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Archive for November 12th, 2015

U.S. Urges Bodycams for Local Police, but Nixes Them on Federal Teams

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Our Department of Justice embraces inconsistency. For example, it simultaneously reassures medical marijuana dispensaries and patients that they will not be prosecuted if their use is in accordance with state law—and then it arrests them, prosecutes them, and sends them to prison. Sad to say, the Department of Justice is not trustworthy, and this story by Devlin Barrett in the Wall Street Journal provides a clear view of the double-standards the Department embraces. It’s behind a paywall, but the gist is here:

The U.S. Justice Department is urging local police departments to adopt body cameras, saying they are an important tool to improve transparency and trust between officers and citizens. Privately, reports the Wall Street Journal, the department is telling some of its agents they cannot work with officers using such cameras as part of joint task forces. That is because the federal government hasn’t adopted guidelines on how and when to use body cameras, rules that would be important to determining how any footage could be used in court, released publicly, or stored by law-enforcement agencies. The contradiction points to potential challenges for federal agencies that work closely with local police, such as U.S. Marshals. It underscores how slow the Obama administration has been to craft its own rules on cameras, even as it pushes local authorities to adopt them in the wake of high-profile police shootings.

Assistant Marshals Service Director Derrick Driscoll told supervisors that the agency wouldn’t allow local law-enforcement officers wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces. The Marshals Service, an agency in the Justice Department, runs scores of task forces, teaming up with local police primarily to hunt fugitives and violent criminals. Some experts said policy contradictions aren’t surprising as the nation’s law-enforcement officers move toward widespread use of bodycams. “We’re going to have some growing pains as we move in the direction of more body cameras,” said Ron Hosko, a former FBI official who now heads the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit. He added that a no-cameras policy can lead to a perception “that you have something to hide when you don’t record.’’

Federal law-enforcement often show reluctance to advance with the times. As recently as the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI did not videotape or record its interrogations: an agent made notes by hand on what he learned, but so far as playing a tape of the interrogation for others to study: the FBI couldn’t manage that. The FBI also could not figure out any way to track shootings by police officers, though the Washington Post and the Guardian both put up crowd-sourced databases that are working quite well. I imagine the FBI uses those databases since they can’t manage one of their own.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The A-10 lives a little longer

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James Rosen reports in McClatchy:

Air Force Col. Martha McSally was leading a squadron of A-10 attack jets over Afghanistan when they encountered U.S. forces engaged in a desperate fight against Islamist insurgents.

One of the embattled troops signaled his unit’s location with a small mirror that reflected sunlight upward. McSally, the first American woman to fly in combat, and the other pilots flew to the light and opened fire with the seven-barrel Gatling cannons nestled in the A-10s’ noses. The fire, at 65 rounds per second, devastated the enemy. The surrounded Americans lived.

“They didn’t have time to figure out the eight-digit coordinates of the enemy or to put a laser spot on the target because they were on the run with their lives in danger,” McSally recalled in a recent interview. “The other (jet) fighters were above the weather, so they could not get down to save these guys. They were not going to live, but we went down and saved their asses. We were able to get below the weather in the mountains because the A-10 is slow and maneuverable.”

A decade later, McSally is in her first year in Congress and on a different sort of rescue mission: She’s trying to save the A-10 Thunderbolt II, whose former pilots and other supporters affectionately call it the Warthog, from being sent out to aviation pasture.

The Arizona Republican belongs to a bipartisan group of lawmakers – they include Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue of Georgia, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Tom Tillis of North Carolina, among others – who are resisting an Air Force push to retire the 283 A-10 aircraft from military service and hand off their core mission of close-air support for ground troops to a handful of other models of U.S. fighter jets.

The A-10 caucus received a jolt of good news last month when the Pentagon unexpectedly announced that it was moving a dozen of the aircraft to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, from where American warplanes have been launching raids against the Islamic State since August.

The surprise move came 10 days before President Barack Obama said he was sending “fewer than 50” special operations troops to Syria to help Arab and Kurdish fighters combat Islamic State militants.

Sim Tack, a defense analyst with Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based group that sells geopolitical intelligence to government agencies and corporations, believes that the dispatch of the special operators to Syria may be tied to the arrival of the A-10s at Incirlik.

“These would be exactly the type of guys who would be able to make full use of the A-10s by providing (targeting) coordination from the ground,” Tack told McClatchy. “And the A-10 would be a very capable aircraft to provide them with close air support as they are operating inside Syria.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, welcomed the new assignments.

