Later On

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

Archive for April 2015

The Baltimore Police Department shows it true colors

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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. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Who’s afraid of Pope Francis?: Interesting times in the Catholic church

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 6:40 pm

Yeah, okay: Ishi too moody for me

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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.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 5:34 pm

Sonia Sotomayor calls out lies put forward by lethal-injection supporters

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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.

Great little tidbit from Buzzfeed’s coverage of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in Glossip v. Gross, the lethal injection case I wrote about this week.

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 . . .

Continue reading.

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.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Law

ALEC-Tied Politicians Push North Carolina To Gut Its Environmental Protection Act

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 2:16 pm

No Sharp Rise Seen in Police Killings: It’s been going on like this for years and years

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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.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Using Happy Meals tools for healthful food

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 11:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

What’s Really Behind the Flash Crash Trader Prosecution?

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade on the weirdness of the complaint:

The Justice Department’s case against the 36 year old lone bedroom trader in the U.K., Navinder Singh Sarao, has now been thoroughly discredited by every Wall Street veteran who has studied it, most pointing out that what Sarao did is happening every second that Wall Street is open for business. Business writers at the New York Times, Financial Times, Newsweek, and Bloomberg View have given the charges an unequivocal thumbs down.

The Justice Department’s complaint itself is unusual. It consists of a one page complaint cover sheet followed not by a detailed breakdown of the counts but by an affidavit from an FBI agent. The case is filed in the Federal District Court in the Northern District of Illinois but no U.S. Attorney or Assistant U.S. Attorney from that district has signed this complaint. The names listed at the top of the first page, more as a reference since they have not signed any part of this complaint, are Department of Justice Fraud Section Assistant Chief Brent S. Wible and Fraud Section Trial Attorney Michael T. O’Neill. Both show phone numbers with the 202 area code, meaning this case came out of the Washington, D.C. office of the Justice Department, not the Northern District of Illinois where the futures market that Sarao is charged with manipulating is located.

The case is based largely on analysis from an unnamed “consulting group” and a “professor and academic researcher who studies and has written extensively on financial markets and algorithmic trading.” Given the public drubbing of this case, that professor is now likely climbing deeper into his hole of anonymity.

Add all of the above to the fact that the case is coming out of the blue, five long years after the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010, and after regulators had already fingered mutual fund company Waddell & Reed as the key culprit in their lengthy report of 2010, and you are left with the highly intriguing question as to what the real motivation is for the Justice Department to go out on such a precarious limb with this case.

Four schools of thought come readily to mind. First is that the Justice Department wants to frighten off the tens of thousands of solo day traders who are jazzing up pre-packaged software and periodically beating the Wall Street big boys at their own game of spoofing and layering. Next is that Sarao may be some kind of genius trader or software developer and Wall Street wants him extradited to deploy his talents on this side of the pond. Third, there may be more to the FBI’s case than we know: for example, why was a mega global bank like Credit Suisse financing Sarao’s trading. Was there more to this relationship than is presently known? And, finally, elements of all three of the above scenarios may be in play. We’ll look at each of the first three elements separately.

There is no question, whatsoever, that prosecutors can be seduced into doing the bidding of the big Wall Street firms. One only needs to look closely at the serial prosecution of Sergey Aleynikov and the separate Squawk Box case to understand how very true this is.

Sergey Aleynikov was a brilliant Russian programmer working for Goldman Sachs when he received an offer to move to a hedge fund. Aleynikov accepted the offer but agreed to stay at Goldman for six weeks to train his colleagues, exhibiting a decided show of good faith. However, he made the bad judgment of downloading  some code before he left. That was 2009.

Over the past six years, Aleynikov has been arrested and jailed by the Feds, had his conviction overturned by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, rearrested by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and is this very week awaiting word on his fate from a jury – where allegations of food poisoning of a juror are now in the mix.

For those who believe prosecution for the same alleged crime is not allowed in the United States, you obviously have never lived in New York City. Aleynikov is said to be one of the most brilliant coders on Wall Street. Keeping him tied up in court and out of the hands of the competition is a key benefit to Goldman Sachs.

In December 2010, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that Aleynikov had neither taken a tangible good from Goldman Sachs nor had he stolen a product involved in interstate commerce – writing that at oral argument the government “was unable to identify a single product that affects interstate commerce.” That didn’t slow down this relentless prosecution at all.

Then there is the Squawk Box case where six Wall Street men lost their careers, were subjected to two jury trials, convicted and sentenced – while two SEC attorneys and two attorneys for the Justice Department sat on deposition transcripts that could have cleared the defendants of the central charge in the case.

