Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
In reading this profile of one of the last professional pickpockets, I noted the ripple effect of meme evolution:
These are lean years for pickpockets. People carry more credit cards and less cash; men wear suits less, and tightfitting pants more. The young thieves of today have turned to high-tech methods, like skimming A.T.M.s.
Displaced by cultural change.
Notice how intimately the Internet is woven into the above cultural change: it’s throughout that particular cultural change. And the Internet (including music, video, Twitter, forums, news, blogs, and so on) is a perfect meme medium: enormous reach and rapid mutation and selection. And, as noted above, the ripple effects are enormous (cf. Ferguson MO, identified as a hotspot via Twitter).
Indeed, the international criticism of what is happening in Ferguson is quite severe: the US no longer occupies any sort of moral high ground, and with its recent military failures and destructiveness, respect for it has ebbed. The Week magazine carried an abstract of a column by Daniel Haufler that appeared in Berliner Zeitung:
America is a de facto apartheid state, said Daniel Haufler. Blacks have ostensibly had civil rights for 50 years, but in reality “white reactionaries have fought unabated against equality.” Today, discrimination against African-Americans is pervasive and devastating. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was hot dead by a white cop after being stopped for jaywalking in Forguson, Mo., he was just one more in a long line of black victims. [Indeed, we have another not far from Ferguson: two white cops show up to confront a man behaving irrationally. Within 15 seconds they had shot him dead. The police chief explained that he had attacked them with a knife, wielded overhand. A video made with a smartphone shows that the police chief's statement was false. - LG]
Whites, by contrast, can “brandish machine guns at the police”—as did supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy—without fear of reprisal. And it’s not just the police but the entire government that is arrayed against black Americans. Systematically denied equal access to education and employment, they are demonized when seek government benefits. in fact, the higher the black population in a state, “the lower that state’s social spending.” Ongoing white resentment of the civil rights movement that took away their privilege is the reason the U.S. is the only developed country in which a major party, the GOP, “wants to abolish the welfare state.” That party is also actively trying to change state electoral laws to diseenfranchise African-Americans. It isn’t just the police that must change—-it’s the entire culture.
Very clear-sighted, I’d say—and note particularly this Kevin Drum post from today, regarding the last points.
But the point is: things are shifting rapidly. That is, cultural values are not so insulated by distance and language and expense of travel as once was true: Internet again.
So we’re in the midst of a major meme war, in effect, or—more appropriately—Cambrian Explosion of memes, evolving rapidly, exchanging patches of meme-DNA, and so on.
A very good article by Joe Sexton in ProPublica taking a look at another failure of our criminal justic system. Add the things we’re learning in Ferguson MO, the increased militarization of the police and the casual devastation of SWAT raids to serve search warrants, it’s becoming clear that our criminal-justice system is simply breaking down—broken down, in many instances. The free market will NOT solve this problem, and I certainly don’t want a free market criminal justice system—we know the drive to grow profits.
What is required are politicians committed to governing rather than posturing, solving rather than ignoring problems. It will require mature, compassionate, thoughtful, careful adults, working cooperatively. So: don’t get your hopes up.
The article begins:
The dollar figure was so large and the public statements of vindication and concession so harmonious, one might have been tempted to think the system had actually worked.
A wrongly convicted Brooklyn man had won his freedom when a federal judge called out a local prosecutor for misconduct. And then, this week, with the help of an able lawyer, the freed man won a $10 million settlement from New York City, gaining possible financial security for life.
But ProPublica’s reporting over the last two years suggests that any such temptation to think the system worked in the case of Jabbar Collins should be resisted.
The system for identifying and punishing misconduct by prosecutors is badly broken, our reporting shows, and with the Collins case settling, a crucial channel for exposing systemic problems and ensuring they don’t recur may close as well.
So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.
Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.
And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.
The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.
The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.
Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.
The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.
The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.
The Collins case, in this respect, highlights yet one more disturbing component of the way cases of misconduct are handled.
In a statement announcing the $10 million settlement, lawyers for New York City called . . .
I think it’s obvious: business are driven to increase profits, and if your business is getting money from having people in prison, it’s obviously good business to get more of them in there—thus we get mandatory minimum sentences, 3-strikes laws, and the like: keep that revenue/prison population growing!
But we’ve entered a time of dropping crime rates, and if marijuana is legalized, then the drug pipeline to prison will take a hit. So how are the private prisons planning to cope with this?
We don’t know. For the first time, they have excluded press from their conference. I’m sure this will be dismissed as a “misunderstanding,” but I imagine the reason they have decided to go secret does not bode well for us.
And would businesses do that? Well, city governments do.
This seems more like banditry than police work. And read the comments: it is the way cities avoid raising taxes—they need the revenue to function, and if they can’t get it through taxes, they get it through (legalized) robbery.
