Friday, September 28, 2012

More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence?

America now has 300 million firearms, a barrage of NRA-backed gun laws—and record casualties from mass killers.

In the fierce debate that always follows the latest mass shooting, it's an argument you hear frequently from gun rights promoters: If only more people were armed, there would be a better chance of stopping these terrible events. This has plausibility problems—what are the odds that, say, a moviegoer with a pack of Twizzlers in one pocket and a Glock in the other would be mentally prepared, properly positioned, and skilled enough to take out a body-armored assailant in a smoke- and panic-filled theater? But whether you believe that would happen is ultimately a matter of theory and speculation. Instead, let's look at some facts gathered in a two-month investigation by Mother Jones. 

In the wake of the slaughters this summer at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 60 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.

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Delinquent Youth Committed to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services 2004-2011

This report explores recent trends in the commitment of delinquent youth to the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). Commitments to DYRS increased considerably from 2006-07 to 2009-10, due to more youth being committed following adjudication on misdemeanors. In 2011, commitments to DYRS declined, due to fewer youth being committed on felonies. By 2011, most youth committed to DYRS were misdemeanants. Understanding these shifts in the youth committed to DYRS will require a broad exploration of juvenile justice case processing involving all delinquent youth, using integrated data across juvenile justice agencies. 
 

A Review of Population and Spending Shifts in Prison and Community Corrections

BACKGROUND

Ongoing state budget deficits have placed the centerpiece of U.S. penal policy—incarceration—under intense scrutiny. Although crime rates have been on the decline since 1992, prison populations and spending have continued to grow—spurring state policymakers to question whether resources can be better used to enhance public safety. Taking heed of research which has shown that many offenders are dealt with more effectively in the community, many states have recently adopted policies to lower prison populations by moving people who are incarcerated to less-expensive supervision in the community. The goal is not only to reduce correctional costs but also improve public safety outcomes.

In this study, the Vera Institute of Justice, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance

Project, set out to determine whether—in light of recent state-level policy changes and the economic recession—there have been observable shifts from prisons to community corrections between 2006 and 2010 by examining changes in (1) prison populations; (2) prison spending; (3) community corrections populations; and (4) community corrections spending.

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Amnesty Prison Report Slams California Prisons' Solitary Confinement Policy

California's extensive use of solitary confinement in two state prisons subjects thousands of inmates to "cruel and degrading" conditions and amounts to illegal torture, Amnesty International said in a new report Thursday.

The human rights group compiled the extensive report after gaining rare access to Pelican Bay State Prison and California State Prison at Corcoran, two maximum-security prisons where about 3,000 prisoners are held in extreme isolation, often for decades or longer.

One prisoner told interviewers that his confinement made him feel he was "silently screaming 24 hours a day."

Hundreds of inmates at the two prisons have spent more than a decade in isolation, and nearly 80 have been confined more than 20 years with virtually no human contact. Corrections officials say the units are necessary to fight prison gangs and to maintain safety in the prison system by removing the "worst of the worst" from the general population.

Amnesty International called on authorities to scale back on solitary confinement, using it only as a last resort to maintain prison safety -- not as punishment for an accumulation of minor rule infractions, or as a method to gather intelligence on prison gangs, as prisoners and human rights advocates claim.

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Ambrose’s vote in favour of fetus-rights motion raises ire of women’s groups

Women’s groups are asking whether Rona Ambrose is the right person to lead Canada’s Status of Women agency after she voted in favour of a controversial motion to study the legal rights of the fetus.

The Conservative MP surprised many on Wednesday when she joined nine other cabinet ministers and about half of the Conservative caucus in supporting the motion, which was widely viewed as a potential first step to reopening a debate on abortion in Canada. The private member’s motion did not have the support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Conservative MPs had been encouraged to vote against it.

Ms. Ambrose declined to explain her decision on Thursday, even as groups including the Canadian Women’s Health Network and the Quebec Women’s Federation said her vote was incompatible with her role as Minister for the Status of Women.

“It’s incredulous to us that she should be in this position when she voted against reproductive rights, which are one of the cornerstones of women’s safety,” said Janet Currie, a board member of the Canadian Women’s Health Network. “She should not be in the position if she actually believes what she voted for.”

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A matter of justice, without delay

We live at a time when our national government is transfixed with “tough on crime” policies. We also live at a time when crime rates are the lowest in decades.

