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Archive for August 14th, 2013

The Sweeping Presidential Power to Help Prisoners That Holder Didn’t MentionC

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Cora Currier reports for ProPublica:

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the impacts of “draconian” sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” said Holder.

But in unveiling the new “smart on crime” initiative, Holder skipped mention of the sweeping power the president has to shorten or forgive a federal prisoner’s sentence.

President Obama has given just one person early release from prison. As ProPublica has documented, Obama has overall granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, which includes both commutations – early release – and pardons. Last year, ProPublica reported that the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney rarely gives positive clemency recommendations to the president. Experts have been calling for reform of the entire clemency process.

“Holder’s speech begs the question, why is not more attention given to the broken pardons office?” said Robert Ehrlich, a former Republican governor of Maryland who recently started a law clinic devoted to pardons.

One person who is still waiting to hear about his petition for commutation is Clarence Aaron. He has been in prison since 1993, when he was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a drug deal. Aaron was not the buyer, seller, nor supplier of the drugs. It was his first criminal offense.

The White House ordered a fresh review of Aaron’s petition last year after ProPublica found that the  pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, had misrepresented Aaron’s case when it was brought to President George W. Bush. An Inspector General’s reportreleased in December supported ProPublica’s findings, and referred the incident to the Deputy Attorney General to determine if “administrative action is appropriate.”

Nine months later, Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle says the “issues raised in the report are still being examined.”

In his speech, Holder expressed concern about racial disparities in sentencing and treatment of prisoners. In 2011, a ProPublica investigation found that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 4:58 pm

NYPD Threw Truth-Telling Cop in Psycho Ward for 6 Days

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We see a lot of police misbehavior these days. Here, for example, is a guy being arrested for taking photographs on a public sidewalk: completely legal, completely protected by the Constitution, but the police are not all that interested in such niceties.

One excellent solution is to put cameras on the cops. If they’re making their own timely record, they won’t so much object when citizens do the same. It should end a lot of misbehavior on either side of the badge.

Joshua Holland reports at AlterNet on why NYPD needs some help:

In 2008, Steven Mauriello, commander of the 81st precinct in Brooklyn, New York, ordered his officers to be far more aggressive – to arrest anyone doing anything even slightly out of line.

“Everybody goes,” he said. “I don’t care. Yoke ’em. Put ’em through the system. They got bandannas on? Arrest ’em. They’re underage? Fuck it. You’re on a foot post? Fuck it. Take the first guy you got and lock ’em all up. Bring ’em in.” A lieutenant later added, “they don’t own the block. We own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here.”

Those orders represent a taste of over 1,000 hours of day-to-day life in the NYPD secretly recorded by Adrian Schoolcraft, an unassuming patrolman who became disgusted with the unrelenting pressure he faced to “make his numbers,” regardless of whether he actually witnessed any wrongdoing.

While a federal judge this week declared “stop-and-frisk”—one aspect of the NYPD’s hyper-aggressive approach to policing—unconstitutional, it only scratches the surface of the institutional problems Schoolcraft chronicled. They flow largely from the NYPD’s “corporate approach” to policing, a singular obsession with crime statistics that compels officers to harass New Yorkers for petty offenses while turning their backs on serious offenses that might inflate the numbers. (In some cases patrol bosses even ordered cops to arrest people for doing nothing, with the understanding that they’d be sprung later.) Cops who don’t get with the program end up with targets on their backs.

Schoolcraft would pay a steep price for trying to blow the whistle on these issues. His story is detailed in The NYPD Tapes: a Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups, and Courage [3], by Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman.

Rayman appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour [4] this week. A lightly edited transcript of the discussion follows.

Joshua Holland: First, what is CompStat?

Graham Rayman: CompStat is a statistics-driven crime strategy. Basically, statistics are kept looking for hotspots of crime and then resources, officers, are devoted to dealing with those problems. For example, if you have a rash of robberies in a given area in a precinct, you send cops out to focus on those robberies. It was started around 1994 under then-commissioner William Bratton and was credited with the sharp crime decline that took place in New York City over the past 20 years.

As time went on, though, it also became a vehicle for promotion among precinct commanders. If you showed good numbers, good CompStat numbers, then you were more likely to get promoted. The other element of CompStat is that precinct commanders were called into headquarters to explain issues in their precinct. Sometimes those meetings would get very intense. Careers either blossomed or failed in those meetings on a regular basis.

JH: Now, Bratton, I think, was always a big self-promoter. He took credit for using these statistics to bring down crime stats. The reality was that crime was certainly falling all over the country. There’s been a whole number of theories for exactly why that is. But that’s not the whole story.

