Thursday, January 28, 2016

The New Demilitarized Zone

Some Officers Bristle at Recall of Military Equipment:

On the day a heavily armed couple fatally shot 14 people and wounded more than 20 others in San Bernardino, Calif., last month, Michael J. Bouchard, a sheriff here in the Detroit area, got an order to return his department’s 14-ton armored personnel carrier to the federal government.

It was one of hundreds of similar notifications from the Obama administration to law enforcement agencies across the country — from Los Angeles to rural areas like Calhoun County, Ala. — to give back an array of federal surplus military equipment by April 1, in response to concerns that the equipment was unnecessary and misused. The items to be returned: armored vehicles that run on tracks, .50-caliber machine guns, grenade launchers, bayonets and camouflage clothing.
Most of the agencies have complied without complaint. But to Sheriff Bouchard and some other suburban and rural sheriffs, the orders were an infuriating, if entirely legal, federal overreach, leaving local officials without critical tools in an age of heightened fears about terrorism and mass shootings.

“This isn’t Mayberry, where a guy goes and locks himself in jail because he got drunk,” Sheriff Bouchard said, describing Oakland County, Mich., where he has been the sheriff since 1999. “There are guys who walk up to you and fire off 13 rounds in a couple of seconds.”
And then put themselves in jail.
Since at least the 1990s, with congressional approval, the Pentagon has sent extra military equipment to local law enforcement agencies in every state — including to police and sheriff’s departments; prisons; and school, university and park police. That program expanded after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when federal officials began to view police departments as critical in fighting terrorism.

Then came the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., against the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

As the police there confronted demonstrators, social media and television were flooded with scenes of officers clad in body armor while riding atop armored vehicles, aiming semiautomatic rifles at protesters. Images of the police as soldiers provoked sharp criticism, including from Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Amid the protests, President Obama ordered a review of the military equipment program by a panel including the heads of the Defense, Homeland Security and Justice Departments. The panel’s report, made public last year, cited the public uproar caused by the police response in Ferguson and said the government had failed to adequately oversee the program. It also pointed to a June 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that documented the flow of battlefield gear to local police departments and instances of its abuse.
Again, as with police shootings themselves, it is the awareness via social media and ubiquitous smartphone videos/pictures that has changed the perception of militarization. Sadly, while that's a good development, most Americans are unaware that this has not only been going on since the mid-90's as the article notes, but really going back to the first war on drugs in late 60's/early 70's, when the LEAA was created and the massive change in federal monies flowing to local law enforcement began in ernest (see my previous post from 2014 on the history of militarization).

So the belief that this kind of pseudo-macho equipment is necessary to stop shootings or solve crimes, or viewing criminals as the "enemy," has already been ingrained in the law enforcement cultural zeitgeist for the past 50 years or so.
“Take them away from anyone who used them improperly, absolutely, but don’t punish everyone,” said Sheriff Larry Amerson of Calhoun County, who was recently ordered to send back his department’s M-113 armored vehicle. “Now, if we have an active-shooter situation with an armed person, we don’t have any piece of equipment to move in safely for my deputies or the people I’m sworn to protect.”
The Pentagon said local agencies that had been ordered to return tracked armored vehicles like the M-113 would get priority in receiving similar vehicles, including Humvees and MRAPs, which can withstand roadside bombs.
Like you would need if we were in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As the article notes, the vast majority of departments are complying with the federal order to send the tanks and grenade launchers and machine guns and bayonets back to the Defense Department, so this is a few lone holdouts still angry about "federal overreach" or something (failing to miss the correlation between that and "federal largesse" one assumes). 

But the good news is, we're getting the heavy armor off our streets and demilitarizing our communities, one tank at a time. 

