Monday, October 29, 2012

'Storm Like No Other': Ongoing Coverage as Powerful Hurricane Sandy Makes Landfall






As Hurricane Sandy makes landfall on Monday, meteorologists predict a powerful storm that will cause power outages for millions, a storm surge creating massive inland and coastal flooding, and sustained winds that are threat for those living in urban and more rural areas across the northeast.

"Sandy is going to cause billions of dollars in damage Monday and Tuesday in the Eastern U.S. due to storm surge, high winds, and heavy rains," wrote meteorologist Jeff Masters late Sunday. "Sandy is of near record-size, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 520 miles from its center, covering an area larger than a Texas-and-a-half."

"I cannot recall ever seeing model forecasts of such an expansive areal wind field with values so high for so long a time," said one expert from the National Weather Service. "We are breaking new ground here."

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Soda and Violence

Already implicated in the obesity and diabetes epidemics, soda may be linked to violence in young people, new research suggests. In a study of 1,878 students at Boston public high schools, heavy soda drinkers were much more prone to violent behavior than other teens.

That finding came about by accident. While seeking to document the incidence of violent behavior among the high-school students, professor of health policy David Hemenway, who directs the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at Harvard School of Public Health, agreed to incorporate unrelated (or so he thought) questions about nutrition at a colleague’s request.

Analyzing the survey, he found surprising correlations. Heavy consumers of nondiet soft drinks—students who had drunk five or more cans in the week preceding the survey—were more likely to have behaved violently toward peers (57 percent, versus 39 percent of respondents who drank less soda); to have behaved violently toward another child in their own families (42 percent, versus 27 percent); to have behaved violently in a dating relationship (26 percent, versus 16 percent); and to have carried a gun or a knife during the past year (40 percent, versus 27 percent). The strength of the effect was on par with the correlation (well known among researchers) between these behaviors and alcohol and tobacco use; in some cases, the correlation with soda was stronger.

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U.N. report calls for decriminalizing prostitution

Thailand and New Zealand sound like the best places for prostitutes in Asia and the South Pacific, because they don’t face the repressive laws that exist in the rest of the region, according to a new U.N. report that calls for the decriminalization of the voluntary sex trade.

The worst countries to be caught possessing a condom while appearing to work as a prostitute include China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

In those countries, an unused condom can be used as evidence that a person is an illegal sex worker.
Renting bodies for money in Asia also involves niche demographics.

On the Indian subcontinent, for example, so-called “flying” sex workers are people, such as students, who work part time.

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Diabetic Cleburne Teen Hit With Taser After Crash

A Cleburne teenager was hit with a Taser by police while he was having a medical emergency, and the incident was caught on tape.

It now means police in the city of Cleburne will be required to watch another video – a diabetes training video.

When Ricky Jones collided with a car in Cleburne April 9th, he was disoriented and confused. A Cleburne police officer questioned him. His audio was recorded. He asked Jones, “Do you understand that I’m talking to you? Answer my question. What’s the matter with you?”

The 19-year-old driver was in a hypoglycemic state. He’s diabetic. His blood sugar was dangerously low.

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B.C. Mountie injured as moose rams cruiser, stomps on roof, then returns to forest

In this case of moose versus Mountie, the officer — and his car — got the worst of it.

RCMP say the officer was writing a report in his car in Prince George, B.C., on Thursday when he saw two moose crossing an intersection.

The Mountie moved his car to try to stop another vehicle heading towards the animals when the bull moose rammed the front grill and bumper of the police cruiser before climbing over the hood and onto the roof.

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Weird. Tom

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Assisted suicide too risky, federal government argues in appeal against B.C. decision

Legalizing doctor-assisted suicide would demean the value of life and could lead vulnerable people to take drastic steps in “moments of weakness,” the federal government argues in its appeal of a court decision that struck down the ban on the practice.

Ottawa is defending the law that prohibits assisted suicide as it appeals a decision from a British Columbia court, which concluded it is unconstitutional to prevent the sick and dying from asking a doctor to help them end their lives.

The government argues in court documents that allowing any form of assisted suicide creates the possibility that people with disabilities, the elderly and the terminally ill could be coerced to end their lives or do so in moments of depression and despair, even if better days may be ahead.

“It [the current law’s purpose] is to protect the vulnerable, who might be induced in moments of weakness to commit suicide,” the government says in a 54-page legal argument filed with the B.C. Court of Appeal.

“And it is a reflection of the state’s policy that the inherent value of all human life should not be depreciated by allowing one person to take another’s life … It also discourages everyone, even the terminally ill, from choosing death over life.”

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Star gets action: Crown must now report police who lie

Ontario’s Crown attorneys will soon be required to report cases where they believe police officers have lied under oath.

The new policy comes after a Star investigation earlier this year that found more than 100 cases of police deception in Ontario and across the country.