I would answer, “Yes, obviously,” but it turns out to be more nuanced than that. Very good brief article in the Washington Post.
The awards will be a bargain to the taxpayer iff the corrupt and incompetent are driven from office and—ideally—punished for their crimes. Here’s the story.
Very interesting post by Pam Martens and Russ Martens at Wall Street on Parade:
Two weeks ago, Paul Krugman used some expensive media real estate to write a propaganda piece on the unsupportable proposition that the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010 is “a success story” and that its bank wind-down program known as Ordinary Liquidation Authority has put an end to “bailing out the bankers.”
Wall Street On Parade took Krugman to taskover this fanciful ode to accomplishments by the President the day after his piece ran in the New York Times’ opinion pages and suggested he do proper research on this subject before opining in the future. That was the morning of August 5.
By late in the afternoon of August 5, Krugman had a reality smack-down on his Dodd-Frank success fairy tale by two Federal regulators. Every major media outlet was running with the news that eleven of the biggest banks in the country, including the mega Wall Street banks, had just had their wind-down plans (known as living wills) rejected by the Federal Reserve and FDIC for not being credible or rational. The eleven banks are: Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and UBS.
Yesterday, Krugman’s Dodd-Frank fantasy lost further credibility when Senator Elizabeth Warren released a letter that she and eleven of her Congressional colleagues had sent to the Federal Reserve, warning that one of its Dodd-Frank proposed rules “invites the same sort of backdoor bailout we witnessed five years ago.”
To refresh any forgetful minds at the Fed over its unprecedented hubris in connecting a giant feeding tube to Wall Street during the last financial crisis, the Senators and Congressional Reps wrote:
During the financial crisis, the Board invoked its emergency lending authority for the first time in 75 years. The scope of the Board’s program was staggering. Between 2007 and 2009, the Board’s emergency lending facilities provided over $23 trillion in loans to large domestic and foreign financial institutions.
These loans were another bailout in all but name. Of the nearly $9 trillion the Board provided through its largest facility – the Primary Dealer Credit Facility – over two-thirds went to just three institutions: Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley. Those institutions and others had access to the Board’s credit facilities for an average of 22 months. And the interest rates the Board offered were typically very low – in many cases, under 1%.
Think about this for a moment. Citigroup was insolvent during the crisis – as Federal insiders have now acknowledged in books and media interviews. In an efficient market system, Citigroup would not have been able to borrow at all, much less at a rate for a AAA-borrower of less than 1 percent. The Federal Reserve is forbidden from making loans to insolvent institutions – but it did it anyway.
Contrast the Fed’s largess to serial miscreants like Citigroup against homeowners at the time whose credit was flawed but they had a job and were still paying their bills.
This is powerful stuff. This link should go everywhere. I hope it causes a Twitter storm.
The Ferguson police obviously do not like reporters for the same reason wrong-doers generally don’t like reporters: because reporters tell the public what the police in Ferguson are doing, and the police don’t want people to know.
Here’s a report at The Intercept of two reporters arrested and mailed overnight for the crime of reporting.
Let’s face the fact that police in America will now go to great lengths to keep the public from finding out what they do. Body cameras can be helpful (in the article, it mentions that complaints of brutality dropped 88% after body cameras went into use in Rialto CA), but in San Diego what the body cameras record is kept secret—the press and public are not allowed to view what the police are doing. Note: police are paid by taxpayers, their equipment (including body cameras) is purchased by taxpayers, and their activities are (presumably) to help the public. Why the secrecy? Because the police know what they are doing is wrong—not just morally or ethically wrong, but actually against the law. Fortunately for them, they are the ones who decide on a daily basis which laws to enforce. And they are keeping secret what those body cameras record.
Conor Friedersdorf has a good article on how videos that show what police seem to do almost routinely—beat and abuse the powerless—has led increasingly to their feeling of being “misunderstood” by the public, which actually is starting to understand them well. I do grasp that only a small minority of police officers are brutal thugs, but the other police officers cover for and support the activities of the thugs.
As to the militarization of police forces: Congress loves it:
“House lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in June to block legislation by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) that would have stopped…the so-called ‘1033 program,’ launched in 1997….The effects of the program have been on full display in Ferguson….While lawmakers have decried the excessive police response in Ferguson, a number of members told The Huffington Post they don’t expect Congress to do much to rein in the Pentagon program. That’s not so much because of intense lobbying from the defense industry, they said, but more because local police forces say they benefit from the free gear.” Jennifer Bendery, Ryan Grim and Zach Carter in The Huffington Post.