“As the United States and our coalition partners take the fight to ISIL, the A-10’s ability to provide air support is very important,” McCaskill said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “Its pilots are making an invaluable contribution to our multipronged campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”

Despite the recent Incirlik mission, Pentagon officials say the A-10 flies too low, moves too slow [though, of course, low and slow is exactly the idea for providing close air support – LG] and, in its fourth decade of service, must give way in the coming years to sleeker, faster jets that can drop precision-guided munitions on enemy targets with pinpoint accuracy and from greater heights.

“While no one, especially me, is happy about recommending divestiture of this great old friend, it’s the right military decision,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said at another hearing that an A-10 had once rescued him in combat. He extolled it as “the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on the planet” – but said its time has come.

The Pentagon wants to replace the A-10 with the F-35, the futuristic Joint Strike Fighter that has endured numerous production delays and is now projected to be fully deployed across the Air Force, Navy and Marines by 2019. . .

Continue reading.

The F-35, of course, does not work and in an effort to make it work, the USAF is busy scaling back its capabilities and loosening specifications.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Military

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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High time. (Forgive me.) Report here in Drug War Chronicles.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 2:21 pm

A breathing planet, off balance

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The video is via this Motherboard article:

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 1:22 pm

Canada’s Muzzled Scientists: Free at last!

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Stephan Buranyi reports in Motherboard:

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was only sworn on November 6, but his government has already taken steps to address one of its predecessor’s most toxic legacies: the so called “muzzling” of government scientists.

Last Friday, scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada reported that they had been told they were allowed to speak to the media about their research without restrictions. And later in the day the newly appointed Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, suggested that the restrictive policies of the previous government were ending.

“Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect. That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public,” he is quoted as saying in a statement released by his office.

If things are really changing, we should be able to hear it from the scientists themselves—so I called scientists in several government departments who were at the center of muzzling controversies over the past ten years. In many cases it was the first time they’ve been able to speak about their research and experiences publicly since the previous government came into power in 2006.

“I’m really pleased to talk to you, and it’s so good to be back,” said Dr. Max Bothwell, an Environment Canada researcher, who I reached at his office on Vancouver Island.

It’s the first time in nearly a decade I’ve been able to speak with a Canadian government scientist directly, on the telephone, without spending days or weeks clearing the request through a media officer and submitting a list of questions for editing and approval.

In 2014 The Canadian Press tried to ask about a paper Dr. Bothwell published onDidymosphenia geminata, a species of algae wreaking havoc in Canadian waterways, but the interview was refused by Environment Canada. Document’s obtained by journalists through Access to Information requests showed that there were 110 pages of emails amongst 16 different communications officers discussing the request—and Dr. Bothwell, as if behind glass, was arguing with them about interview scripts and approved statements, trying to get his answers out.

During our conversation Dr. Bothwell made reference to the “nightmare” being over. After Trdueau was sworn in as Prime Minister, he heard about Fisheries scientists being given the permission to speak in the news, and emailed around Environment Canada looking for an answer. “I got a phone call from my boss saying, pick up the phone Max, you can talk to anyone about your science,” he said.

Dr. Kristi Miller heard the news directly from her manager before the rest of Fisheries and Oceans Canada; they anticipated the press would be calling her. After Dr. Miller was restricted from speaking about her 2011 paper on declining salmon stocks, published in the journal Science, her case became perhaps the most cited example of muzzling, and one of the few cases reported outside of Canada.

She recalls that during the Harper years how things went from bad to worse. “Over time the limitations kept growing and there would be more and more bureaucracy to go through to speak to the media—starting with only answering questions provided in writing, and getting so bad that the communications people would write the answers,” she told me.

But now that they can speak openly, both scientists are more interested in talking about their current research than their silent past (though Dr. Miller says there’s a joke going around her office that Trudeau may reverse the muzzling decision once everyone realizes how boring scientists are).

Dr. Miller is working on a large scale genomic platform that will test fish for a huge number of fish disease agents at once and compare populations worldwide. ”We usually look for technology that’s used in the human medical arena first, this is the first time in my twenty year career that we’re ahead of the human medical world,” she explained.

As for Dr. Bothwell, he’s found some surprising things about the ”invasive” algae he studies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 12:17 pm

Ben Carson: Medical Fraud is Bad, Unless One of My Friends Does It

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Ben Carson cannot sink out of sight too soon for me. The guy seems to have as little integrity as knowledge. Kevin Drum notes in Mother Jones:

Ben Carson really, really hates medical fraud. Seriously: “There would be some very stiff penalties for this kind of fraud,” he wrote a few years ago, “such as loss of one’s medical license for life, no less than ten years in prison, and loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”

Unless, that is, the fraudster happens to be Carson’s best and oldest friend. In that case, you write a letter to the judge saying, “there is no one on this planet that I trust more than Al Costa.” And it worked. Costa was a dentist who pleaded guilty to billing insurance companies for procedures he didn’t perform, but in the end the judge sentenced him only to a year of house arrest in his 8,300-square-foot mansion.

