Thursday, May 21, 2015

And Free Balloons For The Kids!

I don't do a lot of pop culture posts on here, but David Letterman's retirement from the "Late Show" last night after 33 years (including 11 on "Late Night") was a poignant, generational moment for me. I was in high school when Dave first came on the air and can remember staying up late, sneaking downstairs to watch him (and occasionally getting busted for it). By the time I started college, Dave was mandatory viewing on campuses, and in dorm rooms and off-campus apartments. Back in the pre-internet days, getting together to watch television programs at other people's cribs was actually a thing.

What made him so identifiable was the instant, generational appeal. The Boomers and old fogies had Carson and Tonight...we had Letterman throwing shit off five story buildings, throwing himself against a wall wearing a velcro suit, the Alka-Seltzer suit, and of course stupid pet tricks, human tricks, top ten lists, and so on. From Chris Elliot to Larry Bud Melman, it was irreverent, smart, brilliant tv that fit the generational irony and malaise many of us felt in the 80's and 90's. And during the 90's, the best way to size up a person you just met was "Leno or Letterman?" The Dave people were my people.

Like others, you get older, have kids, and late night t.v. becomes a luxury rather than a lifestyle. I didn't watch it as much I used to the past 10 years or so, and the late night landscape looks way different today than it did back in my high school 80's era. But I catch various shows online or via social media when I can, and while I'm more Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, than Jimmy Fallon (or "Lonnie Donegan" as Dave called him once), I need to check out Seth Meyers, and am looking forward to Stephen Colbert's debut in the fall.

But really, there will never be another Letterman. Last night's show was pitch-perfect, lacking in the self-importance and weepiness of Carson or Leno's retirement. It was a Dave-fest through and through..."by the way ladies and gentlemen, this stuff in lieu of entertainment." 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inch by Inch Progress

So as I've written several times recently, the momentum towards criminal justice reform and decarceration is still quite prevalent and trendy, even in some parts of the country we never expected to see inklings of reform.

Justice Reform in Deep South:

It has been getting easier by the day for politicians to talk about fixing the nation’s broken criminal justice system. But when states in the Deep South, which have long had some of the country’s harshest penal systems, make significant sentencing and prison reforms, you know something has changed.

Almost all of these deep-red states have made changes to their justice systems in the last few years, and in doing so they have run laps around Congress, which continues to dither on the passage of any meaningful reform. Lawmakers in Alabama, for example, voted nearly unanimously early this month to approve a criminal justice bill. Alabama prisons are stuffed to nearly double capacity, endangering the health and lives of the inmates, and the cost of mass imprisonment is crippling the state budget at no discernible benefit to public safety.

The bill would cut the state’s prison population of nearly 25,000 by about 4,500 people over the next five years. Sentences for certain nonviolent crimes would be shortened, and more parole supervisors would be hired to help ensure that people coming out of prison don’t return. Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign the measure as soon as Tuesday.
The article notes that Alabama joins Georgia and South Carolina in having reformed its criminal sentencing schemes in the past few years.

Now, one wonders if the death penalty might not be next.

Conservative Support Aids Bid to Ban Death Penalty in Nebraska:
The Nebraska Legislature will decide in the next several weeks whether to do what no other conservative state has done in more than 40 years: Abolish the death penalty.

In the latest sign that vigorous support for capital punishment can no longer be taken for granted among Republicans, a coalition of Republican, Democratic and independent lawmakers has backed a bill that would replace capital punishment with life imprisonment. Its members cite reasons that range from fiscal and practical to ideological.

On Friday, the unicameral Legislature voted in favor of the bill, 30 to 16, after four hours of debate. A final vote is likely this week, and if the lawmakers approve the measure again, as is expected, it will go to Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Tea Party Republican and strong supporter of capital punishment. The governor has said he would veto the bill, setting up a potentially fierce campaign to override him.
While several states have banned the death penalty in the past decade, it would be extraordinary to see a deep red state like Nebraska to join those ranks (the only thing more extraordinary would be a deep south state). 

