Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
Here’s yet another instance of a student—a minor, a kid—being arrested for a trivial prank. Do people now expect that nothing will ever go wrong and if it does, someone must pay? Can’t they just grow up and get over it? Remember the girl who did a science experiment out-of-doors in which no harm was done and no one was injured, and she was charged with a felony crime?
I expect many of these will be thrown out, but they serve their purpose: to teach and to demonstrate that everyone can immediately be arrested and harassed and possibly beaten and possibly sent to prison. The idea is train the populace to react as potential victims of the authorities, to fear the power of the authorities (very gratifying to the authorities, to be sure—thus attracting a certain sort of personality to positions of power, especial power over the people s/he sees daily). That’s the explicit idea of the stop-and-frisk harassment.
Why do you want a populace trained in this way? to be cowed? Well, it’s much easier to control large masses of people if they have first been trained to be cowed. Certainly that was the experience of South Africa in the last century, and of the American South in the century before that. I get the idea that authoritarian regimes pretty much depend on keeping the populace in a state of fear.
And that seems to be the state to which we’re headed. Cops in the school, training a new generation of children to fear the power of the police and their ability to detain and arrest and take to trial: that’s just another tactic. Terrorists—and even the threat of terrorists—are enormously useful in this training, as we’ve seen: people will give up pretty much all their rights if they are in a state of fear and “safety” is promised in exchange, though that “safety” of course requires, e.g., police officers arresting your children. (Don’t complain: you asked for it.) And we take another step toward becoming a cowed and fearful populace controlled by an elite minority. As little as 1%.
Controlling the government automatically means controlling the legal means of force, and if you control those, you might as well use them: that’s what it’s for. Keep the military busy! Keep the police and law enforcement busy! Tap everyone’s phone! Look for things, anything: you never know what you might find. Plus it’s also all great market research!
The first thing we do, we take the brakes off the banks—let them do whatever they want, because the money they make/steal all comes to us—well, 99% of it, anyway. And if they do get caught, slap ‘em with a fine and let them get back to work. No penalties and no accountability: those slow things down.
Corporations, as we are continually reminded by their actions, will do anything that increases profit. Here’s one horrendous example—and I imagine the company will happily pay a fine so long as they can continue to reap profits. Katherine Ebert at CNN Money:
On the morning of Aug. 18, 2004, Dinesh Thakur hurried to a hastily arranged meeting with his boss at the gleaming offices of Ranbaxy Laboratories in Gurgaon, India, 20 miles south of New Delhi. It was so early that he passed gardeners watering impeccable shrubs and cleaners still polishing the lobby’s tile floors. As always, Thakur was punctual and organized. He had a round face and low-key demeanor, with deep-set eyes that gave him a doleful appearance.
His boss, Dr. Rajinder Kumar, Ranbaxy’s head of research and development, had joined the generic-drug company just two months earlier from GlaxoSmithKline, where he had served as global head of psychiatry for clinical research and development. Tall and handsome with elegant manners, Kumar, known as Raj, had a reputation for integrity. Thakur liked and respected him.
Like Kumar, Thakur had left a brand-name pharmaceutical company for Ranbaxy. Thakur, then 35, an American-trained engineer and a naturalized U.S. citizen, had worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) in New Jersey for 10 years. In 2002 a former mentor recruited him to Ranbaxy by appealing to his native patriotism. So he had moved his wife and baby son to Gurgaon to join India’s largest drugmaker and its first multinational pharmaceutical company.
When he stepped into Kumar’s office that morning, Thakur was surprised by his boss’ appearance. He looked weary and uneasy, his eyes puffy and dark. He had returned the previous day from South Africa, where he had met with government regulators. It was clear that the meeting had not gone well.
The two men strolled into the hall to order tea from white-uniformed waiters. As they returned, Kumar said, “We are in big trouble,” and motioned for Thakur to be quiet. Back in his office, Kumar handed him a letter from the World Health Organization. It summarized the results of an inspection that WHO had done at Vimta Laboratories, an Indian company that Ranbaxy hired to administer clinical tests of its AIDS medicine. The inspection had focused on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that Ranbaxy was selling to the South African government to save the lives of its AIDS-ravaged population.
As Thakur read, his jaw dropped. The WHO had uncovered what seemed to the two men to be astonishing fraud. The Vimta tests appeared to be fabricated. Test results from separate patients, which normally would have differed from one another, were identical, as if xeroxed.
Thakur listened intently. Kumar had not even gotten to the really bad news. On the plane back to India, his traveling companion, another Ranbaxy executive, confided that the problem was not limited to Vimta or to those ARV drugs.
“What do you mean?” asked Thakur, barely able to grasp what Kumar was saying.
The problem, said Kumar, went deeper. He directed Thakur to put aside his other responsibilities and go through the company’s portfolio — ultimately, every drug, every market, every production line — and uncover the truth about Ranbaxy’s testing practices and where the company’s liabilities lay.
Thakur left Kumar’s office stunned. He returned home that evening to find his 3-year-old son playing on the front lawn. The previous year in India, the boy had developed a serious ear infection. A pediatrician prescribed Ranbaxy’s version of amoxiclav, a powerful antibiotic. For three scary days, his son’s 102° fever persisted, despite the medicine. Finally, the pediatrician changed the prescription to the brand-name antibiotic made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Within a day, his fever disappeared. Thakur hadn’t thought about it much before. Now he took the boy in his arms and resolved not to give his family any more Ranbaxy drugs until he knew the truth.
What Thakur unearthed over the next months would form some of the most devastating allegations ever made about the conduct of a drug company. His information would lead Ranbaxy into a multiyear regulatory battle with the FDA, and into the crosshairs of a Justice Department investigation that, almost nine years later, has finally come to a resolution.
On May 13, Ranbaxy pleaded guilty to seven federal criminal counts of selling adulterated drugs with intent to defraud, failing to report that its drugs didn’t meet specifications, and making intentionally false statements to the government. Ranbaxy agreed to pay $500 million in fines, forfeitures, and penalties — the most ever levied against a generic-drug company. (No current or former Ranbaxy executives were charged with crimes.) Thakur’s confidential whistleblower complaint, which he filed in 2007 and which describes how the company fabricated and falsified data to win FDA approvals, was also unsealed. Under federal whistleblower law, Thakur will receive more than $48 million as part of the resolution of the case. . .
Whew! Thank God that none of those responsible was charged with any crime or faced any prison or, indeed, had to pay a fine: the company paid that. So the same people are free to cook up other frauds.
Why on earth does ANYONE think that a company’s paying a fine will do ANYTHING to change its behavior? Send executives to prison and you’ll quickly see some serious reforms. But we don’t send executives to jail—we let their companies pay for the fines. Executives are like reckless teen-age males, who get into serious trouble and cause serious harm and leave it up to their parents (the corporation) to pay restitution and damages, while they themselves get off scot-free.