Who else had a hand in the travesty? The General Counsel’s office of Merrill Lynch sat on those depositions after hearing the testimony first hand. John Gleeson, a Federal District Court Judge, after the depositions surfaced shortly after sentencing and he was made aware of them, refused a petition for retrial.

The charges were first brought in 2005 and were specious from day one. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn alleged that three brokers from Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney and Lehman Brothers misappropriated confidential information from their firms by placing phones next to the internal public address system known as the “Squawk Box” and letting day traders at A.B. Watley listen in. The prosecutors based their case on the premise that this information was “confidential.” To suggest that anything coming over a “public address system” in an office filled with clients, cleaning people, delivery guys from the deli, and mutual fund peddlers is “confidential” is beyond fantasyland.

Here is a sample of the testimony the SEC withheld from the depositions: . . .

Continue reading.

The DoJ jumps to do the bidding of Wall Street.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 11:17 am

Big Dangers for the Next Election

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Elizabeth Drew reviews two books in the NY Review of Books:

Democracy and Justice: Collected Writings
edited by Desiree Ramos Reiner, Jim Lyons, Erik Opsal, Mikayla Terrell, and Lena Glaser
Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School, 152 pp., available at

The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown
by Richard L. Hasen
Yale University Press, 239 pp., $30.00

While people are wasting their time speculating about who will win the presidency more than a year from now—Can Hillary beat Jeb? Can anybody beat Hillary? Is theGOP nominee going to be Jeb or Walker?—growing dangers to a democratic election, ones that could decide the outcome, are being essentially overlooked. The three dangers are voting restrictions, redistricting, and loose rules on large amounts of money being spent to influence voters. In recent years, we’ve been moving further and further away from a truly democratic election system.

The considerable outrage in 2012 over the systematic effort in Republican-dominated states to prevent blacks, Hispanics, students, and the elderly from being able to vote—mainly aimed at limiting the votes of blacks and Hispanics—might have been expected to lead to a serious effort to fix the voting system. But quite the reverse occurred. In fact, in some of the major races in 2014, according to the highly respected Brennan Center for Justice, the difference in the number of votes between the victor and the loser closely mirrored the estimated number of people who had been deprived of the right to vote. And in the North Carolina Senate race, the number of people prevented from voting exceeded the margin between the loser and the winner.

But even if it cannot be shown that the suppression of votes made the difference in the outcome of an important race in a given state, that doesn’t exactly make voter suppression benign. Hundreds of thousands of people are being denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. They have the misfortune of living in a state controlled by one party that wants to deprive the other party of as many votes as possible of the groups that tend heavily to support it. The ostensible rationale for such an effort—voter fraud—is itself a fraud.

The Brennan Center estimates that 11 percent of qualified voters in the United States do not possess a government-issued photo ID or any other of the documents required by the voter ID laws now in effect in thirty-two states—a finding confirmed by other studies. Some people were turned away from the polls because they had a driver’s license from another state or because their license had expired.

Of course there were other reasons why the Democratic candidates didn’t do better in 2014. They included the president’s low approval ratings, the Ebola panic, the beheadings of American captives by ISIS, as well as the Democrats’ lack of much to say to the voters. All that fed into the sweeping Republican victory. But none of this disproves the fact that an across-the-board effort to deny the vote to selected groups, especially racial minorities, has been taking place and can turn an election.

In North Carolina shortly before the 2014 election, Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives and the Republican candidate for the US Senate against the incumbent Kay Hagan, rushed through the legislature one of the harshest voting laws in the country. It cut back the number of days for early voting, eliminated same-day registration, and prohibited people from voting outside their home precincts—all forms of voting heavily relied upon by blacks. Tillis defeated Hagan by 48,000 votes. One way to look at this is that in 2012, 700,000 people voted on those early voting days that were later cut; and 100,000 voters, almost one third of whom were black, had previously been able to register and vote on the same day. North Carolina hadn’t yet imposed a voter ID law in 2014, but one is in place for the next election.

In Kansas, the extremely conservative governor Sam Brownback had been in reelection trouble in 2014 because his steep tax cuts had led to draconian cuts in state services, but he surprised the political world with a very narrow victory, by 33,000 votes. Kansas’s strict new voting laws, including requirements for a photo ID for voting and proof of citizenship for voter registration (particularly the latter), held the number of votes down by close to the same amount.

In Texas, in a suit brought shortly before the election against that state’s new voting law, the toughest in the country, rushed through by Greg Abbott, then attorney general and the candidate for governor, a federal district judge found that 608,470 registered and qualified voters lacked the newly required voter ID. She also found that black voters are 305 percent more likely and Hispanic voters 195 percent more likely than white voters to lack the required ID. In her ruling striking down the new law she said that it was intentionally discriminatory against blacks and Hispanics. The Texas ID law accepted concealed-carry permits but not state-issued student IDs.

