Later On

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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Thanks For Everything, President Obama. We’re Going to Miss You.

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post that summarizes what Obama delivered and also acknowledges some failures and shortcomings. All in all, it’s a good record of accomplishment, especially in the face of the absolute and pig-headed GOP determination that Obama should accomplish nothing.

Read the post and see what you think.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 12:43 pm

Was Snowden a Russian Agent?

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Charlie Savage has an interesting review in the NY Review of Books:

One evening in the fall of 2015, the writer Edward Jay Epstein arranged to have dinner at an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side with the director Oliver Stone. At the time, Stone was completing Snowden, an admiring biopic about the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, who disclosed a vast trove of classified documents about National Security Agency surveillance programs to journalists in June 2013 and had since been living as a fugitive in Russia. Epstein was working on a book about the same topic, which has now been published under the title How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft. As the writer recounts in that book, their conversation took a testy turn:

Toward the end of our dinner, Stone told me that he did not know I was writing a book about Snowden until a few weeks earlier. He learned of my book from Snowden himself. He said Snowden had expressed concern to him about the direction of the book I was writing. “What is it about?” Stone asked me.

I was taken aback. I had no idea that Snowden was aware of my book. (I had not tried to contact him.) I told Stone that I considered Snowden an extraordinary man who had changed history and was intentionally vague in my description of my book’s contents. Stone seemed to be reassured….

Epstein and Stone had a history of rivalry when it came to interpreting another important historical event: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Early in his career, Epstein wrote three books about that topic. The first, Inquest (1966), poked holes in the rigor of the Warren Commission’s official investigation. The second, Counterplot (1969), brought a skeptical eye to the investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who pursued the theory that the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated the president’s murder. And the third, Legend (1978), pointed readers to the conclusion that Oswald’s image as a mixed-up loner with half-baked Marxist ideas was an operational cover story—a “legend”—and that he had been a Soviet intelligence agent. (After the Soviet Union collapsed, the opening of the KGB’s archives did not corroborate the theory that Oswald had actually been a trained intelligence agent.)

Stone waded into those same murky waters with his 1991 movie JFK, which used a fictionalized version of Garrison’s investigation as a means to explore the theory that a right-wing conspiracy, spanning the CIA and the military-industrial complex, had been responsible for Kennedy’s death. The following year, Stone and Epstein were invited to be part of a panel discussion at New York’s Town Hall about the Kennedy assassination and the film’s controversial blending of fact and fiction. In preparation, according to a diary entry on Epstein’s website, he brought a 3×5 card on which he wrote:

Although they may aim at the same purpose of finding truth, non-fiction and fiction are two distinct forms of knowledge. The writer of non-fiction is limited by the universe of discoverable fact. He cannot make up what he does not know—no matter how strong his intuition or suspicion. The writer of fiction knows no such boundary: He can fill in whatever gaps exist with his imagination.

Now, years later, the two men once again found themselves eying each other as they circled the Snowden saga.

The conventional understanding of Snowden is that he was what he appeared to be: a computer worker in the intelligence world who became alarmed about the hidden growth of the American surveillance state and decided to reveal its operations to the world, copied archives of documents, and handed them to journalists whom he had summoned to Hong Kong and whom he entrusted to decide what to publish. Within the mainstream spectrum of interpretations of his actions, at one end are civil libertarians who consider him simply to be a heroic whistle-blower. At the other extreme are members of the national security establishment who consider him nothing more than a destructive traitor. In between are a range of those who think some of his disclosures met the high standard for “whistle-blowing”; that other disclosures brought to light important things that should not have been kept secret in a democracy—but that were also not necessarily, in and of themselves, abuses or overreaches; and that still other disclosures went too far and were not a public service.

