Saturday, April 28, 2012

'Rotten' Ron Woodham turns up the screws

Matthew Moore and Malcolm Knox | SMH | December 6, 2008

Hard time ... Ron Woodham faces the press after an escape from Long Bay jail in 1996.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

RON WOODHAM has never shied away from a fight and, despite his age and his failing health, he showed in his stoush with Bassam Hamzy this week he is not about to change.

Hamzy, a convicted murderer, is suing Woodham for putting him in isolation in Lithgow Jail for allegedly planning an escape attempt from Goulburn Jail. So when police and prison staff suspected Hamzy was using a mobile phone allegedly to run a multi-million dollar drug ring from his cell in Lithgow, the Commissioner of NSW Corrective Services could not resist the chance to swipe back.

"I've got a message for this particular individual," he said after his staff released video footage of a mobile phone apparently being slipped into a cell. "If he thinks he has been isolated before and complained about it, wait till he sees what he's got tomorrow."

It is vintage Woodham. For decades he has been attacked by all sides of politics, criticised by staff and by those attempting reform in prisons. He has been investigated repeatedly by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and always cleared. Yet his grip on the top job in the country's biggest prison system has rarely looked more secure.

For decades he has worn the name of "rotten", but it is his mud-repelling Teflon skin that better characterises his reign. The only NSW prison officer ever to make it to the top job, Woodham joined Corrective Services in 1965 and in the 43 years since he has honed skills acquired in an environment where survival is prized above all.

No other public servant has successfully weathered such a steady stream of allegations over such a long period. The fact Woodham is still there is because he knows running jails is different from running trains or hospitals where clients complain when services fall short. His clients seldom complain and, if they do, he knows how to fight back.

He builds networks that have helped ensure his survival.

As he told John Hatzistergos at a farewell dinner he threw in 2005 when the prisons minister ended his first stint in the portfolio: "My job was to protect your back."

Hatzistergos had an almost identical recollection of how their relationship works. "I do recall the first day Ron Woodham came into my office. He said to me, 'My job is to see that at the end of your term you are bruised, not battered'."

Unlike many of his limping cabinet colleagues, Hatzistergos finished his stint as minister for jails with barely a mark on him, a marked contrast to the pounding predecessors have suffered over the years when riots and bashings and escapes dominated headlines.

He is 20 months into his second stint in the portfolio, and it is proving to be even more of a walk in the park, with barely an issue he has been compelled to address.

Hatzistergos knows the quiet life he enjoys is thanks to the all-powerful man at the top.

"Anyone can run Corrective Services when Ron Woodham is in charge," he said.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ray Hadley interview with Barry O'Farrell and Robert Brown

This week we heard Ray Hadley interview Premier Barry O'Farrell on gun crime, the bail review and the "weak-kneed, lily-livered" Attorney General Greg Smith. Ray then moves on to the Shooters and Fishers' Robert Brown, who talks about a bill to deal with the punishment of gun crime.

Listen to the interview here.

It is interesting in the BOF interview to see how the Premier deals with Hadley's ravings. It appears he realises that a proper, reasonable discussion with Hadley is out of the question, and so chooses the only sensible option: tell Ray what he wants to hear and let him think he's won.

When questioned on the bail review, watch how O'Farrell appears to play a successful judo trick on Hadley. Of course, it could be a sign of a complete capitulation to the Police Association's campaign against bail reform, but we rather hope that it's an example of how a seasoned pro like BOF deals with an absolute galah like Hadley.

The Shooters and Fishers' bill is so far receiving no support. That is not surprising, as the major parties are not, generally speaking, made up of fools. The Shooters say on their website:
"We want the law to regard the possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime as a separate crime in itself, not an aggravating offence, as the law sees it now.

"It will be a separate, additional crime to be dealt with separately by the law both in terms of the judgement and the penalty the court might impose.

"The Bill proposes that on conviction of the separate offence of being in possession of a firearm while committing a crime, the person so convicted will be sentenced to a period of detention NOT LESS than the period of sentence for the core crime, to be served cumulatively.
As it stands, an ordinary robbery under s.94 carries a 14 year maximum. Robbery armed with a dangerous weapon under s.98 carries an almost double maximum of 25 years.

