Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
Andrew Briner writes at ThinkProgress:
Add attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to the list of ailments attributed to the popular painkiller acetaminophen. A new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that more than half of mothers who took acetaminophen during pregnancy were more likely to have children with ADHD-like behavior or hyperkinetic disorder, a severe form of ADHD.
It’s unclear at this point whether acetaminophen use is actually causing these symptoms or if both are a sign of other unnoticed factors, as the Globe and Mail pointed out. And the long, shameful history of blaming and criminalizing pregnant women for pretty much anything they do during pregnancy means this news should be taken carefully. But even if proof of a causal link is demonstrated, the FDA’s record on regulating over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, specifically acetaminophen, shows it wouldn’t be up to the job of dealing with it.
And this news comes just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would berevamping its process for approving and regulating over-the-counter drugs, in response to just such concerns that it’s too slow to respond to new products and safety issues.
Acetaminophen is one such failure, as ProPublica extensively documented in September. The FDA convened a panel of experts to evaluate its safety in 1977, as the drug was first becoming widely popular. The panel determined it was “obligatory” to include a label warning that acetaminophen could cause “severe liver damage.” The FDA didn’t add that warning until 2009.
Acetaminophen is both one of the most commonly-used pain relief drugs in the United States and the primary cause of acute liver failure, nearly half of all cases. Overdoses kill an estimated 458 Americans each year, and are responsible for more than 56,000 emergency room visits and 2,600 hospitalizations.
No painkiller or drug is without risk. But for comparison, the entire class of drugs that includes ibuprofen, the Advil ingredient that is similarly popular to acetaminophen, was responsible for 15 deaths in 2010, according to CDC data as reported in ProPublica. In the same year acetaminophen killed 321, 166 of which were accidental overdoses.
The main problem is that the difference between a therapeutic dose and a life-threatening one is small. . .
Ted Scheinman writes at Pacific Standard:
Fifteen years ago, the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan published what was, at the time, the most lucid and urgent account of American government and its culture of confidentiality. A slim, accessible volume, Secrecy uses a social lexicon derived largely from Émile Durkheim, the French pioneer of the formal study now known as sociology; the book’s chief aim is to interrogate how entrenched systems of secrecy had allowed the Cold War to proceed far too long, benching domestic concerns while digging the U.S. into deep peacetime debt.
An expansion of a bipartisan report from the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the commission was spearheaded by Moynihan), Secrecy is a thorough and vividly scary portrait of a government’s failure to communicate with itself. The results of this failure included willful misinterpretation of Cold War market trends (the CIA’s claim in 1986 that per capita production in East Germany was higher than in the West, say) alongside prejudicially selective choices, on the part of U.S. intelligence chamberlains, of what Truman or Reagan needed to know. Remember the Venona Decrypts? Truman didn’t.
An ambient sense of the covert foments notions of conspiracy on each wing of American politics, driving left and right farther apart and making possible odious phenomena from HUAC to the Patriot Act.
Unlike the demagogues whom secrecy had empowered, Moynihan is precise about his terms:
Secrecy is a form of regulation. There are many such forms, but a general division can be made between those dealing with domestic affairs and those dealing with foreign affairs. In the first category, it is generally the case that government prescribes what the citizen may do. In the second category, it is generally the case that government prescribes what the citizen may know.
To these we must now add a 21st-century category: What the government may know about a citizen.
If Secrecy is concerned in part with tracing the origins and noxious consequences of generational paranoia, revelations about government surveillance in the past year have stoked a new if woefully inadequate debate over the balance between freedom and security. We now know that Big Brother is indeed “watching,” to what extent He is doing so, and at what cost to the taxpayer—in liberty, and in lucre.
The Big Brother thing, quite naturally, dominated last week’s annual RSA security conference in San Francisco—a sticky affair, as a company trafficking in aggressive encryption software for civilian privacy sought to explain its decade-long contract with the NSA. If nothing else, the Edward Snowden leaks gave people something to freak out about. How many tech and security conferences are mere swag and boilerplate? As the Times reports:
In hotel lobbies, conference rooms, panels and coffee shops, American executives and government officials were seen and heard having tortured conversations with their international counterparts as executives tried to convince their clients that their technologies did not contain legal or virtual back doors for the National Security Agency.
That’s some hot stuff, especially with Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) wooing back his Silicon pals and Richard Clarke dropping f-bombs at the Cloud Security Alliance panel: “The U.S. … has to get out of the business of fucking with encryption standards.” . . .
Peter Van Buren has a post at Informed Comment:
The Obama administration has just opened a new front in its ongoing war on whistleblowers. It’s taking its case against one man, former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Air Marshal Robert MacLean, all the way to the Supreme Court. So hold on, because we’re going back down the rabbit hole with the Most Transparent Administration ever.
Despite all the talk by Washington insiders about how whistleblowers like Edward Snowden should work through the system rather than bring their concerns directly into the public sphere, MacLean is living proof of the hell of trying to do so. Through the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to use MacLean’s case to further limit what kinds of information can qualify for statutory whistleblowing protections. If the DOJ gets its way, only information that the government thinks is appropriate — a contradiction in terms when it comes to whistleblowing — could be revealed. Such a restriction would gut the legal protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act and have a chilling effect on future acts of conscience.
Having lost its case against MacLean in the lower courts, the DOJ is seeking to win in front of the Supreme Court. If heard by the Supremes — and there’s no guarantee of that — this would represent that body’s first federal whistleblower case of the post-9/11 era. And if it were to rule for the government, even more information about an out-of-control executive branch will disappear under the dark umbrella of “national security.”
On the other hand, should the court rule against the government, or simply turn down the case, whistleblowers like MacLean will secure a little more protection than they’ve had so far in the Obama years. Either way, an important message will be sent at a moment when revelations of government wrongdoing have moved from the status of obscure issue to front-page news.
