Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

I tried to find something upbeat for a holiday post but couldn't.
Hope everyone is having a safe and happy break.  Tom

Spousal violence costs Canadians billions, study finds

A major federal investigation into spousal violence says it cost society at least $7.4 billion for the thousands of incidents that occurred in just one year.

The Justice Canada study examined a broad range of economic impacts, from policing and health-care to funerals and lost wages, for every incident of spousal violence in 2009.

Drawing on a Canada-wide police database, researchers found almost 50,000 cases of spousal violence reported to police that year, more than 80 per cent of them involving female victims. The cases included 65 homicides, 49 of them women.

The study also mined an annual Statistics Canada telephone survey, which estimated some 336,000 Canadians in 2009 were victims of some form of violence from their spouse. The definition of spouse included married, common-law, separated, same-sex and divorced partners.

Read on...

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The Spy State Tightens its Grip

Americans are paying an ever-increasing price, both in dollars and the loss of personal privacy, to maintain the spy state.

Ever hear of Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 20? Bet not. The more you’ve never heard of something, the more worried you should be.
In mid-November , The Washington Post, the first media outlet to report on the directive, noted that it “enables the military to act more aggressively to thwart cyberattacks on the nation’s web of government and private computer networks.” 
 
The Post’s revelation came at the same time that other stories broke pointing to deepening problems with electronic privacy rights in America.  The most sensational story involved the FBI’s snooping the private e-mails of two of the nation’s leading security officers, CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, head of the U.S. Afghanistan war effort.
 
More disturbing but expected, the Supreme Court rejected the ACLU’s challenge to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) use of warrantless wiretaps. And Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposed the further loosening of e-mail privacy protection regulations.
 
These are just four examples of an increasing number of efforts among various federal entities, including the Congress and Supreme Court, to expand the power of the U.S. government to spy on American citizens.  Recent initiatives by three of the lead agencies engaged in citizen surveillance -- National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense Department’s research arm, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – outline the tightening grip of the spy 
 state. 

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5 Senior Citizens Serving Life Without Parole for Pot

Should five non-violent offenders die behind bars for a crime Americans increasingly believe should not even be a crime?

Right now, five adults await death in prison for non-violent, marijuana-related crimes. Their names are John Knock, Paul Free, Larry Duke, William Dekle, and Charles “Fred” Cundiff. They are all more than 60 years old; they have all spent at least 15 years locked up for selling pot; and they are all what one might call model prisoners, serving life without parole. As time wrinkles their skin and weakens their bodies, Michael Kennedy of the Trans High Corporation has filed a legal petition with the federal government seeking their clemency. Otherwise they will die behind bars for selling a drug 40% of American adults have admitted to using, 50% of Americans want legal, and two states have already legalized for adult use. Since these men were convicted of these crimes many years ago, public opinion and policy related to marijuana have shifted greatly. Should these five non-violent senior-citizen offenders die behind bars for a crime Americans increasingly believe should not even be a crime?

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3/4ths of States Ignore Mental Illness Background Checks For Gun Buyers

As the White House eyes new gun-controls following the Sandy Hook school massacre and firearms dealers are seeing guns sales spike, a handful of recent investigative reports suggest that the nation’s state-run system of screening gun buyers for mental illness is mostly a mirage—except in a dozen states where governors want the system to work.
     
Federal prohibits gun sales to anyone who was declared mentally unfit by a court. In Bill Clinton’s first term, Congress passed a law requiring states to report these mental health records to the FBI. But in 1997, the Supreme Court threw out that requirement, saying states could share whatever information they wanted to—or more likely not share it.

Fast-forward to 2012, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, only 12 states account for the majority of mental health records in the FBI database. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reported that 19 states have each submitted less than 100 mental health records to the FBI database.

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Women's Incarceration Rate Soars By Over 600 Percent as They Face Abuse Behind Bars

Abuse ranges from outright rape, groping, invasive pat-downs and peeping during showers -- to verbal taunts or harassing comments.

llowing male guards to oversee female prisoners is a recipe for trouble, says former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn. Now a frequent lecturer on incarceration policies and social justice, Whitehorn describes a culture in which women are stripped of their power on the most basic level. "Having male guards sends a message that female prisoners have no right to defend their bodies," she begins. "Putting women under men in authority makes the power imbalance as stark as it can be, and results in long-lasting repercussions post- release."

