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Archive for June 2017

Study finds that more police militarization correlates with more police violence

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Radley Balko has some interesting links in the Washington Post:

  • Study: More police militarization tends to result in more officers shooting both people and pets.
  • Report: Federal inmates were buying and selling information about other inmates in order to snitch to authorities and get time off their own sentences.
  • Sheriff’s department releases app that lets you report people you suspect of being terrorists.
  • The Detroit Police Department is currently facing at least three lawsuits for cops killing dogs during marijuana raids.
  • Spokane County (Wash.) police raided the wrong house, then told the resident that he was lucky they didn’t shoot him. The good news: They just lost in court.
  • Florida man spends 90 days in jail for “white powder” that turns out to be drywall. Both a drug field test and a drug dog allegedly indicated the substance was cocaine. Which tells you all you need to know about drug field tests and drug dogs.
  • Next week, Virginia is scheduled to execute a man who is delusional, is severely mentally ill and began deteriorating well before the crimes he committed.
  • A civil lawsuit is underway for a case in which a Washington state SWAT team killed a dog and an unarmed man in front of his child during a standoff. The SWAT commander was later promoted to police chief.
  • Mississippi county settles after revelations that law enforcement officials were arresting, jailing residents for months, even more than a year, without either an indictment or offering them legal representation.
  • A Jacksonville, Fla., sheriff’s officer tickets a black man for walking without identification. But that isn’t crime.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2017 at 5:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Betsy DeVos Is Discarding College Policies That New Evidence Shows Are Effective—And She’s Gutting Civil Rights Enforcement As Well

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Betsy DeVos is a walking disaster area. Kevin Carey reports in the NY Times:

This month, the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, announced plans to dismantle a set of Obama-era policies devised to protect students and taxpayers from predatory for-profit colleges.

Yet data released in the final days of the previous administration shows that the existing rules have proved more effective at shutting down bad college programs than even the most optimistic backers could have hoped.

The rules that Ms. DeVos wants to repeal are called the gainful employment regulations. For all for-profit programs, and any nondegree employment certificate programs at public or nonprofit colleges, the education department compares how much the typical student borrows versus how much they earn after graduation.

If the ratio is too high — if students borrow lots of money and can’t get well-paying jobs — the program is deemed “failing.” A program that fails in two out of three years becomes ineligible for federal financial aid. Since many for-profit programs get up to 90 percent of their revenue through the Department of Education, the penalty will almost surely shut them down.

No program has reached this point yet. Before it could complete the rules, the Obama administration had to spend years fighting through a thicket of lawsuits filed by the for-profit college industry. Eleven days before President Trump’s inauguration, the Department of Education released the first list of failing programs. Ms. DeVos has extended the original deadline for appealing the findings, and recently announced plans to rewrite the rules.

But a close analysis of the more than 500 failing programs that haven’t appealed their status reveals something interesting: A substantial majority of them, 300 or so, have already been shut down — even though colleges are not yet required to do so. The gainful employment test turns out to be an accurate way of identifying programs that for-profit colleges themselves don’t think are worth saving, as well as identifying programs run by colleges that are on the brink of bankruptcy and dissolution.

Some of the failing programs were run by ITT Tech, a publicly traded chain of technical schools that collapsed under a wave of consumer lawsuits and government investigations in 2016. Dozens of other for-profits have failed in recent years, from mom-and-pop hairdressing academies to business schools with dozens of programs in multiple states.

The gainful employment results suggest why. Students who earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion design at Sanford-Brown College’s now-defunct Chicago campus left school with over $45,000 in federal and institutional loans. But they earned less than $21,000 per year, before taxes, food and rent. That’s barely above the minimum wage for a family of three. Only 29 percent of students who started the program graduated on time.

Sanford-Brown operated for years with results like this, until the education department stepped in. Announcing that the entire chain would shutter, Ron McCray, C.E.O. of Sanford-Brown’s parent corporation, cited a “challenging regulatory environment” and “the gainful employment regulations issued last year.” In other words, rather than invest the time and money necessary to offer affordable programs that lead to well-paying jobs, they simply closed up shop. . .

Continue reading.

And as if that were not enough, Annie Waldman reports in ProPublica:

In a letter sent today, more than 30 Democratic senators rebuked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for scaling back civil rights enforcement at the Department of Education.

“You claim to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, but your actions belie your assurances,” wrote the senators, who said that the secretary’s recent moves to curtail civil rights efforts heightened their longstanding concerns about her commitment to protecting students from discrimination and harassment.

As ProPublica has reported, the Department of Education quietly laid out plans to scale back investigations into civil rights complaints in an internal staff memo earlier this month.

Under the Obama administration, the department’s civil rights investigators applied a broad approach to investigating complaints, often widening probes to look for patterns of harassment or discrimination in schools or districts. Investigators were frequently required to obtain multiple years of data to assess whether civil rights violations were systemic in nature.