This seems important. Don Hazen, Terrell Starr, Steven Rosenfeld, and Tana Ganeva of AlterNet report at AlteNet:
Ten days after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by officer Darren Wilson, police and protestors continue to face off in the city of Ferguson. Last night’s protests broke into chaos  as riot police descended on the streets of the city in an attempt to disperse protestors.
On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon deployed the National Guard, allegedly without alerting  the White House. The first Humvees have left the National Guard base, according to reports from the scene highlighted in the Guardian. 
As the tense situation on the ground quickly evolves, here are 10 things you should know:
1. National Guard trained in fighting protesters
The Missouri National Guard troops being sent into Ferguson are military police, which, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have studied the Occupy protests and demonstrations that followed George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. These soldiers are now trained to deal with “crowd control measures, understanding protester tactics, incident management, and operating inside an area contaminated with chemical and biological hazards,” FEMA said, in a chillingly bland report  on its website touting the anti-protester training that military police now receive.
“We serve as a force multiplier during a natural disaster or civil unrest,” a platoon leader and deputy sheriff who completed the training said. “We have experienced protest from the Occupy Movement and, most recently, from the Zimmerman trial. This training makes us all more proficient MP soldier[s] and helps us communicate more effectively with local law enforcement.”
The photos on FEMA’s site show the military police practicing with protesters who are sitting down in the street and shows MPs cutting through plastic pipes that some protesters have used to chain themselves to each other. One can only imagine how military police, whose main training is designed for overseas war zones, will fare in Ferguson, where the underlying issues are institutional racism and police brutality.
2. Autopsy report: Why so many bullets?
It’s not clear how many bullets were fired by Officer Darren Wilson, and whether he fired his gun while he was still in his car.
But according to a private autopsy report, Michael Brown was hit by six bullets. Four hit him on the right arm, and two hit him in the head. Some of the bullets created several entry points. . .
I for one am very glad that UN Observers will be on the ground in Ferguson to attempt to ensure that human rights are respected.
It’s not segregation in terms of housing, it’s how power and accountability are distributed. Well worth reading and note the conclusions.
Max Blumenthal reports for AlterNet:
As the five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took hold on August 15, residents of Shujaiya returned to the shattered remains of their homes. They pitched tents and erected signs asserting their claim to their property, sorting determinedly through the ruins of their lives.
Those who managed to survive the Israeli bombardment have come home to bedrooms obliterated by tank shells, kitchens pierced by Hellfire missiles, and boudoirs looted by soldiers who used their homes as bases of operations before embarking on a series of massacres. Once a solidly middle-class suburb of Gaza City comprised of multi-family apartments and stately homes, the neighborhood of Shujaiya was transformed into a gigantic crime scene.
The attack on Shujaiya began at 11pm on July 19, with a combined Israeli bombardment from F-16s, tanks and mortar launchers. It was a night of hell which more than 100 did not survive and that none have recovered from. Inside the ruins of what used to be homes, returning locals related stories of survival and selflessness, detailing a harrowing night of death and destruction.
Outside a barely intact four-level, multi-family home that was hardly distinguishable from the other mangled structures lining the dusty roads of Shujaiya, I met members of the Atash family reclining on mats beside a makeshift stove. Khalil Atash, the 63-year-old patriarch of the family, motioned to his son heating a teapot above a few logs and muttered, “They’ve set us back a hundred years. Look at us, we’re now burning wood to survive.”
Khalil Atash led me inside the home to see the damage. The walls of the second floor that was to have been home to two of his newly married children had been blown off by tank shells. All that was left of the bathroom were the hot and cold knobs on the shower. On the next floor, four small children scampered barefoot across shattered glass and jagged shards of concrete. A bunk bed and crib were badly singed in the attack. But the damage could have been far worse. . .
Continue reading. Photos at the link.
I do not believe that all those lives and homes destroyed were members of Hamas. Indeed, Israel doesn’t even pretend that they are. Israel calls these innocent people “human shields” and that apparently gives Israel then the right to kill them and destroy their homes, kill, orphan their children, and so on. To do what they’ve been doing—like shelling the four boys playing on the beach—whom were they shielding? Why were they killed?
I think Israel has now gone far enough that the scales are starting to drop from people’s eyes and the events of the last few weeks will be viewed in a new light: war crimes.
From a report by David Carr in the NY Times.For context, read the story to which this is a parenthesis:
(In one bit of irony in the aftermath of the events on Wednesday, President Obama said, “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground.” This from an administration that has aggressively sought to block reporting and in some instances criminalize it.)
And you can see here how Twitter exploded.
And do read the story at that first link. It’s an important account of events that show how we’re headed.
Kimberly Kindy writes in the Washingon Post:
The explosion of new food additives coupled with an easing of oversight requirements is allowing manufacturers to avoid the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals streaming into the food supply.
And in hundreds of cases, the FDA doesn’t even know of the existence of new additives, which can include chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents, records and interviews show.
