Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 15th, 2013

Obama caught lying about the NSA

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What I believe official Washington feared has now happened: An authority figure—in this case, President Obama—makes statements to reassure the public, and then a subsequent release of information the public was not supposed to know shows that he is lying. Here’s the story. I think it’s obvious why Snowden did not go through official channels: the official channels are lying to us about what they’re doing.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 8:32 pm

All US nuclear reactors vulnerable to terrorism

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My God. We’ve spent billions if not trillions on “homeland security” and we have to take off our shoes, belts, coats, pocket contents, and so on—all that, and they never thought to secure our nuclear reactors? I don’t think that, “Wow! Time really flies. Already 12 years since 9/11. We gotta get on those nuclear reactors Real Soon Now.” excuse is going to fly. Some serious questions need to be asked of Congress and of the Executive.

Jesus. They’re really worried about terrorism. Right. They don’t act like they’re worried, do they?

Ben Kamisar in McClatchy:

All 107 nuclear reactors in the United States are inadequately protected from terrorist attacks, according to a Defense Department-commissioned report released Thursday.

The report, by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin, warns that the current security required of civilian-operated reactors fails to safeguard against airplane attacks, rocket-propelled grenades and more than a small handful of attackers.

The research highlights the 11 most vulnerable reactors, including plants near Southport, N.C., Port St. Lucie, Fla., Columbia, Mo., and Gaithersburg, Md., less than 25 miles from the White House. It doesn’t mention the specific security plans for each plant because they aren’t publicly available and the report doesn’t contain classified material. Instead, it highlights the broader regulations that would apply to each type of plant.

“There are 104 nuclear power reactors and three research reactors, none of which are protected against a 9/11-style terrorist attack,” Alan J. Kuperman, an associate professor at the university who co-authored the report, said during a conference call Thursday.

He said current policies “leave U.S. nuclear facilities . . . vulnerable to credible terrorist threats of theft of bomb-grade material and sabotage that could cause a massive meltdown and release of radiation.”

Kuperman made multiple references to the 9/11 Commission’s finding that al Qaida had considered targeting a nuclear power reactor during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which he said was proof that this was already on “al Qaida’s radar screen.”

Three organizations control the safety of nuclear materials: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 6:19 pm

A Conversation With Charles Simonyi

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James Fallows interviews Charles Simonyi, programmer extraordinaire.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Software

Mental disorder seen as ‘badness, not sickness’

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The prison model for treating illness does come up when clinicians dislike their patients. Bruce Bower reports in Science News:

Psychiatrists regularly get criticized for turning typical life problems into medical disorders. But in an odd reversal, many mental health clinicians are trying to transform one certified mental illness, borderline personality disorder, into a label for needy, manipulative people who don’t need treatment, a sociologist reported at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting on August 11.

Patients with borderline personality disorder, unlike people with schizophrenia or other serious mental conditions, are often viewed by mental health providers as having cynically planned out rash acts and even suicide attempts, sociologist Sandra Sulzer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found in extensive interviews with 22 psychiatrists and psychologists in the United States.

The condition includes difficulty controlling emotions, intense but unstable relationships, recklessness, cutting and other acts of self-harm, along with attempted and completed suicides. Before Sulzer’s study, little was known about how mental health professionals discuss and deal with this troubling set of symptoms.

“Clinicians frequently view borderline personality disorder symptoms as signs of badness, not sickness, and as a code to route patients out of mental health care,” Sulzer said. That finding goes a long way toward explaining why many borderline personality disorder patients receive no treatment despite the availability of effective forms of psychotherapy (SN: 6/16/07, p. 374), she suggested.

Sulzer carried out her interviews of mental health workers shortly before the release of the latest manual of psychiatric disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5. Before its release, proposed revisions of the definition of borderline personality disorder created controversy among psychiatrists and members of the committee writing the revisions.