In the recent memo, acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson instructed her staff to narrow this approach. Under the new directive, civil rights staffers will only look for systemic violations if the original complaint raises such concerns or the investigative team suggests it.

“Limiting use of the systematic approach may cause investigators to miss issues of pervasive discrimination or civil rights abuses,” wrote the senators in their letter.

The Education Department did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

While the department has contended that the new approach will speed up the office’s investigations into complaints, DeVos’ recent budget proposal sets out plans to cut over 40 staffers from the office for civil rights, which could limit investigations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2017 at 5:37 pm

Silicon Valley Women, in Cultural Shift, Frankly Describe Sexual Harassment

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Katie Benner reports in the NY Times:

Their stories came out slowly, even hesitantly, at first. Then in a rush.

One female entrepreneur recounted how she had been propositioned by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist while seeking a job with him, which she did not land after rebuffing him. Another showed the increasingly suggestive messages she had received from a start-up investor. And one chief executive described how she had faced numerous sexist comments from an investor while raising money for her online community website.

What happened afterward was often just as disturbing, the women told The New York Times. Many times, the investors’ firms and colleagues ignored or played down what had happened when the situations were brought to their attention. Saying anything, the women were warned, might lead to ostracism.

Now some of these female entrepreneurs have decided to take that risk. More than two dozen women in the technology start-up industry spoke to The Times in recent days about being sexually harassed. Ten of them named the investors involved, often providing corroborating messages and emails, and pointed to high-profile venture capitalists such as Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital and Dave McClure of 500 Startups, who did not dispute the accounts.

The disclosures came after the tech news site The Information reportedthat female entrepreneurs had been preyed upon by a venture capitalist, Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital. The new accounts underscore how sexual harassment in the tech start-up ecosystem goes beyond one firm and is pervasive and ingrained. Now their speaking out suggests a cultural shift in Silicon Valley, where such predatory behavior had often been murmured about but rarely exposed.

Continue reading the main story

The tech industry has long suffered a gender imbalance, with companies such as Google and Facebook acknowledging how few women were in their ranks. Some female engineers have started to speak out on the issue, including a former Uber engineer who detailed a pattern of sexual harassment at the company, setting off internal investigations that spurred the resignation this month of Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick.

Most recently, the revelations about Mr. Caldbeck of Binary Capital have triggered an outcry. The investor has been accused of sexually harassing entrepreneurs while he worked at three different venture firms in the past seven years, often in meetings in which the women were presenting their companies to him.

Several of Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalists and technologists, including Reid Hoffman, a founder of LinkedIn, condemned Mr. Caldbeck’s behavior last week and called for investors to sign a “decency pledge.” Binary has since collapsed, with Mr. Caldbeck leaving the firm and investors pulling money out of its funds.

The chain of events has emboldened more women to talk publicly about the treatment they said they had endured from tech investors.

“Female entrepreneurs are a critical part of the fabric of Silicon Valley,” said Katrina Lake, founder and chief executive of online clothing start-up Stitch Fix, who was one of the women targeted by Mr. Caldbeck. “It’s important to expose the type of behavior that’s been reported in the last few weeks, so the community can recognize and address these problems.”

The women’s experiences help explain why the venture capital and start-up ecosystem — which underpins the tech industry and has spawned companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon — has been so lopsided in terms of gender.

Most venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are men, with female entrepreneurs receiving $1.5 billion in funding last year versus $58.2 billion for men, according to the data firm PitchBook. Many of the investors hold outsize power, since entrepreneurs need their money to turn ideas and innovations into a business. And because the venture industry operates with few disclosure requirements, people have kept silent about investors who cross the lines with entrepreneurs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2017 at 4:32 pm

J.M. Fraser shaving cream: inexpensive but curiously effective

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I really like J.M. Fraser, which is sold in a 1-lb tub. It makes a good lather that seems to work exceptionally well, and today’s lather, made with the Rooney Victorian shown, was no exception.

My iKon 102 101 with a newish blade did a fine job—it is an excellent razor—and a good splash of l’Occitane Cade finished the job.

Great way to begin a day.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2017 at 8:54 am

Posted in Shaving

America’s Military: Overcommitted and Underfunded

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Kori Schake writes in the Atlantic:

I confess up front to being a budget hawk. I basically believe that as long as the Pentagon is still buying two manned fighter planes after the unmanned revolution, there is more than enough money going to the Defense Department—because if money were really tight, one or both of those programs would be cancelled, and the military services would be undercutting each other’s budgets to increase the funding available for their priorities. As long as adaptation to obvious next-generation platforms (like unmanned aerial fighters) remains this slow and the services placidly accept their budget shares, the topline is adequate.

But even I am now nervous about the widening gap between America’s military obligations and the resourcing we are committing. What’s worsening the situation is that the Trump administration is both expanding requirements and contracting spending.

