Thursday, June 28, 2012

Can Street Violence Be Fought Like a Virus?

It’s that time of year again. With summer’s arrival, people flow into the streets of America’s poorest urban neighborhoods. Temperatures rise and tempers get shorter. Old beefs between corner drug crews start to simmer again as warm weather brings more addicts to the neighborhood, sparking territorial disputes over the swelling black market. Violence can come to the city in many ways, but it comes, like clockwork, when the weather warms up.

In the past month alone, Philadelphia has seen an 86 percent spike in homicides, bringing the year’s tally to 173. Nearly thirty people were shot in the city over Memorial Day weekend alone. In Chicago, a rash of summer gang violence has the city in a state of emergency, as its homicide total soars 50 percent over last year’s. Some in the press have labeled it “worse than Afghanistan.”

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New Study Finds No Correlation Between Medical Marijuana Shops And Crime Rates

Medical marijuana is already legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and seven more states will decide whether to legalize it by the end of this year. As public support for medical marijuana grows, however, some misconceptions about marijuana remain — as illustrated in a recent exchange with a Drug Enforcement Agent official who refused to admit that marijuana is less harmful than crack cocaine.

A new UCLA study helps to ease some of the misguided fears about the danger of medical marijuana, pointing out that medical marijuana dispensaries don’t lead to any increase in crime rates in the areas where they’re located. Although other environmental factors like unemployment are clear contributors to rising crime rates, the study concludes that medical marijuana shops are not linked to violent or property crime:

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The Roberts Court’s Liberal Turn on Juvenile Justice

THE Supreme Court’s decision this week to ban mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for offenders younger than 18 is an emphatic rejection of the “get tough” juvenile justice policies of the 1980s and 1990s, which punished children as if they were adults. Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan’s clear statement not only recognized the political and biological principle that children are different from adults but at last also inscribed it into constitutional law. 

Treating children differently from adults may be a radical idea, but it’s also an old one, predating the American Revolution. The political philosopher John Locke argued that children’s lack of reasoning capacity, which disqualified them from participating in government, also made them less culpable for their criminal acts. By the turn of the 20th century, progressive child advocates embedded the principle that children are different from adults — and thus require individualized handling of their cases — into the foundation of the world’s first juvenile courts. 


This is an op-ed from the NYTimes.  Tom

The Texas GOP Platform's Horror Show for Children

It's that time of year again, when the Texas Republican Party continues its grim, unwilling march toward the 17th century by updating its party platform. It's the usual gathering of heavy-duty God talk, racist paranoia, Victorian-era attitudes toward marriage, crippling homophobia, and that bit of Texas right-wing weirdness that I've always been fond of, the abject fear that your child might learn that there are other ways of viewing the world other than holing up in a house with a gun in case today's the day that reparations-seekers descend from black helicopters to kick down your door and confiscate your Bible. The obsession with giving total control over the minds and bodies of minors to their parents blows past creepy and right into Flowers in the Attic territory.

It's hard to know where to begin with the carnival of anti-child horrors in the document, but things really start to get weird in the "Protecting Our Children" section, where not only is the U.N. Treaty on the Rights of the Child denounced vigorously, but a rather troubling demand is made for a slate of "parental rights" to be granted that are clearly aimed at giving extremists the right to shield their children from the existence of the outside world. You'd think conservatives would support the U.N. Treaty, as it's very supportive of the idea that children should have a relationship with both biological parents, but apparently, the U.N.'s belief that you shouldn't beat your children or emotionally abuse them into terrified silence is just a step too far for the Texas GOP. Being able to beat children is explicitly mentioned in their defense of corporal punishment in foster care and in schools. (In case anyone wants to claim I'm denouncing a light pat on the bottom, my Texas school used corporal punishment, and it involved having a grown adult beat your ass with a paddle, so no, this isn't about light pats.)

Supremes Gut Arizona's Immigration Law; Scalia Strikes Down Results of the Civil War

While one of the law's most contentious issues remains unresolved, the 5-3 ruling represented a pretty big win for civil liberties advocates. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court gutted Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, prompting a notably injudicious outburst from Justice Antonin Scalia.