Sulzer doesn’t know whether inadequate training or other factors explain why only a couple of clinicians regarded borderline personality disorder patients as having a treatable mental condition.

Borderline personality disorder patients can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Mental Health

How to Really End Mass Incarceration

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Vanita Gupta writes in the NY Times:

IN 2003, I represented dozens of African-American residents in Tulia, Tex., who had been convicted after a botched drug sting. Jason Jerome Williams, a 22-year-old with no prior criminal record, had been sentenced to 45 years in prison for four sales of an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. Freddie Brookins Jr., 25, had received 20 years for a first-time offense of selling less than four grams of cocaine. Joe Moore, a 56-year-old hog farmer, had gotten 90 years for two cocaine sales totaling under five grams. Others accepted plea deals to try to avoid such lengthy prison terms.

The convictions, in 1999 and 2000, were based on the flawed testimony of an undercover officer. The prosecution offered no physical evidence of marked bills, weapons, narcotics or drug paraphernalia — things you would expect to find in a sophisticated drug ring.

It took years of advocacy by many lawyers to win their release, but this hard-fought vindication was just a flash in the pan. Starting in the 1970s, a domestic “war on crime” dominated by antidrug policies and racial profiling fueled a prison-building binge that is morally — and now financially — bankrupt. Both political parties embraced draconian policies like mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws and wide disparities in sentences for possession of crack versus powder cocaine. The result: by 2003, the United States had 4.6 percent of the world’s population but 22.4 percent of its prison population — even though violent crime started dropping in the 1990s. Prospects for reform looked bleak.

So I was elated when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Monday that the government would commit to reducing the bloated prison population. This is without precedent: the nation’s top law enforcement official directed all federal prosecutors to exercise their discretion toward ending the relentless warehousing of inmates — the vast majority of whom are minorities — in federal prison for low-level drug crimes.

But the immediate impact will be very limited at best. First, federal inmates accounted for just 14 percent of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners last year. Second, Mr. Holder has limited authority to enact permanent reforms without Congressional action. Third, it’s unclear how federal prosecutors will enforce his plan. To maximize its impact, the Justice Department needs to track implementation by the 93 United States attorneys around the country and hold them accountable for enforcing the policy.

For lasting national impact we need to look at the states, where most criminal defendants are sentenced. Over the past few years, a quiet revolution has been brewing in state capitals. Historically low crime rates and shrinking state coffers have led to a nascent consensus among lawmakers and advocates across the ideological spectrum that our addiction to incarceration is not sustainable, effective or humane. Republican governors in cash-strapped states have been among those leading the charge. States as varied as Texas, New York, Colorado and Michigan have passed reforms that have stabilized or significantly reduced prison populations without increasing crime.

What Mr. Holder has done is turn up the dial, lending his imprimatur to a growing sense of national urgency and moral necessity. The muted reaction to his announcement from ardent conservatives is a reflection of the shift in debate.

But this is no time to rest . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Government, Law

The Cure for the $1,000 Toothbrush

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Tina Rosenberg writes in the NY Times:

Here is a basic fact of health care in the United States: Doctors and hospitals know what they charge, but patients don’t know what they pay. As in any market, when one side has no information, that side loses: price secrecy is a major reason medical bills are so high. In my previous column, I wrote about the effect of this lack of transparency on the bills patients pay out of pocket.

We know about these bills, which hit us directly. What most people don’t know, because the costs are hidden, is that the same imbalance exists with insurance. The employers and employees who buy health coverage have delegated vigilance over health care costs to insurers — but insurers, for the most part, have gone AWOL.

Consider the story of Texas811, a company with about 200 employees based in Dallas. (They mark utility lines so people don’t damage them when they dig.)

