‘Sadistic Culture of Brutality and Violence’ Alleged at Cook County Jail

could be any government building reallyA lawsuit filed against the
Cook County sheriff and other county officials by the the MacArthur
Justice Center at Northwestern University alleges the systemic use
of violence at the jail of the Illinois county where Chicago is
located.  The lawsuit includes testimony from almost 100
inmates, and alleges,
via the Chicago Tribune
:

“The sadistic violence and brutality at the Cook County
Jail is not the work of a few rogue officers,” the class-action
lawsuit states. “It is a systemic problem that has remained
unchecked at the highest levels of Cook County government. The
defendants have had actual knowledge of this pattern of violence
for years – if not decades.”

The suit accuses Cook County of failing to protect jail inmates and
allowing a “sadistic culture of brutality and violence” that puts
prisoners “under a constant risk of life-threatening
violence.”

Cook County has been dominated by the Democratic party machine
for decades. The lack of a muscular political opposition makes the
already pyrrhic task of government accountability even more
difficult. A Justice Department investigative report filed in 2008
found
widespread abuses and a systemic violation of inmates’
constitutional rights. The Cook County jail don’t hold state or
federal prisoners; most of their inmates are awaiting trial. The
jail apparently
holds more than 12,000 prisoners, and employs nearly 11,000 people.
It’s the largest single site jail in the country.

Illinois’ state prison came under some fire in the ’90s, when
 the Richard Speck prison video, obtained by a local news
anchor, was shown to Illinois state legislature. That video
depicted Speck, a convicted mass murder, sharing a huge pile of
cocaine with other inmates, who also passed around money and
paraded Speck around in panties and a bra. The video also showed
Speck performing oral sex on another inmate. That’s when state
legislators stopped the tape. They were
outraged
, but not much else happened.

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E-Cigarettes Sow Confusion—Among Anti-Smoking Activists

I’ve got a
new piece
at The National Post about irrational
hostility to e-cigarettes within the anti-smoking movement. Here is
how it starts:

“E-cigarettes have taken us back 50 years,” according to the
headline over a commentary that National Jewish Health, a medical
centre in Denver, recently paid to place on the op-ed page
of The New York Times. The essay — co-authored by
David Tinkelman and Amy Lukowski, who are in charge of the
hospital’s “health initiatives,” including its tobacco-cessation
program — never substantiates that claim, which is typical of
e-cigarette critics who see a public-health menace where they
should see a way of reducing tobacco-related disease and death.

You might think people concerned about the health effects of
smoking would welcome an alternative that involves neither tobacco
nor combustion and is therefore much less hazardous. But with some
notable exceptions, anti-smoking activists and public-health
officials have been mostly hostile to electronic cigarettes, which
deliver nicotine in a propylene glycol vapour. This puzzling
resistance seems to be driven by emotion rather than science or
logic.


Read the whole thing
.

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Border Patrol Use of Force Questioned in Report They Tried to Keep from Congress

Los Angeles Times
gets its hands on an investigation
into border patrol practices
by the Police Executive Research Forum, a “nonprofit research
and policy organization in Washington that works closely with law
enforcement agencies” that was “allowed to examine internal Border
Patrol case files on 67 shooting incidents from January 2010 to
October 2012.”

Some findings from the Times:

Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of
cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired
in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of
the border, according to an independent review of 67 cases that
resulted in 19 deaths.

The report by law enforcement experts criticized the Border
Patrol for “lack of diligence” in investigating U.S. agents who had
fired their weapons. It also said it was unclear whether the agency
“consistently and thoroughly reviews” use-of-deadly-force
incidents.

And our brave border protectors wanted to make sure we, or our
elected representatives, never found out:

House and Senate oversight committees requested copies last fall
but received only a summary that omitted the most controversial
findings — that some border agents stood in front of moving
vehicles as a pretext to open fire and that agents could have moved
away from rock throwers instead of shooting at them.

The Times obtained the full report and the agency’s internal
response, which runs 23 pages. The response rejects the two major
recommendations: barring border agents from shooting at vehicles
unless its occupants are trying to kill them, and barring agents
from shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious
physical injury….

Mexican authorities have complained for years that U.S. border
agents who kill Mexicans are rarely disciplined and that the
results of investigations are not made public for years.

J.D. Tuccille blogged earlier today on Arizonans attempts to rid
themselves of
an internal “border checkpoint.”

Just a thought: we could cut a vast number of the reasons any of
these confrontations happen in the first place with saner drug laws
and saner paths for the legal ability to work in this
country.

