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Archive for November 14th, 2012

Sign White House petition to allow state regulation of marijuana (like alcohol)

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Important article by David Sirota in Salon, with a link to a petition to have the White House endorse legislation to gives states the right to regulate and control marijuana, much as states now regulate and control alcohol. (Enough have signed already to exceed the 25,000 required to trigger action, but the more signatures the better.)

The decades-long fight to end the Drug War – and specifically, the absurd war on marijuana – received a huge boost in the 2012 election, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to vote to legalize and regulate cannabis. Following those historic votes, a new poll shows the vast majority of Americans want states – not the federal government – to decide for themselves whether to legalize pot. Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) took to national television to amplify the message of that poll, demanding that the federal government to respect states whose voters have spoken.

The problem, of course, is that the Obama administration may cite the 1970 Controlled Substances Act as statutory rationale to try to force states to continue an expensive and inhumane war on weed that unnecessarily arrests and incarcerates thousands of Americans each year.

The good news, though, is that Congress may act. According to the Colorado Independent, Democratic lawmakers from the two states whose voters legalized marijuana are crafting a bill to amend section 903 of the Controlled Substances Act so that it exempts cannabis from federal preemption.

This is a wholly different approach from full-on federally mandated legalization. Appealing to both conservative state sovereignty principles, universal notions of liberty, and liberal criticism of the overbearing Drug War, it would simply let each state decide its own path on marijuana policy. For Colorado and Washington, that would mean letting those states’ new laws stand without federal intervention.

So far, President Obama has been silent on such a transpartisan concept. But if enough people click to sign an official White House petition, the president will have to weigh in. As you can see, the petition merely asks Obama to support the Democratic proposal to let states legalize, tax and regulate marijuana just like alcohol. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 3:27 pm

Privacy issues in the Petraeus affair

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Some very interesting reconsideration of the powers granted to authorities under the Patriot Act in connection with privacy. First, there’s Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian:

The Petraeus scandal is receiving intense media scrutiny obviously due to its salacious aspects, leaving one, as always, to fantasize about what a stellar press corps we would have if they devoted a tiny fraction of this energy to dissecting non-sex political scandals (this unintentionally amusing New York Times headline from this morning – “Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers’ Ethics” – illustrates that point: with all the crimes committed by the US military over the last decade and long before, it’s only adultery that causes “concern” over their “ethics”). Nonetheless, several of the emerging revelations are genuinely valuable, particularly those involving the conduct of the FBI and the reach of the US surveillance state.

As is now widely reported, the FBI investigation began when Jill Kelley – a Tampa socialite friendly with Petraeus (and apparently very friendly with Gen. John Allen, the four-star U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan) – received a half-dozen or so anonymous emails that she found vaguely threatening. She then informed a friend of hers who was an FBI agent, and a major FBI investigation was then launched that set out to determine the identity of the anonymous emailer.

That is the first disturbing fact: it appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email. The emails Kelley received were, as the Daily Beast reports, quite banal and clearly not an event that warranted an FBI investigation:

“The emails that Jill Kelley showed an FBI friend near the start of last summer were not jealous lover warnings like ‘stay away from my man’, a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Beast. . . .

“‘More like, ‘Who do you think you are? . . .You parade around the base . . . You need to take it down a notch,'” according to the source, who was until recently at the highest levels of the intelligence community and prefers not to be identified by name.

“The source reports that the emails did make one reference to Gen. David Petraeus, but it was oblique and offered no manifest suggestion of a personal relationship or even that he was central to the sender’s spite. . . .

“When the FBI friend showed the emails to the cyber squad in the Tampa field office, her fellow agents noted the absence of any overt threats.

“No, ‘I’ll kill you’ or ‘I’ll burn your house down,” the source says. ‘It doesn’t seem really that bad.’

“The squad was not even sure the case was worth pursuing, the source says.

“‘What does this mean? There’s no threat there. This is against the law?’ the agents asked themselves by the source’s account.

“At most the messages were harassing. The cyber squad had to consult the statute books in its effort to determine whether there was adequate legal cause to open a case.

“‘It was a close call,’ the source says.

“What tipped it may have been Kelley’s friendship with the agent.”

That this deeply personal motive was what spawned the FBI investigation is bolstered by the fact that the initial investigating agent “was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors’ concerns that he was personally involved in the case” – indeed, “supervisors soon became concerned that the initial agent might have grown obsessed with the matter” – and was found to have “allegedly sent shirtless photos” to Kelley, and “is now under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the internal-affairs arm of the FBI”.