It's also good news the administration seems to recognize that the police were never meant to be an "occupying force" in our lives, and that we should return to the original mission of law enforcement, which was being sworn peace officers, there to keep the peace.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pick On Someone Your Own Size

SCOTUS Expands Parole Rights For Juveniles Sentenced to Life:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that its 2012 decision banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile killers must be applied retroactively, granting a new chance at release for hundreds of inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murders they committed in their youth.

The vote was 6 to 3, and the majority decision was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court’s leading proponent of cutting back on the death penalty and other harsh punishments for entire classes of offenders. His opinion strengthened the 2012 decision, which merely required new sentencing where life without parole had been imposed automatically, without taking into account the defendant’s youth.

Monday’s opinion indicated that life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders should be exceedingly rare. Justice Kennedy also gave states a second option — instead of resentencing the affected prisoners, they could make them eligible for parole.

In the 2012 decision, Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that automatic life sentences for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Life-without-parole sentences would remain permissible, the court said, but only after individualized consideration. But the court did not say whether the decision was merely prospective or whether it required new sentencing hearings or other review for offenders who had already exhausted their appeals.
As I and others wrote back in 2012 when Miller came down, this question of retroactivity (re Teague v. Lane 1989, and others) would eventually come back before the court. What I didn't predict is that the five who wrote the Miller decision would pick up a vote (CJ Roberts) to join them.

Doug Berman speculates that maybe there was a bit of horsetrading going on (Roberts joins this, the other five stop short of banning all life sentences for all juveniles). Lyle Denniston doesn't really touch on Roberts joining the majority, but gives a reasoned summary of the decision.

I just think it's interesting since at orals in October, he seemed as skeptical as the other three dissenters.

Nonetheless, the day this decision came down, the president also announced a categorical ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, another landmark move for juvenile rights in the criminal justice system.
President Obama on Monday banned the practice of holding juveniles in solitary confinement in federal prisons, saying it could lead to “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.”

The move, which Mr. Obama outlined in an op-ed article published by The Washington Post on Monday night, adds the weight of the federal government to a growing movement among state prison administrators, who have begun sharply limiting or ending the use of solitary confinement.

Mr. Obama said federal prisons would no longer use solitary confinement for juveniles or for inmates serving time for low-level infractions. He said the change, along with expanded mental health treatment, would affect as many as 10,000 inmates in the federal system, about a tenth of those being held in solitary confinement in the United States, including in state prisons.
Again, somewhat limited in the sense that it affects only federal institutions (the vast majority of juveniles and/or mentally ill inmates are held in state facilities), but sweeping nevertheless. And his op-ed in the WaPo was even more forceful, even perhaps sending a signal to SCOTUS that the practice might be scrapped permanently as well.
There are as many as 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons — including juveniles and people with mental illnesses. As many as 25,000 inmates are serving months, even years of their sentences alone in a tiny cell, with almost no human contact. 

As president, my most important job is to keep the American people safe. And since I took office, overall crime rates have decreased by more than 15 percent. In our criminal justice system, the punishment should fit the crime — and those who have served their time should leave prison ready to become productive members of society. How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.  
He may have also sent a signal to the Catholic members of the court:
In America, we believe in redemption. We believe, in the words of Pope Francis, that “every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.” We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger and worthy of our highest ideals. 
If you remember, Anthony Kennedy issued a out-of-the-blue concurrence in a death penalty case last summer where he suggested it might be time to reconsider solitary as a violation of the 8th amendment. Expect that war drum to get louder as we move forward.

Overall, between the court decision and Obama's order banning solitary, it was a good day for juveniles in the criminal justice system. And a better day for the country. 

The case is Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Prescription Thugs

Talk to your doctor...ask your doctor:

  1. The price of your congressman? $450,000 a year
  2. The number of accidental overdoses? One every 19 minutes
  3. The number of heroin addicts who got addicted first to prescription opiods? Virtually all
  4. The difference between a drug dealer on a street corner wearing a hoodie, and a doctor in their office wearing a lab coat? None
See this movie.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

SCOTUS: Shut Up Florida

Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida Death Penalty Scheme 8-1:

Florida's death penalty sentencing process violates the constitutional rights of criminal defendants by granting judges powers that juries should wield, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, siding with a man convicted of murdering a fried-chicken restaurant manager.