Take British Columbia, which, until the late 1990s, had the highest rate of Criminal Code offences of the four western provinces. Today, its rate (third lowest of the four) is about where it was in 1970; it has been dropping for the past 10 years, with youth crime falling faster than overall crime. And yet, less crime has not translated into lower court costs. Crime is down 33 per cent in the past six years, but criminal justice costs are up 35 per cent in the same period.

Smacked in the face by these results, the B.C. government has been conducting internal reviews; it also issued a green paper on modernizing the justice system and appointed lawyer Geoffrey Cowper to study the problem. His findings, reported last month, were disturbing. In fact, if you took the words “lawyers,” “judges” and “justice system” out of the report, an innocent could imagine he was describing the health-care system.

To wit, these observations from Mr. Cowper:

“The system fails to meet the public’s reasonable expectations of timeliness.”

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Monday, September 24, 2012

FBI Investigates Shooting Of Double-Amputee Brian Claunch By Houston Police Officer Matthew Marin

The FBI will help investigate what led a Houston police officer to shoot and kill a wheelchair-bound double amputee who was agitated and threatening police with what turned out to be a ballpoint pen, the city's police chief said Monday.

Police Chief Charles McClelland also asked the community to "reserve judgment" on the officer and his actions this weekend at the Healing Hands group home for the mentally ill, and sought to reassure the public that all of the city's officers are trained to deal with people with mental problems.

Officer Matthew Marin shot 45-year-old Brian Claunch early Saturday after responding to a call that the one-armed, one-legged man was causing a disturbance inside the home. Police have said Claunch cornered and threatened Marin, who reportedly told investigators he didn't know the object in Claunch's hand was a pen.

"It is my desire to have everyone reserve judgment until all the facts and evidence in this investigation have been gathered," McClelland said in a statement.

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One Year Since NYPD Officer Pepper Sprayed Occupy Wall Street Protesters


Screen shot from video of young female protesters screaming after being pepper sprayed

The screams pierced the air of a scene already filled with chaos and disorder fomented by squads of men in blue. The female protesters shrieking were on a street near Union Square in New York City and were part of Occupy Wall Street, which had just taken over Zuccotti Park one week ago. They were penned inside orange mesh netting the New York Police Department had used to corral and control protesters. One of the young women sprayed dropped to her knees and threw her hands up into the air and continued to scream in pain. The young women had been pepper sprayed by a white-shirted NYPD officer, who they would later find out was named Anthony Bologna.

Chelsea Elliott, twenty-five year-old with long hair who was wearing a crop tank top, was one of the protesters pepper-sprayed. She told the Village Voice after the incident she “heard screams” near her. Officers had shoved a young girl to the ground. She had been yelling at them as they beat another person, and they put their hands on her and pushed her down onto the pavement. Elliott shouted, “Stop! Why are you doing this?” Bologna then walked up and sprayed the women.

“Not even one steady stream, more like you were spraying a plant — me and three or four other girls,” Elliott recounted. “I fell to the ground, and the girl behind me, this pretty, thin girl, a total hippie, with short hair and a gray tank top, they got her so bad! We were just lying on the ground, it was extremely painful.”

Elliott could not see for “fifteen minutes.” She could not breathe at first and was sobbing. It felt “like the worst sunburn of my life.” It was like “pouring a bottle of Tabasco all over your eyes and face.” Occupy medics poured milk into her eyes “for like 10 minutes, and apple cider vinegar” on her face.

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Anonymous Releases Sixty Hours of NYPD Footage from Occupy Wall Street Raid


NYPD arrest a young woman just hours after raid on Zuccotti Park began on Nov. 15, 2011

Members of the hacktivist group Anonymous have released sixty hours of footage of the raid by the New York Police Department against Occupy Wall Street on November 15, 2011. The footage posted is from the New York Police Department’s Technical Assistance Research Unit (TARU), a surveillance unit that is regularly present at political demonstrations to film police actions. It was posted as a torrent for download late in the evening on September 23. A tiny sample of the footage, including a statement read by a member of Anonymous, was posted on YouTube.

The computerized voice in the video begins, “On November 15, 2011, the NYPD surrounded Zuccotti Park and proceeded to forcefully dismantle the Occupy Wall Street encampment. As part of this effort, the authorities made all media leave this scene and the only images of what happened came from livestreamer who stayed in the center of the park until his arrest and one other citizen journalist who kept filming on his camera and managed to smuggle his footage after the arrest zone.” It goes on to say a “trove” of video shot by the NYPD itself from “fourteen different angles,” including surveillance cameras, is being released.