The Star also found that Ontario, like most provinces, had no formal mechanism to investigate allegations of police lying in court.

“When there are concerns raised about the integrity of our justice system, we take them very seriously,” said Attorney General John Gerretsen, who ordered his ministry probe the issue in April following the Star investigation.

“It is important that we determine whether those concerns are warranted. If so, we must do something to address them. That is exactly what we have done here.”

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Ombudsman slams OPP and government for lack of action on PTSD among officers

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin slams the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for being “reluctant” to acknowledge and take action to support police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, likening the response to a “bureaucratic brush-off.”

In his long-awaited 155-page report called In the Line of Duty, which was released Wednesday, Marin said both the OPP and the ministry have shown little leadership in implementing proactive, preventive programs to help officers.

He makes 34 recommendations, 28 of them directed at the OPP alone, that focus on the need to confront the stigma in the police culture, increase psychological services available to officers and to develop province-wide programs aimed at preventing and dealing with operational stress injuries and suicide.

He calls on the OPP to conduct a comprehensive review of its education, training, peer support, employee assistance and other programming related to these injuries.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

11 Enemies of Marijuana Legalization

From President Obama to NYC Mayor Bloomberg, the authorities are still bent on keeping pot illegal.

In 1990, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates told a Senate committee that people who smoked pot occasionally “ought to be taken out and shot.” That kind of fanaticism, which dominated the debate on drugs 20 years ago, seems to have faded. Today’s politicians are more likely to dismiss cannabis concerns as “not serious” than to rail against the demons of dope—but the powers that be are still bent on keeping pot illegal. U.S. cops bust an average of almost 100 people every hour for pot, and an array of think tanks and nonprofit groups continues to pump out prohibitionist propaganda.

Here are 11 of the worst—the most powerful and the most vehement.

1. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart
A holdover from the Bush administration, Leonhart was formally appointed to head the Drug Enforcement Administration by Barack Obama in 2010. The antiprohibitionist movement strongly opposed her, citing the DEA’s raids on medical-marijuana growers in California—including one on a 69-year-old woman who had been the first grower to register with the Mendocino County Sheriff.
 
As the DEA’s acting director in January 2009, she overruled a DEA administrative-law judge’s recommendation and denied the University of Massachusetts a license to cultivate marijuana for FDA-approved research. “This single act has blocked privately funded medical marijuana research in this country,” NORML head Allen St. Pierre said in July 2010.

Leonhart often carries hardline views to absurd extremes. In 2011, asked about the drug-cartel carnage in Mexico, she told the Washington Post that “It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs,” because the cartels were fighting each other “like caged animals.” In June 2012, asked by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) if crack, heroin and methamphetamine were worse for your health than marijuana, she repeatedly answered, “I believe all illegal drugs are bad.” Asked if opioid painkillers like OxyContin were more addictive than marijuana, she answered, “All illegal drugs in Schedule I are addictive.”

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Romney Blames Single Parents for Gun Violence

Having candidates go off the rails when asked a question is an expected and entertaining part of any presidential debate. But still, my heart went out to the woman who asked a simple question about restricting access to assault rifles and got a lecture on the evils of single parenting. The question was a simple one, directed at President Obama:

QUESTION: President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?

Obama answered in the expected way, reiterating his support for an assault weapons ban and then immediately shifting into Lecturing Dad mode, talking about how violence can really be suppressed only through community efforts. Fair enough; while mass shootings by madmen grab headlines, most gun murders in this country are the result of people who know each other shooting each other. By invoking community, Obama basically stole Romney's only real angle to paint himself as anti-crime while still reiterating his support for keeping the kinds of guns you shoot up movie theaters with totally legal

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Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons.

We throw thousands of men in the hole for the books they read, the company they keep, the beliefs they hold. Here's why.

IT'S BEEN SEVEN MONTHS since I've been inside a prison cell. Now I'm back, sort of. The experience is eerily like my dreams, where I am a prisoner in another man's cell. Like the cell I go back to in my sleep, this one is built for solitary confinement. I'm taking intermittent, heaving breaths, like I can't get enough air. This still happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. At a little over 11 by 7 feet, this cell is smaller than any I've ever inhabited. You can't pace in it.

Like in my dreams, I case the space for the means of staying sane. Is there a TV to watch, a book to read, a round object to toss? The pathetic artifacts of this inmate's life remind me of objects that were once everything to me: a stack of books, a handmade chessboard, a few scattered pieces of artwork taped to the concrete, a family photo, large manila envelopes full of letters. I know that these things are his world.