Since taking office, President Trump and his defense secretary have approved an increase in both forces and operational tempo in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria; committed to an enduring presence in Iraq after the defeat of ISIS; are considering an imminent increase of at least 4,000 troops to Afghanistan as part of the advise and assist mission to Afghan National Security Forces; are reviewing an Afghan war strategy that could make weightier demands of long duration to that country; have increased the military assets assigned to deter and if necessary engage North Korea; are providing greater intelligence and special-operations support to allied operations in Yemen; and are pushing back assertively on Iranian naval activity. Those are non-trivial expansions of demand to place on an already over-stretched force.

Chief of Staff of the Army, General Mark Milley, assesses current requirements at 540,000 active-duty soldiers, which appears to be the Army’s favorite round number: It was also what the Army believed it needed in the mid-1990s, and what the Army believed it needed mid-term of the Obama administration. So it’s likely an institutionally comfortable number rather than a rigorously derived one.

Still, the 540,000 number cannot reasonably meet the very different demands of those three time frames. Planners at the end of the Cold War envisioned a strategic environment that entailed Russia integrating into the West, did not imagine the emergence of global terrorist threats, and under-emphasized the rise of an aggressive China as America’s peer. The early-2000s assessments were based on a Russia reset, the tide of wars receding, and China as a responsible stakeholder; none of those three planning parameters hold. Even without factoring in the president’s policies, objectively the international environment is increasing demands.

The president’s budget allots only a 3-percent increase in the coming fiscal year DOD spending. When out-year projections are taken into account, the Trump budget will add only $463-billion increase through 2027. Despite political grandstanding about the “historic” size of the increase and a pledge to rebuild America’s armed forces, that is a very modest bump, probably inadequate even to rebuild current readiness shortfalls. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2017 at 9:15 pm

Federal court: Despite ‘grossly negligent’ testimony that put two innocent men in prison, forensic experts can’t be sued

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Regular readers of The Watch will by now be familiar with the saga of Steven Hayne and Michael West, the two men who dominated Mississippi’s death investigation system for the better part of 20 years.

West testified in dozens of cases, Hayne in thousands. Both often gave testimony well outside the constraints of science. Hayne, for example, once claimed that the bullet wounds in a murder victim were “consistent with” a theory that two people were holding the murder weapon when it was fired. West has claimed to be able to trace bruises on a victim’s abdomen to the specific shoe that inflicted the injuries; claimed to match fingernail scrapes to the specific fingernails that made them; and in one particularly nutty case, claimed that the knife wounds in a murder victim could only have been caused by one specific knife, and then claimed to have found marks on the chief suspect’s hands that could only have been caused by gripping the handle of that knife — and only that knife.

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that because Hayne and West are protected by qualified immunity for any case in which they testified, they’re only liable to a lawsuit if the plaintiff can show that they acted recklessly. Mere negligence — even gross negligence — is not enough.

The lawsuit in question was brought by Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, two men who were wrongly convicted in the 1990s, largely due to testimony from Hayne and West. In both cases, a little girl was abducted from her home at night, sexually assaulted and murdered, and her body was thrown into a creek. The two crimes occurred just a couple of miles apart. In both cases, the authorities suspected a boyfriend of the mother. In both cases, they took the body to Hayne for autopsy. In both cases, Hayne claimed to have found bite marks that other experts have since said were not human bites at all. In both cases, Hayne then called in West, who was making a name for himself as an expert bite-mark analyst. In both cases, West claimed that the marks were in fact human bites and that the marks “indeed, and without a doubt” were a match to the authorities’ chief suspect.

In reality, the same man — Justin Albert Johnson — committed both crimes. Johnson had a history of attempted sexual assaults. On at least two other occasions he had broken into a home, at night, and attempted to attack a sleeping victim. In fact, he was initially a suspect in the first murder. Had Hayne, West and local authorities not wrongly implicated Levon Brooks in that first crime, the second little girl may never have been attacked and murdered. Instead, West actually exonerated Johnson. He compared a dental mold of Johnson’s teeth with the alleged bite marks and determined that they weren’t a match. (As it would turn out, he was right about that, but only because those marks weren’t bites at all — Johnson never bit either victim.)

Brooks was sentenced to life in prison. Brewer was sentenced to death, and at one point was given a death warrant. In 2000, . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. There’s a lot more and one feels shame for our criminal justice system.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2017 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Donald Trump Has Finally Done Something: He’s Increased the Deficit By a Trillion Dollars

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Kevin Drum points out a significant and even important accomplishment for which Donald Trump can take credit—or, rather, debit.

This is pretty amazing. Donald Trump hasn’t actually done much of anything in the past five months except flap his jaws. But it’s been some pretty expensive flapping. CBO’s last projection of the federal deficit was released in January. Literally nothing has happened since then except for Trump shooting off his piehole every day and congressional Republicans demonstrating that they can’t control their own lunatics. But that’s been enough. CBO’s projection of the federal deficit over the next decade has already increased nearly a trillion dollars: . . . (and charts at the link: worth the click)

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2017 at 7:45 pm

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