The issues in the MacLean case — who is entitled to whistleblower protection, what use can be made of retroactive classification to hide previously unclassified information, how many informal classification categories the government can create bureaucratically, and what role the Constitution and the Supreme Court have in all this — are arcane and complex. But stay with me. Understanding the depths to which the government is willing to sink to punish one man who blew the whistle tells us the world about Washington these days and, as they say, the devil is in the details.
Robert MacLean, Whistleblower
MacLean’s case is simple — and complicated.
Here’s the simple part: MacLean was an air marshal, flying armed aboard American aircraft as the last defense against a terror attack. In July 2003, all air marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the TSA, which oversees the marshals, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to their cell phones cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. Fearing that such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public, MacLean worked his way through the system. He first brought his concerns to his supervisor and then to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Each responded that nothing could be done.
After hitting a dead end, and hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to change its policy, MacLean talked anonymously to a reporter who broadcast a critical story. After 11 members of Congress pitched in, the TSA reversed itself. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency dress and boarding policies that he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize marshals who work undercover. (On your next flight keep an eye out for the young man in khakis with a fanny pack and a large watch, often wearing a baseball cap and eyeing boarders from a first class seat.) This time the TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered that he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.
When MacLean contested his dismissal through internal government channels, he discovered that, months after firing him, the TSA had retroactively classified the text message he had leaked. Leaking classified documents is more than cause enough to fire a federal worker, and that might have been the end of it. MacLean, however, was no typical cubicle-dwelling federal employee. An Air Force veteran, he asserted his status as a protected whistleblower and has spent the last seven years marching through the system trying to get his job back.
How Everything in Government Became Classified
The text message MacLean leaked was retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI), a designation that had been around for years but whose usage the TSA only codified via memo in November 2003. When it comes to made-up classifications, that agency’s set of them proved to be only one of 28 known versions that now exist within the government bureaucracy. In truth, no one is sure how many varieties of pseudo-classifications even exist under those multiple policies, or how many documents they cover as there are no established reporting requirements.
By law there are officially only three levels of governmental classification: confidential, secret, and top secret. Other indicators, such as NOFORN and ORCON, seen for instance on some of the NSA documents Edward Snowden released, are called “handling instructions,” although they, too, function as unofficial categories of classification. Each of the three levels of official classification has its own formal definition and criteria for use. It is theoretically possible to question the level of classification of a document. However much they may be ignored, there are standards for their declassification and various supervisors can also shift levels of classification as a final report, memo, or briefing takes shape. The system is designed, at least in theory and occasionally in practice, to have some modicum of accountability and reviewability.
The government’s post-9/11 desire to classify more and more information ran head on into the limits of classification as enacted by Congress. The response by various agencies was to invent a proliferation of designations like SSI that would sweep unclassified information under the umbrella of classification and confer on ever more unclassified information a (sort of) classified status. In the case of the TSA, the agency even admits on its own website that a document with an SSI stamp is unclassified, but prohibits its disclosure anyway.
Imagine the equivalent at home: you arbitrarily establish a classification called Spouse Sensitive Information that prohibits your partner from seeing the family bank statements. And if all this is starting to make no sense, then you can better understand the topsy-turvy world Robert MacLean found himself in.
MacLean Wins a Battle in Court
In 2013, after a long series of civil service and legal wrangles, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit handed down a decision confirming the government’s right to retroactively classify information. This may make some sense — if you squint hard enough from a Washington perspective. Imagine a piece of innocuous information already released that later takes on national security significance. A retroactive classification can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, but bureaucratically speaking it would at least prevent more toothpaste from being squeezed out. The same ruling, of course, could also be misused to ensnare someone like MacLean who shared unclassified information.
The court also decided that, retrospective classification or not, MacLean was indeed entitled to protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. That act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law,” typically held to mean unclassified material. This, the court insisted, was the category MacLean fit into and so could not be fired. The court avoided the question of whether or not someone could be fired for disclosing retroactively classified information and focused on whether a made-up category like SSI was “classified” at all.
The court affirmed that laws passed by Congress creating formal classifications like “top secret” trump regulations made up by executive branch bureaucrats.
In other words, as the Constitution intended, the legislative branch makes the laws and serves as a check and balance on the executive branch. Congress says what is classified and that say-so cannot be modified via an executive branch memo. One of MacLean’s lawyers hailed the court’s decision as restoring “enforceability for the Whistleblower Protection Act’s public free speech rights. It ruled that only Congress has the authority to remove whistleblower rights. Agency-imposed restraints are not relevant for whistleblower protection rights.”
The ruling made it clear that the TSA had fired MacLean in retaliation for a legally protected act of whistleblowing. He should have been offered his job back the next day.
Not a Happy Ending But a Sad New Beginning
No such luck. Instead, . . .
The Obama Administration has worked hard to close our open government. Note that MacLean followed the course that Obama has said that Edward Snowden should have followed: working within the system, following defined procedure. It doesn’t work, something that I doubt Obama will ever admit.
Read the entire story: the Obama Administration is showing its hand, and their direction is antithetical to American values and American democracy.
UPDATE: Also see Dan Froomkin’s report in The Intercept.
Very interesting article—and I would rate the comments interesting as well. Mark Mazzetti reports in the NY Times:
The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The committee has spent several years working on a voluminous report about the detention and interrogation program, and according to one official interviewed in recent days, C.I.A. officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation.
The events have elevated the protracted battle — which began as a fight over who writes the history of the program, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks — into a bitter standoff that in essence is a dispute over the separation of powers and congressional oversight of spy agencies.
