Later On

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

Archive for July 20th, 2014

Growing pains of legal marijuana

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It will take a while to figure out best practices, and that is why we try to preserve cultural knowledge—i.e., things painfully and slowly worked out. I sound like I’m becoming a conservative.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 2:47 pm

DEA may be losing the war on marijuana politics

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Amazing article in the LA Times by Evan Halper:

For narcotics agents, who often confront hostile situations, Capitol Hill has been a refuge where lawmakers stand ready to salute efforts in the nation’s war on drugs.

Lately, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration has found itself under attack in Congress as it holds its ground against marijuana legalization while the resolve of longtime political allies — and the White House and Justice Department to which it reports — rapidly fades.

“For 13 of the 14 years I have worked on this issue, when the DEA came to a hearing, committee members jumped over themselves to cheerlead,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group. “Now the lawmakers are not just asking tough questions, but also getting aggressive with their arguments.”
Q&A
Related story: The mother of marijuana legalization: Pot comes ‘out of the shadows’
Related story: The mother of marijuana legalization: Pot comes ‘out of the shadows’
Maria L. La Ganga

So far this year, the DEA’s role in the seizure of industrial hemp seeds bound for research facilities in Kentucky drew angry rebukes from the Senate’s most powerful Republican. The GOP-controlled House recently voted to prohibit federal agents from busting medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws. And that measure, which demonstrated a shared distaste for the DEA’s approach to marijuana, brought one of the Senate’s most conservative members together with one of its most liberal in a rare bipartisan alliance.

How much the agency’s stock has fallen was readily apparent in the House debate, when Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) denounced the agency’s longtime chief.

“She is a terrible agency head,” Polis said of Administrator Michele Leonhart.

The two had previously clashed over the DEA’s insistence that marijuana continue to be classified as among the most dangerous narcotics in existence.

“She has repeatedly embarrassed her agency before this body,” Polis said.

Leonhart, who declined through a spokesman to be interviewed, is not getting much backup from the White House.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 1:47 pm

“Not enough bullets”

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Read this column by Radley Balko on a drug-raid in Utah that ended badly—and from which the police took all the wrong lessons. The police seem to see themselves at war with civilians and operate as though they are in enemy territory.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 9:52 am

The police state in action

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Lisa Falkenberg writes in the Houston Chronicle:

“Sir, I don’t know anything else,” the young mother of three told a Harris County prosecutor on an April morning in 2003.

But the prosecutor, Dan Rizzo, didn’t believe her. And neither did the Harris County grand jury listening to her testimony.

They seemed convinced that Ericka Jean Dockery’s boyfriend of six months, Alfred Dewayne Brown, had murdered veteran Houston police officer Charles R. Clark during a three-man burglary of a check-cashing place, and they didn’t seem to be willing to believe Dockery’s testimony that he was at her house the morning of the murder.

“If we find out that you’re not telling the truth, we’re coming after you,” one grand juror tells Dockery.

“You won’t be able to get a job flipping burgers,” says another.

Dockery tells the group that if she believed Brown actually killed people, she’d turn him in herself: “If he did it, he deserves to get whatever is coming to him. Truly,” she says.

In May, I reported that a land-line phone record supporting Brown’s contention that he called Dockery that morning from her apartment phone had mysteriously turned up in a homicide detective’s garage, more than seven years after he was convicted and sentenced to death. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office maintained Rizzo, now retired, must have inadvertently lost the record, and agreed to a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals inexplicably has sat on the case for more than a year.

Initially, Dockery’s story meshed with Brown’s. She told grand jurors he was indeed asleep on her couch at the early morning hour when prosecutors believed he was scouting venues. Dockery also confirmed the land-line call to her workplace – made at the same time prosecutors placed Brown at an apartment complex with suspects, changing clothes and watching TV news coverage of the crime.

Neither the prosecutor nor the grand jury would take Dockery’s “truth” for an answer.

The young woman, a home health aide who made Subway sandwiches by night, had no attorney. No experience dealing with authorities. No criminal history aside from traffic tickets.

She caved. At Brown’s capital murder trial in October 2005, Dockery was a key prosecution witness, helping seal her boyfriend’s death sentence by telling the court that when she asked him if he did it, he had confessed, saying, “ ’I was there. I was there.’ ”

How she got from one point to another would be hard to imagine. But thanks to a formerly confidential document in Brown’s court file, we don’t have to imagine.