In the book you note that Bratton said he wanted to make the NYPD act like a for-profit corporation, with the profit being crime reduction. Can you give us a sense of how this impacted the department’s culture?

GR: Well, it change the culture a great deal. First of all, one of the most important things that it did was that it took away discretion. If it’s all about the numbers, then you have to show good numbers. That means more summonses, more stop-and-frisks, and lower major crimes. The officers who used to, say, give warnings, or commanders who used to tolerate officers who used their judgment and their discretion more, became less valued in the model.

JH: This is also happening while the NYPD is adopting the so-called broken windows theory. That is, you have a zero-tolerance policy for small offenses. Tell us a little bit about what impact that has on communities and especially in poor neighborhoods, communities of color, etc.

GR: Broken windows refers to the theory that if a window is broken in a house, other bad things are going to happen if you don’t repair it. What it led to is this huge increase in stop-and-frisks in New York City. That caused a lot of tension in the community, because the department had quotas for stop-and-frisks. Young black and Hispanic men, mainly, were being stopped over and over again in these poorer neighborhoods, often for no reason, often just to get the quota. It’s caused a lot of conflict between the police and the community.

JH: You make an important point—or you quote Adrian Schoolcraft making this point—that NYPD is effectively turning citizens who might just be hanging out on a street corner into criminals. They’ll have records that will impact their employment prospects, their eligibility for social services and other things for years to come.

One thing your book makes clear that I was only vaguely aware of is how awful it’s become to serve in the NYPD for regular patrolmen. You have this unrelenting pressure from above to fulfill these quotas, quotas the department denies exist. That translates into basically harassing citizens whether you want to or not. Then there are all these mechanisms for making a patrolman’s life hell if he doesn’t meet his numbers. Tell us a little bit about that last bit.

GR: Well, in the roll calls … Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded his commanders. In the roll calls, there’s this constant drumbeat for numbers. “Get your numbers. Get your numbers. Get your numbers.” If you refuse to do that, if you want to use your discretion, if you want to give a warning to someone who isn’t wearing their seatbelt, for example, or someone who is drinking a beer on their stoop, you get in trouble for that.

There are all kinds of administrative tools they can use to cause you problems. In Adrian’s case, they started giving him bad evaluations. When he started objecting, it just got worse and worse. They went so far as to give him assignments that were really dangerous. For example, they stuck him at night alone on foot in the most dangerous sector in the district, where basically he was in danger. I mean, he’s alone, no partner, for his entire shift night after night after night.

JH: It’s amazing how, if you don’t have a “rabbi”—that is, someone who is senior on your side—you can just be hassled in myriad ways. They assign you to sectors the furthest from your home. They do all these things.

We really haven’t spoken about what may be the worst of it, which is how the pressure to fix the books causes NYPD to treat victims of crime. On the one hand, you have these cops with this pressure to take many more actions, but on the other, the department wants to see a constant reduction in reported crimes. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 9:53 am

Posted in Government, Law

California inmate in prison hunger strike: ‘Each minute has been torturous’

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Rory Carroll reports in The Guardian:

California’s prison hunger strike is pitting hundreds of inmates against authorities in a battle of wills largely invisible to outsiders.

A mass protest which has just entered its second month is playing out in the solitary confinement units of maximum security jails where an estimated 400 prisoners are refusing food to demand an end to what they call inhumane conditions.

Some have been hospitalised as their bodies, stripped of fat, now consume muscle, a point when health can be permanently damaged.

Inmates’ supporters held small rallies in Oakland and Los Angeles on Thursday to mark one month – 32 days – since the July 8 start of the protest. A “bike for the strike” event is scheduled in Oakland on Friday.

The core demand is an end to indefinite solitary confinement in Security Housing Units, known as SHUs. Some inmates have been in such cells for decades, prompting denunciations from Amnesty International and other human rights advocates.

Strike leaders – an unusual alliance of whites, African Americans and Latinos – say the conditions amount to torture and that the system for selecting those for segregation is callous and capricious. A condition of release into the general jail population is to “debrief” – inform – against gang members.

Authorities reject the criticism and say the strike is an attempt by gang leaders to regain the ability to terrorise fellow prisoners, staff and communities throughout California. Each side accuses the other of brutality and manipulation. There is little sign of negotiation or compromise.

The media have not been granted access to striking inmates but eight in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay state prison, an isolated, windswept facility outside Crescent City, and the protest’s epicentre, have written to the Guardian shedding light on their motivations and states of mind.

In handwritten letters on A4 notepaper they all pledged continued defiance and gave no indication about when the strike may end. Todd Ashker, an outspoken member of the so-called Short Corridor Collective, a group of segregated strike leaders, said he was inspired by the 1981 hunger strikes by republican prisoners in Northern Ireland which left 10 men dead.