The Shooters idea, as far as we can work out, is that instead of the Court treating the presence of a firearm in a crime as an aggravating feature on sentence, the Court should instead, for example, impose a sentence for a robbery simpliciter under s.94 (assessing its' seriousness without counting the gun), arrive at a number, and then impose a separate sentence for the possession of the gun during the crime, which can't be any less than the sentence first imposed, and must be cumulative.

"Unworkable" does not do this conceptual dog's breakfast justice.

Let's not forget these are the same geniuses that introduced s.6B Firearms Act, the amendment that allowed the severely mentally ill Shamin Fernando to obtain a gun and ammunition from a gun club with no licence or permit, and no background checks into her mental health, take them home and then shoot dead her father.

Not much more needs to be said about this mob or their backwoods ideas.

Hadley clearly knew nothing about the bill when Brown made a failed attempt to explain it, but nonetheless went ahead and wholeheartedly endorsed it. The same man who threatens governments they will be in Opposition if they don't bend the knee before him.

Do something Barry - time to apply the fear factor

Tim Priest | The Daily Telegraph | April 24, 2012

LAST Monday Sydney awoke to the news that there had been five drive-by shootings during the night with both houses and business premises targeted. On Friday, there was another.

These shootings brought the tally to 20 incidents since the beginning of April and more than 80 since the O'Farrell-led Coalition government took power.

In one incident, shots were fired into residential premises where young children were nearby but miraculously missed them.

Both the government and the Police Commissioner have been at pains to describe the shootings as "targeted" attacks, and they are probably right. By emphasising the "targeted" aspect of the shootings, the government and senior police are being clever in attempting to allay the real fears that the residents of western Sydney hold in relation to this now out-of-control menace, the nightly drive-by.

Yes, they may be "targeted" attacks but eventually some of these bullets will miss their intended "targets" and either kill or wound an innocent person, such as the young children playing innocently in their home on Sunday night.

I recently read figures compiled in a study of drive-by shootings in the US, where up to 38 per cent of the victims are in fact innocent bystanders. No doubt many of these shootings were "targeted" attacks - it's just that they hit the wrong "target".

One of the cases I read recently in the US involved a grandmother who was minding her grandchildren while the parents were at work. She was outside a unit block watching her grandchildren play when gang members decided to shoot up the building. A stray bullet struck the grandmother, killing her in front of her terrified grandchildren.

The other issue about the government and police response to this almost daily occurrence is to hold a press conference with senior police calling the gunmen "cowards" and "idiots". We all know this but the problem is, these "idiots" are outsmarting everyone - the police, customs and border security and the O'Farrell government.

The emotion these senior police show has worried a few veteran detectives and journalists that I have spoken to in the last week or so. All of them agree that senior police and indeed the NSW government look beaten. They have few answers left to give and are relying on their media advisers to "prop them up".

The way senior police and the government are dealing with this crisis reminds me of New York before Rudolf Giuliani and his police commissioner Bill Bratton.

Chief law officer eschews a law-and-order auction for young offenders

Imre Salusinky | The Australian | 21 April 2012

THERE have been some under-performers in the one-year-old NSW Coalition government, and a couple of star turns as well - but for sheer surprise value, nobody has outdone the government's chief law officer, Greg Smith.

As a former high-ranking prosecutor in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and coming from the Liberal Party's Right faction, the state's new Attorney-General could have been expected to ramp up the "law-and-order auction" that has been a feature of NSW politics for decades.

Instead, he has done the opposite. Under Smith, the government has begun to explore way of dealing with crime that address causes, rather than simply imposing tougher penalties on perpetrators. In particular, Smith has flagged measures to reduce the number of young people on remand, one of the ugliest features of the criminal justice system in NSW. He's also asked the Law Reform Commission to clean up the dog's breakfast that has become sentencing law in NSW after successive state governments legislated mandatory sentences and non-parole periods to burnish their "tough on crime" credentials.