Stone’s movie, which premiered in September, presents a comic-book version of the pro-Snowden narrative in which a wunderkind super-hacker takes on Big Brother. In telling that story, Stone mixes accurate material with fiction, while simplifying away complexities. His movie steps on the genuine privacy issues raised by Snowden’s disclosures with melodramatic embellishments, such as a scene in which an invented senior NSA official, his Orwellian face filling a floor-to-ceiling screen, casually reveals that he knows whether the Snowden character’s girlfriend is sleeping with another man. It omits actual Snowden disclosures whose individual privacy rationale was debatable, such as when he showed the South China Morning Post documents about the NSA’s hacking into certain institutional computers in China. And its discussion of the volume of Internet metadata the NSA collects from equipment inside the United States ignores any distinction between truly domestic e-mails and foreign-to-foreign messages that are merely traveling across domestic network switches.

Epstein’s book, by contrast, presents a negative view of Snowden. But the two works are not equivalent: Epstein does not merely oversimplify with the purpose of downplaying the benefits of Snowden’s leaks and emphasizing the harms. Rather he contends that the conventional narrative of what happened may have been a deceptive cover story. Epstein lays out the case that behind his image as a whistle-blower Snowden was instead an “espionage source” for Russia—perhaps its dupe at first, or perhaps its willing spy all along:

The counterintelligence issue was not if this US intelligence defector in Moscow was under Russian control but when he came under it. There were three possible time periods when Snowden might have been brought under control by the Russian intelligence service: while he was still working for the NSA; after he arrived in Hong Kong on May 20, 2013; or after he arrived in Russia on June 23, 2013.


The reader should know that Laura Poitras, one of the journalists to whom Snowden leaked documents in Hong Kong, later shared some of them with me, and we developed several articles from them for The New York Times. In addition, as part of a book on national security, I wrote a history of how surveillance technology, law, and policy secretly evolved in the decades following Congress’s enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.1

It explained how the rise of fiber-optic networks in the late 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s placed mounting pressure on legal constraints written for the analog telephone era; how the Bush administration bypassed those rules after September 11 and then enlisted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and Congress to legalize what it had created lawlessly; and how the Obama administration decided to keep and entrench what it inherited.

I could not have written that history without the files disclosed by Snowden and information the government declassified because of his leaks. While there had been stray glimpses for years suggesting that the NSA was becoming far more powerful, facts were scarce and speculation and conspiracy theories had filled the void. Snowden’s disclosures enabled us to understand what was real about the NSA’s activities so we could engage in an informed public debate about the rules for twenty-first-century surveillance. This is why I regret Stone’s reintroduction of distortions into discussion of surveillance, and it may also color my reaction to Epstein’s book.

Snowden’s disclosures indeed prompted robust debate and policy changes. An appeals court ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic calling records was illegal, rejecting a dubious legal theory that the intelligence court had been secretly relying on for years. Congress ended that bulk collection program and required the intelligence court to tell the public when it issued novel and significant interpretations of surveillance laws. President Obama imposed unprecedented privacy protections for information about non-Americans that the NSA collects abroad. Technology giants like Google and many ordinary people began taking steps to more firmly secure their private information from hackers. Still, this enlightenment came at an undeniable, if difficult to measure, cost. Some terrorists, criminals, and unsavory regimes learned from Snowden, too, becoming harder to monitor and thereby making the world more dangerous.

Assessing whether Snowden’s disclosures served the public interest—whether they did more good than harm—turns in part on who counts as “the public.” Snowden’s critics, including Epstein, tend to define the public in nationalist terms, focusing their criticism on his disclosures about NSA operations abroad, where few domestic legal rules apply and the agency can indiscriminately vacuum up private messages in bulk. Snowden’s supporters point out that domestic data are also found abroad in the Internet era and they argue that consideration of the NSA’s work should take account of its effects on human rights: non-Americans have privacy rights, too.

Another complication for judging Snowden’s actions is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 12:40 pm

Can behavioral science help in Flint?

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Sarah Stillman has a lengthy and interesting article in the New Yorker:

A week after Donald Trump’s election, a thirty-year-old cognitive scientist named Maya Shankar purchased a plane ticket to Flint, Michigan. Shankar held one of the more unorthodox jobs in the Obama White House, running the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, also known as the President’s “nudge unit.” When she launched the team, in early 2014, it felt, Shankar recalls, “like a startup in my parents’ basement”—no budget, no mandate, no bona-fide employees. Within two years, the small group of scientists had become a staff of dozens—including an agricultural economist, an industrial psychologist, and “human-centered designers”—working with more than twenty federal agencies on seventy projects, from fixing gaps in veterans’ health care to relieving student debt. Usually, the initiatives had, at their core, one question: Could the growing body of knowledge about the quirks of the human brain be used to improve public policy?