The statement in the video also suggests the NYPD tampered with videos in the  “mini-archive” of footage released to cover up “atrocities” or acts of police brutality committed. The voice claims a “lot of this police footage” has been edited, “some may say even tampered with to remove the most damning incidents.” It adds there are” obvious edits,” which makes the tampering apparent but, in total, there is enough footage here to “paint a picture of what really happened when the cameras left.”

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Will Pussy Riot Get The Last Laugh?

Supporters of feminist punk band Pussy Riot hold posters reading 'I believe in justice!' outside a court building in Moscow on August 17, 2012. (ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP

The prison sentence against the radical feminists chills freedom of speech but the backlash against the verdict might chill Putin as well. 

Russian summer doldrums were enlivened this year by the high-profile trial of three young women: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich. Members of a radical feminist “performance art” collective named Pussy Riot, the three were ultimately sentenced to two years in a penal colony for the “hate crime” of performing in a priests-only section of Moscow's premier Orthodox cathedral an obscenity-laced “punk prayer” that called upon the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Pussy Riot, formed about a year ago, is a breakaway group from Voina (War), whose politically charged (and sometimes vicious) street theater since 2005 has included actions like throwing live cats over the counter in a Moscow McDonald's restaurant “to break up the drudgery of the workers' daily routine,” and painting a giant penis on the side of a St. Petersburg drawbridge. They've had constant brushes with Russian law enforcement for activities that have sometimes caused genuine property damage, including the 2011 destruction of a police vehicle with a Molotov cocktail—which the group titled “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

But the Russian government had mostly treated them as a nuisance, and it had never before risked the exposure of a big public trial. Nor did Pussy Riot's early performances, including an impromptu anti-Putin “concert” in Red Square in January, earn them more than brief detentions. Indeed, when the three women were escorted out of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior last February 21 after performing their 40-second “punk prayer” in the nearly empty church, police initially let them go.

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78% of Outside Campaign Spending Due to 'Citizens United Effect'

According to a new report released Monday by the Sunlight Foundation, 78% of 2012 outside election spending can be attributed to the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allows unregulated amounts of corporate and otherwise outside campaign donations.
Karl Rove runs the conservative American Crossroads Super Pac (Photo: J.B. Nicholas/Splash News/Newscom)

 As of Sunday, outside spending hit roughly $465 million, more than double the total for the entire 2010 campaign. This election cycle is the first to follow the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision.

Of the $465m of outside money that has been spent on US congressional and presidential campaigns so far, at least $365m can be directly attributed to funds enabled by Citizens United. Super Pac spending alone amounts to $272m, according to the statistics laid out in the report.

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10 Million Hispanic Citizens May be Disenfranchised Thanks to GOP Voting Suppression

Voter purges and ID requirements being enacted in over 20 states could disenfranchise at least 10 million Hispanic citizens.

A new study by the Advancement Project  estimatesthat voter purges and ID requirements being enacted in over 20 states could disenfranchise at least 10 million Hispanic citizens. The analysis found about 6.3 million Hispanic citizens were not registered to vote in 2010, while 10.8 million, about half the voting bloc, said they did not vote. The number is bound to swell as new efforts to limit the vote in states with large Latino communities use outdated information to remove suspected noncitizens: 

Those states are home to nearly 5.5 million registered Latino voters, and 1.1 million naturalized citizens from Latin America. Colorado and Florida identified voters for possible purging by comparing their voter registrations with driver’s license databases that show which voters indicated they were immigrants – thereby creating a problem, the report said.
“Naturalized citizens typically received their driver’s licenses when they were legal immigrants but before becoming naturalized citizens (and before registering to vote); therefore, this method generates lists of voters to be checked that targets naturalized citizens,” the report said.
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What Happens When the Amish Go to Prison?

Do they have to shave and wear orange jumpsuits?

Sixteen members of a breakaway Amish sect were convicted of hate crimes in Ohio on Thursday. The jury found them guilty of violently shaving the hair and beards of disfavored members of the community, and they now face up to 20 years in prison. How do American prisons accommodate the old-fashioned religious practices of Amish people?

They don’t, for the most part. State and federal prison systems don’t have special regulations for the tiny number of Amish serving extended sentences, many of them for sex offenses. The Amish reject most modern technology and dress. In prison, however, their cells have electric lighting and climate control, they wear orange jumpsuits, and they are transported between the prison and the courthouse in vans, just like other inmates. Prison administrators generally require prisoners to keep their beards trimmed, but wardens sometimes allow exceptions for religious reasons.