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Eric Holder Briefly Hospitalized, Another Congressman to Retire, NSA Debates Scaling Back Phone Metadata Collection: P.M. Links

  • Needs to take a "wellness" day or twoAttorney General Eric Holder
    was
    hospitalized
    briefly today after experiencing faintness and
    shortness of breath. He is back at home now.
  • Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) announced he’s
    retiring from Congress
    after 23 years of service. He’s the 21st
    member of Congress (split nearly equally between the two parties)
    to announce plans to step down at the end of this term.
  • There are a handful of proposed changes to the National
    Security Agency’s massive metadata collection procedures. The most
    significant change would be the option to
    severely scale back the data collection
    so that only data from
    actual terrorism suspects is collected. Outgoing NSA chief Gen.
    Keith Alexander suggested in a Senate committee meeting today that
    this option may well be a possibility.
  • Some more unredacted documents connected to
    George Washington Bridge scandal
    in New Jersey have been
    released. They don’t provide any new information, but do indicate
    who was texting about the traffic jams and making jokes.
  • North Korea
    launched four short-range missiles
    off its east coast. The
    Pentagon says this is typical, permitted testing by the
    nation.

  • Five police officers in San Francisco have been indicted
    for
    allegedly stealing money and drugs that had been seized as part of
    investigations. The prosecutions originate from surveillance
    footage released by the city’s public defender.

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content.

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Yes the Government is Spying on You Through Your Webcam – Another “Conspiracy Theory” Proven True

I still remember many years ago in response to becoming aware of the possibility that my computer webcam could be accessed remotely I decided to put a piece of duct tape over the camera. I also remember the look on some of my friends’ faces upon seeing this. They thought I was nuts. It wasn’t even a conversation I was comfortable having since the idea that the government or NSA could or would peep on innocent Americans through their webcams was beyond preposterous for the vast majority of people

This topic is not exactly new, and I addressed it last April in my piece: A Look into the Malware the FBI Uses to Spy Through Webcams.

Now, thanks to Edward Snowden, we know more. Much, much more.

From the Guardian:

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

continue reading

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American Flag Ruled a Disruptive School Influence

Can't we all just get along?Live Oak High School in Morgan
Hill, Calif., did not violate the free speech rights of students by
demanding that turn their shirts inside-out so that their American
flag images were not visible on Cinco de Mayo in 2010, a court
ruled. From the
San Jose Mercury News
:

In a unanimous three-judge decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals sided with the Morgan Hill Unified School District,
which had argued that a history of problems on the holiday
justified the Live Oak High School administrators’ decision to take
action against the flag-wearing students.

Live Oak officials ordered the students to either cover up the
U.S. flag shirts or go home, citing a history of threats and campus
strife between Latino and Anglo students that raised fears of
violence on the day the school was highlighting the Mexican
holiday. The school’s actions were reasonable given the safety
concerns, which outweighed the students’ First Amendment claims,
the court concluded.

“Our role is not to second-guess the decision to have a Cinco de
Mayo celebration or the precautions put in place to avoid
violence,” 9th Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the
panel. “(The past events) made it reasonable for school officials
to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent
disturbance was real.”

Hooray for the Heckler’s Veto. Now all students need to do to
suppress the free speech of others is to threaten to get violent.
Eugene Volokh over at the Washington Post notes how a
Supreme Court decision from 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines Indep.
Comm. School Dist.,
gives schools clearance to censor on the
basis of believing that an expression of free speech could cause
violence or disruption at the school. Such was the case here,
Volokh
notes
:

Yet even if the judges are right, the situation in the school
seems very bad. Somehow, we’ve reached the point that students
can’t safely display the American flag in an American school,
because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — and
the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the
threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance
for other students’ speech). Something is badly wrong, whether such
an incident happens on May 5 or any other day.

And this is especially so because behavior that gets
rewarded gets repeated
. The school taught its students a
simple lesson: If you dislike speech and want it suppressed, then
you can get what you want by threatening violence against the
speakers. The school will cave in, the speakers will be shut up,
and you and your ideology will win. When thuggery pays, the result
is more thuggery. Is that the education we want our students to be
getting?

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Venezuelans Organize Protests and Avoid State Censorship With Walkie-Talkie App

Like with Arab Spring, protesters in Venezuela and Ukraine owe
their impressive organization to mobile social media apps.
Venezuelan authorities are particularly frustrated with Texas-based
Zello, a simple walkie-talkie app, for emerging as a leading tool
for the opposition. The government even tried to block it.

The peer-to-peer digital messaging app spread like wildfire to
600,000 Venezuelans last week after success in organizing Ukrainian
protests. Business Insider
reports
that it has “helped to mobilize marches, evade security
sweeps, and build barricades.”

