Later On

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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

US prisons very unlike Norwegian prisons

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In the US, for example, many prisons are run by companies that seek to make a profit from incarcerating prisoners, which of course means cutting costs. These companies generally have little or no regard for the prisoners in their keeping—including one that took away prisoner’s wheelchair in revenge for the prisoner reporting misconduct. Alice Ollstein reports at ThinkProgress:

The for-profit prison health care company Corizon continues to fight accusations from around the country that they have abused or neglected the inmates in their care.

In a new case in Fresno County, California, an inmate with a degenerative spinal disease says a Corizon doctor took his wheelchair away in retaliation for his previous complaints about her. When detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office investigated the complaint, they found the company had also appeared to have falsified and altered the inmate’s medical records to cover up the abuse, as documented in a search warrant revealed by the local ABC channel.

These allegations come just four months after Corizon took over operations at the jail, a $100 million contract they won based largely on a promise to save Fresno County $5 million.

Nearby California counties have found that lawsuits against the company for the death of inmates can make an originally cheap contract quite expensive. The company paid the largest wrongful death settlement in state history in February to Alameda County, and promised to end its cost-cutting tactic of using less-trained vocational nurses instead of registered nurses.

Corizon also paid a settlement last week — the amount is secret — to the family of an inmate in Minnesota who died in their care. Jerrell Hammond, 34, begged Corizon doctors to be taken to an emergency room in the hours leading up to his death from blood clots. The case follows several other wrongful death and neglect lawsuits against the company from other inmates and their families that have been filed in recent years, including a case in which Corizon staff put a notereading “faker” in a suffering inmate’s medical file, then later destroyed the note when he became partially paralyzed due to lack of treatment.

And in Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union is investigating multiple claims that Corizon staff have been denying HIV medication to inmates. Corizon responded that the allegations are “untrue” but refused to comment further. Local advocates warn the situation is causing a public health crisis both in the jail and the greater community as untreated offenders are released.

Early this year in the same county, an inmate died after not receiving his epilepsy medication.

Corizon is currently gunning for a $66 million contract to take over operations at DC’s two local jails, paying for ads on Twitter and Google, hiring local insidersto lobby on their behalf, and enlisting the powerful PR firm Edelman.

Referencing the many lawsuits against the company, which can be massively costly for any county or city that works with Corizon, the Chair of the DC Counciljust announced his opposition to awarding Corizon the contract.

The US not only imprisons a higher proportion of its citizens than other nations (and the difference in incarceration rate is substantial), it also treats its prisons inhumanely as a matter of routine—as in Florida and New York, where prison guards routinely beat prisoners to death or close to death.

This conduct is particularly shameful when, as we see, the people imprisoned are often innocent, railroaded by unethical prosecutors and inadequate public defenders.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2015 at 6:43 pm

Obama administration provides support to Egyptian dictator, regardless of human rights record

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Obama has promised to give Egypt more military aid. Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Yesterday, the Egyptian regime announced it was prosecuting witnesses who say they saw a police officer murder an unarmed poet and activist during a demonstration, the latest in a long line of brutal human rights abuses that includes imprisoning journalists, prosecuting LGBT citizens, and mass executions of protesters. Last June, Human Rights Watch said that Egyptian “security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.”

Today, the White House announced that during a telephone call with Egyptian despot Abdelfattah al-Sisi, President Obama personally lifted the freeze on transferring weapons to the regime, and also affirmed that the $1.3 billion in military aid will continue unimpeded. Announced the White House:

President Obama spoke with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi today regarding the U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship and regional developments, including in Libya and Yemen. President Obama informed President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits.  The President also advised President al-Sisi that he will continue to request an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt.

But for those who think the U.S. should not lavish vicious tyrants with arms and money, don’t worry! During the call, “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” and “encouraged increased respect for freedom of speech and assembly and emphasized that these issues remain a focus for the United States.” To read that is to feel the sincerity and potency of those presidential words.

The move comes as the U.S. is also heavily supporting the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, also involving some of the region’s worst tyrants (also known as: the U.S.’s closest allies). So the U.S. is, as usual, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the region’s most oppressive regimes, whose survival at least partially depends on the abundant U.S. largesse they receive, once again provoking that age-old mystery: Why do they hate us? 