Nevertheless, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court let the law go into effect in the 2014 election. Though the race for the Senate and governor in Texas weren’t close calls, those 600,000-plus people were also unable to vote in contests for offices such as justice of the peace or their state legislator that could affect them more directly.

The Supreme Court recently turned down an appeal of a very strict voter ID law in Wisconsin that’s ardently championed by governor and presidential hopeful Scott Walker. Walker’s view was, “It doesn’t matter if there’s one, one hundred, or one thousand” instances of voter fraud, no one’s vote should be canceled out by an illegally cast vote. When the Wisconsin law was challenged in district court, the trial judge said that it violated both the equal protection clause of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for minority voters, and he saw no justification for it.

The same district judge prepared a ninety-page study of the 2004 election, which had given rise to claims of voter fraud and demands for imposing voter ID laws. In his study of voter fraud allegations—the most thorough yet made in the US—the judge produced just seven substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes—all of them people with felony convictions. None of these violations could have been prevented by voter ID laws. According to the Brennan Center, these invalid ballots amounted to some 0.0002 percent of those cast in the entire state of Wisconsin. The judge said, “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”

Still, a conservative court of appeals and then the US Supreme Court held the Wisconsin law to be constitutional. During the litigation on the Wisconsin law, the well-known conservative appellate judge Richard Posner wrote in a dissent: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 11:11 am

No money for Baltimore, extra money for defense contractors

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Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

Demonstrators in the streets of Baltimore are calling for police reform andeconomic revitalization in their city, but Washington isn’t listening.

Lawmakers have had other things on their mind, namely rewarding their donors by increasing spending on defense. This week, Congress moved to increase spending on weapons programs by $3 billion beyond what the Pentagon requested.

On Monday, the House Armed Services Committee, in what Politicodescribed as “a clear win for defense contractors,” unveiled legislation to boost defense spending to “$117 billion — $3 billion higher than the Pentagon’s fiscal 2016 budget request.” Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a member of the committee, has demanded increased military spending, telling Reuters earlier this year, “It doesn’t do any good to be financially responsible if you’re dead, so I’m going to vote for it to protect national security.”

Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office cast increased doubt on the F-35 fighter jet program, noting that the weapons system still faces critical engine and software problems. The F-35 is the most expensiveweapons program in American history, with some estimates projecting that the jet will eventually cost taxpayers some $1.45 trillion.

But like other defense contractors, the manufacturers behind the F-35, including Lockheed Martin, are big players when it comes to campaign spending and lobbying. And the House Armed Services Committee spending plan released this week calls for even more spending on the F-35 program.

It’s certainly true that the US doesn’t have enough money to do everything, but it also is true that the priorities are distorted to favor defense corporations over private citizens.

And while pouring money into the hopeless F-35, the USAF is killing off the relatively economical and highly effective A-10, presumably because the A-10 does not deliver the profits defense contractors demand.

This country is badly out of whack.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 11:04 am

ACLU of California launches cellphone app to preserve videos of police

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UPDATE: You can get the app here.

Kate Mather reports in the LA Times:

Californians who use their cellphones to record police encounters with the public on video will be able to automatically transmit the video directly to their local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union using a smartphone application launched Thursday.

By using the Mobile Justice CA app to send recordings to the ACLU, leaders of the organization said, people can ensure that video of potential police misconduct is preserved, even if their cellphone is tampered with or destroyed.

Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said work on the app began before the recent national outcry over how police officers use force, particularly against black men. But, he said, the recent string of controversial police killings have shown the importance – and impact – of civilian-captured video.

“As we’ve seen in headlines over the previous few months, recordings by members of the public is a crucial check on police abuse,” Bibring said. “We’ve seen a number of examples of high-profile incidents of abuse and unlawful shootings or killings that never would have come to light if someone wouldn’t have pulled out their phone and taken video.”

Similar apps have been rolled out by ACLU chapters in other states, including New York, Oregon and Missouri. 

The California rollout comes amid a heated national discussion about policing and ways to bring more transparency to controversial officer-civilian encounters. Video is widely seen as a crucial tool for bringing about that clarity — whether it comes from a police officer’s body camera or a civilian’s smartphone. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

The app works this way:

  • Users download free application on their Android or Apple device
  • When they want to record a police encounter, users open the app to begin recording
  • The app will flag the location of the incident so other nearby users can, if they choose, go to the scene and take their own video. The app also includes an overview of the legal rights citizens have when stopped by police.
  • As soon as the recording stops, a duplicate copy of the footage is immediately uploaded to the ACLU
  • A text report appears on the phone allowing the user to explain what he or she saw.
  • ACLU officials will comb through the text reports and review any videos that may show misconduct by police.