In January 2010, the company was enrolled in a Blue Cross P.P.O., or preferred provider organization. That month, Blue Cross told Texas811 that it was planning to raise the company’s premiums by 75 percent. That was extreme. But health insurance premiums are rising three times as fast as wages, doubling since 2002. “We freaked out,” said Lee Marrs, the company’s president. They negotiated. Blue Cross agreed to lower the increase to 68 percent. “At that point it was go out of business, drop health coverage, or try something new,” Marrs said.

They tried something new.

What Texas811 did first was drop Blue Cross and its P.P.O. and become self-insured. That means that the company itself paid claims up to a certain amount, and bought an insurance policy that kicked in after that. This isn’t revolutionary – self-insurance is how it’s done for about a third of the insured work force.  After one unsatisfactory year, Texas811 signed up with GPA, a Dallas-based company that administers claims for about 230 workplaces like municipalities, school districts, retail businesses.

The difference was astounding.

Under Blue Cross’s P.P.O., the company had been paying $10,000 per visit for dialysis patients. Now it was paying $975. Other costs dropped commensurately. After the first year, the company lowered premiums by 3 percent and increased coverage, providing free vision, dental and life insurance to all its employees, including part-timers. “We saved so much money we were able to hire a third-party contractor to establish a medical clinic in our office,” said Marrs. “We provide a free primary care physician in our office to all employees and their dependents.”

What Texas811 did was become part of a nascent movement away from the P.P.O. model, one that negotiates prices up from the hospital’s cost or the lower Medicare price rather than down from the hospital’s higher one.

Eighty percent of America’s insured  — some 200 million people  — are insured through P.P.O.’s. A P.PO. assembles a network of health facilities and providers who agree to deliver care at a negotiated discount rate. P.P.O.’s were not originally a force for price secrecy, but their role changed as hospital chains began to grow. Between 2007 and 2012, there were 551 acquisitions of hospitals. Chains have merged, and hospitals buy up their competitors and physician groups.

Because they are so large, hospitals now control negotiations with P.P.O.’s. Patients want their own doctors in the network  — which means that hospital chains are must-haves for a P.P.O. A study of the health care market in 12 cities found that dominant hospital chains could get high prices, secrecy clauses and other contract advantages. Insurers don’t argue  — they need the P.P.O., and they can simply pass the higher costs along to payers in the form of premium hikes. With some insurance contracts, the more the hospital is paid, the more the insurer makes.

“Even a giant company like General Electric in any given market doesn’t have that market power,” said Kathy Hempstead, senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Provider consolidation is very, very hard to deal with. It gives providers the opportunity to play hardball with purchasers and their agents.”

P.P.O.’s, of course, negotiate discounts  — the statement you get from your insurer always highlights how much was saved. Some of those discounts sound impressive: 50 percent off, sometimes more. “But nobody ever asks, ‘discount off what?’” said Mike Dendy, the chief executive of Advanced Medical Pricing Solutions, or AMPS, an Atlanta company that reviews and renegotiates hospital bills.

P.P.O.’s negotiate their discount off the hospital’s chargemaster price. The chargemaster is like a supersonic rack rate. It’s a fantasy figure, set by the hospital alone. These are the $77 gauze pads, the $1,000 toothbrushes, the components that add up to the $200,000 joint replacement.

Compare the chargemaster price with what hospitals pay Medicare  — a figure that is around the break-even point. ( A recent study found that a third of community hospitals make a profit at Medicare rates.) Chargemaster prices are almost always at least 300 percent what Medicare pays a hospital, and some are 1,000 percent or 2,000 percent. Suddenly that 50 percent discount doesn’t seem like such a bargain. Fifty percent off a $1,000 toothbrush is a $500 toothbrush.

The lack of transparency with P.P.O.’s continues when the bill comes in. In general, insurance companies don’t ask for the details. They don’t challenge the prices. They just pay. Most corporations would never dream of paying invoices blindly. Yet they never look at the bills that make up their second largest cost category, after labor.

Hospital charges are by law supposed to be “reasonable and customary,” but some P.P.O. contracts have clauses that prohibit arguments about the price. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 1:38 pm

Eat Less and Live Longer? It’s not the food, it’s the gut microbes.