Christian Stork writes at WhoWhatWhy.com:
Several new developments in the Barrett Brown case suggest that the playing field between the cyber-activist/journalist and the government may be starting to even out—at least a bit. But the feds aren’t giving up anytime soon.
On April 28 it was announced that Brown—currently facing upwards of 100 years behind bars for a slew of felonies ostensibly unrelated to his work as a journalist—had retained new defense counsel, including heavyweights certain to draw more attention to his case than ever before.
Brown’s new team will consist of attorneys Ahmed Ghappour and Charles Swift.
Swift’s name should be familiar to legal junkies in the post 9/11-era. A former Lt. Commander in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, he represented Salim Hamdan in his successful bid to gain Supreme Court recognition of habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Swift now focuses on national security and military litigation as a partner in his private practice.
For Brown, the change came not a moment too soon. As the target of what feels like an establishment pile-on, Brown will need the best defense money can buy—that is, if they’ll let him buy it.
On April 17, Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney had ordered the seizure of thousands of dollars in defense funds, solicited and held in an outside account with no connection to Brown. Although the funds were apparently listed in a still-sealed financial affidavit provided by Brown’s former court-appointed attorney, it remains unclear how the money could be legally seized.
However, in a hearing on May 1, Judge Stickney essentially reversed himself, denying the government’s motion to transfer the funds to the court for remuneration to Brown’s original public defender. Stickney then accepted that the cash reserves be used to retain Ghappour and Swift.
The prosecution had seemingly hoped to hobble Brown by depleting his war chest and therefore his ability to defend himself. With the new ruling however, which allows him to spend the money on counsel of his choice—one not overburdened by a public defender’s typically heavy caseload—the court has dealt the prosecution a serious setback.
The hearing came about a month after . . .
Continue reading. Totalitarian governments never like journalists.
Another one: first the Air Force, now the Army. I begin to see a pattern—and perhaps part of the reason that the military perpetuates and protects a rape culture. The story, by Abby Olheiser in The Atlantic Wire:
An Army coordinator for a sexual assault prevention office at Fort Hood was accused of “abusive sexual contact” on Tuesday. Think this story sounds familiar? That’s probably because last week, the officer in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office was arrested and charged with sexual battery.
The unnamed coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program has been suspended from all duties while the accusation is investigated. Here’s the Associated Press with more:
The Army said a sergeant first class, whose name was not released, is accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
He had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters at Fort Hood when the allegation arose.
According to USA Today (citing multiple unnamed sources), the soldier may have been running a prostitution ring:
The solider is being investigated for among other things forcing a subordinate into prostitution and sexually assaulting two others, according to a Capitol Hill staffer who has been briefed on the case and spoke about it on condition of anonymity. Two senior Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation, also confirmed that the sergeant is being investigated for running a prostitution ring.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reacted with “frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” according to a statement from the Pentagon’s press secretary. . . .
These are criminals: they are breaking the law. We seem to have a military in which law-breakers are common. Much, we’re beginning to see, like the police—cf. the recently heralded king of stop-and-frisk in New York. “Who will guard the guardians?” is a tough question indeed, especially since those tasked with guarding the guardians are treated with contempt and hatred, as seems to be the rule—the same treatment given to anyone who points out law-breaking and wrong-doing: every possible effort is made to destroy the person.
Now I see this as a very dangerous situation, though it doesn’t seem to attract a lot of attention—individual cases, sure, but not the overall brutalization of those empowered to use force. If we go that direction, it will not end well, because the “them” in “us versus them” tends to grow until “them” is anyone except another soldier/cop/etc.: everyone else is beyond the pale and fair game. We are seeing this in Syria and parts of Africa. It is not a direction the US should take, but given the increasing brutalization of enforcement authority—even including public prosecutors (DAs), as we have seen in several cases (not to mention the 47 homicides “solved” by a detective that are now being investigated)—we are already en route.
Congress seems to be outraged (as am I) over the government’s actions against Associated Press, but Congress rejected the legislation that would have prevented that—and now Obama is sending that legislation back to Congress, since they’re so concerned about it. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:
The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.
The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009. Called the Free Flow of Information Act, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. But while it was awaiting a floor vote, a furor over leaking arose after WikiLeaks began publishing archives of secret government documents, and the bill never received a vote.
The new push comes as the Obama administration has come under fire from both parties amid the disclosure this week that the Justice Department, as part of a leak investigation, secretly used a subpoena earlier this year to obtain a broad swath of calling records involving Associated Press reporters and editors. . .
DemocracyNow! has an excellent interview, video at the link, which begins:
Following last week’s guilty verdict in Guatemala’s historic genocide trial, reporter Allan Nairn says the United States should follow Guatemala’s lead and indict the Reagan administration officials who supported the genocide under General Efraín Ríos Montt. “All of [these crimes] were crimes not just of General Ríos Montt, but also of the U.S. government,” Nairn says. Former President Ronald Reagan once called Ríos Montt “a man of great personal integrity.” After the verdict, Judge Yassmin Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.
Ironic, eh? But I’m sure the GOP will calm down once this is pointed out. Jed Lewison writes at Daily Kos:
Darrell Issa is outraged that the Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records through a subpoena of the AP’s telecommunications provider. He’s right to condemn the action, but as nycsouthpaw points out, it’s worth remembering that Issa voted against legislation that would have protected the AP:
Issa was one of 21 House members who opposed the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, a measure that would have forbidden federal investigators from compelling journalists to give evidence without first obtaining a court order. The bill included a section that specifically forbid subpoenaing journalists’ phone records from “communication service providers” to the same extent that the law protected the journalists themselves.
The legislation passed the House, but it was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and opposed by the Bush Administration. Barack Obama, at the time a U.S. Senator, didn’t vote on the bill, but was a co-sponsor. So you have a situation where Issa and Senate Republicans opposed legislation that would have prevented a government action they now decry, and you have a president who supported the legislation but whose administration is now responsible for taking the actions his legislation was supposed to prevent.
Thus far, the president hasn’t addressed the DOJ’s actions. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to take a neutral posture, saying that the White House was unaware of the subpoena until the AP announced it yesterday and referring all questions to the DOJ.
Given the president’s support for the press shield legislation in the Senate, he’s at risk of being as hypocritical on this issue as Issa and most Senate Republicans—without having the added virtue of being right. But if he wasn’t involved in the decision to subpoena the records, he could help make up for the government’s overreach not only by saying it was wrong to subpoena copies of AP phone records, but also by harnessing the GOP’s new civil libertarian streak to push through the legislation that they killed just a few short years ago.