Smith's judicial appointments have not met any ideological standard but appear to be based on merit and due consultation with key stakeholders. And he's paying the predictable price, being accused of "going soft" on criminals by influential sections of the electronic and print media.

At a youthful 64, Smith is a devout Catholic, plays in a folk group called the Tokens that visits nursing homes, and is a proud grandfather. For him, recent months have been a repeat baptism of fire. During his first months in parliament, in 2007, Labor, disgracefully, trawled through his record as a prosecutor in an effort to portray him as soft on pedophiles.

"I always expected there to be an attack," the Attorney-General tells Inquirer. "The fact that, as a prosecutor, I had experience running some very difficult trials, that made me tougher. Your witnesses may be hostile but that's not the end of it. You can recover your position, as long as you keep calm and keep smiling."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Video: Copping it at the Cross

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why do we need any more semi-automatic pistols in Australia?

Samantha Lee | National Times | April 18, 2012

Remembering the Port Arthur massacre ... as the law now stands, a licensed gun owner may legally purchase a military-style, semi-automatic pistol with a magazine capacity of 10 rounds.

April is an eerie time of year. Sixteen years ago this month, Martin Bryant opened fire at historic Port Arthur in Tasmania, killing 35 people and wounding 18 others.

This month also marks the anniversaries of the Columbine massacre of April 20, 1999 in the US, where 13 people were killed and at least 21 injured, the Virginia Tech massacre of April 16, 2007, where 32 people died and 25 were injured, and now Oakland's Oikos University massacre, which happened two weeks ago, in which seven were killed and three injured.

Timing is not the only factor these atrocities have in common; the other is the use of semi-automatic firearms.

A semi-automatic gun, also known as a self-loading firearm, is used in most of these types of massacres because of the weapon's automatic reloading capability. Each time the trigger is pulled, ammunition is automatically loaded into the chamber. A person can fire up to 20 shots without needing to stop and reload.

There are two main types of semi-automatics: longarms (also known as rifles and shotguns) and handguns (also known as pistols).

After Port Arthur, Australia banned semi-automatic longarms, but did not extend the ban to semi-automatic pistols. Why?

The explanations that various analysts have provided include that Bryant used semi-automatic longarms, not handguns; that in 1996 the law on handguns was near to uniform across Australia; and that it would have made it extremely difficult to obtain the National Agreement on Firearms if pistols were included.

Whatever the reasons for putting to one side the issue of handguns, this ongoing legal anomaly has become a major public concern for Australia, requiring immediate attention.

Ending Sydney’s law-and-order auction

Robert Milliken | Inside Story | 3 April 2012 

The NSW attorney-general has taken the politically risky step of trying to reduce the prison population, writes Robert Milliken

NSW attorney-general Greg Smith (above, right) and security manager Patrick Aboud viewing the 300-bed drug treatment facility for prisoners at the state’s John Morony Correctional Complex.
Photo: Kate Geraghty/ Fairfax

WHEN Sydney’s southwest suburbs suffered a wave of drive-by shootings early this year, the city’s tabloid press and notorious radio shock jocks went into overdrive. Their target was Greg Smith, who is about to complete his first year as attorney-general in Barry O’Farrell’s state government. In most respects, Smith is a classic conservative Liberal: a barrister, and former public prosecutor, who represents the leafy electorate of Epping. His Sydney north shore constituency is a world away from the streets on the other side of town where rival gangs of young men shot up each other’s homes in an intimidating display of turf warfare.

In one regard, though, Smith is something of a radical. After sixteen years of state Labor governments, he came to power promising to reform the state’s prison system. Instead of locking more people up, Smith has pledged to find formulas to allow many minor offenders and young criminals to be rehabilitated and then let go.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has waged an unrelenting campaign against Smith. It calls him “Marshmallow Smith,” and accuses him of going “soft on crime.” In one extraordinary front page splash in early February, the paper claimed: “Exclusive: Gays, Minorities Get Bail but the Rest… Go Straight to Jail.” The piece claimed to be based on a draft report by the NSW Law Reform Commission, which Smith had not seen. Media hype of this sort threatens to unsettle the government, in a political climate in which law-and-order auctions are the name of the game: both sides compete in proving to voters that they are the toughest on crime.