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Debamita Chatterjee writes in The Scientist:

Scientists have shown a link between long-living calorie-restricted mice and the types of microbes residing in the guts of those mice. The finding, published last month (July 16) in Nature Communications, suggests a novel mechanism of living longer by establishing the right kind of microbes in our gut through a low-calorie diet.

“[The study] underlined the effectiveness of the healthy modulation of the gut microbiota along with diet specificities,” Jean-Paul Vernoux, a professor of food toxicology at the University of Caen in France who was not involved with the study, said in an email to The Scientist.

Caloric restriction has been known to extend life span in a variety of organisms, including humans, though the molecular mechanisms of this effect are not known. Recent research has begun to outline the role of the apparently innocuous microbes of the gut in modulating metabolism and immunity of their host. Based on these findings, Liping Zhao of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and his colleagues wondered if caloric restriction may prolong life span by modulating the type and composition of gut microbes.

The team fed groups of mice a high- or low-fat reduced-calorie diet. As expected, mice on a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet lived the longest. Additionally, these mice displayed lowest body weight and fat content coupled with other healthy metabolic parameters such as glucose homoeostasis and a favorable serum lipid profile.

Using high-throughput sequencing, the researchers further showed that these calorie-restricted mice harbored a distinct population of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus, as well as lower counts of harmful bacteria. Moreover, the microbial changes in the gut were concomitant with significantly reduced levels of serum lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP), a soluble inflammatory protein that binds to lipopolysaccharide and other antigens and thus can be used as a blood-based biomarker of inflammatory response. This suggests that animals under calorie restriction can establish an optimal composition of gut microbiota, which in turn may lead to a better health by reducing overall inflammation.

Although more research is needed to translate these findings into humans, the study has far-reaching implications, Zhao noted. The idea of a balanced gut microbiota—with more beneficial microbes and fewer harmful ones—is an advantageous factor of a diet low in calories. However, the gut microbiome is also influenced by an individual’s genetic background and lifestyle, as well as environmental factors, he added, so a tailor-made personalized strategy would be the best approach to figure out how many calories to cut to attain an optimal bacterial community in the gut.

The researchers also suggest that such changes in the gut microbiota could be used as early warning signs of aging and age-related increase in inflammatory responses in the host. “We can analyze the composition of gut bacteria as a biomarker,” Zhao said. “We can also analyze serum LBP and see if that is increased or decreased.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Obama’s mission to end transparency

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Forget the campaign promises: apparently he never meant a word. Look at what he’s doing. Russ Baker reports at WhoWhatWhy.com:

Washington’s hunger to know everything about its citizens seems to be matched only by its reticence in revealing its own activities to its citizens.

This was true of George W. Bush, and it is no less true of his successor, Barack Obama. At first, Obama promised reform. As a candidate, he criticized the Bush administration’s “none of your business” approach toward public inquiries into government decisions. And as a new president, Obama proposed to dramatically open up the process and to let transparency be the norm.

Yet, as his “information czar,” Obama chose his friend Cass Sunstein—a Harvard professor who seemed less interested in fostering debate than in suppressing it. In fact, while in academia, Sunstein had  written a controversial paper calling for government agents to “cognitively infiltrate” Internet chat rooms to discourage speculation about “conspiracies.”

One consequence of this desire to discourage dark thoughts about power is seen in the Obama Administration’s foot-dragging on the release of JFK assassination records in the months and years approaching  the 50th anniversary of that event. The Obama administration even put a CIA person with ties to that agency’s disastrous 9/11 intelligence in charge of the overall document declassification process.

At WhoWhatWhy, we wrote on several occasions about Sunstein and the Orwellian double sword of a disclosure mandate that worked against disclosure. Sunstein attracted his share of criticism, and in the summer of 2012, as Obama was trying to rally his base for the re-election campaign, the “czar” quietly left the administration. But even with Sunstein gone, the Administration continues to delay declassifying key JFK assassination documents.

