Friday, April 25, 2014

Meet the Doctor Who Gave $1 Million of His Own Money to Keep His Gun Research Going

Federal funding for research on gun violence has been restricted for nearly two decades. President Obama urged Congress to allocate $10 million for new research after the Newtown school shooting. But House Republicans say they won't approve it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budget still lists zero dollars for research on gun violence prevention.

One of the researchers who lost funding in the political battle over studying firearms was Dr. Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency medicine who runs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. Wintemute is, by his own count, one of only a dozen researchers across the country who have continued to focus full-time on firearms violence.

To keep his research going, Wintemute has donated his own money, as the science journal Nature noted in a profile of him last year. As of the end of 2013, he has donated about $1.1 million, according to Kathryn Keyes, a fundraiser at UC Davis' development office. His work has also continued to get funding from some foundations and the state of California.

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Dancing in a Dangerous Time: Canada’s Treatment of Foreign Strippers

On 13 March 2012, the Government of Canada saw the passage of Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Part 5 (clauses 205 to 208) of this Act introduced substantive changes to the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which gives immigration officers the authority to refuse applications for temporary resident permits under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Refusals must be consistent with instructions given by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, which in turn must be aimed at protecting foreign nationals from exploitation.

Previously, migrants wishing to work in Canada as exotic dancers could obtain status by applying for what was colloquially known as the ‘stripper visa.’ These temporary resident permits would allow an individual to enter the country for a specified period to work for (usually) a single employer. Now, with the passage of Bill C-10 on 4 July 2012, the Honourable Jason Kenney, former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, issued instructions for immigration officers to cease processing applications under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from people seeking employment in strip clubs and massage parlours, or as escorts. In announcing these instructions, Minister Kenney stated that these changes were meant to protect vulnerable foreign nationals (mainly women and children) from their exploitation in the Canadian sex industry.

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The Power of Piketty’s ‘Capital’

If you were among those who followed the reports on French economist Thomas Piketty’s US book tour in support of his university-press-published, 696-page, Marxism-tinged treatise on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and taxed your brain trying to recall a remotely recent antecedent for the ensuing excitement, well, relax—there isn’t any.

No less remarkable is the fact that one can, for once, believe the hype. Beautifully translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Piketty’s Capital is simultaneously intellectually rigorous, historically grounded, culturally nuanced and, in important respects, politically visionary. Even nitpicky economists who take issue with some of his interpretations of the mountains of data he and his colleagues assembled feel compelled to shower the book with praise beforehand—and frequently after as well. Paul Krugman credits Piketty with inspiring “a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality.”

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The Times Has Finally (Quietly) Outed an NRA-Funded “Independent” Scholar

Last Friday The New York Times finally addressed a conflict of interest that it had been ignoring for years. Although, among the powerful institutions that have long done so, the Times is hardly alone. The matter helps illustrate how the gun lobby has managed to shape the nation’s gun debate without showing its hand. The news comes to light one day before the start of the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Indianapolis.

David Kopel is the Research Director and Second Amendment Project Director of the Colorado-based nonprofit Independence Institute, which describes itself as a “free-market think tank.” He is an Associate Policy Analyst at the Washington-based Cato Institute, and an adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at Denver University. Kopel is also the author of 15 books and 90 scholarly articles many having to do with the Second Amendment and gun policies.

Kopel is widely known as one of the nation’s leading legal scholars on gun issues, writing from a pro-gun rights perspective. He testified in the Senate last year as an apparent independent expert in the nationally televised hearings held in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. For even longer, he has regularly written opinion pieces for newspapers like The Wall Street Journal while being similarly identified as an independent scholar.

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Conservatives Slow To Denounce Cliven Bundy Over Racist Comments

Almost overnight, Cliven Bundy became a hero of the anti-government right wing after his armed standoff against the Bureau of Land Management, to which he owes over $1 million in grazing fees. Fox News’ Sean Hannity has lavished praise on the Nevada rancher, who has also elicited support from several Tea Party lawmakers.

Unfortunately for conservative politicians trying to elevate him as a patriot battling government overreach, Bundy is using his new national platform to argue that black people were better off as slaves.