The specifics of the inspector general’s investigation are unclear. But several officials interviewed in recent days — all of whom insisted on anonymity, citing a continuing inquiry — said it began after the C.I.A. took what Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, on Tuesday called an “unprecedented action” against the committee.
The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.
It is not known what the agency’s inspector general, David B. Buckley, has found in the investigation or whether Mr. Buckley has referred any cases to the Justice Department for further investigation. Spokesmen for the agency and the Justice Department declined to comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, gave few details about the dispute on Tuesday as she left a closed committee hearing on the crisis in Ukraine, but she did confirm that the C.I.A. had begun an internal review.
“There is an I.G. investigation,” she said.
Asked about the tension between the committee and the spy agency it oversees, Ms. Feinstein said, “Our oversight role will prevail.”
The episode is a rare moment of public rancor between the intelligence agencies and Ms. Feinstein’s committee, which has been criticized in some quarters for its muscular defense of many controversial intelligence programs — from the surveillance operations exposed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program using armed drones.
The origins of the current dispute date back more than a year, when the committee completed its work on a 6,000-page report about the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program. People who have read the study said it is a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
The report has yet to be declassified, but last June, John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, responded to the Senate report with a 122-page rebuttal challenging specific facts in the report as well as the investigation’s overarching conclusion — that the agency’s interrogation methods yielded little valuable intelligence.
Then, in December, Mr. Udall revealed that the Intelligence Committee had become aware of an internal C.I.A. study that he said was “consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report” and “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”
It appears that Mr. Udall’s revelation is what set off the current fight, with C.I.A. officials accusing the Intelligence Committee of learning about the internal review by gaining unauthorized access to agency databases. . .
Continue reading. And check out those comments. E.g.,
Loved twitter response from Greenwald:
Ironic: Senate Intel Comm – which endorses vast NSA spying on ordinary citizens – gets angry when they’re spied on.
Since the Federal government has already decided that marijuana has no medical benefit (and is highly addictive to boot), the FDA is unwilling to allow studies that might contradict the Federal position. (Marijuana is a Schedule I drug: those are drugs that have no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.) April Short describes a 14-year effort to get approval for a study of marijuana’s effects on PTSD:
As a psychiatrist and physician focused on internal medicine, Sue Sisley of Arizona treats first responders and military veterans on a regular basis. Many of them suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After years observing and speaking with patients she learned that many were using an alternative medicine—cannabis—to successfully manage their symptoms.
“We ran these patients through the gauntlet of every FDA-approved medicine, and either nothing worked or it had really onerous side effects,” said Sisley. “So all these patients were gradually, on their own, starting to use cannabis as an alternative way to treat their symptoms, and talking to me about it.”
While Sisley describes herself as a lifelong Republican who has never tried an illicit drug and doesn’t drink, she became curious to know why and how cannabis was helping so many of her patients.
“This is a dire need, understanding PTSD, not just for combat vets but for all our citizens who are plagued by this,” she said, noting that 22 veterans kill themselves per day in the U.S. according to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Any physician who’s also a human being can’t rest when we know that there’s something out there, in this case a plant, that has the potential to reduce human suffering.”
She began to look into studying the plant, but came up against the same wall that has blockaded any attempts at clinical research on cannabis outside of limited research by the U.S. government for the last 40 years. Due to the demonization of cannabis by drug war propaganda, the plant falls under Schedule I classification. This is the most restrictive possible scheduling, and means that officially, pot is considered dangerous and devoid of any potential medical use.
“I started asking more and more questions about why we couldn’t research this drug properly and why these studies were being suppressed,” she said. “[Cannabis] has proven itself over and over again in literally thousands, millions of patients across the country, and when you know that, you can’t rest and just allow this plant to be forced out. I think we have a duty as physicians to demand that this plant be rigorously studied.”
Her curiosity and determination led her to meet Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). The California-based nonprofit organization has been trying for 14 years to complete federally sanctioned clinical research studies on cannabis. So far, however, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—which has a DEA-protected monopoly on the only legal supply of cannabis for use in FDA-regulated research—has refused to sell them cannabis.
Doblin and Sisley worked to develop protocols for a study that would look at cannabis’ effects on treatment-resistant combat veterans with PTSD, with Sisley as principal investigator. After years of back and forth, the study’s protocols were approved by the Food and Drug Administration three years ago. They were also approved by the University of Arizona Institutional Review Board (IRB), and the University of Arizona has agreed to play host.
There’s just one problem: they still need NIDA approval in order to purchase federally sanctioned weed, and NIDA won’t sell until a third review process is completed by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), as required by a 1999 guideline.
This additional review is not required for research on any other Schedule I drug, but was tacked onto the regular approval requirements and is governed by the U.S. Health and Human services department, under NIDA.
After the original study protocol was rejected by PHS in September 2011, MAPS resubmitted a revised protocol on Oct. 24, 2013. Ever since, the line has gone dead. Unlike FDA protocols which require a response within 30 days, there is no timeline requiring PHS to respond. The PHS guidance has effectively blockaded the study of cannabis by failing to respond.
Sisley called the PHS review process redundant, and said the only real reason for it to exist is to keep the war on drugs alive.
“If their motive is to suppress any research that might prove the benefits of marijuana, then it’s understandable they don’t want that data out there because that conflicts with their mission,” she said.
Brad Burge, communications director for MAPS, points out that President Obama has the authority to terminate the extra requirement at any time. The Secretary of Health and Human Services could also legally revoke the guidance as it was issued within HHS.
“We’re hoping with this pressure, with enough public attention, HHS will make a statement or Obama—especially given his recent statements on medical marijuana—will decide to eliminate the hold, and to eliminate the process,” he said.