U.S. prisons are required to accommodate religious beliefs under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, but inmates’ religious freedoms are tempered by security and cost concerns. Striking this balance has proven challenging for judges. In the case of facial hair, for example, courts have struck down outright beard bans, but agreed with wardens that excessively long or unkempt facial hair prevents guards from quickly identifying inmates. Prisoners who require special meals have also met with mixed responses. An inmate can demand a halal meal, but it is often just the prison’s vegetarian meal, because the facility refuses to pay the added expense of halal butchering.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Vancouver sex workers can proceed with prostitution law challenge: top court

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Vancouver sex workers can proceed with a legal challenge of the country’s prostitution laws.

The 9-0 ruling dismisses a federal government appeal against the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society and former sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach.

The government argued that since no prostitution charges had been laid, the society and Ms. Kiselbach lacked the legal standing to pursue the case.

A British Columbia judge agreed with the government, but the provincial court of appeal said the group has public-interest standing and could proceed.

The high court justices today agreed with the appeal court.
The case may be moot, however, since an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling struck down some of the same laws under challenge in the Vancouver case.

The federal government is appealing the Ontario ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Breaking News.....

Is Julian Assange's Asylum Claim Legit? Point-Counterpoint With Glenn Greenwald

Assange remains at the center of an international standoff.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19, having been granted political asylum by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. Sweden wants Assange to answer charges of sexual assault. Assange says that his extradition to Sweden would put him in danger of being brought to the United States where he might face prosecution under the espionage act.

It's unusual that Assange was granted asylum, given that the U.S. hasn't attempted to extradite him. Correa faces an upcoming election campaign, and has faced criticism for limiting Ecuadorian press freedoms, and many see the move as a way of pushing back on his domestic critics. The British reject the legitimacy of Assange's claim, and have refused to grant him safe passage out of the country. What has become an international standoff continues.

I see this as a matter of Occam's razor, with Assange doing whatever he can to avoid facing the Swedish charges. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald disagrees, saying that Assange has a “rational” fear of persecution at the hands of the U.S. government. Greenwald recently appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss the situation. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the segment (you can listen to the whole show here).

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'Citizens United' and the Corporate Court

 “And may the odds be ever in your favor.”
                  —Effie Trinket, announcer for the corporate state in The Hunger Games

We live in what will surely come to be called the Citizens United era, a period in which a runaway corporatist ideology has overtaken Supreme Court jurisprudence. No longer content just to pick a president, as five conservative Republicans on the Rehnquist Court did in 2000, five conservative Republicans on the Roberts Court a decade later voted to tilt the nation’s entire political process toward the views of moneyed corporate power.

In Citizens United (2010), the Court held that private corporations, which are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution and are not political membership organizations, enjoy the same political free speech rights as people under the First Amendment and may draw on the wealth of their treasuries to spend unlimited sums promoting or disparaging candidates for public office. The billions of dollars thus turned loose for campaign purposes at the direction of corporate managers not only can be but—under the terms of corporate law—must be spent to increase profits. If businesses choose to exercise their newly minted political “money speech” rights, they must work to install officials who will act as 
corporate tools.

The Court, transformed by the addition of Chief Justice Roberts and Samuel Alito, who were nominated by that lucky winner in Bush v. Gore, took this giant step to the right of all prior Courts without even being asked to do so. The petitioner, Citizens United, sought only a ruling that the electioneering provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (better known as McCain-Feingold) didn’t apply to its on-demand movie about Hillary Clinton. But the conservatives sent the parties back to brief and argue the paradigm-shifting constitutional question they were so keen to decide. As dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens observed, the justices in the majority “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

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How the Right Packed the Court

The Roberts Court’s embrace of business interests has not been equaled since the early 1930s, when conserva-
tive justices—FDR’s “Nine Old Men”—sought to undermine the New Deal. This Court has consistently empowered moneyed interests at the expense of working Americans. This phenomenon is no accident; it is the result of years of dedicated effort by organized corporate interests.

As historian Kim Phillips-Fein writes in her book Invisible Hands, many of the intellectual and institutional antecedents of the modern pro-corporate movement lie in the organized opposition to the New Deal. In assessing the corporate capture of the courts, however, a compelling starting place is the memorandum written in 1971 by Lewis Powell for his friend Eugene Sydnor, an official of the US Chamber of Commerce. At the time, Powell was a corporate lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, representing such interests as tobacco giant Philip Morris, on whose board of directors he served.