Bibring stressed that aside from the location of the incident, those who submit videos can remain anonymous and their personal information would not be retained by the organization. He said the ACLU could make public videos that are received via the app.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 10:32 am

Environmental lead and Freddie Gray

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Kevin Drum has an interesting point:

The Washington Post features a simple headline today that encompasses decades of personal tragedy and public policy disaster:

Freddie Gray’s life a study in the sad effects of lead paint on poor blacks

When Freddie Gray was 22 months old, he had a tested blood lead level of 37 micrograms per deciliter. This is an absolutely astronomical amount. Freddie never even had the slightest chance of growing up normally. Lead poisoning doomed him from the start to a life of heightened aggression, poor learning abilities, and weak impulse control. His life was a tragedy set in motion the day he was born.

But even from the midst of my chemo haze, I want to make a short, sharp point about this that goes far beyond just Gray’s personal tragedy. It’s this: thanks both to lead paint and leaded gasoline, there were lots of teenagers like Freddie Gray in the 90s. This created a huge and genuinely scary wave of violent crime, and in response we turned many of our urban police forces into occupying armies. This may have been wrong even then, but it was hardly inexplicable. Decades of lead poisoning really had created huge numbers of scarily violent teenagers, and a massive, militaristic response may have seemed like the only way to even begin to hold the line.

But here’s the thing: that era is over. Individual tragedies like Freddie Gray are still too common, but overall lead poisoning has plummeted. As a result, our cities are safer because our kids are fundamentally less dangerous. To a large extent, they are now normal teenagers, not lead-poisoned predators.


This is important, because even if you’re a hard-ass law-and-order type, you should understand that we no longer need urban police departments to act like occupying armies. The 90s are gone, and today’s teenagers are just ordinary teenagers. They still act stupid and some of them are still violent, but they can be dealt with using ordinary urban policing tactics. We don’t need to constantly harass and bully them; we don’t need to haul them in for every petty infraction; we don’t need to beat them senseless; and we don’t need to incarcerate them by the millions.

We just don’t. We live in a different, safer era, and it’s time for all of us—voters, politicians, cops, parents—to get this through our collective heads. Generation Lead is over, thank God. Let’s stop pretending it’s always and forever 1993. Reform is way overdue.

Be sure to read the Washington Post article. Astonishing what we have done to ourselves. From the article:

. . . It wasn’t long after that he was given the first of many blood tests, court records show. The test came in May of 1990, when the family was living in a home on Fulton Avenue in West Baltimore. Even at such a young age, his blood contained more than 10 micrograms of lead per decileter of blood — double the level in which the Center for Disease Control urges additional testing. Three months later, his blood had nearly 30 micrograms. And then, in June of 1991 when Gray was 22 months old, his blood carried 37 micrograms.

“Jesus,” gasped Dan Levy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of lead poisoning on youths, when told of Gray’s levels. “The fact that Mr. Gray had these high levels of lead in all likelihood affected his ability to think and to self-regulate, and profoundly affect his cognitive ability to process information.” He added: “And the real tragedy of lead is that the damage it does is irreparable.”

By the time Gray and his family moved into the hovel on North Carey Street, which became the subject of the subsequent litigation, the amount of lead in his system had lowered. But he and his sisters began developing problems.

His sister, Fredericka, developed issues with aggression, Gray said in a 2009 deposition. “She still got problems like that,” he said. “She still do. She always was the aggressive one. She liked to fight all the time and all of that.”

Equally troubling was the children’s performance in the classroom. All three of them were diagnosed with either ADHD or ADD, and Fredericka’s academic career was “riddled with suspensions,” court records say. . .


Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 10:06 am

Wisconsin residents support paying for a new NBA arena, so long as they don’t get the full story

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I do not understand why taxpayers should pay for a sports arena—doesn’t the NBA have plenty of profits to pay their own way? Travis Waldron reports at ThinkProgress:

In February, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled plans to devote $220 million in state bonds to a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, the state’s NBA franchise, even as his budget proposal aimed to cut $300 million from the state’s university system. Another plan from state Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R), meanwhile, proposes borrowing $150 million to help cover the cost of the $500 million arena that would replace the Bradley Center, which was built in 1988 (the team would pay part of the cost, as would former owner and U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, who sold the team last year).

Earlier this month, a poll from Marquette University showed that the plans were overwhelmingly unpopular: 79 percent of Wisconsin voters oppose the plan, while just 17 percent support it. But according to a new poll from backers of the project, that isn’t the case. That poll, released this week, showed that 67 percent of those voters supportedthe project when presented with a so-called “full proposal.”