Smith claims to be unmoved. “The whole hardline approach against crime has been a failure in many places,” he tells me. “This attempt to make me look softer misrepresents what I am trying to do. I am trying to turn people away from crime. It’s not soft, it’s being more pragmatic.”

The challenge Smith faces in testing his pragmatic approach is daunting. Australia spends $11.5 billion a year on law and order, about $511 a year per person. The dubious honour for the biggest spending goes to New South Wales. In evidence late last year to a parliamentary estimates committee, and in a speech to a solicitors’ conference in Sydney, Smith painted a chilling picture.

Within two years of their release, 43 per cent of NSW prisoners reoffend, compared with just under 37 per cent in Victoria, for example, and less than 30 per cent in Tasmania. (The Australian Capital Territory will start reporting on recidivism from 2011–12.) This high recidivism rate accompanies another grim profile: of 15,000 people taken into custody in New South Wales in 2007–08, almost two-thirds were affected by drugs or alcohol when they committed their most serious offences.

Smith’s state also has the highest number of prisoners on remand in Australia. Over the ten years to October 2011, the number of adults held on remand rose by 86 per cent. More worryingly, more than four-fifths of the juveniles held on remand were eventually set free with non-custodial sentences. Locking these young people up, when their crimes are finally found not to deserve such punishment, simply creates more problems, says Smith: “They spend a long time being exposed to a university of crime among prisoners.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sport bans for violence don't affect only clubs

Nina Funnell | SMH | April 17, 2012

Suspended for a year ... Robert Lui of the Cowboys. Photo: Getty Images

The new Australian Rugby League Commission has suspended Cowboys halfback Robert Lui for a year and Sharks player Isaac Gordon for nine matches after both were found guilty of domestic violence-related assaults.

Gordon pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend and threatening to kill her after a booze-filled evening in September. She was seven months pregnant.

Lui also pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend, Taleah Rae Backo, who said he entered the apartment via a balcony, pushed her in the chest, then dragged her by her hair to a mattress where he kicked her several times and headbutted her. This assault also took place in September, following end-of-season Mad Monday celebrations.

Out for nine matches ... the Sharks' Isaac Gordon. Photo: Getty Images

Many in the rugby league fraternity have welcomed the bans, including former Kangaroos David Peachey and Sam Backo, the uncle of Ms Backo - but others have been less receptive.

Lui's 12-month suspension has ignited fierce debate, with the Cowboys and the Rugby League Players' Association boss David Garnsey claiming he was not given the chance to tell his side of the story when his punishment was being decided.

But if the 22,000 signatures on a petition calling on the NRL to take a tougher stance on domestic violence are anything to go by, the bans will be popular with the public. If anything, some believe they are too lenient, particularly as the players will be paid in full during their suspension.

The petition was set up by Anthony Simpson, a rugby league fan who says there should be an "automatic, one-season ban for any player found guilty of assaulting a woman … Under this policy, every player who is convicted of violence against women would be stood down for a year. It would send a signal to players that there are serious consequences for assaulting women."

As an anti-violence campaigner, I welcome the general sentiment. And yet the proposed time limit of one year seems fairly arbitrary; why not two years, or five? It is also not clear why assaults against women should carry an automatic suspension while assaults against men should not. Aside from pub brawls and street-based assaults, we must remember men can also be victims of intimate partner and family violence at the hands of other men (although women still make up the overwhelming majority of victims in family violence cases).

Monday, April 16, 2012

New guidelines to prevent discrimination against those with criminal records

Australian Human Rights Commission | 10 April 2012

Doing time for the crime doesn’t always mean the end of employment possibilities.

Having a criminal record can be a major obstacle for people when job seeking which is why the Commission has just updated On the Record - Guidelines for the prevention of discrimination in employment on the basis of criminal record.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC said that failing to give someone a job, a promotion or even dismissing them because of a criminal record could leave an employer open to a claim of discrimination.