The Justice Department’s Seizing of AP Phone Records: A Continuation of Attacks on Freedom of the Press
The Obama Administration Department of Justice seems to be badly broken: it won’t prosecute banks and other financial institutions for their misdeeds, it continues to persecute medical marijuana users who obey their state laws regarding medical marijuana (thus breaking a promise Obama and Holder made), it viciously persecutes whistleblowers to prevent government wrong-doing from being exposed, it refuses to investigate and bring to trial those guilty of war crimes such as torture, and in general has shown little interest in fulfilling its duties, particularly those that involve work.
The NY Times editorial today takes the Obama Administration to task for its seizure of phone records:
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.
On Friday, Justice Department officials revealed that they had been going through The A.P.’s records for months. The dragnet covered work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 people at one of the oldest and most reputable news organizations. James Cole, a deputy attorney general, offered no further explanation on Tuesday, saying only that it was part of a “criminal investigation involving highly classified material” from early 2012.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said he could not comment on the details of the phone records seizure, which he said was an open investigation — although he was happy to comment on the open investigation into the tax audits of conservative groups, which he said might have been criminal and were “certainly outrageous and unacceptable.”
Both Mr. Holder and Mr. Cole declared their commitment — and that of President Obama — to press freedoms. Mr. Cole said the administration does not “take lightly” such secretive trolling through media records.
We are not convinced. For more than 30 years, . . .
And this post by Kevin Gosztola at The Dissenter is well worth reading:
The US Justice Department’s secret seizure of phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press is nothing less than a continuation of attacks on freedom of the press that have been ongoing under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Carl Bernstein, famed investigative journalist who broke the story on the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and declared this is a “matter of policy.” It goes right up to the president and the people who surround him, the very officials who have waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and leaks.
He also explained, “The object of it is to try and intimidate people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide information that people ought to know.”
Over 100 Journalists’ Phone Communications Collected
The AP reported yesterday that the Justice Department had “secretly obtained two months of telephone records” of reporters and editors, who worked for the AP. The records “listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
They came from “more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012.” There is no way of knowing the “exact number of journalists,” who used the phone lines during this period, however, “100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”
The AP only found out that records had been secretly obtained through a letter from US attorney, Ronald Machen, which the AP’s general counsel, Laura Malone, received on the afternoon of May 10.
The records were possibly “obtained from phone companies,” perhaps through the issuing of a national security letter (NSL). Officials chose not to notify AP before collecting information and claim they did not have to provide notice, citing an exemption in federal regulations. . .
I hope Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will bring banks back into line. Right now the bank promises to do better and sometimes pays a small fine in addition. Matt Reynolds reports for CourthouseNews.com; the article is published by AlterNet:
An elderly man “succumbed to the pressure” of losing his home to Wells Fargo and died at a court hearing fighting the bank’s wrongful foreclosure, his estate claims in court.
The administrator of the estate of Larry Delassus sued Wells Fargo, Wachovia Bank, First American Corp. and others in Superior Court, for wrongful death, elder abuse, breach of contract and other charges.
Delassus died at 62 of heart disease after Wells Fargo mistakenly held him liable for his neighbor’s property taxes, doubled his mortgage payments, declared his loan in default and sold his Hermosa Beach condominium, according to the complaint.
“Larry Delassus tried everything to save his home,” the complaint states. “He told the Bank that they were mistaken; they said no. He contacted the bank seeking information, and was told one thing and then another, and oftentimes, no information at all. He enlisted his friend and neighbor to help him, but the bank refused to recognize him as Larry’s representative, despite his numerous applications and appeals. Whatever Larry needed, Wells Fargo created some excuse not to help him.
“At the very end, with his home being sold by the Bank and resold by the purchaser within months for nearly twice what he paid, Larry Delassus, now living in a boarding home, was still fighting for what he and many Americans believe is right by going to court. Wells Fargo, with its virtually unlimited resources, filed a series of procedural motions in its defense, needlessly forcing an ailing Larry to appear in court. Delassus valiantly continued to fight the best he could until his body gave up. On December 19, 2012, as he was sitting in the back of the courtroom, at about the same time the Bank was saying that its actions ‘didn’t matter,’ Larry collapsed, and within minutes, died. Wells Fargo and its agents should be held accountable for their negligent wrongful and malicious actions.” . . .
Continue reading. From later in the article:
. . . She says Delassus “lived a quiet and happy life,” and always paid his mortgage and property taxes on time. But in early 2009, Wells Fargo falsely claimed he owed $13,361.90 in back taxes when it was actually the owner of a nearby condo that owed the money, Popovich says.
But Wells Fargo, falsely claiming Delassus owed the money, nearly doubled his mortgage payment — a mistake it could have rectified by verifying his property’s tax identification number with the county, the estate says.
Delassus told Wells Fargo he could not afford the higher payments and the bank foreclosed — even after the county treasurer had confirmed that his property taxes were current and paid, the complaint states. . .
Why do bank executives enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution?
Interesting article in the Washington Post by Neil Irwin:
You can buy almost anything on the Internet: uranium ore, wolf urine, a levitating hover scooter. But you can’t buy a car straight from the factory. Go to the Web site of Ford or Honda or any other major automaker, and they will send you to your local dealer to conduct anything resembling an actual transaction.
It isn’t an accident. Rather, it is the result of hard-fought efforts by auto dealers to maintain, through state laws, their exclusive role as the place where one can buy a new automobile. Direct sale of autos by manufacturers is against the law in nearly every state, and there’s a range of related state laws governing auto dealers’ ability to enter or exit a market. In other words, the model that Dell developed for selling personal computers — enter your exact specifications online, and the computer will be built to order and delivered to your door — is illegal in most states for automobiles. (For a rundown on the structure of the auto industry, check out this paper from Justice Department antitrust economist Gerald R. Bodisch).
Enter Tesla. The maker of innovative electric cars is hoping to be equally innovative in how it sells them. It wants something that closely resembles the Dell model to apply to its popular “Model S” sedan. The company is pushing the Texas legislature to change its own law to make it legal to sell Teslas there directly.But North Carolina isn’t having it: Last week, a state Senate committee unanimously approved a bill to make the direct sale of autos in the state illegal.
What’s going on here is a battle of raw political power at the state level against the forces of markets. . .
Governments should continually focus on one question: “Does this law help improve the common welfare of the state/nation?”
Ray McGovern writes at ConsortiumNews.com:
There have been nine congressional hearings on the Benghazi controversy – with more to come – but almost no one in Congress dares put the spotlight on the unfolding scandal surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison where most of the remaining 166 inmates have opted to “escape” from indefinite detention via the only way open to them – starving themselves to death.