The court's 8-1 decision means death row inmate Timothy Hurst, 37, could be re-sentenced for the 1998 murder of Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola, potentially avoiding capital punishment. The case will return to the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether Hurst's death sentence can be upheld on other grounds.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing on behalf of the court, said the right to an impartial jury guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment "required Florida to base Timothy Hurst's death sentence on a jury's verdict, not a judge's fact-finding."

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito was the sole dissenter.
That's right, Sam I Am Alito the only one. Not even Scalia or Thomas could join the loony dissent he issued, which basically argued that the "horrendous nature" of the crime should trump due process, constitutionally approved statutes, and previous court decisions, including ones approved by the very court upon which he sits (or to use his own words, "even if there was a constitutional violation in this case"). 

I'm sure Alito will be calling for bringing back boiling in oil next, what with the price per barrel of oil being so low and all.

But lest you think SCOTUS has turned a corner, and there are now eight justices poised to undo capital punishment generally, think again. The Hurst decision is very narrow to Florida, and even narrower to the handful of inmates who were unconstitutionally sentenced to death by rogue judges, in clear violation of the 6th amendment and the Ring decision issued 14 years ago.

Don't worry, I'm sure, like Texas, Florida will be back soon with another harebrained grapefruit scheme to keep the machinery of death going down there in the sunshine state, no matter how far into the 21st century America and the rest of the world continue to move and evolve.

The case is Hurst v. Florida (2016)

UPDATE: And see? Just like that, a week later, we get an 8-1 decision in favor of Kansas and its death penalty protocols (with only Sotomayor dissenting):
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against three Kansas inmates whose death sentences had been vacated by the state’s Supreme Court.

The vote was 8 to 1, and Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion was notable for its extended account of the crimes committed by two of the inmates, the brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr.

The decision concerned sentencing procedures and did not make a major contribution to the court’s death penalty jurisprudence. The decision by the justices returned the case to the Kansas Supreme Court, which may again vacate the death sentences.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had suggested in June that the death penalty may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, joined Justice Scalia’s opinion without comment.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying there had been no reason to hear the case.
The outcome on this wasn't unexpected either. Despite the crime-porn Scalia gets off on in the majority opinion (and rightly called out by Sotomayor as "irrelevant" to the facts at hand), the case essentially turned on aggravating and mitigating factors, upholding Gregg v. Georgia (1976) from 40 years ago, as well as more recent decisions such as Kansas v. Marsh (2006).

Essentially, that's why three of the more liberal members joined the majority: sending the message that until the dp is thrown out completely, better to follow the court's own precedents (stare decisis, etc.).

The cases are lumped under Kansas v. Carr (2016)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

YallQaeda (and the power of labels)

Cautious Response to Oregon Standoff:

BURNS, Ore. — Clad in boots, cowboy hats and camouflage, a small band of antigovernment protesters stood in the snow and subfreezing cold on Monday at a federally owned wildlife sanctuary they have taken over, called themselves defenders of the Constitution, and declared that they were at the vanguard of a national movement to force Washington to release its hold on vast tracts of Western land.

For its part, the federal government appeared content, for now, to monitor the situation and wait out the protesters.

The armed group, which said it had adopted the name Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, has occupied a handful of buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near here since Saturday and says it does not plan to budge until its conditions are met.

