Friday, December 13, 2013

Our data, our laws

Over the past six months, the steady stream of disclosures from former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has revealed a massive surveillance infrastructure that seemingly touches all Internet and telephone communication across the globe.

While the issue has generated robust debates in many countries, the Canadian political response has been relatively quiet. In an effort to address the lack of oversight over Canadian surveillance activities, Liberal MP and former public safety minister Wayne Easter recently introduced Bill C-551, which would establish a National Security Committee of Parliamentarians.

The bill is a welcome move towards providing greater transparency and accountability for Canadian intelligence agencies, yet attention to oversight is not enough. We also need to address the legal framework under which these agencies operate, and the privacy protections granted to Canadians under the law.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monday morning massacre at L.A. Sheriff's Dept.

Any lingering doubt about whether there are deep-seated problems of abuse at Los Angeles County jails should be put to rest by Monday's arrests following the unsealing of formal charges against 18 current or former sheriff's deputies. Any inclination to pass off more than two years of news reports and official probes detailing inmate beatings as simply the result of a few rogue deputies should be shelved.

Some of the allegations are familiar, involving inmates suffering unwarranted abuse and beatings. One of the challenges in coming to grips with civil rights violations perpetrated against convicted criminals is that the victims receive little sympathy from most of the voters and taxpayers who put the sheriff in office and who pay his department's bills; after all, the thinking goes, criminals deserve punishment.

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This is an LA Times editorial.  Tom

From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses

When Teresa was 14 years old, her mother died. Feeling overwhelmed by the loss and estranged from her father who was grieving in his own way, she began sneaking out at night to be with a 20-year-old man she considered her boyfriend. Teresa’s father disciplined her harshly, which only made life at home even rockier. One morning, Teresa went to school and didn’t come back. Worried about his daughter, Teresa’s father called the police. When the officers found her, they took her to a respite shelter where she would be safe, but would also have some time away from home.
 
 Almost immediately, a crisis counselor began working with Teresa and with her father, and after three days,Teresa was ready to go home and her father had some new ideas about how to talk to his daughter. The counselor also referred Teresa and her father to a therapist nearby who specializes in grief. 
 
Teresa and her father live in Florida, where a statewide network of nonprofit organizations helps families in crisis. Florida developed the network years ago as part of a larger effort to keep troubled teens likeTeresa out of the juvenile justice system. But what would the outcome be for Teresa if she lived in a state without the family crisis network
 

This is from the Vera Institute.  Tom

Toronto police officer sentenced to 45 days prison for 2010 G20 assault of Adam Nobody

A Toronto police officer convicted of assaulting a protester during the G20 summit has been sentenced to 45 days in prison.

Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani was convicted in September of assault with a weapon for using excessive force during the arrest of protester Adam Nobody on June 26, 2010.

The Crown had called for a “short, sharp sentence of imprisonment” to send a message that those who abuse their positions of public trust and authority “will be dealt with severely.”

Andalib-Goortani’s lawyer, Harry Black, had asked for the officer to receive an absolute discharge.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Delbert Tibbs, Who Left Death Row and Fought Against It, Dies at 74

It is not easy:
you stand waiting for a train
or a bus that may never come
no friend drives by to catch a ride
cold, tired:
call yourself a poet
but work all day mopping floors and looking out for thieves.
Those lines, describing the experience of an innocent man on death row, are from a poem by Delbert Tibbs, who in 1974 was convicted in Florida of a rape and a murder that he had nothing to do with, it was later found. He spent nearly three years in prison before the State Supreme Court reversed his convictions, vacated his death sentence and freed him. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mark Kleiman, pot's go-to guy

Come New Year's Day, in Washington state and Colorado, marijuana will be legit, courtesy of two ballot initiatives. How do you create a legal business out of an illegal one? After 13 years of Prohibition, the country at least had an earlier legal liquor market to refer to. That's where Mark Kleiman comes in, the go-to expert on these matters. A UCLA professor of public policy and author and coauthor of books like "Marijuana Legalization," he's heard all the jokes about "hemperor" and "your serene high-ness." He was consulted by Washington state's liquor control board, which has to come up with the nuts and bolts for the new law and which asked him for, well, the straight dope.

What did Washington want to know?
They really wanted numbers from us: How big is the market? How do we allocate stores across the counties? What impurities should be tested for? What are the environmental impacts of cannabis production? If we limit the amount produced, what should we use as the basis? Ounces? Grams? Production space?