One exception to the congressional cowardice is Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, who sponsored a highly instructive panel discussion on the prison at Guantanamo last Friday. Why simply a “briefing,” rather than a formal House hearing? Simple. Not one of the majority Republicans who currently chair committees in the House and have the power to call hearings wants Americans to hear the details of this blight on the nation’s conscience.
To be completely fair, the reigning reluctance seems, actually, to be a bipartisan affair. Moran is one of the few Democrats possessed of a conscience and enough moral courage to let the American people know what is being done in their name. For other lawmakers, it is a mite too risky.Folksy folks like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee which is supposed to exercise oversight of the lethal operations carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, make no bones about the dilemma they prefer to duck when it comes to letting detainees die at Guantanamo or letting the president blow up suspected terrorists via drone strikes.
Here’s Graham quoted in Esquire magazine last summer on why Congress has engaged in so little oversight of the lethal drone program: “Who wants to be the congressman or senator holding the hearing as to whether the president should be aggressively going after terrorists? Nobody. And that’s why Congress has been AWOL in this whole area.” The same thinking applies to showing any mercy for the people held at Guantanamo.
It seems to me that Guantanamo is a three-fold scandal: (1) the abomination of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment given those prisoners; (2) the reality that most of those remaining were cleared for release more than three years ago; and (3) the fact that Moran’s was the very first congressionally sponsored public “briefing” of its kind – more than 11 years late.
While there has been endless attention paid to how the Benghazi talking points were drafted for use on Sunday talk shows last September, the American people have been spared high-profile testimony about how 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantanamo were cleared for release more than three years ago following a year-long investigation of their cases by an interagency task force of officials at the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security.
How might Americans feel if they knew that most of these 86 are now on a prolonged hunger strike and that many are being force-fed against their will, a notoriously painful, degrading and even illegal practice. Two weeks ago, 40 additional military medical personnel were sent to Guantanamo to assist with the force-feedings.
The American Medical Association has condemned such force-feedings as a violation of “core ethical values of the medical profession.” The United Nations has condemned the practice as torture and a breach of international law.
Friday’s unusual “briefing” sprang from an initiative by a group of concerned citizens mostly from Moran’s district in northern Virginia. On April 30, Kristine Huskey led a small group of us to meet with Moran, one of the very few members of Congress to speak out against the obscenity called Guantanamo. We put our shoulders to the wheel (and enlisted the willing shoulders of many other pro-justice people) and brought about the briefing in nine days.
C-Span filmed the entire hour and a half. You will not be at all bored if you tune in. And that goes in spades if the lack of interest by the corporate media has left you wondering how it came about that America is fast losing its soul. You can find the video under the title, “Panel Holds Discussion on Guantanamo Detainees,” May 10, 10:00-11:30 in Rayburn B-354. Participants included: . .
The AP is beside itself with indignation that the DoJ got a bunch of their phone records—from a perfectly legal procedure using the Patriot Act. Oddly, they never had a problem with this sort of thing when it was happening to the public. I recall Jane Harman, when she was on the House Intelligence Committee, being furious that the Patriot Act was used to eavesdrop on her, although she had voted in favor the act—presuming, I imagine, that it would only be used on the common people, not on luminaries such as herself. I suppose some of the anger was because she was caught committing a crime.
Kevin Drum has a very good comment on this at Mother Jones:
The government has been obtaining phone records like this for over a decade now, and it’s been keeping their requests secret that entire time. Until now, the press has showed only sporadic interest in this. But not anymore. I expect media interest in terror-related pen register warrants to show a healthy spike this week.
That could be a good thing. It’s just too bad that it took monitoring of journalists to get journalists fired up about this.
Timothy also has a good column in the Washington Post:
On Monday the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.” But here’s what’s really scary: The Justice Department’s actions are likely perfectly legal.
U.S. law allows the government to engage in this type of surveillance—on media organizations or anyone else—without meaningful judicial oversight.The key here is a legal principle known as the “third party doctrine,” which says that users don’t have Fourth Amendment rights protecting information they voluntarily turn over to someone else. Courts have said that when you dial a phone number, you are voluntarily providing information to your phone company, which is then free to share it with the government.
This all dates back to a 1979 Supreme Court decision. Police had asked the phone company for information about the numbers dialed from a robbery suspect’s phone. The suspect objected, pointing to a famous 1967 ruling holding that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to record the audio of a phone call. He argued that the same principle ought to apply when the government records information about the numbers a suspect dials.
The Supreme Court rejected this argument. “We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the court. He pointed out that telephone customers are used to seeing numbers they’ve dialed on their monthly telephone bill.
Blackmun’s reasoning may have turned on the fact that automatic dialing was a relatively new development in 1979. Previously, telephone users had to tell a human operator which number they wished to reach, making it plausible to regard the phone company as an active participant in the phone-dialing process, but a mere passive conduit in transmitting the phone call itself.
Technological progress has rendered this distinction increasingly dubious. For example, . . .
Graham Kates reports at The Crime Report:
“It took all of two minutes to print out” sector-by-sector crime statistics the first time Bronx, NY journalist Alex Kratz asked Deputy Inspector James Alles of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for an in-depth readout of his precinct’s crime.
Kratz’s non-profit bi-weekly newspaper, theNorwood News, used the information in February 2008 to publish maps and a series of stories that illustrated crime trends in specific neighborhoods within the paper’s coverage area—the north Bronx’s 52nd Precinct.
Reader response in the roughly 130,000-person precinct was overwhelmingly positive.
Until that point, few locals had seen crime statistics beyond the NYPD’s weekly COMPSTAT reports, which track precinct-wide major crime trends.
“Although I feel safe in my neighborhood, evidently our autos are targets,” one reader commented on the paper’s website.
“Is it possible to receive these reports on a sector basis each month?”
As the free broadsheet hit the streets with the new data, two opposing forces were set in motion: one inside the paper’s newsroom and the other in the NYPD.
Deputy Inspector Alles, the paper would soon find out, was being told by his superiors never to release sector statistics again.
Meanwhile in Norwood, a working-class predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, the editors were realizing just how valuable the information was.
“Every (precinct) is a city-sized place,” said Jordan Moss, founder and then Editor-in-Chief of the Norwood News.
“So hearing that crime is up or down in the precinct does not necessarily tell you about crime in your neighborhood.”
Kratz returned to Alles’ office about six months later to request sector stats again.
This time the answer was “No.”
Alles, who retired in late 2009, told Kratz that from then on, if he wanted sector statistics he needed to file an official Freedom of Information request with the NYPD.
The first time Kratz filed such a request, he waited several months to receive the statistics.
They came the day after the Norwood News published an editorial calling the delay “unacceptable.”