“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food.
The FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints about additives in recent years, saying certain substances seem to trigger asthmatic attacks, serious bouts of vomiting, intestinal-tract disorders and other health problems.
At a pace far faster than in previous years, companies are adding secret ingredients to everything from energy drinks to granola bars. But the more widespread concern among food-safety advocates and some federal regulators is the quickening trend of companies opting for an expedited certification process to a degree never intended when it was established 17 years ago to, in part, help businesses.
A voluntary certification system has nearly replaced one that relied on a more formal, time-consuming review — where the FDA, rather than companies, made the final determination on what is safe. The result is that consumers have little way of being certain that the food products they buy won’t harm them.
“We aren’t saying we have a public health crisis,” Taylor said. “But we do have questions about whether we can do what people expect of us.”
In the five decades since Congress gave the FDA responsibility for ensuring the safety of additives in the food supply, . . .
We all know exactly how well voluntary guidelines work for corporations: they simply do not work. Profit is more important. The reasons corporations like voluntary guidelines instead of laws that exactly match the guidelines, is that if it is a law, they will have to observe the guidelines, something none of them intend to do, so they all object to the law.
The importance of the safety of our food should be obvious to everyone, but obviously it is not. It’s as if we’re in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Big step: “A Human Rights Crisis”: In Unprecedented Move, Amnesty International Sends Monitors to Ferguson
The video report and transcript are at Democracy Now! The core of the statement:
STEVEN HAWKINS: Well, Amnesty saw a human rights crisis in Ferguson, and it’s a human rights crisis that is escalating. We sent observers down because there was a need for human rights observers. Clearly there are violations of international human rights law and standards, in terms of how the policing is being done on protests. So, for example, we’ve issued reports on, for example, Israel and the Occupied Territories, how tear gas is supposed to be administered—never in an indiscriminate way where children and the elderly could be subject to very harmful effects, even death, from tear gas. So, we sent down observers to be on the ground. We have been thwarted in our efforts to be able to go out on curfew with the police, which would be a clear standard in these circumstances, as well as the opportunity for the press to be able to be in the space. So, we also went down to make sure that the citizens in Ferguson understood that the eyes of the world were watching, that Amnesty is deeply supportive, and we will be continuing to monitor the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Your sense of the curfew? Do you support this curfew, or are you troubled by this curfew?
STEVEN HAWKINS: Very troubled by the curfew. That is an example, Amy, of the police going beyond what would be acceptable in international standards. The curfew—you know, we have criticized regimes around the world for imposing curfews and states of emergency in response to peaceful protests. And a few looting incidents would be—the response of a curfew was disproportionate to what the police were facing. But now it’s become more than—and the reason why you don’t respond in that fashion is exactly what we’re seeing now. It becomes a fait accompli, because now it is causing an escalation of the conflict.
A very strong argument against using evidence-based sentencing, which is becoming popular (along with another very bad idea, offender-funded justice). Jessica Pitko writes in Pacific Standard:
In Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, a data expert does what baseball scouts cannot: predict the future performance of a player with better accuracy. In addition to relying on the instincts of scouts, the Oakland A’s decided to use analytics to predict whether a player would be a top performer, thus gaining notoriety and kicking off an unprecedented winning streak.
Ex-New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram (now at the Arnold Foundation) made a similar point in a TED talk where she touted the value of statistics in the criminal justice system. Her argument was simple: Why not use statistics if they could help? Why wouldn’t statistics be more accurate than the individual decisions of judges? Milgram’s message is the promise of big data: a better, clearer future. And who can complain? You can’t argue with the numbers, right? But does that mean they’re fair?
Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced his opposition to the use of data analytics in sentencing and corrections decisions (often called “evidence-based sentencing”). He argued that the use of empirical data—including such factors as employment and family history and neighborhood of residence—used to determine whether an offender is likely to commit another crime tends to have a disproportionately negative effect on African Americans and other minorities. His office argues that past criminal conduct—not static factors, like where someone was born or whether their parents were incarcerated—should determine sentencing. Holder’s commentary is all the more noteworthy because evidence-based sentencing is slowly being embraced by many in the judiciary and state governments on both the left and right as a way for states to reduce burgeoning prison populations and the associated high costs.Currently, over 20 states use data-crunching risk-assessment programs for sentencing decisions, usually consisting of proprietary software whose exact methods are unknown, to determine which individuals are most likely to re-offend. The Senate and House are also considering similar tools for federal sentencing. These data programs look at a variety of factors, many of them relatively static, like criminal and employment history, age, gender, education, finances, family background, and residence.
Indiana, for example, uses . . .
As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., observed “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Science must know its limits, which in this case is policy, mercy, and judgment.