Powell’s memo is a return to a time before conservatives had captured our political and legal dialogue. He wrote almost hysterically that “the American economic system is under broad attack” by “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries,” but also by “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.” He singled out William Kunstler, Charles Reich, Herbert Marcuse and, most prominently, Ralph Nader as the leading villains. Powell described an apathetic and ineffective corporate community that lacked the stomach and institutional capacity to fight back. He prescribed a broad response that would be funded by large corporations and coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce, big business’s main Washington lobbyist. The Supreme Court would be the centerpiece of this strategy.

Read on....

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Obama Supreme Court Versus a Romney High Court

Supreme Court

The most important legal development in the last decade is the Republican Party’s wholesale abandonment of judicial restraint. Less than a decade ago, President George W. Bush campaigned against “activist judges” who seize the power to “issue new laws from the bench.” And Bush’s Supreme Court appointees peppered their confirmation hearings with the rhetoric of restraint. Chief Justice John Roberts said that he would “prefer to be known as a modest judge,” and he emphasized that when judges make policy judgments, “they lose their legitimacy.” Justice Samuel Alito expressed similar sentiments, warning that judicial decisions should be narrow and focused on the facts of a particular case:
“[I]f judges begin to go further and announce and decide questions that aren’t before them or issue opinions or statements about questions that aren’t before them, from my personal experience, what happens when you do that is that you magnify the chances of getting something wrong. . . . [I]t makes for a better decision if you just focus on the matter that is at hand and what you have to decide and not speak more broadly.
Whatever Justices Roberts and Alito believed during their confirmation hearings, however, it rapidly became clear that they have little interest in restraining themselves. In their first full term together, both justices joined an opinion overruling a very recent abortion precedent because “some women come to regret” their own choices when they are allowed to make them.They claimed that a plan to desegregate public schools violates Brown v. Board of Education. And they infamously cut back on women’s right to equal pay for equal work in the Ledbetter decision that was later overturned by an Act of Congress.

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Parasites R Us


We knew that Paul Ryan believed this country was made up of "the takers vs the makers" but we hadn't heard Mitt Romney explicitly make that case until now. David Corn has obtained the full video (pieces have been floating around on Youtube for a while) of Romney talking to a bunch of his fellow one percenters. This pretty much lays it all out:

Fielding a question from a donor about how he could triumph in November, Romney replied:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

Romney went on: "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

You realize that he's talking about around a hundred and fifty million people, don't you? He's literally saying that nearly half the country is a bunch of parasites.

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Michael Glawogger's "Whores' Glory"


Michael Glawogger does for documentary film what Ryszard Kapuściński did for journalism: He reinvents it as something immersive, meditative, and poetic. His films condense themes of staggering complexity—economics, labor, sex—into meticulous vignettes of everyday life. Although he has occasionally been derided for aestheticizing poverty, there's little doubt that his audacious style is compelling. Nobody who has seen Megacities, his 1998 film about globalization, can forget those feverish New York City scenes of a hustler shooting dope and robbing his john at knifepoint, just as nobody who has watched Workingman's Death (2005), his portrait of contemporary physical labor, can shake its images of a Nigerian slaughterhouse awash in blood.

His latest film, Whores' Glory, is a virtuoso triptych that captures the economic and spiritual tumult of prostitutes across cultures. In Thailand, women sit patiently on display inside the Fish Tank, a glass room where men can browse before buying. In Bangladesh's City of Joy, more than 600 women compete for customers in a labyrinthine compound that doubles as both brothel and home. And in northern Mexico, La Zona is a decaying motel where women catwalk among doorways, sharply silhouetted, vying to catch the eyes of men cruising by in the dark. Glawogger has described brothels as "ghettos of desire," but, as his film makes clear, they are also shadowlands where ancient dramas of love, lust, beauty, and despair are enacted night after night.

Read on...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chief Bill Blair says Toronto police have ensured that people behind spate of gang violence can’t hurt anyone

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says all the “necessary steps” have been taken to ensure the five or six “truly dangerous” people behind a recent spate of gang violence in Scarborough can’t hurt anybody.
He would not say whether they are already in police custody on other charges.

“You know, you get one crack at this. You can’t go in with a serious charge like homicide unless you are prepared to prove it,” he said Friday.

“I think we’ve taken the steps necessary to protect the public while we gather the evidence in this investigation.”