"So when you're in Iran and in solitary confinement," asks my guide, Lieutenant Chris Acosta, "was it different?" His tone makes clear that he believes an Iranian prison to be a bad place.
He's right about that. After being apprehended on the Iran-Iraq border, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and I were held in Evin Prison's isolation ward for political prisoners. Sarah remained there for 13 months, Josh and I for 26 months. We were held incommunicado. We never knew when, or if, we would get out. We didn't go to trial for two years. When we did we had no way to speak to a lawyer and no means of contesting the charges against us, which included espionage. The alleged evidence the court held was "confidential."

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Follow this linkLife in the Hole: Inside a Solitary Cell, for an interactive tour of a Solitary Cell.  Tom

 

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Boston Police Caught Spying on Local Peace Groups

ACLU reveals mass of surveillance data on First Amendment activities 

Boston police have been caught red-handed spying on citizens engaged in lawful, protest activities. Documents and surveillance videos show local law enforcement routinely monitoring demonstrations and "internal dynamics" of activists groups, even if there is no indication of criminal activity.

The ACLU cites a specific report detailing an anti-war rally at a congregational church featuring the late Boston University Professor Howard Zinn, former city councilor Felix D. Arroyo and war activist Cindy Sheehan. The document was categorized under the label: "Criminal Act: Groups-Extremist."

According to a press release from the ACLU:
The documents reveal that officers assigned to the Boston Police Department's regional domestic spying center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), file so-called "intelligence reports" mischaracterizing peaceful groups such as Veterans for Peace, United for Justice with Peace and CodePink as "extremists," and peaceful protests as domestic "homeland security" threats and civil disturbances.
"The collection of information by BPD contributes to Homeland Security fusion centers storing of details on constitutionally-protected activities being engaged in by citizens", writes Kevin Gosztola for Firedoglake. The officers are said to monitor activities such as "protestors plans to 'pass out fliers promoting their cause,'" and document communication "between officers from BRIC and the Metro DC Intelligence Section during which the officials discuss how many activists from the Northeast attended a Washington, DC peace rally."

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Proposition 36 Promises an End to California's Punitive 3 Strikes Law

Life-sentencing young offenders for petty crimes costs California taxpayers about $3m a time. Is that rational, let alone just?

 On 6 November, Californians will get a chance to vote on Proposition 36, which would reform some elements of its highly controversial "three strikes" law and bring it in line with other states by closing a loophole that has allowed thousands of low level offenders to be locked up for life. As the law currently stands, anyone convicted of a third strike offense – something as minor as stealing a slice of pizza or possessing a joint of marijuana – will be sentenced to life in prison. Prop 36 would change that to ensure that only people convicted of a serious, or violent, third strike will feel the full force of the law.

The measure enjoys the support of a broad coalition of conservatives and liberals, from Grover Norquist to Cory Booker, and from prosecutors to police chiefs. If the measure passes, as is expected, it will go some distance to undo some of the worst excesses of the three strikes law. Unfortunately, it doesn't go nearly far enough.

When the three strikes law went before voters in 1994 – then as Proposition 184 (pdf) – the measure was sold as a means of achieving the desirable goal of keeping repeat violent and dangerous felons behind bars for life. It was also meant to save the taxpayer "$23bn over five years". The law came about in response to the public outcry over the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a repeat felon. But even at the time, the law was met with strong opposition, including by the Klaas family itself, because of fears that the majority of people who would be convicted under the proposition would be non-violent offenders and because, as written, the law "treats non-violent crimes the same as murder, rape and armed robbery". Actually, it treats them worse.

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Blind man Tasered after police mistake his white cane for a samurai sword

British police apologized on Wednesday for using a stun gun on a blind man after officers mistook his white cane for a samurai sword.

Officers were responding to “a number of reports that a man was walking through Chorley armed with a samurai sword,” when they confronted Colin Farmer, who was on his way to meet friends in a pub last Friday, in the northern English town.

When Farmer, 61, did not respond to their calls to stop, one of the officers used his taser stun gun, which delivers a 50,000 volt shock.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Everyday Law on the Street - by Mariana Valverde

Everyday Law on the Street

City Governance in an Age of Diversity


Toronto prides itself on being “the world’s most diverse city,” and its officials seek to support this diversity through programs and policies designed to promote social inclusion. Yet this progressive vision of law often falls short in practice, limited by problems inherent in the political culture itself. In Everyday Law on the Street, Mariana Valverde brings to light the often unexpected ways that the development and implementation of policies shape everyday urban life.
 Everyday Law on the StreetRead on...

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If only life were like this


Oh wait ... it is!

Naturally, the political press in Australia is pooh-poohing this. her cabinet is in the midst of a bunch of scandals and she's unpopular for a variety of reasons. This is a typical reaction:


"Australians have been listening to this squabbling for the past two or three years and it just goes from one topic of squabbling to another topic of squabbling," said John Wanna, a politics academic at the Australian National University.

You put in bitch in charge and that's bound to happen, amirite?