In a 5-3 decision – Elena Kagan recused herself from the case – the majority ruled that 3 major provisions were unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause, which holds that when a federal law conflicts with a state law, the former must prevail. The ”Government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy on the behalf of the majority, adding that "the federal power to determine immigration policy is well settled."

The federal government had made a strategic decision not to challenge the law on the basis of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection or Due Process clauses. Its suit didn't focus primarily on the potential for rampant racial profiling that led to so much controversy around the law in the first place. Instead, the Justice Department argued more narrowly that federal immigration law pre-empted the state's efforts to create its own regulatory scheme.

Life Without Parole for Pot? 10 Worst Cases of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Our government spends more than $7 billion annually to enforce marijuana prohibition in shockingly cruel ways, but the efforts have not deterred marijuana use. 

Cannabis is one of the most innocuous substances known to humans. Safer than Advil, a little (or a lot) of weed has never killed anybody, nor is it known to induce the kind of violent behavior linked to, say, alcohol. What's more, marijuana shows great therapeutic promise. It has been proven to reduce nausea associated with several ailments and chemotherapy, help cure post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, and protect eyesight from glaucoma, among other medical benefits.


The side-effects of pot are minimal, especially when compared to legal, often lethal drugs like OxyContin or Xanax. The consequences of a marijuana arrest, however, can be far more damaging than the drug itself.

America’s legal system continues to treat the plant as if the 1920s propaganda film Reefer Madness were true. In the United States -- where a marijuana arrest occurs every 42 seconds, on average -- the war on pot has disastrous consequences for its victims. Here are 10 of the most shameful examples in which the crime – related to weed -- does not even come close to matching the punishment.

Scalia Should Resign from the Supreme Court

Justice Antonin Scalia needs to resign from the Supreme Court.

He’d have a lot of things to do. He’s a fine public speaker and teacher. He’d be a heck of a columnist and blogger. But he really seems to aspire to being a politician — and that’s the problem.

So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He’s turned “judicial restraint” into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line.

Not content with issuing a fiery written dissent, Scalia offered a bench statement questioning President Obama’s decision to allow some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to stay. Obama’s move had nothing to do with the case in question. Scalia just wanted you to know where he stood.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Are Americans Losing Trust in the Supreme Court?

The New York Times reports a recent poll showing the Supreme Court’s approval rating at 44 percent. This represents one of the lowest numbers the justices have polled in recent years and is part of a generally downward slide since 2009. Over at least the previous twenty-five years the Court has consistently been one of the more popular institutions in the country. What’s been going on to change this?

A plausible answer is: partisanship. Polls show a widespread disgust with partisanship in Washington; Congress’s approval rating was at an all time low in May. Although the justices often are divided into left-right ideological blocs, those blocs have recently become identified in the public mind with the Democratic and Republican parties. That, combined with a set of cases that bring partisan issues to the fore, may be leading the public to see the Court as part of the same Washington politics it deplores.

One reason the justices did so well in the past is that they were typically seen as above politics. Not ideology, politics. The distinction matters. Ideology is principled, you believe in something. Politics, on the other hand, is seen these days as devoid of serious content.

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Study: Conservatives’ Trust in Science Has Fallen Dramatically Since Mid-1970s

Trust in Science Has Also Declined Among People Who Frequently Attend Church  


While trust in science remained stable among people who self-identified as moderates and liberals in the United States between 1974 and 2010, trust in science fell among self-identified conservatives by more than 25 percent during the same period, according to new research from Gordon Gauchat, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

“You can see this distrust in science among conservatives reflected in the current Republican primary campaign,” said Gauchat, whose study appears in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. “When people want to define themselves as conservatives relative to moderates and liberals, you often hear them raising questions about the validity of global warming and evolution and talking about how ‘intellectual elites’ and scientists don’t necessarily have the whole truth.”

Relying on data from the 1974-2010 waves of the nationally representative General Social Survey, the study found that people who self-identified as conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to self-identified moderates and liberals, and ended the period with the lowest.

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Huge Multiracial Father's Day March Tells Bloomberg and NYPD, 'No More Stop-and-Frisk!'