The second request, filed in June 2010, took over two years to fulfill.
It became a fight for transparency that would become the newspaper’s calling card and eventually inspire legislation that will completely transform the way the NYPD reports crime to New Yorkers.
On April 25, the New York City Council voted to pass “Intro 984,” which requires the city to maintain an interactive online map that will display monthly, yearly, and year-to-date totals for each class of crime that is reported to the NYPD—searchable by address, zip code and NYPD patrol precinct.
The bill’s two-year-long journey to passage began with an encounter between Kratz and Greg Faulkner, chief of staff for the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Fernando Cabrera.
When it became clear he was going to have a long wait, Kratz appealed to the local community board—a neighborhood body that makes discretionary allocations and recommendations to the mayor—for support.
The Community Board requested the stats and shared them with Kratz. But after the paper published an article based on them, even the board was cut off.
Kratz kept going to the board meetings, hoping to rally support for the paper’s cause.
Faulkner was at one of the meetings. He was intrigued.
Councilman Cabrera had recently decided to devote nearly $1 million in discretionary funding for new surveillance cameras in his district. Faulkner remembers being told that even though the councilman was providing the funding, he’d get no say in where the cameras would be put.
The reason? Sector stats were a key factor in deciding camera location and only the police had them.
“I got the sense that this was some sort of big secret, and it got me thinking, it makes sense that we should know where the crime is,” Faulkner said during a recent phone interview with The Crime Report.
“So I spoke to the councilman and he said if we can’t get it done administratively, let’s do it legislatively.”
The original proposal called for quarterly reports of sector statistics to be released to local community boards. It never made it out of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
For more than a year, the committee debated with Cabrera about whether or not the NYPD had the resources to file that many reports.
As days turned into months, Cabrera tried to move the legislation forward while Kratz regularly checked up on his Freedom of Information requests.
What had once taken “all of two minutes,” according to Kratz, seemed lost in a bureaucratic black hole.
The first Freedom of Information request had been filled the day after the Norwood News slammed the NYPD in an editorial, but this time around, no amount of opining got the paper the response it wanted.
That’s when the paper turned to its popular and now-defunct Bronx News Network blog.
From the Norwood News’ second floor office in a small stone cottage known as The Keeper’s House, Moss and Kratz ran the News, two local sister papers (also both now-defunct) and the blog, which often served as a sounding board for the borough’s political movers and shakers.
Starting the Countdown
“It had been about a year and they just weren’t responding at all,” Kratz said. “That’s when we started the clock.”
Attached to an editorial on the blog, Kratz and Moss posted a simple counter, marking each second, minute, hour and day since he submitted his request to the NYPD.
“We’ve waited long enough,” the editors wrote at 350 days.
In the following months, the counting clock garnered the paper a lot of attention from other media outlets.
NBC filed a two minute segment on the sector stat fight; another Bronx newspaper, The Riverdale Press issued aneditorial in support of the News; the Village Voice headlined a piece: “Hey Ray Kelly, NYPD Commish, Norwood News Wants to Know Why You Won’t Release Crime Stats.”
But the attention seemed to harden the NYPD. Even NBC was given a boilerplate response when it asked why the sector stats couldn’t be released. . .
Continue reading. The NYPD has turned on the public, as is obvious from their actions and their responses to requests for information—information that should be routinely provided to the public.
E.J. Graff has a thoughtful article in The American Prospect on the importance of gay marriage.
Last month, Rhode Island came over into the marriage equality column. Last week, it was Delaware. Yesterday, it was Minnesota. There’s progress expected in New Jersey, Illinois, and at the Supreme Court. Pick your favorite cliché or metaphor about winning—being on a hot streak, passing the tipping point, bending the arc of history—and feel free to apply.
And yet few Americans are aware that in 29 states, you can still be fired for putting a same-sex partner’s picture on your desk, or rejected for a job because the hiring manager doesn’t like homos. That’s right—it’s perfectly legal in most of the country to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1994. Even before that, New York state representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch (who would go on to become the mayor of New York City) introduced a version of ENDA in 1974, then called theEquality Act. In 1996, under Bill Clinton, ENDA failed by just a single vote—the very same day that the House passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as being between one man and one woman, and which is currently up for evaluation at the Supreme Court. The congressional debate about “defending” marriage was hateful, replete with references to discredited “scientific” studies about how many hundreds of sex partners an average gay man had and statements about AIDS being God’s punishment for immorality or about gay marriage leading to legal marriage to your German shepherd (some of us, at the time, wondered what was up with these legislators and their German shepherds). ENDA was tossed in as a way to prove that all that hate wasn’t really hate, just reverence for the institution of marriage.
This hoary old bill was once again put on Congress’s floor at the end of April, buried during a busy news week. Not that anyone would have paid attention even if it had been slow. Perpetual loser bill reintroduced once again—there’s a memorable headline. The difference is that the LGBT advocacy community is nearly united in agreeing that passing ENDA is this year’s overriding goal.
Had ENDA passed in 1996—well, that’s a counterfactual that boggles the mind. There’s a reason that we’ve won civil unions or marriage only in states that havefirst passed statewide nondiscrimination laws. We only win relationship recognition when people know gay people. But too many people are afraid to come out on the job if they might lose that job for being gay. That’s a double whammy: Not only do you have to lie, implicitly, at work, leaving your daily life fraught with anxiety and your income a bit at risk; you also lose your ability to wear down others’ anti-gay prejudice. People change their minds about whether we deserve recognition for our relationships only when they realize that they like us and our partners. Once they realize that the gays they ostensibly hate include Mary Beth in accounting and Jamal in HR, that hatred starts to soften. And once Mary Beth and Jamal know they can keep feeding their families once they’re out, they are more likely to feel comfortable introducing you to their partners at the grocery store or at church, and explaining how much a statewide DOMA would hurt their kids. Had nationwide job protections been in place since 1996, it’s possible to imagine we’d be even farther along with marriage in still more states, as more people realized they cared about their gay colleagues.
If ENDA is so important, why has marriage gotten so far while protection on the job has stalled? . . .
And where is the FDA in this? Laura Fraser reports at OnEarth.org:
You probably wouldn’t expect to find pesticides in your toothpaste or your gym socks, but they might be in there all the same. And the vast majority of those pesticides have made it into everyday products without adequate oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because they’ve been approved through a bureaucratic loophole known as “conditional registration,” which means they haven’t been fully tested to ensure that they pose no threat to human health or the environment, as required by U.S. law.
