Archive for April 2015
Freddie Gray was clearly not a one-off. Kira Lerner reports at ThinkProgress:
In Baltimore’s Central Booking, protesters and rioters are being withheld food for up to 18 hours, denied medical attention and detained for extended periods of time with up to 20 people in small cells intended to hold many less, two Baltimore public defenders told ThinkProgress.
Deputy District Public Defender Natalie Finegar said she spoke with her clients Wednesday night as they were being released from detention. Many spoke about the inhumane conditions and overcrowding and questioned why they were being held unlawfully.
“One [story] I heard described was that folks went 18 hours without food at one point and that when they were given food, it was a series of slices of bread with a small slice of cheese,” Finegar said.
The facility is facing a higher arrest rate than it’s capable of handling due to the influx of arrests following the riots that occurred on the streets of Baltimore over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
“In cells that were designed for 8 people, they had 15 to 20 people,” she said. She also described one person who had an open wound and was worried he wasn’t getting the necessary medical attention to check for infections.
The stories Finegar heard corroborate the information shared by another Baltimore public defender, Marci Tarrant-Johnson, who posted on her personal Facebook Thursday about the conditions she observed. Her post, which described hearing that people saved their bread slices to use as pillows, quickly went viral.
“They were very upset,” Tarrant-Johnson told ThinkProgress about the women she spoke with, many of whom had been held for days without speaking to any officials. “We were dealing with a particular group of people who hadn’t even been charged with anything, so they were very confused about what the process was, why they hadn’t been seen, why nobody had talked to them.”
Some of the women were from out of town and had friends, family members and employers wondering where they were and why they had been missing for days, she said.
“The purpose of that booking process is all supposed to happen in a matter of hours,” Finegar said. “Under the Maryland rules, you should either be committed or be released… and certainly within 24 hours. So this process is not supposed to be taking days and folks should not be spending that much time on the booking floor in the cell.”
Close to 100 people were released on Wednesday with no charges filed against them,according to the Guardian. Because of an executive order signed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), law enforcement was given the right to hold people for 48 hours before they were presented to district court officials for booking.
“As a lawyer representing these individuals that were subject to his proposed order, we believe he didn’t actually have the authority to grant that order,” Finegar said.
Even when those arrested are being committed and offered bond, people are being assigned widely varying bond amounts, some reaching up to $750,000, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute. . . .
Gary Will has a good column in the NY Review of Books.
An authentic pope should be a scary one. Jesus scared the dickens out of people (it cost him his life). Is Pope Francis truly scary? One might think so from the reaction of some guardians of orthodoxy, men like New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who thinkshe must threaten the pope with schism to protect the sanctity of marriage, since “this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.” But ecclesiastical nitpickers have no armies of similar thinkers to summon. This is not even medium scary.
Now, however, something is looming that has billionaires shaking in their boots, and when Catholic billionaires shake, Catholic bishops get sympathetic shudders. These are the men who build their churches, hospitals, schools, and libraries. Catholic lore has made winning over such Money Men the mark of the true church leader—the Bing Crosby priest crooning dollars out of a cranky donor in Going My Way, or the J. F. Powers priest putting up with a wealthy boor to get a golf course for his retreat house.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan was recently reminded of these facts of churchly life by Kenneth Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot. The cardinal is working to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, at a cost of $175 million. Langone asked why he and his fellow benefactors should raise such money when the pope is denouncing “the idolatry of money.” He said the pope’s criticism will make his fellow donors “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
But this, too, was a minor threat. Langone was simply threatening to withhold money. Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor.
Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears. They must not only discredit the pope’s words (whatever they turn out to be), they must block them, ridicule them, destroy them. The measure of their fear is demonstrated by an article in First Things, the Catholic journal that defended the donations to bishops of the pederast religious founder Marcial Maciel. The First Thingswriter Maureen Mullarkey calls the pope “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist,” and continues: “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.”