Toronto’s top cop announced Friday that the city had seen a dramatic drop in crime as a result of a targeted surge in the number of police officers on city streets since late July. The force’s $2 million summer safety initiative, which ended Sunday, saw mandatory overtime put as many as 329 more officers on duty at any given time, with a concentration on high-crime areas.

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Quebec appeal judge seen as likely pick for top court

A former university professor who is a respected expert in constitutional, administrative and labour law is emerging as a strong favourite for the next appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to choose imminently from a list of three candidates that an all-party Parliamentary committee has prepared.

Two more Quebec vacancies will arise in the coming years, when Mr. Justice Morris Fish reaches mandatory retirement in 2013, and when Mr. Justice Louis LeBel retires in 2014. The two people not selected in this round are bound to figure prominently later.

Madam Justice Marie-France Bich, 56, of the Quebec Court of Appeal is widely seen as the leading contender for the nomination. A full-time law professor at the University of Montreal from 1983 until her 2004 appointment to the Quebec Court of Appeal, Judge Bich also presided over the Quebec bar association’s labour and employment law committee from 1997 to 2004. Choosing her would spare Mr. Harper the controversy of not replacing Madam Justice Marie Deschamps with a woman.

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New Research Continues To Diminish The Right-Wing Media's Voter ID Argument

New research is adding to the growing body of evidence that voter ID laws not only suppress the right to vote, but that they disproportionately target minority voters. The study is the latest in a series of reports that have been ignored by the right-wing media as they continue to support the laws as a solution to a largely non-existent voter fraud problem.

The right-wing media has routinely ignored or downplayed the evidence that voter ID laws disenfranchise eligible voters. Recently, Fox News hosted conservative columnist John Fund to promote the laws. During the segment, Fund downplayed the effect they could have on restricting voting rights, claiming there is "no chance that someone will be denied the right to vote because they don't have an ID in Pennsylvania." Fox has attacked the Department of Justice for investigating discrimination in voter ID laws. Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy even highlighted a flawed report that purported to claim that minorities would be protected by voter ID laws. But contrary to the right-wing media's portrayal of the laws, evidence continues to mount showing that the laws would not only suppress the right to vote, they would in fact primarily target minority voters.

A September 12 Associated Press piece featured evidence from a study conducted by Cathy Cohen of the University of Chicago and Jon Rogowski of Washington University in St. Louis, which found that as a result of new voter ID laws, "as many as 700,000 minority voters under 30 may be unable to cast a ballot in November." The study pointed to more stringent laws passed by 17 states in the past election cycle that would make it more difficult to vote without government issued identification.

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Overcrowding making life dangerous for workers and inmates in prisons

The people who supervise inmates at Canada’s overcrowded federal prisons say bulging populations mean less opportunity for rehabilitation, and they fear a more dangerous breed of convict will be released back on the streets.

Hundreds of officers of the Correctional Service of Canada are expected to rally Saturday outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s constituency office in Calgary to protest what they say are increasingly dangerous conditions inside penitentiaries.

Climbing incarceration rates and a toxic mix of convicts, many of them with gang ties, have made life behind bars more difficult for prisoners and the people who work with them, says Pierre Mallette, the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Mr. Mallette has been on a cross-country tour of federal institutions to learn first hand about the challenges facing his members and says the problems associated with overcrowding top of the list.
Although the national crime rate has been dropping since 1992 and is now at levels not seen since 1972, policies of the federal Conservative government have put more people behind bars.

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Pennsylvania’s Broken Machinery of Death

Pennsylvania is scheduled to execute Terrance Williams on Oct. 3. The state has sentenced more than 400 people to death since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 and has executed three who gave up on their appeals. But he would be the first person in 50 years to be put to death there while still fighting his sentence.

That should not happen. On Friday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Williams’s lawyers are scheduled to explain why a state trial judge should stay his execution and why the Philadelphia district attorney should agree that his sentence be commuted to life without parole. There is compelling evidence for both. 

Mr. Williams was sentenced to death for killing a man named Amos Norwood during a robbery. His co-defendant, Marc Draper, convinced the jury that Mr. Williams was a predatory killer. But from childhood, Mr. Williams was often sexually abused by Mr. Norwood and others. 


