Later On

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

Archive for November 11th, 2014

Local Officials Encourage Police To Seize Cars, Flatscreen TVs, And Computers From Civilians​

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Nicole Flatow outlines how the government is now robbing citizens—the US is devolving fast into a police state, in which the police can do pretty much anything they want including robbing and killing citizens with no punishment. She writes in ThinkProgress:

Those who watch Last Week Tonight With John Oliver know what it means to be the subject of a civil forfeiture. As Oliver described it, “It’s really legalized robbery by law enforcement.”

Cops have the authority to seize items they suspect are linked to a crime, most individuals can’t afford a lawyer to fight the forfeiture. And once the property is taken, it’s extremely rare that they ever get it back.

While some asset forfeitures actually seize property for the purpose of, for example, depriving a drunk driver of a vehicle, that’s not always the case. And Oliver is the latest to recount the horror stories. A guy is driving cross-country with a lot of cash. Cops suspect he’s dealing drugs and don’t find any, but they keep the cash anyway. A man is busted for selling $20 of pot to an informant, and Philadelphia cops move to seize the home where his elderly parents live. In one case the defendant actually won after a years-long legal battle, federal officials moved to seize Russ Caswell’s family motel because they alleged some guests were dealing drugs from its rooms.

The newest revelation on this practice comes from the Institute for Justice, whichcompiled video clips from government officials on the civil forfeiture industry, and shared the most offensive bits that suggest cities and law enforcement agencies are motivated by profit and utility, with little regard for the havoc wreaked on owners of the property.

Referring to the case of the Philadelphia grandmother whose home was seized, a city attorney with extensive civil forfeiture legal knowledge called the house seizure a “gold mine.” In what may have been a joke, City Attorney for Las Cruces, New Mexico, Pete Connelly surmised that the legal concept of “public nuisance,” might allow seizure of other items, too. “Could you take an airplane? Could you take bicycles? … I mean where could you go with it?”

Speaking at a forfeiture conference in September, Connelly notes that most of the people whose cars are seized are “just down-to-earth human beings that have their cars seized.” But, he adds, “we always try to get every once in a while, like, maybe a good car.”

As a New York Times story on the videos explains, Connelly recounts with glee an incident in which cops almost seized a Mercedes. “A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new. Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ” They did seize the car, but they had to give it back to their dismay, because they realized they couldn’t prove the driver had control of the vehicle at the time of his inebriation (he never says if this guy had a lawyer).

In a New Jersey continuing legal education class, Mercy County prosecutor Sean McMurtry described how the program works: “What we’re talking about here are cash or assets that can be utilized by law enforcement: motor vehicles, computers, flatscreens. We’re not interested in taking a charter from a company as forfeited asset because it doesn’t have any monetary value to law enforcement.”

He later added, “When it comes to property, the flatscreens are very popular with police departments,” which need the televisions for a range of in-office uses.

Counseling police departments on how to decide when to seize property, he had this advice blown up on a slide: “IF IN DOUBT AND YOU CAN’T REACH MCMURTRY … TAKE IT.” The lesson plan adds that in the “worst case scenario,” “WE CAN ALWAYS GIVE IT BACK.”

But many municipalities almost never do. Connelly boasted that he’s won 96 percent of his forfeiture cases, and settled almost all of the rest. He said only one person has appealed a case since 2006. He called the complaint in civil forfeiture cases a “masterpiece of deception” and “really hard to deny,” especially for most defendants who don’t have a lawyer.

In many jurisdictions, there is a defense for cases when cops seize property that actually belongs to someone else, say, a person driving a parent’s car. McMurtry explained that the defense known as the “innocent owner defense” is actually ‘very weak” because there are “easy ways” to overcome it. He provided one example in which he kept the keys from the individual whose car he seized. While the car was registered to another owner, the keychain contained a ShopRite Price Plus Card that was registered in the driver’s name. That ShopRite card, he said, was used as primary evidence to overcome the “innocent owner” defense.

During both events, panelists explain that crime deterrence is the primary motive for the programs, and that revenue is only a second or third purpose of the program. But even if it’s not the driving force behind the program, it’s a perk they’re not afraid to embrace regardless of the cost.

“Forfeiture is such a thing that people are like, it’s evil,” Connelly said. He paraphrased his critics: “You’re seizing things. You’re taking things from people. It’s unconstitutional. It’s terrible. Look what you’ve done. And plus even you might make some money. Which is even worse!”

But he cites court precedent upholding red light cameras that says raising money through a program that simultaneously improves traffic compliance “has much to recommend.” And that’s enough for him to tell the audience, “It’s ok. Don’t feel bad.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 8:39 pm

An Innocent Man, Tortured By The U.S., Asks The U.N.: Where’s The Accountability?

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Good question, eh? Well, the security state answers to no one. Dan Froomkin writes at The Intercept:

U.S. officials are in for a serious grilling on Wednesday as they get hauled before the U.N. Committee against Torture and questioned about about a multitude of ways in which the U.S. appears to be failing to comply with the anti-torture treaty it ratified 20 years ago.

As Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program noted on Monday:

This marks the first U.N. review of the United States’ torture record since President Obama took office in 2009, and much is at stake. The review will test the pledges President Obama made to reverse disastrous Bush-era policies that led to gross violations of human rights, like torture, secret and incommunicado detention, “extraordinary renditions,” unfair trials, and more. It is also likely to examine practices that emerged or became entrenched during Obama’s time in office, such as indefinite detention at Guantánamo, immigration detention and deportations, and the militarization of the police, as witnessed by the world during this summer’s events in Ferguson.

The ACLU’s “shadow report” to the committee is a profoundly grim indictment of the nation’s failure to live up to its principles.

And although Obama claims to oppose torture, the New York Times recently reported that he could well fail another key test of his sincerity by reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the international Convention Against Torture imposes no legal obligation on the U.S. to bar cruelty outside its borders.

Obama has already flouted the convention’s requirement that member states hold torturers accountable. I have long argued that his failure there has been particularly profound.

U.S. non-governmental agencies were allowed to address the U.N. committee today, and Murat Kurnaz (pictured above), who was tortured and detained by the U.S. at Kandahar and then Guantanamo over a period of five years, traveled to Geneva with his attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. He made the following statement:

Good afternoon. My name is Murat Kurnaz. I am a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Bremen, Germany, where I currently live. I spent five years of my life in detention in Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay from 2001-2006.My story is like many others. In 2001, while traveling in Pakistan, I was arrested by Pakistani police and sold to the U.S. military for a $3,000 bounty. In Kandahar, the U.S. military subjected me to electric shocks, stress positions, simulated drowning, and endless beatings. In Guantanamo, there was also psychological torture—I was stripped of my humanity, treated like an animal, isolated from the rest of the world, and did not know if I would ever be released.

Even though my lawyers proved that the U.S. knew of my innocence by 2002, I was not released until 2006. I lost five years of my life in Guantanamo.

Eight years later, I cannot believe that Guantanamo is still open and that there are almost 150 men detained there indefinitely. My time in Guantanamo was a nightmare, but I sometimes consider myself lucky. I know that part of the reason I am free today is because I am from Germany.

Most of the current prisoners remain in Guantanamo because they are from Yemen and the U.S. refuses to send them home. Many are as innocent as I was. But they are enduring the torture of Guantanamo for over 12 years because of their nationality, not because of anything they have done.

I understand that international human rights laws like the Convention Against Torture were created so that the people who commit torture are punished. Isn’t that how we can end torture in the world? So why has no U.S. official been held responsible for brutal practices and torture at Guantanamo or other U.S. prisons?

I will never get five years of my life back, but for me and others, it is important that the Committee confronts the United States about its actions in Guantanamo and other prisons.

Thank you.

The committee’s proceedings are being livestreamed here. The questioning of the U.S. delegation begins as 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Geneva time — 4 a.m. ET.

This story reflects the actuality of the US to much of the world—and it is a story that, apparently, our government, our Congress, and our citizens are mostly comfortable with.

I have blamed President Obama for not observing the legal requirements of the Convention Against Torture, which in fact is now US law. But now I can see that the second government—the security apparatus—probably did not allow him to act. They clearly have kept him on a short leash so far as the security apparatus is concerned, and I imagine he was not given a choice. OTOH, Obama clearly did have a choice in voting for or against telecom immunity for illegal warrantless wiretaps, and he did promise to vote against it—then he voted for it. So he simply cannot be trusted, as shown by his own words and deeds.

In any event, it is a mark of how low we as a nation have sunk.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 7:18 pm

New Plan to End Too-Big-to-Fail Banks Previously Failed Spectacularly

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Incompetence? Ignorance? Pay-off? You decide. Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:

Apparently, not one of the global regulators pushing the latest plan to prevent another taxpayer bailout of the over-leveraged, globe-trotting banking behemoths that crashed the financial system in 2008 ever worked a day on Wall Street or sat behind a trading terminal during the crisis. If one had, he would have exposed this plan immediately as an exercise in illusory thinking – effectively, the same framework on which global banking currently exists.

Yesterday, the Financial Stability Board, established in 2009 to coordinate financial regulatory proposals on behalf of the Group of 20 major economies (G-20), released a proposal that is being promoted as a means of ending taxpayer bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks. These 30 banks are known as G-SIBs, or Global Systemically Important Banks. But the proposal does nothing to address the “systemic” danger of these banks, thus the proposal is nothing more than captured regulators floating another useless trial balloon for reform because they lack the political courage to admit the only solution is to break up these bloated financial institutions that regularly function variously as crime syndicates and institutionalized wealth transfer systems.

Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England, who also chairs the Financial Stability Board, touted the plan as a “watershed” moment.

The plan calls for the 30 global banks to hold somewhere between 16 to 20 percent of their risk-weighted assets in loss absorbing capital. In addition to issuing additional equity (which would be dilutive to existing shareholders), the plan calls for at least one-third of the new funding to consist of unsecured long-term debt held at the holding company level so that bond investors would experience the losses while other parts of the bank remain functioning if regulators have to place the bank in resolution.