The editor of First Things later apologized for the uncivil tone of this piece—but he ran the piece, which is the real act of incivility. These people are really, really scared. When they calm down enough to make some kind of argument, they fall back on their mantra of recent years, claiming nobody really knows anything for sure about the state of the earth. “I’m not a scientist,” they say. Such professed ignorance would make honest people try to learn from the scientists what they do not know. Instead, the implication is that “If I don’t know, nobody can know; it is arrogant to pretend anyone else can know what I don’t know.”
They are now adapting this argument to fit the pope. . .
The Zatoichi movies were great B-movies, with an occasional special (Yojimbo Meets Ichi, for example: the confluence of two B-movie steams). And Ichi, the fable redone in modern tones, with a (beautiful) blind woman taking on the Zatoichi role, is… well, okay. I get what they were going for, but it’s too slow, too moody, and despite the trappings of the Zatoichi movies—the poignant kid, the winds of the mountain pass—it just didn’t work for me. This was its second (and last) chance.
Fortunately, I have Zatoichi no. 8, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, on the way.
In the meantime, we’re having Southern Shrimp Scampi for dinner, with steam broccoli stirred in.
Good news at the start of the article by Radley Benko in the Washington Post, bad news toward the end—the bad news being that the Supreme Court Justices normally simply accept as true whatever lies they are told in amicus briefs.
At one point in [Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick] Wyrick’s argument in defense of the use of the drug, [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor, essentially, told the state’s lawyer that he had lied in his briefs before the court.
“I am substantially disturbed that in your brief you made factual statements that were not supported by the sources [you cited], and in fact directly contradicted,” she told him. “So nothing you say or read to me am I going to believe, frankly, until I see it with my own eyes in the context, okay?”
Sotomayor was then given wide berth by her colleagues to go into detail to question him regarding some of those examples, from the state’s characterization of the Food and Drug Administration’s description of the drug to its characterization of one of the studies about the drug on which the state relied.
Sotomayor rattled off three examples in which the state’s brief had made arguments that weren’t true. (Read the transcript here.)
This is refreshing. It’s nice to see a Supreme Court justice dispense with the niceties and call out dishonesty from government officials when she sees it.
Because the court sees plenty of it. In September, New York Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak wrote an important article about the fact-challenged amicus briefs that the justices and their clerks often rely upon to educate them in complicated cases.
Some of the factual assertions in recent amicus briefs would not pass muster in a high school research paper. But that has not stopped the Supreme Court from relying on them. Recent opinions have cited “facts” from amicus briefs that were backed up by blog posts, emails or nothing at all.
Some amicus briefs are careful and valuable, of course, citing peer-reviewed studies and noting contrary evidence. Others cite more questionable materials.
Some “studies” presented in amicus briefs were paid for or conducted by the group that submitted the brief and published only on the Internet. Some studies seem to have been created for the purpose of influencing the Supreme Court.
Yet the justices are quite receptive to this dodgy data. Over the five terms from 2008 to 2013, the court’s opinions cited factual assertions from amicus briefs 124 times, Professor Larsen found . . .
In an interview, Professor Larsen said she was struck by how often justices cited the amicus briefs themselves as sources of authority, as opposed to the materials collected in the briefs. “It really makes you wonder how much digging the justices are doing,” she said.
And it isn’t just empirical data. In January, I pointed to some convincing evidence that the justices frequently make assumptions about law enforcement based on assertions from law enforcement briefs that aren’t supported by any research (or in some cases, directly contradicted by research). Part of the problem there is . . .
UPDATE: Another article on lethal injection. Trigger warning: grim reading. It does not work as advertised, and it does not produce a peaceful or even humane death.
Samantha Page reports at ThinkProgress:
It only took two weeks for the Republican-led House in North Carolina to introduce and pass a bill gutting the state’s environmental law.
The House passed the SEPA Reform Act on Wednesday after allowing total of one minute of public comment. Two of the three bill sponsors have ties to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.