Part of public record

In a rare, disturbing glimpse into the shrouded world of the Texas grand jury system, we can read with our own eyes the beginnings of the young woman’s tortured evolution.

Appellate attorneys were so outraged by a 146-page transcript of Dockery’s testimony before the 208th Harris County grand jury on April 21, 2003, that they entered it into the public record for judges to review.

In it, grand jurors don’t just inquire. They interrogate. They intimidate. They appear to abandon their duty to serve as a check on overzealous government prosecution and instead join the team.

“Unbelievable,” veteran criminal defense attorney Pat McCann said after I asked him to read the document. “When she went in there, Mr. Brown had an alibi. When they were finished browbeating her with her children, he didn’t. That’s the single biggest misuse and abuse of the grand jury system I have ever seen.”

Rizzo and Lynn Hardaway with the DA’s office declined comment, citing a state law that keeps grand jury proceedings secret.

At first, the fact that Dockery seemed to be “a good, nice, hard-working lady,” in the words of one grand juror, gave her credibility with the group. But jurors soon seized on her vulnerabilities and fear.

“Hey, Dan,” the foreman calls to the prosecutor. “What are the punishments for perjury and aggravated perjury?”

“It’s up to 10 years,” Rizzo responds.

“In prison. OK,” the foreman says.

“Oh no,” says another grand juror as if on cue, echoing other commentary that reads at times like a Greek chorus.

Every word challenged

“I’m just trying to answer all your questions to the best of my ability,” Dockery says.

A bit later, a female juror asks pointedly: “What are you protecting him from?”

“I’m not protecting him from anything. No ma’am. I wouldn’t dare do that,” Dockery eventually responds. As Rizzo and the grand jurors parse Dockery’s every word and challenge each statement, she complains they’re confusing her.

“No, we’re not confusing you,” a grand juror says. “We just want to find out the truth.”

Although Dockery says repeatedly that she knew it was Brown on her couch that morning, the foreman tries to get her to subscribe to an implausible theory that it was somebody else on her couch.

She doesn’t budge. The group takes a break – one of several.

When the grand jury returns, the foreman says the members are not convinced by Dockery’s story and “wanted to express our concern” for her children if she doesn’t come clean.

“That’s why we’re really pulling this testimony,” the foreman tells her.

The foreman adds that if the evidence shows she’s perjuring herself “then you know the kids are going to be taken by Child Protective Services, and you’re going to the penitentiary and you won’t see your kids for a long time.” . . .

Continue reading. It is astonishing.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 9:15 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

One example of why it is difficult to have respect for Obama’s Dept of Justice

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Evan McMorris-Santoro reports in Buzzfeed:

Earlier this year, the Obama administration Justice Department announced sweeping reductions in the sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, an announcement that was heralded in the press and by advocates, liberal and conservative alike.

But when it comes to people already in prison for those very same drug offenses, the Justice Department is taking a very different stance: Officials have recommended a policy that would keep tens of thousands behind bars under the old guidelines, a decision that has set off a firestorm among advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle.

The sentencing rules for federal drug crimes were established in the 1980s, sending thousands to prison for long sentences with the goal of reducing drug crime — a policy demonstrated to disparately affect minorities, and the subject of intense advocacy in recent years. The Justice Department announced its support earlier this year for new guidelines recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that will lower the sentences for future offenders by an average of 11 months versus sentences handed down today.

Since that decision, however, the department has asked the commission, an independent board that creates sentencing guidelines for federal courts, to make thousands of drug offenders currently serving time exempt from those rule changes. On Friday, the commission will vote on the issue. Sources familiar expect the ruling to come sometime in the mid-afternoon.

In the balance: Whether 50,000 drug offenders serving time will be able to petition a judge to review their sentences according to the new standards.

That number represents around 25% of the total federal prison population — approximately 210,000 convicts — a daunting figure that has made even the advocates for change in the Justice Department blanch.

“The Justice Department is being very pragmatic here,” said Doug Berman, a professor at Ohio State law school and a leading expert on the Sentencing Commission and its decisions. Inside the department, there are fears about what allowing 50,000 prisoners to have their sentences reevaluated will mean. . .

Continue reading.

Shorter version: The Justice Department could reduce unjust sentences for thousands of prisoners, but it would be a lot of work, so DOJ will just let them stay in prison. After all, no skin off the DOJ’s nose, eh?