What you see is a lot of ideological gymnastics going on to try and move away from the doggedly pure, pro-death penalty ideology of partisan politics. 
The Republicans who support repeal say they are part of an emerging group that has changed positions on the death penalty, forming what they hope is a compelling conservative argument against it.Those Republicans have argued that the appeals process for inmates sentenced to death has left the state with unnecessary costs, money that should be spent elsewhere.

Senator Colby Coash, a conservative who is a sponsor of the bill, said he had come to believe that opposing capital punishment aligned with his values as a Republican and a Christian conservative.

“I’m a conservative guy — I’ve been a Republican my whole life,” he said in an interview. “A lot of my conservative colleagues have come to the conclusion that we’re there to root out inefficient government programs. Some people see this as a pro-life issue. Other people see it as a good-government issue. But the support that this bill is getting from conservative members is evidence that you can get justice through eliminating the death penalty, and you can get efficient government through eliminating the death penalty.”
The fact that the "liberal" New York Times is writing about it probably doesn't bode well for the movement generally, but it does represent a safer line of reasoning, for those in conservative states who have always had qualms about the death penalty, to embrace.

Last, a big announcement this morning from Washington regarding militarizing policing and the role of the federal government.

Obama to Limit Military-Style Equipment for Police Departments:
President Obama on Monday will ban the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restrict the availability of others, administration officials said.

The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.
A reaction, interestingly, that you didn't see yesterday in Waco, Tx after a shootout erupted between rival biker gangs, killing 9 people. There were no jackboots, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers or any of the usual spectacle that gets dragged out in inner city communities.

If you read the proposals, it does leave a question as to how far the ban goes. Some things are on the list, others aren't, but as usual in criminal justice, you take the good with the bad. 

Regardless, today seems more like a two steps forward, one back kind of day, rather than the usual one step up, two steps back.

UPDATE: The Nebraska did indeed vote to abolish the death penalty on May 20th, and many believe by a veto-proof majority. Huge development. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Standardized Test Fight Club

I love John Oliver's takes on various subjects. His privatization of corrections episode is still something I show in class.

I'm adding this clip to my standardized test section in Intro, starting this summer.

Friday, May 1, 2015

American Psycho (Association)

American Psychological Association Bolstered CIA Torture Program:

The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.

“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.

On June 4, 2004, the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet, signed a secret order suspending the agency’s use of the enhanced techniques, while asking for a policy review to make sure the program still had the Bush administration’s backing.

“I strongly believe that the administration needs to now review its previous legal and policy positions with respect to detainees to assure that we all speak in a united and unambiguous voice about the continued wisdom and efficacy of those positions in light of the current controversy,” Mr. Tenet wrote in a memo that has since been declassified.

At that critical moment, the American Psychological Association took action that its critics now say helped the troubled interrogation program.

In early June 2004, a senior official with the association, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the crisis and the role of psychologists in the interrogation program.

Psychologists from the C.I.A. and other agencies met with association officials in July, and by the next year the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.

To emphasize their argument that the association grew too close to the interrogation program, the critics’ new report cites a 2003 email from a senior psychologist at the C.I.A. to a senior official at the psychological association. In the email, the C.I.A. psychologist appears to be confiding in the association official about the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the private contractors who developed and helped run the enhanced interrogation program at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons around the world.
These are the same two clowns I wrote about in December. Questions about the role of the A.P.A. were being raised then as well, and now we know more.
The three lead authors of the report are longtime and outspoken critics of the association: Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Steven Reisner, a clinical psychologist and founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology; and Nathaniel Raymond, the director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and the former director of the campaign against torture at Physicians for Human Rights.
“In 2004 and 2005 the C.I.A. torture program was threatened from within and outside the Bush administration,” Mr. Soldz said by email. “Like clockwork, the A.P.A. directly addressed legal threats at every critical juncture facing the senior intelligence officials at the heart of the program. In some cases the A.P.A. even allowed these same Bush officials to actually help write the association’s policies.”