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reorganizing Crime Mafia and Anti-Mafia in Post-Soviet Georgia

  • Looks at the phenomenon in Georgia of 'Thieves-in-law' (vory-v-zakone in Russian), career criminals belonging to a criminal fraternity originating in the 1930s from Soviet prison camps
  • Poses questions surrounding criminal resilience to state attacks on organized crime and explores why the Georgian thieves-in-law had particularly weak resilience
  • Based on extensive fieldwork and utilizing unique access to primary sources of data such as police files, court cases, archives and expert interviews collected over a two year period
Arising from Soviet prison camps in the 1930s, career criminals known as 'thieves-in-law' exist in one form or another throughout post-Soviet countries and have evolved into major transnational organized criminal networks since the dissolution of the USSR. Intriguingly, this criminal fraternity established a particular stronghold in the republic of Georgia where, by the 1990s, they had formed a mafia network of criminal associations that attempted to monopolize protection in both legal and illegal sectors of the economy. This saturation was to such an extent that thieves-in-law appeared to offer an alternative, and just as powerful, system of governance to the state.

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Why William Bratton Is the Wrong Man to Lead the New York Police Department

The New York Times is reporting that New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has chosen William Bratton to succeed Ray Kelly as commissioner of the New York Police Department. This will be Bratton’s second stint in charge of the NYPD; he also ran the department during the Giuliani administration, and received much credit for the substantial drop in the city’s crime rate during his tenure. Since then, Bratton has gone on to command the Los Angeles Police Department, work in private industry, serve as a criminal justice commentator on NBC, and, weirdly, be named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. (Bratton narrowly beat out de Blasio’s second choice for the job: Sir Archibald Whitworth of Sussex.)

Bratton will be expected to keep the city safe while simultaneously renewing New Yorkers’ confidence in a police department that has been sharply criticized in recent years, most often for its divisive stop-and-frisk policy. (De Blasio has promised to reform stop-and-frisk, and this will be one of Bratton’s most important jobs.) There are plenty of reasons to think that Bratton’s up to the task. He has a reputation as a brilliant tactician and a lifelong innovator, a leader who’s good with organizational management and unafraid to delegate authority. He’s also an ambitious self-promoter who thinks very well of himself. That doesn’t really bother me: If hustlers and narcissists were disqualified from holding public office, then every city hall in America would be empty. But there are a couple of other, more substantial reasons why I think it’s valid to question whether Bratton is really the best man for the job.

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Unarmed Man Charged With Assault Because Police Shot Bystanders When They Were Aiming For Him

The New York Police Department attracted yet more scrutiny in September, when police opened fire on an unarmed and seemingly unstable man who was weaving between cars in a busy Times Square intersection. Police missed their target, but shot two women nearby. Now, the city is blaming the officers’ botched shootings on the unarmed man, Glenn Broadnax, who has been charged with assault.

The indictment released on Wednesday accused Broadnax of being “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.” The two officers who actually pulled the trigger are still being investigated by the district attorney’s office. If he is convicted for the police shooting, Broadnax, 35, could be in prison for up to 25 years.

Broadnax’s attorney told the New York Times he cannot be held responsible for the officers’ actions, since he “never imagined his behavior would ever cause the police to shoot at him.” Indeed, at the time of the incident, many questioned if pulling a gun on an unarmed man in one of the busiest areas in the city was a necessary call. Nor was this the first time New York officers missed their target; in one high profile instance, police also shot nine bystanders while trying to take down a gunman outside the Empire State Building last year.

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Police Threaten Children Singing Outside House Republican Leaders’ Offices With Arrest

More than 40 youths with the immigration advocacy group Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) have been busy chasing down Congressional members in Washington, D.C. this week, but very few House members have been willing to meet with them. On Thursday, when activists between the ages of six to 15, marched to the Congressional offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), they were threatened with arrest by Capitol police officers for singing.
When activists filed into Cantor’s office, a Congressional aide called on police officers to remove more than a dozen youths who sang as a way to bring about immigration reform. In the video as children sang, “We want reform, we want it now,” an officer showed up to tell them to stop singing or to risk arrest if they did not leave the office.
OFFICER 1: Is anyone planning on getting arrested today or is this all peaceful demonstration? We have to ask you to leave … I appreciate what you’re doing. The congressman can’t meet you right now, so please set it up through email. Please don’t sing again. We have to ask you to leave. Do you guys want to stay in and be subject to arrest or go out? … Do you want to leave now or be subject to arrest if you stay in this room? … Everyone that stays in this room may be arrested.
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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Noam Chomsky: America Hates Its Poor

An article that recently came out in Rolling Stone, titled “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” by Matt Taibbi, asserts that the government is afraid to prosecute powerful bankers, such as those running HSBC. Taibbi says that there’s “an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.”  What is your view on the current state of class war in the U.S.?

Well, there’s always a class war going on. The United States, to an unusual extent, is a business-run society, more so than others. The business classes are very class-conscious—they’re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. Occasionally this is recognized.