But as Field of Schemes’ Neil deMause noticed, the discrepancy is quite easy to explain: the second poll, conducted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (which one article described as the “biggest backer of a new Milwaukee arena — besides the Milwaukee Bucks”), asked about the support only after loading the poll with leading information, including the fact that the Bucks would leave without the new arena, that the plan would require no new taxes, and that the arena would more than pay for itself.

The MMAC justifies this by saying that they are giving residents a clearer picture of what might happen without a new arena than the Marquette poll, which led its questions by asking first about borrowing money and the cuts to university budgets.

“When voters are given the facts surrounding the arena issue and descriptions of options and consequences facing the state, they get it,” MMAC president Tim Sheehy said after the poll was released. “The stakes for our region and our state are high and people across the state understand that there are serious consequences to inaction and significant opportunities associated with a new arena development.”

That the Bucks might leave without a new arena is perhaps true, though they could of course prevent that by staying in their current arena or building a new one themselves. The rest of the information provided to poll-takers before asking the ultimate question, however, is less than honest. While the plan might not require new taxes — Walker’s proposal is to repay the bonds with revenue from taxes on athletes — it does divert them out of the state’s general revenue and away from other projects, especially because Wisconsin’s “jock tax” revenue typically flows to universities, other education budgets, and to other basic needs.

Similarly, most academic studies, as well as plenty of real-world experiences, show that banking on an arena to pay for itself or spur growth around it is a foolhardy gamble. In that sense, while the Marquette poll might have provided information less conducive to drawing support for such a proposal, it certainly painted a much more realistic picture of what can happen when cities go all-in on stadiums and arena projects without thinking about the consequences.

Even beyond Wisconsin, though, this is indicative of the way these projects typically work. The debates are almost always skewed with bad information from stadium and arena boosters who don’t provide a full picture of what taxpayers are paying for, how much they’ll ultimately have to spend, or what it might cost them to do so. Arena boosters keep selling the snake oil that these are free lunches with economic benefits for everyone, while taxpayers eventually have to suffer the consequences and deal with the messes the projects can create, like the sale of a public hospital (in Cincinnati), or the loss of public jobs and services (in Glendale, and elsewhere). . .

Continue reading.

Given Gov. Scott Walker’s views on government, having the government become so active in supporting a business is jarring.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 10:02 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Colorado Republicans want more teen births

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At least, that would be the logical inference from their refusing to fund a highly successful program that contributed to a 40% drop in Colorado’s teen birth rate over the past five years. Tara Culp-Pressler reports at ThinkProgress:

Following a months-long political battle that centered on whether IUDs should be defined as abortion, Colorado Republicans have officially voted to eliminate funding for an award-winning family planning program that has contributed to a staggering 40 percent drop in the state’s teen birth rate over the past five years.

Ironically, the vote to deny funding from the program came just one day after it received a prestigious award from the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), which periodically honors particularly effective reproductive health initiatives at its annual conference.

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative has been widely praised for expanding access to birth control among young women who are at risk for unintended pregnancies. Since its inception in 2009, the state program has handed out thousands of IUDs and implants to low-income teens. Those long-acting forms of contraception are recommended for adolescents specifically because they’re so effective.

Nonetheless, right-wing Republicans balked at the idea of using public dollars to fund IUDs, suggesting that it amounts to subsidizing teenagers’ sex lives. Some opponents also claimed that IUDs are “abortifacients” that shouldn’t be paid for with government money. On Wednesday, a GOP-controlled Senate committee voted down a bill that would have appropriated $5 million toward the program. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 9:57 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Medical

Massive new on-line course on climate change denial

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Ari Phillips writes at ThinkProgress:

What’s the best way to show a climate change denier the error of their ways? A new online course answers this question for the masses.

Hint: it’s not lobbing an endless stream of scientific evidence that proves human-driven climate change. While this approach may be cathartic, telling those who refuse to accept climate science for political, cultural, or ideological reasons over and over that they’re wrong is ineffective at best, and oftentimes counterproductive.

How to make progress in this Sisyphean pursuit then? Cue the new, first-of-its kind climate change denial massive open online course, or MOOC. So far the course, called “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” has more than 10,000 people from 150 countries signed up to find out not only how to confront climate science deniers more effectively, but the psychological and social drivers behind this denial. The 7-week curriculum, which commenced on April 28, also includes responses to the most pervasive climate change denial myths and the insights into the underlying techniques these anti-science perpetrators most frequently employ.

In the scientific community there is little controversy over the root of climate change, with 97 percent of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming. However in the public the issue is far more muddled with misinformation and fraught with disingenuous objectives. The course attempts to bridge that gap and in doing so, move the discussion around climate change one giant step forward.

The course, also referred to as “Denial101x,” includes interviews with 75 researchers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K., including some big names such as Sir David Attenborough. It is being coordinated by John Cook, a fellow at the University of Queensland Global Change Institute Climate Communication and creator of the popularwebsite Skeptical Science.

