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2015 Can be the Year of Criminal Justice Reform

February 9, 2015 in Economics

By Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch

Criminal justice reform appears to be one of the hot topics this year. Unlike most other policy areas, where President Obama and Republicans remain at loggerheads, criminal justice reform holds much greater promise since both political parties seem to agree that there are festering problems that need to be addressed.

Let’s explore some of the most pressing topics.

Militarized policing
The militarization of American policing has been under way since the early 1980s. Until recently, there has been very little debate about its profound implications. And then, all of a sudden, the images that emerged on the evening news from the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., brought scrutiny, at last, to the idea of militarized police. The Ferguson police looked like soldiers — helmets, camouflage, armored vehicles and M-16s. Since the equipment and weaponry came from the Pentagon, Obama found himself on the defensive when asked a basic question: Why do local police departments need weapons of war? In response to the growing criticism from both the Left and the Right, Obama ordered a “review” of the Pentagon program.

The police and the military have very different missions. The essence of the military mission is to kill the enemy. That’s what the rockets and bombs are designed for. The police, in contrast, are supposed to be “peace officers.” Their mission is to respond to disturbances and crimes and restore the peace. We should expect the police to avoid the use of force, if possible, or use the minimum amount of force necessary to bring suspects into a court of law where disputes can be resolved without further violence. When the police confuse their mission with the military mission, one finds unnecessary confrontations and unnecessary killings.

The original idea behind the Special Weapons and Tactics team was to have a unit available for extraordinary events, such as a hostage situation. As the years passed, several things happened.

First, SWAT units started to pop up all around the country — even in small towns where there was little criminal activity. Second, the mission of these units expanded to include ordinary policing assignments, such as the execution of search warrants in drug cases. In recent years, SWAT teams have been used to raid medical marijuana clinics, poker games, and to conduct regulatory inspections of taverns. Third, the Pentagon made surplus military equipment available to local police departments around the country, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers and even bayonets. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Anti-vaxxer Children's Book Is Getting Destroyed Hilariously by Amazon Trolls

February 9, 2015 in Blogs

By Joanna Rothkopf, Salon

“Melanie's Marvelous Measles” aren't seeming so marvelous anymore.

In 2012, a proactive Australian anti-vaxxer named Stephanie Messenger self-published a children’s book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” With the book, Messenger endeavored to “educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully.” The book’s illustrated cover features a girl frolicking in a meadow with her stomach exposed, revealing a number of measles pocks all over her body. The whole thing is truly grotesque — so much so, that Amazon has put a disclaimer on the book’s description, noting that it is “provided by the publisher/author of this title and presents the subjective opinions of the publisher/author, which may not be substantiated.”

The book is made all the more relevant, now that a massive measles outbreak (due to the steadily growing vaccine “trutherism” movement) has infected more than 100 people in 15 states, including five babies at a Chicago daycare center.

So, the Internet is doing what the Internet does best: trolling the hell out of Messenger’s deeply flawed book through Amazon comments. Here are some of the best:

“Don’t overlook the lesser known Dr. Seuss books in this series – ‘Horton hears an air raid siren’, ‘Oh the places you’ll itch’, ‘How the Grinch caught Chlamydia’, ‘And to Think That I Contracted It on Mulberry Street’, ‘Skull Fracture Mayzie’, ‘Hop on your remaining foot’, ‘The 500 days in ICU of Bartholomew Cubbins’, and ‘If I Ran the Mortuary.’” –Nathaniel E. Parkinson II

“This book has been a wonderful distraction while I sit in the hospital to support my friend whose baby has this delightful disease. Since the child now has both pneumonia and encephalitis, I’ll have to check out the additional titles mentioned in Michael J. Gulgoski’s wonderful review. We’re going to be here a while. Unfortunately, I had to give this only one star because I hate the name Melanie.” –This Daydreamer

“Encephalitis is just your brain giving your skull a cuddle. This book is so short because soon after the main …read more


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Kansas Lawmaker Wants to Jail Teachers for Exposing Students to 'Harmful Material'

February 9, 2015 in Blogs

By Deb Hipp, Courthouse News

Examples of harmful material, include nudity and sex.

  (CN) – Public schoolteachers in Kansas could be jailed for teaching “harmful material,” and university professors would be banned from signing op-ed letters with their titles when writing about public officials, if two new bills become law.

      Senate Bill 56 , introduced on Jan. 22 by state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, would amend Kansas' public morals statute by deleting an exemption that protects K-12 public, private and parochial schoolteachers from being prosecuted for presenting material deemed harmful to minors.

     According to the bill, “harmful material” includes depictions of nudity, sexual conduct, homosexuality, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse “in a manner that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community with respect to what is suitable for minors.”