Among the Global Systemically Important Banks are those the public continues to read about being charged with functioning in crime cartels: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Barclays – adding an unaddressed dimension of systemic.

Under the plan, the global banks would have until 2019 to comply with the new requirements – which each country has the right to adopt, strengthen or reject outright. Right now, it’s all just a tentative proposal with public comment being solicited by emailing The full proposal can be read here.

To fully grasp the magical thinking of this proposal, let’s reexamine what actually happens when a “systemic” bank begins to fail: (1) its counterparties, the other major banks, cut off lending and demand more liquid collateral to back the over-the-counter swap deals that the public and the regulators know nothing about. (2) Word of the bank’s troubles spread like wildfire and the share price (equity) goes into a collapse, burning rapidly through that layer of so-called “loss-absorbing capital.” (3) Because the bank has too much leverage on its balance sheet, it can’t raise cash rapidly enough to meet all of the collateral calls, leading to spreading concerns about the soundness of its trading parties, i.e., the other global banks. (4) All banks connected with it see a sell-off in their equity prices, bringing in the short sellers, who spread real, imagined or trumped-up rumors to drive prices lower. (5) In short order, the most bloated and troubled behemoths have no more liquid funds to pay depositors who make a demand for their demand deposits – which among the three largest banks in the U.S. are in the trillion dollar range, each. When you start to talk about trillions of dollars, there is no one but the taxpayer and the government who has that kind of an immediate backstop to stem the crisis.

No better evidence exists of this indisputable reality than the meltdown of Citigroup’s equity capital, like a snow cone in July, during five trading sessions from November 17 through November 21, 2008. At that point, the bank had already borrowed $25 billion from the U.S. taxpayer along with the other usual bank suspects. In just five trading sessions, the bank (and its shareholders) lost 60 percent of their market value. (See the chart below for how too-big-to-fail actually functions in the real world.) By Friday, November 21, 2008, Citigroup’s market cap was worth $20.5 billion, which was $4.5 billion less than it already owed the taxpayer.

Citigroup’s bonds were no help because as Reuters reported at the time, “Prices of investment-grade bonds have fallen so far that their spreads already compensate for default rates worse than the Great Depression.”

These Wall Street mega banks are now holding hostage our nation, its economy, and the living standard of the next generation who will be left to deal with the mountains of debt taken on to deal with the financial collapse and its overhang. When six years of near zero interest rates can’t revive an economy to normal job creation and economic growth, it’s time to call our monetary policy what it is: a political masquerade to artificially prop up a failed, global banking business model.

It’s long past the time to . . .

Continue reading.

I am not hopeful: the banks control too many politicians, and the second government needs the banks.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 6:29 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Internet Liberty at Stake in Obama World Wide Web Policy

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Juan Cole has an important post. I think the entire issue stems from those two memes that now drive our society: 1) The primary goal of a corporation, far more important than any subsidiary, is to increase shareholder value; and 2) (a corollary to the first) profits must always increase or people (employees, managers, and even the CEO) will pay a price. That means that corporations are in a constant desperate search for more profit. After they cut all costs they can (easy lay to increase profits), they must increase revenue. At some point the world doesn’t want or need any more widgets, so the pressure is on to monetarize everything. Rights (such as to drinking water—or, more basically, to live) must be purchased.

Juan Cole:

President Barack Obama on Monday called on the Federal Communications Commission to treat Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) as common carriers, sort of like television networks such as NBC or CBS. The relevant law is called “Title II.”

As the world wide web was originally conceived by framers such as Tim Berners-Lee, it was characterized by a key, amazing feature. Everybody on the internet was the same distance from everyone else. Thus, whether you are reading this blog in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my computer connects to the Web, or in Cairo or Jakarta, you have the same access to it. It loads just as fast for you, wherever you are. My blog is just as easy for you to browse as the internet portal of Fox Cable News, owned by billionaire press lord Rupert Murdoch.

This situation has two disadvantages for the wealthy who mostly run the United States. The first is that Internet Service Providers can’t make easy money by charging some publishers more than others, and setting up tiers of service. Thus, they could make it so it would take 60 seconds for my blog to load, since I can’t pay them very much. But then Rupert’s so-called “news” site could load immediately because he could give them millions and not even notice it. Studies have shown that readers won’t wait 60 seconds for a site to load, so this “tiered” service would destroy citizen journalism and leave us with only corporate news on the world wide web.

The second disadvantage for the wealthy of net neutrality is that they cannot use gate keepers like newspaper editors to control the free circulation of views and information on the World Wide Web. Everyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can publish, and publish for a mass audience. In the early 20th century there was a quip that anyone could own a newspaper, all you needed was a million dollars. Factory workers could publish cyclostyled (don’t ask) newsletters. But large-circulation newspapers were the province of the wealthy, and then information could be presented to the public from the point of view of the wealthy. (The wealthy don’t all agree with one another, so of course you still had liberal and conservative newspapers, but in the US you had few large-circulation socialist ones. The lines of acceptable viewpoints were drawn so as to position the public to the right of center, even though it wasn’t and isn’t if left to its own devices).