For months, Shankar had been thinking about how to bring behavioral science to bear on the problems in Flint, where a crisis stemming from lead contamination of the drinking water had stretched on for almost two years. She wondered if lessons from the beleaguered city could inform the Administration’s approach to the broader threat posed by lead across America—in pipes, in paint, in dust, and in soil. “Flint is not the only place poisoning kids,” Shankar said.

In recent years, behavioral science has become a voguish field. In 2002, the Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work with a colleague, Amos Tversky, exploring the peculiarities of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty. (Their collaboration is the subject of a popular new book by Michael Lewis, “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.”) A basic premise of the discipline they’d helped to create was that people’s cognition is bias-prone, and susceptible to the cognitive equivalent of optical illusions. As a result, small tweaks of presentation or circumstance could make a major difference: if a judge rendered a decision about granting parole just before a meal, the inmate’s odds for a favorable outcome dipped to near zero; just after the judge ate, the chances rose to around sixty-five per cent. Grocers had learned that they could sell double the amount of soup if they placed a sign above their cans reading “limit of 12 per person.

But, for all the field’s potential, its advances seemed mostly to have served the private sector. (And there they often veered toward sly consumer coercion.) A prominent exception was the “nudge,” a notion advanced by the legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein, now at Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago behavioral economist Richard Thaler, in their 2008 best-seller “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” They stressed the role of “choice architecture”: the countless factors that coalesce around a given decision, often shaping outcomes in crucial, if barely visible, ways that could be rearranged. Sunstein and Thaler described the concept with public policy very much in mind. The subtle context in which we make choices, they theorized, could and should be stacked in favor of the social good. In the public sector, this meant gently nudging citizens toward certain choices, through techniques like automatic enrollment and reminder prompts, that take into account the fact that most of us, as Thaler told me, are “more like Homer Simpson than like Albert Einstein.”

President Obama saw the appeal of the nudge. In 2009, he tapped Sunstein to head the most bureaucratic-sounding of bureaucracies, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. During the next three years, Sunstein worked to bring behavioral insights into the government’s approach to policy. But the reach of these ideas remained limited. The nudge’s most appealing feature, its simplicity, was also among its constraints. Though the tweaks had vast potential implications, their small-bore design made it difficult to address the larger forces behind stubborn structural challenges. “We can’t take on some big problems, like climate change, and solve them entirely with nudges,” Thaler told me.

Shankar agreed, and, in her White House role, she wanted to test a wider range of tactics and delve deeper into problems. For the first two years, her team focussed mostly on programs that were narrowly defined, even though they could still affect thousands or millions of Americans: for instance, easing health-insurance enrollment, or helping veterans access education benefits. But Shankar was eager to see how her team might weigh in on more systemic, seemingly intractable problems associated with inequality, from homelessness to racial bias in policing. Flint seemed like a good place to find out. The city’s water crisis was tied up in deeply entrenched, even multigenerational, issues: “its racial history, its socioeconomic circumstances, all of it,” Shankar told me. Early last year, the team began gathering research relevant to Flint, drawing, in part, from public-health scholarship. In October, she and a colleague, an economist named Nate Higgins, visited the city for the first time, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, to ask residents about their evolving needs.

Then, on November 8th, Donald Trump was elected. For days, Shankar walked around shell-shocked. Her team, if it even continued to exist in the new Administration, would soon belong to one of the most anti-science President-elects in history, who has called climate change a “hoax,” spread unproven claims about vaccinations’ ties to autism, and mocked new brain-science-backed N.F.L. guidelines to prevent concussions, saying that football has grown “soft.”