Thousands of veterans nationwide swear by marijuana’s effectiveness in reducing their PTSD symptoms and advocate for better access to cannabis as an alternative to the pharmaceuticals they’re regularly prescribed. Perry Parks, a Vietnam combat veteran and decorated retired military officer called the limits on access to medical marijuana a “healthcare tragedy few people recognize.” Oaksterdam University has a new scholarship program to help train more veterans to grow their own plants and work in the cannabis industry.
Despite the vocal and increasingly recognized call for veterans’ access to cannabis, the study in question would be the world’s first-ever controlled clinical study on using the herb to treat PTSD in human patients. Burge notes that prior animal studies, among them a study using lab rats published in the scientific journal Nature, have shown that cannabis helps calm an overactive fear system. . .
An interesting book review in the NY Review of Books by Marcia Angell:
by Alison WolfCrown, 393 pp., $26.00
In just the past two or three decades, women in more than token numbers have taken their place alongside men at the upper levels of government, the professions, and business. They now earn more than half of all college degrees, and they will shortly make up a majority of lawyers, doctors, and college faculty. While they still account for only a small minority of political and business leaders, that, too, is changing. The rapid ascension of women to the most influential sectors of society—occurring in all advanced Western countries—is likely to have profound implications for public policy, and perhaps even more for the way families construct their lives and raise their children.In her remarkably wide-ranging book, Alison Wolf describes these women at the top—why their numbers have grown so fast in recent years and what their lives are like. She estimates they make up roughly 15 to 20 percent of working women in advanced countries, or about 70 million women worldwide. (Whether she is defining them by education or income is not clear, but it doesn’t much matter, since the two are so closely correlated.) She calls them variously “professional women” (an unfortunate choice), “graduates,” and the “elite,” but none of those terms quite captures the combination of education, ambition, and professional commitment that characterizes them. Clearly, we need a term that refers to something more than just graduating from college, but it’s hard to come up with one, as Wolf demonstrates. I’ll call them “upper-middle-class,” although that is not very precise either. Whatever the term, if you are reading this, the chances are that you are one of these women or living with one.
The book says relatively little about the other 80 to 85 percent of women, and virtually all Wolf’s interviews are with women in the upper-middle class, mainly her friends and colleagues; and, it seems to me, disproportionately women in business or finance. But that is a small cavil (mainly with the subtitle, which seems to promise a focus on all working women) in a book that is so interesting and well documented, drawing on a variety of surveys as well as interviews. Moreover, the focus on upper-middle-class women seems justified, since their rise to the top is a new and largely unexamined phenomenon. Despite the mountain of data Wolf amasses, however, she does not say very much about what she thinks the reader should conclude from all of it. I will try to draw some conclusions here, based on her book, on other publications, and on my own experiences.
Until the 1960s, with few exceptions, the only way even educated women could gain security, let alone status, was to make as good a marriage as possible as early as possible, leave the workforce (if they were ever in it), and spend the rest of their lives caring for their families and homes. Their social standing was that of their husbands. For practical reasons, sex, marriage, and children were tightly bound together, at least in respectable circles. There was no reliable birth control, the social stigma of extra-marital pregnancy was great, and unmarried men often did not take responsibility for the children they fathered, leaving single mothers barely able to support their children. Smart women made sure not to get pregnant before marriage, and the best way to ensure that was not to have sex.
From earliest history right through the 1950s, there was therefore a transactional element to marriage. In return for the security and protection and social approbation the husband provided, the wife provided sex and children and management of the household. If the man was wealthy and the woman beautiful and charming, so much the better. Of course, there was often love and companionship as well, but throughout history, as Wolf writes, “sex proffered, sex withheld were the main assets that girls possessed.”
All that changed almost overnight when the birth control pill hit the market in the early 1960s. Suddenly, premarital sex was no longer risky. Very quickly, the Pill (everyone knew what that capitalized word meant) came into widespread use, and for the first time, both women and men could have sex without fear of pregnancy. That certainly suited the times, and the Woodstock generation enthusiastically embraced free sex—or at least a certain segment of that generation did—and premarital sex generally lost its stigma. Both women and men often had multiple sex partners before marriage, and began to marry much later. The median age at first marriage for women increased from twenty-one in 1960 to twenty-seven in 2011.
Reliable contraception also made it feasible for women to undertake long years of education and commit to careers in a way that had not been possible before, and they began to be encouraged by, of all people, their fathers—their “besotted” fathers, in Wolf’s words. One reason for the change in the attitudes of fathers is that in the second half of the twentieth century, . . .
A bit hollow, given the US sending troops into Iraq. And, speaking of international law, there’s an international law against torturing and murdering prisoners, but that doesn’t seem to concern Obama—and it certainly didn’t concern George W. Bush.
Something about a mote in one’s neighbor’s eye, compared with a beam in one’s own.
I wonder whether such flagrant betrayal of supporting the general welfare would be grounds for recall or impeachment. Probably not. Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress.
Pennsylvania is one of just 15 states that ban predatory payday loans, for now. If state Rep. Chris Ross (R) and state Sen. Pat Browne (R) have their way, though, the Keystone State will open its arms to companies that already pull billions of dollars out of poor communities each year through loans with average interest rates of over 300 percent.
Browne has sponsored a bill to remove the state’s 24 percent cap on interest rates. The legislation is modeled on a bill Ross pushed through the Pennsylvania House last year, but which never won Senate passage in 2013. While Browne did not comment on the effort, Ross told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that their efforts are meant to give the state better control over companies that currently operate in the state from the internet shadows.
“I believe there is a need for a properly structured, short-term lending in Pennsylvania,” Ross said. “We’ve got the Internet, for which there is no effective means of regulation to protect consumers.”