This is an editorial from the NY Times. Tom

The Affordable Care Act: Implications for Public Safety and Corrections Populations

Many people in correctional institutions have faced barriers obtaining needed health and behavioral health care services in the community either prior to their incarceration or upon reentry following
incarceration. One-third to three-quarters of men booked into jails in ten major cities in 2010 were not covered by any type of health insurance.1 This is largely because of high rates of unemployment and narrow Medicaid eligibility criteria. Unemployment limits access to employer-based health plans and the ability to purchase private insurance or pay health costs out-of-pocket. Additionally, people who have been incarcerated face enduring barriers to employment both because of legal barriers and
the stigma associated with having a felony conviction. Consequently, they also face enduring challenges obtaining employer-based health insurance.2, 3 Medicaid is an alternative for some individuals, but only for those who meet income requirements and who are also either pregnant, have dependent children, or are severely disabled.4

The Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) signed into law by the President in 2011 potentially can aid individuals who are at risk for incarceration and those who have been incarcerated through provisions that allow states to expand eligibility for Medicaid. The ACA creates new mechanisms for uninsured people to obtain coverage for physical and behavioral health care. First, by 2014 each state must have a health insurance exchange that will act as a regulated health insurance marketplace whereby
uninsured individuals with incomes between 133% and 400% of the federal poverty limit can purchase coverage. Individuals will receive tax credits on a sliding scale to offset the cost of this coverage.5

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2012 Party Platforms On Criminal Justice Policy

The Washington Post recently reported that the gulf between Republicans and Democrats has never been wider. On issue after issue, the two major political parties often disagree in substantial ways. But in the area of criminal justice policy, we have seen in recent years the potential for a bipartisan consensus. A plurality of American voters say that too many people are in prison, and an overwhelming majority -- including voters across political, generational, and racial lines -- want policies that would exchange prisons for more effective alternatives. After nearly four decades of unprecedented expansion, a number of states have reduced prison capacity, even closing prisons, in recent years, thanks to innovative public policy. These advances suggest real momentum for reform.

Though the United States remains the world’s leader in incarceration -- with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails -- and maintains harsh penalties with intolerable racial disparities, the recently approved Democratic and Republican party platforms indicate ways to make progress on criminal justice reform while increasing public safety. In a number of areas, from reducing recidivism, to enhancing reentry program and drug treatment alternatives to incarceration, the two major parties have taken positions that offer hope for bipartisan reform. Though there is much more progress to be made, we welcome this opportunity to compare each party’s position on criminal justice policy. We hope this memo is helpful for voters and policymakers alike as we forge a path to bipartisan criminal justice reform.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Ballot Box Tactic Has Deep Historical Roots

The GOP's war on voting rights isn't new. It harks back to past efforts to alter the political process.

  In states from Florida to Pennsylvania, Republican Party efforts to diminish minority voting strength for this year's presidential election are a sobering reminder that the struggle for full civil rights is not over. But it's not only black voters who should be concerned about Republican voter-suppression tactics. The GOP's war on voting is a serious attack on the fundamental workings of our democracy. It is, at its core, an attempt to negate the important victories of the early 1960s that laid the foundation of our modern representative democracy.

To understand the breadth of the threat represented by voter-ID laws and other new practices designed to suppress votes in Democratic districts, it's important to realize that the effort to dismantle obstacles to voting rights for black voters in the South during the early 1960s did more than just enfranchise African Americans. It exposed the myriad ways in which key aspects of the American electoral system were fundamentally unfair for all voters. In particular, the disproportionate power afforded to underpopulated rural jurisdictions over the more populous cities was corrected by the Supreme Court in a series of cases that dismantled the framework of unequal voting power that had existed in the South since the turn of the 20th century.

The door opened in 1962 when, in Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court decided that it could rule on cases raising constitutional challenges to state apportionment practices. In that case, the challenge was to Tennessee's failure for more than 60 years to adjust its state legislative districts, despite massive changes in the state's population. A year later, in Gray v. Sanders, the court outlawed Georgia's county-unit voting system, a vote-counting scheme that benefited less populous counties in the state.

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It's Time to Discuss Criminal Justice Reform

Presidential election season is prime time for predictions. One sure bet is this: neither candidate is likely to make criminal justice a stump issue. But another sure bet -- the candidates' laser focus on the economy -- should make a discussion of criminal justice reform, and its potential to reduce fiscal waste, unavoidable.

