Later On

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

Tim Robbins’ Improv Classes Transform Prisoners’ Lives & Lower Recidivism Rates

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Ayun Halliday has an Open Culture post with four interesting videos. Here’s the first:

The post begins:

If a 20-something, Yale-educated New Yorker reporter feels nervous stepping in to her first ever improv class, imagine the stakes for your average inmate, whose survival depends on a successfully monolithic projection of toughness and control.

Control is actually something the Actors’ Gang Prison Project seeks to cultivate in its incarcerated participants. The Actors’ Gang’s Artistic Director, Tim Robbins, who founded the radically experimental ensemble fresh out of college, notes a well-documented connection between an inability to control one’s emotions and criminal activity. . .

Read the whole thing. And take a look at the videos.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 1:21 pm

Private Prisons Are Really Bad, But Good Enough for Immigrants, Concludes Homeland Security Report

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Alice Speri reports in The Intercept:

Private immigration detention facilities may be bad — but they’re probably not going anywhere.

That, in essence, was the conclusion of a much anticipated review of the Department of Homeland Security’s reliance on private companies to detain an immigrant detainee population that’s reaching historic highs, and that the president-elect is promising to escalate to even greater levels.

The report, produced by a panel of law enforcement, national security, and military experts, was commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security on the heels of a similar review by Department of Justice in August. In that report, the DOJ found that private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources,” “do not save substantially on costs,” and “do not maintain the same level of safety and security” as facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons. The Justice Department said it would begin to gradually phase out its own private contracts — which are a fraction of private prison companies’ business when compared to federal immigration detention centers.

The DHS advisory committee report, released last week, raised similar criticisms of the billion-dollar private prison industry, but was more fatalistic in its conclusions.

“Much could be said for a fully government-owned and government-operated detention model, if one were starting a new detention system from scratch,” said the report. “But of course we are not starting anew.”

“Fiscal considerations, combined with the need for realistic capacity to handle sudden increases in detention, indicate that DHS’s use of private for-profit detention will continue,” the report concluded.  Only one of the six members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council subcommittee that drafted the report, Marshall Fitz, dissented, recommending instead “a measured but deliberate shift away from the private prison model.”

But when the report — and its conclusion that private prisons were an inevitable evil — was brought to the broader HSAC committee for a vote, it sparked a contentious discussion. The committee ultimately voted 17-5 to make Fitz’s dissent the report’s recommendation to DHS.

Carl Takei, an attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, called the vote a “stunning reversal.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 11:57 am

Police departments gearing up to mount continuous surveillance on the public

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I highly recommend watching the movie The Lives of Others as soon as possible. It reveals the direction we’re headed as our police departments take on the job of spying on ordinary citizens going about their daily lives. The movie won an Oscar, and you can rent it from Amazon.

Steven Hale writes in the Washington Post:

When the Boston Globe revealed late last month that the Boston police department was planning to purchase software that would aid it in scanning social media platforms, civil liberties groups sounded the alarm. The department’s plan caught the city council off guard and now, the Globe reports, police department officials are scheduled to appear before the council Monday for “a hearing on $14.2 million in federal Homeland Security grants awarded to the city’s Office of Emergency Management, a portion of which will be used by the police department to fund the new software.”

The Globe describes what the software would allow police to do:

The software would be able to search blogs, websites, chat rooms, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. It would provide law enforcement officials with an address of where the content was posted and allow police to create a “geo-fence” that would send alerts when new posts are made within an area that meets specified search criteria.

Law enforcement investigators using the technology — which is in use at other departments around the country — will be able to mask themselves by creating virtual identities, documents show. The department plans to spend up to $1.4 million on the software and expects to select a vendor no later than Dec. 5.

A department spokesman tells the Globe that the software would be used “in accordance to strict policies and procedures and within the parameters of state and federal laws,” adding that “the information looked at is only what is already publicly available.” If the plan doesn’t arouse skepticism in you, though, consider how Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans is defending the plan, pointing to the classic Scary Things so often used to justify an expansion in police power.

