Thursday, February 24, 2011

Father of slain student's emotional testimony halts Florida law allwoing guns on campus

The Florida state Senate is considering a controversial bill, introduced last month, that would allow guns to be carried on college and university campuses. Like 49 other states, Florida currently bans firearms from campus, but state Sen. Greg Evers (R) wants permitted weapons allowed on campus because “it’s just a good idea that people be allowed to carry firearms wherever they feel the necessity to protect themselves.”

The state Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee was considering the bill yesterday when an unexpected speaker arrived: Robert Cowie, whose daughter Ashley was killed last month at a Florida State fraternity house when an AK-74 owned by one of the fraternity members accidentally discharged. Reading from a prepared statement, but frequently overcome with emotion, Cowie — who described himself as a registered Republican

that never missed an election — pleaded with legislators not to pass the bill:

COWIE: As parents, we send our children to college campuses hoping that they are safe enough places, and that university officials are doing all that they to monitor the safety of our young people. When we packed Ashley’s belongings into boxes to take her things to Tallahassee, we never expected to be bringing her home in a different sized box. This proposed change to the law will place an undue burden on the universities to keep our campuses safe. Ashley was shot to death at a time when the law prohibited weapons on campus, and still this tragedy has occurred…. Allowing guns in an atmosphere of college parties puts everyone involved at increased and undue risk.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recommendations for Juvenile Justice Reform

Opportunities for the Obama Administration

The National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) brings together a collaborative array of youth‐ and family‐ serving, social justice, law enforcement, corrections, and faith‐based organizations, that work to ensure healthy families, build strong communities and improve public safety by promoting fair and effective policies, practices and programs for youth involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

NJJDPC achieves its mission by engaging a broad spectrum of opinion leaders and
stakeholders, including the voices of those most affected by the juvenile justice system, to:
• advocate for sensible and safe solutions to crime and delinquency;
• build and leverage policy leadership in the field; and
• serve as a clearinghouse for research and best practices within our nation’s juvenile
and criminal justice systems.

For more information, please contact the Coalition Co‐Chairs:
Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Project
202‐628‐0871 or
Tara Andrews, Coalition for Juvenile Justice
202‐467‐0864 or
February 15, 2011

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It's Time For Our Nation To Be Smart on Crime

Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress provides the 112th Congress and the Obama administration with analysis of the problems plaguing our state and federal criminal justice systems and a series of recommendations to address these failures. The report examines the entire criminal justice system, from the creation of new criminal laws to ex-offenders’ reentry into communities after serving their sentences. Our comprehensive recommendations range from helping to restore and empower victims to identifying ways to protect the rights of the accused.

Due to the undeniable human costs and the overwhelming fiscal costs, Americans from diverse political perspectives--particularly professionals with experience in all aspects of the criminal justice system--recognize that the system fails too many, costs too much, and helps too few. Smart on Crime provides the most promising recommendations for resolving our nation’s criminal justice crisis.

Leading Criminal Justice Experts Share Insights

Several Smart on Crime report contributors discussed America’s broken criminal justice system and shared their hopes for concrete reform. We invite you to hear what some of the nation’s leading experts have to say about a system of justice that they are passionate about—in their own words.

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The State of Sentencing 2010

Developments in Policy and Practice

This report was written by Nicole D. Porter, State Advocacy
Coordinator of The Sentencing Project, with research support from
Ajima Olaghere.

The Sentencing Project is a national non-profit organization engaged
in research and advocacy on criminal justice policy issues.

The full report can be found here.

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Crunch the numbers: Crime rates are going down


Everyone wants to reduce crime and use resources effectively. But the Conservative government’s “tough on crime” agenda would have you believe that crime is increasing and can only be reduced by using tougher penalties. This assertion is wrong, as is a study by an Ottawa-based think tank that reviewed the 2009 Statistics Canada report on crime.