Momentum has been building in the movement to end stop-and-frisk, but many were still amazed at the size of the crowd Sunday

A Father’s Day crowd that some estimated to be as large as 50,000 marched in silent protest on Sunday afternoon in NYC, letting Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly know, in no uncertain terms, that they've had enough of the NYPD's policy of stop-and-frisk, a racial profiling tactic that has resulted in the illegal arrests of tens of thousands of young black and Latino men.


While the movement to end stop-and-frisk has been growing, many were amazed at the size of the crowd Sunday. The march included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the 1199 Service Employees International Union, and the National Action Network, as well as community organizing from groups like VOCAL-NY, the grassroots stop-and-frisk coalition and LGBT-rights groups. Organizer Leslie Cagan told AlterNet that more than 300 groups endorsed the march. The outpouring of solidarity, she said, shows that, “The people are ready, and the time has come.”

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Policing by the Numbers

THE pervasive use of stop-and-frisk tactics that have deeply alienated racial and ethnic minorities in New York City is only one symptom of a broader dysfunction in the Police Department.

The overwhelming pressure on officers to write summonses, make arrests, stop pedestrians and motorists with little or no justification, and downgrade crime reports reflects the deterioration of effective management under Raymond W. Kelly, the longest-serving police commissioner in the city’s history.

Read on....

This is a New York Times editorial.  Tom

Friday, June 15, 2012

Freakonomics Author Steven Levitt: Authoritarian Corporate Shill?

Levitt is assumed to be a harmless, quirky pop economist for trivia nerds. But is that really the case?

Steven Levitt, University of Chicago economist, gained nationwide fame and prestige after co-authoring Freakonomics, a pop economics book based partly on Levitt’s original economic research. Published in 2005, Freakonomics became an instant #1 bestseller and spawned an entire 

Freakonomics media franchise that included a branded Freakonomics blog (hosted on the New York Times website until 2011), a regular segment on the National Public Radio program Marketplace, a Freakonomics movie and, alas, a Freakonomics business consulting company (now called the Greatest Good).

In 2006, Time magazine solidified Levitt’s “thought leader” status by naming him one of “100 People Who Shape Our World.”* But despite Levitt’s high profile, very little has been written about his academic and ideological background. Generally Levitt is assumed to be a harmless, quirky pop economist for trivia nerds. But is that really the case?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Shock Doctrine Goes to College

This March in Davis, California, eleven students and one faculty member were issued letters from the assistant district attorney of Yolo County charging us with twenty-one misdemeanors each: twenty counts of sitting (“obstructing movement”) and one of conspiracy to sit (“conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor”). The Banker’s Dozen are alleged to have caused the permanent closure of the campus US Bank branch: earthly representative of the university’s celestial bargain with for-profit enterprise, and of the credit-fueled education bubble that weds students to crushing debt burdens. The university, for the moment still led by Linda “Pepper Spray” Katehi, had forwarded the charges; six of the dozen were also recipients of the administration’s tender mercies last November, when the chancellor earned her nickname.

Some see in this a war of maneuver between university and bank, currently bruiting high-stakes countersuits against each other. Or a bid for leverage against the civil suit, filed by students pepper-sprayed in November, in which the university stands to lose big. Others express disbelief that the peaceful political protest alleged at the bank should be prosecuted in the criminal courts, on the county residents' dime. And still others wonder at the suggestion that a dozen members of the scruffy, do-nothing liberal elite put to flight an office of the fifth-largest commercial bank in the nation.

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Study Says ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws Increase Homicides

In April, more than a month after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, we looked the incidence of justifiable homicides in states with “stand your ground” or “castle doctrine” laws like Florida’s.
In general, such laws grant people more leeway to use lethal force on an attacker. More than 20 were passed after Florida’s in 2005. They typically do at least one of the following:
• Remove a person’s duty to retreat in places outside the home
• Add the presumption that the person who killed in self defense had a reasonable fear of death or harm
• Grant people who killed in self-defense immunity from civil lawsuits
Justifiable homicides nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, according to the most recent data available, when 326 were reported. The data, provided by federal and state law enforcement agencies, showed a sharp increase in justifiable homicides occurred after 2005, when Florida and 16 other states passed the laws.