[The New York Times this morning reports that . . .

Continue reading.

And also Peter Maas reports in ProPublica and the New Yorker:

In 1987, when Judge Robert Bork was enmeshed in a partisan struggle over his Supreme Court nomination, a reporter for an alternative weekly in Washington, D.C., got a tip that the judge was a patron of a local video store. Michael Dolan went to Potomac Video, in the western corner of the capital, and asked the assistant manager for a list of videos the judge had checked out. “Cool,” theassistant manager said. “I’ll look.”

Dolan’s subsequent story, published in the Washington City Paper, caused a sensation, though not because of the judge’s taste in videos, which, it turned out, was unremarkable. There were 146 rentals in less than two years, including lots of Hitchcock and Bond, as well as movies featuring Meryl Streep and Bette Midler. As Dolan wrote, “Despite what all you pervs were hoping, there’s not an X in the bunch, and hardly an R.”

After a bitter fight, the Senate rejected Bork’s nomination. One thing everyone agreed on, however, was that Bork’s privacy had been invaded. In 1988, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act, making it illegal to release video lists without a customer’s consent to anyone but law enforcement, and then only with an appropriate warrant. It is reasonable to note that the unusually rapid congressional action was perhaps aimed at protecting the privacy of Legislator X as much as Citizen Y. If a reporter could easily get the judge’s video list, a senator’s list would not be much harder to get, and would probably be a lot more lively.

Will the scandal surrounding David Petraeus, General John Allen, Paula Broadwell, Jill Kelley, and a shirtless F.B.I. agent turn into the same sort of eureka moment that Congress experienced when Bork was, as the saying now goes, “borked”? Although the lustful portion of the Petraeus scandal is hardly disappearing — who else will be drawn into it, and when will we read the emails? — attention is turning toward the apparent ease with which the F.B.I. accessed the electronic communication of Petraeus, Broadwell, Kelley, and Allen. The exact circumstances of how the F.B.I. got its hands on all this material remains to be revealed — for instance, whether search warrants were obtained for everything — but the bottom line appears to be that the F.B.I. accessed a vast array of private information and seriously harmed the careers of at least Petraeus and Broadwell without, as of yet, filing a criminal complaint against anybody. As the law professor and privacy expert James Grimmelmann tweeted the other day, “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal (or what the FBI thinks is legal).” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Is the US headed toward an alcohol problem like the UK’s

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Tim Heffernan reports in The Washington Monthly:

England has a drinking problem. Since 1990, teenage alcohol consumption has doubled. Since World War II, alcohol intake for the population as a whole has doubled, with a third of that increase occurring since just 1995. The United Kingdom has very high rates of binge and heavy drinking, with the average Brit consuming the equivalent of nearly ten liters of pure ethanol per year.

It’s apparent in their hospitals, where since the 1970s rates of cirrhosis and other liver diseases among the middle-aged have increased by eightfold for men and sevenfold for women. And it’s apparent in their streets, where the carousing, violent “lager lout” is as much a symbol of modern Britain as Adele, Andy Murray, and the London Eye. Busting a bottle across someone’s face in a bar is a bona fide cultural phenomenon—so notorious that it has its own slang term, “glassing,” and so common that at one point the Manchester police called for bottles and beer mugs to be replaced with more shatter-resistant material. In every detail but the style of dress, the alleys of London on a typical Saturday night look like the scenes in William Hogarth’s famous pro-temperance print Gin Lane. It was released in 1751.

The United States, although no stranger to alcohol abuse problems, is in comparatively better shape. A third of the country does not drink, and teenage drinking is at a historic low. The rate of alcohol use among seniors in high school has fallen 25 percentage points since 1980. Glassing is something that happens in movies, not at the corner bar.

Why has the United States, so similar to Great Britain in everything from language to pop culture trends, managed to avoid the huge spike of alcohol abuse that has gripped the UK? The reasons are many, but one stands out above all: the market in Great Britain is rigged to foster excessive alcohol consumption in ways it is not in the United States—at least not yet.

Monopolistic enterprises control the flow of drink in England at every step—starting with the breweries and distilleries where it’s produced and down the channels through which it reaches consumers in pubs and supermarkets. These vertically integrated monopolies are very “efficient” in the economist’s sense, in that they do a very good job of minimizing the price and thereby maximizing the consumption of alcohol.

The United States, too, has seen . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 11:27 am

Obama’s failure to protect farmers from predatory businesses

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Linda Kahn reports in The Washington Monthly:

In May 2010, Garry Staples left his chicken farm in Steele, Alabama, to take part in a historic hearing in Normal, an hour and a half away.

