Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jail for youth not safe, report says

Diana Zlomislic Staff Reporter

Ontario’s newest superjail for youth is not safe for its teenage inmates, a report by the province’s children and youth advocate says.

“It doesn’t feel safe and it isn’t safe,” Irwin Elman told the Star Tuesday.

The Roy McMurtry Youth Centre opened in Brampton last summer with the promise to provide programs that would help turn troubled youths into “future taxpayers.”

But complaints of violence, abuse and neglect have risen dramatically in the past eight months.

In new allegations outlined in Elman’s report, to be released Wednesday, youth describe being brutalized by guards and ignored by nurses at the 192-bed facility.

In one case, a staff member reportedly grabbed a youth by the hair to prevent a call to the advocate’s office.

Read on...

UPDATE: Premier promises action on youth superjail

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ontario to tighten use of stun guns

Ontario is introducing new guidelines and training standards for police officers using tasers.

Two years ago the ministry of community safety and correctional services undertook a review of tasers or conducted energy weapons. The review was launched after the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in a B.C. airport in 2007.

Recommendations from the review include tighter circumstances and restrictions for use, post-deployment reporting procedures and beefed up training.

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This doesn't jive with something I read last week. I'll see if I can find it. Tom

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The Hidden Cost of DNA Banking

Diary of a Mad Law Professor

In March 2009, Lily Haskell was arrested while attending an antiwar demonstration. Within hours she was released. Although she was not charged with any crime, her arrest alone was sufficient for her to be required to submit a DNA sample. The ACLU of Northern California filed a lawsuit on her behalf, challenging the constitutionality of the statute mandating police to retrieve and retain DNA from anyone arrested for a felony. As Michael Risher, Haskell's attorney, asserted, the statute subjects innocent Californians to "a lifetime of genetic surveillance" with no judicial oversight, simply because they might have wandered into the field of suspicion of a single police officer.

The collection of DNA has mushroomed in the past five years. California has the third-largest forensic DNA database of any government entity in the world (behind Britain and the US government). All three collect DNA from arrestees regardless of guilt. All three have databases highly skewed by race and class. In Britain 42 percent of black men have had their DNA sampled and stored. Until recently, however, forensic DNA samples were retained only from convicted felons who had committed violent or sexual offenses. With very little oversight or consistency, local rules for collection in criminal cases have expanded haphazardly, often including anyone who is arrested even mistakenly. People may challenge the retention of their DNA and sue to have it expunged, but that process can take years.

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Q and A with Carole Joffe

Now that the shouting is over, how will health care reform affect women's reproductive rights and health? I caught up with the noted sociologist Carole Joffe via e-mail earlier this week, and she graciously agreed to an e-mail interview. For a more detailed view of the current abortion terrain, be sure to read her latest book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us (Beacon). It's terrific--clear, terse, and full of things you need to know.

Q: What do you see as the effect of health care reform on women's reproductive lives and choices?

A: I call it the good, the bad, and the ugly. The unequivocal good is that 30 million people who currently don't have coverage will gain this basic human right. Regular access to primary care will mean healthier women overall, which will ultimately translate into healthier pregnancies--and hopefully, the rates of maternal mortality and infant mortality, both now at disturbing levels in the US, will improve. Women will gain access to the more effective, more expensive forms of contraception (oral contraception, the newer and safer IUDs), and that will surely reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy in the US, which, again, is shockingly high in comparison to other industrialized countries. As numerous commentators have pointed out, European countries with national health care systems have far lower rates of unintended pregnancies, and thus lower rates of abortion than the US, even though abortions are freely available and typically subsidized.

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Modern Slavery Museum Is an Eerie Reminder of How Little We've Progressed

The Modern-day Slavery Museum will not poach visitors from Disneyworld, that's for sure. But it will serve as a forceful reminder that slavery is far from extinct.

n textbooks across the country, students are still taught that slavery in the United States ended with the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

But the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) knows better, and its Modern-Day Slavery Museum is traveling throughout Florida to drive that point home -- that slavery persists in the agriculture fields of the state right up through this very day.

The Village Voice recently described the significance of the museum this way: "Though it's unlikely to compete for crowds with Disneyworld, the Modern-Day Slavery Museum may be Florida's most important new attraction."

The bulk of the museum is housed inside of a 24-foot box truck -- a replica of the one used by the Navarrete family in Immokalee to hold twelve farmworkers captive from 2005 to 2007. The workers were beaten, chained and imprisoned inside the truck, and forced to urinate and defecate in the corners. US Attorney Doug Molloy called the operation "slavery, plain and simple."

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How Marijuana Can Fix California

Far from being a war between hippies and police, the fight to legalize marijuana in California centers on whether decriminalizing cannabis can help fill the state's fiscal hole.

Far from being a war between hippies and police, the fight to legalize marijuana in California centers on whether decriminalizing and taxing cannabis can help fill the state's fiscal hole.

Using the drug for medical purposes has been legal for 14 years in the western state. But a new initiative that will appear on the ballot in November elections is seeking to legalize recreational marijuana use.

The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 would let cities and counties adopt ordinances authorizing the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana, and tax its sale just like it taxes alcohol and cigarettes.

Read on...

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Justices debate Chicago handgun ban

Chicago, Illinois, community activist Otis McDonald says he wants a handgun to protect him and his family.
Chicago, Illinois, community activist Otis McDonald says he wants a handgun to protect him and his family.

Washington (CNN) -- Chicago's 28-year-old strict ban on handgun ownership appeared in trouble Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court in a potentially far-reaching case over the ability of state and local governments to enforce limits on weapons.

A conservative majority seemed ready to say the U.S. Constitution gives individuals greater power than states -- or at least equal power -- as far as possessing certain firearms for self-protection.

The only question was how far the court would apply competing parts of the 14th Amendment to preserve some "reasonable" gun control measures in place nationwide.

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Calif. voters could legalize pot in Nov. election

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - When California voters head to the polls in November, they will decide whether the state will make history again - this time by legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

The state was the first to legalize medicinal marijuana use, with voters passing it in 1996. Since then, 14 states have followed California's lead, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

"This is a watershed moment in the decades-long struggle to end failed marijuana prohibition in this country," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We really can't overstate the significance of Californians being the first to have the opportunity to end this public policy disaster."

California is not alone in the push to expand legal use of marijuana. Legislators in Rhode Island, another state hit hard by the economic downturn, are considering a plan to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less by anyone 18 or older.

Read on...

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Hightower: Just How Nutty is the Texas Board of Education?

Right-wing fanatics are turning "Texas education" into an oxymoron.

In the good-and-good-for-you department, food scientists are now touting the health benefits of enjoying a handful of nuts every day.

I, for one, am glad, because I love nuts -- pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, you-name-'em. But my favorite nuts, by far, are the homegrown natives that have taken root in one particularly fertile area of my state: the Texas Board of Education. You just can't get any nuttier than this bunch!

This board, little-known even to us Texans, has lately risen to national notoriety, making our state's educational system a punch line for comedians everywhere. That's because a handful of ultra-right-wing nutcases have taken over this elected overseer of Texas educational policy, and they're hell-bent to supplant classroom education with their own brand of ideological indoctrination.

Read on...

Here is another story on this topic. Tom

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Monday, March 22, 2010

A Wise Unknowingness: On Violet Gibson

By Brenda Wineapple

Violet Gibson's mug shot

After defending such clients as Sacco and Vanzetti and Charles Ponzi (yes, that Ponzi), my paternal grandfather, a lawyer and Jewish Italophile, published in 1930 a slim book, Italy and Your Senses, which is not, as the title suggests, a poetic tribute to Italian art, topography or people but rather a valentine to Benito Mussolini, whom he considered the resurrection and the light.