“Every employer has the right to employ someone of their own choosing, based on a person’s suitability for a job,” she said.

“Employers best understand the main requirements of that job and what qualities an employee needs to meet those requirements.

“But it’s also in employers’ interests to treat job applicants and employees fairly and in accordance with legal obligations.”

Ms Branson said some employers are unaware that discrimination in employment on the ground of criminal record may lead to a complaint of discrimination under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act. It could also be unlawful under state and territory anti-discrimination laws.
She said the Commission had recently found that Railcorp had discriminated against an individual when it rejected his application for a position as a market analyst on the basis of low and mid-range drinking convictions from eight years earlier. This was despite the fact that the man met all the selection criteria for the job and was the selection panel’s preferred candidate.
“The Commission received 68 complaints in the last reporting year that alleged discrimination in employment on the ground of criminal record,” she said.

“What this shows is that while some employers are aware of their responsibilities under the law, they don’t always know how to put them into practice.

“These updated guidelines will assist employers and others to prevent discrimination against people with criminal records and help ensure employers meet their obligations under anti-discrimination law.”

David Marr & Jim Wallace: Gays and Lesbians Do Not Belong in the Classroom

Festival of Dangerous Ideas | October 2011

Exempt from anti-discrimination laws, religious organisations of all faiths have the right to decide who they employ in their schools, and who they sack, on questions of faith and morals. For many Australians the idea that gay men and lesbians don't belong in the classroom is an unjust anachronism, but parents are opting in large numbers to send their children to schools that offer a 'values-driven' education. If there is a place for faith in the classroom, does equality of opportunity have to take second place, or can religious values and equality be reconciled?

David Marr is an Australian journalist, author, and political commentator. He writes for the Sydney Morning Herald. Jim Wallace is the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
Chaired by Ann Mossop

Watch David Marr and Jim Wallace debate here

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Lukewarm Attomey

Andrew Elder | Politically Homeless | 09 April 2012

So then, because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of my mouth.
- Revelation 3:16
NSW Attorney General Greg Smith is in grave danger politically. His agenda needs to be clearer than it is, and stronger, if he is to survive. If he goes on as he is he'll become a bigger target for the opposition than Robyn Parker is but without the personal affection and entrenched political support that Parker can command.

Smith came out of the NSW Labor Right and the broader Liberal Party gave him one of their safest seats, Epping, in 2007. Say what you like about the hopelessness of the NSW Liberals, but it is a genuine pity that former Epping MP Andrew Tink had to retire through ill-health and never became a minister while [take your pick from any NSW ALP arseclown who became a state government minister in their spare time] did. Liberals love all that prodigal-son stuff. Smith was spared the indignity of powerlessness that afflicts other fence-jumpers and blow-ins through a Faustian bargain with the Christianist far right faction headed by David Clarke. As with all Faustian bargains it was probably a lot of fun while it lasted.

This article tells us the bargain is off.

The idea of attacking barristers because of their clientele is bullshit. It is both a deliberate misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how the Anglo-Australian legal system works, and a cack-handed attempt to import the worst tactics of US Republicans posing as people of principle when playing partisan silly-buggers. This post by Andrew Tiedt goes into more and better detail on this. Insofar as there was any substance to Phelps' attack it can be brushed aside easily. What's significant here is the politics.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Liberals put Attorney-General Greg Smith on trial

Barclay Crawford | The Sunday Telegraph | April 08, 2012 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Greg Smith has come under fire from within his own party for appointing judges with a history of defending accused terrorists.

Peter Phelps MLC said Mr Smith needed to explain why he believed his last three judicial appointments were appropriate for "a conservative government", given their records as barristers.

The Sunday Telegraph has been told Mr Phelps' concerns - raised in the government's closed party room before Parliament met on Monday - echo growing fears within the party about Mr Smith's alleged "Left leanings" and "soft on crime" stance on judicial issues.

While Mr Phelps refused to comment on the altercation, saying his "one rule in politics is not to discuss party room in public", a number of other MPs have confirmed his attack on the Attorney-General.