But there is more.

The latest move to prevent us from knowing what is going on relates to so-called transparency policies whose fine print instead does the opposite—by effectively blunting the stated intent of the regulations.

Meet “The Mosaic Effect”

The new policy is presented as an entirely forward-looking one. Government agencies are ordered to make life easier for those seeking federal data, by releasing it in a form that makes it easier to analyze it. And that, of course, sounds great.

But buried in the middle of a section on “definitions” is something that most might miss—and that might turn out to be the real purpose of the new policy. It reminds us of how vigilant you need to be in reading notices from all manner of institutions—whether your bank or your power company—on changed terms and conditions.

The suspect phrase refers to something called “the mosaic effect.” Government officials are told that they must consider this “effect” when deciding what to release and what to withhold: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 1:02 pm

More clues about Hastings, connections with Brown

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Very interesting article in WhoWhatWhy.com by Christian Stark:

At the time of his death in a mysterious one-car crash and explosion, journalist Michael Hastings was researching a story that threatened to expose powerful entities and government-connected figures. That story intersected with the work of two controversial government critics—the hacker Barrett Brown and the on-the-run surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Any probe into Hastings’s untimely death needs to take into account this complex but essential background.

But First, the Raw Facts

A little over 12 hours before his car was incinerated on an LA straightaway on June 18, 2013, Hastings sent out a short email headed, “FBI Investigation, re: NSA.” In it, he said that the FBI had been interviewing his “close friends and associates,” and advised the recipients — including colleagues at the website Buzzfeed — “[It] may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.” He added, “I’m onto a big story, and need to go off the radat [sic] for a bit.”

From: Michael Hastings

Date: Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Subject: FBI Investigation, re: NSA

To: [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED]

Hey [5 REDACTED WORDS] the Feds are interviewing my “close friends and associates.” Perhaps if the authorities arrive “Buzzfeed GQ”, er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.

Also: I’m onto a big story, and need to go off the radat for a bit.

All the best, and hope to see you all soon.

Michael

The next day, Hastings went “off the radar” permanently.

Here is a video that shows a lateral view of Hastings’s speeding car just before it crashed.  (It shows at about 0.07.)

Following publication of the email by KTLA, the FBI quickly denied that the Bureau was ever investigating Hastings.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation and ProjectPM — the research wiki that Brown was involved with — are in the process of filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to learn if indeed Hastings was the subject of an FBI probe.

The FBI denial notwithstanding, a number of clues indicate that the proximity of Hastings to Brown and the work of ProjectPM may have been what spawned the purported investigation in the first place.

Deep Background

When the FBI raided the Dallas home of journalist Barrett Brown in March 2012, the travails of the Vanity Fair and Guardian contributor didn’t get much ink — that is, until Michael Hastings published an exclusive on the Brown raid on Buzzfeed.

The story included a copy of the search warrant that revealed why the government was so interested in Brown: Along with colleagues at the research wiki he started, ProjectPM (PPM), Brown was looking into a legion of shadowy cybersecurity firms whose work for the government raised all sorts of questions about privacy and the rule of law.

Since Hastings was familiar with the government contractors listed in the search warrant, he was also potentially culpable in whatever “crimes” the feds believed Brown and PPM were guilty of. Is this why he was being investigated in the days before his fatal crash on June 18, 2013?  By then, Hastings had established a reputation as a fearless muckraker, whose stories often stripped the haloes from the powerful and well-connected:

–       The besmirched “runaway” Special Forces general Stanley McChrystal, whose career Hastings had dispatched in a 2010 article forRolling Stone

–       The saintly General “King” David Petraeus—former commander of Central Command (CENTCOM), International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

–       Daniel Saunders—a former assistant US attorney for the Central District of California

–       Former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, with whose staff Michael had many pointed exchanges regarding State’s Benghazi spin.