A tiered world wide web would restore some of the lost ability of the wealthy to control the spin put on news. We know what that spin typically is. There are no labor reporters at any major metropolitan newspaper. Major labor actions are often not reported on at any length. Nor are union workers much featured in the mass media such as television. Wars benefiting munitions corporations are reported on positively. The dangers of fossil fuel consumption are discounted. In a business-class world, it is people with capital who matter and on whom reporters are told to concentrate. We’ve all heard of Donald Trump or the Koch brothers. Richard L. Trumka and Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL CIO are, let us say, less prominent. Even less prominent are climate scientists like Michael Mann. And, of course, northern Europeans are generally more newsworthy than people originating in other parts of the world. Race and class are not evenly distributed in the informational world of US corporate media.

A lot of you have said how much you benefited from my own analyses of the Iraq War during the Bush administration. But in the 20th century I might not have been able to present that analysis to the public. I had trouble getting my op-eds published in newspapers in the old days. I wasn’t mainstream. This blog would not have existed without net neutrality, and if net neutrality ever goes away, probably so will the blog.

President Obama’s support of net neutrality is welcome, but there are many problems with it. . .

Continue reading.

The owners of the US—the second government that Glennon describes and their controllers among the wealthy—do not want people to have free access to information. There is much that they want to keep secret, and they feel that they must control what the public reads in the news—how it is to be interpreted—else their control is threatened. So the stakes are big.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 5:29 pm

The Best Encrypted Messaging Programs

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Encryption is becoming more and more important as more and more Federal, state, and even local agencies are intercepting and recording digital communications. (See previous post on the Stingray.)

This article reviews the encrypted messaging programs that are currently the best.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 4:27 pm

Interesting profile of Stephen Glass today

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First read the account of the man who discovered Glass’s fabrications and broke the story, and then read the profile of Glass today by a woman who was a close friend at the time.

BTW, Charles Lane seems like a total jerk, according the account in the first link. I commented on that story:

It seems to me that Glass simply has a deep-seated personality disorder of some sort that has left him irredeemably broken. But Lane is simpler: he seems to be a lazy jerk: unwilling to do his job (thus allowing Glass to get away with so much) and then unwilling to confront the problem, and then when it is unavoidable, doing his best to keep the guy who solved the problem from getting credit. I have run into this sort of scum fairly frequently during my work career: there seems to be at least one in every organization, and often more. They are the sort that go behind your back when they think that you are a threat, and they generally see anyone who is competent as a threat (because they know that they themselves are incompetent).


Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Media, Mental Health

How the Stingray menaces smartphone users

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Radley Balko quotes a Slate article by Kate Klonick on  how Stingray technology is spreading to all police departments to enable them to spy on you. Do read the article: it is happening in the US now.

Balko himself notes:

At the moment, law enforcement officials are claiming that Stingray sweeps aren’t a “search,” and therefore don’t require a warrant. As Klonick points out, the courts will eventually sort that out.

More bothersome still are the revelations over the last year or so that federal officials are instructing local law enforcement officials to keep their use of Stingray technology secret, to the point of perjuring themselves by hiding that information from local judges and prosecutors. The justification is that the technology is used in national security investigations. So step one is to claim that use of the technology can’t be divulged due to national security. Step two is to authorize that technology to be used in investigations that have zero to do with national security. This is how you use national security to sink the Fourth Amendment. Or it’s at least one way.

You can see how a nation’s secret police (think Stasi, NKVD, Gestapo—though in the US we’ll have our own name: FBI, for example—and do read that essay on how the FBI works) start to grow and become established: secret surveillance, secret laws, secret courts, secret prisons: the US has all of those now. And I’m not even mentioning how the US police can now simply take your property if they want it: civil asset forfeiture. Just one example.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 3:19 pm

How the US treats mental illness

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It occurs to me that, just as we try to solve problems abroad by waging war—if you kill enough people, the problem goes away, seems to be the thinking—we often try to solve problems at home by making it illegal to have the problem. So it’s (basically) illegal to be mentally ill, or to be homeless, or to be addicted to drugs. The focus is always on the poor and marginalized because the comfortable and secure can seek out treatment, but we do not provide assistance to the poor (or, when we do, conservatives do everything in their power to shut down the assistance: you can usually predict the GOP actions if you assume that they hate the poor—although that’s perhaps untrue, the actions they take are the same as would be taken by a group that hates the poor.

Radley Balko has an example of how the US treats the mentally ill:

The News & Observer has the wrenching details of a man killed by the North Carolina prison system.

Michael Anthony Kerr spent the last five days of his life handcuffed in a prison cell, unresponsive, off his mental health medicine, and lying in his feces and urine. An hour or two before the former Army sergeant died, officials at Alexander Correctional Institution put him into a wheelchair and drove him 2-1/2 hours east to a prison hospital in Raleigh.

When Kerr, 53, arrived at Central Prison, his body was cold.

Somewhere between Taylorsville and Raleigh, as the prison vehicle passed emergency rooms at eight hospitals, Kerr died of dehydration.

“They treated him like a dog,” said Brenda Liles, his sister.