The study, by former Alberta Crown attorney Scott Newark for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, suggests that violent crime is increasing, contrary to the Statscan report and all reasoned examinations of existing data. Mr. Newark’s study is filled with problems: It compares figures that can’t be compared. It presents figures that are inaccurate. And it ignores evidence supporting the conclusion that crime is, in fact, decreasing.

Mr. Newark criticizes Statscan for not including crime rates for all criminal offences. This information is available to anyone in the world on Statscan’s website. The figures clearly show (see Column 1 of our table) a substantial decrease over time. It’s no wonder Mr. Newark only chose to criticize, rather than present the numbers.

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Why would the mainstream media publish something that was factually challenged? Tom

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Professors fight back in information war

Susan DelacourtOttawa Bureau

OTTAWA – Two University of Ottawa professors are issuing a dare to the anonymous person who’s been trying to obtain their personal information in what they suspect is an attempt at political intimidation.

Amir Attaran and Errol Mendes, vocal critics of the federal Conservative government, say they will release all the information requested – even the data that they don’t have to disclose by law – if the person making the request comes forward and identifies himself or herself.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” said Mendes, saying that he hopes this is also true of the person making the requests, which were so unusually large and beyond the scope of the law that they set off alarm bells with the university.

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Anyone care to speculate who is making these information requests? Tom

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Friday, February 11, 2011

NRA Head Wayne LaPierre On Tuscon Shootings: ‘Government Policies Are Getting Us Killed’

Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, delivered a fiery address to the Conservative Political Action Conference today, saying that guns are not to blame for the shooting rampage in Tuscon — rather, the government is. LaPierre criticized “gun-free zones and anti-self defense laws that protected the safety of no one except the killers,” and said that “by its lies and laws and lack of enforcement, government polices are getting us killed, and imprisoning us in a society of terrifying violence.”

LaPierre also criticized legislation aimed at banning high-capacity magazines like the type used by Tuscon shooter Jared Loughner, saying, “These clowns want to ban magazines. Are you kidding me? But that’s their response to the blizzard of violence and mayhem affecting our nation. One more gun law on top of all of the laws already on the books.” Watch it:

LaPierre’s narrative is absurd on its face. The Safeway parking lot where the shootings occurred was not a gun-free zone, and in fact, one bystander was armed and almost shot the wrong person as he attempted to intervene. Arizona already has some of the most lax gun laws in the nation, and it’s unclear how even more guns would have saved any lives. A much more plausible remedy would be eliminating the magazines Loughner used to fire over 30 shots before reloading.

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Follow the link to see the video. Tom

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The Abortion Tax

The Republican plan to prevent your abortion by holding your tax money hostage.

The Republican platform ridicules Democrats for failing to recognize the difference between public and private money. It complains that Congress "treats well-deserved tax cuts as a kind of spending, so that letting Americans keep more of their earnings is considered the same as more spending on pork projects." Democrats forget that "eliminating … tax reductions" is just another way "to raise taxes," says the GOP:

Today's Democratic Party views the tax code as a tool for social engineering. They use it to control our behavior, steer our choices, and change the way we live our lives. The Republican Party will put a stop to both social engineering and corporate handouts by simplifying tax policy, eliminating special deals, and putting those saved dollars back into the taxpayers' pockets.

Two years after writing that platform, Republicans have captured the House of Representatives. And what's their first item of business? Using the tax code as a tool for social engineering. This week, the House began hearings on two abortion bills: the Protect Life Act and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Both bills would outlaw the use of federal money for abortions. And to give the government more leverage, they would redefine tax credits as federal money.

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Why Bradley Manning Is a Patriot, Not a Criminal

Washington is clearly intent on destroying this young Army private and then putting him away until hell freezes over. It should not be this way.

Editor's Note: The Obama administration came into office proclaiming "sunshine" policies. When some of the U.S. government's dirty laundry was laid out in the bright light of day by WikiLeaks, however, its officials responded in a knee-jerk, punitive manner in the case of Bradley Manning, now in extreme isolation in a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. The urge of the Obama administration and the U.S. military to break his will, to crush him, is unsettling, to say the least. Whatever happens to Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, Washington is clearly intent on destroying this young Army private and then putting him away until hell freezes over.