Obama’s move is as unsurprising as it is noxious, as American political elites – from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright – along with the Israeli Right have been heaping praise on Sisi the way they did for decades on Mubarak (“I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” said Hillary Clinton in 2009. “So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States”). . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2015 at 2:28 pm

A new way to reform the criminal justice system

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Douglas Starr reports in the New Yorker:

Last year, the district attorney’s office in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, blew a case. The chairman of the county’s Republican Party, Robert J. Kerns, had been accused of rape by a woman who worked at his law firm. The woman said that Kerns had offered her a ride after an alcohol-fuelled office party. Along the way, she said, he gave her wine and raped her in his Mercedes, and then again in her home. Hospital reports showed bruising consistent with a sexual assault, and DNA on the woman’s underwear was consistent with Kerns’s profile. A key piece of evidence was a urine test apparently showing the presence of Zolpidem, commonly known as Ambien. Prosecutors secured a grand-jury indictment on more than a dozen criminal counts, including rape and aggravated indecent assault. Afterward, they held a press conference.

Several months later, a toxicologist hired by Kerns’s defense took a closer look at the lab report. Although the word “Zolpidem” appeared, what the document indicated was that the test had detected “less than” five nanograms per milliliter, which in this case was zero. Kerns’s lawyer got in touch with the prosecuting attorneys, who were horrified to realize that they had misinterpreted the findings—a rookie mistake.

“It was a huge embarrassment,” Risa Ferman, Montgomery County’s district attorney, told me. She and her staff had plenty of evidence that Kerns had committed a sexual assault, but, because the drugging was written into the indictment, they had to drop charges and refer the case to the Commonwealth’s Attorney General’s office. A newspaper called the incident a “fiasco.”

Normally after such a mistake, the D.A. would fire the responsible parties and announce that she had cleaned house. Instead, Ferman did things differently: rather than find a culprit to blame, she held a series of meetings to discover the organizational errors that had led to the mistake. “These were skilled professionals,” she told me, who had not set out to sabotage their case. What factors, she wondered, had caused competent people to make bad choices?

In asking this question, Ferman was following a procedure alien to the justice system but entrenched in the health-care and transportation industries. A few decades ago, administering anesthesia was one of the most dangerous medical procedures, and had a mortality rate of about one in ten thousand. By analyzing the circumstances of those deaths through an independent review process, experts learned that a few simple equipment changes could save lives: making the nozzles and hoses of oxygen and nitrogen incompatible, for instance, so that patients could not be given the wrong gas. Today, the death rate involving anesthesia hovers at around one in a hundred and eighty thousand.

Nowadays, flying a commercial airplane is one of the safest things that you can do, notwithstanding high-profile tragedies such as the crash of a Germanwings flight last week. That’s because, after each accident, the National Transportation Safety Board conducts a thorough and objective review, protecting involved parties from prosecution and liability, and focussing solely on improving safety. (Even though the N.T.S.B.’s findings are made public, the information is not admissible as evidence in court.) Many improvements, from the strip lighting along the aisle to the way in which cockpit staff communicate with each other, resulted from this review process, often referred to as “sentinel event analysis.”

A series of experiments over the past year has aimed to build similar safeguards into the justice system. A veteran Boston defense attorney, James Doyle, observed the proliferation of exoneration cases in the post-DNA era and has worked on a number of reform efforts. “No one gets into this job to convict innocent people,” he told me. “The real problem is developing the capability for dealing with inevitable mistakes.” He wondered if “sentinel event analysis”— reviewing legal errors in a blame-free environment—could tease out the sequence of factors that might have contributed to a mistake and, perhaps, lead to a more accident-proof legal system.

Sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Doyle travelled the country interviewing police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and victims’-rights groups, among others, culminating in a kind of summit meeting in Washington, D.C. Based on his work, the Institute organized an experiment in which three jurisdictions—Milwaukee, Baltimore, and a third, in Philadelphia—volunteered to do a systems analysis of a high-profile failure. The Montgomery County experiment, conducted in parallel with the N.I.J. study, was a fourth.