Rhea Farberman, a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association, denied that the group had coordinated its actions with the government. There “has never been any coordination between A.P.A. and the Bush administration on how A.P.A. responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program,” she said.
One doesn't need a degree in psychology to see that, quite clearly, someone is lying. And I'm putting my money on the behemoth A.P.A. (both Psychological and Psychiatric) and the rest of the psychiatric-industrial complex who have billions to lose in all of this negative publicity.

It's bad enough to know our own government tortured people and went to extraordinary lengths to keep the torture programs hidden from public knowledge. But to know they had the help of the A.P.A. and a number of willing psychologists and psychiatrists in the administration and covering up of the program is beyond may have indeed been a war crime.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A 2015 Furman Decision?

Supreme Court Hears Oklahoma Lethal Injection Case:

The United States Supreme Court Wednesday morning heard oral argument about the lethal injection procedures Oklahoma wants to use on the condemned. The argument was supposed to focus on whether the method prison officials now use — a cocktail that generated a botched execution exactly one year ago of a man named Clayton Lockett — violates the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners to be free from “cruel and unusual” punishment.

What the argument actually did focus on, for long stretches of time, was the concern expressed by Court conservatives that they are being bullied by what Justice Samuel Alito called the “guerilla” tactics of the capital abolitionist movement. Below is a seven-page passage from today’s argument, a particularly ferocious debate that highlights the extent to which the justices are divided on one of capital punishment’s freshest and most litigated issues: how (and not whether) the state can lawfully kill.
More from the Times:
“Let’s be honest about what’s going on here,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said. “Executions can be carried out painlessly.”

He added, “Is it appropriate for the judiciary to countenance what amounts to a guerrilla war against the death penalty which consists of efforts to make it impossible for the states to obtain drugs that could be used to carry out capital punishment with little, if any, pain?”
The level of stupidity evident in this line of questioning is hard to comprehend. The efforts to make it more difficult for states to obtain lethal injection sedatives is a clear sign the country, state by death penalty state, is moving against the death penalty.

Unless you're Sam Alito, that is. Then, because you like executing people, this is just "guerrilla warfare" by death penalty "abolitionists."

Sidebar: keep in mind this is the same justice who, Tuesday during orals on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, asked  "suppose a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?" Apparently, same-sex marriage equals polygamy (or foursomes of a non-golf nature) in Sam's world.

Sidebar 2: there are several, pivotal milestones in a person's intellectual development worth considering, and I remember my own well. 1. realizing you're smarter than the Vice President of the United States (for me, 1989). 2. realizing you're smarter than the President of the United States (2001). 3. realizing you're smarter than a Supreme Court justice (2006, Alito's confirmation).

Back to the issue, Kennedy's silence was rather interesting yesterday. As Reuters notes "Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts deciding votes in close cases, said nothing to suggest he would side with the liberals," which is true, but he said nothing to suggest he'd side with the conservatives either.

This case reminds me of Roper v. Simmons from a decade ago when, out of nowhere, Kennedy joined the four liberals and did away with the death penalty for juveniles under 18. 

If he were to side with the four liberals now, and using the Trop test, decide Oklahoma's lethal injection scheme unconstitutional (the same scheme being used in several other states who are now scrambling to keep death alive), then the death penalty as administered could certainly fall, ala Furman v. Georgia in 1972. 

I'm not predicting such a sweeping outcome (in fact, virtually none of the death penalty experts in this article predict anything meaningful), but maybe the conservative justices were as freaked out as they were yesterday because they suspect something. 

And as this Times article notes, it's going to have to come from the Supreme Court because the Obama administration, in one of Eric Holder's last and ignominious acts as attorney general, dropped the ball on pushing for a federal ban on executions. And to piggyback on what I wrote two days ago, about crime as political capital, despite all the feel-good rhetoric about criminal justice reform, not one presidential candidate is running on ending the death penalty.