In 2010, the United Kingdom became the first country to set up a government office devoted solely to making use of behavioral science. Backed by the new Conservative government, a hodgepodge crew of social scientists, psychologists, and data nerds, calling themselves the Behavioural Insights Team, tried to find opportunities for government savings and other improvements through simple tweaks. People were less tardy with their taxes, for instance, when they were shown that most of their neighbors paid on time. Many of the British team’s projects aimed to use behavioral research for social uplift. In one, it conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine which of eight different prompts was most effective in soliciting participation in organ donation. (The winning message: “If you needed an organ transplant would you have one? If so please help others.”)

More recently, the team addressed British doctors’ overprescribing of antibiotics, contacting outliers who’d written prescriptions at the highest rates. The letter it sent did little more than note the recipient’s status on the far end of the statistical spectrum, but the prescription rates dropped by three per cent during the next six months. Some critics dismissed such accomplishments as overhyped fluff; others warned of a rising nanny state. Even the team’s guiding mantra—“Make It Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely”—could be seen as nothing more than common sense.

Shankar got interested in the field as a teen-ager. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she once thought she’d become a classical violinist. (For several years, she was taught by Itzhak Perlman.) A hand injury derailed her musical aspirations, and, while recovering at home, in Connecticut, she happened upon a book by the psychologist Steven Pinker and became enamored of cognitive science. As a undergraduate at Yale, she conducted research on primates, travelling to a tropical island to study rhesus macaques, with the aim of mapping a feature of cognition known as “essentialism”: “Does a monkey know what makes a coconut a coconut, and an apple an apple?” (On the island, she learned to dodge monkey urine from the tree canopy overhead; the macaques carried a version of herpes B that could be lethal to humans.) Later, as a Rhodes Scholar and doctoral student at Oxford, she visited a famous flavor factory in Ohio, where she tested whether she could hijack the sensory perceptions of professional flavorists: giving them a lime-tinted beverage, say, that had the taste of tangerines.

After Shankar did her postdoctoral research, at Stanford’s Decision Neuroscience Lab, she began looking for a job. In the field of cognitive science, many of the opportunities for an aspiring researcher were of a particular type, geared toward helping to make big companies richer, or rich people thinner, or thin people more alluring on algorithm-based dating sites. Behavioral science’s bro-culture adaptations—the life hack, the quantified self—had proliferated. Shankar worried about her next steps. She didn’t want to spend her life in a suit, or in a lab, or on a remote island, dodging monkey excretions.

One day in 2012, she flew from California to a friend’s wedding in Connecticut. While there, she had tea with her college mentor, the Yale psychologist Laurie Santos. “I feel like the job I want doesn’t even exist,” Shankar told her. She added, sheepishly, “I guess I’ll go into consulting?”

Santos mentioned that she’d just returned from a conference, where she’d heard about the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to put behavioral science into practice to aid children from low-income families. Through a small nudge—a government initiative that automatically enrolled kids in free federal school-lunch programs, by simply cross-checking their eligibility for preëxisting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (snap) benefits—hundreds of thousands of children were fed, without the shame and the bureaucratic hassle that kept parents from signing them up.

The idea that a minor government modification could decrease a child’s hunger—and perhaps, in turn, improve his or her trajectory in school—stuck with Shankar. It was simple, even obvious, as the best behavioral insights often are. Later, she learned that the Department of Agriculture supported a whole slew of behavioral projects. One, conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, found that if school cafeterias rebranded plain vegetables with catchy names—X-Ray Vision Carrots, say, or Power Punch Broccoli—consumption soared.

Shankar felt that she’d found her path. She reached out to Sunstein, who had returned to Harvard, and asked if he knew of any openings in government. He gave her the name of a contact at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Shankar sent what seemed like a long-shot pitch to the deputy director, Tom Kalil, to join the office and find ways to weave behavioral insights into the heart of public policy. They met, and, to her surprise, Kalil hired her as a senior science adviser. Shankar was twenty-six.

She moved to Washington, D.C., in early 2013, leaving her bike and her books in California, “in case things didn’t work out.” Even before her new job began, she e-mailed Kalil with the outlines of a broader aspiration. “One of my more ambitious, longer-term goals,” she wrote, “is to begin laying down the foundation for the creation of a U.S.-based behavioral insights team.”