Mr Smith's controversial appointments were made last month when Robert Beech-Jones, SC, Peter Maiden, SC, and Chris Hoy, SC, were all sworn in.

Mr Beech-Jones, who was appointed to the Supreme Court on March 1, appeared for former Guantanamo Bay detainee and accused terrorist Mamdouh Habib, while Mr Hoy, who was appointed a judge in the District Court on March 15, was part of the legal team which appeared in the High Court seeking the release and repatriation from Guantanamo Bay of David Hicks.

Mr Hicks was convicted of terrorist offences for his time in Afghanistan and Pakistan training with al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Mr Maiden, who was appointed to the District Court on March 7, defended disgraced Labor minister Milton Orkopoulos, jailed for 13 years for having sex with underage boys he had plied with drugs.

One MP said you could have "heard a pin drop" when Mr Phelps began questioning the Attorney-General.

Another MP said that many within the government were concerned with Mr Smith's political leanings, which were often "closer to the Left of the Labor party on issues of prisoner rehabilitation and sentencing".

"The first party he joined was the Labor Party. He doesn't have a Liberal Party bone in his body," one MP said. "He's being called the softest Attorney-General ever.

"This is not a good look for a conservative government. We want to be seen to be tough on crime."

Mr Smith, a former member of the Labor Party, responded to Mr Phelps' concerns by saying he had worked with at least one of the men during his time as a prosecutor.

Mr Smith also said he had great faith in their judgment and ability and his spokesman defended the decision to appoint the three barristers and lashed out at Mr Phelps.

"Is he [Mr Phelps] going to suggest that everyone who acted as a public defender is unsuitable? That would rule out a lot of judges," he said.

"Advocates are sometimes required to represent unpopular clients and it is part of the strength of our justice system that leading silks take on this duty. It's called the cab-rank principle."

A father killed, a daughter lost

Michael Duffy | SMH | April 6, 2012

For 19 months a family has fought for tighter gun laws, so others won't suffer the grief they must endure. Michael Duffy reports.

When Carmen Fernando went into the house that Sunday there was a message on the answering machine from her daughter Shamin. ''Dad: I need help to load some software now, please ring me back.''

It was a surprise. Shamin, who was 43, was mentally ill and had harboured paranoid fears of her father Lalin for a long time: they'd had almost no contact in three years. Carmen then returned to the garden and told her 70-year-old husband the good news. He was delighted. He went inside and had a shower while she made some lunch for him.

Shamin rang again to make sure he was coming: the job seemed urgent. At 2.40pm, believing he was about to be reconciled with his daughter, he drove to her flat in Glebe.

Once there, she sat him in front of the computer where he began to load the software disks. Saying she had to go to the toilet, she left the room and picked up a pistol hidden beneath the doona on her bed. She came back to the room where the computer was, aimed the gun at the back of her father's head and pulled the trigger.

The gun failed to fire and Lalin, his attention on the computer screen, noticed nothing. Shamin returned to the bedroom and corrected the problem with the pistol, then went back to the other room. This time the gun worked. She shot her father many times, pausing once to reload. At 3.14pm she called the police to tell them what she had done. It was August 22, 2010.

Like most tragedies, Vincent Lalin Fernando's death had many causes. One was the mental illness of his daughter, whose medical treatment seems at times to have been less than ideal. Another was the incompetence of officials of the Sydney Pistol Club, from where she stole the pistol that day.

And finally there was the political cause: the Labor state government's support in 2008 for a Shooters Party bill that watered down gun control. In particular, it removed the need to check the background of unlicensed shooters at gun clubs.

This enabled Shamin to obtain the training, the ammunition and the gun to kill her father, who she believed was orchestrating a deadly conspiracy against her. Despite his death and the change in government, the 2008 change to the Firearms Act still stands.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In the Eye of a Firestorm

Dan Barry, Serge F. Kovalevski, Campbell Robertson and Lizette Alvarez | New York Times | April 1, 2012

Trayvon Martin’s body was found in this part of the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Fla., where his father’s girlfriend lives.