The Department of Justice is fighting illicit online lending, despite criticism from industry-friendly Republicans at the national level. And while that indicates that there is a real demandfor cash advances in poor communities where paychecks don’t always come in time to cover the bills, it doesn’t mean lifting the cap on interest rates is necessarily the right solution. If lawmakers want to do something to help satisfy that demand, they don’t have to invite the fine-print trickery of private payday lending companies into their states’ neediest corners. (Each year more than 12 million people take out payday loans nationwide and end up paying roughly $520 in interest and fees for every $375 they borrow thanks to limitless interest rates.)
The most promising alternative would be to resurrect the Postal Service’s (USPS) long-dormant banking powers. The USPS has physical locations in many communities that have been abandoned by banks — places where payday lenders flourish by virtue of being the only option for desperate people — and could provide the same basic banking services and short-term loans at non-abusive prices. The revenue that postal banking would bring in would also close the budget hole Congress created for the USPS when it required the agency to keep its pensions fully funded for the next 75 years, a requirement no other business or government agency faces. Polling on the idea is scarce, but one survey found significant support for the idea with many still unsure what to think.
Using the post office to meet the needs of poor people without access to bank accounts would also end the cycle of legislative gamesmanship that has surrounded payday lending for decades. The companies that profit from the practice spend a lot of money on political contributions, and use the resulting clout to either kill reform efforts in states where the loans are allowed or expand their access to customers in states that regulate the industry more tightly. Payday lenders have proven adept at evading state regulators, and have slipped through the cracks of national financial regulation. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is finally putting regulatory cops on the payday lending beat and winning unprecedented legal victories for abuses, postal banking offers an even more elegant solution.
The rise of secret laws, secret courts, and secret decisions that affect us all is a very regressive step. One is astonished to see such things become standard practice in the US and presage the doom of democracy. The virtue of open court proceedings with evidence presented publicly and the defendant able to question the plaintiff or prosecutor is so that we can be assured that justice was indeed done and that fairness prevailed. Once the courts become secret, with secret evidence and secret decisions, then we are moving directly in a totalitarian direction. The next step would be secret prisons, and we have seen those as well in the gulag created by George W. Bush. (We also have prisons that are not secret in terms of location, but who is imprisoned and what goes on in the prison is secret: the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan, for example.) Secrecy is essential for actions that cannot withstand the light of day.
And now our corporate overloads are striving to get secret courts to resolve their inter-corporate disputes: they do not want the issues of the evidence made public because it would reveal to the public the sorts of things corporations now feel free to do. (See, for example, the actions of Duke Energy in North Carolina, where the corporation has placed one of its own in the Governor’s mansion.)
Judith Resnick reports in the NY Times:
Should wealthy litigants be able to rent state judges and courthouses to decide cases in private and keep the results secret?
The answer should be an easy no, but if the judges of Delaware’s Chancery Court persuade the United States Supreme Court to take their case and reverse lower federal court rulings outlawing that practice, corporations will, in Delaware, be able to do just that.
The state has long been a magnet for corporate litigation because of its welcoming tax structures and the court’s business expertise. Yet the State Legislature became concerned that Delaware was losing its “pre-eminence” in corporate litigation to a growing market in private dispute resolution.
To compete, Delaware passed a law in 2009 offering new privileges to well-heeled businesses. If litigants had at least $1 million at stake and were willing to pay $12,000 in filing fees and $6,000 a day thereafter, they could use Delaware’s chancery judges and courtrooms for what was called an “arbitration” that produced enforceable legal judgments.
Instead of open proceedings, filings would not be docketed, the courtroom would be closed to the public and the outcome would be secret. The Delaware Supreme Court could review judgments, but that court has not indicated whether appeals would also be confidential.
A group called the Coalition for Open Government, including news and civic organizations, objected that Delaware’s legislation was unconstitutional. In 2012, a federal judge agreed that the law violated the public’s right of access to civil proceedings under the First Amendment. A divided appellate court concurred. Delaware judges are now asking the Supreme Court to reinstate Delaware’s system.
Proponents argue that keeping sensitive business information secret and avoiding uncomfortable publicity is what makes arbitration attractive. To defend their rent-a-court system’s “conciliatory atmosphere,” conducive to “business relations,” Delaware’s chancery judges invoked the history of privacy in arbitration. This translates into giving control to litigants to make their own rules, use state judges and prevent the public from knowing anything.
Can judges in courts preside over trial-like proceedings in private? Many state constitutions (including Delaware’s) insist that all “courts shall be open.” The United States Constitution does not have those words, but the Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to a “speedy and public trial,” and civil and criminal litigants have rights to jury trials. Those provisions — with First Amendment rights to petition for redress and free speech, due process and English open court traditions — have produced a body of law mandating openness. Before a proceeding can be closed, judges need to make a record of what exceptional circumstances, such as trade secrets or national security, justify secrecy.
What are the stakes? As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham explained centuries ago, when presiding at trial, judges were “on trial.” Publicity (“the very soul of justice”) takes control away from both judges and disputants and shifts power, to the great “tribunal of public opinion.”
Only in the second half of the 20th century did courthouse doors really welcome all persons, regardless of race, gender and ethnicity. Congress, creating new rights for consumers and employees, supported access by funding legal services. Class actions enabled pursuit of claims. Information poured out, as technologies let people read briefs online, watch proceedings streamed live, and download data on courts’ budgets. Courts demonstrate how to have civilized debates about deeply contested views of what law is or ought to be.
In contrast, the public face of private dispute resolution depends on what providers decide to put on it. Information may dribble out, through corporate disclosure statements, academic studies, state mandates for disclosures (such as insurance payments for malpractice) and anecdotes.
Delaware’s program points to a broader problem: the growing privatization of judging and the closing of access to courts. The Supreme Court has accelerated this trend through its expansive interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, intended to ensure that if parties’ contracts include private arbitration, federal courts would enforce them.