     Teachers could be charged with a class B misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail if teaching materials contain depictions that a “reasonable person” would find to lack “serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors.”

     Pilcher-Cook said she sponsored S.B. 56 in response to parental outrage over a poster affixed to a Shawnee Mission middle school door last year that asked the question: “How do people express their sexual feelings?” and listed answers such as “hugging, kissing, saying 'I like you' and talking” along with other possibilities: “oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, vaginal intercourse, grinding, and touching each other's genitals.”

     ”Pornography and obscene materials are becoming more and more prevalent in our society, and it is all too common to hear of cases where children are not being protected from the harm it inflicts,” Pilcher-Cook told the Topeka Capital Journal.

     Opponents of the bill say it is unconstitutionally broad and could be misused.

     ”Senate Bill 56 could criminalize teachers simply for distributing handouts, displaying posters or sharing educational information,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas, told the Kansas City Star.

     ”If a teacher is afraid that they're going to be charged and convicted of a misdemeanor just for doing their job, they're going to be a lot less likely to share any information …read more


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Black Family's $3.5-Million Home Firebombed

February 9, 2015 in Blogs

By Terrell Jermaine Starr, AlterNet

Community rallies around family targeted by haters.

A California family whose $3.5 million home was firebombed last week claims racism was the primary motive, according to reports.

Ronald Clinton told My Fox LA that he and his three children were sleeping in their Manhattan Beach home when they woke up to the sound of two explosions around 2am Wednesday. When Clinton walked to the front of the home, he felt intense heat from a fire that engulfed the front door. Clinton gathered his three children and took them to safety. His wife was out of town at the time.

No one was injured, but the firebombing caused more than $200,000 in damage. Clinton says he doesn’t have any beefs with anyone and notes that his is one of the few African-American families in the neighborhood. There is only one reason he feels his home would have been targeted.

“I don't have proof, I don't have any type of motive, but I do have a gut,” said Clinton, who is a pharmacist. “And I tell you my gut tells me this was racially motivated. And it was somebody that had the intent to harm, injure or even kill us.”

Clinton’s wife, Malissia Clinton, a corporate lawyer, agreed with her husband’s conclusion in an interview with CBS Los Angeles.

“It was someone who felt animosity toward us, and it was unwarranted, undeserved, so it was a hate crime no matter how you call it,” she said.

ABC7 Los Angeles reports that the FBI has offered assistance and the ATF has been notified. The Clintons say that trash and drug paraphernalia has been dumped at their front door in the past.

Clinton was so upset over the firebombing he wondered if the family should move out of the neighborhood. The family decided to stay, especially after the outpouring of support from the community. Friday night, 700 people people showed up at a vigil organized by the community.  

“This is not what our community is all about and we're going to get the person who did this,” Manhattan Beach mayor …read more


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Shining a Light on the Cause of the Great Recession

February 9, 2015 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn

Richard W. Rahn

What do you think was the primary cause of the Great Recession — too little government regulation or dictates by the government to banks and other mortgage lenders, requiring them to lend to the unqualified?

Peter J. Wallison, former general counsel of the U.S. Treasury Department and White House counsel to President Reagan, who was also a member of the congressionally authorized Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, has just published a book, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” in which he clearly documents what caused the financial crisis and why it is likely to happen again. For this act of detailed scholarship and truth-telling, he has come under fierce attack by many of those who were, in part, responsible for the crisis.

The Wallison narrative is straightforward. Traditionally, community banks made mortgage loans to customers and then kept and serviced the loans. The banks obviously wished to be repaid, so they only lent to those they considered good credit risks and who were able to make a reasonable down payment on the house, around 20 percent.

Expanded homeownership has been considered a social good, and measures to increase homeownership have been strongly encouraged by homebuilders, realtors, bankers and the political class. In order to increase the pool of lendable funds, many decades ago Congress set up Fannie Mae, and subsequently Freddie Mac, to buy mortgages from banks, thus enabling the banks to make more mortgage loans. For many years, Fannie and Freddie would only buy high-quality mortgages.

All seemed to be going well, but then “community activists” started complaining that low-income and minority consumers had much lower rates of homeownership and this was “unfair.” As a result, in 1992 Congress started passing “affordable housing goals” and over the years continued to increase those goals. The banks were told to make an increasing percentage of their loans to buyers who would not normally qualify, and Fannie and Freddie were in turn pressured or required to buy more and more of these nontraditional or subprime mortgages. Down payment requirements became easier and easier, and finally, in many cases, zero. Credit and employment history requirements became less and less strict, finally leading to the “no-doc” loan.