So back to the court. As Mark Halperin said, "It took 17 years -- from 1988 to 2005 -- for the court to see that executing juvenile offenders was wrong. It took 13 years -- from 1989 to 2002 -- for a pro-death penalty Supreme Court to decide executing someone with mental disabilities is wrong. We're now at a point where a lot of people can really see an end to this."

The case is Glossip v. Gross (2015), decision by June.

UPDATE: This Slate piece depicts how nasty the arguments got between the bad the Chief had to put everyone in Time Out by the end of the hour and declare sine die on the whole sordid term.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Is Crime No Longer Political Capital?

2016 Candidates United in Calls to Reform Justice System:

The last time a Clinton and a Bush ran for president, the country was awash in crime and the two parties were competing to show who could be tougher on murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Sentences were lengthened and new prisons sprouted up across the country.

But more than two decades later, declared and presumed candidates for president are competing over how to reverse what they see as the policy excesses of the 1990s and the mass incarceration that has followed. Democrats and Republicans alike are putting forth ideas to reduce the prison population and rethink a system that has locked up a generation of young men, particularly African-Americans.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Rand Paul want to ease mandatory minimum sentences. Gov. Chris Christie wants to release nonviolent offenders pending trial without bail. Gov. Scott Walker, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Senator James Webb want to expand drug treatment as an alternative to prison. Senator Marco Rubio wants to make it harder to convict federal defendants without proving intent.
So they're coming at it from different angles (libertarianism, fiscal responsibility, bleeding hearts, etc.) but they're still arriving at the same endpoint.
“This really does reflect a huge change in the political momentum from decades when parties and candidates competed to see who could be the most flamboyantly punitive,” said Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law and a former aide to Mr. Clinton. Now, Mr. Waldman said, “there’s a competition for reform and to take on the issue of mass incarceration. It’s really unheard-of in recent decades.”

The extent of that change is made evident in a new book Mr. Waldman’s center has compiled featuring essays by many of the major presidential candidates laying out ideas for tackling the criminal justice system. Mrs. Clinton and her Democratic rivals approach the issue from a social justice perspective, while Republicans like Mr. Cruz, Mr. Perry, Mr. Paul and Mr. Rubio see it through a fiscal, libertarian or religious lens, but they share a consensus about the goal.

“There is an emerging consensus that the time for criminal justice reform has come,” Mr. Rubio wrote in the book. “A spirited conversation about how to go about that reform has begun.”
Even the architects of the imprisonment binge are changing their tune, trying to appear forward-thinking and progressive on this issue (and possibly escape culpability for their actions in the process).
Significantly, [Mrs. Clinton's] husband added a foreword in which he implicitly agreed that some of the policies he himself embraced two decades ago were too extreme. “The drop in violence and crime in America has been an extraordinary national achievement,” Bill Clinton wrote. “But plainly, our nation has too many people in prison and for too long — we have overshot the mark.”

Also included is a recent speech from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has positioned himself to run in 2016 if Mrs. Clinton falters.
The fact that these two (Clinton and Biden), who together were responsible for the doubling of the prison population during the 90's, more than any two other politicians, have reversed course is astonishing.

But read their supposed mea culpas closer, and one begins to realize they're not really apologizing for their policies or the lives and communities destroyed because of them. Note Clinton's "the drop in violence and crime" line, suggesting that it was because of his draconian policies that crime went down, and now we just have to sort out the collateral damage. Nothing could be further from the truth...these policies had nothing to do with the drop in crime.

The other thing that makes me nervous is the notion that every single candidate of both parties is backing reform. The last time every single politician on both side of the aisle agreed on criminal justice, we ended up with 2.2 million people behind bars.
While crime has fallen in recent decades, the prison population has risen, although it has plateaued in recent years. More than 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, and a National Research Council study found that the state and federal prison population in 2009 was seven times what it was in 1973. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has more than 20 percent of its prison population.