Most of us think of pesticides as the chemicals that get sprayed on weeds or used to kill rodents and bugs, but they’re actually found in everything from cosmetics to food containers, as well as antimicrobial textiles (such as the exercise shirt you might have worn to the gym this morning). By killing bacteria and other microorganisms, pesticides can help clothes resist stains or help containers keep food fresh longer. But some have also proven to cause health concerns in humans, kill trees, birds, bees, and fish, or do other unintended harm to the environment.
The EPA has been responsible for registering pesticides since 1972, and during that time, 90,000 have been allowed on the market. A significant number of those — just over 25,000, according to the EPA — were initially approved through the conditional registration process. An internal report by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs shows that of the more than 16,000 pesticides allowed on the market as of 2010, about 11,000 of them were conditionally registered. Because of the agency’s poor record-keeping and flawed procedures, it remains unclear how many of these conditionally registered pesticides have ever gone through the full gamut of safety testing required by law.
“The dirty little secret of the EPA is that almost every pesticide gets put on the market while the agency is looking the other way,” says Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “That’s not good for consumers, and it’s not the intent of the regulations.”
By law, in order to register and sell a pesticide, companies are supposed to go through a process than can last several years; it includes public comment, reviews of scientific studies, and evaluations by the agency’s in-house science experts. The fast-track conditional registration process was intended to be used only under rare circumstances — when a product is nearly identical to one already on the market, for instance, or when the EPA needs to approve a new pesticide immediately to prevent a disease outbreak or other public health emergency (a new treatment for bedbugs, for example).
No one knew the extent to which the EPA had been abusing the conditional registration rules until 2008, when the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) began asking questions about why nanosilver, an antimicrobial made of extremely tiny bits of silver and used to kill bacteria in products such as athletic gear and baby blankets, had been granted conditional registration.
That year, Swiss manufacturer HeiQ had applied to the EPA for permission to use nanosilver in textiles, including clothing and bedsheets. NRDC scientists were concerned that nanosilver might be more toxic than regular silver — which is not very harmful to humans, but toxic and persistent in aquatic environments — because its tiny size allows it to travel into cells, organs, and blood, with potentially dangerous, but poorly understood, health effects. A 2010 internal EPA report on nanosilver notes: “the same property that makes it lethal to bacteria may render it toxic to human cells.”
“Until we understand the risks of nanosilver, we really shouldn’t be wearing it in our clothing and bedding,” says NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass. Chemist Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Brain Chemistry, agrees that more studies are needed, especially because nanosilver is widely used in consumer products. The effects of nanosilver on human health are not well understood, “which is not to say there are no concerns,” says Mulvihill, who adds, “It’s very clear silver is bad for the environment.” Silver bioaccumulates and is toxic to single-celled organisms and aquatic invertebrates; a 2010 study found that runoff containing silver particles dramatically reduced the reproductive capabilities of mollusks in San Francisco Bay. Products like nanosilver washing machines, which kill bacteria with nanosilver ions embedded in the machinery, could also damage water organisms with their runoff.
“Do I really need nanosilver in my jeans or Tupperware?” Mulvihill asks. “I don’t think so. I can just wash them.”
In response to HeiQ’s 2008 request to use nanosilver, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel recognized that the effects of nanosilver are different from regular silver. The panel said its regulations would require the company to produce numerous studies on the specific health effects of nanosilver before it could be registered for use as a pesticide.
Then the agency went ahead and allowed the company to use nanosilver in its products anyway. . . .
The US doesn’t seem to see a problem in backing vicious dictators, but I feel certain that such actions have an impact on how people view this country. Now one of the men that that the US helped in his genocide is on his way to prison, with others to follow. The US has gone badly off the rails, it strikes me. Amy Goodman has a good interview at DemocracyNow!—video at the link, followed by a transcript, which begins:
In a historic verdict, former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has been sentenced to 80 years in prison after being found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt was convicted of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after seizing power in 1982. The ruling marks the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his own country. The judge in the case has instructed prosecutors to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was among those implicated during the trial’s testimony after having served as a regional commander under Ríos Montt’s regime. We’re joined by investigative reporter Allan Nairn, who returned to Guatemala to cover the trial after reporting on the massacres extensively in the early 1980s. During a CNN interview in which he denied that a genocide took place, Pérez Molina was confronted with statements he gave to Nairn confirming his role in the Ixil killings three decades ago. “This was a breakthrough for indigenous people against racism and a breakthrough for human civilization,” Nairn says of the verdict, which he adds could have major implications for Washington. “The judge’s order to further investigate everyone involved in Ríos Montt’s crimes could encompass U.S. officials [who] were direct accessories to and accomplices to the Guatemalan military. They were supplying money, weapons, political support, intelligence. Under international and Guatemalan law, they could be charged.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: In an historic verdict, former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty Friday of genocide and crimes against humanity and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Judge Yassmin Barrios announced the verdict on Friday.
JUDGE YASSMIN BARRIOS: [translated] By unanimous decision, the court declares that the accused, José Efraín Ríos Montt, is responsible as the author of the crime of genocide. He is responsible as the author of the crimes against humanity committed against the life and integrity of the civilian residents of the villages and hamlets located in Santa Maria Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul. Immediate detention is ordered in order to assure the result of this court process and because of the nature of the crimes committed for which he has been condemned. I hereby order he enter prison directly.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after he seized power in 1982. Over the past two months, nearly a hundred witnesses testified during the trial, describing massacres, torture and rape by state forces.
Also on trial was General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, Ríos Montt’s head of intelligence. He was found not guilty of the same charges.
Ríos Montt becomes the first former head of state to be found guilty of genocide in his or her own country. Ríos Montt was a close ally of the United States. Former President Ronald Reagan once called him, quote, “a man of great personal integrity.”
After the verdict, Judge Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.
JUDGE YASSMIN BARRIOS: [translated] In continuation of the investigation on the part of the public ministry, the tribunal orders the public ministry to continue the investigation against more people who could have participated in the acts which are being judged.
AMY GOODMAN: The Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who attended the trial, said there are others who should be tried for war crimes.
RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] We are using the universal law. In other words, each person has inherent rights, and therefore it is a farce to say that if one is judged, all will be judged. We are not all. We are not things. If someone else is guilty of a crime, he is welcome to come and sit among the accused.
AMY GOODMAN: One former general implicated in abuses during the trial was Guatemala’s current president, Otto Pérez Molina. In the early 1980s, Pérez Molina was a military field commander in the northwest highlands, the Ixil region where the genocide occurred. At the time, he was operating under the alias “Major Tito Arias.” During the trial, one former army officer accused him of participating in executions.
To talk more about the historic trial and the significance of the verdict and sentence, we go to Guatemala City, where we’re joined by investigative reporter Allan Nairn, who covered the trial and attended it in Guatemala and has covered Guatemala extensively in the 1980s.
Allan Nairn, welcome back to Democracy Now! The significance of the verdict and the 80-year sentence? . . .
