Monday, March 20, 2017

John Wetton: An Extraordinary Life

Haven't done a smoke break video in awhile, but here's a good one. Back on January 31st we lost a music hero of mine, John Wetton, a guy who pretty much provided the soundtrack to my life over the years (from King Crimson, to Asia to Icon and a myriad of solo albums).

Not sure who did this tribute, but it's done to one of my favorite songs "After All" off his 1998 solo album "Arkangel." Chuck Berry may have started it all, but JW put a lasting imprimatur on the genre as well. RIP one of the greatest voices of all time.


The Failure of Militarized Policing

Door-Busting Drug Raids Leave Trail of Blood:

As policing has militarized to fight a faltering war on drugs, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants, which regularly introduce staggering levels of violence into missions that might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocks at the door.
Thousands of times a year, these “dynamic entry” raids exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of neighborhood drug dealers. But they have also led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, blackened reputations and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, an investigation by The New York Times found.
For the most part, governments at all levels have chosen not to quantify the toll by requiring reporting on SWAT operations. But The Times’s investigation, which relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files, found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Scores of others were maimed or wounded.
The casualties have occurred in the execution of no-knock warrants, which give the police prior judicial authority to force entry without notice, as well as warrants that require the police to knock and announce themselves before breaking down doors. Often, there is little difference.
These kinds of hyper-militarized raids, often times done on the flimsiest of warrants, and usually turning up one gram, one ounce, or less of said substance, are a disgrace to long-term policing veterans. And because the raids are carried out with legal impunity, with little to no training, a wild-west mentality pervades the planning, execution, and usually tragic endings.
Some SWAT veterans find it confounding that many police agencies remain so devoted to dynamic entry. The tactic is far from universally embraced, and a number of departments have retired or restricted its use over the years, often after a bad experience.
The National Tactical Officers Association, which might be expected to mount the most ardent defense, has long called for using dynamic entry sparingly. Robert Chabali, the group’s chairman from 2012 to 2015, goes so far as to recommend that it never be used to serve narcotics warrants.
“It just makes no sense,” said Mr. Chabali, a SWAT veteran who retired as assistant chief of the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department in 2015. “Why would you run into a gunfight? If we are going to risk our lives, we risk them for a hostage, for a citizen, for a fellow officer. You definitely don’t go in and risk your life for drugs.”
Another former chairman of the association, Phil Hansen, said SWAT teams tended to use dynamic entry as “a one-size-fits-all solution to tactical problems.” As commander of the Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif., and before that a longtime SWAT leader for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, he said it seemed foolhardy to move so aggressively in a state that voted in November to legalize recreational marijuana.
“Why am I risking people’s lives to save an ounce of something that they’re bringing in by the freighter every year?” he asked.
Predictably, there is push back from those who wish to cling to their guns and grenades.
“If you want to take the position that narcotics laws in this country should not be enforced, then O.K., yeah,” said Sheriff Greg Champagne of St. Charles Parish in Louisiana, the president of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “That’s not the position of the law enforcement people around the country that I know. If you’re going to make narcotics cases you need to have evidence, and search warrants are how you get it.”
Sheriff Champagne said his deputies looked for opportunities to detain suspects on the street or in cars. Even so, he said, “there are times we just have to go in.”
“There’s an argument that no-knock warrants can actually be safer for residents and officers because a well-trained SWAT team can neutralize a situation in seconds and minimize the chance for hostage-takings and standoffs,” he added. “You can always point to the one bad case, but look at the thousands of cases where a no-knock warrant was executed without injury and heroin is seized. How many lives are saved because we got it off the street?”
Probably none, since heroin and the opioid crisis is a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem, and it's currently killing 30,000+ people every year in the U.S. And all the no-knock warrants in the world aren't going to stop it. 

But as the academic evidence shows, this is more about testosterone, masculinity, and a kind of Hollywood tough-guy image of SWAT teams that pervades some departments and communities.

Also, it's about the Benjamins to be gained via asset forfeiture laws, which have basically legalized stealing and looting in the name of the War on Drugs. 
Clearly there are other factors that contribute to the tactic’s staying power. Some of it, according to long-term observers, derives from the adrenalized, hypermasculine, militaristic ethos of SWAT.
“It’s culturally intoxicating, a rush,” said Dr. Kraska, the criminologist. “It involves dressing up in body armor and provocative face coverings and enhanced-hearing sets, a cyborg 21st-century kind of appeal. And instead of sitting around and waiting for something to happen twice or three times a year, you can go out and generate it.”
That culture is reinforced by a cottage industry of tactical training contractors, many of them veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, who are hired by police departments to keep SWAT teams up to date.
“For them, collateral damage is something you try to avoid but it’s not a deal breaker,” Commander Hansen said. “That doesn’t translate well for police work. If you’re in the military and told to clear a block of houses in a half-hour, you’re going to do it quickly by kicking in doors and throwing grenades. It’s a whole different theater of operations.”
Another potential factor is the incentive sometimes provided by asset forfeiture laws when contraband or drug proceeds are found in a residence. Revenue generated by those seizures typically reverts back to law enforcement agencies.
Frankly, if we wiped out the immunity laws that allow these raids to happen, not just for the officers and prosecutors who cook up the warrants, but the hapless, often witless magistrates who approve them without any real knowledge of the facts, we might cut down on on the trail of blood. 

Putting it a different way: if these judges, prosecutors and officers knew they could be held civilly and criminally liable for their actions, they might put more time into avoiding these wrong-address raids that end up taking innocent lives.

It might also save more blue lives, as this accompanying article argues. With so many "stand your ground laws" now on the books, and gun ownership in the U.S. at an all-time high, we are basically sending law enforcement officers to their deaths needlessly in these no-knock situations. People have the right to defend their property, and as the article shows, officers get killed by citizens exercising their rights before they are aware that the people "breaking into their homes" are, in fact, the police.

Of course, the article also shows how the white defendant who killed a cop was let go in the name of self-defense, while the black defendant is charged with capital murder and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. But regardless, two cops are dead, and it's a tragedy all the way around.

These heavy-handed, no-knock SWAT spectacles are the shameful, ignominious legacy of the War on Drugs, the militarizing of the police that occurred in the 80's and 90's, the politics of punishment, and mass incarceration which has dominated out domestic politics for a generation. It has deprofessionalized the job of policing, and created a disrespect for law enforcement which cannot be erased.

As the experts have said for just as long as well: please leave military style assaults to the military in war zones. Our communities are not war zones, and if we keep treating people with drug problems as "enemies," more carnage will ensue. It's not fair to the citizens, and it's not fair to the men and women in blue uniforms.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sedated Minds

Common Sedative Becomes Execution Drug:

When a chemist named Armin Walser helped invent a sedative more powerful than Valium more than 40 years ago, he thought his team’s concoction was meant to make people’s lives easier, not their deaths.
Yet decades after the drug, known as midazolam, entered the market, a product more often used during colonoscopies and cardiac catheterizations has become central to executions around the country and the debate that surrounds capital punishment in the United States.
“I didn’t make it for the purpose,” Dr. Walser, whose drug has been used for sedation during 20 lethal injections nationwide, said in an interview at his home here. “I am not a friend of the death penalty or execution.”
Midazolam’s path from Dr. Walser’s laboratory into use in at least six of the country’s execution chambers has been filled with secrecy, political pressure, scientific disputes and court challenges.
The most recent controversy is the extraordinary plan in Arkansas to execute eight inmates in 10 days next month. The state is racing the calendar: Its midazolam supply will expire at the end of April, and given the resistance of manufacturers to having the drug used in executions, Arkansas would most likely face major hurdles if it tried to restock.
I wrote about the Arkansas Eight previously, and why the rush to kill has nothing to do with justice or the victims, and everything to do with a dwindling supply of Midazolam about to expire. Kind of like how you drink a bunch of milk right before it goes bad (except killing people instead). 
It was a matter of years before midazolam went from being part of a backup procedure in a single state to a crucial drug in at least six, as prison systems increasingly struggled to buy the barbiturates they had long used to sedate prisoners for executions. In 2013, Florida added midazolam to its execution protocol and became the first state to carry out an execution involving the drug.
“The way executions have proceeded in the United States has been, in a sense, through the herd mentality: One state does something and it appears to work, and others hop on board,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a research group.
Most executions involving midazolam drew little sustained criticism, but problems emerged during some. In Ohio, a murderer’s execution took longer than previous injection-induced deaths in the state. Testifying later in Federal District Court in connection with a lawsuit over Ohio’s lethal injection protocol, a reporter said the prisoner had been “coughing, gasping, choking in a way that I had not seen before at any execution.”
Midazolam was also used in an execution in Oklahoma that state officials said had gone awry because of an improperly placed intravenous line. Critics said the episode still proved the inadequacy of midazolam’s effectiveness during lethal injections.
And in Arizona, the execution of Joseph R. Wood III took nearly two hours, long enough that a federal judge was holding an emergency hearing about the matter at the moment Mr. Wood died.
Good times. Incidentally, you can read my takes on each of these botched experiments in flesh and bone under the death penalty tag.

Predictably, the pro-death penalty types are pushing back, including a quote from my favorite pro-death penalty blogger.
Proponents also acknowledge that midazolam is far from a drug of choice for executions, but they blame abolitionists for effectively leaving states with limited choices.
“No state would use it if they could get the barbiturates,” said Kent S. Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “The opponents have created the situation where states are forced to use a drug that is not the optimum.”
Actually, it's the proponents that have created this situation in their zeal to keep killing inmates, but we digress. Banning lethal injection tomorrow would just have these folks calling for a return to the firing squad, hanging, or boiling in oil.

The article also mentions the brain-dead observation by Justice Alito from the Glossip decision “After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether,” without a trace of irony.

Nonetheless, all eyes remain on Arkansas starting in a few weeks. It will be interesting to see if there is a logjam at the death chamber doors if one of these guys starts flopping around on the gurney for a few hours. 

UPDATE: A good article (3/20/17) on what exactly can go wrong when you piggyback executions in order to "get the job done":
Mr. Lockett’s execution is a cautionary tale, not only about the failures of midazolam as an execution drug, but also about the perils of performing executions back to back. Oklahoma had planned to execute an inmate named Charles Warner the same day as Mr. Lockett, but canceled the second execution after the disastrous outcome of the first.
Investigators from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety subsequently interviewed the execution team and found that several of them commented on “the feeling of extra stress” for all staff created by scheduling two executions on the same day. The state’s report recommended that executions not be scheduled within seven calendar days of one another “due to manpower and facility concerns.”
If Arkansas were to heed the warning of Oklahoma’s investigators, it would schedule its eight executions over two months. Instead, Arkansas’s execution team, which has not performed an execution in over a decade and has never performed an execution with midazolam, faces a daunting and relentless schedule of two executions per day, repeated four times over 11 days. The pressure on the team will be immense, and it will make mistakes more likely in a situation in which there is no margin for error.
Good luck with that.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Crime As Political Capital (Part Bazillion)

Supreme Court Based Sex Offender Rulings on False Data:

The Supreme Court has indeed said the risk that sex offenders will commit new crimes is “frightening and high.” That phrase, in a 2003 decision upholding Alaska’s sex offender registration law, has been exceptionally influential. It has appeared in more than 100 lower-court opinions, and it has helped justify laws that effectively banish registered sex offenders from many aspects of everyday life.
But there is vanishingly little evidence for the Supreme Court’s assertion that convicted sex offenders commit new offenses at very high rates. The story behind the notion, it turns out, starts with a throwaway line in a glossy magazine.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in the 2003 case, Smith v. Doe, cited one of his own earlier opinions for support, and that opinion did include a startling statistic. “The rate of recidivism of untreated offenders has been estimated to be as high as 80 percent,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the earlier case, McKune v. Lile.
He cited what seemed to be a good source for the statistic: “A Practitioner’s Guide to Treating the Incarcerated Male Sex Offender,” published in 1988 by the Justice Department.
The guide, a compendium of papers from outside experts, is 231 pages long, and it contains lots of statistics on sex offender recidivism rates. Many of them were in the single digits, some a little higher. Only one source claimed an 80 percent rate, and the guide itself said that number might be exaggerated.
The source of the 80 percent figure was a 1986 article in Psychology Today, a magazine written for a general audience. The article was about a counseling program run by the authors, and they made a statement that could be good for business. “Most untreated sex offenders released from prison go on to commit more offenses — indeed, as many as 80 percent do,” the article said, without evidence or elaboration.
That’s it. The basis for much of American jurisprudence and legislation about sex offenders was rooted in an offhand and unsupported statement in a mass-market magazine, not a peer-reviewed journal.
Interesting. I never knew where, exactly, the much disputed 80% claim had come from, but now we know: an article from a magazine you can buy in some grocery store aisle checkouts. 
There are many ways to calculate recidivism rates, and they vary depending on a host of distinctions. A 2014 Justice Department report found, for instance, that sex offenders generally have low overall recidivism rates for crimes. But they are more likely to commit additional sex offenses than other criminals.
In the three years after release from prison, 1.3 percent of people convicted of other kinds of crimes were arrested for sex offenses, compared to 5.3 percent of sex offenders. Those findings are broadly consistent with seven reports in various states, which found that people convicted of sex crimes committed new sex offenses at rates of 1.7 percent to 5.7 percent in time periods ranging from three to 10 years.
The Justice Department report said the risk of new sex offenses by convicted sex offenders rises over time, reaching 27 percent over 20 years.
That number is significant, but it is nothing like 80 percent. Perhaps it is sufficient to warrant harsh sex offender registry laws, but judges and lawmakers would have been better served by basing their judgments on the best available data.
Frankly, this data has been well-known for years in the criminological literature I've used in class, going back to at least 2003. Most recently Levenson & Cotter analyzed the effect of Megan's Law twenty years later, and reiterated again the extremely low recidivism rates among this population. The fact that it's still taken as article of faith in the courts and legal circles, that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is 80%, is astonishing.

So why does it persist? Because sex offending, sex offender registries, civil commitment, and chemical castration are hugely popular when it comes to the politics of punishment. Even though most children and young teens are more likely to be abused by someone they know, and the stranger to stranger crime is extremely rare, nothing generates fear, moral panic, and hysteria than cracking down on sex offenders.

It should be noted, as a word of caution, that the nature of this kind of sex offending is very sinister and below the radar. Meaning, because these offenders "groom" their victims, which can take years in some cases, much more offending could be going on than is showing up in arrest/recidivism rates.

But overall, in comparison to the general correctional populations, their rates of 3-5% for sex re-offending within three years (40% recidivism for all crimes generally) is nowhere near the 66% recidivism rate for all offenders getting out of prison. 

The turnstile reentry system we have is broken for ALL offenders in prison.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Arkansas 8

Speaking of Executions and Lots of Them:

The state of Arkansas plans to put to death eight inmates over a span of 10 days next month, a pace of executions unequaled in recent American history and brought about by a looming expiration date for a drug used by the state for lethal injections.
The eight men facing execution — four black and four white — are among 34 death row inmates in Arkansas, where capital punishment has been suspended since 2005 over legal challenges and difficulty in acquiring the drugs for lethal injections.
All eight men were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999, and proponents of the death penalty and victims’ rights in the state have been frustrated that the cases have dragged on so long.
At a news conference this week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, seemed to regret that the executions were so closely stacked.

“I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in,” said Mr. Hutchinson, who took office in 2015. “And, again, the families of the victims that have endured this for so many years deserve a conclusion to it.”
Right, except the victims families have nothing to do with it. The availability and soon to reach expiration date of midazolam, a drug virtually impossible to procure anymore for pro-death penalty states, is the only motivating factor.
State officials have previously said that the expiration date would pass in April for Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a drug that has been used in several botched and gruesome lethal injections in other states in recent years.
This week, the governor signed proclamations setting four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates. If Arkansas follows that timetable, it will be at a rate unmatched by any state since the United States resumed the death penalty in 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research group that opposes capital punishment.
The men’s lawyers said that even a best-case scenario would most likely only entail an alternative form of execution to the current three-drug injection method, which the lawyers argue is unconstitutionally cruel.
“The state’s supply of midazolam runs out on April 30,” said John Williams, an assistant federal public defender based in Little Rock. “And so the schedule is quite obviously dictated by that, and we think it is inhumane that the state would schedule executions so as to get rid of a drug supply that the evidence shows is cruel and unusual.”
Unusual certainly. Whether they flop around on the gurney for several hours or not remains to be seen. Can't let that happen...a traffic jam might form in the death chamber.

Good old Arkansas, and its "very staunchly pro-life" governor.

The Noose Tightens

Place The Knot To The Side, Just Behind The Left Ear:

President Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones at Trump Tower the month before the election, taking to Twitter to call his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy.”
Without offering any evidence or providing the source of his information, Mr. Trump fired off a series of Twitter messages claiming that Mr. Obama “had my ‘wires tapped.’ ” He likened the supposed tapping to “Watergate/Nixon” and “McCarthyism.”
In one message, which Mr. Trump sent from his Palm Beach, Fla., resort at 6:35 a.m., the president said he had “just found out” that his phones had been tapped before the election. Speculation online quickly turned to the possibility that Mr. Trump had been reading an article on the Breitbart News site or listening to the conservative radio host Mark Levin; both have embraced the theory in recent days.
You can read the "latest" madness yourself, but it's just worth commenting two things: 1. where there is smoke, there is fire, and 2. often times the condemned get very chatty while standing in the gallows, awaiting the floor to drop. 

And so but then yeah. BTW, Vegas has Trump being removed from office before the end of the year at 7/2...or 25% and (inversely) rising.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Department of Justification (Part 2)

Sessions Accused of Misleading Congress:

In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.
The disclosures about the contacts came as new questions were raised about Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’s ties to the Russians. According to a former senior American official, he met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, twice in the past year. The details of the meetings were not clear, but the contact appeared to contradict testimony Mr. Sessions provided Congress during his confirmation hearing in January when he said he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Mr. Sessions said in a statement late Wednesday that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”
“I have no idea what this allegation is about,” he said. “It is false.”
Except when it's not.
On Wednesday, a Justice Department official confirmed that Mr. Sessions had two conversations with Ambassador Kislyak last year, when he was still a senator, despite testifying at his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the Russians. At that hearing, Mr. Sessions was asked what he would do if it turned out to be true that anyone affiliated with the Trump team had communicated with the Russian government in the course of the campaign. He said he was “not aware of any of those activities.”
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,” Mr. Sessions said at the time.
However, Justice officials acknowledged that Mr. Sessions had spoken with Mr. Kislyak twice: once, among a group of ambassadors who approached him at a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July and, separately, in an office meeting on Sept. 8. The contacts were first reported by The Washington Post.

The revelation prompted congressional Democrats to issue a torrent of statements reiterating their demands that Mr. Sessions recuse himself from overseeing any investigation into Russia’s contacts with the Trump campaign. So far, Mr. Sessions has demurred.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that if the reports about Mr. Sessions were accurate, “it is essential that he recuse himself from any role in the investigation of Trump campaign ties to the Russians.” Mr. Schiff added, “This is not even a close call; it is a must.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House, called on Mr. Sessions to resign, saying on Twitter that “he is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
Essentially, there are two issues here. One, is he fit to order an investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election? (Clearly he has been compromised, so probably not). And two, is he fit to continue as AG, given what obviously looks like perjury committed during his confirmation testimony last month? (We may never know if this do-nothing congress doesn't actually launch investigations into these matters).

Either way, the mandate discussed in yesterday's post and article regarding the "nationalist agenda" has clearly been wiped clean with this latest bombshell.

And the noose seems to be tightening on the entire administration, given this latest revelation. The fact that an outgoing administration would spread intelligence around the globe for "safekeeping" from an incoming administration has got to be unprecedented...and extremely, extremely concerning.