The bill will largely dismantle the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), opponents say. Under SEPA, a 1971 law to “encourage the wise, productive, and beneficial use of the natural resources of the State without damage to the environment,” any project that uses state funds or state land is subject to an environmental assessment progress. The SEPA Reform Act changes the trigger for review at $10 million of state funds.
But environmental advocates say a $10-million threshold still effectively wipes SEPA off the books, and state representatives know that.
“It was stated on the floor that $10 million would rarely if ever be triggered,” Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Mary Maclean Asbill told ThinkProgress.
The proposed bill originally set the threshold at $20 million but was amended to the lower number and the review process for public parks was exempted. Lawmakers also clarified a section that would have created uncertainty for federal grant-funded water programs.
“I still feel that this is a near repeal of SEPA,” Maclean Asbill said in an email.
The bill was sponsored by three Republicans, Rep. John Torbett, Rep. Mike Hager, and Rep. Chris Millis. Both Torbett and Hager have attended ALEC’s Annual Meeting, and Hager was paid $1,000 to speak at an ALEC event. Nationwide, including in Congress, Republicans have introduced a number of bills recently that would repeal environmental protection laws or defund environmental agencies.
Opponents of the bill also said the House process lacked transparency and the bill was not adequately justified. In addition to the rapid progression of the bill through the House, it came with little to no supporting evidence.
There was “no report, no evaluation, no assessment of the [SEPA] program,” Molly Diggins, director of the North Carolina Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress. “Where are the stories of how SEPA has caused a problem? Who has been harmed?”
Diggins said her group is not opposed to the state doing analysis on the effectiveness of the more than 30-year-old law. But, “that’s what should have happened before it was brought to the committee.”
Diggins was the only person who was given time to speak against the bill at a meeting of House Environment Committee last week. She was allowed one minute, and the Committee went on to approve the bill 8-0. No supporters of the bill testified. . .
Michael Wines and Sarah Cohen have a depressing story in the NY Times. Police killings have not been rising but have been going on more or less at the current rate for years. The difference is that we are suddenly taking notice. Read the story. The police have been killing people for years, only now we are starting to see how unjustified many of the killings are.
Gregory Ferenstein reports in Pacific Standard on the benefits of the “Happy Meals” idea:
Improbable as it sounds, McDonald’s may hold the key to getting America’s youth to eat healthier.
A team of medical researchers led by Dr. Robert Siegel took a strategy from the Happy Meal playbook, pairing healthy lunch options at public schools with smiley faces and a toy. The result were extraordinary: voluntary healthy meal purchases quadrupled.
“A two-tiered approach of Emoticons followed by small prizes as an incentive for healthful food selections is very effective in increasing plain white milk, fruit and vegetable selection,” the researchers write in a study presented this week at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, in San Diego.
Indeed, the popularization of emoticons has been co-opted by researchers lately to see if the colorful balls of happiness can be utilized for socially beneficial ends. One 2014 study found that “emolabeling” could be a major factor in health choice selection by both pre-literate and young children.
“Children can use emolabels to make healthy food choices even when other information about taste, social norms, and branding are present,” the authors of the 2014 study conclude. “This study further shows that among children who used the emoticons, they largely used them to make healthy food choices.”
This latest research delves further into the power of emoticons in two significant ways. First, the study was tested in some of the most troubled school neighborhoods. (Siegel estimates that a significant portion of the families were either poor or homeless.) Second, knowing that smiling faces alone may not be enough to change behavior, after three months of using emoticons, the team added in a toy to further entice healthy meals.
With emoticons alone, the team found that chocolate milk sales at the school took a noticeable dip, from 87 percent of total milk sales to 78 percent. Later, entire meals known as “Power Plates” were added and paired with a toy. These healthy lunches (with whole grains and vegetables) spiked from less than 10 percent to 42 percent with the introduction of emoticons and a toy.
Interestingly enough, after the toys were taken away, the children continued to select healthy meals. . .