By the start of 2014, with guidance from some of the field’s big names, Shankar had recruited her first five experts from academic institutions and nonprofits. They began working closely with a growing list of agencies, including the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and the Treasury.

That year, the team sought to put together small collaborations that could garner quick results. It formed a partnership with the Department of Education and a nonprofit, uAspire, to find a way to lessen “summer melt.” Typically, twenty to thirty per cent of students in urban districts who were accepted to college didn’t matriculate, owing to last-minute burdens like financial-aid deadlines. The team helped devise a pilot program in which students were sent eight personalized text messages over the summer, prompting them to follow through. Matriculation rates increased by several percentage points. Shankar’s group offered to help other agencies with similar tweaks, to facilitate microloans to farmers, or to reduce the overprescribing of antipsychotics and other drugs by Medicare providers.

Then, on September 15, 2015, President Obama gave the team the ultimate nudge: an unusual Executive Order, titled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People.” It formalized the team as an official entity, and urged all federal agencies to “develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights.”

Four months later, the President declared a state of emergency in Flint. Shankar saw her chance to test the mandate’s reach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 10:50 am

Evidence of Bizarre Trump-Russia Ties Continues to Ooze Out

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In Mother Jones Kevin Drum writes:

So what’s new on the Trump-Russia front? First up, the Independent tells us that the former MI6 agent behind the now-famous dossier alleging close ties between Russia and the Trump team was dismayed that his findings didn’t generate more action during the presidential campaign:

Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

….By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

In related news, BuzzFeed says Israel is extremely interested in the possibility of Trump-Russia ties:

“You can trust me that many intelligence agencies are trying to evaluate the extent to which Trump might have ties, or a weakness of some type, to Russia,” one of the intelligence officers said….The officer said part of Israel’s interest in the dossier — and in other intelligence on Trump’s ties to Russia — stems from concern that secrets Israel shares with the Unites States might be fed to Russia.

Earlier this week, Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that Israeli intelligence officials were questioning whether to continue sharing intelligence with the incoming Trump administration. The report said that during a recent meeting with US intelligence officials, Israel was told that the Russians had “leverages of pressure” to use against Trump. BuzzFeed News could not independently confirm that a meeting had taken place.

Other reports suggest that British intelligence is thinking along the same lines as Israel. And the Daily Beast reports that a group dedicated to hacking the NSA and releasing its prize malware has suddenly gone out of business a few days before Trump’s inauguration:

The Shadow Brokers emerged in August with the announcement that they’d stolen the hacking tools used by a sophisticated computer-intrusion operation known as the Equation Group, and were putting them up for sale to the highest bidder. It was a remarkable claim, because the Equation Group is generally understood to be part of the NSA’s elite Tailored Access Operations program.

….It soon emerged that the Shadow Brokers really had the goods….Virtually nobody, though, believed the Shadow Brokers’ claim that they were mere hackers trying to sell the exploits for a quick fortune.

The more persuasive theory, supported by no less than Edward Snowden, is that the Shadow Brokers are one of the same Russian government hacking groups now accused of targeting the U.S. election….Under this theory, the Shadow Brokers were part of a tit-for-tat in the intelligence world. The group emerged just as the U.S. began confronting Russia over its election hacking, and then seemed to release its secrets in time with the public thrusts and parries between the two countries….Now, with a new, friendlier administration coming in, Vladimir Putin may be pressing the reset button.

The more I read about this stuff, the harder I find it to believe. It just seems wildly ridiculous, the kind of thing that would barely pass muster on a TV potboiler, let alone in real life. The truth is that I’d probably dismiss it entirely if it weren’t for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2017 at 12:05 pm

The damning Justice Department report about Chicago police also helps explain the city’s murder rate

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Over the past couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about the Ferguson Effect. The general idea is that cops have stopped responding to altercations or stopped proactive policing, because they’re scared of anti-police violence, because public criticism of police has diminished morale, and/or because they’re afraid that if they do need to use force, they’ll be subjected to internal investigations, criminal charges, a lawsuit, or some other sort of discipline, such as public ridicule should they end up in a cellphone video that goes viral.