Abuse, of course, can take many forms, from the flagrant - outright rape, groping, invasive pat-downs and peeping during showers or while an inmate is on the toilet - to verbal taunts or harassing comments. And while advocates for the incarcerated have long tried to draw attention to these conditions, they've made little to no headway. But that may be changing thanks to the promulgation of rules, finalized in June, to stem the overt sexual abuse of prisoners. The nine-years-in-the-making Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is the first law in US history to address the sexual abuse of those in lock-up, and its passage made clear that the sexual abuse of the incarcerated - men and women - is a pervasive problem in prisons throughout the 50 states. But let's hold off on PREA for a minute and first zero in on the reality of female incarceration more generally.

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The Death Blow for British Coal

New revelations about police brutality under Thatcher in the seminal 1984 battle against striking union miners.

Among British ex-miners, the infamous June 18, 1984 battle between striking coal miners and police at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire, is still bitterly invoked as a symbol of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s campaign against union miners, whom she famously called “the enemy within.” The yearlong strike ultimately marked the beginning of the decline of Britain’s nationalized coal industry, and the economic and social deterioration of coalfield communities.

Almost three decades later, a BBC documentary has directed new attention to the 1984 “battle of Orgreave” and to police behavior throughout the strike. Released in October, the documentary presents new evidence indicating that the South Yorkshire police conspired to crush the strike through fabricated arrest reports and systematic brutality.

In response, at the behest of the South Yorkshire police department itself, the U.K. Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation in November into possible police “assault, perjury, perverting the course of justice and misconduct” during the battle, as the UK Guardian described it. (In December, the Guardian ran a special report on police brutality and false arrests throughout the conflict.)

Read on....

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Judges Needed for Federal Courts

There has been a severe breakdown in the process for appointing federal judges. At the start of the Reagan years, it took, on average, a month for candidates for appellate and trial courts to go from nomination to confirmation. In the first Obama term, it has taken, on average, more than seven months.

Seventy-seven judgeships, 9 percent of the federal bench (not counting the Supreme Court), are vacant; 19 more seats are expected to open up soon. The lack of judges is more acute if one considers the growing caseload. The Judicial Conference, the courts’ policy-making body, has recommended expanding the bench by 88 additional judgeships

President Obama must make fully staffing the federal courts an important part of his second-term agenda — starting with the immediate Senate confirmation of the 18 nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 


This is an editorial from the NY Times.  Tom

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The Courts: How Obama Dropped the Ball

In his novel King of the Jews, Leslie Epstein sets his story in the wartime ghetto of Lodz, Poland, where the Gestapo ruled through an appointed council of Jewish elders. Epstein, researching the book, tracked down the gallows humor of the time. In one such joke, told by a character in the novel, two Jews are facing a firing squad. The commandant asks if they would like blindfolds.  One of the condemned whispers to the other, “Don’t make trouble.”

“Don’t make trouble” could have been the credo of the first year of the Obama Administration. The White House calculated that if the president just extended the hand of conciliation to the Republicans, the opposition would reciprocate and together they would change the tone in Washington. This was the policy on everything from the stimulus to health reform to judicial nominations. It didn’t work out so well.

Now, spurred by the tailwind of a re-election victory and the realization that public opinion is on his side, President Obama has displayed a new toughness in his budget battle. He has declared that he won’t negotiate against himself, and the strategy is working. But the White House is still stuck in don’t-make-trouble mode on the crucial issue of judicial appointments, where the pace of nominations is only now catching up with that of Obama’s predecessors and the strategy for avoiding partisan confrontation gives Republicans something close to a veto over who is nominated.

Read on....

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5 Unbelievably Creepy Surveillance Tactics

 
Since the erosion of Americans' civil liberties depends on high levels of public apathy, some of the most dangerous privacy breaches take place incrementally and under the radar; if it invites comparisons to Blade Runner or Orwell, then someone in the PR department didn't do their job. Meanwhile, some of the biggest threats to privacy, like insecure online data or iPhone GPS tracking, are physically unobtrusive and therefore easily ignored. And it'll be at least a year or two until the sky is overrun by spy drones. 

So when a method of surveillance literally resembles a prop or plot point in a sci-fi movie, it helps to reveal just how widespread and sophisticated commercial and government monitoring has become.  Here are five recent developments that seem almost unreal in their dystopian creepiness. 

1. Buses and street cars that can hear what you say .

Read on...

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State Prison Spending Is The Fastest-Growing Budgetary Item After Medicaid

As the U.S. system of mass incarceration takes an ever-greater toll on budgets and communities, more social scientists of all ideological leanings are calling for lesser prison sentences and alternatives to prisons. An extensive New York Times report on this phenomenon tells the story of Stephanie George, who is serving a sentence of life without parole for her alleged nominal role in a drug deal. It was a sentence Reagan-appointed Judge Roger Vinson didn’t even want to dispense, but his hands were tied by mandatory sentencing schemes. Aside from making the U.S. the number one jailer in the world, here are some of the other shocking facts about the nature and impact of U.S. mass incarceration featured in the report:
  • Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., 500,000 are locked up for drug offenses – ten times more than there were in 1980. Researchers have found that these lock-ups have no concurrent effect on the illicit drug supply, as demand remains the same and replacement dealers are easy to come by.
  • Some 41,000 people in the United States are serving the once-uncommon sentence of life in prison without parole – a harsh punishment that is reserved in many other countries for only the most heinous crimes. In England, only 41 people are serving this sentence.
Read on...

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Beyond Fox News: The GOP is realizing it needs to talk to the rest of the media too

Interesting piece in Buzzfeed about the Republicans starting to wake up to the fact that they need to start appearing on other news outlets – real news outlets – than just Fox News.

The thing is, going before real journalists can be hazardous to your health.  Not often.  But it’s certainly more risky than having Hannity brown-nose you for ten minutes.

The argument some conservatives are giving is that they’re only preaching to the choir when they go on Fox.  Yes, but.

It’s a complicated question as to when its useful to go on a show that might as you tough questions.  For the left, there really isn’t an alternative kind of show.  Only lately MSNBC has been trying to fill Fox’s shoes – and MSNBC does it with fewer lies and less party loyalty.  But before then it was either go on CNN and the other networks, and face tough questions, or go on Fox and be treated like a subhuman.

Read on....

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Private Prison Executive Says Lying To A Federal Agency Is Just Fine

A high-level executive at the nation’s second-largest private prison corporation testified under oath that it would not be wrong to give false testimony to a federal agency, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a video recently posted on YouTube. The testimony came in a case alleging that GEO Group Senior Vice President of Project Development Thomas Wierdsma threatened to use his position at GEO to have his then daughter-in-law’s immigration status investigated by ICE if she spoke out about domestic abuse.
ATTORNEY: You would agree it would be wrong to give false testimony against somebody, correct?
WIERDSMA: Um [long pause]. Yes.
ATTORNEY: Similarly, would it be wrong to give false testimony to a federal agency?
WIERDSMA: No, not at all. Happens all the time.
Watch it:

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Half of People Shot by Police Are Mentally Ill, Investigation Finds


An investigation by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram has found that a disturbingly high percentage of individuals shot by police suffer from mental health problems. There are no federal statistics on police shootings of mentally ill people, but according to the investigation  published this week , “a review of available reports indicates that at least half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”
 
The newspapers analyzed in detail the incidents of police deploying deadly force in Maine — a state with a comparatively low crime rate — since 2000. The report noted:
42 percent of people shot by police since 2000 — and 58 percent of those who died from their injuries — had mental health problems, according to reports from the Maine Attorney General’s Office. In many cases, the officers knew that the subjects were disturbed, and they were dead in a matter of moments
 Read on...

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Anti-Abortion Christian Reality TV Show to Try to Shame Women

As if the world really needs another reality show, a new one about five women who have had abortions is set to debut next month on the Christian Internet television network KnockTV.  “Surrender the Secret” will follow the “five women on their journey together to ... healing and self-forgiveness,” according to pro-life website Live Action News.

“There’s a new trend among abortion proponents—convince the world that abortion is not shameful. Convince post-abortive women that any guilt they may feel is unfounded. Convince post-abortive women who have kept their abortion a secret that they should shout about it from the rooftops with pride,” says Live Action News’ Nancy Flanders. “Post-abortive women do need to talk about their choice. However, they don’t need to be and shouldn’t pretend to be proud of it.” 

Because obviously the best place for these women to go through the healing process is on an online reality show that is publicly shaming them for their life choices.

Read on...

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They Can Do That?! 10 Outrageous Tactics Cops Get Away With

Thanks to the war on drugs, the war on terror and general public apathy about civil liberties, police can stomp all over your rights.

Talk to someone who has never dealt with the cops about police behaving badly, and he or she will inevitably say, “But they can't do that! Can they?” The question of what the cops can or can't do is natural enough for someone who never deals with cops, especially if their inexperience is due to class and/or race privilege. But a public defender would describe that question as naïve. In short, the cops can do almost anything they want, and often the most maddening tactics are actually completely legal. 

There are many reasons for this, but three historical developments stand out: the war on drugs provided the template for social control based on race; 9/11 gave federal and local officials the opportunity to ensnare Muslims (and activists) in the ever-increasing surveillance and incarceration state; and a lack of concern from the public at large means these tactics can be applied, often controversy-free, to anyone who resists them.

What follows are 10 of the innumerable tactics the police can use against a population often incapable of constraining their behavior. 