We don’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.

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The Other Police State -- The Private Intel Industry Grows

 On November 20th, the Center for Corporate Policy, a Washington, DC, good-government group, issued a revealing study, “ Spooky Business: A New Report on Corporate Espionage Against Non-profits.”  Written by Gary Ruskin, it confirms one’s worst suspicions about the ever-expanding two-headed U.S. security state

One “head” of this apparatus consists of the formal law-enforcement, security juggernaut.  It includes the vast network of federal, state and local entities that are duly, “legally,” constituted to maintain law and order.  It maintains state power.

The second “head” consists of a parallel “police” force, local and national corporate entities that use legal — and often questionable — practices to undermine democracy, most notably a citizen’s right to object to what s/he perceives as an unjust business practice.  It maintains corporate power.

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How the Supreme Court Is on the Verge of Delivering Even Greater Power to Corporations

The five right-wingers on the U.S. Supreme Court may soon recognize the “religious freedom” of corporations so that these artificial constructs can then dictate to female human citizens restrictions on the kinds of contraceptives that they can get through their work-place health insurance plans.

That may sound crazy but some court watchers  believe that the Right-Wing Five will follow the logic of their “corporations-are-people” theories to this next nutty conclusion. After all, if corporations have First Amendment rights of “free speech” when they are financing political propaganda to influence the outcome of U.S. elections, there is a consistency – albeit a bizarre one – to extending to corporations the First Amendment’s “religious freedom.”

Already unlimited corporate money in campaigns has drowned out regular human citizens in terms of who (or what) has the bigger say in the outcome of elections, so why shouldn’t the religious choices of corporations override the personal and moral judgments of people who work for the corporations?

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How Texas’ Voter ID Law Could Lead To Six Hour Delays On Election Day

A provision of Texas’ new voter ID law could delay the amount of time required for hundreds of thousands of Texans to cast a ballot, forcing hours of delays at polling places across the state. Indeed, a ThinkProgress analysis of figures provided by the Dallas Morning News suggests that Texas voting precincts could require nearly six additional hours to process voters caught by this law in 2016.

In Dallas County, Texas, nearly 14,000 voters were delayed when attempting to cast a ballot, thanks to Texas’ new voter ID law. And that was in a low-turnout election last month where only six percent of the state’s registered voters turned out. In a presidential election year, nearly ten times as many voters are likely to turn out, likely resulting in ten times as many delays. In total, the voter ID law could force thousands of hours of delay spread across the many voting precincts in Texas.

The origin of this problem is a provision of Texas’ law that requires voters to sign an affidavit testifying that they are who they say they are if the name on their ID does not exactly match the name in the voter registrar. Indeed, this provision casts such a wide net that both state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and her likely Republican opponent Attorney General Greg Abbott were delayed from voting because of disparities between their ID and their registered name. Davis’ driver’s license reads “Wendy Russell Davis,” while she is registered as “Wendy Davis.” Abbott’s license says his name is “Gregory Wayne Abbott” while he is registered as “Greg Abbott.”

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Rochester Teens Arrested For Obstructing The Sidewalk While Waiting For School Bus

Three teen boys waiting for a school bus in Rochester, N.Y., were arrested Wednesday, after police claimed they obstructed pedestrian traffic by standing on the sidewalk.

The 16 and 17-year-old boys were charged with disorderly conduct, a catch-all that is often used to criminalize conduct of the homeless, or to punish those who are perceived as simply uncooperative, including school children.

A police report obtained by WROC in Rochester said the students were obstructing “pedestrian traffic while standing on a public sidewalk…preventing free passage of citizens walking by and attempting to enter and exit a store…Your complainant gave several lawful clear and concise orders for the group to disperse and leave the area without compliance.”

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Private Prison Company Allegedly Put 73-Year-Old Grandmother In Solitary Confinement For 34 Days

Carol Lester, a 73-year-old grandmother serving time in New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility in Grants, is suing Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the world, and Corizon, Inc, a private prison health care company, for denying her medical care and keeping her in solitary confinement for over a month.

Lester’s lawsuit, filed in late November, charges that the warden deliberately put her in solitary confinement because she complained to lawmakers and Department of Corrections officials that she and other women were being denied medical care.

Lester plead guilty to embezzling money from her employer to feed a gambling addiction in 2010. Soon after beginning her three-year sentence, the lawsuit charges that the privately run prison stopped giving her the prescribed medication she had been taking for thyroid cancer and gave her a new medication that made her sick. Lester started fainting on a regular basis, and medical staff told her she may have a serious heart condition. However, they did not send her to a specialist or a hospital, and her health deteriorated rapidly.

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