Most dogs are treated far better. The state failed Kerr time and time again. His death came after more than a month in solitary confinement. We tend think that people who end up with long prison terms and who then spend long stretches in solitary, are violent sociopaths who are beyond redemption. It would be easy to think that about Kerr, who was serving a 31-year sentence after a series of larceny convictions, capped by an incident in which he fired several rounds into a home.

But read a bit more and the story gets more complicated. This was a man who had been broken by grief.

Kerr was born in Sampson County, in southeastern North Carolina, in 1960 to a family of six boys and six girls. He joined the Army in 1979, serving in an artillery unit. After an honorable discharge in 1991 from Fort Sill, he sold real estate in Lawton, Okla., and was pastor of the Faith Temple church.

While an intensely religious man, he began getting in trouble with the law in 1995, with a string of larceny convictions, and served 10 months in prison.

Liles, his sister, said Kerr began falling apart after two of his sons were murdered in Sampson County: Anthony Kerr in Harrells in May 2007, and Gabriel Kerr in a Garland juke joint in June 2008.

“That’s when he began to have those nervous breakdowns,” Liles said. “He had two or three.” . . .

In prison, Kerr was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition in which the person experiences schizophrenia symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, as well as mood disorders such as mania or depression.

Prison officials put Kerr into solitary confinement in February. For several weeks, guards observed him standing, sitting or sleeping, according to a prison log.

Sometimes he lay on the floor singing; at other times he kicked, banged or pecked on his cell door. On four occasions, he plugged up his sink to flood the cell, and guards periodically cut the water off. He was held in full restraints or handcuffs for days at a time.

So after diagnosing Kerr with a mental illness, the state of North Carolina refused to treat him . . . and it put him in solitary confinement. When he reacted the way you might expect someone with an untreated disorder held in isolation to act, they put him in restraints, then cut off his access to water. He ultimately died of dehydration.
State prison officials conducted their own investigation and did discipline a number of employees. But they’ve been typically obstinate about letting anyone from outside the corrections community conduct a review.

The state Department of Public Safety has released almost no information to the public on Kerr’s March 12 death. Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry declined to discuss the facts of the case but said he called in the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the death. . . .

Other state agencies have faced obstacles investigating the case. An agent for the State Bureau of Investigation had to get a court order to obtain Kerr’s records.

As the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, prison officials’ help was so minimal that the pathologist could not determine the manner of death: accident, suicide or homicide.

Days after the autopsy was released and the lack of cooperation became public, the U.S. attorney in Raleigh opened a grand jury investigation of the death.

Kerr’s is only the latest horrifying story we’ve heard in recent months. You may recall . . .

Continue reading.

Yesterday I blogged about how self-policing does not work and cannot work—but is marvelously useful for covering up failures and misdeeds, so organizations like it. They want to deep-six any bad news, and that’s hard to do if an independent agency is investigating. So organizations of all sorts try as hard as they can to keep all investigations internal and allow only self-policing. That way, those who are incompetent and/or criminal can be protected from public exposure, thus avoiding “scandal.” (Cf. Catholic church’s self-policing regarding child rapists.)

BTW, I am gradually coming to the conclusion that things will not change and that the US is on a relentless march downhill. Part of that is, of course, that people do not bother to learn what’s going on and do not bother to vote, but Glennon’s book National Security and  Double Government demonstrates that voting will have little effect unless our citizens become engaged, and our citizens really do not want to be engaged: those with most to lose have no power, and those with power seem concerned only with advancing themselves. The feeling of community is gone.

Sorry to sound depressing, but as I look at the pattern of events, that’s what I see. Just read the rest of the column blogged above: what happened in North Carolina is not an anomaly. It’s what is happening throughout the nation. I think in many ways I personally am fortunate to be as old as I am. I cannot imagine facing the future were I in my 20’s. It’s just too dark.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Traditional Biblical marriage, between one man and 40 women: Mormon founder’s marriage pattern

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The Mormons spent millions in California to ensure that gays (whether Mormon or not) not be allowed to marry—another prime example of how a religion attempts to force non-believers to follow its rules. The Mormons were very explicit that the only form of traditional, Biblical marriage was one man and one woman—though of course the very founder of the Mormon religion took 40 wives. But that doesn’t matter, somehow. (One thing about religion: it does not have to make sense, and since it doesn’t have to, it seldom does.)

The rise of the Internet, however, made information more readily available. Whatever the Mormons might hide in the fastness of Utah and their temples, individual Mormons with a web browser could easily search and find interesting facts probably not prominent in Mormon teaching—such as the utter fraudulence of Joseph Smith’s “translations” of a scroll of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Google “joseph smith translation of hieroglyphics” and you’ll find much information that the Mormon church has not wanted people to know and certainly strove to keep from Mormons. (Joseph Smith claimed to have translated another book, as you will recall, and we no longer have the manuscript to study—but we do know how Joseph Smith went about translating: he made it up.)

Laurie Goodstein in the NY Times points out how the Mormon church is now recognizing the easy access even Mormons now have to facts about their religion, and they’re belatedly trying to get ahead of the curve:

Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.

The church’s disclosures, in a series of essays online, are part of an effort to be transparent about its history at a time when church members are increasingly encountering disturbing claims about the faith on the Internet. Many Mormons, especially those with polygamous ancestors, say they were well aware that Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, practiced polygamy when he led the flock in Salt Lake City. But they did not know the full truth about Smith.

“Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people,” said Emily Jensen, a blogger and editor in Farmington, Utah, who often writes about Mormon issues.

She said the reaction of some Mormons to the church’s disclosures resembled the five stages of grief in which the first stage is denial, and the second is anger. Members are saying on blogs and social media, “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love,” Ms. Jensen said.

Smith probably did not have sexual relations with all of his wives, because some were “sealed” to him only for the next life, according to the essays posted by the church. But for his first wife, Emma, polygamy was “an excruciating ordeal.”

The four treatises on polygamy reflect a new resolve by a church long accused of secrecy to respond with openness to the kind of thorny historical and theological issues that are causing some to become disillusioned or even to abandon the faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is formally known, has quietly posted 12 essays on its website over the last year on contentious topics such as the ban on blacks in the priesthood, which was lifted in 1978, and accounts of how Smith translated the Book of Mormon, the church’s sacred scripture.

Elder Steven E. Snow, the church historian and a member of its senior leadership, said in an interview, “There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.

Continue reading.

I wonder whether they document the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, in which Mormons murdered 120 emigrants, men, women, and children, heading for the West Coast. Why slaughter 120 innocent civilians? They were not Mormons.

Maybe all religions are like the Taliban once you strip off the finery. In any event, it’s interesting how free access to information is threatening to religions.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Religion, Technology

How TV helped change attitudes about marijuana

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Interesting article in WaPo by Michael Tesler on how sanity began to enter the discussion of marijuana:

My favorite TV show as a kid, “Beverly Hills, 90210,” offers an informative glimpse into just how much of prime-time television’s portrayals of marijuana have changed in only a short period of time. Marijuana was overwhelmingly portrayed in a negative light throughout the teen drama’s 10 years on TV (1990-2000). So much so that cannabis immediately served as the gateway drug to a peripheral character’s heroin overdose death in 1997.

The 21st-century remake of “90210″ dealt with marijuana use much differently during its 2008-2013 run, though. In fact, marijuana was downright cool on the reincarnated “90210.” The young/hip/brilliant high school teacher smoked it every day back in college; the parents mistakenly ate pot brownies, with good-natured hijinks naturally ensuing; and young love even blossomed at the medical-marijuana dispensary.

The evolution of marijuana depictions from the old to the new “90210″ is a microcosm of the growing normalization of weed on TV. The Atlantic documented these changes in an article aptly titled, “How TV Fell in Love with Marijuana.” But others have decried them. The socially conservative Parents Television Council concluded its 2008 analysis, “Prime Time Goes to Pot,” by lamenting the fact that “prime-time television has joined the growing enthusiasm for portraying marijuana use as harmless and even beneficial”

Television’s new love affair with marijuana, of course, coincides with aremarkable increase in support for legalization over the past 15 years. Recent polls by Gallup, Pew and YouGov found a majority of Americans now favor legal recreational use — up more than 20 percentage points since the late 1990s. Moreover, on Election Day, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., joined Colorado and Washington state in voting to legalize marijuana for recreational use. This growing support, however, naturally raises the chicken-or-egg question of whether TV is portraying pot more positively because of growing public support or if those benign depictions are liberalizing attitudes about legalization.

Fortunately, data from the General Social Survey (GSS) helps shed some light on that question. . .

Continue reading.

And the comments to that article are interesting—pointing out, for example, the impact of the Internet as a source of information and a hospitable venue for arguments more complex than can be done on TV—and with the ability to link to supporting studies. And the Mormons seemed to have recognized the Internet’s influence as well: see next post.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws, Media

How the drug war blocked research into a promising experimental PTSD therapy​: ecstasy

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The War on Drugs has been an unmitigated disaster: it has cost trillions over the years, it’s had little effect on the availability of drugs, it has corrupted law enforcement agencies over and over (cf. Serpico), it has created incredibly wealthy criminal cartels, it has caused the death of hundreds of thousands if not millions, it has wrecked the lives of people sent to prison, often for trivial and even harmless offenses.

And it has prevented research into drugs that could be genuinely helpful to many, as Max Ehrenfreund reports in the Washington Post:

Since 2001, 364,000 veterans have received treatment for possible post-traumatic stress disorder. Some researchers believe the vets could benefit from a drug called MDMA. For 30 years, the federal government has blocked research into MDMA because it is the active ingredient in ecstasy, better known as the party drug that fuels raves.

“When it comes to the health and well-being of those who serve, we should leave our politics at the door and not be afraid to follow the data,” Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, a retired Army psychiatrist, told The New York Times. “There’s now an evidence base for this MDMA therapy and a plausible story about what may be going on in the brain to account for the effects.”

Ecstasy first became popular among psychiatrists as a therapeutic tool after the Vietnam War. The drug, they found, made people more trusting and gave them the courage to talk about their pasts. They called it “penicillin for the soul.” Yet no real research had been conducted on the drug. In 1985, the Reagan administration placed MDMA on Schedule I, declaring it an illicit substance without medical value despite the objections of an administrative law judge.