I mention this to show that while my grandfather's infatuation with Mussolini was extreme, he was not alone. Italy's fascist prime minister was one of the country's great tourist attractions in the Roaring Twenties, for Mussolini was a charismatic showman--after all, he liked to pose, à la Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, without his shirt. No matter that his political philosophy was hollow at the core, as Frances Stonor Saunders points out in her superb new book, The Woman Who Shot Mussolini, or that between 1922 and 1943 Il Duce sent at least a million people to an early grave. He remained, for a very long time, the darling statesman of the conservative press and the fashionable fascists of Europe, although they conceded that he might be a bit hasty and brutal. Still and all, according to the British ambassador to Italy, Mussolini was "like any other gentleman." The King of England decorated him with the Order of the Bath, and Austen Chamberlain, the British foreign secretary (whose half brother was Neville, future prime minister and champion of the Munich accord), considered Mussolini a sincere, charming patriot, and certainly preferable to any other "Italian." Sure he was a dictator, the foreign secretary admitted, but one simply could not "apply British standards to un-British conditions." As Saunders acidly comments, Chamberlain's remark "contained all the narrowness and smugness of an imperial conceit."

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Has anyone ever heard of Violet Gibson before reading this article? Have to confess I hadn't. Tom

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Utah Miscarriage Law Reduces Women to Fetus Incubators

Anti-choicers' plan is to make legal abortion inaccessible and criminalize everything else. What's the point of Roe v Wade if women can't get abortions?

Rally for Healthcare Reform and to Stop Stupak at San Francisco City Hall
Photo Credit: Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

Last week, Utah governor Gary Herbert signed into law Utah HB 462, known ignominiously as "the miscarriage bill". It was a reworked version of the original bill, introduced by Republican State Representative Carl D Wimmer, adjusted to address criticisms that the initial language "could have got women sent away for lifelong prison terms for falling down stairs or staying in an abusive relationship". The revised version "designates the 'intentional or knowing' miscarriage as criminal homicide" and "stipulates that a woman can be charged with homicide for 'the death of her unborn child', unless the death qualifies as legal abortion".

Thus are the women of Utah left with a new law that criminalizes illegal abortion in a state that increasingly discourages legal abortions.

Utah already requires parental notification and consent for minors seeking abortions, mandates a 24-hour waiting period to terminate a pregnancy, subjects women seeking abortions to state-directed counseling which overtly discourages abortion, and allows public funding for terminations only in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or threat to the women's life or physical health. (Don't think you can get away with claiming your psychological health is at risk, ladies! Everyone knows that women would just lie about that to get an abortion because there's nothing conceivably traumatizing about being forced to carry a pregnancy you don't want to term.)

Read on...

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Welcome to the Race and Justice Clearinghouse, a resource for information, analysis, and commentary on race and ethnicity as they interact with the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems.

The Clearinghouse contains information and tools for policymakers, practitioners, and advocates to understand racial disparities so they can be addressed, and make the criminal justice system more fair and effective.

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This is an fyi. Tom

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Those authoritarian, torture-loving French

French documentarians conducted an experiment where they created a faux game show -- with all the typical studio trappings -- and then instructed participants (who believed it was a real TV program) to administer electric shock to unseen contestants each time they answered questions incorrectly, with increasing potency for each wrong answer. Even as the unseen contestants (who were actors) screamed in agony and pleaded for mercy -- and even once they went silent and were presumably dead -- 81% of the participants continued to obey the instructions of the authority-figure/host and kept administering higher and higher levels of electric shock. The experiment was a replica of the one conducted in 1961 by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, where 65% of participants obeyed instructions from a designated authority figure to administer electric shock to unseen individuals, and never stopped obeying even as they heard excruciating screams and then silence. This new French experiment was designed to measure the added power of television to place people into submission to authority and induce them to administer torture.

Read on...