SANFORD, Fla. — Once again, a river of protest raged through Sanford this weekend to demand justice in the name of an unarmed black teenager shot dead. It gathered strength in front of the historic Crooms Academy, the first high school for black students in Seminole County, surged through the streets, and formed a flood of grief and outrage just outside the Sanford Police Department.

Once again, thousands chanted the name of Trayvon Martin, 17, the youth killed with one bullet while returning to a home in a gated community where he was a guest. Once again, they cried for the arrest of George Zimmerman, 28, the neighborhood watch coordinator who has claimed self-defense under a Florida law with the assertive name of Stand Your Ground.

With five weeks’ passage, the fateful encounter between a black youth who wanted to go to college and a Hispanic man who wanted to be a judge has polarized the nation.

And, now this modest central Florida community finds its name being mentioned with Selma and Birmingham on a civil rights list held sacred in black American culture, while across the country, the parsing of the case has become cacophonic and political, punctuated by pleas for tolerance, words of hatred, and spins from the left and right.

The racial divide that once partly defined Sanford, with U.S. 17-92 serving as the inviolable line separating black and white, has faded over the decades, leaving a casually integrated downtown. Yet the sense remains among residents of both races that the police department has not come as far as the city as a whole.

Time for national debate on evil drug trade

Eddie McGuire | Sunday Herald Sun | April 01, 2012 


I HATE drugs. I hate their guts. I hate the human misery that the illicit drug industry thrives on.

How could you not be devastated by the situation in which Ben Cousins and his family find themselves?

How do two beautiful girls I went to primary school with have their lives brutally ended being bashed to death while working the streets of St Kilda to feed a habit?

But what to do?

Well, clearly something different. It is time for Australia to look at so many of our social and economic needs and plan a course not built on tradition and religion and moral mumbo jumbo, but on reality and innovation. Time for some politicians to boldly lead.

It's time for Australia to look seriously at decriminalising drugs.

The war on drugs is over. We lost. If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result, then surely we are all mad to think anything is going to get better in the future.

It's only getting worse and those profiting out of the sale and manufacturing of drugs, organised crime cartels, are only getting bigger, badder and richer.

AG Greg Smith's speech to Public Defender's Conference

Speech by Greg Smith SC MP, Attorney General and Minister for Justice to 
open the Public Defender’s Conference, Saturday 24 March 2012 at Taronga 
Park Zoo Conference Centre. 

This Monday marks the first anniversary of the election of the O'Farrell Government.  
For the past week we have had the pleasure of getting up at 5.30 and going out to 
railway stations handing out  little cards telling people what good things we’ve done 
and they are saying: what’s up?, Is there an election on? But we have had a very 
good reception. 

I am pleased to say the firm agenda I set in opposition – with the backing of the 
Coalition –which was that there would be no law and order auction at the last 
election, has been honoured by us. And I think Labor was becoming weary of it. 
They didn’t try to counter with a one sided auction – no grid sentencing, or more 
maximum life sentences, no extra aggravated offences, no standard non parole 
periods – which had coloured the previous 20 years of elections. 

Unlike previous governments, our State plan does not demand a certain number of 
arrests or prisoners. Take section 22A of the Bail Act; it allowed only one application 
for bail and had a particular impact on young people - especially for those who 
breached curfews. There are now are 150 people a week in juvenile detention 
centres who will never receive a custodial sentence. 

I promised we would open a second metropolitan drug court – I expect that will up 
and running in May – and the first intensive drug treatment facility in a NSW jail. We 
have done that at the John Morony complex at Windsor. In late February the first 62 
prisoners started and within two years I hope we have 300 prisoners – 250 men, 50 
women - undergoing treatment that will last for about six months. They will be linking 
up with the non-government organisations after their release so they can continue 
their treatment. 