“We’re not going after ordinary people,” Evans said on Boston Public Radio, per the Globe. “It’s a necessary tool of law enforcement and helps in keeping our neighborhoods safe from violence, as well as terrorism, human trafficking, and young kids who might be the victim of a pedophile.”

Leaving aside the standard attempt to assuage the fears of “ordinary people” — the innocent have nothing to hide, right? — remember that, while they are no doubt legitimate concerns for police, the threats of terrorism, trafficking and neighborhood sex offenders are regularly exaggerated by law enforcement ahead of their encroachment on local communities or after the fact. See the boogeyman threat of pedophiles on Halloween or the Super Bowl sex trafficking myth.

But there is also reason for concern that police use of social media monitoring software will go beyond the targeting of threats and the protection of “ordinary people.”

In October, the American Civil Liberties Union of California obtained recordsshowing that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were providing data access to Geofeedia, a firm that boasted more than 500 law enforcement and public safety clients and touted its software as a tool that could be used for, among other things, monitoring protests. Documents obtained by the ACLU appear to show the company bragging about its use in monitoring protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore after police shootings. All three social media platforms shut off or restricted Geofeedia’s access to their data after the revelations, but the company is by no means the only player in the budding industry.

And social media monitoring is on the radar of law enforcement at all levels of government. The FBI recently acquired access to Twitter’s “firehose,” allowing the bureau to see not just the small portion of tweets the average user can view on a daily basis, but all of the roughly 500 million tweets posted on the platform every day. Suspicions that local police were using Facebook check-ins to track Dakota Access pipeline protesters sparked a viral movement of users checking in at the Standing Rock, N.D., camp in an attempt to block law enforcement surveillance, although local authorities denied they were monitoring social media.

The fundamental questions are whether law enforcement can be trusted with expanded data and surveillance capabilities and whether there is any reason to believe that the kind of bias that appears in other areas of policing won’t show up in this area as well. In September, the Associated Press reported that police officers across the country were misusing confidential databases “to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work.” And in October, City Lab reported on racial disparities in the use of “Stingray” cellphone tracking devices by police. . .

Continue reading.

It’s clear that many police departments will hire anyone who has police experience, even when they were fired from their previous department. The vetting process for many departments seem to be casual at best.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 11:18 am

Trump’s Threat to the Constitution

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Evan McMullin, a former C.I.A. officer and a conservative independent presidential candidate in 2016, writes in the NY Times:

On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Mr. Trump’s purpose was to persuade the representatives to unite around him, a pitch he delivered in a subdued version of his stream-of-consciousness style. A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.

Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.

There is still deeper cause for concern. Mr. Trump’s erroneous proclamation also suggested that he lacked even an interest in the Constitution. Worse, his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.

There is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.

Mr. Trump also recently inflated his election performance, claiming — without evidence — that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.

As a C.I.A. officer, I saw firsthand authoritarians’ use of these tactics around the world. Their profound appetite for absolute power drives their intolerance for any restraint — whether by people, organizations, the law, cultural norms, principles or even the expectation of consistency. For a despot, all of these checks on power must be ignored, undermined or destroyed so that he is all that matters.

Mr. Trump has said that he prefers to be unpredictable because it maximizes his power. During his recent interview with The New York Times, he casually abandoned his fiery calls during the campaign for torture, prosecuting Hillary Clinton and changing libel laws. Mr. Trump’s inconsistencies and provocative proposals are a strategy; they are intended to elevate his importance above all else — and to place him beyond democratic norms, beyond even the Constitution.

In our nation, power is shared, checked and balanced precisely to thwart would-be autocrats. But as we become desensitized to the notion that Mr. Trump is the ultimate authority, we may attribute less importance to the laws, norms and principles that uphold our system of government, which protects our rights. Most dangerously, we devalue our own worth and that of our fellow Americans. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 10:16 am

Gunman goes to pizzeria to ‘investigate’ election-related conspiracy theory, police say

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UPDATE: By all means, read Kevin Drum’s post on this story.

