentary during Simpson's monthlong trial in September 2008.
"I don't think O.J. Simpson could ever get a fair trial, period, based on his reputation from California," Momot said. "But based on these allegations, if you took Joe Jones from the street and put him in the same situation, I think it would be possible he'd get a new trial."
Simpson's lawyers also say that while continuing to represent Simpson through oral arguments in a failed 2010 appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Galanter kept a lid on his own behind-the-scenes involvement. That nearly extinguished any chance Simpson had to claim ineffective representation in state or federal courts.