The push-to-talk method allows users to communicate by pressing
a button and broadcasting to a group. The tool’s openness is a
tremendously popular feature (even if the government can listen
in). Groups can range from two to hundreds of thousands, although
only 600 can access a group at any given time. Additionally,
Business Insider
explains
:

Part of the appeal of Zello is the ability of the human
voice to carry so much more information than mere type, allowing
users to give impassioned speeches.

Zello can be used to circumvent state censorship. The app was
popularized during Turkish demonstrations last year to sidestep
state-imposed roadblocks. Similarly, Venezuelan authorities have

suppressed
speech in sporadic doses: it blocked picture and
video uploads to Twitter temporarily,
blacked out
Internet in the capital city for about 30 hours,
and removed neighboring Columbia NTN24 station from cable. There is
virtually no media coverage of the demonstrations in the state.

The government even
tried
to stamp out Zello through the publicly-owned
telecommunications company CANTV. But it hardly left a scratch. The
company re-released a functional version in under 24 hours.

Venezuelans are revolting for a variety of reasons, but
unaccountable government is a major motivation. Ed Krayewski of
Reason
explains
, “Maduro acted as if his government had a mandate to
do whatever it wanted, in the name of the people. Enough people
have now had enough intrusive government to push back.”

Social networks like Zello allow repressed citizens to retrieve
information and organize against unpopular measures or corrupt
behavior. The mix of digitally-situated free speech, protests
fueled by repression, and government censorship, seem to constitute
a formula in recent anti-government revolts, a feedback loop that
could inch nations toward transparency and improved governance. The
other day Google executive chairmen Eric Schmidt made a daring
prediction on CBS. Because of the Internet, state censorship “will
be effectively impossible,” he
said
. Perhaps “within a decade.”

Read more from Reason.com on Venezuela here.

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Three New Zealanders Have Spent 2+ Months in Detention in the UAE, Still Uncharged After Drug Bust

patrick kennedy can move herePatrick Kennedy, the former congressman who
stopped using drugs in 2009 and launched Project SAM, a well-funded
marijuana prohibitionist group,
likes to say that
“incarceration is a powerful motivator.” As a
Kennedy, he must now this primarily from theory, not practice.
Nevertheless, even as a theory it’s a weak one. Forty years of drug
war has been a failure
by almost any measure
, even as America’s prison population
ranks as highest in the world. Incarceration doesn’t seem to be
motivating anyone outside of the drug warriors in law enforcement,
and elsewhere in government and out of it, who profit with their
very livelihoods from the criminalization of drugs. Could drug laws
be harsher?

Consider the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where
the New Zealand Herald
reports three citizens of New
Zealand have been detained since December after some kind of drug
bust, and none have yet been charged. One appeared for a ten-minute
hearing, which ended with an adjournment for three weeks. The
New Zealand Herald notes that the UAE has harsh drug laws;
one Briton in 2012 was sentenced to death by firing squad for
selling less than an ounce of marijuana. The threat of death
penalty hasn’t stamped out the UAE’s people engaging in non-violent
activity problem
“drug problem.”  Twelve people have
been sentenced to death in the country since 2007, though the
Herald stresses that an appeals process involving up to 19
judges means none of them have been executed, yet. And a UAE
prosecutor
claims
up to 30 men in the country of 9 million died of alleged
overdoses last year.

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Supreme Court Expands Police Power to Seize Your Assets Before Conviction

It’s been a banner week for law enforcement at the U.S. Supreme
Court. On Tuesday, in the case of Fernandez v. California,
the Court
broadened
the power of the police to conduct warrantless home
searches. But it was a decision handed down on Monday that’s likely
to have the greatest impact on our criminal justice system.

At issue in Monday’s ruling in
Kaley v. United States
is an area of the law known as
asset forfeiture. In essence, asset forfeiture is designed to help
law enforcement officials seize the ill-gotten fruits of criminal
activity, such as cash, cars, or homes. To that end, prosecutors
are permitted to freeze the assets of criminal suspects during
trial if there is probable cause to believe those assets constitute
“proceeds” of the alleged criminal activity. Notice that this
freezing occurs before the suspect has been duly convicted.

That timing matters a great deal to the plaintiffs in this case,
a married couple by the name of Kaley who have been indicted by a
federal grand jury on charges of selling stolen medical supplies.
That may sound like a finding of guilt, but in fact grand jury
proceedings are a non-adversarial process where the prosecution
alone is permitted to call witnesses and present evidence. The
suspects have no opportunity at that point to rebut anything the
government alleges against them.

In the wake of the grand jury indictments, the federal
government moved to freeze the Kaleys’ assets, including their home
and a $500,000 certificate of deposit the couple had recently
purchased in order to cover the anticipated legal expenses arising
from their trial. Put differently, the government has eliminated
their ability to pay their lawyer.