Ashker said he had become friends with Denis O’Hearn, a sociology professor and author of Nothing But an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker who Ignited a Generation. He called the book “one of many inspirations” and vowed to continue his protest. “Staying strong and committed!!”

Ashker, 50, a convicted killer with neo-Nazi tatoos, has obtained a paralegal degree and initiated multiple lawsuits, helping inmates win the right to order books and earn interest on jail savings accounts.

He said he had been denied human contact with loved ones during 27 years in solitary confinement. “Each minute has been torturous to my mind and body.” He would be released into the general prison population only if he informed against others but he had no information, he said. . .

Continue reading.

I gather the private-prison business does not want this reported, but I’ve seen few press reports about the hunger strike. Natasha Lennard, though, does have a good report in Salon.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 9:34 am

Posted in Government, Law, Medical

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Cream

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The product sounds extremely effective in this Cool Tools review.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 9:11 am

Posted in Daily life

Is Lead Really the Main Cause of Violent Crime?

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Kevin Drum revisits the issue of the effects of environmental lead on the rate of violent crime.. Because this is such an important issue for the public’s health and well-being—and indeed the health of our communities as communities—it’s worthwhile reading and marking the post. His post begins:

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but over the past week I’ve suddenly gotten a flurry of new responses to my January piece about lead and crime. Roughly speaking, they’re mostly complaints that crime has lots of causes, and it’s a mistake to claim that lead is preeminently important. I understand where this criticism comes from, but here’s the thing: I agree with it. That’s why it’s important to understand exactly what the lead hypothesis claims to explain: not all crime, but only the specific crime wave of 1965-2010. (In America, anyway. The dates vary in other regions of the world.) So because this has cropped up again, I’m going to reproduce a post I wrote shortly after the article came out. Of all the things I didn’t explain well enough in the original piece, this is the one I most wish I had illustrated more clearly. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 9:04 am

Mediterranean Diet reduces genetic stroke risk

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Worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 9:00 am

Cancer-Causing Herbal Remedies

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Exactly what you don’t want. The article by Ruth Williams in The Scientist, begins:

Plants of the Aristolochia genus have for centuries been used in Chinese herbal remedies, but they contain a naturally carcinogenic compound that causes mutations in the cells of people who consume them, according to two studies published in Science Translational Medicine today (August 7). The papers reveal that the compound, called aristolochic acid, causes more mutations than two of the best-known environmental carcinogens: tobacco smoke and UV light.

“A lot of people in the lay public assume that if something is herbal or natural that it is necessarily healthy,” said Marc Ladanyi, an investigator in the human oncology and pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who was not involved in the studies. “But this work very clearly shows that this natural plant product is extremely genotoxic and carcinogenic.”

Despite the long history of Aristolochia use in herbal remedies, evidence of the plants’ inherent danger emerged only recently. In the early 1990s, women who had received Aristolochia treatments at a weight loss clinic in Belgium developed kidney problems that progressed to renal failure and, in later years, to abnormal growths in their upper urinary tracts. More recently, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 8:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Smooth handle, smooth shave

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SOTD 14 Aug 2013

Exceptional shave. The “smooth handle” reference was due to another discussion on whether smooth handles work well for razors, with the usual answer: it depends. Obviously, a smooth handle that’s soapy will be slippery (unless you brush your fingers over the alum block, which will then provide a secure grip). But the razor is rinsed after every pass, and I don’t find that the handle ever is soapy, in practice. At least, it’s not nearly so apt to be soapy as a brush handle, and my brushes all have smooth handles—as do the two above. And again, rinsing off the soap means the grip is secure.

And, of course, many razors do have smooth handles—not only the Edwin Jagger resin handles, but also handles I have of ceramic, wood, bone, and stone: all smooth, none slippery. Indeed, the razor above (with a smooth plastic handle) is called the Wilkinson “Sticky” because men were surprised that the razor handle could be smooth and yet not slippery. The amazement at this point should be dying down.

That said, I again emailed The English Shaving Company to suggest that they test a knurled handle as one of their handle options. I think it would see quite well and I don’t see much drawback with providing the customer with another option.

I used two boar brushes this morning to compare them, and truly I could detect no significant difference. So choose your Omega boar based on how it looks to you,, and don’t worry about whether it has a band or not.

The lather was excellent: thick lather that clusters in a roll on the razor. D.R. Harris makes a fine shaving soap. Three passes of the Sticky with a Feather blade, and a BBS result. A good splash of Arlington aftershave, and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2013 at 8:27 am

Posted in Shaving

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