The decision to go wasn’t easy. The big processing companies that farmers rely on for their livelihood had made it known that even attending one of these hearings, much less speaking out at one, could mean trouble. For a chicken farmer, that’s no trivial thing. Getting on a processing company’s bad side can deal a serious blow to a farmer’s income—and even lose him the farm entirely. Still, Staples, a former Special Forces commander, and a number of other farmers decided to risk it. Many felt it was their only chance to talk directly to some of the highest-ranking officials in the country, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, about the abusive practices now common in their industry. It was a chance, finally, to get some relief.

Staples and other farmers described a system that is worse in certain respects than sharecropping. It works like this: to do business nowadays, most chicken farmers need to contract with a processing company. The company delivers them feed and chicks, which farmers raise into full-size birds. The same company then buys those same birds back when they are full grown. The problem is that the big processing company is usually the only game in town. So it can—and usually does—call all the shots, dictating everything from what facilities a farmer builds on his farm to the price he receives for his full-size chickens.

As Staples explained, a processing company can require a farmer to assume substantial debt to pay for new chicken houses, tailored to the company’s exact specifications. Staples said he himself had borrowed $1.5 million. Then the company will offer that same farmer a sixty-day contract that can be changed or terminated by the company for any reason at any time. If a farmer gets fed up with the chronic uncertainty and tries to negotiate better terms, the company can punish him by sending lousy feed or sickly chicks, thereby depressing his earnings. Or the company can simply undercount the full-grown chickens’ weight. Whatever the particular abuse, because there are now so few processing companies—often only one or two in a farmer’s geographic area—there’s little way out of the cycle. For many chicken farmers in America, the only real option is to accept the terms, even if those terms are slowly driving them out of business. And even if those terms keep them from publicly speaking their minds.

Staples told the crowd at the hearing that he feared that Pilgrim’s Pride, the processing company with which he contracts, might punish him for voicing his troubles. Later, Christine Varney, the government’s chief antitrust regulator at the time, who was sitting in front of an American flag, spoke up. “Mr. Staples, let me say, I fully expect you will not experience retaliation by virtue of your presence here today,” she said, handing him a piece of paper with her phone number on it. “But if you do, you call me.” The hearing erupted into applause.

The message seemed to be clear: the highest brass in the Obama administration was listening closely to how America’s independent farmers are pushed around by big companies, and they were no longer going to tolerate it.

For the next seven months, Holder, Vilsack, Varney, and other officials from the Departments of Justice and Agriculture toured the country, hearing from more farmers and rural advocates. Along the way, they learned about concentration in the seed, pig, cattle, and dairy industries, as well as in poultry. During this same period, the USDA also worked on revising and updating the main law that regulates the livestock industries to prevent many of the unfair and deceptive practices that now threaten the dignity and survival of farmers and ranchers. From dairy farms in Wisconsin to cattle ranches in Montana, hopes soared.

But today, two years on, almost nothing has changed. Big processing companies remain free to treat independent poultry, cattle, and dairy producers largely as they please. . .

Continue reading. Where is the GOP on this? I continually hear how they want to protect small business owners: where are they in protecting these farmers?

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 11:14 am

Getting away with torture

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A bad court decision, subject of a NY Times editorial:

In a decision that ignored a 41-year-old precedent and American obligations under international law, a United States appeals court has ruled that American civilians who are tortured by the American military cannot recover damages from the people responsible.

The 8-to-3 ruling by the full United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit overturned an important ruling last year by a three-judge panel of the same court, which held that two Americans who say they were tortured by American military forces in Iraq could sue former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for violating their constitutional rights. That ruling relied on a landmark 1971 ruling by the Supreme Court known as Bivens, under which government officials could be held accountable for the intentional mistreatment of American citizens, even if that conduct happened in a war zone.

Reversing that decision, the full court’s majority incorrectly joined the Fourth Circuit and the District of Columbia Circuit in rejecting damage suits against American officials based on torture claims. But its ruling was much broader and a lot worse. The court held that all military personnel are exempt from civil liability for breaching civilians’ rights. “Unless there is a right of action against soldiers and their immediate commanders,” it said, “there cannot be a right of action for damages against remote superiors such as former Secretary Rumsfeld.”

The majority talked derisively about lawsuits causing “other problems, including diverting cabinet officers’ time from management of public affairs to the defense of their bank accounts.” It is a bizarre argument for a cabinet officer who developed policies that permitted torture.