In describing the course, Cook writesthat in his own research, when he’s “informed strong political conservatives that there’s a scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, they become less accepting that humans are causing climate change.”

He says you can’t adequately address the issue of climate change denial “without considering the root cause: personal beliefs and ideology driving the rejection of scientific evidence. Attempts at science communication that ignore the potent influence effect of worldview can be futile or even counterproductive.”

So what is the best response?

According to Cook, the answer can be found in “inoculation theory,” a branch of psychology in which misinformation is neutralized by “explaining the fallacy employed by the myth.”

“Once people understand the techniques used to distort the science, they can reconcile the myth with the fact,” writes Cook. Instead of more science, what will help stem the spread of climate denial is debunking misconceptions about the science, an approach that “results in significantly higher learning gains than customary lectures that simply teach the science,” according to Cook.

Inoculation theory works in a similar way to how flu vaccines work: by providing a weak form of the virus. In the course, students will be exposed to “a weak form of science denial” that will inoculate their minds against misinformation.

By taking advantage of the online education opportunities available through MOOCs, Cook and his associates in the course hope that instead of just reaching a few classrooms, they can potentially reach hundreds of thousands of students.

Dan Bedford, a geography professor at Weber State University in Utah, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 9:10 am

Posted in Global warming

The problem with state-supported media (NPR, BBS, CBC, et al.)

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The problem is that state support translates readily into state control (cf. China and North Korea for flagrant examples, but it happens whenever the state controls the purse strings). Glenn Greenwald points out a recent incident in Australia in which a journalist made statements about the conduct of the Australian military that, though the statements are clearly true, were displeasing to the government, so the journalist was immediately fired. The article begins:

A TV sports commentator in Australia, Scott McIntyre, was summarily fired on Sunday by his public broadcasting employer, Special Broadcasting Services (SBS), due to a series of tweets he posted about the violence committed historically by the Australian military. McIntyre published his tweets on “Anzac Day,” a national holiday – similar to Memorial Day in the U.S. – which the Australian government hails as “one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.”

Rather than dutifully waving the flag and singing mindless paeans to The Troops and The Glories of War, McIntyre took the opportunity on Anzac Day to do what a journalist should do: present uncomfortable facts, question orthodoxies, highlight oft-suppressed views:

Almost instantly, these tweets spawned an intense debate about war, the military and history, with many expressing support for his expressed views and large numbers expressing outrage. In other words, McIntyre committed journalism: triggering discussion and examination of political claims rather than mindless recitation, ritualistic affirmation and compelled acceptance.

One outraged voice rose high above all the others: the nation’s Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who quickly and publicly denounced McIntyre in the harshest possible terms.

Turnbull isn’t just any government minister. He runs the ministry thatoversees SBS, McIntyre’s employer. The network’s funding comes overwhelmingly from the government in which Turnbull serves: “about 80 per cent of funding for the SBS Corporation is derived from the Australian Government through triennial funding arrangements.” Last year, the government imposed significant budget cuts on SBS, and Minister Turnbull – who was credited with fighting off even bigger cuts – publicly told them they should be grateful the cuts weren’t bigger, warning they likely could be in the future.

If you’re a craven SBS executive, nothing scares you more than having your journalists say something that angers the mighty Minister Turnbull (pictured, right, with Prime Minister Abbott). Within hours of Minister Turnbull’s denunciation of McIntyre, SBS’s top executives – Managing Director Michael Ebeid and Director of Sport Ken Shipp – tweeted a creepy statement announcing that McIntyre had been summarily fired. The media executives proclaimed that “respect for Australian audiences is paramount at SBS,” and condemned McIntyre’s “highly inappropriate and disrespectful comments via his twitter account which have caused his on-air position at SBS to become untenable.” They then took the loyalty oath to the glories of Anzac:

SBS apologises for any offence or harm caused by Mr McIntyre’s comments which in no way reflect the views of the network. SBS supports our Anzacs and has devoted unprecedented resources to coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

SBS supports our Anzacs” – and apparently bars any questioning or criticism of them. That mentality sounds like it came right from North Korea, which is to be expected when a media outlet is prohibited from saying anything that offends high government officials. Any society in which it’s a firing offense for journalists to criticize the military is a sickly and undemocratic one.

The excuses offered by SBS for McIntyre’s firing are so insulting as to be laughable. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Part of this is driven by the dangers of state-funded media, which typically neuters itself at the altar of orthodoxy. In the U.S. the “liberal” NPR is, not coincidentally, the most extreme media outlet for prohibiting any expressions of views that deviate from convention, even firing two journalists for the crime of appearing at an Occupy Wall Street event.  Identically, NPR refused (and still refuses) to use the word “torture” for Bush interrogation programs because the U.S. Government denied that it was; its Ombudsman justified this choice by arguing that “the problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties the United States has signed.” We can’t have a media outlet doing anything that might have “political and social implications” for high government officials!