An interesting article by Scott Limieux in The American Prospect:
Last week, a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals provided an excellent example of how both presidential action and inaction can matter. Because of the former, the National Labor Relations Board had issued a rule intending to alleviate the power disparities between workers and employers. But in part because of action by Republican presidents and inaction by Democratic presidents, the rule is no longer in effect. And while the outcome of the case is hardly surprising, the sheer radicalism of the court’s holding is yet another sign of how in the tank much of the powerful D.C. Circuit is for powerful business interests.
The case involved a 2011 regulation issued by the NLRB which required employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union and providing basic information about how to contact the NLRB. The regulation was challenged by business groups based on an assortment of legal arguments. The District Courtupheld the authority of the NLRB to issue the regulation, although it did strike down two provisions related to enforcement. “Neither the text of the statute nor any binding precedent,” found Judge Amy Berman Jackson, “supports plaintiffs’ narrow reading of a broad, express grant of rulemaking authority.”
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit consisting entirely of Republican appointees (including the notorious arch-reactionary Janice Rogers Brown) reversed Jackson and found that the regulation was illegal. Moreover, as with the recent D.C. Circuit opinion all but eliminating the presidential recess appointment power, they did so with an unreasonably broad opinion creating a transparently unworkable legal doctrine.
Had the Circuit merely held (as a concurring opinion did) that the regulation exceeded the statutory authority of the NLRB, this would be an inferior but not completely unfounded interpretation of admittedly ambiguous statutory text. And a narrow argument would at least allow Congress to revise the law to allow the NLRB to reinstate the reasonable notice requirement. But the Circuit went further than that, remarkably arguing that the provision violated the free speech rights of employers. According to the Court, the regulation violated a provision of the NLRB holding that the non-coercive speech of employers cannot constitute an unfair labor practice. The decision also strongly implies that the regulation violates the First Amendment as well.
This argument is not serious. As Judge Jackson noted, “the Board’s notice posting requirement does not compel employers to say anything.” The required notice contained numerous indications—including a large NLRB logo at the top—that the speech was coming from the government, not the employer. In addition, the notice is neutral, informing workers not only of their right to join a union and engage in various labor activities, but also of their right to choose “not to do any of these activities, including joining or remaining a member of a union.
If taken seriously, the idea that requiring employers to provide information about legal privileges and requirements violated their free speech rights would lead to transparently absurd results. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted in astatement following the ruling, this logic proves too much:
In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes. The D.C. Circuit ruling suggests that courts should strike down hundreds of notice requirements, not only those that inform workers about their rights and warn them of hazards, but also those on cigarette packages, in home mortgages and many other areas.
Perhaps next the D.C. Circuit will be able to find an appropriate case to end the tyranny of restaurants being forced to notify their employees that they have to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
There are additional reasons to believe that this argument is being advanced in bad faith. Consider, for example, . . .
Interesting report by Andrea Peterson at ThinkProgress:
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) is having a busy week fighting for stronger consumer protections. First he introduced legislation that would stop companies from using private arbitration to escape facing judgment in courts, and yesterday he introduced H.R. 1913, the Application Privacy, Protection and Security (Apps) Act of 2013, a bill that could fix the gap between the privacy consumers expect from apps on their mobile devices and the experience they actually receive. Rep. Johnson explained the bill during a speech to the State of the Mobile Net conference:
The APPS Act would require that app developers give effective notice about data collection and obtain consent from consumers before collecting personal data.Trust in the mobile marketplace is crucial to its continued growth. Transparency is the cornerstone of this trust.
The APPS act would also require that developers securely maintain personal data. And it would give consumers a clear way to permanently delete their personal data once they stop using an app.
Smartphones are a regular feature of modern life, with 114 million Americans using them as of July 2012, but developers for mobile apps have struggled to keep pace with consumer privacy expectations. A February Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report showed that 57 percent of all app users “have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons” and less than one in three “feel they are in control of their personal information on their mobile devices.”
And there is an awful lot of personal information on mobile devices that many apps can access — including contact lists, browsing habits, and geographic location. One 2012 study discovered 19 percent of Apple iOS 5 apps accessed address books without user knowledge or consent and 41 percent tracked location. It also found more than 40 percent of them didn’t encrypt user data once it was collected, potentially leaving it vulnerable to hackers.
A number of consumer advocates have . . .
Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen F. Eisenman report at CreativeTimeReports.org:
In 1998, Illinois opened a prison without a yard, cafeteria, classrooms or chapel. Tamms Supermax was designed for just one purpose: sensory deprivation. No phone calls, communal activities or contact visits were allowed. Men could only leave their cells to shower or exercise alone in a concrete pen. Food was pushed through a slot in the door. The consequences of isolation were predictable: many men fell into severe depression, experienced hallucinations, compulsively cut their bodies or attempted suicide.
The first men at Tamms were transferred there from other prisons around the state for a one-year shock treatment intended to break down disruptive prisoners and make them more compliant. But the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) left them there indefinitely. A decade later, more than a third of the men at Tamms had been there since it opened, and for no apparent reason.
Research has shown that supermax prisons don’t reduce prison violence or rehabilitate prisoners. On the contrary, isolation induces or exacerbates mental illness, creates stress and tension, worsens behavior and undermines the ability of people to function once they get out.
Despite its uselessness as a form of correction, Tamms had many strong supporters: the powerful union to which the prison guards belonged, the nearby towns that welcomed the well-paid jobs, and state officials who thrived on tough-on-crime politics. They all deployed a single phrase meant to paralyze any possible dissenters: the worst of the worst. This slogan was applied to the men at Tamms to suggest they deserved the worst possible treatment—long-term solitary confinement that human rights monitors uniformly describe as cruel, inhuman and degrading, if not outright torture. Challenging this label and this punishment became the project of Tamms Year Ten, a campaign launched in 2008, a decade after the supermax opened.
Punching Above Our Weight
Two years earlier, a group of Chicago artists, poets and musicians formed the Tamms Poetry Committee. Two of them, Laurie Jo Reynolds included, had been members of a group that had protested plans to construct the supermax. Following the practice of two women who sent holiday cards to the prison, we sent letters and poems to every man at Tamms to provide them with some social contact. Their replies demonstrated the necessity of this project: “Hi Committee, is this for real? I can’t believe someone cares enough to send a pick-me-up to the worst-of-the-worst. Well, if nobody else has said it, I will: THANK YOU.” But we quickly found ourselves deluged with pleas for help: “Hey, this poetry is great, but could you please tell the governor what they’re doing to us down here?”