I don't have an opinion on her politics or her government's efficacy. All I know is that I feel goodthis morning having listened to that speech. Better than I've felt in months, if you want to know the truth. Maybe people don't want to hear a powerful woman confronting a smug, sexist hypocrite head on like that, but goddamn it needed to be said by somebody. Bravo.


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Follow the link and watch the video.  It is great.  Tom

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Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control?

The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.

What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism!  — psychologist B.F. Skinner 


The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.

In psychologist B.F. Skinner’s best-selling book  Beyond Freedom and Dignity  (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.

During the height of Skinner’s fame in the 1970s, it was obvious to anti-authoritarians such as Noam Chomsky (“ The Case Against B.F. Skinner” ) and Lewis Mumord that Skinner’s worldview—a society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy. In Skinner’s novel Walden Two (1948), his behaviorist hero states, “We do not take history seriously”; to which Lewis Mumford retorted, “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviorist utopia.”

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Kids in Solitary Confinement: America's Official Child Abuse

Thousands of teenagers, some as young as 14 or 15, are routinely subjected by US prisons to psychological torture.

[I felt] doomed, like I was being banished … Like you have the plague or that you are the worst thing on earth. Like you are set apart [from] everything else. I guess [I wanted to] feel like I was part of the human race – not like some animal."
Molly was just 16 years old when she was placed in isolation in an adult jail in Michigan. She described her cell as being "a box":
"There was a bed – the slab. It was concrete … There was a stainless steel toilet/sink combo … The door was solid, without a food slot or window … There was no window at all."
Molly remained in solitary for several months, locked down alone in her cell for at least 22 hours a day.
No other nation in the developed world routinely tortures its children in this manner. And torture is indeed the word brought to mind by a shocking report released today by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. Growing Up Locked Down documents, for the first time, the widespread use of solitary confinement on youth under the age of 18 in prisons and jails across the country, and the deep and permanent harm it causes to kids caught up in the adult criminal justice system.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Death by taser, caught on tape

by digby

Even if you believe in Taser International's pet medical diagnosis that only afflicts people in custody ("Excited Delirium")you would think this would be considered to be wrong.

Unfortunately, police commonly taser people in the US who are already in handcuffs and in custody and it doesn't raise a hue and cry. They usually say, as the officer in that video does, that they had to do it for their own safety but it's quite clear it's because they are trying to force "compliance." They lie because it's impossible to explain how someone who is mentally ill, high on drugs or in the midst of having an epileptic fit can be expected to understand the commands to "comply." And frankly, when you listen to the agitated police screaming at the person to stop struggling, it's quite clear that if "excited delirium" exists it is a disease that afflicts the authorities as well.


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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

B.C. police Taser use down 87% since Dziekanski death

Taser use by police in B.C. is down 87 per cent since Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver's airport five years ago, prompting questions Tuesday from politicians wondering what police are doing now to control out-of-control people.

B.C. police officers used their Tasers 640 times in 2007, compared to 85 deployments last year, assistant deputy justice minister Clayton Pecknold told an all-party committee assessing the status of recommendations to tighten provincial Taser policy since Dziekanski's October 2007 death.

The figures had Liberal MLA John Slater wondering what police have been doing instead to subdue people who are potentially dangerous.

"How many of them have been shot by police?" said Slater. "What has happened in the last five years?"

Gabi Hoffmann, program manager for the police services division in the justice ministry, said police shootings have not increased since Dziekanski's death and the 2009 public inquiry and recommendations of former judge Thomas Braidwood, but she did not provide data.

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UN rights group says federal justice reforms ‘excessively punitive’ on youth

The federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda is “excessively punitive” for youth and is a step backwards for Canada’s child rights record, says a United Nations group.

The UN committee on the rights of the child has finished a 10-year review of how Canada treats its children and how well governments are implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In particular, the committee says Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act complied with international standards until changes were introduced earlier this year.

The Harper government’s Bill C-10 – an omnibus crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for youth and makes it easier to try them as adults – no longer conforms to the child rights convention or other international standards.

Bill C-10 “is excessively punitive for children and not sufficiently restorative in nature,” the committee wrote in a report published over the weekend.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

OPP Commissioner says Star series left ‘false perception’ that OPP is silent on stress disorders

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Chris Lewis says the Toronto Star series on post-traumatic stress disorder among police officers “did a good job of raising public awareness” on the issue.

However, the weekend stories painted “a false perception” that the OPP is doing nothing, he charged in an interview Tuesday.

The commissioner said the stories didn’t tell any success stories about what the OPP is doing.
Lewis acknowledged that he cannot comment specifically on the report that is soon to be released by the Ontario Ombudsman’s office detailing the complaints from dozens of officers about how the OPP deals with operational stress injuries.