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Meet The Companies That Just Promised To Pull 60 Million Dollars From Private Prisons

Three investment groups announced this week that they will divest from the two major private prison corporations that constitute a massive share of America’s prison-industrial complex.

Scopia Capital, DSM, and Amica Mutual Insurance have all pledged to remove their collective investments of about $60,000,000 from the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group — the two prison companies that own 75 percent of the nation’s private prisons. The decision to divest comes on the heels of pressure from Color Of Change, a racial and economic justice advocacy group that ran a campaign asking a total 150 companies to stop investing in the private prison industry.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Life expectancy for Aboriginal users of community health clinics in Toronto is 37: report

The average person in Toronto has a life expectancy of 75 years. But a new report by Anishnawbe Health Toronto, a centre with the goal of improving health and well-being of Aboriginal People, found that the average Aboriginal person who attended one of four community health and social service clinics in the city have an average lifespan of less than half that – only 37 years. For Aboriginal men it is 34.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Zero Tolerance and Broken Windows Policing Criminalizes Homeless and Poor People ... and Can Kill Them

The recent death of homeless veteran Jerome Murdough in a Rikers Island cell should be more than a temporary debate in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it New York media cycle that often desensitizes us to tragedies. I know it hit close to home for myself — Mr. Murdough sought refuge the night of his arrest in an East Harlem public housing staircase three blocks from my home and across the street from my where my kids go to school. When sleeping in a staircase, I thought, lands you in a Rikers cell, something is wrong.

Murdough's death laid bare some of our collective disregard for the poor as well as an aggressive police department with an obsession for law and order rivaled only by military dictatorships and science fiction characters (i.e., RoboCop, Judge Dredd). Is it enough to have roundtable discussions lamenting the case of Mr. Murdough as one of someone slipping through the cracks? What happened to him is the not-so unpredictable outcome of a society heavily invested in enforcement by way of zero-tolerance policing and criminal justice system. It's an approach that is neither humane nor sustainable. But as some debate what stop-gap reforms or long term legislation might be crafted, let's not lose sight of how Murdough arrived at the cell he would die in: the NYPD and the low-level crime-focused Broken Windows theory that guides it.

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LAPD disconnect isn't good for police or the public

For 12 years, in the aftermath of the Rampart corruption scandal, the Los Angeles Police Department operated under a federal consent decree that forced major changes on the long-troubled, much-criticized department. The LAPD was overseen by outsiders, its decisions second-guessed by judges and monitors because it couldn't be trusted to govern itself. Only after a long list of wide-ranging reforms was instituted was the federal order finally lifted in 2013. Among the final requirements was the installation of in-car video cameras and voice-monitoring equipment to record encounters between police and the public.

So naturally it comes as a grave disappointment, if not exactly a shock, to learn just a year later that some LAPD officers tampered with many of those devices in an apparent effort to render them ineffective. The department needs to figure out how that was allowed to happen, and must take strong actions to ensure that nothing like it happens again. Officers must be made to understand that sabotage will not be tolerated, and that the department's leaders intend to continue on the road to enlightened, reformed policing.

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This is an LATimes editorial. Tom

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Yes, California, Your Prison Conditions Are Still Unconstitutional

In 1994, a federal court found that California inmates with serious mental illness do not receive minimal, adequate care. In 2005, a federal court in a different case found that the state had failed to provide adequate basic mental care in its prisons. And in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the state’s prison health care was so deficient that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

But California still hasn’t gotten the message. With this litigation still ongoing, a federal judge held Thursday that pepper spraying of mentally ill inmates is “horrific” and that solitary confinement of these inmates has got to stop without approval by a mental health clinician.

“[F]ailure to properly consider the mental state of class members requires the court to act,” wrote Judge Lawrence Karlton. “If defendants fail to meet their Eighth Amendment obligations, this court must enforce compliance.”

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Protesters Slam Gates Foundation for Private Prison Profits

Dozens rallied outside the Seattle headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday to protest their investment in GEO Group—a notorious private prison company profiting from high levels of deportation and detention of suspected undocumented people under President Obama.