“To Maintain and Cultivate an Enemies List”

In his profile on the blogging consortium True/Slant, Hastings confided that his “secret ambition” was “to maintain and cultivate an enemies list.” Such ironic distancing was Hastings’s way of making palatable an inherently cynical view of the world.  He knew that power corrupted, and to effect change it was necessary to point out the Emperor’s glaringly naked flesh.

In this manner, he was much like his blogging colleague at True/Slant, Barrett Brown. So much so, in fact, that the latter approached Hastings to work on a project that would change the way the public viewed the murky world of intelligence contracting in the post-9/11 era.

For those unfamiliar with Brown’s tale, WhoWhatWhy has beenchronicling his trials since February 2013.  He is currently in federal custody in Ft. Worth, Texas, facingover a hundred years behind bars for researching 70,000 hacked emails obtained from the cybersecurity firm HBGary Federal and its parent company HBGary. At no point is the government alleging he was involved in the hack itself. His putative “crime” is doing what investigative reporters are supposed to do: digging for the truth about breaches of the public trust.

To do this, Brown pioneered a collaborative wiki where researchers and journalists could sift through these emails and create an encyclopedia from the information contained within. This was known as ProjectPM (PPM).

In 2009, Brown invited Hastings to join forces on PPM, but Hastings’s interest was tempered by other commitments. When the two spoke next, Hastings told Brown he was working on something big. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 12:54 pm

New York Promised Help for Mentally Ill Inmates – But Still Sticks Many in Solitary

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This is the sign of a regressive and incompetent government that has lost sight of its mission: imprisonment in solitary as a treatment for mental illness. Primitive behavior, and yet New York thinks of itself as “advanced.” Christie Thompson reports in ProPublica:

When Amir Hall entered New York state prison for a parole violation in November 2009, he came with a long list of psychological problems. Hall arrived at the prison from a state psychiatric hospital, after he had tried to suffocate himself. Hospital staff diagnosed Hall with serious depression.

In Mid-State prison, Hall was in and out of solitary confinement for fighting with other inmates and other rule violations. After throwing Kool-Aid at an officer, he was sentenced to seven months in solitary at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Hall did not want to be moved. When his mother and grandmother visited him that spring, Hall warned them: If he didn’t get out of prison soon, he would not be coming hoA grainy tape of Hall’s transfer on June 18, 2010, shows prison guards spraying chemicals into his cell, forcing him to come out. He barely says a word as he is made to strip, shower, bend over and cough. His head drops, his shoulders slump. His face is blank and expressionless. He stares at his hands, except for a few furtive glances at the silent guards wearing gas masks and riot gear.

“There was somebody who looked defeated, like the life was beat out of him,” said his sister Shaleah Hall. “I don’t know who that person was. The person in that video was not my brother.”

Multiple studies have shown that isolation can damage inmates’ minds, particularly those already struggling with mental illness. In recent years, New York state has led the way in implementing policies to protect troubled inmates from the trauma of solitary confinement.

2007 federal court order required New York to provide inmates with “serious” mental illness more treatment while in solitary. And a follow-up law enacted in 2011 all but bans such inmates from being put there altogether.

But something odd has happened: Since protections were first added, the number of inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness has dropped. The number of inmates diagnosed with “serious” mental illness is down 33 percent since 2007, compared to a 13 percent decrease in the state’s prison population.

A larger portion of inmates flagged for mental issues are now being given more modest diagnoses, such as adjustment disorders or minor mood disorders.

It’s unclear what exactly is driving the drop in “serious” diagnoses. But “whenever you draw a magic line, and somebody gets all these rights above it and none below it,” said Jack Beck, director of the Prison Visiting Project for the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York, “you create an incentive to push people below.” The association was one of a coalition of organizations that called for the change in policy.The New York Office of Mental Health says the decrease reflects improvements to the screening process. Efforts to base diagnoses on firmer evidence “has resulted in somewhat fewer, but better-substantiated diagnoses” of serious mental illness, said a spokesman for the office in an emailed statement.