Rarely has the intersection of politics and criminal justice produced sensible responses to crime or rational conversations about our criminal justice system. Instead, politicians spar about who is "tougher or softer on crime." See Willie Horton and the 1988 election. Since President Richard Nixon first announced the "War on Drugs" 40 years ago, the United States has adopted "tough on crime" policies driven all too often by political and emotional considerations at the expense of data-driven practices and programs that would have been far less costly and far more effective at promoting the health, safety and productivity of families and communities across the country. As a result, between 1970 and 2010 the number of people incarcerated in this country grew by 700 percent. This massive explosion in our prison population has caused federal and state governments to dramatically escalate their spending on corrections. States have been spending an ever-increasing percentage of their budgets on prison-related expenses, cutting into scarce taxpayer dollars while coming at a great expense. By 2007, states spent more than $44 billion on incarceration -- a 127 percent jump from 1987.

The effects? Mass incarceration has had a particularly devastating effect on communities of color. One in every nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 is incarcerated, and one in three black men, and one in six Latino men, will spend some part of their lives in prison. After 40 million arrests and $1 trillion spent, drugs remain readily available, overall usage rates in America haven't declined, global consumption of opiates, cocaine, and cannabis increased between 1998 and 2008, and drug-related violence has only increased in many Latin American countries. No other state-sponsored program has a 1/3 to 2/3 failure rate as exemplified by recidivism rates and yet been perpetuated by the government with such gusto. Polls show the public agrees: in a survey of more than 1,000 Americans, 66 percent think the War on Drugs has been a failure.

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Democrats Retreat on Civil Liberties in 2012 Platform

What a difference four years makes.

In 2008, Democrats were eager to draw a contrast with what they then portrayed as Republican excesses in the fight against Al Qaeda. Since then, the Obama administration has in many cases continued the national security policies of its predecessor—and the Democratic Party's 2012 platform highlights this reversal, abandoning much of the substance and all of the bombast of the 2008 platform. Here are a few places where the differences are most glaring:

Indefinite Detention
2008: "To build a freer and safer world, we will lead in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. We will not ship away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, or detain without trial or charge prisoners who can and should be brought to justice for their crimes, or maintain a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law. We will respect the time-honored principle of habeas corpus, the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention that was recently reaffirmed by our Supreme Court."
2012: Nothing. The Obama administration has maintained the practice of indefinitely detaining certain suspected terrorists. It has also made use of "proxy detention," by which foreign countries detain US citizens under questionable conditions, although the administration did do away with the Bush-era "black sites."

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Sandra Fluke: GOP positions 'offensive, obsolete relic' of past

Sandra Fluke on Wednesday offered a dire vision of the future if Mitt Romney is elected president, one where rape would be redefined, women would be forced to have ultrasounds against their wishes, and access to birth control would be controlled by men.

Calling GOP positions “an offensive, obsolete relic of our past,” Fluke told delegates at the Democratic National Convention that “we know what this America would look like and in few shorts months that’s the American we could be, but that’s not the America that we should be, and it’s not who we are.”

Fluke was referring to a host of Republican moves, including measures to narrow the definition of rape to include only those that are “forcible," as well as attempts by Republicans in some states to force women seeking abortions to undergo a vaginal ultrasound and efforts to curb funding for Planned Parenthood, a leading source of contraception for poor and younger women.

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Homeless Still Have Rights to Property Left Unattended

The "most basic reading" of the Constitution prohibits Los Angeles from unreasonably seizing and destroying the personal property of homeless residents, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.

     Nine homeless residents of Skid Row sued the city for violations of their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights after police confiscated the property they left on the sidewalk. They say their legal papers, family pictures and other possessions were immediately destroyed.

     Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles is home to one of the nation's largest homeless populations. The men and women who dwell there say they left their property unattended but not abandoned while eating, showering or using the bathroom.

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LAPD gets new guidelines for handling 'Suspicious Activity Reports'

The L.A. Police Commission has approved rules for handling 'Suspicious Activity Reports' that offer some safeguards against racial profiling and reporting of activity protected by the 1st Amendment.

In Los Angeles, as elsewhere in this country, fear of enemies in our midst — be they Communists, trade unionists or foreign terrorists — too often has led to violations of the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Given that history, civil libertarians and members of the Muslim community were right to press the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that a program designed to detect possible terrorist activity doesn't cast suspicion on individuals whose only "offense" is to exercise their right to free speech or belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.

The result is an amended set of guidelines approved by the city Police Commission for the handling of "Suspicious Activity Reports." Though the new guidelines don't go as far as the American Civil Liberties Union would like, they make it less likely that police will record the identities of persons whose conduct is neither criminal nor reasonably suggestive of possible terrorist connections. That's an important step forward.

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This is an editorial in the LA Times.  Tom