None of these theories speaks particularly well of police, even though they’re often advanced by police groups and their supporters. There also isn’t much data to back them up. In most parts of the country, discipline of police officers is rare to nonexistent. Criminal charges are almost unheard of. Of the 600,000 or so police on the beat in the United States, typically fewer than 10 per year face criminal charges related to use of force while on the job. As for violence, killings of police officers did jump last year, by a significant margin. But it’s still much lower than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, more so if you consider rates instead of raw numbers. (Of course, it’s always possible that the theory is true about police officers’ motivations, even if those motivations aren’t backed up by convincing data.)

But what is true is that the cities where there have been recent, high-profile protests against police brutality have also seen much higher rates of violent crime. Perhaps that is indeed because, in response to protests and criticism, the police in those cities have stopped doing their jobs. That’s an awfully cynical view of police. Perhaps it’s because the people who protest police are also just generally lawless and unhinged. That’s an awfully cynical view of people. Here’s another explanation: Perhaps crime is up in some of these cities because police practices have eroded residents’ respect for the police, the courts and the rule of law.

As I’ve pointed out before, in his study of murder in the United States, “American Homicide,” the Ohio State historian Randolph Roth argues that one big factor in homicide rates throughout U.S. history is public sentiment about the legitimacy of government. When people lose faith in government, they lose faith in the rule of law. They become less likely to resolve disputes through legal means and more likely to resolve them extralegally.

This brings me to the recent Justice Department report on the Chicago Police Department. It’s been pretty well-documented that the murder rate is up in the United States, but it’s being driven almost entirely by cities, and a handful of cities in particular. And Chicago right now is worse than any of them. Here’s an excerpt from the report you should keep in mind as you read the other excerpts in this post:

Over the year-plus since release of that video, and while we have been conducting this investigation, Chicago experienced a surge in shootings and homicides. The reasons for this spike are broadly debated and inarguably complex. But on two points there is little debate. First, for decades, certain neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides have been disproportionately ravaged by gun violence. Those same neighborhoods have borne the brunt of the recent surge of violence. And second, for Chicago to find solutions—short- and long-term—for making those neighborhoods safe, it is imperative that the City rebuild trust between CPD and the people it serves, particularly in these communities. The City and CPD acknowledge that this trust has been broken, despite the diligent efforts and brave actions of countless CPD officers. It has been broken by systems that have allowed CPD officers who violate the law to escape accountability. This breach in trust has in turn eroded CPD’s ability to effectively prevent crime; in other words, trust and effectiveness in combating violent crime are inextricably intertwined.

When people don’t trust the police, they stop cooperating with the police. When they fear interactions with police more than they fear the crime in their neighborhoods, there is a huge problem. That concept probably seems absurd or exaggerated to a lot of people. Why would anyone fear the police more than they fear criminals, especially in a city where crime is as high as it is in Chicago? Well, here’s why:

We also talked with several individuals who gave credible accounts of being detained by CPD officers for low-level offenses (for example, failure to use a turn signal) or on false pretenses, and then were told that they would not be released until they brought the officers guns. We heard community members refer to this practice as “guns for freedom.” One man told us of an incident that happened within the past few months, in which he was arrested for driving on a suspended license and told by officers that “everything would go away” if he brought the officers two guns. Officers released him on bond and told him he had one week to bring the officers the guns. They warned him that if he did not bring the guns they would put him away “forever.” This person told us of a friend who had a similar experience several years ago. Other individuals with whom we met during community meetings told us similar stories of CPD officers offering to release them from custody if they provided officers with a weapon. A pastor at a Latino church told us that his congregants reported being picked up by CPD officers seeking information regarding guns or drugs, but when they either could not or would not provide such information, the officers removed the congregants’ shoelaces and dropped them off in rival neighborhoods. Another man told us that he saw officers surround his seven-year-old niece seeking information about who sold drugs and which gangs were running in their neighborhood.

It takes only a couple such interactions with police to destroy an entire family’s or social network’s faith in them. Here’s another horrifying excerpt:

We were told by many community members that one method by which CPD will try to get individuals to provide information about crime or guns is by picking them up and driving them around while asking for information about gangs or guns. When individuals do not talk, officers will drop them off in dangerous areas or gang territories.