It should not be this way.

Today, thanks to lawyer and essayist Chase Madar, TomDispatch is making a long-planned gesture towards Manning, whose acts, aimed at revealing the worst this country had to offer in recent years, will someday make him a genuine American hero -- but that’s undoubtedly little consolation to him now. When it comes to America’s recent wars, its torture regimes, black sites, and extraordinary renditions, as well as the death and destruction visited on distant lands, blood is on many official American hands, but not on Manning’s. Those officials should be held accountable, not him.

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Access to justice becoming a privilege of the rich, judge warns

The middle class has been shut out of a justice system that caters primarily to the very rich and the very poor, the country's top judge has told a group of legal luminaries.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada said on Tuesday that the middle class cannot hope to pay legal fees that average $338 per hour, leaving them little option but to represent themselves in court or go away empty-handed.

"Do we have adequate access to justice?” she asked a University of Toronto conference on the problem. “It seems to me that the answer is no. We have wonderful justice for corporations and for the wealthy. But the middle class and the poor may not be able to access our justice system.”

Chief Justice McLachlin said that a court proceeding can easily swallow up a litigant’s bank account or home equity. “How can there be public confidence in a system of justice that shuts people out; that does not give them access?” she asked. “That’s a very dangerous road to follow.”

The Chief Justice’s voice rose as she discussed a monopoly lawyers have on legal services. “If you’re the only one who can provide a fundamental social need from which you benefit, I think it follows that you have to provide it,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s enough to say we are providing it for the rich and the corporations. You have to find a way to provide it for everybody.”

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Think tank targets Statscan’s falling crime rate claim

Police tape covers off a block in a South Vancouver neighborhood  after a shooting on April 7, 2009. - Police tape covers off a block in a  South Vancouver neighborhood after a shooting on April 7, 2009. | JOHN  LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Think tank targets Statscan’s falling crime rate claim


OTTAWA— From Thursday's Globe and Mail
An Ottawa-based think tank has concluded that Statistics Canada’s evidence that crime rates are falling is false, though the government agency stands by its data.

That dispute cuts to the heart of the divisions between Stephen Harper’s government, which is toughening crime laws and expanding prisons, and its opponents, who claim the Conservatives are pushing voters’ panic buttons even though the streets are actually getting safer.

"Serious violent crime is increasing,” contrary to Statistics Canada’s claims, asserts Scott Newark, a former Alberta crown prosecutor who is now a security consultant.

“On the central question of the state’s duty to protect citizens from crime and public disorder, Canadians are not as well served as they should be” by Statscan, he concludes.

The 28-page report for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute strongly criticizes Statscan’s approach to analyzing crime statistics on several fronts:

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Health researchers slam Tory mandatory-minimum-sentence proposal for drug crimes


More than 500 health professionals from across Canada have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and opposition leaders to protest a government bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes including growing small amounts of marijuana.

The physicians, scientists and researchers, led by the Urban Health Research Initiative, a program of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the Canadian Public Health Association argue that the measures included in Bill S-10 are both ineffective and expensive.

“We, the undersigned, are concerned that the federal government is pursuing significant amendments to federal drug legislation, through Bill S-10, which are not scientifically grounded and which research demonstrates may actually contribute to health and social harms in our communities,” the health professionals say in the letter.

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Talk about being behind the curve. Here's a blurb about the Rockefeller Laws. Tom

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Friday, February 4, 2011

The FBI Has Been Violating Your Liberties in Ways That May Shock You

As Congress seeks to renew the Patriot Act, new information exposes egregious FBI violations.

Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, introduced legislation to extend the Patriot Act past its February 28 expiration date to December 2013. Though the extension once again saves some of the most nefarious, First-Amendment trampling provisions of the act -- roving wiretaps, secret access to third-party records, the hunting of targets unafilliated with foreign powers -- Leahy released a statement assuring us that the new extension will increase citizen protections

“It will promote transparency and expand privacy and civil liberties safeguards in current law,” he said in a statement. “It increases judicial oversight of government surveillance powers that capture information on Americans. This is a package of reforms that all Americans should support.” The expanded bill would require the Department of Justice to issue public reports and generally expand oversight.

But will token rights-preserving provisions matter if the FBI refuses to comply?

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Is This the Year America Wakes Up to Its Prison Disaster? Why Conservatives Are Finally Jumping on the Bandwagon

As states' budgets bleed, some of them are shifting from "tough on crime" to "smart on crime."

Struggling with chronic budget crises, lawmakers in more and more states are embracing sentencing and other reforms in a bid to hold down corrections costs. But while sentencing reform has long been the domain of "bleeding heart" liberals, now conservatives are driving those efforts in some states.

It's not just about dollars. Although fiscal concerns are a driving force among conservatives, there are also signs they are recognizing and confronting the failures of our drug and criminal justice policies. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, none other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote of "more humane, effective alternatives" to the national imprisonment binge

Still, as their states bleed red ink, some of them are shifting from "tough on crime" to "smart on crime." Leading the charge is a newly formed advocacy group, Right On Crime, endorsed by big conservative names including Gingrich, taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, and former drug czar William Bennett.

Based in Texas, Right On Crime is touting the success the Lone Star State has had with sentencing reform to make such reforms more palatable to conservatives. In 2003, the state passed legislation ordering that small-time drug offenders be given probation instead of prison time, and in 2007, the state rejected prison-building in favor of spending $241 million on treatment programs for offenders.

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30 of the Most Loathsome People in America

From the right-wing Koch brothers to Mel Gibson to Michele Bachmann, here are the Americans we should be least proud of.

-David & Charles Koch

Charges: In a land filthy with noxious liars, these two are the filthiest. Their dad founded the ridiculous John Birch Society which claimed fluoridated tap water was a Communist mind-control plot—while his company built oil refineries for Stalin. And they’ve not fallen far from the despicable hypocrite tree. Koch Industries, the second biggest privately-held company in the country, generates its annual $98 billion in profits from coal mining, stealing oil from Indian reservations, refining and piping Canadian tar sands oil, and every other clear-cut, mountaintop-removing environmental abomination under the sun. How they make money is dirty; how they spend it is dirtier. From free-market-humping think tanks CATO and Heartland to Tea Party-backing Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, they invest vulgar amounts of money in misappropriating populist rage and misinforming the ignorant masses on climate change, tax reform, environmental policy, health care, and any other issue that could cut into their fat bottom line.

Aggravating factor: In a philanthropy-meets-disinformation masterstroke, the Smithsonian’s new $15 million David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins is a climate change whitewash, which teaches that destroying our environment is no big deal because we can just adapt and evolve.

Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas

Charges: Their majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC was the worst decision since Scalia instituted SCOTUS Hot Pants Fridays. In lifting a century-long restriction on corporate campaign spending, the Justices flouted a firmly-ingrained precedent and finally provided examples of the nefarious and mythical “Activist Judge.” The original case dealt with the very narrow issue of whether Citizen’s hit-piece/documentary Hillary: The Movie was “electioneering communication” under McCain-Feingold. A district court panel ruled that it was and, hence, could be regulated. Citizens appealed, and the Roberts court took it upon itself to hear the case and inexplicably broaden its scope into a corporate free-speech issue. This is the very definition of “legislating from the bench” and ensures our elections will be dominated by well-funded Swift Boating for the foreseeable future. If democracy was an experiment, this case blew up the lab.