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California's Prison Population Eclipsed By Texas

Calif. -- Everything is bigger in Texas, the saying goes, and that is now also true of its prison system.
California used to have the nation's largest state prison system, topping 173,000 inmates at its peak in 2006. But since a law took effect last year that shifts responsibility for less serious criminals to county jails, the state has reduced its prison population and is no longer the largest in the nation.

California now has fewer than 136,000 state inmates, eclipsed by about 154,000 in Texas. Florida previously was third, according to 2010 figures from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and currently has about 100,000 inmates.

The reduction in California was ordered by federal judges in a decision backed last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. The courts ruled crowded prisons were causing poor care of sick and mentally ill inmates.

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NRA Offers ‘Stand Your Ground’ Insurance To Cover Legal Costs Of Shooting People In Self-Defense

In a rare “scoop” for an editorial cartoonist today, Matt Bors skewered a little-known National Rifle Association (NRA) program that offers insurance to cover policy holders’ costs should they become embroiled in a legal battle after shooting someone in self-defense.
The insurance — technically endorsed by the NRA and administered by Lockton Affinity exclusively for NRA members — is available as a rider to the “excess personal liability” plan. Here’s how the website advertises the added coverage for self-defense (emphasis in the original):

What’s Covered:
• Provides coverage up to the limit selected for criminal and civil defense costs.
Cost of civil suit defense is provided in addition to the limit of liability for bodily injury and property damage.
Criminal Defense Reimbursement is provided for alleged criminal actions involving self-defense when you are acquitted of such criminal charges or the charges are dropped.
Read  on...

We're Number 88! We're Number 88! US Ranked Low on Global Peace Index

2012 Global Peace Index shows slightly more peaceful world from 2009

 The just released 2012 Global Peace Index (GPI) from the Institute for Economics and Peace shows that the world has become slightly more peaceful over the last two years, with Iceland ranking as the most peaceful country and Somalia ranking as the least peaceful place. The U.S. ranks 88 of 158.

The index takes into account factors including jailed population, political instability, conflicts fought and military expenditure.
“What comes across dramatically in this year’s results and the six year trends is a shift in global priorities. Nations have become externally more peaceful as they compete through economic, rather than military means. The results for Sub Saharan Africa as a whole are particularly striking – regional wars have waned as the African Union strives to develop economic and political integration.” said Steve Killelea, founder and Executive Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

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From the donkey thief to the drunk who wouldn't leave the pub: Criminal records of 67,000 Victorian villains published online for first time

You certainly wouldn't want to meet any of this lot up a dark 19th century alley.
Records of more than 67,000 Victorian criminals, detailing crimes ranging from petty theft and drunkenness to arson and murder, have been published online for the first time today.

The fascinating collection, released by Family history website Ancestry.co.uk also tells the stories of local peacemakers of the time, including jury candidates and members of the local militia.

And two of the archives - The Dorset, England Prison Admission and Discharge Registers 1782-1901 and Dorset, England, Calendar of Prisoners 1854-1904 - also include mug shots of 19th century convicts.

The records include the criminal's name, place and date of conviction, sentence, physical description and details of previous crimes.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You’re Being Watched: Surveillance Systems Get Smart

Video, video everywhere, and not enough people to watch it. That’s the conundrum facing military and security personnel today, the people who sit in front of banks of monitors, watching hours of mind-numbingly mundane footage of people going about their business, yet must be attuned to any slight clues to a wanted suspect or potential crime.

But now, researchers at MIT and the University of Minnesota have created a new program to discern such signals from the video noise faster and more accurately than a human or existing automated system.

It’s a new type of smart surveillance system that “learns” from previously recorded video footage how to quickly scan realtime feeds and identify specific suspects. It can also flag unusual, potentially dangerous changes in an environment like an airport, such as when someone deliberately leaves behind a bag.

“The learning phase is very fast, not requiring more than a minute for the problems we explored,” wrote Christopher Amato, the leader of the effort and a postdoctoral candidate with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

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Shooting response shows Tories have opposition cowed on crime

Six and a half years ago, the Boxing Day shooting of Jane Creba near Toronto’s Eaton Centre sent Paul Martin’s re-election campaign into a downward spiral from which it never recovered.