The BBC is even worse: its director of news and current affairs, James Harding, actually said that they likely would not have reported on the Snowden archive if they were the ones who got it (which, just by the way, is one big reason they didn’t). Harding’s justification for that extraordinary abdication of journalism – that there was a “deal” between the source and the media organizations to report the story as a “campaign” and the BBC cannot “campaign” – was a complete fabrication; he literally just made up claims about a “deal.”

But his reasoning shows how neutered state-funded media inevitably becomes. . .

Another passage:

A different aspect of what the Australia firing shows is the scam of establishment journalists in defining “objectivity” to mean: “affirming societal orthodoxies.” Journalists are guilty of “opinionating” and “activism” only when they challenge and deviate from popular opinion, not when they embrace and echo it (that’s called “objectivity”). That’s why John Burns was allowed to report on the Iraq War for the New York Times despite openly advocating for the war (including after it began), while Chris Hedges was fired for having opposed the war. It’s why McIntyre got fired for criticizing Anzac but no journalist would ever get fired for heaping praise on Anzac, even though the two views are equally “biased.” That’s because, as practiced, “journalistic objectivity” is compelled obeisance to the pieties of the powerful dressed up as something noble.

But what is at the heart of McIntyre’s firing is the real religion of the supposedly “secular west”: mandated worship not just of its military but of its wars. The central dogma of this religion is tribal superiority: Our Side is more civilized, more peaceful, superior to Their Side.

McIntyre was fired because he committed blasphemy against that religion. . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 9:03 am

Posted in Government, Media

Yet another great shave: #102, Drunken Goat, Bathhouse Soapery aftershave

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SOTD 30 Apr 2015

The brush is the Prince by Wet Shaving Products, and the lather was truly excellent. And although I strongly resist the “if you had one razor” questions, I’m coming around more and more to the thought that the iKon Shavecraft #102 would be the one razor for me: after three very comfortable and enjoyable passes, I have a totally smooth face with no effort, only enjoyment.

A good splash of Bathhouse Soapery’s aftershave splash (which contains no alcohol) and I’m ready for the day. If you click the photo above a couple of times to enlarge it fully, you can probably read the list of ingredients. The fragrance is light but pleasant.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2015 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

When Korean movies are good, they are very, very good. Example: The Suspect

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Here it is. Action thriller. Unbelievable car chase just now.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Recipe comment: Shakshuka with Feta

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I just made this recipe. I followed it pretty closely: 8 oz (sheep-milk) feta instead of 5 oz, but everything else, including times, as specified.

For those using jumbo eggs, cook in the oven for 12 minutes, not 10—and not 14, which results in the yolks (including the one double yolk I got) cooking solid.

Although recipe suggests the red bell pepper be cut in strips, as I cooked the pepper with the onions, I used my cherrywood spatula to cut the strips in half, a more comfortable size. I highly recommend this spatula, but with a 12″ handle instead of a 10″. (He will do custom orders if you want.) I have four, in case of breakage, and I use them for everything. They are terrific for stirring, and for sautéing they cannot be beat.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 6:21 pm

How Baltimore’s police and poverty fueled a youth revolt

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UPDATE: The NY Times chimes in with an editorial that’s worth reading.

It did seem to be like a revolt more than a riot, and the David Simon interview I blogged earlier touched on some of the causes. In The Intercept Juan Thompson and George Joseph report more about the situation:

West Baltimore, the site of most of the unrest that’s erupted in this city in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, has all the staples of a forgotten, neglected urban neighborhood: liquor stores, storefront churches, check-cashing joints and vacant buildings. Lots of vacant buildings. In fact, riding into Baltimore’s Penn Station, the first sight for Amtrak passengers is row after row of vacant houses.

“Those vacant houses almost represent our lost dreams,” said Kianda Miller, 33. Miller is a single mother of four children who lives near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, in the area in which Gray was detained by police before struggling in a police van and dying as a result of spinal injuries. “People are kinda lost,” Miller added. “No jobs, no money, no hope, nothing.”

In order to understand the events that followed Gray’s killing — the fires, the looting, the clashes with police that occurred Saturday and Tuesday — one must first understand the relationship between the police and the poor, mostly black residents of this section of the city. In her book, The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State, author Patricia Fernandez-Kelly wrote about “how growing up poor in the richest nation in the world involves daily interactions with agents of the state, an experience that differs significantly from that of more affluent populations.” When Kianda Miller said that her neighbors didn’t have money, she was right. One entity, however, has plenty of resources: the police department. Last summer, The Baltimore Sun reported that “police departments in Maryland have received more than $12 million in excess equipment from the U.S. military through a federal program that has come under bipartisan scrutiny.”

The Baltimore PD has enough of an outsized bank account to rank as the eigthth largest department in the country — in a city that’s only the nation’s 27th largest. The bulked up department has developed a reputation for brutal treatment of black residents. Since 2011 alone, the city has paid nearly $6 million to settle police brutality cases.

One man was beaten bloody because he refused to sit down in the grass when a plains clothes officer approached him after he bought some fried chicken for dinner. The Sun cataloged the attacks:

Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

We approached a number of younger protesters at the the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North Avenues for interviews in West Baltimore on Tuesday. The vast majority of them declined. “I don’t want to answer y’all questions. We don’t trust y’all either,” one demonstrator said.

As often happens within social movements, a generational divide has opened up. The youth who rebelled didn’t “have any home training,” local resident Lorraine Hall said in an interview. “All police aren’t bad. There’s the good and there’s the bad. Deal with it and get out there and protest peacefully.”

A younger resident, who identified himself as Naz Gibson, 22, and who lives in the Gilmor Homes, said, “The old heads don’t understand, we’re not going to take a back seat anymore. We don’t wanna live like them. Look around! We’re going to do better!”

A blighted neighborhood in an impoverished city

The poisoned relationship between police and residents in West Baltimore has unfolded against the backdrop of economic devastation. Baltimore is ranked the sixth poorest city in the country. The Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where the Gilmor Homes are located, is one of the poorest in the city. More than half of its residents aged 16-64 are unemployed. The median household income is only $24,000, and more than 60 percent of the population doesn’t have a high school diploma. Nearly 33 percent of the homes in Sandtown-Winchester sit vacant.

The economic situation has been exacerbated by institutionalized racism against black residents. In 2008, Baltimore officials alleged, in a suit supported by testimony from former Wells Fargo loan officers, that the national bank engaged in unscrupulous lending practices, while its staffers called black Baltimore residents “mud people” and referred to loans given out to black residents as “ghetto loans.” The city said the bank’s predatory lending ultimately exacerbated Baltimore’s problem with vacant buildings.

On top of its other problems, Sandtown-Winchester also suffers under one of the highest incarceration rates of any one community in the state.

A thoroughly militarized police force

Since 2006, Baltimore’s Police Department has bulked up its surveillance and military capacities. Some of the huge guns, riot gear, and armored vehicles currently being used to intimidate protestors in Baltimore may have come directly from the Department of Defense’s Excess Property program, left over from the American invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2006, The Baltimore Sun reported, the Department of Defense’s Excess Property program gave over $12 million worth of excess military equipment to police departments across Maryland, including mine-resistant and armed combat vehicles. Since the program began, The City of Baltimore has received at least $553,000 worth of military equipment and the county received 283 rifles. (The Baltimore Police Department did not respond toThe Intercept’s inquiry as to whether weapons used in response to the Freddie Gray protests were received from the Department of Defense.)

Since 2007, the Baltimore police have spent more than $250,000 on cell-phone tracking devices, which have been used to monitor thousands of Baltimore residents indiscriminately and without warrant. The department uses this technology with almost complete impunity, and has even publicly disclosed it is following directions from the FBI to block information on the program from judges and prosecutors. This fact is even more alarming when put in the national context. Over the past seven years, Baltimore’s police department has used stingray data collection 4,300 times, usage that goes far beyond many cities and even states across the country.

Indeed, the Baltimore PD’s surveillance capabilities are now a far cry from the bygone era of Lester Freamon’s dusty intelligence basement. Last year, the department unveiled its new “Watch Center,” a central intelligence hub equipped to collect, centralize, and comb through data across the entire city. As ABC News reported, inside the “Watch Center” police intelligence officials can view all city surveillance footage, track the location of social media posts in real time, and use this data to map social media movement across the city — an ominous sign for protestors and the horde of reporters tweeting after them.

Many black residents in West Baltimore say all this gear has been used to treat them like enemies on the battlefield. Betty Smith, a young person from the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray once lived, said she’s never been able walk around without being stopped and harassed by police. “I grew up with him [Gray], he was a fun loving guy… Once the police hopped on me, my daughter, and my two nephews and made us sit down at gun point. We’re kids! They’re one and two!” says Smith. “The police are bullies with badges. They harass us all day long and we can’t even walk down the street. They lock us up for jay-walking. We can’t do nothing.”

James Drummond, a 29-year-old protester from West Baltimore, said the police’s surveillance technologies are being used inappropriately against protestors. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

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