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A Damning Look Inside NYPD’s ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Policy

Stop-and-frisk is already considered a controversial tactic employed by the New York Police Department, but a recently released recording sheds light on just how discriminatory the practice can actually be. The audio was secretly taped by a teenager who was stopped and frisked (and more) by NYPD officers. In it, 17-year-old Alvin is heard being roughed up, threatened and demeaned by three officers, for being, as one put it, “a fucking mutt.”
Here’s some background on the controversial stop-and-frisk policy from Gawker:
Though the tactic, which finds police arbitrarily seizing citizens and forcing them to empty their pockets and bags, has faced legal challenges more than once, and while its use is on the decline, it continues to be a go-to way for police to patrol predominantly minority areas. Of the nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisks performed in 2011, 84 percent were conducted on blacks and Latinos, and only 2 percent turned up contraband, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Essentially, what stop-and-frisk has become is a legal way for police officers to harass and demean young male minorities, the vast majority of whom turn out to be totally innocent.

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Kids Tagged With RFID Chips? The Creepy New Technology Schools Use to Track Everything Kids Do -- And the Profit Motive Behind It

The digital tracking and surveillance of school-aged kids has been growing. 

Much attention has been given to the phenomenon of corporate tracking of kids’ online activities, activities that violate the Children’s Online Privacy  Protection Act  (COPPA).  The law, originally adopted in 1998, requires Web sites aimed at kids to get parental consent before gathering information about those users who are under 13 years.  Many companies, including a Disney subsidiary, have violated it. Corporate marketing interests, most notably Facebook, are fighting proposed revisions to COPPA.

A second front in the tracking of young people has gotten far less attention. Schools across the country are adopting a variety of different tools to monitor students both in school and outside school. Among these tools are RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags embedded in school ID cards, GPS tracking software in computers, and even CCTV video camera systems. According to school authorities, these tools are being adopted not to simply increase security, but to prevent truancy, cut down on theft and even improve students' eating habits.

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‘Three Strikes of Injustice’

In 1994, California voters passed the harshest three-strikes law in the country. Soon after, stories began to emerge about people receiving life sentences for petty crimes such as stealing a pair of gloves or a slice of pizza. Such cases challenged the commonly held belief that the law applied only to violent criminals.

Our interest in this issue deepened when we read the results of a 2010 report, shared with us by the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School. The study showed that more than 4,000 inmates in California are serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses under the three-strikes law. While it is possible that some of the inmates may be eligible for parole after 25 years, a majority face the prospect of decades of prison time. Many of these stiff sentences struck us as egregious. 

Although judges have sentencing discretion in a very narrow band of three-strikes cases, the reality is that judges almost universally consider themselves bound under California law to impose a life sentence for a third felony offense, no matter how minor. 

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Friday, October 5, 2012

J. Philippe Rushton, author of controversial race and brain size essay, dies at 68

 
 
Controversial social psychologist J. Philippe Rushton, whose name was indelibly linked with his theories of race and brain size, has died at the age of 68.
Rushton, who was a professor at the University of Western Ontario from 1977, died Tuesday at the London Health Sciences Centre palliative care ward of Addison’s disease.
The British-born Rushton published more than 200 academic papers and five books during his long career but was best known for “Race, evolution and behavior: A Life history perspective” (see a review here).
The uproar caused by his 1989 paper that led to the book provoked then-Ontario premier David Peterson to say he should be fired. Rushton and environmentalist David Suzuki argued the theories in a highly publicized 1989 debate.

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How lawmakers and lobbyists keep a lock on the private prison business

Private prison corporations say they don't lobby on custodial policy. They seem to find legislators with views aligned anyway

Early in August, the Associated Press reported that America's three largest private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc and Management and Training Corp spent in the region of $45m over the past 10 years in lobbying state and federal governments. During the same period, these companies saw their profits soar as they scored more government contracts.

During the same period, various pieces of legislation got passed ensuring that immigrant detention, in particular, would remain a lucrative growth market. The companies get defensive, however, if anyone attempts to draw a connection between their lobbying efforts and their booming businesses. But whatever the purpose of the lobbying, the very fact that these companies, which perform a public service using taxpayer funds, are first and foremost profit-making entities highlights the flawed incentivisation of the private prison model and its growing presence in the American criminal justice system.

I'll get to the lobbying in a moment, but first let's have a look at that flawed incentive. Thanks to mandatory sentencing laws and the "war on drugs", the prison population has exploded over the past 30 years – to the point where it has become an untenable burden on state budgets. As a result, many state lawmakers have begun to look at ways to reduce their prison populations. This is good for society, as needlessly locking people up for excessive periods for nonviolent crimes has proven to be counter-productive and cost-prohibitive – not to mention inhumane.

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Supreme Court tests for civil rights

As the Supreme Court begins its 2012 term Monday, two cases loom ominously large for civil rights advocates. 

As the Supreme Court begins its 2012 term Monday, two cases loom ominously large for civil rights advocates who fear that the Roberts court is itching to prematurely declare victory in the long legal war against racial discrimination. One, which the court is expected to accept for review although it hasn't done so yet, involves a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The other concerns a program at the University of Texas that allows race to be considered in admissions decisions.

Like the challenge to the constitutionality of President Obama's healthcare law, these cases will test the commitment of the court's conservatives, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in particular, to judicial restraint.

Legal conservatives abhorred "Obamacare," and they are equally critical of both affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act's requirement that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting "pre-clear" their election procedures with the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington. Such extraordinary measures to protect African Americans and other minorities may have been necessary in the past, the argument goes, but racial progress (symbolized for some by the election four years ago of a black president) requires an end to such initiatives and a reaffirmation of the ideal of a "colorblind" Constitution.

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Court Requires Disabled Rape Victim To Prove She Resisted, Calls For Evidence Of ‘Biting, Kicking, Scratching’

In a 4-3 ruling Tuesday afternoon, the Connecticut State Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction of a man who had sex with a woman who “has severe cerebral palsy, has the intellectual functional equivalent of a 3-year-old and cannot verbally communicate.” The Court held that, because Connecticut statutes define physical incapacity for the purpose of sexual assault as “unconscious or for any other reason. . . physically unable to communicate unwillingness to an act,” the defendant could not be convicted if there was any chance that the victim could have communicated her lack of consent. Since the victim in this case was capable of “biting, kicking, scratching, screeching, groaning or gesturing,” the Court ruled that that victim could have communicated lack of consent despite her serious mental deficiencies:

When we consider this evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict, and in a manner that is consistent with the state’s theory of guilt at trial, we, like the Appellate Court, ‘are not persuaded that the state produced any credible evidence that the [victim] was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault.’
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), lack of physical resistance is not evidence of consent, as “many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent.” RAINN also notes that lack of consent is implicit “if you were under the statutory age of consent, or if you had a mental defect” as the victim did in this case.

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300th Person Exonerated By DNA Evidence

DNA evidence exonerated yet another death row inmate on Friday, after a Louisiana judge overturned the murder and rape convictions of 38-year-old Damon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux had served 16 years in prison — 15 in solitary confinement – for the alleged rape and murder of his 14-year-old step cousin.

Thibodeaux was convicted based solely on a confession, recanted later that day, that he says was obtained after nine solid hours of threat-riddled, unrecorded police interrogation. Countering that confession was a dearth of any evidence corroborating that he was the perpetrator. In fact, it was later determined that the victim had not been sexually assaulted at all.

Thibodeaux now becomes the 300th person and the 18th death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence – an important marker for the emergence of DNA exonerations. But it would be a mistake to think that DNA is a magic pill to cure the ills of our criminal justice system. If anything, these exonerations say more about the high error rate in convictions than about the power of DNA, given that there is no DNA evidence in the vast majority of cases (even in Thibodeaux’s case, DNA evidence was initially unavailable), and that routine collection of DNA from suspects can have perverse and troubling effects. The Washington Post’s Douglas A. Blackmon explains:

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I would have thought it would be more by now.  Tom

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Unlock The Box: The Fight Against Solitary Confinement in New York

On the first chilly morning in September, several dozen demonstrators gathered in front of a limestone skyscraper on Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan. Some wore orange jumpsuits, and two of them held a broad banner with the hand-painted words, “Solitary Is Torture.”

The subject of the protest was the abuse of prisoners—not at Guantánamo, Bagram or some distant black site, but on Rikers Island, less than ten miles away. The protesters, members of a new advocacy group called the New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC), argue that conditions there—particularly solitary confinement—constitute torture in their own backyard. The target of the protest was the New York City Board of Correction, which oversees conditions for the 13,000-odd men, women, and children who inhabit New York City’s jails on a given day, and whose monthly meeting was taking place inside.

According to the City’s own figures, the number of isolation cells at Rikers has risen to nearly 1,000 and is still growing. The JAC also points to the existence of special solitary confinement units on Rikers Island, designed to hold teenagers and people with mental illness.

“This type of treatment is cruel and inhumane to any human being, especially growing adolescents,” said Lisa Ortega, mother of a 18-year-old with psychiatric disabilities who was placed in twenty-three-hour-a-day solitary confinement on Rikers for weeks at a time, amounting to several months, when he was 16. “The damage done is irreversible.”

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Breaking Up Fight, Police Officer Pepper-Sprays Students at Narbonne High

The fight between two girls escalated and a female police officer used pepper spray when it couldn't be quelled, witnesses said

Several dozen students were treated for respiratory and eye irritation after a police officer used pepper spray to get through a crowd to a fight at a Harbor City high school, according fire and school district officials.