That may be why the opposition parties appeared to be going to such lengths to avoid any mention of Saturday’s fatal shooting at the Eaton Centre food court – proving, once again, that the criminal is political.

The Conservatives displayed no such reticence. Julian Fantino, the Associate Defence Minister and former head of the Toronto and Ontario police forces, declared that the attacks demonstrated the tougher sentencing provisions of Tory crime legislation were needed.

“If all else fails, the only thing we have left is the criminal justice system,” he said Monday on CTV. “We need to find ways to isolate law abiding, decent citizens from those who actively seek to victimize and continue their life of crime,” he said. “And jail is the answer, I’m afraid, if all else fails.”

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Three Recent Supreme Court Decisions That Reveal Dangerous Intentions

Whither the Supreme Court?

As the country waits in fear and loathing for the high tribunal to drop the dime on Obamacare and give its blessings to Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law, court watchers might do well to parse the damage Chief Justice John Roberts and his colleagues have already done this term to our collective rights and liberties.

With more than 70 cases on its total docket and more than a dozen still undecided, including the health care and Arizona blockbusters, it’s difficult to single out the opinions issued to date that best illustrate the court’s hard turn to the right. But here are three that should make any short list:

Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Burlington

In March 2005, Albert Florence, a 34-year-old African-American car dealership executive, was riding in the passenger seat of his SUV. His pregnant wife was at the wheel and the couple’s three children were nestled in the back when a New Jersey state trooper pulled the vehicle over for speeding. The trooper ran a routine records check on a statewide computer database, which disclosed that Florence had an outstanding arrest warrant for nonpayment of a fine stemming from his arrest seven years earlier after he had fled the scene of a traffic stop.


Wisconsin Voters Report Receiving Robocalls Telling Them Not To Vote

From Eau Claire to Beloit, voters across Wisconsin are relaying stories via Twitter, Facebook and online message boards about anonymous “robocalls” from allies of Scott Walker, telling them–incorrectly–that if they signed petitions to recall Governor Walker, their vote in today’s crucial election has been recorded.
An NBC reporter tweeted that a family friend was one recipient of the call:
Dad just emailed, a WI friend of his got the 'If you signed the petition you don't have to vote tomorrow' robocall

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Sounds familiar. They must have gotten the idea from Canada.  Tom

Voter Fraud Extremely Rare In Florida: ‘More Likely To Get Hit By A Bolt Of Lightning’

Florida authorities claim that they’re purging thousands of voters from the rolls in order to protect the integrity and fairness of the democratic system, but according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, voting fraud is not a widespread problem in the state:
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 178 cases of alleged voter fraud have been referred to the department since 2000. [...]

Fraud, [Ion Sancho, the 24-year veteran election supervisor in Leon County] said, simply isn’t much of an issue. “You are more likely to walk out of your office and get hit by a bolt of lightning,” he said.

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Florida Prepares To Defy Justice Department, Continue Voter Purge

Florida Governor Rick Scott sent the strongest signal yet that he plans to defy the Department of Justice and continue purging registered voters the rolls. Last week, the Justice Department sent Scott a letter demanding an end the voter purge because it was in violation of federal law. His deadline for responding to the letter is today.

Although Florida has not formally responded to the Justice Department letter, a Scott administration spokesman strongly indicated to the Miami Herald that Governor Scott had no intention of ending the purge:

“Our letter will address the issues raised by DOJ while emphasizing the importance of having accurate voter rolls,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who’s in charge of the state’s elections division.

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Protester sues ‘This ain’t Canada’ cop after York police board refuses to charge him

The York Police Services Board has blocked efforts to lay misconduct charges against an officer captured on YouTube telling a G20 protestor “This ain’t Canada right now” and demanding that he be searched.

In October, the province’s police complaints watchdog recommended three misconduct charges against Sgt. Mark Charlebois, who apprehended Paul Figueiras during the G20 summit two years ago.

But because the directive came well after a six-month deadline York Region’s police chief had to ask the board’s permission to lay the charges. (Under the Police Services Act, a disciplinary hearing can only be called within six months of the initial complaint.)

He was refused.

“Ultimately, the board decided that it was not reasonable, under the circumstances, to delay serving the notice of hearing,” said board spokesperson Mafalda Avellino in an emailed statement.

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