Since then, researchers have had a difficult time getting MDMA for use in clinical trials, and federal grants have been hard to come by as well. A not-for-profit organization in Santa Cruz, Calif. appears to be the only source of funding for studies right now. “Ecstasy is an illegal drug,” a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs told the Los Angeles Times. The V.A. “would not involve veterans in the use of such substances.”

Meanwhile, some veterans have been seeking out the drug on their own, desperate for relief from the psychological burdens of coming back from war. In a given year, 11 percent to 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD, which can produce debilitating systems difficult to fully relieve.

One study, especially approved by the Food and Drug Administration and published in 2011, found that five out of six victims of PTSD were cured after receiving the drug before two sessions with therapists, compared to only a quarter of those who sat through the treatment sessions after taking a placebo. There were no serious side effects. . .

Continue reading. And that’s the drug that doctors are not allowed to use. The US is more interested in jailing people than in helping them.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 1:21 pm

More examples of immoral treatment of pregnant women

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Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin write in the NY Times:

WITH the success of Republicans in the midterm elections and the passage of Tennessee’s anti-abortion amendment, we can expect ongoing efforts to ban abortion and advance the “personhood” rights of fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

But it is not just those who support abortion rights who have reason to worry. Anti-abortion measures pose a risk to all pregnant women, including those who want to be pregnant.

Such laws are increasingly being used as the basis for arresting women who have no intention of ending a pregnancy and for preventing women from making their own decisions about how they will give birth.

How does this play out? Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for “attempted fetal homicide.”

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.

In Louisiana, a woman who went to the hospital for unexplained vaginal bleeding was locked up for over a year on charges of second-degree murder before medical records revealed she had suffered a miscarriage at 11 to 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Florida has had a number of such cases. In one, a woman was held prisoner at a hospital to prevent her from going home while she appeared to be experiencing a miscarriage. She was forced to undergo a cesarean. Neither the detention nor the surgery prevented the pregnancy loss, but they did keep this mother from caring for her two small children at home. While a state court later found the detention unlawful, the opinion suggested that if the hospital had taken her prisoner later in her pregnancy, its actions might have been permissible.

In another case, a woman who had been in labor at home was picked up by a sheriff, strapped down in the back of an ambulance, taken to a hospital, and forced to have a cesarean she did not want. When this mother later protested what had happened, a court concluded that the woman’s personal constitutional rights “clearly did not outweigh the interests of the State of Florida in preserving the life of the unborn child.”

Anti-abortion reasoning has also provided the justification for arresting pregnant women who experience depression and have attempted suicide. A 22-year-old in South Carolina who was eight months pregnant attempted suicide by jumping out a window. She survived despite suffering severe injuries. Because she lost the pregnancy, she was arrested and jailed for the crime of homicide by child abuse.

These are not isolated or rare cases. Last year, we published a peer-reviewed study documenting 413 arrests or equivalent actions depriving pregnant women of their physical liberty during the 32 years between 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, and 2005. In a majority of these cases, women who had no intention of ending a pregnancy went to term and gave birth to a healthy baby. This includes the many cases where the pregnant woman was alleged to have used some amount of alcohol or a criminalized drug.

Since 2005, we have identified an additional 380 cases, with more arrests occurring every week. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 1:13 pm

Catholic church to restrict women’s healthcare options

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The Catholic church is planning to drastically limit reproductive and maternity care, not just for Catholics but for all patients, regardless of their religious beliefs. The Catholic church will impose its own restrictive rules—e.g., no contraception or birth control is allowed—on non-Catholics because they will have the power to do that in many communities, served only by Catholic hospitals.

Nina Martin of ProPublica reports on the curtailment of medical services, thanks to the Catholic church:

The 2011 merger of the two remaining hospitals in Troy, N.Y., had many potential benefits —and one huge hurdle.

Samaritan was secular, committed to providing the widest possible spectrum of reproductive and maternity care to its Albany-area patients. St. Mary’s was Catholic, limiting or banning many reproductive options— and any merger partner had to abide by the same rules.

It took several years of negotiations among three different health systems, much back-and-forth with women’s advocates, and the sign-off of the local bishop. But in the end, the parties struck a deal that all of them could live with. The centerpiece was the brand-new Burdett Care Center, housed on Samaritan’s second floor.

To all appearances, Burdett was a typical maternity ward. But in reality, it was a separately incorporated hospital-within-a-hospital, secular and thus free from the Catholic restrictions that Samaritan had agreed to follow. Burdett could provide birth control and perform tubal ligations; if a woman was having a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, doctors could treat her according to generally accepted standards of care.

Complicated? Yes. Cumbersome? Very. Still, as a compromise to preserve access to care in Troy, “it’s worked very well,” said Lois Uttley of the nonprofit group MergerWatch, which helped broker the arrangement.