In every case, the horrendous legal accident turned out to have multiple causes embedded in the legal system. There was no single bad actor. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2015 at 12:23 pm

Under Obama, access denied: Reporters say federal officials, data increasingly off limits

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Obama’s words about “transparency” are completed contradicted by his actions. He talks the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk. Paul Farhi reports in the Washington Post:

Stacey Singer, a health reporter for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, was perusing a medical journal in 2012 when she came across something startling: a federal epidemiologist’s report about a tuberculosis outbreak in the Jacksonville area. Singer promptly began pursuing the story.

But when she started seeking official comment about the little-reported outbreak, the doors began closing. County health officials referred her to the state health department. State officials referred her to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though the CDC’s own expert had written the investigative report, the agency’s press office declined to let Singer speak with him. A spokesman told her it was a local matter and sent her back to the state office in Tallahassee.

Through public-records requests, Singer eventually was able to piece together the story of a contagion that had caused 13 deaths and 99 illnesses — the worst the CDC had found in 20 years.

“It’s really expensive to fight this hard” for public information, said Singer, now an editorial writer at the newspaper, who suspects that officials were slow to respond because news of the TB outbreak might have harmed Florida’s tourism industry. “They know that to delay is to deny. . . . They know we have to move on to other stories.”

The stories aren’t always as consequential or as dramatic as a TB outbreak, but Singer’s experience is shared by virtually every journalist on the government beat, from the White House on down. They can recite tales with similar outlines: An agency spokesman — frequently a political appointee — rejects the reporter’s request for interviews, offers partial or nonresponsive replies, or delays responding at all until after the journalist’s deadline has passed.

Interview requests that are granted are closely monitored, reporters say, with a press “minder” sitting in. Some agencies require reporters to pose their questions by e-mail, a tactic that enables officials to carefully craft and vet their replies.Tensions between reporters and public information officers — “hacks and flacks” in the vernacular — aren’t new, of course. Reporters have always wanted more information than government officials have been willing or able to give.

But journalists say the lid has grown tighter under the Obama administration, whose chief executive promised in 2009 to bring “an unprecedented level of openness” to the federal government.

The frustrations boiled over last summer in a letter to President Obamasigned by 38 organizations representing journalists and press-freedom advocates. The letter decried “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies” by spokesmen. “We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the groups wrote.

They asked for “a clear directive” from Obama “telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.”

Obama hasn’t acted on the suggestion. . .

Continue reading.

Our government is going dark. And Obama has repeatedly proved to be untrustworthy. Of course he’s not acted on the suggestion. He doesn’t want the government to be open and transparent.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2015 at 5:57 pm

Totally missing the impact of the Indiana law

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Lesley Clark writes in McClatchy: “Republican presidential hopefuls are lining up behind a controversial Indiana law that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers by invoking religious freedom.”

She totally misses the point. Religious beliefs are very personal and idiosyncratic. A Christian, for example, might turn away someone who’s divorced, since Jesus condemned divorce. Or some might believe that African-Americans are the cursed descendents of Ham, as the Mormons once held (and some Mormons might still believe). Or a person might refuse service to someone of another religion, a “pagan” or “heathen” of one sort of another.

Really, the law allows businesses to refuse to serve anyone, since the test is personal religious belief, and that can be pretty much anything. Gays and lesbians are only a small part of it.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2015 at 5:52 pm

GitHub’s Largest DDoS Attack Is Still Going, 4 Days Later

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The Chinese government is determined to keep their citizens from getting information from the outside world. Report at Motherboard.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2015 at 9:51 am

Posted in Government, Technology

Indiana Is Neither Kind Nor Welcoming to Gays

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Excellent post by Kevin Drum on Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s refusal to recognize the language and plain intent of the law he signed. Pence was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos and twisted himself silly to avoid understanding (or answering) the questions he was asked. From Drum’s post:

Hoosiers may indeed be the kindest and most welcoming folks in the country, but that cuts no ice in court. In court, any business can claim that it’s being discriminated against if it’s forced to sell its services to a gay couple, and thanks to specific language in the Indiana statute, no court can throw out the claim on the grounds that a business is a public accommodation.

That’s different from other RFRAs, and it’s neither especially kind nor welcoming. Indiana has taken anti-gay hostility to a new and higher level, and Pence and his legislature deserve all the flack they’re getting for it. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2015 at 9:32 am

Posted in Government, Religion

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