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ban the Box: People with Convictions Deserve a Second Chance

New Mexico lays the groundwork for other states to proactively help people being released from jail and prison to find work and truly rebuild their lives.

prison guard tower
Photo Credit: Image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr

On March 8, Governor Richardson signed legislation making New Mexico the second state in the nation to "ban the box." This victory lays the groundwork for other states to proactively address the need of people being released from jail and prison to find work and truly rebuild their lives. Employment is a key factor in preventing recidivism and this law offers an innovative solution to not only save precious taxpayer dollars, but also save lives and keep families together.

Senate Bill 254 "bans the box" by removing the question on public job applications asking if a person has a criminal conviction. By eliminating the box, people with convictions can be considered on equal status with other job applicants, instead of being immediately labeled and dismissed as a "criminal" unfit for the job. The law is very clear that public employers still have the right to ask about convictions status, but only during the finalist interview process. Employers can also perform criminal background checks if it is relevant or required for the position.

Read on...

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The Video That Will Put Geithner Behind Bars

The NY Fed, and likely Geithner himself, undermined, perhaps even violated, laws designed to protect investors and markets.

Photo Credit: White House

You gotta see this! If this doesn't convince you that Timothy Geithner knew about the securities shenanigans that were going on at Lehman, than I don't know what will.

Keep in mind, that Geithner ran Lehman through 3 "stress tests" prior to bankruptcy; all of which Lehman failed, and yet, nothing was done. Anton R. Valukas--the examiner who wrote the 2,200 page investigative-report which was released on Thursday-- has provided plenty of information detailing Lehman's “materially misleading” accounting and “actionable balance sheet manipulation.”

Read on....

Follow the link to see the video. Tom

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Tough-on-crime policies don't work, study finds

Research at odds with Tories' crime agenda

OTTAWA–The federal Justice Department pays to help publicize leading criminal justice research that frequently discredits the Conservative government's "tough-on-crime" agenda.

The most recent issue of Criminological Highlights, published last month, with federal assistance, by the University of Toronto's Centre of Criminology, blows gaping holes in several of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's most cherished anti-crime measures.

It also provides a very timely reminder of why Canada's ongoing move toward more mandatory minimum sentences can lead to the kind of plea bargain arrangement that's created a storm of public outrage around former Conservative stalwart Rahim Jaffer.

Mandatory penalties, says the research digest, "undermine the legitimacy of the prosecution process by fostering circumventions that are wilful and subterranean. They undermine ... equality before the law when they cause comparably culpable offenders to be treated radically differently."

Read on...

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Obama losing chance to reshape judiciary

Liberals had hoped he would counter a slew of conservative appointments in federal courts made by his Republican predecessors. But that hasn't happened.

Obama, Sotomayor and Liu

President Obama's appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is one high-profile success. UC Berkeley professor Goodwin Liu has been nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but he is expected to meet significant GOP resistance. (Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images; Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images; Laura Morton, For The Times)

An early chance for the Obama administration to reshape the nation's judiciary -- and counter gains made in the federal courts by conservatives -- appears close to slipping away, due to a combination of White House inattention and Republican opposition.

During President Obama's first year, judicial nominations trickled out of the White House at a far slower pace than in President George W. Bush's first year. Bush announced 11 nominees for federal appeals courts in the fourth month of his tenure. Obama didn't nominate his 11th appeals court judge until November, his 10th month in office.

Read on...

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Revealed: The Shocking Truth About Tasers

A commuter in a diabetic coma, an 89-year-old man and children as young as 12 - just some of the targets of British police armed with skin-piercing 50,000-volt Taser guns. As the Home Office investigates bringing an even more powerful rifle version to Britain, Jason Benetto reports on the slow creep of arms onto our streets.

[Amnesty International says 334 people in the US died between 2001 and 2008 after the stun guns were used on them. Taser International, the Arizona-based manufacturer, dismisses these findings.  (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)]Amnesty International says 334 people in the US died between 2001 and 2008 after the stun guns were used on them. Taser International, the Arizona-based manufacturer, dismisses these findings. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The smartly dressed sales executive travelling on the number 96 bus across Leeds didn't notice his body descending into a state of severe hypoglycaemia.