His investigation included firing off a couple of rounds. Fake news is information vandalism and can have serious consequences, but those who produce fake news don’t care, since they seem to be sociopaths in terms of having any sense of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Sociopaths are not that uncommon, after all. (It’s estimated that there are 12 million in the US, and obviously some have drifted into writing fake news.)

Faiz Siddiqui and Susan Svrluga report in the Washington Post:

A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign.

The incident caused panic, with several businesses going into lockdown as police swarmed the neighborhood after receiving the call shortly before 3 p.m.

Police said 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., walked in the front door of Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee. The employee was able to flee and notify police. Police said Welch proceeded to discharge the rifle inside the restaurant; they think that all other occupants had fled when Welch began shooting.

Welch has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Police said there were no reported injuries.

Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said police arrived on the scene minutes after the first call, set up a perimeter and safely arrested Welch about 45 minutes after he entered the restaurant.

A D.C. police report made public Monday says Welch had been armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle. The report also says police seized a Colt .38 caliber handgun and a shotgun. One of those weapons was found inside the restaurant; the other in the suspect’s car. Police did not specify the locations.

The police report also describes Welch’s arrest. Police said he surrendered shortly after officers surrounded the pizza shop and emerged with his hands raised above his head.

The report says in addition to the weapons, police seized a folding knife, a T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt and denim blue jeans.

Vivek Jain, of Potomac, Md., was eating lunch inside Banana Leaf, a nearby Indian restaurant, when Comet patrons came rushing inside. He said Banana Leaf was locked down for about 90 minutes.

“A bunch of people ran in from Comet and said a man walked in with a gun,” Jain said.

About 45 minutes later, he said, he saw a man walking backward out into the street with his hands in the air.

“He laid down on Connecticut Avenue and he was immediately picked up by the police and taken away,” he said. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Later in the article:

. . . James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, said in a statement: “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”

The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true. But the fake stories and threats persisted, some even aimed at children of Comet Ping Pong employees and patrons. The restaurant’s owner was forced to contact the FBI, local police, Facebook and other social-media platforms in an effort to remove the articles.

Last month, citing its policy against posting the personal information of others, Reddit banned the “pizzagate” topic.

But it didn’t stop the harassment, and nearby businesses have received threats as well, according to police. On Sunday, Washington Post reporters involved in this article were the target of online threats shortly after it posted.

Matt Carr, the owner of the Little Red Fox market and coffee shop, said his business started getting threats last weekend. They got 30 to 40 calls before they stopped answering calls from blocked numbers, he said. “One person said he wanted to line us up in front of a firing squad,” said Carr, who spent more than an hour in lockdown with his employees Sunday.

The threats were all tied to the Comet Ping Pong accusations online, he said. “There’s some old painted-over symbol on the marquee that they claim is an international symbol of pedophilia and that there are underground tunnels. . . . There’s some video on YouTube that has almost 100,000 views and talks about me, the owner of the Little Red Fox, by name.

“This was our worst fear,” he said, “that someone would read all this and come to the block with a gun. And today it happened.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 10:05 am

Posted in Guns, Media, Technology

How to tell whether your religious liberty is being violated

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Also via Danielle Muscato, this useful chart, which should be publicly displayed in states that have passed “religious freedom” laws:

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-9-52-19-am

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 9:54 am

Donald Trump can dish out plain talk. Can he take it as well?

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Well, we know the answer to that: Donald Trump is extremely thin-skinned and quick to take offense. (Don’t try grabbing him by the genitals—again, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it.)

Danielle Muscato’s epic tweet rant in response to Trump’s being offended by a Saturday Night Life skit is presented in full at OccupyDemocrats.com. It’s well worth reading.

Trump had tweeted:

a-1

Muscato’s response, which you really should read in full, begins with this tweet:

b-1

But, really, read the entire rant. Plain speaking to a man who believes in plain speaking (at least for himself).

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 9:35 am

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