Immigrant justice campaigners, prison divestment advocates, and Gates Foundation grantees delivered 10,000 petition signatures demanding "immediately withdraw its investment in the GEO Group."

“GEO Group makes billions of dollars putting people in cages — and they drive profits by lobbying to put more people behind bars for minor crimes," said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org. "With Latinos now the largest group in federal prisons and detention centers—mostly for minor or non-existent crimes—the Gates’ investment is particularly galling for us. Unless they divest, the Gates Foundation will drag their legacy into the mud of wasteful, overcrowded and abusive immigrant prisons.”

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DOJ Investigation Confirms: Albuquerque Police 'Executing' Citizens

Residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico are marching on the police department Saturday to demand retribution against the city's mayor and police chief for their role in the police force's documented "execution" of citizens.

The march comes after the Department of Justice slammed the Albuquerque Police Department for their frequent use of excessive and lethal force in a damning report released on Thursday.

Though, according to advocates, abuse by local law enforcement has been systemic for years, calls for increased scrutiny of the APD were amplified following the police shooting death of James Boyd, a homeless man suffering from mental illness, on March 16.

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This Is My Jail

Where gang members and their female guards set the rules.

On January 5, 2013, Tavon White, an inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center, had a cell-phone conversation that was intercepted on an F.B.I. wiretap. “This is my jail, you understand that,” White told an unidentified friend. “I’m dead serious. I make every final call in this jail. . . . Everything come to me. Before a motherfucker hit a nigga in the mouth, guess what they do—they gotta run it through me. I tell them whether it’s a go ahead and they can do it or whether they hold back. Before a motherfucker stab somebody, they gotta run it through me.” White was a leader of a gang called the Black Guerrilla Family. The gang had such control over inmates in the facility that, as White put it in another phone call, “I got elevated to the seat where as though nobody in the jail could outrank me. . . . Like, I am the law. . . . So if I told any motherfucking body they had to do this, hit a police, do this, kill a motherfucker, anything, it got to be done. Period.”

White, who was facing trial for the attempted murder of a fellow gang member in a dispute over drug turf, controlled B.C.D.C. inmates by directing an underground economy, based principally on the sale of drugs. The B.C.D.C. holds between two thousand and twenty-three hundred inmates at a time, and the authorities estimate that about half are addicts of one kind or another. White and his gang supplied the demand by smuggling and selling tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, and food. Most important, though, was the Black Guerrilla Family’s control of cell phones inside the jail, because money changed hands through the use of the phones. Inmates paid for drugs and other contraband by texting fourteen-digit numbers to load money onto Green Dot MoneyPak cards belonging to Black Guerrilla Family members inside and outside the facility. Gang leaders, in turn, used the Green Dot cards to pay their suppliers and enjoy their profits. White bought a BMW and a Mercedes-Benz while he was an inmate.

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Raising babies in prison

PRISON IS no place to raise a baby. Or is it?

Prisons are punitive, inhospitable by design. So, not surprisingly, the fact that some prisons house infant babies is shocking to most people.

While prison nurseries have existed in this country for a century--the first was established in 1901 at Bedford Hill Correctional Facility north of New York City--there is renewed interest in expanding these programs today.

There are currently prison nurseries in 10 states--California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. And state Rep. DebraLee Hovey recently introduced a bill to establish a prison nursery in Connecticut.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps

This Thursday, a who's who of Florida big shots will hold a private, $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott's reelection effort, led by a host committee that includes Mel Sembler, the founder of a notorious substance abuse rehab program that folded after allegations of extreme abuse were lodged against several of its facilities.

The program, Straight Inc., was founded in 1976 by Sembler, a developer, and his wife, Betty. In the 17 years that it operated drug treatment centers, Straight Inc. was plagued by news reports and at least one civil suit claiming that its staff kidnapped its adult patients and mentally, physically, and sexually abused their underage charges. Two state investigations substantiated reports of abuse.

Straight Inc. officials consistently denied these allegations. Sembler's biography on the Sembler Company website hails Straight Inc. as having "successfully graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide from its remarkable program." Sembler, it adds, "is nationally recognized as an activist in the anti-drug campaign." Sembler could not be reached for comment.