He didn't have time to ask his fellow passengers for help, or press the bell. Instead he slumped back in his seat in a diabetic coma, his head lolling from side to side.

This was why he wore a special tag and chain around his neck: it advertised his diabetes. His mother and father, both retired GPs, had encouraged their son to wear it ever since he had started having to take insulin 20 years earlier.

Nicholas Gaubert had been looking forward to a drink with friends in the suburb of Headingley after work. Instead he was critically ill, unconscious on the top deck of a bus continuing its route north through the early evening rush-hour traffic.

Read on...

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Justice Not Always Blind, Especially to Gender

New York - When Legal Momentum, a U.S. advocacy group that works with all aspects of gender in the legal system, started its National Judicial Education Programme in 1980, gender discrimination was an unacknowledged problem in the country's courtrooms.

Thirty years later, the New York-based NJEP has produced dozens of reports and educational programmes for U.S. judges and lawyers, including an authoritative 500-page handbook on gender discrimination in the legal system.

Legal Momentum started its judicial education programme with the goal of changing a legal culture unwilling to challenge or otherwise address its atmosphere of sexism.

In the 1980s, when the group started publishing educational materials, even casual sexism would pass without comment in courtrooms, according to NJEP director and founder Lynn Schafran.

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Domestic Violence: A Pre-Existing Condition?

By Amy Goodman

March is Women’s History Month, recognizing women’s central role in society. Unfortunately, violence against women is epidemic in the United States and around the world.

Domestic violence is on the minds of many now, as reports published by The New York Times implicate New York Gov. David Paterson in an alleged attempt to influence a domestic violence case against one of his top aides. The Times reports, based in part on unnamed sources, say that the Paterson aide, David W. Johnson, attacked his girlfriend on Halloween night, Oct. 31, 2009, “choking her, smashing her into a mirrored dresser and preventing her from calling for help.” New York state police from the governor’s personal protection detail contacted the victim, despite having no jurisdiction. Then the governor himself intervened, the Times alleges, asking two aides to contact the victim and to arrange a phone call between him and the victim. The call occurred on Feb. 7 of this year, the night before the victim was to appear in court to request an order of protection from Johnson. She did not appear in court, and the case was dismissed. After the exposé, the governor ended his bid for election and suspended Johnson without pay.

Denise O’Donnell, Paterson’s deputy secretary for public safety and commissioner of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, resigned last week, saying, “The behavior alleged here is the antithesis of what many of us have spent our entire careers working to build—a legal system that protects victims of domestic violence and brings offenders to justice.” The National Organization for Women, a longtime ally of Paterson, has called on him to resign.

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Right-Wing Rage: Hate Groups, Vigilantes and Conspiracists on the Verge of Violence

The radical right has caught fire, as broad-based anger over the past year has ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.

Photo Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.

Hate groups stayed at record levels -- almost 1,000 -- despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America. Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80 percent, adding some 136 new groups during 2009. And, most remarkably of all, so-called "Patriot" groups -- militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose “one-world government” on liberty-loving Americans -- came roaring back after years out of the limelight.

The anger seething across the American political landscape -- over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as "socialist" or even "fascist" -- goes beyond the radical right. The "tea parties" and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A small victory for Pakistan's transgenders

The nation's hijra community -- mostly eunuchs and hermaphrodites -- has long lived on the margins in the Muslim nation, barely tolerated and more often abused. A new ruling gives its members some rights.

A small victory for Pakistan's transgender people

Reporting from Rawalpindi, Pakistan - Wearing a red knit bonnet, matching lipstick and a shawl over her large shoulders and muscular forearms, Nanni gently sought to clear up some confusion as the call to prayer sounded from a nearby mosque.