Soon, though, compromises between Catholic health systems and their non-Catholic partners may be rarer and harder to achieve — and that could have profound implications for women’s access to reproductive services in hundreds of communities across the U.S.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in Baltimore this week, and members are considering whether to begin the process of revising — and likely tightening — its directives governing health care mergers and partnerships. The goal, according to a USCCB press release, would be to incorporate Vatican principles ensuring that Catholic institutions do not “cooperate immorally with the unacceptable procedures conducted in other health care entities with which they may be connected” or “cause scandal” as a result of such collaborations.

The USCCB — whose members oversee Catholic health care systems in their individual dioceses — didn’t respond to a request for an interview about what the new directives might say or how the revision process might proceed. A spokesman for the Catholic Health Association of the United States, whose members control 1 in 6 hospital beds around the country, also declined to comment.

But women’s groups and consumer advocates are worried. Stricter rules, they say, would probably doom workarounds like the Burdett center — and could affect everything from employment contracts for doctors and nurses at Catholic facilities to deals with third-party suppliers such as testing labs.

“The scope of Catholic health care in this country is big,” said Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice in Washington, D.C. “The restrictions on reproductive healthcare that [the bishops] already place on Catholic health systems are far-reaching and growing. Any changes the bishops make to further limit [care] … should be very concerning to everyone.” . . .

Continue reading.

Note the “cause scandal” comment in the story. “Scandal,” in the eyes of the Catholic church, is the very worst thing that could ever happen—certainly “scandal” is much worse than raping children, because the Catholic church allowed priests and other religious to continue their pedophilia because having them accused and tried for their crimes would have caused “scandal,” so thousands more children had to be sacrificed to avoid “scandal.”

It’s peculiar that an institution that would do that would be so concerned about morality—concerned enough to curtail full healthcare for non-Catholics, who (in their own view) are being perfectly moral in availing themselves of contraception and medically necessary abortions.

I think this is a travesty of religion.

UPDATE: In all fairness, I should note that this behavior—insisting that others follow your own religion’s rules and punishing those who do not—is not uniquely Catholic and indeed seems typical of authoritarian religions. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women are attacked if their dress is deemed immodest by what amount to religious police. And of course the Taliban is notorious for such behavior, such as attempting to kill a young woman who was getting an education and encouraging other women to be educated, something strictly against the Taliban’s religion. The Catholic church is similar in its approach: rules for believers must also be followed by non-believers.

Later in that article:

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which governs every Catholic hospital, clinic, nursing home, and health-care business in the country. The 72 directives ban elective abortion, sterilization, and birth control. They also restrict fertility treatments, genetic testing, and end-of-life options.

In some instances, the ERDs have been interpreted to limit crisis care for women suffering miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies, emergency contraception for sexual assault, and even the ability of doctors and nurses to discuss treatment options or make referrals. The impact of the directives is felt especially in communities —often in rural areas — served by just one hospital. In Bartlesville, Okla., for example, the only medical center in town tried to force all OB/GYNs with admitting privileges to stop prescribing birth control to female patients. (The hospital later backed down.)

Yet many patients have no idea that the ERDs exist or that their hospital or clinic has begun partnering with a Catholic facility. “It’s a huge problem in terms of getting care or even getting information about your care,” said Louise Melling, the deputy legal director for the ACLU, which is suing the bishops conference over a botched miscarriage treatment at a Catholic hospital in Michigan.

In Washington, which has seen more religious-secular partnerships than any other state in recent years, Seattle’s archbishop tried to force a Catholic hospital with the only lab in the area to cease running tests for Planned Parenthood. Catholic health systems also have pressured doctors with admitting privileges to stop helping terminally ill patients who want to make use of the state’s “death with dignity” law. This past summer, theACLU stepped in to stop a deal involving Washington State University and a Catholic system that would have made a planned teaching clinic in Spokane subject to the ERDs (the clinic will be secular).

So they will not only refuse to give you the medical care you need, they don’t even allow you to hear about it so you can seek help elsewhere. And note the effort to shut down birth control for everyone in town, whether Catholic or not: that’s the spirit of the Taliban.

The Catholic church takes it to a new level of oppression, however, by not even informing patients that their choices are restricted and incomplete. Keeping the restrictions secret does avoid arguments, but it is a stunning example of bad faith and dishonesty.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 11:51 am

Very impressive performance by Mickey Lee Soapworks shaving soap

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SOTD 11 Nov 2014

Today’s shave is extraordinarily good. Part of that is the Shavecraft #101 razor with a new Personna Lab Blue blade, but I have to say that the incredibly good lather from Mickey Lee Soapworkss The Drunken Goat, a tallow and coconut oil soap with (as you see) castor oil, shea butter, and lanolin. The fragrance is down to earth and comforting, somehow. I really admire this soap, and I’m pleased it’s sold now in tubs rather than as pucks.

The Rooney butterscotch Emilion had no trouble making the (wonderful) lather, and the #101 open comb continues to impress me with its comfort and efficiency. Three passes, BBS result, and I used the sample of Mickey Lee Soapworks Italian Stallion aftershave milk—and I liked that too. I think I’m getting fond of aftershave milks.

Highly recommended soap. We are lucky to enjoy such a great selection of fine artisanal shaving soaps.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 10:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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