Aggravating factor: “I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” -Chief Justice Roberts

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Anyone got any suggestions for the top ten loathsome Canadians? Tom

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Robert Redford And Ellen Barkin Join Doug Liman At Sundance Event Shining Spotlight On Bush Torture Record

redford_reckoning.jpgRobert Redford And Ellen Barkin Join Doug Liman At Sundance Event Shining Spotlight On Bush Torture Record

Live Closing Day Performance Features Leading Writers, Actors And Former Interrogators

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666;

PARK CITY, UT – Robert Redford and Ellen Barkin today joined director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Fair Game) and an all-star cast at Sundance Film Festival to perform “Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies From the 'War on Terror.'" The event, presented by the American Civil Liberties Union, PEN American Center and Sundance, featured readings of formerly secret government documents. The production was filmed for a documentary Liman is directing to raise awareness of the scope and human cost of the United States’ post-9/11 torture program.

Redford and Barkin joined actor America Ferrera; writers Sandra Cisneros, Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, Esmeralda Santiago, George Saunders and Naomi Wolf; documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney; former interrogation insiders Jack Rice and Matthew Alexander; and other surprise guests to perform the readings. The texts are drawn largely from over 150,000 pages of formerly classified government documents obtained by the ACLU in a lawsuit that the New York Times has called “among the most successful in the history of public disclosure”; they include secret legal memos that sought to justify torture, e-mails written by FBI agents who witnessed torture at Guantánamo, interrogation logs, transcripts of military tribunal proceedings and moving statements and affidavits by U.S servicemen and women who objected to the abusive interrogations.

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What about Bradley Manning and Obama's torture record. Tom

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Russia’s heroin epidemic: why the government is ducking the issue

Drug addiction in Russia has reached epidemic proportions, but the government is refusing to address the problem head on, preferring instead to inveigh against external forces like the USA, NATO and the war in Afghanistan. Jarrett Zigon, who works with drug addicts in St Petersburg, considers the current problems and their implications for the future.

The Russian government is once more refusing to accept responsibility for yet another form of suffering it has imposed on its people – heroin use, addiction and the various associated health crises. It is doing its best to lay the blame on others for the drug use epidemic and ensuing HIV crisis by stepping up its criticism of the USA and NATO for not doing more to stop the flow of heroin from Afghanistan into Russia. This internationally staged political theatre is intended to create the illusion that Russia’s current HIV and drug use epidemics are a direct result of the war in Afghanistan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Russia's politicians are blaming a heroin epidemic on the proliferation of poppy fields in Afghanistan, yet their own flawed drugs policy — which victimises drug users — is surely as much to blame. Photo: flickr/isafmedia

Russia today has an estimated four million active drug users, one of the highest percentages in the world. The Russian Ministry of Health estimates that drug use rose by 400% between 1992 and 2002, that is during the ten years prior to the USA/NATO invasion of Afghanistan. As early as 1999 it was perfectly obvious to international organizations working there that Russia was experiencing a wave of HIV infections related to injecting drug use. While in many parts of the world sexual contact is the primary means of transmission, in Russia about 80% of the estimated 940,000 people currently living with HIV were infected through injecting drug use. There is little doubt that Russia today is in the grip of an HIV epidemic. Most troubling is the UNAIDS report, which indicated that, as of the end of 2002, Eastern Europe and Central Asia had the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. In this region, Russia has by far the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (in abbreviation PLWHA), and the fastest growing number of infections.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stopping Frisky Business

Eight men of color sue the City of Brotherly Love over its “stop-and-frisk” policy—the latest in a group of federal civil rights cases.

PHILADELPHIA—A controversial police policy instructing officers to randomly stop and frisk suspects they deem potentially threatening may soon face the scrutiny of a federal judge.

In early November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined a local law firm to file suit on behalf of eight plaintiffs, all men of color, who say the Philadelphia Police Department is misusing the policy to conduct racially motivated stops of black and Latino men in the city.

The plaintiffs in the current case include attorney Mahari Bailey, who says he was stopped and searched by police on four occasions between 2008 and 2010 for driving with tinted windows, a charge subsequently dropped. A Pennsylvania state representative who was handcuffed and detained for questioning the allegedly illegal stop of two of his elderly constituents is also part of the suit.

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