Mr. Rumsfeld and other defendants made an argument limited by place: . . .

Continue reading.

Think of what this ruling permits and protects.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 11:09 am

Vegetative patient answering questions through fMRI

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Very interesting development, reported in The Scientist by Beth Marie Mole:

Scott Routley, a 39-year-old Canadian patient that doctors had considered vegetative and incapable of communicating following a car crash 12 years ago, was able to tell doctors that he’s not in pain via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of his brain. The breakthrough, reported this week (November 13) by BBC News, marks the first time that a clinically vegetative patient has been able to answer questions pertinent to their condition.

“Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind,” neuroscientist Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario told the BBC. “We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is.”

To communicate with Routley, Owen and his team used their previously developed fMRI communication method, which monitors real-time brain activity—by visualizing the flow of oxygenated blood through the brain—as the patient answers specific questions. In the previous study, they found that if they asked patients to imagine playing tennis or walking through their house, the fMRI would show two distinct, reproducible patterns. Using “playing tennis” and “walking through the house” as proxies for “yes” and “no,” for example, Routley could answer the researchers’ questions about his care. Their previous work on similar patients also included a fact-based quiz, which suggested that the communication system allowed the patients to accurately communicate through their thoughts.

“Asking a patient something important to them has been our aim for many years,” Owens said. “In future, we could ask what we could do to improve their quality of life.”

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 10:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

The House I Live In

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I have not yet seen this documentary, but I definitely will. Helen Redmond reports in Alternet:

The House I Live In will cause fresh outrage at the 40-year war on drugs in the United States. Eugene Jarecki, the director of Why We Fight, has made a sprawling and emotional documentary that humanizes the victims of the drug war. It delivers an unequivocal message: The drug war is racist, inhumane and unwinnable, and it must be stopped. And with superstars Danny Glover, John Legend, Brad Pitt and Russell Simmons backing the film and speaking out publicly against the drug war, the film has the potential to reach and educate a much larger audience.

The film comes at the perfect political moment nationally and internationally.

In New York City, the policy of stop-and-frisk, which contributes to 50,000 arrests for marijuana every year, is being challenged. The legalization of marijuana is on the ballot in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and several Central and Latin American countries are challenging U.S.-enforced drug prohibition and pursuing different forms of legalization.

Through a mix of archival footage and interviews with drug warriors, drug dealers and users, Jarecki’s film uncovers the truth about the drug war. It’s not about drugs per se, it’s about profits for the few and social and racial control of the many. The illicit drug trade criminalizes millions of poor people of color, strips them of basic civil liberties and puts them under the control of the criminal justice system, often for decades. There are clearly winners and losers in the war.

The House I Live In uses interviews with experts like Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow and Marc Mauer, the director of the Sentencing Project, to show how enormous amounts of society’s resources are used to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate hundreds of thousands of drug law violators every year.

The drug war is a massive job generator from drug courts to Drug Enforcement Administration agents and police officers working undercover on the streets to correctional and probation officers in the prisons that dot the American landscape. The corrections industry is big business and creates profits for companies that build prisons, equips guards with a vast assortment of weaponry, and supplies prisoners with food, jumpsuits, underwear, shoes, telephone access, transportation and health care. These corporations have a material interest in continuing the war on drugs and actively oppose reforms that would decrease the prison population.

Over the past 40 years, the war on drugs has cost taxpayers $4 trillion and accounted for more than 45 million arrests. As the film concludes, what a colossal waste, because illegal drugs are as available as ever. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 10:46 am

Very interesting brush indeed

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Take a look at The Moose, a brush (with a secret compartment) made of a bactericidal copper alloy. One view:

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 9:30 am

Posted in Shaving

A bronzer brush as a shaving brush

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Today I used the Ecotools Bamboo Bronzer Brush as a shaving brush. The main drawback is the handle, not a shape that works well for a shaving brush. The knot has a very short loft and a soft, dense feel, but it did a reasonably good job at making and holding lather. Sort of fun, but this one will not be part of my regular rotation. Still, I’ll keep the brush around because for a real change of pace it’s sort of fun.

Floris Elite (old formulation) is a good soap, and the Edwin Jagger black Chatsworth with the new head and an Astra Superior Platinum blade did a really fine job: BBS or close to it in an enjoyable shave.

A splash of Alt-Innsbruck with its mild hint of menthol sent me on my way. And after all these years, I still derive a great deal of enjoyment from this simple daily ritual.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2012 at 9:20 am

Posted in Shaving

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