According to investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill—writing today in their shiny new online publication, the Intercept—the NSA locates targets for drone strikes by using metadata and tracking the coordinates of cards and cellphones. The article goes on to note that using these sources instead of intelligence gathered from humans on the ground makes it more likely that these strikes will kill innocent people.
Scahill and Greenwald based their report on documents released by Edward Snowden, as well as former Air Force drone operator Brandon Bryant, who’s now a critic of drone strikes, and another former drone operator employed by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, who says he worked with the NSA. According to the Intercept piece, some targets are aware they are being tracked and will switch cell phones or SIM cards to confuse their targeters. Others, less savvy, have cluelessly given their phones to family members, which leads to a Hellfire missile hitting someone, though not necessarily a terrorist.
The rest, and Monday’s Bad Cop Blotter items here
Here at The Stag Blog we love Philip Seymour Hoffman and mourn his passing. I also believe that legalized heroin would save lives, especially those of the less privileged addicts or sometime-users of the drug. The idea that anyone has to weigh the fear of arrest and prison with the fear of them or a friend overdosing is a horrifying one. Those laws need to be changed now, not a few more decades after the David Brookses of the world accept that their marijuana hypocrisy might be excessive.
The below VICE piece doesn’t even cover the (also important) point that some people can do heroin or other hard drugs and not become addicted (check out: Jacob Sullum’s phenomenal Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use) and that all of this should be a personal choice, and morally speaking it is one.
When people talk about ending the drug war, they usually mean “no one should go to prison for marijuana.” There’s no doubt the public has shifted its collective opinion on pot—currently, a majority of Americans believe it should be as legal, regulated, and taxed as tobacco and alcohol—and naturally, politicians are beginning to sense the way the wind is blowing. But elected officials, like people at large, are less gung-ho about legalizing the harder drugs.
First, let’s clarify that no one is recommending that we all follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’sexample and start shooting up. Heroin is awful. Don’t do heroin. It fucks up your life. But as the case of the fentanyl-cut heroin that has killed 22 people in Pittsburgh illustrates, the only thing worse than legal heroin is illegal heroin.
The rest here
In a New Yorker profile published this month, President Obama admitted that marijuana was not that bad and the enforcement of anti-weed laws was skewed against minorities. Similarly, on Thursday Texas Governor Rick Perry voiced his support for decriminalizing marijuana and letting states craft drug laws free of federal intervention. On January 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had changed his mind and that medical marijuana was a fine thing after all. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was trying to drown his state’s medical marijuana program in the bathtub not three months ago, spent part of his inaugural address delivered on January 21promising to end the war on drugs. New York Senator Chuck Schumer just said on MSNBC that states should be allowed to “experiment” with legalization. What the hell is happening? How did the war on drugs go from a fringe issue five or six years ago to this current race to out-chill your political competitors when it comes to weed policy? It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Americans as a whole have decided that marijuana should be legal (or at least partially legal), while our leaders’ views have lagged behind. Now we’ve reached a tipping point where it’s safe for elected officials to embrace an end to prohibition—politicians’ minds aren’t changing, but poll numbers are.
The rest of the crankiness, along with bad cops of the week, over here
Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guilty on one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.
That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests
One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.
The rest here
According to a January 9 Wall Street Journal article, the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado may mean that cops have less money to play with. When weed was illegal, police departments could cash in via civil asset forfeiture—they’d raid grow operations and dealers and seize cash and other kinds of property. Those seizures provided both a financial incentive to prioritize drug crimes and a financial perk for departments. Now, presumably, there will be fewer marijuana raids, thus less money for the cops. Washington state hasn’t earmarked any of the tax revenue soon to be coming in from the legal weed market to go to law enforcement, and Colorado may send some of their new dollars towards the cops, but not necessarily—in both states, millions of dollars normally spent on law enforcement may disappear as a consequence of the end of prohibition.
The specifics of forfeiture laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking police can take large amounts of cash (often anything over $10,000) from defendants based only on the suspicion that a big chunk of currency found during, say, a traffic stop, might be drug profits. It can also bechillingly easy for cops to take your property through asset forfeiture if a family member you live with is dealing drugs. The Department of Justice is generally very generous about sharing funds—as long as there’s tangential federal involvement in a case, the Feds take 20 percent of the assets forfeited and the rest goes to the local cops—so police departments are strongly encouraged to go after drug dealers; not only do they get photo ops with “dope on the table,” they can keep the majority of the profits from the sale of seized homes, vehicles, and property. (Not to mention that cash.) Often the onus is on the owner of the property to prove that it wasn’t involved in a crime, which can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.
The rest here
On December 19, eight members of Texas’s Burleson County Sheriff’s Department banged open the door of the double-wide trailer rented by 28-year-old Henry Magee and his girlfriend. It was between five and six AM and the deputies, who were there to search for marijuana and stolen weapons, set off at least two flashbang grenades in an attempt to surprise and disorient Magee, their suspect. The leader of the team, Sergeant Adam Sowders, a seven-year veteran of the department, had requested the warrant be “no-knock,” meaning the police could enter the residence without announcing themselves. But it was possibly do to the confusion caused by the sudden entrance of the cops that led to Magee opening fire with a semi-automatic weapon and hitting Sowders. The cop later died, and Magee has been charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty in Texas.