Contemptible.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 9:09 am

What Gil Kerlikowske is doing at Border Patrol

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I’m sort of keeping an eye on the US Border Patrol to see what changes Gil Kerlikowske will make. He certainly seems to have done a good job as chief of police in Seattle, but his tenure at DEA did not produce any positive changes in that organization. The Border Patrol, another out-of-control law-enforcement operation, may give him a better chance to make positive changes, since the Border Patrol was in crisis, and it seems likely that Kerlikowske was given the authority to make serious change.

In this NPR interview (transcript at the link), he describes some of his initiatives—for example, getting a new head of internal affairs from outside the Border Patrol—someone on loan from the FBI. This is highly encouraging.

Read the interview for more. It sounds good. And it’s an extremely interesting article—for example, the drawbacks of putting police in riot gear (face masks, body shields, etc.) instead of in normal police uniforms.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 7:47 am

Being unconscious of your nature

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I had a small insight yesterday, something perhaps familiar to many. I was considering a person who has a chip on his shoulder, aggressive in reaction to things he perceives as slights and insults, and was wondering why he would persist in an attitude the clearly does not result in happiness, when it occurred to me that no one chooses a negative stance.

That is, from his point of view, he does not have a chip on his shoulder at all. If you point his his response to some remark or situation, he would disagree (angrily, no doubt), and say something like, “That‘s not having a chip on my shoulder! Anyone would respond to that as I did. It was not me that was in error, it was that other person!” He doesn’t see himself as having a chip on his shoulder at all; rather, he believes he’s reacting as anyone would. He can become better adapted socially only if he gives credence to what others tell him about his behavior, and to examine his behavior from their point of view rather than relying solely on his internal ruminations—because people in their minds tend to believe that they are acting appropriately.

Another example: a controlling person may be told to back off and become less controlling, but I would say that a controlling person does not perceive their words as actions as controlling at all. They see themselves as helpful, offering useful suggestions, advice derived from their own experience, and are trying to ease your path by telling you exactly what to do. When told not to be controlling, they readily agree. But they still want to be “helpful,” because that satisfies some need for order, for making the world go the way it “should.”

On a larger scale, you see it in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Each side views it actions as completely honorable, fighting for a good life, fighting against those who wish to harm them. Thus Israel, for example, sees the shelling of the four boys on the beach from their own perspective and find nothing at all wrong in what they did. They were simply responding to Hamas, and it is Hamas that is at fault. Similarly, Hamas seems to thing that launching rockets into Israel is somehow a fight against oppression, against an occupying government that continually steals land from them and keeps them in poverty and kills their children and families by the hundreds. They each are stuck in their own point of view, and each can point to atrocities committed by the other. It’s hard to see what will break that cycle, for each side feels fully justified, and they love their justifications more than finding a good solution that involves mutual respect.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 7:06 am

Posted in Daily life

Happiness and unhappiness are not opposites

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Arthur C. Brooks writes in the NY Times:

ABD AL-RAHMAN III was an emir and caliph of Córdoba in 10th-century Spain. He was an absolute ruler who lived in complete luxury. Here’s how he assessed his life:

“I have now reigned above 50 years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.”

Fame, riches and pleasure beyond imagination. Sound great? He went on to write:

“I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.”

Abd al-Rahman’s problem wasn’t happiness, as he believed — it was unhappiness. If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, you probably have the same problem as the great emir. But with a little knowledge, you can avoid the misery that befell him.

What is unhappiness? Your intuition might be that it is simply the opposite of happiness, just as darkness is the absence of light. That is not correct. Happiness and unhappiness are certainly related, but they are not actually opposites. Images of the brain show that parts of the left cerebral cortex are more active than the right when we are experiencing happiness, while the right side becomes more active when we are unhappy.

As strange as it seems, being happier than average does not mean that one can’t also be unhappier than average. One test for both happiness and unhappiness is the Positive Affectivity and Negative Affectivity Schedule test. I took the test myself. I found that, for happiness, I am at the top for people my age, sex, occupation and education group. But I get a pretty high score for unhappiness as well. I am a cheerful melancholic.

So when people say, “I am an unhappy person,” they are really doing sums, whether they realize it or not. They are saying, “My unhappiness is x, my happiness is y, and x > y.” The real questions are why, and what you can do to make y > x. . . .

Continue reading. It’s good.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 6:52 am

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