AP has the story here. But if you want some serious details about this whole case, Russ Choma has them right here at MoJo. Carson, needless to say, insists that Costa was innocent all along and was railroaded by the justice system. That’s how things work in Carsonworld. There’s the good guys and the bad guys, and Carson knows in his heart exactly who they are. As for facts, I guess they’re just chaff thrown out by secular progressives to destroy good Christians.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 10:55 am

The booming business of asset forfeiture

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In the Washington Post Radley Balko tells of a new study of the volume of asset forfeiture and whom it targets:

Given the recent efforts at the state and federal level to rein in asset forfeiture abuses, you might think that the practice is in decline. You’d be mistaken. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm, has just released its latest report on the practice. From the summary:

Under civil forfeiture laws, police and prosecutors can seize cash, cars, homes and other property on the mere suspicion that it is connected to criminal activity. No charges or convictions are required. And once property is seized, owners must navigate a confusing, complex and often expensive legal process to try to win it back before it is forfeited. Worst of all, most civil forfeiture laws give law enforcement agencies a powerful incentive to take property: a cut, or even all, of forfeiture proceeds. Such financial incentives, combined with weak protections for property owners, increasingly put people’s property at risk.

Nationwide, forfeiture revenue has exploded. Since 2001, annual federal forfeiture revenue has increased from less than $500 million to more than $5 billion in 2014—a tenfold increase in just 14 years. And available data show forfeiture revenue across 14 states more than doubling from 2002 to 2013.

The study also finds that when police and prosecutors take property, they overwhelmingly prefer civil forfeiture to its criminal counterpart. Civil forfeiture is easier for law enforcement because it does not require a conviction, while criminal forfeiture does. Data obtained by IJ reveal that the Department of Justice took advantage of easier civil procedures in 87 percent of forfeiture cases from 1997 to 2013.

Even in states that have passed reforms, the Justice Department’s equitable-sharing program allows police and prosecutors to get around those restrictions so that their forfeitures are controlled by the more law enforcement-friendly federal standards.

State and local law enforcement can also take advantage of a controversial federal forfeiture program called equitable sharing, which enables them to circumvent their own states’ laws, which are often less lucrative, and forfeit under federal law instead—getting up to 80 percent of the proceeds back. Policing for Profitfinds that DOJ equitable sharing payments to state and local law enforcement nationwide more than tripled between 2000 and 2013, jumping from $198 million to $643 million.

This year, former attorney general Eric Holder announced some new restrictions on the equitable-sharing program, but as I wrote here in January, those restrictions will affect only a very small percentage of overall forfeitures.

Defenders of these policies often claim that they’re necessary to prevent “ill-gotten gains” from big-time drug dealers and other criminals. But IJ was able to obtain figures on the amount of money or value of assets forfeited per suspect from 10 different states. The median amount ranged from $451 in Minnesota to $2,048 in Utah. These aren’t kingpins. In fact, even the upper end of that range is far below what it would cost an innocent owner to hire an attorney to win back what was taken.

IJ also gave each state an updated grade based on its forfeiture policies and practices. Here’s a map of those grades: . . .

Continue reading.

The map is interesting. California (where I live) gets a C+. Highest grade is one state (New Mexico) that got A-. Average seems to be D-, with a couple of Fs (North Dakota—very red state—and Massachusetts—a blue state).

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 10:51 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Campus Activists Weaponize ‘Safe Space’

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Conor Friedersdorf continues to examine the University of Missouri issues:

At the University of Missouri, student activists succeeded this week in forcing the resignation of President Timothy M. Wolfe, charging that he has not done enough to address persistent racism on campus. Tim Tai, a University of Missouri student, got a freelance assignment from ESPN to photograph the reaction of victorious activists at the tent city they set up in a public area of campus. As a matter of law, he had an indisputable First Amendment right to photograph events transpiring outdoors on public property.

But student activists did not want their tent city or the people in it photographed, and forcibly prevented him from taking pictures. “We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship, and sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives,” a Twitter account associated with the activists later declared, adding that “it’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.” Tim Tai is Asian American.

“We’re documenting historic events with our photographs, and when people are crying and hugging when Wolfe resigns, it becomes a personal issue that people all over the country can connect with,” Tai explained in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s my job to help connect those people to what’s going on.”

The protests at the University of Missouri were assisted by dozens of players on the school’s football team who declared that they would boycott games until the school’s president stepped down. This important, complicated story can be explored using an impressive timeline published by Missouri’s student newspaper. Tai’s story is one footnote to this larger narrative.