By 2008, we had connected with men on the outside who had spent years in Tamms and family members of current prisoners. Together, we launched the Tamms Year Ten campaign. Our goal was to educate the public about Tamms and hold the IDOC, legislators and then-Governor Blagojevich accountable for the use of long-term isolation. Prison reform is hard enough, but getting people to stand up for “the worst of the worst” was considered hopeless. Attorneys and veteran prisoner advocates warned that this campaign could endanger the men and increase support for the prison. But we believed that recent controversy over solitary confinement and torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib opened a new space for debate. And in any case, after a decade of isolation with no end in sight, the men in Tamms didn’t have much to lose.
Outrage Properly Directed
It was hard to know where to begin. Not many people had even heard of Tamms, located at the southern tip of Illinois, 360 miles from Chicago. Our members consulted with legislators from all over the state and sought advice from every quarter. A turning point was . . .
Given the description of the prison, what conclusions would you draw about a nation that not only allows it but seems to approve of it? This prison seems evil and totalitarian—beyond inhumane. Do you think that the prisoners, once released, are prepared to find constructive roles in society?
For a social animal—such as humans—solitary confinement is torture.
On Thursday, Wrigley announced that it would be pulling its controversial new “Alert Energy” gum — each stick of which contains as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee — from the market out of “respect” for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the agencyinvestigates the public health risks associated with pumping caffeine into everyday foods and drink. With energy products and other potentially harmful foods high in sugar, salt, and fat increasingly under public scrutiny, it’s worth asking: why can’t the FDA do more to crack down on these additives? And why does it take so long to get food makers to comply with regulations when they do?
Answering that requires a brief foray into the history of the American food safety regimen. 1958 was a seminal year for food oversight, seeing the passage of the Food Additives Amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the creation of the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) List. Under the Food Additives Amendment, “any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive and is subject to pre-market approval by FDA unless the use of the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).” So if a substance is on the GRAS exemption list, then food makers can use it to their heart’s content without proving its safety, unless specifically prevented from doing so by an FDA regulation.
The GRAS list contains over 700 items, many which have been there since 1958 — and taking an item off the GRAS list once it’s on is difficult. GRAS items are specifically defined as substances that are “generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of [their] intended use.” Consequently, revoking a substance’s GRAS designation requires considerable expert consensus that an item is not safe for its intended use.
One might ask how salts, sugars, trans fats, and caffeine don’t fit that bill considering widespread evidence that those substances increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, thereby harming public wellness and increasing U.S. health care costs. In fact, government watchdogs and medical groups such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have issued several calls for the FDA to crack down on those very ingredients.
But an outright ban on any of those substances (other than trans fats) is impossible — and undesirable — since the majority of food items require them in at least some amount. Rather, it’s excess consumption that makes the substances potentially dangerous. That’s where the FDA can step in by issuing regulatory rules that either set targets or impose reductions in harmful food content. But that’s also where they meet their greatest obstacle: the powerful food lobby.
“It’s corporate power,” said Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in an interview with ThinkProgress. “For something like salt, or partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), or sugar, there’s huge industries behind those substances. First there’s the manufacturers themselves, and then there’s the food companies that use their products. All those companies would be discomfited by an FDA ban or regulation, so they can then go to Congress and say, ‘Look at what the FDA is trying to do! It’s killing our business.’” Congress can then put pressure on the FDA by “cutting [its] appropriations or putting a rider in an FDA bill preventing it from imposing certain regulations,” according to Dr. Jacobson.
That sort of arm-twisting tends to work — even when an FDA action is simply advisory and lacks enforcement power. For instance, Dr. Jacobson explained to ThinkProgress that in the 1990s, “[t]he government came up with draft voluntary guidelines for foods marketed to young children. And the Grocery Manufacturers Association said its highest priority was to kill the voluntary guidelines –- and this wasn’t even a regulation, just guidelines!” Congress ended up siding with the grocery manufacturers over the children. “The public health becomes a side issue,” said Dr. Jacobson.
And even when the FDA succeeds in taking regulatory action, it can get held up for years — and even decades — by lawsuits and lobbying campaigns launched by Big Food companies, as well as . . .
I found it interesting that corporations fight even voluntary guidelines: they want no restrictions whatsoever, but to do as they please. And it’s pretty clear that public health and public safety count for nothing with corporations and Congress (in general).
Of course, the FDA is ineffectual for other reasons—such as falling under control of the industries it is supposed to regulate. Aviva Shen reports at ThinkProgress:
In a fiery decision on Friday, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman denied the Obama administration’s motion to delay an order to immediately allow over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to women of all ages. After Korman initially ordered in April that the so-called “morning-after pill” be available to all women and girls without a prescription, the FDA instead decided to lower the age limit to teens 15 and up rather than 17. However, those 15- and 16-year-olds will only have over-the-counter access to one brand of emergency contraception pill, Teva Pharmaceutical’s Plan B One-Step, thanks to what Korman called a “sweetheart arrangement” between the FDA and Teva.
Blasting the Obama administration’s argument as “an insult to the intelligence of women,” Korman attacked the FDA’s decision to lower the age restriction for Plan B rather than comply with his order to allow all women access to any brand of emergency contraception. The judge accused the administration of delaying his ruling so as to give Teva Pharmaceutical sole access to the market of 15- to 17-year olds without a prescription. Generic versions of Plan B, meanwhile, will stay behind the pharmacy counter for this age group.
Korman also noted that Teva will drive up the price of the pill now that it has a monopoly on young women in need:
While this proposal was a boon to Teva, it did little to eliminate the practical obstructions in obtaining emergency contraception to women of child-bearing age whether over or under age 15. On the contrary, Teva will use its privileged marketing status and exclusivity to increase the cost of the drug. The price of Plan B One-Step under the new marketing regime is expected to be $60, significantly more than the one- or two-pill generic version, and could conceivably go higher, if only to accommodate the more expensive packing, age-verification tags, and anti-theft technology that the new marketing arrangement would require.
As Teva profits from the Obama administration’s arbitrary age restriction, the burden on women seeking emergency contraception will only grow larger. Younger teens and undocumented women unable to prove their age with government-issued ID will still not have access, and may not be able to afford the new cost. As Korman points out, the Teva-FDA deal still requires Plan B to be sold over the counter at stores with on-site pharmacies, even though many women do not live near such facilities. The decision also cites a survey of 943 pharmacies in 5 cities, which found that only 4.7 percent stayed open 24 hours. Given the time-sensitive and often urgent need for emergency contraception, limiting the hours and locations where women can buy the drug could have serious consequences.
Moreover, there is no medical reason to limit access to the morning-after pill. Despite the Obama administration’s concern that it could be “dangerous” to young teens, an enormous body of research has demonstrated emergency contraception is safer than aspirin for women of all ages.
Obama: the continuing disappointment.