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Ontario court reinforces laws to protect women from harrassment

In an important decision for the legal treatment of abused women, Ontario’s top court has found that stalking and verbal threats can be just as severe as physical attacks.

The province’s Court of Appeal upheld a sentence of 5 1/2 years in the case of a man who subjected a woman he had recently met to a barrage of harassing phone calls and letters, including two sent while he was in jail awaiting trial.

Patrick James Doherty argued that, because he did not assault his victim, he should receive a lesser sentence. The court rejected his reasoning.

The victim “suffered mentally and physically as a result of the appellant’s harassment. She lost weight, lost sleep and was anxious and worried about what he may do to her,” wrote Justice Dennis O’Connor of the court’s unanimous decision. “The impact on her was magnified each time he ignored her pleas to stop, the police warnings and the court orders.”

It all began in November of last year when Agnieszka Mikulska posted a classified advertisement online, seeking a roommate for her Kitchener, Ont., apartment. Mr. Doherty responded. Initially polite, he became angry when Ms. Mikulska picked someone else to live with her.

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Rise in homicides is of ‘no real consequence,’ criminologist says

Don’t panic.

True, the number of homicides in Canada increased this year over last. True, fatal stabbings increased sharply. True, the figures arrive amid a divisive national policy debate over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda.

But, according to the experts, what is the real conclusion to be drawn from the latest Statistics Canada figures on homicides?

Essentially: Take a deep breath. “You can’t infer anything from today’s numbers,” said Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd. “An increase of 7 per cent is of no real consequence.”

To glean broad trends from one year’s stats is equivalent to holding up a cold winter’s day as proof that climate change is a fraud, criminologists say. When experts look for criminal patterns in Statscan numbers, they work with periods of no less than 10 years.

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Today, Remember Hurt Women Near and Far

Though violence lingers, we commemorate those acting to stop it

During supper one October evening while listening to the news on the radio, I suddenly put down my fork and gripped my 10-year-old son's arm. We listened intently to the broadcast. A Taliban gunman had shot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head while she was sitting with her classmates on a bus in Mingora, Pakistan. The Guardian reported that a Taliban spokesman characterized Malala's advocacy work for girls' education as an "obscenity" that had to be stopped. Malala and her family had been targeted because of the blog she had written for the BBC while she was in seventh grade chronicling the effects of Taliban repression in her region, including the burning of girls' schools.

"Why did they shoot her?" my son asked me, aghast. I attempted to explain the attitudes of religious extremists, their desire to maintain social, political and economic control and power by excluding women from education, employment, and equal participation in a community. I reminded him that many cultures throughout time believed women to be inferior to men, just as they believed that certain groups of people were inferior because of their race or nationality. But to him, discrimination and violence against women seem irrational and bizarre. In his mind, women and men -- girls and boys -- have always been equals.

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Chris Selley: Why there will never be such thing as a good anti-bullying law

On Tuesday, the government of Canada’s fifth-most populous province, Manitoba introduced what it calls a “strong anti-bullying action plan.” It is to include various new resources for parents and teachers and eventually, after public consultations, “strong legislation that would further support students, broaden reporting of bullying and respect diversity.”

In the current anti-bullying climate, where stern legislative fixes are the order of the day, this almost counts as foot-dragging. In Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, students are now threatened with expulsion for any behaviour they intend to, or ought to know is likely to, cause “harm, fear or distress to another individual, including physical, psychological, social or academic harm, harm to the individual’s reputation or … property” — or even just for “creating a negative environment at a school for another individual.”

As of Aug. 15, the Education Act in Canada’s second-most populous province, Quebec, defines bullying (emphasis added) “as any repeated direct or indirect behaviour, comment, act or gesture, whether deliberate or not, including in cyberspace.”

Read on....

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The homeless man, the boots and the complex story behind the viral photo

 
 
A picture is worth a thousand words, as the cliché goes. But are a thousand words enough to tell the whole story?

Not in the case of the viral photograph that recently emerged from the streets of Manhattan. The image has now become a familiar one: a New York City police officer kneels beside a barefoot homeless man in Times Square and offers him a new pair of boots.

The officer, Larry DePrimo, did not know an Arizona tourist had captured the moment with her cellphone. The photo was uploaded on Facebook and rocketed around the web, garnering 1.6 million views in 24 hours and riveting the media: The officer bought the boots with his own money! The shoe store employee was so touched he gave a discount! The cop keeps the receipt in his vest as a reminder of those who are less fortunate!

The image was powerful in its simplicity. But as more details emerged, the story grew more complicated — and negative toward the man who asked neither for the boots nor for the attention that came with them.

Read on...

Don't think any of this changes the sentiment of the original story.  Tom
 

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