In a series of recent decisions, the court stretched that law to apply to consumers and employees, with no bargaining power over terms. For example, purchasers of cellphones and prospective employees are frequently required to sign “contracts” replacing court access with procedures companies choose. These are take-it-or-leave-it deals. If you want a cellphone or a job, you have to agree to private dispute resolution.
Because of this one-sidedness, . . .
Some good insights into what is going on in the Ukraine—insights you won’t see in the mainstream press and certainly not on television/cable.
Take a look at Patrick L. Smith’s article in Salon, “Thomas Friedman, supreme toady: Also, shameless!“
Also read Robert Parry’s analysis at ConsortiumNews.com: “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine“
Click until you get enough pixels so you can recognize the image. May take a while to load.
Trip Gabriel reports in the NY Times:
Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers.
“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.”
From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”
But when the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in early February, those big changes were suddenly playing out in a different light. Federal prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the spill and the relations between Duke and regulators at the environmental agency.
The spill, which coated the river bottom 70 miles downstream and threatened drinking water and aquatic life, drew wide attention to a deal that the environmental department’s new leadership reached with Duke last year over pollution from coal ash ponds. It included a minimal fine but no order that Duke remove ash — the waste from burning coal to generate electricity — from its leaky, unlined ponds near drinking water. Environmental groups said the arrangement protected a powerful utility rather than the environment or the public.
Current and former state regulators said the watchdog agency, once among the most aggressive in the Southeast, has been transformed under Gov. Pat McCrory into a weak sentry that plays down science, has abandoned its regulatory role and suffers from politicized decision-making.
The episode is a huge embarrassment for Mr. McCrory, who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years and is a former mayor of Charlotte, where the company is based. And it has become yet another point of contention in North Carolina, where Republicans who took control of the General Assembly in 2011 and the governor’s mansion last year have passed sweeping laws in line with conservative principles. They have affected voting rights and unemployment benefits, as well as what Republicans called “job-killing” environmental regulations, which have received less notice.
Critics say the accident, the third-largest coal ash spill on record, is inextricably linked to the state’s new environmental politics and reflects an enforcement agency led by a secretary who suggested that oil was a renewable resource and an assistant secretary who, as a state lawmaker, drew a bull’s-eye on a window in his office framing the environmental agency’s headquarters.
“They’re terrified,” said John Dorney, a retired supervisor who keeps in touch with many current employees. “Now these people have to take a deep breath and say, ‘I know what the rules require, but what does the political process want me to do?’ ”
Duke has apologized for the Dan River spill and says it is now committed to cleaning up some of its 32 coal ash ponds across the state. The company has also been subpoenaed in the federal investigation.
A spokesman for Governor McCrory said the governor had no role in the state’s proposed settlement with Duke. . .
Continue reading. The story at the link includes a video. And the comments are worth reading. People are becoming increasingly angry at the downfall of the US.
Greg Hampikian raises a good point in a NY Times op-ed:
BOISE, Idaho — TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:
In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?
I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.
I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.
At present, the harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto capital crimes.
I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?
If two armed students are arguing over who should be served next at the coffee bar and I sense escalating hostility, should I aim for the legs and remind them of the campus Shared-Values Statement (which reads, in part, “Boise State strives to provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation”)?
While our city police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association spokesman).
Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one seems willing to defend.
The problem, of course, is not that drunken frat boys will be armed; it is that they are drunken frat boys. Arming them is clearly not the issue. They would cause damage with or without guns. I would point out that urinating against a building or firing a few rounds into a sorority house are both violations of the same honor code.
In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.
Some of my colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging . . .
Lois Beckett has a good article in Pacific Standard:
Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, treating about 2,000 patients a year for gunshots, stabbings, and other violent injuries.
So when researchers started screening patients there for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011, they assumed they would find cases.
They just didn’t know how many: Fully 43 percent of the patients they examined—and more than half of gunshot-wound victims—had signs of PTSD.
“We knew these people were going to have PTSD symptoms,” said Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the hospital. “We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive.”
What the work showed, Joseph said, is, “This is a much more urgent problem than you think.”
Joseph proposed spending about $200,000 a year to add staffers to screen all at-risk patients for PTSD and connect them with treatment. The taxpayer-subsidized hospital has an annual budget of roughly $450 million. But Joseph said hospital administrators turned her down and suggested she look for outside funding.
“Right now, we don’t have institutional support,” said Joseph, who is now applying for outside grants.
A hospital spokeswoman would not comment on why the hospital decided not to pay for regular screening. The hospital is part of a pilot program with other area hospitals to help “pediatrics patients identified with PTSD,” said the spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias. “The Cook County Health and Hospitals System is committed to treating all patients with high quality care.”
Right now, social workers try to identify patients with the most severe PTSD symptoms, said Carol Reese, the trauma center’s violence prevention coordinator and an Episcopal priest.
“I’m not going to tell you we have everything we need in place right now, because we don’t,” Reese said. “We have a chaplain and a social worker and a couple of social work interns trying to see 5,000 people. We’re not staffed to do it.”
A growing body of research shows that Americans with traumatic injuries develop PTSD at rates comparable to veterans of war. Just like veterans, civilians can suffer flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia, and social withdrawal. While the United States has been slow to provide adequate treatment to troops affected by post-traumatic stress, the military has made substantial progress in recent years. It now regularly screens for PTSD, works to fight the stigma associated with mental health treatment, and educates military families about potential symptoms.
Few similar efforts exist for civilian trauma victims. Americans wounded in their own neighborhoods are not getting treatment for PTSD. They’re not even getting diagnosed.
Studies show that, overall, about eight percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. But the rates appear to be much higher in communities—such as poor, largely African-American pockets of Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia—where high rates of violent crime have persisted despite a national decline.
Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least one in three of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives—and that’s a “conservative estimate,” said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.