Writing for a 6-3 majority, Justice Elena Kagan sided with the
government. “The question here presented,” Kagan wrote, is whether
the Kaleys have a constitutional right “to contest a grand jury’s
prior determination of probable cause to believe they committed the
crimes charged. We hold that they have no right to relitigate that
finding.”

Writing in dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts zeroed in on the
dangers lurking in Kagan’s ruling. “The hearing the Kaleys seek
would not be mere relitigation of the grand jury proceedings,”
Roberts countered, it would be a hearing before a federal judge
aimed at determining if the prosecution had indeed proved probable
cause for the asset forfeitures. “And of course, the Kaleys would
have the opportunity to tell their side of the story—something the
grand jury never hears,” he added.

Furthermore, “the Court’s opinion pays insufficient respect to
the importance of an independent [criminal defense] bar as a check
on prosecutorial abuse and government overreaching,” Roberts
declared. “Granting the Government the power to take away a
defendant’s chosen advocate strikes at the heart of that
significant role.”

The chief justice got it right. Our criminal justice system only
works when both sides get the opportunity to put their best case
forward. Something has gone very wrong when the deck is stacked so
heavily against those who still remain innocent until proven
guilty.

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Why Is The New York Times Casting Aspersions on “self-described independents”?

Speak for yerself, sister! |||The New York Times and CBS jointly published
an
interesting political poll
this morning, showing (among other
things) that Republicans hold a narrow 42%-39% advantage in the
upcoming midterm elections, that President Barack Obama’s approval
rating (41%) is the second-lowest that this particular poll has
detected over the past two years, that half or more of
Republican-leaners under the age of 45 support legalizing marijuana
and same-sex marriage, and that (in the
words
of Mediaite’s Noah Rothman, anyway), “partisan
Republican voters are more willing to compromise a range of issues
than their Democratic counterparts.”

But what caught my eye wasn’t the numbers, it was the loaded and
unintentionally telling adjectives the paper used to present them.
Here’s how the related
article
begins; bolding will be mine, for emphasis:

Republicans are in a stronger position than Democrats for this
year’s midterm elections, benefiting from the support
of
self-described independents, even
though the party itself is deeply divided and most Americans agree
more with Democratic policy positions.

Though “self-described” is technically accurate here, it is also
a gratuitous modifier. Why remind readers that the
“independents”—in contrast to the “Democrats” and “Republicans” and
“Tea Party supporters” in the same article—arrive at their
categorization through a conscious act of self-branding?

A
search
of the phrase on the paper’s website provides a possible
clue. “Self-described” is often deployed to indicate that the
person in question is delusional, comically egotistical, proud of
something dubious, or all three. “Jason
Itzler, Self-Described ‘King Pimp’ Drops Names in
Court
,” comes the top search result when filtered by relevance
(a follow-up article on the King Pimp is
number two
). “The
Artist as Bully and Self-Described Sex Machine
,” is the fourth
item, followed by “self-described snob” at fifth
and
sixth
. While the phrase is often used neutrally (as in the
Dalai Lama being “a
self-described Marxist
“), even there it’s in the service of
providing attribution to what would otherwise be a potentially
contentious claim.

You can plausibly read the NYT’s lede as hinting that the main
reason these divided and otherwise unpopular Republicans are eking
out a lead over Democrats is that they are attracting the support
of people who are either fooling us or themselves. Such a parsing
exercise looks a lot less paranoid after considering the first
sentence of the second paragraph:

White? Check. Male? 100%. Under age 45? DING DING DING!!! |||The independents in the poll —
a majority of whom were white or male or under age
45
— continued to sour on President
Obama’
s job performance.

A-HA!!! So these self-describers are actually just a bunch of
white males who don’t like the black president. Much like the

dangerous nutbags in the Tea Party
that the Times keeps warning
us about.

But those of you who graduated from 3rd grade math have probably
already discovered the flaw in the paper’s emphasis. A large
majority of EVERYBODY in the United States–including the subsection
within the New York Times newsroom–is “white or male or
under age 45.” According to the Census, 47.7% of U.S. residents are
male,
60.5% are under
45
, and 72.4% are “white.” By my cocktail-napkin calculations,
that means as many as 90% of Americans belong to at least one of
these three categories (please correct me in the comments). With
about the same amount of relevance, the Times could have re-written
that sentence as: “The independents in the poll — a majority of
whom
believe in God
— continued to sour on President Obama’s job
performance.”

There are plenty of other odd wording-choices in the article
(such as this gross oversimplification: “Republicans hold their
edge despite the fissures in their party over whether it is too
conservative or not conservative enough”), which all serve as a
reminder that even the hardest of numbers are subject to the most
elastic of interpretations and prejudice.

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