The Justice Department investigators didn’t just get reports of such incidents, they were also given video evidence. As the report argues:

In addition to the likely illegality of this conduct, its impact on community trust cannot be overstated. The fear and anger created by these practices was obvious when we talked with individuals who reported these experiences. As the attorney for the man in the November 2015 incident noted during a media interview, “if there was any trust that’s built up by officers on the street, that trust is clearly and quickly destroyed.”

Meanwhile, the report points out that the homicide clearance rate in the city has fallen under 30 percent — half the national average. So even as the cops are harassing people in search of guns and drugs, murders are going unsolved.

Any remaining confidence in police is obliterated when complaints about these incidents go unheard. The Justice Department report found that of the 30,000 complaints filed against CPD officers, less than 2 percent were sustained. The common counter to such statistics is that a low level of sustained complaints merely confirms that most cops are good cops and that most complaints against cops are frivolous. Perhaps, but the report also found that more than half of those 30,000 complaints weren’t even investigated. Even when they were, the investigations were hardly impartial.

Civilian and officer witnesses, and even the accused officers, are frequently not interviewed during an investigation. The potential for inappropriate coordination of testimony, risk of collusion, and witness coaching during interviews is built into the system, occurs routinely, and is not considered by investigators in evaluating the case. The questioning of officers is often cursory and aimed at eliciting favorable statements justifying the officer’s actions rather than seeking truth. Questioning is often marked by a failure to challenge inconsistencies and illogical officer explanations, as well as leading questions favorable to the officer. Investigators routinely fail to review and incorporate probative evidence from parallel civil and criminal proceedings based on the same police incident. And consistent with these biased investigative techniques, the investigator’s summary reports are often drafted in a manner favorable to the officer by omitting conflicts in testimony or with physical evidence that undermine the officer’s justification or by exaggerating evidence favorable to the officer, all of which frustrates a reviewer’s ability to evaluate for investigative quality and thoroughness.

The report found that investigations are also undermined by a pernicious police code of silence. The report found that even upon discovering when officers had lied, hidden or destroyed evidence, or even threatened witnesses to protect themselves or other officers, city officials typically did nothing about it. The city couldn’t even tell Justice Department investigators how many people Chicago police officers had shot. It apparently wasn’t all that important to keep track.

The case of Tiawanda Moore is a perfect example where the city’s priorities lie. Several years ago, Moore tried to report a sexual assault by a Chicago police officer. When members of the department’s internal affairs unit tried to talk her out of the complaint, she started recording them. That put her in violation of a state law against recording public officials without their consent. (That law has since been struck down by a federal court.) When the officers discovered she was recording them on her phone, they arrested her. You would think that the city would have immediately taken steps to remedy such a breach of public trust. Instead, then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez pressed felony charges against Moore.

The report also documents social media and Internet posts by dozens of cops that make racist or disparaging comments about African Americans, Muslims and other minority groups — including from supervisors. It documents numerous other incidents in which officers . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 January 2017 at 2:46 pm

Kevin Drum looks at what Friday the 13th has wrought this time

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His post begins:

One of the benefits of being sick—oh, bollocks. There are no benefits to being sick. However, with a couple of short interludes, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon today, which is 4:30 for you elitist East Coasters. That means I missed the whole day. So when I finally felt well enough to reach over to the table for my tablet, I was able to take in the entire glorious panorama of 2017’s first Friday the 13th all at once. I shall now present it to you approximately as I experienced it. . .

Read the whole thing. It’s really excellent: a USA-type snapshot of one day’s events. (I’m referring to the John Dos Passos trilogy, highly recommended.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 8:56 pm

NSA can now share surveillance data on individuals

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The new rule allows the sharing of “raw” data—data with no privacy protection. You are totally identifiable. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

n its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions. . .

Continue reading.

Trump will obviously have access anyway. Wonder how he will use it. He’s a vindictive man who lashes out, and this should give him some good ammunition. Is he such a person as would likely do it? Sure seems so to me.


Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 7:58 pm

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