"I'm a 'she-male,' " said Nanni, a kind of den mother for a dozen or so fellow hijra, or transgender people, in a rundown neighborhood of Rawalpindi. "We all are."

Sharing two small rooms halfway along a dark dirt alley and up a steep flight of steps, Nanni's family is one made, not born: a community of outcasts forced together after their families abandoned them, their indeterminate sex unnerving this patriarchal society -- especially the ascendant Pakistani Taliban.

"We are God's creatures," Nanni said. "Even if many people don't accept us, we feel the same here in the den as if we are of the same blood. We do everything to take care of one another."

Read on...

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Profiting From Recession, Payday Lenders Spend Big to Fight Regulation

Industry steps up lobbying efforts as the Senate grapples with financial reform.

Photo Credit: Lagan Sebert / Investigative Fund

The influential $42 billion-a-year payday lending industry, thriving from a surge in emergency loans to people struggling through the recession, is pouring record sums into lobbying, campaign contributions, and public relations – and getting results.

As the Senate prepares to take up financial reform, lobbyists are working to exempt companies that make short-term cash loans from proposed new federal regulations and policing. In state capitals around the country, payday companies have been fighting some 100 pieces of legislation aimed at safeguarding borrowers from high interest rates and from falling into excessive debt.

Last year, as the U.S. House drew up a financial reform bill, some lawmakers who were courted by the companies and received campaign contributions from them helped crush amendments seeking to restrict payday practices, a review by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund has found.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Starbucks Gun Policy: Refusal To Ban Firearms Pleases Open Carry Advocates,

GREG BLUESTEIN | 02/28/10 03:28 PM

Starbucks Gun Policy Open Carry
Starbucks doesn't ban guns in "open carry" states, even in cases where they're allowed to.

Dale Welch recently walked into a Starbucks in Virginia, handgun strapped to his waist, and ordered a banana Frappuccino with a cinnamon bun. He says the firearm drew a double-take from at least one customer, but not a peep from the baristas.

Welch's foray into the coffeehouse was part of an effort by some gun owners to exercise and advertise their rights in states that allow people to openly carry firearms.

Even in some "open carry" states, businesses are allowed to ban guns in their stores. And some have, creating political confrontations with gun owners. But Starbucks, the largest chain targeted, has refused to take the bait, saying in a statement this month that it follows state and local laws and has its own safety measures in its stores.

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Only in Amerika. Tom

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Crime bills to be scrutinized, Liberals warn

No Easy Passage

Shannon Kari, National Post Published: Tuesday, March 02, 2010

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How far are we willing to let the police go?

You are walking down the street. You are stopped, ordered to spread, frisked by police, your identity checked, and questioned. There was no probably cause to stop you, this is a random check. You are found carrying no weapons or drugs, your identity does not bring up any hits on wants or warrants.

So other than the indignity - visited far more often on young Black and Hispanic men than anyone else - other than the demeaning nature of the encounter, it's over, right?

WRONG. All of your biographical information will now be stored indefinitely by the New York City police in a data base

"used primarily by department investigators during the course of a criminal investigation"

according to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

If you are not shocked by this, why not? Whether or not you are, you should read Bob Herbert's column today, Watching Certain People, which will be the basis of this posting.

Read on...

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Miami-Dade's Inmate Idol Turns Jailbirds Into Songbirds

Annual contest held at detention center to find talented prisoners

Simon, Ellen, Randy and Kara may have been replaced by steely-eyed prison guards, and "You're Going to Hollywood" was replaced with "Back to Your Cell," but for the inmates at the Metro West Detention Center in Miami-Dade, an opportunity to show off their vocal stylings was too good to pass up.

Yesterday, the prison held its 2nd annual Inmate Idol Contest, pitting convicted felons and inmates awaiting trial against each other in a singing and rapping battle.

Corrections officers served as judges as orange jumpsuit-clad jailbirds sang about religion, domestic violence and love.

Read on...

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