The group is small — an exact number is hard to pin down — but claims to have the backing of a long list of antigovernment groups. Its goals are ambitious: The protesters want “the federal government to give up its unconstitutional presence in this county,” said Ammon Bundy, one of the leaders, at a news conference on Monday.
It's interesting how the Feds have chosen to "wait out" the seizure of one of its (our) buildings and spreads of lands. On the one hand, as others have wondered since the siege started last weekend, why are they called "protesters" and not terrorists? If this had been a group of black or Muslim citizens, would the reaction be so passively "eh, let's see what happens"? Would we not have mobilized the national guard or sent in a few drone strikes by now if the protesters had been anything but a bunch of angry white middle aged men?
Heidi Beirich, the director of intelligence with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who oversees the center’s tracking of extremist groups, said that there was a danger to under-reaction, and that the last Bundy standoff had set a bad precedent.

“They were emboldened by their ability to run federal officials off at the point of a gun,” Ms. Beirich said. “Now, a year and half later, there have been no prosecutions whatsoever. Pointing a gun at a federal officer is a crime.”
On the other hand, maybe there really is no threat, and these "militiamen" are not worth another Waco style assault. Witness the fact that after the siege started, they were unable to keep a campfire going for warmth, and sent out for pizza and other supplies to be delivered.

The internet jumped in and (for once) probably got this one right, pointing out the hypocrisy of "taking back our land" that was never theirs to begin with, and wondering why all white people weren't being asked to "speak out and decry this radicalization," as one Muslim commentator put it.

Even more cutting were the labels affixed to the militiamen: VanillaISIS, YallQaeda, YeeHawdists, etc., and wondering where all the "stand your ground, open carry" gun enthusiasts were in response.

In some ways, the withering reaction to these dudes is push back to the expansion of "gun rights" that's been going on the past 15 years. While pro-gun organizations have been very adept at exploiting mass shootings and the electoral process to further their agenda, a growing plurality in surveys view the open-carry/stand your ground/guns everywhere proponents very similarly to these militiamen in Oregon, and wonder if pictures like this don't suggest American society has gone completely insane on the issue. 

Sidebar: my favorite part of the Texas open carry law is the subsection that addresses certain prohibitions at correctional institutions, including "firearms may not be carried within 1000 feet of the execution chamber (Huntsville unit) on the day of a death penalty (sic)." Why? Shouldn't the inmate or his family have a chance to stand their ground and defend him from what is otherwise a state-sponsored homicide?

Hmmm...there's that pesky labeling theory again, pointing out what we call these things (terrorists, protesters, militiamen, Yokel Haram) is entirely subjective and amounts to who has the power to impose the label.  And in our society, it is the power-elite (via Big Media) who impose the label, and minorities, the poor, and the otherwise powerless who are labeled.

It's also subjective in the sense that most people never have to confront the tragedy of gun violence in society on a personal level. It's all very esoteric, othered, and run through the political and entertainment filter from the comfort of your living room, and the wild west fantasy in your head where you're the hero with the gun, saving the day. 

You wanna see one person who does have to confront the violence, whose job it is to comfort the victim's families, whose been doing it hundreds of times over the past seven years...Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, San Bernardino)? Watch the president break down this morning, announcing new gun control initiatives (as I've written previously, you're gonna miss Mr. Spock when he's gone; and yes I know Spock never cried, except that one time, right? The spores? C'mon!).

And then watch the reaction later today: more guns, more violence, more armed standoffs, more mass shootings.  Don't forget: every sensible call for gun control gets turned into "Obama's gonna take yer guns!" because it's fundamentally good for business.

Kind of ironic, if you think about it: the issue is framed as a Constitutional power grab or 2nd Amendment matter, when in reality, it's just another way the power-elite screw the masses by scaring them into plonking down millions more $$ on guns and ammo they don't need. P. T. Barnum, we hardly knew ye.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Executions Continue to Decline

Lowest levels since 1991:

Executions in the United States in 2015 fell to their lowest number in nearly 25 years, and new death sentences imposed by courts declined to levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to a report released Wednesday.

The annual survey by the Death Penalty Information Center recorded 28 executions this year, the fewest since 1991, when there were 14.