The issue has been particularly acute among younger African-American men. Almost one in 12 black men from 25 to 54 are locked up, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in that age group. Many more have been released but have convictions on their records that make it hard to find jobs or vote.
The lack of skeptical or dissenting voices in the article is noticeable. Not dissenting as in "horse hockey, I say lock 'em up and throw away the key!" But dissenting/skeptical as in "is this for real?"

Put it this way: getting "right" or "smart on crime" has been in vogue for a few years now, yet oddly, the 2.2 million persons behind bars figure has barely budged, and more people are probation, parole and in the rest of the vast-network of "alternatives" to incarceration than ever before.

So let me be the skeptic/dissenting voice and merely say: talk is cheap. I'll believe criminal justice reform is real when I see it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hoosegow For Teachers

Atlanta Teachers Convicted of Erasure Tampering Sentenced to Long Prison Terms:

In an unexpectedly harsh sentence after a polarizing six-year ordeal, eight of the 10 educators convicted of racketeering in one of the nation’s largest public school cheating scandals were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years Tuesday after they refused to take sentencing deals that were predicated on their acceptance of responsibility and a waiver of their right to appeal.

Many here, amid widespread calls for leniency before the sentencing, were shocked at the severity of the sentences handed down by Judge Jerry W. Baxter, who had seemed to indicate on Monday that he wanted to avoid prison terms. But after the deals fell through, and while declaring the cheating scandal “the sickest thing that’s ever happened in this town,” he imposed sentences that appeared to be more harsh than those in similar cheating scandals elsewhere and that exceeded what criminals sometimes receive for violent crimes.
Well, it is a violent crime when you violate a scantron form by changing the bubbles without the scantron's consent. Erasure tampering involves violent, back and forth, heavy erasure movements. No scantron can survive that.

And yes, that kind of crime is definitely the "sickest thing that's ever happened" in Atlanta, worse than any murder, gang rape, robbery or anything else. Far worse. Ever.
Among those declining deals were three higher-level administrators: Sharon Davis-Williams, Michael Pitts and Tamara Cotman, all regional directors at Atlanta Public Schools. Judge Baxter sentenced each of them to seven years in prison.

These sentences exceeded prosecutors’ recommendations. Also sentenced after refusing a deal were Angela Williamson, an elementary teacher, and Tabeeka Jordan, an assistant principal, who each received two years in prison. Three other defendants received one year in prison each: Dana Evans, a principal; Diane Buckner-Webb, a teacher; and Theresia Copeland, a testing coordinator.

Judge Baxter, who presided over the complex six-month trial, was angry that some of the defendants would not stand before the court and take responsibility for what they had done.

“She didn’t need to apologize to me; she needed to apologize to this community and these children,” the judge said to lawyers for Ms. Buckner-Webb, who had questioned the prosecutors’ demand that she make such a statement. “I want the community to have the apology, and I want these children who were shortchanged and cheated to have the apology.”
Of course, maybe they didn't feel they should apologize because, y'know, they're teachers, not common criminals, who did nothing but operate within a flawed and obsessive educational system of standardized testing that your "community" instituted. Maybe the apology should come from every brain-dead politician and school board member who ever supported and instituted standardized testing, "teacher accountability," and incentivized performance based on test scores.

But what do I know. Meanwhile, what I'm really upset about is this:
But the judge also ordered all of the educators released on bond from county jail, where they had been held since their April 1 conviction. Lawyers said that those ordered to prison would probably remain free unless their convictions were upheld in the appeals process, which could take months or years.
Outrageous and unforgivable. The community is clearly not safe with these treacherous thugs in bow ties and pant suits roaming the streets while their durn appeals tie up the court for years and waste even more of our tax payer dollars. These criminals belong in prison. Or maybe even the death penalty.

No punishment is too harsh for cretins who think they can dare challenge or beat the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex.