Monday, July 29, 2013

Hawaii To Offer Its Homeless Residents One-Way Flights Off The Islands

If you’re a state with the highest rate of homelessness in the country, you’ve got a number of options. You could build more shelters. You could enact new tax credits for the working poor. Maybe provide more counseling and other services.

Or you could take the route lawmakers in Hawaii did: offer homeless residents a one-way ticket out of the state.

State legislators passed funding this year for a new program to offer one-way flights to any of the state’s estimated 17,000 homeless persons. Lawmakers appropriated $100,000 over the next two years for the “return-to-home” program, but that funding could increase if the initiative is viewed as a success.

There are many reasons why homelessness is so pervasive in Hawaii. It’s an expensive state to live in. It’s not easy to leave. There isn’t much affordable housing.

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Dispatch from Taser Nation: fighting off canes and shoehorns

Hey, 95 is the new 85 ...

A 95-year-old resident of an Illinois nursing home died early Saturday, hours after being shocked with a Taser and bean bag rounds in a confrontation with police.

Authorities said John Warna was a resident at Victory Centre of Park Forest, on the 100 block of South Main Street in the south suburb. He was threatening paramedics and staff with a cane and a metal shoehorn when police arrived at the complex, they said.

Police said they struck him with a Taser and bean bag rounds after he threatened officers with a 12-inch butcher knife.

Warna was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where he later died.

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Juvenile injustice: $350 to defend a child

In L.A. County, a juvenile suspect assigned an attorney for a flat fee is likely to fare much worse than one who gets a public defender.

 Three hundred fifty dollars. That's the amount Los Angeles County pays a private attorney to represent a child charged with crimes when the public defender has a conflict of interest and can't handle the case. That $350 has to cover all legal work, even when the child is charged with a serious crime such as murder or rape. About 11,000 kids a year end up being represented by such appointed counsel.

Here's how it commonly works. Let's say two 15-year-olds are caught with a six-pack of beer and charged with illegal possession of alcohol. Because they may have incentives to testify against each other, the rules of legal ethics require that different law firms represent them. So, typically, one would be represented by the public defender while the other's case would be contracted out to an attorney earning a total fee of $350.

This compensation system has created profound inequalities in the legal services provided to children.

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What motivates a lawyer to defend a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?

The trauma nurses who took care of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after his arrest have a straightforward explanation. “I don’t get to pick and choose my patients,” one told the Boston Globe.

The three public defenders assigned to Tsarnaev would have been similarly constrained. But what about the two prominent defense lawyers who have offered their services? Why choose to represent a man accused of turning the Boston Marathon finish line into a war zone?

Likewise, how can the lawyers representing Cleveland’s Ariel Castro fight for a man who pleaded guilty on Friday to 937 counts related to the kidnapping, imprisonment and rape of three women? And what about the attorneys for the recently acquitted but still controversial George Zimmerman? Do they really believe he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing in shooting an unarmed teen?

I have been a criminal defense lawyer for more than 30 years, first as a public defender and now as a law professor running a criminal defense clinic. My clients have included a young man who gunned down his neighbor in front of her 5-year-old daughter while trying to steal her car, a man who beat a young woman to death for failing to alert drug associates that police were coming and a woman who smothered her baby for no apparent reason. These are the kinds of cases that prompt people to ask: “How can you represent those people?” All criminal defense lawyers are asked this; it’s such a part of the criminal defense experience that it’s simply known as “the question.”

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Mass Shootings Are Not the "Shock" or Aberration the U.S. Media Reports

Tom Diaz's new book shows how changes in the gun industry are killing Americans and what it will take to stop the daily death toll.

Nobody knows what happened within Michael E. Hance’s interior life between 1978—his senior year of high school, when he was chosen Most Courteous because of his “consideration and good manners toward everyone”—and about eleven o’clock on the morning of Sunday, August 7, 2011, when he took deliberate aim with his recently-bought Hi‑Point 45 caliber semiautomatic pistol and shot eleven-year-old Scott Dieter below the terrified boy’s right eye. Scott Dieter was the last of seven people whom Hance, armed with two handguns, calmly hunted down and shot to death in the archetypical white, middle-class suburb of Copley Township, Ohio. An eighth victim, Rebecca Dieter, Hance’s longtime girlfriend and Scott’s aunt, was severely wounded; she was hospitalized but survived. A policeman shot Hance dead moments after he killed young Scott Dieter. The entire episode from first shot to last took less than ten minutes.
 
“Unclear in all of this is the motive for these killings,” Summit County Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh noted in her report clearing the police officer of wrongdoing in shooting Hance. What is not “unclear” is that in spite of Hance’s long-term and increasingly bizarre public behavior, his angry interactions with his neighbors, the judgment of several members of his family that he had severe mental illness, and a 2009 incident report by Akron police that concluded he was a “signal 43,” or, as a police lieutenant later explained, “basically . . . crazy,” Hance was easily and legally able to buy from a pawn shop the two handguns with which he fired more than twenty rounds at his fleeing family and neighbors. In addition to the Hi‑Point pistol, which he bought five days earlier from Sydmor’s Jewelry, a pawn shop in neighboring Barberton, Hance used a .357 Magnum revolver that he bought in 2005 from the same store. He also bought several ammunition “reloaders” that he carried with him. 
 
 

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California Prison's 'Pay-To-Stay' Option Offers 'Quieter' Rooms For $155 A Day

Some prisoners at one California jail will now have the option to pay their way into a more comfortable stay, community news source the Argus reports.

The Fremont Police Department is now offering its inmates a "pay to stay" option. For a one-time fee of $45 plus $155 a night, prisoners serving short sentences on lesser charges can stay in a smaller facility while avoiding county jails.

"It's still a jail; there's no special treatment," Lt. Mark Devine, a Fremont police official who oversees the program, told Chris De Benedetti of the Argus. "They get the same cot, blanket and food as anybody in the county jail, except that our jail is smaller, quieter and away from the county jail population."

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Verdict imminent in Dziekanski taser perjury trial

One of the four Mounties accused of lying during testimony at a public inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski will learn his fate Monday.

Constable Bill Bentley’s trial last month was the first of four perjury cases against the officers who confronted Mr. Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport in October, 2007, stunning him several times with a taser. He died on the floor of the terminal.

Constables Bentley, Kwesi Millington and Gerry Rundell, and former corporal Benjamin (Monty) Robinson found a distraught Mr. Dziekanski throwing furniture in the arrivals terminal. Mr. Dziekanski had been inside the terminal for 10 hours and was unable to communicate because he didn’t speak English.

Constable Bentley’s legal troubles began when he tried to explain during the 2009 Braidwood Inquiry the differences between what could be seen on amateur video and what he initially told homicide investigators.

The constable told investigators and wrote in his notes that the Polish immigrant grabbed a stapler and came at the officers screaming, was stunned and wrestled to the ground.

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Police conduct back in spotlight after Toronto streetcar shooting

A video of Toronto police officers fatally shooting a knife-wielding man in an empty city streetcar has gone viral and raised questions about police protocol and behaviour.

The case surfaces as the Ontario coroner’s office delves into what role officers played in the deaths of three people, thought to be mentally ill, killed by Toronto police between 2010 and 2012.


In the latest case, early Saturday, witnesses said the suspect, Sammy Yatim, brandished a knife and exposed himself before ordering passengers and the driver off the streetcar as it approached Dundas Street West and Bellwoods Avenue.

The video, taken by a passerby, shows Mr. Yatim, 18, standing in the aisle near the front of the streetcar, its door open and interior lights on, as five police officers, four with weapons drawn, repeatedly order him to “drop the knife” over the wail of sirens.

When Mr. Yatim walks toward the door, nine gunshots ring out and he crumples out of view. As the sirens intensify, police close around the car and the sound of a taser can be heard

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Ontario jail overcrowding at six-year high, sparking violence behind bars

Nearly half of Ontario's jails are overcrowded, a six-year high that sees cells meant for two people at times hold three or more as the province struggles with a rising tide of inmates who have yet to have their day in court.

Statistics by the Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections reveal that on an average day last year 14 of the province's 29 jails held more prisoners than they were designed for.

The jump in overcrowding comes as no surprise to Shawn, who was recently released from the jam-packed Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., after 18 months in pretrial custody. 

He says overcrowding forced him to flop down on a narrow stretch of floor between two occupied beds in a cramped seven-by-two metre cell. Lying on a thin, worn mattress he had to rest his head next to the shared toilet. 

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Three Self-Defense Laws That Could Be Even Worse Than Stand Your Ground

The acquittal of George Zimmerman has reignited the national conversation about so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that authorize deadly force in self-defense anywhere a person has a legal right to be, without a duty to mitigate the harm by attempting retreat. The Trayvon Martin killing and many other fatal shootings are raising deeply troubling questions about what sort of civilian vigilantism, discrimination, and arbitrary judgment is authorized by laws that put discretion into the hands of civilians.

But the notorious Stand Your Ground provision is one of several that give broad discretion to civilians to use inordinate force in self-defense. Below are three other force-empowering provisions that are just as, if not even more, expansive:

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For 200 Hours And Counting, Sit-In At Florida Capitol Demands Stand Your Ground Repeal

For more than eight days, a group of activists and students organized by the Dream Defenders have occupied the Florida Capitol, right outside Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (R) office. The activists say they plan to occupy the Capitol until the governor calls a special session to review the state’s Stand Your Ground law, racial profiling, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and consider what they call the Trayvon Martin Act. But after meeting with the protesters last week, Scott announced he has no intention to review Stand Your Ground, which played a role in jury deliberations that led to George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

“That’s very disappointing on our part,” Dream Defenders legal and policy director Ahmad Abuznaid told ThinkProgress. “We are attempting to get Governor Rick Scott and the state leadership here to be real leaders and so far they have not stepped up to the plate. So far, we have decided to hold our own legislative session to show them how it’s done.”

Next Tuesday, Dream Defenders plan mock legislative sessions where civic leaders and juvenile experts will weigh the pros and cons of Trayvon’s law.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Four Charts That Prove Obama’s Right About Being Black In America

On Friday, President Obama gave a personal, emotional speech about the killing on Trayvon Martin, in which he spoke extensively on the broader issue of race in the United States.

Obama addressed the experiences of racial profiling that are all to common for Black men. “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store,” Obama said. “That includes me. And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.”

“The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws,” Obama said, “everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

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Racism, the U. S. Justice System, and the Trayvon Martin Verdict

What happens when African Americans don’t get a jury of their peers?

While the unquestionably unfair verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, rendered in Florida by five whites and one Latina, should be deeply troubling to persons of all races who care about racial justice, U. S. history, as well as the current racial reality in this country, teaches that it should not come as a surprise.

The jury, simply put, decided that a white police wannabe could justifiably profile an unarmed African-American 17-year-old as a criminal, hunt him down, and fatally shoot him.

Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump likened the case to that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Others have posited the question: What would the result have been if the accused was African-American and the victim was white? The Scottsboro case—nine black boys wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s—comes to mind. In both cases all-white juries delivered clearly racist verdicts, acquitting Till’s murderers and convicting the Scottsboro Boys.

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Climbing Out of the Hole

Do you remember where you were standing at this moment five years ago? Ten years? Twenty? Seventy-eight men in Northern California do.

They have been held in solitary confinement for at least 20 years, each in his own 8-by-10-foot windowless cell at the Pelican Bay supermax prison, with about a thousand others — half of whom have been there for more than a decade. They are allowed only about an hour of “recreation” each day, often in shackles, in a cement enclosure not much larger than their cell. 

Even among inmates accustomed to severe across-the-board restrictions of their liberties, there is a breaking point. This month, as many as 30,000 prisoners in California, most of whom are not in solitary confinement, went on hunger strikes to protest its mass use. 

In truth, that breaking point was passed long ago. Every day, it seems, there is another news story, psychological study or official report demonstrating the severe damage caused by long-term solitary confinement. 

Read on...

This is a NYTimes editorial.  Tom

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Graphic: A Short History of U.S. Capital Punishment

More than 15,000 people have been executed in the United States going back to colonial times. Witches, slaves, pirates and murderers have all been executed by a variety of methods, including gibbeting and being pressed to death. Of late, it is murderers being executed, most commonly by lethal injection. Texas is the state that has used capital punishment the most since 1976.
The National Post takes a look at the history and demographics of the United States’ death penalty.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Justice Dept. and a free press

The Obama administration stumbled badly in recent months as it repeatedly overstepped its authority in seeking information from news organizations. Prosecutors swept up phone records tracking calls by reporters and editors of the Associated Press, suggested that a Fox News reporter might be criminally prosecuted and continued their vigorous pursuit of information held by reporters in ferreting out alleged leaks. For that, the administration has been properly excoriated.

On Friday, however, Atty. Gen Eric H. Holder Jr. unveiled new guidelines to govern the department's behavior in cases involving news organizations. Those guidelines represent a historic step toward restraining the reach of government and affirming the rights of a free press. The administration got to this place only because of the outrage it brought on itself, but it got to the right place anyway.

Most important, the new guidelines ensure that news organizations, in almost all instances, are given notice when prosecutors seek records related to news gathering. Notice, which was not given to the Associated Press, allows organizations to discuss the request with the Justice Department and, if necessary, to contest it in court.

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Rolling Stone nails it with its Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cover

Apparently, things are worse than we thought: We have run out of rock ’n’ roll musicians.
How else to explain the latest cover of Rolling Stone, which features not the Rolling Stones -- or even Captain Hook -- but accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

And not only that: Many have noticed and commented on -- unfavorably -- that the magazine’s cover photo “casts the bombing suspect in an inappropriately flattering light,” as my colleague Mikael Wood reported.

Well, gee, folks, welcome to 21st century America.

In today’s world, looks do matter; after all, it’s apparently one of the factors that led to Trayvon Martin being shot and killed -- and his killer, George Zimmerman, being acquitted.

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Mexican Amusement Park Offers Fake Border Crossing Attraction

An unusual amusement park attraction in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo offers visitors the thrills and chills of an illegal border crossing. The attraction takes visitors through a fake United States-Mexico border, complete with fake smugglers and fake border patrol agents.

The aim is to dissuade would be migrants from making the trip. The coyote, or smuggler, leading this simulated illegal border crossing used the name Simon and wore a face mask. Before setting off, he addressed his charges that evening, about 40 students from a private school in Mexico City.

"Tonight we're going to talk about migration," Simon said in Spanish. "But for us it isn't just something rhetorical, but rather the opposite. Because we have endured, we have suffered, of hunger, thirst, injustice, heat, cold, we have suffered from everything."

Then, under the cover of night, Simon herded them into the woods, toward the fake frontera.

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When Prisoners Protest

THERE aren’t many protests in prison. In a world where authorities exercise absolute power and demand abject obedience, prisoners are almost always going to be on the losing side, and they know it.

The typical inmate doesn’t want trouble. He has little to gain and too much to lose: his job, his visits, his recreation time, his phone privileges, his right to buy tuna, ramen and stale bread at inflated prices in the commissary. The ways even a bystander to the most peaceful protest can be punished are limited only by the imagination of the authorities. Besides, logistics are difficult: men from cellblock X can’t just stroll down to see the inmates in cellblock Y. Strategizing must be done furtively, usually through intermediaries, any one of whom might snitch. 

And yet, sometimes things get so bad that prisoners feel compelled to protest, with work stoppages, riots or hunger strikes. On July 8, some 30,000 inmates in the custody of the California Department of Corrections went on a hunger strike to demand improvements in prison conditions. Their biggest complaint was the runaway use of solitary confinement, the fact that thousands of prisoners are consigned to this cruelty indefinitely, some for decades.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Bill Black: The Banks Have Blood on Their Hands

And our regulators are too fearful to act

We invited Bill Black to return to explain whether the level of systemic risk due to fraud in our financial markets has improved or worsened since the dire situation he painted for us in early 2012. Sadly, it looks like abuse by the big players has only flourished since then.

In the U.S., our regulators have publicly embraced a "too big to prosecute" doctrine. We are restraining, underfunding, and dismantling regulatory oversight in the interest of short-term stability for the status quo. Which, as a criminologist, Black knows with certainty creates an environment where bad actors will act in their self-interest with assumed (and likely real, at this point) impunity.
If you can steal with impunity, as soon as you devastate regulation, you devastate the ability to prosecute. And as soon as that happens, in our jargon, in criminology, you make it a criminogenic environment. It just means an environment where the incentives are so perverse that they are going to produce widespread crime. In this context, it is going to be widespread accounting control fraud. And we see how few ethical restraints remain in the most elite banks.

You are looking at an underlying economic dynamic where fraud is a sure thing that will make people fabulously wealthy and where you select by your hiring, by your promotion, and by your firing for the ethically worst people at these firms that are committing the frauds. And so you have one of the largest banks in the world, HSBC, being the key ally to the most violent Mexican drug cartel, where they actually did so much business together that the drug cartel designed special boxes to put the cash in that they were laundering that fit exactly into the teller windows so that there would be no delay. This is the efficiency principle of drug laundering.

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Whole-life jail terms without review breach human rights - European court

Three murderers, including Jeremy Bamber, have right to review of sentence, but ECHR judgment doesn't make release imminent

Whole-life jail sentences without any prospect of release amount to inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, the European court of human rights has ruled.
The landmark judgment will set the ECHR on a fresh collision course with the UK government but does not mean that any of the applicants – the convicted murderers Jeremy Bamber, Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter – are likely to be released soon.
In its decision, the Strasbourg court said there had been a violation of article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment.
The judgment said: "For a life sentence to remain compatible with article 3 there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review."

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Police continued to fire Tasers at chests – despite cardiac arrest warnings

Figures show that since 2009, 57% of discharges have hit chest area, even though Taser warns of 'serious complications'

British police have fired Tasers hundreds of times at suspects' chests despite explicit warnings from the weapon's manufacturer not to do so because of the dangers of causing a cardiac arrest, the Guardian can reveal.
Following the death last Wednesday of a man in Manchester after police hit him with a Taser shot, figures obtained from 18 out of 45 UK forces show that out of a total of 884 Taser discharges since 2009 – the year when Taser International first started warning the weapon's users not to aim for the chest – 57% of all shots (518) have hit the chest area.
There is evidence that shots to the chest can induce cardiac arrest. Dr Douglas Zipes, an eminent US cardiologist and emeritus professor at Indiana University, who last year published a study that explored the dangers of chest shots, told the Guardian: "My admonition [to UK police] would be avoid the chest at all costs if you can."
He said the proportion of shots landing on the chest was huge, adding: "I think the information is overwhelming to support how a Taser shot to the chest can produce cardiac arrest."

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zimmerman Has Been Found Not Guilty. Now What?

The racially charged trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin has ended, but George Zimmerman might not be done defending himself in court.

After more than three weeks of testimony and nearly 17 hours of deliberation, the jury in the Trayvon Martin case has found George Zimmerman not guilty

Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old after a scuffle in a gated condominium complex in Sanford, Fla., on February 26, 2012. The case became a racially charged national story almost immediately due to the circumstances of Martin’s death—a black, unarmed teen shot after being tailed by Zimmerman for merely looking suspicious—and the fact that Sanford police did not arrest Zimmerman until 46 days after the killing.
But the actual trial boiled down to not racism or police inaction but whether or not Zimmerman wanted to kill Martin and if Zimmerman's life was in danger when he pulled the trigger. To get a murder conviction, the prosecution had to prove to the six women on the jury that Zimmerman acted with malice or intent when he killed Martin. This was tough to prove, given that the victim wasn’t around to offer his version of events. During the trial, the defense sought to paint Zimmerman as a poor fighter who was overpowered by Martin and who came to fear for his life during the scuffle. During his closing statement, attorney Mark O’Mara brought a slab of concrete into the courtroom, arguing that the teen used the sidewalk as a weapon.

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Zimmerman acquitted of murder in Trayvon Martin shooting


Neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges Saturday in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose killing unleashed furious debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defence and equal justice.

Mr. Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. He could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But the jury of six women, all but one of them white, reached a verdict of not guilty after deliberating well into the night. Their names have not been made public, and they declined to speak to the media.

Mr. Martin’s mother and father were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read; supporters of his family who had gathered outside yelled “No! No!” upon learning of the not guilty verdict.
The teen’s father, Tracy, reacted on Twitter: “Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY.”

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

From Prisoner Sterilizations to Abortion Restrictions, the Reproductive Rights of Women of Color Are Being Trampled

So many women in the United States lack reproductive justice, but recent stories show how it disproportionately eludes women of color.

In the 1950s, John Rock and Gregory Pincus, the inventors of the birth control pill, sought a place where they could test the drug among a large population of women so that it could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They visited Puerto Rico and decided it would be the perfect place, because if they could demonstrate that “poor, uneducated … women of Puerto Rico could follow the Pill regimen, then women anywhere in the world could too,” according to a PBS American Experience write-up about the Puerto Rico trials. 

Many women in Puerto Rico were eager to use birth control, but “[t]he women had only been told that they were taking a drug that prevented pregnancy, not that this was a clinical trial, that the Pill was experimental or that there was a chance of potentially dangerous side effects.” Three of the women “guinea pigs” died. 

The physicians viewed these women as “ideal” subjects because they were poor and uneducated, and they in turn gave the women half-truths and false information. This weekend, we learned that in at least one prison, a somewhat similar situation has been unfolding in the United States.

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) broke the news on Sunday that some women inmates in California felt pressured by their prison’s physician to get tubal ligations. The physicians, under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, also reportedly failed to obtain required state approvals before performing sterilizations on 148 women inmates in the state between 2006 and 2010, according to the CIR report.

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US Retailers Launch Lobby Blitz to Sell Weak Bangladesh Safety Plan

The gruesome garment factory disasters in Bangladesh, including a fire that claimed the lives of more than 112 in Tazreen and a building collapse that killed over 1,100 in Dhaka while maiming countless more, has brought international pressure on Western retailers and their partners in Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry. While more than seventy European and North American companies have signed onto a strong agreement with local Bangladesh and international labor NGOs for sweeping new safety standards (known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety), many large US-based retailers have refused to play ball, preferring instead to rollout their own, competing agreement.
Yesterday morning, the competing agreement—sponsored by Walmart, Target, Kohls's Corp, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, Gap, Sears, and other firms—was unveiled at the Bipartisan Policy Center by former Senators Olympia Snowe and George Mitchell. A joint statement from the AFL-CIO and Change to Win swiftly condemned the rival agreement as "yet another 'voluntary' scheme with no meaningful enforcement mechanisms" and a "product of a closed process and has been signed only by the same corporations that produced it." The union says labor was not involved in the Walmart and Gap-led agreement.

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Verdict Nears in Trayvon Martin Case—and the Right Fixates on Race Riots

Conservatives are fretting about angry black mobs and Florida law enforcement is preparing for the worst. Is any of this necessary?

As George Zimmerman's much-watched trial winds down, speculation has whipped up in the conservative media and elsewhere about how people—that is, black people—will react if the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is acquitted. The implication is that if Zimmerman goes free, this racial powder keg of a case could explode into riots.

Ever since Zimmerman shot the unarmed teenager last year after a scuffle in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, the case has been racially fraught. Supporters of the Martin family portrayed Travyon's death as a clear incident of racial profiling and questioned the actions of the Sanford Police Department, which was criticized for initially dismissing the incident as a self-defense case and declining to arrest Zimmerman until more than a month after the shooting. Many on the right, by contrast, have cast Zimmerman as a poster child for Second Amendment rights and a victim of the liberal media.

As the prosecution and defense have argued over who started the fight, who is it that can be heard screaming for help on the 911 call, and whether Zimmerman's life was in danger before he pulled the trigger, commentators and pundits on cable news and in social media have talked of possible riots if Zimmerman is not convicted.

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Caught on Film: The Dark World of Truck Stop Sex Workers

Filmmaker Alexander Perlman documents the bleakness of truck stop prostitution—but it's more complex than you might think.

Monica prepares to work the lot.
"The truth is, making the movie was a really traumatic experience. I suspect I may have developed some mild PTSD." This is how filmmaker Alexander Perlman describes shooting Lot Lizard, his hypnotic new documentary about truck stop prostitution. While his claim might sound hyperbolic—or like a canny bit of marketing—it rings true: He logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours to make the film, braving roach motels, crack highs, and homicidal pimps. Indeed, what Perlman captures in Lot Lizard is visceral and harrowing.

The film's three protagonists—Betty, Monica, and Jennifer—work on the fringes of the trucking industry. America's Independent Truckers' Association estimates there are nearly 5,000 truck stops across the country, and although many offer nondescript places to sleep, eat, or shower, many others host a bustling shadow economy of sex and drugs. Lurk on truckers' online message boards long enough and you'll likely come across what amounts to a guide to interstate sex, replete with lurid tall tales (see here, here, and here).

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Psychonesia

Mass murderers reenact their crimes for fun in Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary, The Act of Killing.

The Act of Killing is a completely new order of eye-popping, forehead-slapping documentary. There’s never been a film quite like it, and the reasons are twofold: One, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer approaches his subject matter—Indonesia, its militia culture and its recent history—with wild inventiveness, allowing his subjects to be co-creators in the process, with startling and surreal results. Two, Indonesia itself. Whatever you may know about it from NPR or the New York Times won’t prepare you for what you see here of the country’s blood-soaked dementia.

The aging maniacs we meet are veterans of the mid-’60s unrest that first saw a failed coup attempt precipitate the toppling of President Sukarno, and then an anti-communist backlash that swept through the islands and gave ad hoc militias free reign to murder anyone suspected of leftish leanings. Today, Indonesia is a bustling and corrupt kleptocracy, and its militias survive as popular and powerful public institutions. The men who run them get in front of Oppenheimer’s camera (as well as on national TV) and proudly crow about how many people they “brutally” killed. (The film puts it at more than a million.) Beheadings, drownings, systematic strangulations—these famous codgers remain “gangsters,” an Indonesian use of the term that they say translates in English to “free men.” The nation’s entire security infrastructure, protecting its industries and government and emitting nonstop propaganda, is founded on reservoirs of blood, and is still run like the Mob.

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One modest proposal for speedier justice

What do you tell victims of crime when they find out that because of delays in the justice system they will not get their day in court? What do you tell a child temporarily removed from her home when she asks when she can go back and the answer is: “When we can find a judge to decide”? These questions are just a few of many in a debate about access to justice in Ontario and Canada.
Access to justice is a real issue affecting all Canadians, from victims of crime to accused persons, children and families, the elderly and the innocent. But while we strive to improve access to justice, the courts are limited by significant constraints, such as personnel, funding and, specifically, a lack of judicial officers to hear cases.
These limits create institutional delay. For example, according to the Child and Family Services Act and the Family Law Rules, a hearing regarding child protection must take place within four months of the start of the case, but in fact more than half of all child protection proceedings took more than four months in 2011-2012, the most recent year for which we have statistics.

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Solidarity From the Outside as Calif. Prisoners Face Retaliation On the Inside

As over 12,000 prisoners continue their hunger strike at prisons across California, supporters gear up for a state-wide rally at the 'maximum security' Corcoran State Prison Saturday to stand with those on the inside who are putting their bodies on the line.

Prisoners at two thirds of California's 33 prisons are going without food to demand an end to the 'state-sanctioned torture' that plagues the California prison system, including long-term solitary confinement spanning decades.

"This moment is historic in the ability of comunities inside prison to work with communities outside of prison towards common goals," Isaac Ontiveros of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition—which includes scores of prisoner advocacy and prison abolition groups, loved ones, and civil rights lawyers—told Common Dreams.

"[The mobilization] is really profound. It pushes forward the spirit of humanity prisons are meant to crush and opens a wide range of possibilities in which winning the demands of hunger strikers is something we can do together," he adds

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Police-reported hate crimes, 2011

Police-reported hate crimes declined for a second consecutive year in 2011. Canadian police services reported 1,332 hate crimes in 2011 or 3.9 hate crimes per 100,000 population. The rate was 5% lower than in 2010.

In 2011, three primary motivations accounted for over 95% of hate crimes, with race or ethnicity representing over half (52%) of the total, followed by religious hate crimes at 25% and crimes motivated by sexual orientation at 18%. Read on...

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lincoln’s Surveillance State

BY leaking details of the National Security Agency’s data-mining program, Edward J. Snowden revealed that the government’s surveillance efforts were far more extensive than previously understood. Many commentators have deemed the government’s activities alarming and unprecedented. The N.S.A.’s program is indeed alarming — but not, from a historical perspective, unprecedented. And history suggests that we should worry less about the surveillance itself and more about when the war in whose name the surveillance is being conducted will end.

In 1862, after President Abraham Lincoln appointed him secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton penned a letter to the president requesting sweeping powers, which would include total control of the telegraph lines. By rerouting those lines through his office, Stanton would keep tabs on vast amounts of communication, journalistic, governmental and personal. On the back of Stanton’s letter Lincoln scribbled his approval: “The Secretary of War has my authority to exercise his discretion in the matter within mentioned.” 

I came across this letter in the 1990s in the Library of Congress while researching Stanton’s wartime efforts to control the press, which included censorship, intimidation and extrajudicial arrests of reporters. On the same day he received control of the telegraphs, Stanton put an assistant secretary in charge of two areas: press relations and the newly formed secret police. Stanton ultimately had dozens of newspapermen arrested on questionable charges. Within Stanton’s first month in office, a reporter for The New York Herald, who had insisted that he be given news ahead of other reporters, was arrested as a spy.

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To help ex-cons, ban the box

The most telling predictor of whether an ex-offender will reenter the community as a law-abiding and productive member, or whether instead he or she will return to jail or prison, is employment. Former inmates with steady jobs have fairly high success rates. For those who can't find work, prospects are dismal.
It stands to reason, then, that society would do what it can to ensure that former inmates get jobs. The benefits are reaped not just by the freed inmates, who can put incarceration permanently behind them, or their families, who can have their loved ones and their breadwinners at home instead of locked up in distant cells where they can provide little familial, and no financial, support. It's obviously also better for communities to have their residents holding down jobs, paying their taxes and spending their earnings locally than shuttling back and forth to jail and, when in the neighborhood, having idle time and empty pockets.

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Glenn Greenwald: Top Officials Are Lying to Our Faces About Government Spying

The NSA revelations continue to expose far more than just the ongoing operations of that sprawling and unaccountable spying agency. Let's examine what we have learned this week about the US political and media class and then certain EU leaders.
The first NSA story to be reported was  our June 6 article which exposed the bulk, indiscriminate collection by the US Government of the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans. Ever since then, it has been undeniably clear that James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence,  outright lied to the US Senate - specifically to the Intelligence Committee, the body charged with oversight over surveillance programs - when he said "no, sir" in response to this question from Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"
That Clapper fundamentally misled Congress is beyond dispute. The DNI himself has  now been forced by our stories to admit that his statement was, in his words, "clearly erroneous" and to apologize. But he did this only once our front-page revelations forced him to do so: in other words, what he's sorry about is that he got caught lying to the Senate. And as Salon's David Sirota  adeptly documented on Friday, Clapper is still spouting falsehoods as he apologizes and attempts to explain why he did it.

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Missouri Attorney General Calls For Revival Of Gas Chambers

Intent on moving forward with scheduled executions at any price, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said this week he would resort to the gas chamber while other methods are tied up in court battle.
Koster’s comments are the latest move to push forward executions, as litigation over the humanity of lethal injections using the anesthetic propofol continues. Koster dismissed concerns over the cruelty of reviving the gas chamber in an exchange with The Associated Press, saying, “The premeditated murder of an innocent Missourian is cruel and unusual punishment. The lawful implementation of the death penalty, following a fair and reasoned jury trial, is not.”
Missouri stopped using the gas chamber in 1965 and shut down its last prison containing a gas chamber decades ago, according to AP. California’s use of the gas chamber was deemed cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment by one federal appeals court in 1996.

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Zimmerman Defense Attorney: ‘Trayvon Martin Did, In Fact, Cause His Own Death’

On Friday, the State rested its case in the murder trial of George Zimmerman. The lead defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, immediately moved for the judge to acquit Zimmerman as a matter of law. O’Mara concluded his lengthy argument by starkly asserting that “Trayvon Martin did, in fact, cause his own death.” Watch it:
Although many legal analysts believe the trial has gone exceptionally well for the defense thus far, Judge Deborah Nelson rejected O’Mara’s motion. She found that the state had met their burden and there are factual issues that only a jury can decide.
Specifically, the case appears to boil down to who the jury finds credible. Zimmerman, through recorded testimony, claims that Trayvon “sucker punched” him while he was returning to his car, vowed to kill him and was repeatedly bashing his head against the concrete when he fired his gun to save his life. If the jury finds this account credible, Zimmerman would have to be acquitted.

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34 People Were Shot In Chicago On July 4

As the country celebrated July 4, Chicago saw another day where gun violence claimed dozens of victims, with six people killed and 28 left wounded. The youngest of those wounded included two boys, ages 5 and 7, who were celebrating the holiday with their families.
Chicago has had a particularly terrible record on gun violence the last couple years. In 2012, it had more gun homicides than New York City despite having one-third the population. And on Father’s Day Weekend this year, another 46 people were shot in one of Chicago’s deadliest 72 hours of 2013.
Despite these numbers, police say Chicago gun violence for the first half of 2013 is at its lowest in nearly 50 years, with about 25 percent fewer shootings and murders compared to the same period in 2012. Even though Chicago is experiencing fewer gun homicides this year, the violence disproportionately costs low-income, minority communities the most: Close to 90 percent of murders and violent crimes occur in low-income areas where mostly black and Latino people live, and nearly half of Chicago homicide victims are under age 25.

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Private Prisons Expect To Profit From Immigration Reform

The Senate’s immigration reform bill could provide a boon to private prison companies, the Wall Street Journal reports, increasing the federal prison population “by 14,000 inmates annually” at a cost of $1.6 billion over 10 years.
The legislation invests billions in border security technology, doubles the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents, and authorizes funds “to triple the number of prosecutions of people violating immigration laws along a portion of the U.S. border in Arizona.” “The total additional costs to detain, prosecute, and incarcerate offenders would total $3.1 billion over the 2014–2023 period,” the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Industry officials had been cautious of the legislation’s impacts on the prison business, as reform would decriminalize the estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants. But analysts predict that additional spending on border security would almost definitely “boost revenue at privately operated prisons” with private contractors snagging 80 percent of additional inmates.

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