The majority of SWAT-style raids on homes in the US—there are more than 100 a day—are over narcotics. It’s unclear how many are no-knock, but the line between and no-knock and announce warrants can be blurry, especially for sleeping residents who may not hear shouts of “police!”According to Dick DeGuerin, the high-profile defense lawyer representing Magee, no-knock warrants are uncommon in Texas because they are dangerous for officers who serve them.
DeGuerin told me that Magee’s girlfriend, who was five months pregnant and “hysterical, screaming, and crying” after the shooting, was forced to lie on her stomach until a female deputy let her turn over. DeGuerin is certain that Magee, whose parents asked him to take their son’s case, “had no idea” who was outside of his door that morning, and Magee thought he was being robbed. According to DeGuerin, Magee yelled “Who is it?” but go no response, then as “the door burst open,” he fired. After the shooting, Magee came out and quickly surrendered.
On Friday, DeGuerin said he hadn’t yet spoken to county District Attorney Julie Renken who filed the charges against his client. (My calls to the Burleson County Sheriff’s Department, the DA, and the county courthouse went unreturned.) He didn’t want to speak to the prospect of Magee’s chances of pleading out or having the charges dropped, but he said that the raid was initiated by a former coworker of Magee’s who had gotten himself into “some deep trouble” with the law and was trying to lessen it by informing.
The rest here.
- I’ve had an impressively mediocre two weeks of travel, and really should have updated the blog more, but sickness, plus relatives, plus just bad travels didn’t really bring on the writing itch. Few highlights include: being stuck in a Kafaesque loop of being sent from House desk to Senate desk to House media gallery to Senate media gallery on Capitol Hill, plus having Capitol police having pick up one my socks; firing some satisfyingly huge guns in North Carolina and shopping at an endearingly sketchy military surplus store (cash only, for paranoia purposes); and of course screaming “SHUT UP ABOUT GLUTEN” at the Museum of Sex in New York City. But really, that was mostly it. Somehow the whole of my journeys was not what the parts promised to be.
- In other news about people The Stag Blog likes, Radley Balko is moving to Washington Post, which is both great for him, great for libertarianism, and rough for those of us who will now feel obligated to read WaPost.
- Kennedy and Matt Welch will be cohosting a new Fox Business show called The Independents, so for the ill-fitting suit jackets and the mismatched patterns alone (if you know me, you know this is high praise indeed), it will be worth a watch. Here is a snotty, lazy Gawker summation of things. I assume the comments are horrifying beyond words, so don’t bother with that.
- In humbler news, brother Joe has been told to get a webcam, so that The Stag Blog’s new Google+ show can finally get started. It’s called Politics for People Who Hate Politics, and if you want to be a guest, annoying me about it is encouraged. More details will come. It should be fun.
- Hey, my latest VICE piece is about how Homeland Security are being assholes to Canadians with past mental health problems.
- What’s happening in the world? Hmmm.
- Well, stop pretending the drug war is over, because this guy’s ruined life begs to differ.
- NYPD mistakes Brooklyn man’s breath mints for ecstasy.
- Is this is true, I can’t even began to process how horrifying it is. Read with caution: “I Am a False Rape Allegation Statistic”
- Here is a decent Gawker response to the is that woman who wrote the not-very-good-sorry poverty essay actually poor or not kerfuffle.
- 1920s prosthetic limbs
- I want to live in J.D. Tuccille’s society. He makes anarchy sound fun, God save his crazy bootlegging family.
- This Orange County reporter is covering/livetweeting the trial of the cops who killed Kelly Thomas.
- Prohibition slang.
- Currently reading this ancient Vanity Fair piece on the mysterious, sordid death of Hitler’s way too beloved half-niece.
Pam sums up the feeling of not having a reaction ready for the death of notable person:
Well I was about to tweet Ke$ha lyrics but then Nelson Mandela just died.
— Pamela J. Stubbart (@amelapay) December 5, 2013
No, don’t ask questions.
Last year, Alex Saleh, a convenience store owner in Miami Gardens, Florida, installed 15 security cameras in and around his shop—but not to protect his business, which is in a rough neighborhood of a rough city, against shoplifting or any other crime. The 36-year-old put in the cameras because his employees and customers were getting bothered so often by the police. Thanks to Saleh, countless incidents of the cops harassing and arresting the neighborhood’s mostly poor, mostly black residents were caught on tape. A Miami Herald story about the cops’ habitual and casual mistreatment of Miami Gardens residents has gone viral (it has 21,000 Facebook likes at the moment), mostly because of the incontrovertible evidence of the cameras and the outrageous details of the harassment.
One of Saleh’s employees, a 28-year-old named Earl Sampson, has been stopped by police 258 times in four years and searched 100 times. He’s been arrested 62 times for just “trespassing,” and most of those incidents happened at the convenience store itself. One arrest, in June 2012, happened while Sampson was stocking shelves. Exactly how many scores of trespassing arrests does it take for Miami Gardens police to remember where someone works?
According to the Herald piece, Saleh initially consented to participate in a “zero-tolerance” program, which meant cops could come into his business and stop or arrest anyone who was loitering or trespassing. But the shopkeeper claims he tried to get out of the program after becoming concerned about how aggressive the police were being, and the cops responded by continuing to harass his customers and workers. Saleh also says that when he first tried to bring evidence of this behavior to internal affairs, several officers came into his store and stood silent for several minutes in what seemed to him to be an attempt at intimidation.
The rest here
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