“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.” . . .
If the US is going to continue to make guns freely available to everyone, then it has a responsibility to ameliorate the resulting human damage.
The GOP strongly opposes any agency, law, or other measure that will assist consumers (cf. their continuing attacks on Obamacare, for example). The CFPB is a regular target, as described in the Washington Post by Lydia DePillis:
The two-and-a-half-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may finally have a confirmed director, but that doesn’t mean Republicans are done throwing rocks at it.
The House debated (and is expected to pass) a package of bills this afternoon that would replace the bureau’s single director with a five-person commission, prevent it from collecting consumer credit card information, and make it easier for the Treasury’s Financial Stability Oversight Council to overrule CFPB regulations. House Republicans have been trying to pass many of these things for years, which hobbled the fledgling agency’s effectiveness by making it play defense even though they never became law.
Perhaps the most important component has to do with money: The legislation would change the CFPB’s funding mechanism so that its budget comes from Congress rather than the Federal Reserve. It authorizes $300 million for each of the next two years, or about two-thirds of what the bureau has been spending annually. After that, there’s nothing – per the House Financial Services Committee’s GOP majority and theCongressional Budget Office, it would save $5.4 billion over the next 10 years, which can only be true if the CFPB isn’t funded at all. (GOP committee staff said later that the bill only saves that much “in the vernacular,” and that they don’t intend to zero out the bureau’s budget entirely.)
Of course, it’s almost certain the bill won’t clear the Democratically-controlled Senate anyway, and the White House has already promised not to sign it. For that reason, one might see this as a purely political exercise, allowing a stream of GOP Congress members to inveigh against “perhaps the most powerful agency in government” (Rep. Patrick McHenry, N.C.) that’s “disgracefully unaccountable to the American people” (Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Ind.) and proof that “big government is breathing down their backs” (Rep. Sean Duffy, Wis.).
The bureau’s defenders rebutted most of their attacks — the credit card data being collected can’t be traced back to individual consumers, for example — but occasionally just threw up their hands in exasperation.
“We could’ve saved a lot of trees and a lot of time if we had a bill that said ‘end the Consumer Protection Bureau,” said Rep. Dennis Heck (D-Wash.), one of the few Democrats who lined up to oppose it. “We all know what the fate of it is going to be. And what is the opportunity cost of making that point? At least one opportunity cost is being able to work on actual regulatory relief.”
So the CFPB is probably safe — at least until the midterm elections. But the continued onslaught is evidence that it hasn’t made as many friends as it might’ve hoped, even after delivering $3 billion to consumers in settlements over fraudulent practices by financial institutions, and helping thousands who called in to complain about mortgages, student loans, auto loans, payday lenders, and debt collectors. The bureau’s leaders tried really, really hard to win over the community banks and credit unions, but their trade associations still spoke outin favor of the legislation that would render it essentially powerless, protesting that the CFPB’s new requirements are still too onerous for smaller institutions to deal with.
The GOP truly sees the role of government as protecting businesses, with consumers left to fend for themselves.
The US Border Patrol has repeatedly killed people in highly questionable shootings, with no accountability in sight. Tim Johnson reports for McClatchy:
On a chilly January night near the Mexican border, a Border Patrol agent peeled away from colleagues and chased Gabriel Sanchez Velazquez through desert scrub. Two shots rang out.
When the agent returned, he said that Sanchez, a sinewy 5-foot-9 car mechanic who spoke English well after spending 15 years in the United States, had leapt from under a mesquite bush and lunged to seize the agent’s service firearm, forcing him to shoot. No one else has come forward to contradict his story.
Sanchez’s death was the 20th fatal shooting of a civilian by a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2010 as the agency expanded rapidly. Last week, another shooting took place, bringing the total to 21.
The killings expose what lawyers and civil rights advocates assert are far-reaching problems in the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency.
Those problems, critics charge, include a resistance to adopting safeguards on the use of lethal force, watered-down training standards amid rapid expansion and a mentality that anything goes in the battle to secure America’s borders.
Of the 21 dead, 16 were Mexican or Guatemalan. Most of the victims were unarmed, and some were on Mexican soil. One was a 16-year-old who was shot multiple times in the back as he stood on the Mexican side of the border fence. None of the shooters is known to have been disciplined, and the circumstances of most of the cases have not been aired in public. Sanchez’s wife and children – all American citizens – are still trying to learn the name of the man who shot him.
The spate of homicides raises an uncomfortable question, the critics say: Do Border Patrol agents have a green light to fire on and kill Mexican and Central American migrants?
Guarding the U.S. border is an issue of national security, and Border Patrol advocates argue that the agency’s mission can be dangerous, though the number of armed confrontations appears minimal. One agent died in a shootout on Dec. 14, 2010, with bandits in Arizona’s Peck Canyon. Another notorious case happened Oct. 2, 2012, when an agent was shot and killed not far from the canyon. That incident, however, turned out to be “friendly fire,” when two agents responded to a tripped motion-detection sensor.
“You’re working in remote areas that are intimidating and desolate. You’re often many miles from backup. You’re dealing with groups that outnumber you and that you must handle alone,” said Shawn Moran, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, a union for agents.
“To claim that the Border Patrol has an itchy trigger finger, we dismiss that. It’s a very restrained force,” Moran said.
Border Patrol public affairs officer Douglas Mosier said he couldn’t comment on the agency’s policies and referred a reporter to the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, where a spokesman, Peter Boogaard, declined to comment.
The Mexican government calls the use of lethal force against its migrants disproportionate and is demanding more thorough inquiries.
If anyone other than a lone Border Patrol agent saw what happened to Sanchez shortly after 8:30 p.m. on the cold night of Jan. 16 not far from Arizona’s southeastern border with New Mexico, they’re not talking.