A fire department spokesman and a Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman both stated the treatment took place after a school police officer used pepper spray at about 10 a.m. Thursday at Narbonne High School.

In a statement issued at 3 p.m., LAUSD said a fight between two female students broke out during morning nutrition break:

"The fight attracted a large crowd that surrounded the incident, preventing the Los Angeles School Police Officer from coming to the aid of the fallen student. The crowd did not heed commands to disperse by school staff or the officer. Concerned for the safety of the fallen student and for the officer’s own safety, the officer dispensed a short burst of pepper spray into the air to disperse the crowd."

 

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Women who killed husbands ‘rarely gave a warning,’ and most weren’t abused, study finds

Conventional wisdom suggests that women usually kill their spouses in self defence or as a final, desperate reaction to chronic battery, the burning-bed syndrome that is sometimes cited as a defence in murder trials. A new Canadian study, however, suggests that barely a quarter of husband-killers are victims of domestic abuse, less than half suffer from any identified psychological problem, and fewer still have had trouble with police.

The majority of the slayings – perpetrated by knife, gun and strangulation — appear generally unheralded, suggests the analysis of 20 years of Quebec homicide files.

"Women rarely gave a warning before killing their mates,” concluded the study, co-authored by Dr. Dominique Bourget, a forensic psychiatrist at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. “In the vast majority of cases of women who killed their mates, there were very few indicators that might have signalled the risk and helped predict the violent, lethal behaviour.”

Women who end their partners’ lives have been an under-examined group, the researchers note, given they represent a minority of the total partner homicides. Almost 80% of the 738 spousal killings in Canada between 2000 and 2009 were committed by men, who the study said are also responsible almost exclusively for bloody massacres where children, as well as the partner, are murdered in one act.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tough new voter ID rule in Pennsylvania halted by judge

One of the toughest of a new wave of U.S. state laws in a debate over voting rights was put on hold Tuesday as a judge postponed Pennsylvania's controversial voter identification requirement just weeks before the presidential election.

The 6-month-old law in one of the most prized states in the November election has become a high-profile issue in the contest between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Independent polls show a persistent lead for Obama in the state.

The law requires each voter to show a valid photo ID. Pollsters have said the requirement could mean that fewer people, especially the poor and minorities, end up voting. In the past, lower turnouts in Pennsylvania have benefited Republicans.

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New debate looms over sex-selective abortion motion

A second abortion-related motion proposed by a backbench Conservative MP could trigger a new debate about the parameters of a woman’s right to choose in Canada.

Mark Warawa’s private member’s motion, which asks the House of Commons to condemn the practice of sex-selective abortions, was tabled last Thursday, one day after MPs voted down a separate motion to study whether a fetus should have rights before it is born.

Pro-choice activists staunchly opposed MP Stephen Woodworth’s fetus-rights motion, suggesting it could open a national debate on a woman’s right to access abortion – something Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised not to do during the last federal election campaign. And although Mr. Harper made it clear that he did not support that motion, 10 Conservative cabinet ministers and nearly half of the party’s caucus voted in its favour.

Mr. Warawa says his motion is unrelated to Mr. Woodworth’s and intends only to formalize what he believes is a cross-party consensus that sex-selective abortions are inappropriate.

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A Marijuana Revolution in the Making on Election Day

Strong polling numbers on ballot initiatives across the country indicate we have a full-fledged reefer rebellion against drug laws on the way.

As we approach November, the leading Democrat and Republican presidential candidates remain conspicuously, though predictably, silent regarding the question of marijuana law reform. By contrast, much of the public and the mainstream media can’t stop talking about pot politics. That’s because voters in six states this November 6 will have their say on the subject. If present polls hold, federal officials on November 7 will have little choice but to acknowledge that they have a full fledged reefer rebellion on their hands.

Voters’ impending rejection of the drug war status quo shouldn’t come as a surprise, at least not to anyone who has been paying attention.  Opinion polls over the past 12 months indicate record levels of public support for ending America’s multi-decade failed experiment with cannabis criminalization. Are a majority of Americans finally ready to voice their drug war dissent at the ballot box? In mere weeks, voters in six states will have the opportunity.

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Riot Police Arrest Peaceful Protesters at Rally for Striking Walmart Workers

Hundreds of people gathered at a major Walmart distribution center Monday in Elwood, Illinois to stand in solidarity with workers who have been on strike since mid-September in response to unsafe working conditions and unfair wages.

"No one should come to work and endure extreme temperatures, inhale dust and chemical residue, and lift thousands of boxes weighing up to 250lbs with no support. Workers never know how long the work day will be- sometimes its two hours, sometimes its 16 hours. Injuries are common, as is discrimination against women and illegal retaliation against workers who speak up for better treatment," Warehouse Workers for Justice states at its official website.