First Amendment protections for photographers are vital. And I agree with my colleague, James Fallows, that Tai demonstrated impressive intellectual and emotional poise. But video of his encounter with protestors is noteworthy for another reason.

In the video of Tim Tai trying to carry out his ESPN assignment, I see the most vivid example yet of activists twisting the concept of “safe space” in a most confounding way. They have one lone student surrounded. They’re forcibly preventing him from exercising a civil right. At various points, they intimidate him. Ultimately, they physically push him. But all the while, they are operating on the premise, or carrying on the pretense, that he is making them unsafe.

It is as if they’ve weaponized the concept of “safe spaces.”

“I support people creating ‘safe spaces’ as a shield by exercising their freedom of association to organize themselves into mutually supporting communities,” Ken White wrote prior to this controversy. “But not everyone imagines ‘safe spaces’ like that. Some use the concept of ‘safe spaces’ as a sword, wielded to annex public spaces and demand that people within those spaces conform to their private norms.”

Yesterday, I wrote about Yale students who decided, in the name of creating a “safe space” on compass, to spit on people as they left a talk with which they disagreed. “In their muddled ideology,” I wrote, “the Yale activists had to destroy the safe space to save it.”

Here the doublethink reaches its apex: . . .

Continue reading.

It’s interesting, later in the article, to learn that Melissa Click, the assistant professor who called for “some muscle” to stop the photojournalist, also had been actively trying to get the media to come to campus and record what happened. She seems to be a very confused person who has trouble thinking straight.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Media

Another puzzling nomination by Obama: Nominee to Oversee Wall Street Works at Think Tank Dedicated to Blocking Regulation

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President Obama put Mary Jo White, a lawyer who has worked on Wall Street’s behalf at a prestigious law firm, in charge of the SEC, whereupon she promptly exercised the power of her office to protect Wall Street. And now Lee Fang reports on another puzzling nomination by Obama:

President Barack Obama recently nominated Hester Maria Peirce to fill a Republican seat on the Securities and Exchange Commission.

His announcement included her formal title — senior research fellow and director of the Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University — which sounds a lot like an academic post.

But Peirce, new disclosures show, received 98 percent of her salary directly from the Mercatus Center, a “think tank” that provides an academic façade to a radical anti-regulatory agenda. The Center’s so-called research reflects the lobbying priorities of its corporate funders — chief among whom is Koch Industries.

Asked about any potential conflicts of interest given her work for the Mercatus Center, Peirce told The Intercept, “I appreciate you reaching out but I cannot comment at this point.”

The Mercatus Center has been described by the Wall Street Journal “as a coordinating center for lobbyists trying to block a flurry of regulations.” Congressional records show the think tank routinely cited in over a dozen hearings over the last two years by lawmakers seeking to rollback regulations on business interests. 

Financial reporters say the nomination of Peirce to fill a Republican vacancy on the commission comes as no surprise, especially given the nominee’s close ties to congressional Republicans, who now control the U.S. Senate confirmation process. Peirce has appeared on Capitol Hill as an expert witness on financial reform issues, and is a former staff member to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Although Peirce has been referred to in media reports and government websites by her George Mason University affiliation, forms recently disclosed through the Office of Government Ethics reveal that over the last year, Peirce earned $203,114 from the Mercatus Center and only $3,847 from George Mason University for her work as an adjunct professor. 

Through the Mercatus Center, Peirce has penned a number of pieces arguing against regulations concerning Wall Street banks, including the Volcker Rule, which is designed to limit risk by forcing investment banks to spin off proprietary trading.

The Mercatus Center is one of the first think tanks formed by the right-wing billionaire  Koch brothers to influence government policy. Richard Fink, a close advisor to Charles Koch and an executive with Koch Industries’ lobbying division, is a founding board member. Charles Koch himself still occupies a board seat. Foundation documents show that entities controlled by the Koch family have provided over $35 million to the Mercatus Center over the years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 10:28 am

A fine shave with an adjustable—and not just any adjustable, but a Super Adjustable

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SOTD 12 Nov 2015

A very nice shave indeed today. I haven’t used that Rod Neep brush, a one-off, for a while, and it is quite nice to return to it. And, for that matter, I haven’t used Garden Mint lately, and that, too, is quite nice.

Having the DE blade be totally blank, as Tesco and Kai do, looks very cool, but it does have some drawbacks. The blade in that (short-handled) Super Adjustable is one of those, Tesco or Kai. No idea which, but I got a very nice shave.

A good splash of D.R. Harris Pink Aftershave, and we head toward the weekend with all deliberate speed.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2015 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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