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Arizona Lawmaker Slips $900K Into Budget For Private Prison Company

One of the world’s largest private prison corporations already has a $45 million contract with the state of Arizona. But without amending that contract with GEO Group, Inc., a lawmaker financially tied to the prison firm inserted almost another $1 million into the state budget for it.

The House approved the budget with the $900,000 allocation to GEO, a multinational corporation based in Boca Raton, Fla. Yet after a spate of phone calls and emails, the Senate Appropriations Committee removed the funding from its version of the bill, the Arizona Republic reports.

Rep. John Kavanagh (R), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, included extra funding in the budget despite no support from the state’s Department of Corrections, which contracts with GEO. Pivotal Policy Consulting, the lobbying firm that represents GEO, requested the favor. GEO is the top financial contributor for Kavanagh, whose past work includes championing racial profiling in Arizona and criminalizing transgender people.

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America, China And Saudi Arabia Among The Few Remaining Countries That Executed Anyone In 2013

Only 22 nations that are not currently experiencing military conflicts carried out executions in 2013, according to a report by Amnesty International. Moreover, while the United States — with 39 executions in 2013 — ranks fifth overall in total executions, the death penalty is an increasingly regional affair within our nation’s borders. Only nine states, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Virginia executed a person in 2013. Notably, Texas killed 16 of those 39 people, which is more than 40 percent of the total number of American executions.

China, which is believed to have carried out thousands of executions, is the world leader in these state-sponsored killings. Specific data regarding China’s execution rate is considered a state secret, however, so the exact number of people killed by the People’s Republic of China is uncertain.

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Police use of Tasers rises sharply in 2013

Police in England and Wales used Tasers on more than 10,000 occasions for the first time in 2013, an increase of 27% over the previous year, according to Home Office figures.

The annual official Taser statistics show that officers ended up firing their Taser weapons at suspects on 1,733 occasions in 2013, and used them on a stun setting a further 284 times.

The publication of the figures showing the rapid rise in the use of the American "electroshock" weapons by the police in England and Wales comes after an officer was ordered earlier this week to apologise in person to a blind man he Tasered after mistaking his white stick for a samurai sword.

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RPS officers not "trigger happy" with Tasers, says Regina police

After a five-year moratorium on Taser use, the Regina Police Service has deployed the device three times in the past three weeks.

At this rate, Taser use could surpass 2006 when the device was deployed 11 times, and 2007 - the year before the moratorium began - when RPS officers used Tasers 21 times.

Insp. Darcy Koch, a former Taser instructor and current member of the RPS use of force committee, said he isn't concerned with the frequency of Taser use in March, nor does he believe that RPS officers are over-anxious or "trigger happy" to use the devices.

"It's my belief that officers are using this tool as another tool in their tool box. It's just another option that wasn't previously available to us that now is. And again, it's about providing public safety, officer safety (and) less injuries to the public," he said.

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A Guide to Mass Shootings in America

Update (4/2/2014): A gunman went on a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas—the site of a mass shooting in November 2009—killing 3 people and injuring 16 others before taking his own life, according to the Associated Press.
It is perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened. The horrific mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado in July 2012, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that August, another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis that September—and then the unthinkable nightmare at a Connecticut elementary school that December—were some of the latest in an epidemic of such gun violence over the last three decades. Since 1982, there have been at least 67 mass shootings across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Thirty of these mass shootings have occurred since 2006. Seven of them took place in 2012, and another five occurred in 2013, including in Santa Monica, California, and at the Washington Navy Yard. We've gathered detailed data on the cases and mapped them below, including information on the shooters' profiles, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.*

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The Supreme Court Just Gutted Another Campaign Finance Law. Here’s What Happened.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday released its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the blockbuster money-in-politics case of the current term. The court's five conservative justices all agreed that the so-called aggregate limit on the amount of money a donor can give to candidates, political action committees, and political parties is unconstitutional. In a separate opinion, conservative justice Clarence Thomas went even further, calling on the court to overrule Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that concluded it was constitutional to limit contributions to candidates.

In their dissent, the court's four liberal justices called their colleagues' logic "faulty" and said it "misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake." The dissent continues, "Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today's decision eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

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