The discrimination aspect of this list of grievances includes widespread sexual harassment and intimidation of female warehouse workers, an epidemic largely ignored by the establishment media, even among individuals, such as the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, known for focusing on female worker equality and empowerment in other countries.

"When I worked at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, I was sexually harassed on a regular basis…I literally got locked inside a trailer because that's what the men thought I was there for…I reported it to my supervisor, but he didn't do anything about it," said Ulyonda Dickerson, a worker at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, in a report released by Warehouse Workers for Justice.

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What Is Happening to Muslims Will Happen to the Rest of Us

The decision by the European Court of Human Rights last week to refuse to block the extradition of the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri and four others to the United States on terrorism charges removes one of the last external checks on our emerging gulag state. 

Masri and the four others, all held in British jails, will soon join hundreds of other Muslims tried in Article III federal courts in the United States over the last decade. Fair trials are unlikely. A disturbing pattern of gross infringements on basic civil liberties, put in place in the name of national security, has poisoned our legal system. These infringements include intrusive surveillance, vague material support charges, the use of prolonged pretrial solitary confinement, classified evidence that the accused cannot review, and the use of political activities, normally protected under the First Amendment, to demonstrate mind-set and intent. Muslims caught up in the Article III courts are denied the opportunity to confront their accusers and to have their religious and political associations protected, and they rarely find a judge courageous enough to protect their rights. These violations of fundamental civil liberties will not, in the end, be reserved exclusively for Muslims once the corporate state feels under siege. What is happening to them will happen to the rest of us.  

“One of the misapprehensions of the last decade is that the government had to go outside the law to places like Guantanamo or Bagram to abridge the rights of suspects in the name of national security,” said Jeanne Theoharis, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College who has been an outspoken critic of the rights abridgement occurring in Article III courts. “But this is not the case. A similar degradation of rights that has characterized the prison at Guantanamo has also affected the judicial system within the United States. The right to dissent, the right to see the evidence against you, the right to due process, the right to fair and speedy trial, the right to have a judge who will be impartial, the right to fair and not disproportionate punishment, and the right not to be punished before you are convicted have been taken from us in the name of national security. It is not just in special secret prisons that this occurs, but also—dismayingly—within the U.S. federal courts.”

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Prison Planet: The Future We Live In

It’s too bad Eugene Jarecki already used the title “Why We Fight” for his breakout 2006 documentary about war profiteering, because he could so perfectly have applied it to his newest movie, “The House I Live In.” It’s an examination of the drug war that does more than testify against America’s overtly racist drug laws or the justice-industrial complex of private prisons and the overtime-hungry cops who help fill them. The documentary, which won this year’s Sundance Grand Jury prize and will arrive in a handful of theaters this month, dares to suggest that human beings have a thing for destroying one another.

Jarecki makes a very compelling argument with the help of many interview subjects, but none more important than David Simon, a former crime reporter who created “The Wire,” a beloved TV show that may itself be confused for a documentary on the drug war. Simon spent a lot of time reporting on and dramatizing this conflict and its exhausted combatants, and he, along with historian Richard Lawrence Miller, ultimately express the documentary’s hidden thesis with brute force. The drug war is, they say, a “holocaust in slow motion.” The director reveals his climax like the denouement of a great mystery. It’s his Keyser Söze moment, and I won’t spoil it by elaborating further.

Long before then, Jarecki presents many perspectives of what he calls “a tragically misguided system that preys upon those least fortunate among us to sustain itself.” From the drug dealers to the judge, most of the director’s subjects agree that the system isn’t good for much, other than the mass transfer of poor people to jail.

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Philly Cop Punches Woman in Mouth

Who needs pepper spray or tasers if you are a cop in need of protection yourself against a small Latino woman whom violently assaults you with -- water (allegedly).

Tasers and pepper spray could bring unwarranted attention, at least from blogs and twitter. Better to take that water like an man and then go sucker punch the woman thug instead. Watch this video from the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Philly over the weekend. Please note the size of the woman in comparison to the size of the police officer who comes up from behind her and delivers the kind of "illegal blow" from his fist that the Marquis of Queensbury Rules don't permit in authorized matches between professional boxers:

Excessive force anyone? Just remember this. Next time you are at a parade, if you accidentally spill your soda on a cop, or god forbid, brush up against him or her in a tight space, even without any intent to do so, this could be you. Was the woman who "allegedly" tossed water at the cop behaving badly? Sure. Did the police officer really need to escalate the situation by punching her in the face from behind as she walked away causing her to bleed profusely, possibly giving her concussion? He was after all (to my eyes anyway) roughly twice her size, in weight class alone.
You tell me. You tell me.

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Follow the link for video.  Tom



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