Drug addiction can be a lifelong struggle and my hope is that this program will help a 
lot of people to turn their lives around and make a positive contribution to the 
community. If they can get off the drugs, get a job, get somewhere to live and help – 
 rather than just being thrown into jail and let out with the same problems – it will be 
better for the community. We will have more citizens who might have been 
permanent criminals going straight and the community will be safer. And hopefully 
the perceptions of safety will increase because that is one of our big problems. 
Fanned by publicity and sensation, there is a perception out in the suburbs of 
Sydney that it’s dangerous out there, in the night, even in the day.   

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail

Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone | March 14, 2012

bank of america
At least Bank of America got its name right. The ultimate Too Big to Fail bank really is America, a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless fraud and criminal conspiracies we'll all be paying for until the end of time. Did you hear about the plot to rig global interest rates? The $137 million fine for bilking needy schools and cities? The ingenious plan to suck multiple fees out of the unemployment checks of jobless workers? Take your eyes off them for 10 seconds and guaranteed, they'll be into some shit again: This bank is like the world's worst-behaved teenager, taking your car and running over kittens and fire hydrants on the way to Vegas for the weekend, maxing out your credit cards in the three days you spend at your aunt's funeral. They're out of control, yet they'll never do time or go out of business, because the government remains creepily committed to their survival, like overindulgent parents who refuse to believe their 40-year-old live-at-home son could possibly be responsible for those dead hookers in the backyard.

It's been four years since the government, in the name of preventing a depression, saved this megabank from ruin by pumping $45 billion of taxpayer money into its arm. Since then, the Obama administration has looked the other way as the bank committed an astonishing variety of crimes – some elaborate and brilliant in their conception, some so crude that they'd be beneath your average street thug. Bank of America has systematically ripped off almost everyone with whom it has a significant business relationship, cheating investors, insurers, depositors, homeowners, shareholders, pensioners and taxpayers. It brought tens of thousands of Americans to foreclosure court using bogus, "robo-signed" evidence – a type of mass perjury that it helped pioneer. It hawked worthless mortgages to dozens of unions and state pension funds, draining them of hundreds of millions in value. And when it wasn't ripping off workers and pensioners, it was helping to push insurance giants like AMBAC into bankruptcy by fraudulently inducing them to spend hundreds of millions insuring those same worthless mortgages.

But despite being the very definition of an unaccountable corporate villain, Bank of America is now bigger and more dangerous than ever. It controls more than 12 percent of America's bank deposits (skirting a federal law designed to prohibit any firm from controlling more than 10 percent), as well as 17 percent of all American home mortgages. By looking the other way and rewarding the bank's bad behavior with a massive government bailout, we actually allowed a huge financial company to not just grow so big that its collapse would imperil the whole economy, but to get away with any and all crimes it might commit. Too Big to Fail is one thing; it's also far too corrupt to survive.

All the government bailouts succeeded in doing was to make the bank even more prone to catastrophic failure – and now that catastrophe might finally be at hand. Bank of America's share price has plunged into the single digits, and the bank faces battles in courtrooms all over America to avoid paying back the hundreds of billions it stole from everyone in sight. Its credit rating, already downgraded to a few rungs above junk status, could plummet with the next bad analyst report, causing a frenzied rush to the exits by creditors, investors and stockholders – an institutional run on the bank.

They're in deep trouble, but they won't die, because our current president, like the last one, apparently believes it's better to project a false image of financial soundness than to allow one of our oligarchic banks to collapse under the weight of its own corruption. Last year, the Federal Reserve allowed Bank of America to move a huge portfolio of dangerous bets into a side of the company that happens to be FDIC-insured, putting all of us on the hook for as much as $55 trillion in irresponsible gambles. Then, in February, the Justice Department's so-called foreclosure settlement, which will supposedly provide $26 billion in relief for ripped-off homeowners, actually rewarded the bank with a legal waiver that will allow it to escape untold billions in lawsuits. And this month the Fed will release the results of its annual stress test, in which the bank will once again be permitted to perpetuate its fiction of solvency by grossly overrating the mountains of toxic loans on its books. At this point, the rescue effort is so sweeping and elaborate that it goes far beyond simply gouging the tax dollars of millions of struggling families, many of whom have already been ripped off by the bank – it's making the government, and by extension all of us, full-blown accomplices to the fraud.