“The numbers are consistent with a long-term trend in which public support for the death penalty is dropping, the number of executions is dropping and the number of death penalties imposed is dropping,” said Robert Dunham, the center’s executive director.
Except in Georgia:
The death penalty survey found that the 28 people executed in 2015 were seven fewer than were put to death in 2014. Only six states carried out executions this year — led by 13 in Texas, which frequently has the nation’s most executions; six in Missouri; and five in Georgia.
I believe anecdotally it was a backlog of old cases and exhausted appeals that contributed to the mad rush of whackings here in Georgia. But as usual (and thankfully) we weren't anywhere Texas numbers.

Nonetheless, excepting a handful of states still clinging to 19th century ideas of "justice," it continues the downward spiral of death sentences and executions in the U.S. overall, even and in spite of the consternation it causes among pro-death penalty bloggers

Which in itself is kind of delicious and fun to watch.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dear Santa: More Drugs Please

Still in the Crib, Yet On Antipsychotics:

Cases like that of Andrew Rios, in which children age 2 or younger are prescribed psychiatric medications to address alarmingly violent or withdrawn behavior, are rising rapidly, data shows. Many doctors worry that these drugs, designed for adults and only warily accepted for certain school-age youngsters, are being used to treat children still in cribs despite no published research into their effectiveness and potential health risks for children so young.

Almost 20,000 prescriptions for risperidone (commonly known as Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel) and other antipsychotic medications were written in 2014 for children 2 and younger, a 50 percent jump from 13,000 just one year before, according to the prescription data company IMS Health. Prescriptions for the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) rose 23 percent in one year for that age group, to about 83,000.

The data did not indicate the condition for which these prescriptions were written. Doctors are generally free to prescribe any medication for any purpose they see fit, so some drugs can occasionally be used in unproven and debatable ways. But the volume and rapid rise in psychotropics such as antipsychotics and antidepressants in children 2 and younger suggest a trend.
Read that again: "doctors are generally free to prescribe medication for any purpose they see fit." No guidelines, no oversight, and in the case of dispensing meds to kids 2 or younger, no idea what they are doing.

Risperdal in 18 month olds is complete and utter lunacy, but even among the preschool set generally it is dangerous and unproven. Sometimes a preschooler is just acting like a preschooler [gasp].
Most experts suspected that the trend of medicating younger and younger children for suspected psychiatric disorders was trickling down to very young children. Last year, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that health care providers had given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to at least 10,000 children age 2 or 3 and then prescribed medications such as Adderall outside American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Academy of Neurology have no guidelines or position statements regarding use of antidepressants and antipsychotics in children younger than 3.
Which suggests they do have guidelines for the toddler set 3 years old and up. Which is, of course, complete malpractice and borderline criminal behavior on behalf of the esteemed Academy and its board of governors.

How could an organization like the AAP dispense untested medications to these lab rats (er, children) on nothing more than an "assumption" that if it works on adults, it can work on kids (or in this case, the diaper-gym set)?

Simple: Big Pharma and its cozy relationship with pediatrics and Big Medicine in general. As I've said several times over the years on this blog: the doctors are just the street level drug pushers for the cartels that are Big Pharma. The only difference between a doctor in a lab coat with a prescription pad, and a guy wearing a hoodie on the street corner, is there is no difference.

Actually, there's only one difference: if the guy in the hoodie deals drugs to kids, he goes to prison for a long time. If some "MD" with stethoscope and prescrip pad costume deals drugs to kids, he gets a raise (via his kickback) from Big Pharma.

Worse, as Frontline showed years ago, keeping kids on these high-powered antipsychotics as they get older and develop in adolescence creates all kinds of facial ticks, neck rolls and profound psychological and neurological damage.

But hey, as long as we can keep them quiet when they're younger? And obedient to the cultural norms of appropriate behavior? And less disruptive in day care or in elementary school later?

Open wide, kiddies. Here comes Santa.