In Hall’s case, prison mental health staff never labeled his problems as “serious.”

Instead, they repeatedly downgraded his diagnosis. After three months in solitary — during which Hall was put on suicide watch twice — they changed his status to a level for inmates who have experienced “at least six months of psychiatric stability.”

Two weeks after his diagnosis was downgraded, and two days after he was transferred to solitary at Great Meadow, guards found Hall in his cell hanging from a bed sheet.

As part of a report issued on every inmate death, the Corrections Department’s Medical Review Board found no documented reason behind the change in Hall’s diagnosis.

A 2011 Poughkeepsie Journal investigation detailed a spike in inmate suicides in 2010, which disproportionately took place in solitary confinement. Death reports from the state’s oversight committee obtained by the Journal suggest several inmates who have committed suicide in recent years may have been under-diagnosed.

Hall’s family is suing the Corrections Department and the Office of Mental Health, among other defendants, for failing to treat his mental illness and instead locking him in solitary.

“If someone knew anything, had any inkling that there was that going on, why was he put there?” asked his aunt Sonya Hall.New York State’s Office of Mental Health, which is in charge of inmates’ mental health care, declined to comment on Hall’s case, citing the litigation. . .

Continue reading.

I find it astonishing and depressing to find that the US, for all its lip-service to ideals, so completely fails in basic government responsibilities.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 12:45 pm

John Grisham’s books banned at Guantánamo

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Grisham discusses the banning in an op-ed in the NY Times:

ABOUT two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”

I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.

Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened.

According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability.

In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day.

DEPRESSED and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. . .

Continue reading. I find it depressing that the US keeps people locked up for years even though the people have been released. I suppose the US does it just because it can, and it really has no regard for people. That’s certainly the message that comes across.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 10:11 am

World’s Largest Correctional Association Calls For Elimination Of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

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Very interesting, and reported at ThinkProgress by Nicole Flatow:

Last week, the conservative corporate-backed group that advanced Stand Your Ground laws reversed its previous support for mandatory minimum sentences and endorsed reform to curb their use. On Monday, the country’s top law enforcement official said he would order all of his prosecutors to avert mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.

And Wednesday, the world’s largest association for correctional officers became the latest unlikely proponent of criminal justice reform, passing its own resolution to “eliminate” mandatory minimum sentences.

“ACA’s members know from long and first-hand experience that crowding within correctional systems increases violence, threatens overall security within a facility, and hampers rehabilitation efforts,” American Corrections Association President Chris Epps said in a statement accompanying the resolution. As an alternative to eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, the resolution endorses both federal and state bills that give judges more discretion to lower onerous prison terms for drug and other offenses. Epps explains:

Prisons are full of nonviolent offenders serving lengthy and mandatory minimum sentences. Our members work hard every day to keep staff, inmates, and the public safe, but the current system is unsustainable. The solution must come from lawmakers, and it must target the long sentences that got us in this mess in the first place. Legislators, prosecutors and judges need to differentiate between who we are afraid of and who we are just mad at and then sentence each appropriately.

Judges, who often have no discretion to lower sentences dictated by a particular criminal charge, have long lamented that low-level drug offenders are given sentences meant for kingpins, to the detriment of those individual offenders, and perpetuating the cycle of mass incarceration. As the U.S. prison population has skyrocketed to eclipse that of any other country in the world, both liberals and conservatives are coming around to the untenable cost in both money and lives of, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder described it, imprisoning “too many Americans” in “too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.”

Versions of the “Justice Safety Valve Act” endorsed by ACA have beenintroduced by bipartisan coalitions in both houses of Congress, and endorsed by ALEC as models for states. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2013 at 9:38 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

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