A deeper look into the Sanchez case reveals discrepancies among various federal, state and county agencies over what occurred.
It also reveals something else: The death of the 31-year-old Sanchez left a wake of grieving kin who are American citizens. Sanchez had spent half his life in the United States. Among his immediate family are an 11-year-old son with cerebral palsy, who lives with his mother in California, and an 8-year-old son who lives with Sanchez’s widow in Phoenix. All hold U.S. citizenship.
The widow, Nataly Molina Tebaqui, says she’ll file a federal lawsuit once her attorney can identify the Border Patrol agent who shot her husband in the head and chest. The federal government has refused to release his name.
“I want him to go to jail. I want him to feel my pain. I want his wife and his sons to feel the pain,” said Molina, a 30-year-old accountant. “Why couldn’t he have shot him in the leg or the arm?”
In statements immediately after the death, Customs and Border Protection, a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security, and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which was called in to probe the killing, stated as fact that Sanchez had struggled for the agent’s gun and was killed as a result.
A 12-page autopsy report by the Medical Examiner’s Office in Pima County, however, offers a different picture. The report, dated Feb. 5, notes that Sanchez was shot in the upper part of his right temple and in his chest.
“Manner of death: homicide,” it says.
The trajectory of the bullet wound to the head, it adds, is downward and the bullet appears lodged in the neck. The pathway of the wound to the chest is also downward, indicating that Sanchez was below the agent’s firing hand, squatting or perhaps on the ground. . .
Well–written. And note the sub-text: to fix so many things—environmental, societal, legal, financial/jobs—requires fundamental and enormous changes in our society. And she describes exactly such a change as it happens: you can practically see the wave curl over in triumph. So perhaps other such changes are possible.
Roy Gutman reports for McClatchy:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tightened his grip Wednesday on the judiciary and the Internet in an effort to tamp down a corruption scandal that’s rattled his government and now appears to implicate his immediate family and him.
Evidence mounted that a series of audio recordings in which Erdogan can be heard instructing his son, Bilal, to get rid of enormous sums of money are authentic, with the government firing two senior officials at the state scientific agency responsible for the security of encrypted telephones and a U.S.-based expert on encrypted communications, after examining the recordings, telling McClatchy that the recordings appear to be genuine.
Erdogan on Tuesday called the five purported conversations an “immoral montage” that had been “dubbed.” But he acknowledged that even his secure telephone had been tapped.
The only apparent “montage” was combining the five different conversations into one audio file, said Joshua Marpet, a U.S.-based cyber analyst who has testified in court on the validity of computer evidence in other Turkish criminal cases. He said there was no sign that the individual conversations had been edited.
“If it’s fake, it’s of a sophistication that I haven’t seen,” he said.
The purported telephone conversations took place over a 26-hour period, beginning on the morning of Dec. 17, when Turkish police launched raids on the houses and offices of members of the Erdogan government, businessmen and their families.
“Whatever you have in the house, get rid of it, OK?” the prime minister can be heard telling Bilal in the opening conversation. Erdogan tells Bilal that his sister Sumeyye is on her way to help him and admonishes Bilal to tell others in the family also to get rid of cash, including Sumeyye’s husband, Bilal’s brother Burak, his uncle Mustafa Erdogan, and Erdogan’s brother-in-law, Berat Albayrak.
“It will be good if you completely ‘zero’ it,” the prime minster is heard saying in the second conversation, which took place later that morning. In the fourth conversation at 11:15 that night, Bilal says he had almost “zeroed” out the money, but that there were some 30 million euros (about $39 million) left. When his father asks why he didn’t transfer all the money to Mehmet Gur, a contractor who was building the Erdogan family villa, Bilal responds: because “it takes a lot of space.”
At different points, Erdogan can be heard warning Bilal not to use a regular telephone. In the final conversation on the morning of Dec. 18, after Bilal admits that the money had not been “zeroed out,” the prime minister again says Bilal should get rid of all the funds.
“OK, Dad, but we are probably being monitored at the moment,” Bilal said. His father replied: “Son, you’re being wiretapped,” to Bilal responds: “But they are monitoring us with cameras as well.”
Two more conversations were published on . . .
The Guardian reports:
Israeli forces are using excessive, reckless violence in the occupied West Bank, killing dozens of Palestinians over the past three years in what might constitute a war crime, Amnesty International said.
In a report entitled Trigger Happy, the human rights group accused Israel of allowing its soldiers to act with virtual impunity and called for an independent review of the deaths.
The Israeli army dismissed the allegations, saying security forces had seen a “substantial increase” in Palestinian violence and Amnesty had revealed a “complete lack of understanding” about the difficulties soldiers faced.
According to UN data, 45 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank between 2011 and 2013, including six children. Amnesty said it had documented the deaths of 25 civilians during this period, all but three of whom died last year.
“The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank,” said Philip Luther, the charity’s director of the Middle East and north Africa programme.
Amnesty said that in none of the cases it reviewed did the Palestinians appear to be posing any imminent threat to life. “In some, there is evidence that they were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes,” it said.
After a three-year hiatus Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last July, which the Palestinians hope will give them an independent state on territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, including the West Bank.
Although their decades-old conflict has become a low-intensity confrontation, violence still occurs regularly, with Palestinians accounting for the vast majority of casualties.
The 87-page report, published on Thursday, focused only on violence in the West Bank, not the Gaza Strip. It highlighted a number of the deaths, including that of Lubna Hanash, a 21-year-old who was shot in the head on 23 January 2013 as she left an agricultural college near the flashpoint city of Hebron.
Amnesty quoted witnesses saying a soldier opened fire 100 metres from where Hanash was standing. A relative standing alongside her was shot in the hand. Neither had been taking part in any protest.
A few days earlier, a 16-year-old schoolboy . . .