The Federal Reserve provided the necessary money expansion to accommodate all of the new mortgages. The community banks liked it because of the fat fees and the fact they could dump the bad paper on Freddie and Fannie, which in turn put many of these bad loans into mortgage-backed securities that they and the big banks sold on the world …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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VIDEO: John Oliver Eviscerates the Stunningly Corrupt Practices of Big Pharma

February 9, 2015 in Blogs

By Janet Allon, AlterNet

“Pharmaceutical money: Ask your doctor if his taking it is right for you.”

John Oliver dug deep into the corrupt practices of the pharmaceutical industry in a 17-minute rant Sunday that will be one for the ages.

It's a must-watch video tha lays bare just how deeply invested Big Pharma is in getting doctors to prescribe their drugs to millions of people, no matter what. In fact, Oliver explains, Big Pharma spends much more on marketing to doctors than it does on research, or to marketing to us in television advertising. Why? Because we tend to trust our doctors. And if they say take this pill, we will.

Amidst the really alarming facts in Oliver's careful dissection of the issue are some pretty hilarious lines. At one point the HBO comedian compares drug compaines to high school boyfriends: “They're much more interested in getting inside you than in being effective once they are there.”

There have been tiny glimmers of reform in Big Pharma's dishonest practices: Pharmaceutical reps are not allowed to take doctors out for lavish meals all the time, now. And the Affordable Care Act has helped set up a website which enables you to look up whose money your doctor is taking.


Related Stories

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Paul Krugman: How a Simple-Minded Analogy Has Wreaked Havoc

February 9, 2015 in Blogs

By Janet Allon, AlterNet

Misunderstanding debt has brought Europe's economy to its knees.

The world—especially Europe—has tragically misunderstood debt, Paul Krugman writes in his column Monday. And the results are catastrophic. As a result of too much austerity, and a scolding insistence that debtor nations continue to slash spending, Greece may have to exit the Euro, deflation is setting in, and Europe continues to stumble badly in the wake of the Great Recession.

Apart from Krugman, Janet Yellen gets this. She along with other responsible economists view the global economic troubles since 2008 mostly as due to “deleveraging.” This, Krugman explains, is “a simultaneous attempt by debtors almost everywhere to reduce their liabilities. Why is deleveraging a problem? Because my spending is your income, and your spending is my income, so if everyone slashes spending at the same time, incomes go down around the world.”

The problem has come about mostly because of a simple-minded analogy, one that sounds true and scores political points, but just isn't how it works. “As Ms. Yellen put it in 2009,” Krugman writes. 'Precautions that may be smart for individuals and firms — and indeed essential to return the economy to a normal state — nevertheless magnify the distress of the economy as a whole.'”

We are far from having returned the economy to a “normal state,” despite years of punishing austerity, and some of the lowest government spending rates in decades. Krugman cites a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute titled “Debt and (Not Much) Deleveraging.” It found, “basically, that no nation has reduced its ratio of total debt to G.D.P. Household debt is down in some countries, especially in the United States. But it’s up in others, and even where there has been significant private deleveraging, government debt has risen by more than private debt has fallen.” 

Governments are not households or even small businesses that need to make sure not to overspend and go into crippling debt, and it is a misunderstanding to see them that way. Here's why, according to Krugman:

An indebted family owes money …read more


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Is Big Brother Here for Good?

February 9, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

Last week, President Obama revealed his proposed “reforms” to the intelligence community’s electronic surveillance practices. Ignoring the pleas of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and privacy and civil liberties groups to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, the president has chosen to keep the program in a lightly modified form.

It is a tribute to the power of the national security state that Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA abuse have not resulted in any real reduction in NSA’s powers and that no consequences have befallen those responsible for the abuses.

If we are to end our post-9/11 national security state, the congressional leadership must come to believe that blocking efforts to restore the Bill of Rights will result in real political consequences.”

Those responsible for authorizing and running these programs—including two presidents, their respective NSA directors, attorneys general and a slew of other lower-ranking officials—have successfully constructed a system of mass surveillance that operates in an accountability-free zone politically and is manifestly ineffective. But the true threat these programs pose is to the very experiment that is America—a country created in response to the very kinds of warrantless searches embodied in these and other post-9/11 government activities.

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Today, through surveillance collection programs like Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the federal government has stored data showing if you’ve ever visited a website offering ammunition for sale, whether you’ve ever called a gun shop or shooting range, and whether any of the people in your calling circles have done so. The same situation exists with respect to any calls you’ve made to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or to a family planning organization, or to an overseas chapter of an international human rights organization you support. The list is endless, and the federal government has no business having any of that data.

Of course, these assaults on the Bill of Rights would not have been possible without the active participation of Congress. The original sin was the passage, just six weeks after the 9/11 attacks, of the Patriot Act.

Having worked in the House of Representatives for over a decade and participated in multiple political campaigns, I understand well the intense pressure House and Senate members faced to “do something” in the wake of the attacks. But the Patriot Act was offered up and passed based …read more

Source: OP-EDS