Category: Progressive

How a prison debate team beat Harvard — David Register

David Register, Darryl Robinson, Rodney Spivey, and Paul Clue.

The debaters of the Bard Debate Union at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility are methodical in their approach to their craft. They take the stacks of materials they are provided and carefully comb through each item, extracting the specific pieces of data they will use to support their claims. They are critical of one another and push each other to improve. They practice constantly.

This hard work is all done within the confines of a maximum security prison. Our debaters face a unique set of obstacles – they wait weeks to receive the information I gather for them from internet sources, and they have limited time to type and print their ideas. But everything paid off last month when the team, whom I coach, beat Harvard in a debate about whether public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students.

Most of the overwhelming media attention about this debate has focused on the fact that our students were victorious. No one has yet told the story about how they prepare for debates.

I started the Eastern branch of the Bard Debate Union in the summer of 2013. The goal was to provide a competitive outlet for Bard students at Eastern that would mirror what was happening at the Bard Debate Union on the college’s main campus, where my wife and I co-direct the undergraduate team. Bard Debate Union members see themselves as part of one team, despite the obvious physical distance between the two branches and despite the fact that prison rules mostly prohibit them from debating together…

When they aren’t in class, BPI debaters request time in the school to meet. When they can’t get into the school, they talk debate in their cells, the yard and the mess hall. They verbally spar with BPI students who are not on the debate team, and talk with their families – creating for themselves a group of informal coaches. And some of the veterans of the team, like Rodney Spivey and Darryl Robinson (among many others), have worked tirelessly to help build the debate team at Eastern into what it has become by welcoming and training new members.

Our debaters spend hundreds of hours preparing in the three to four months they usually have to get ready for a debate, in addition to carrying full course loads.

On 18 September, after facing off against Harvard at the prison, our debaters were deemed the winners by a veteran panel of debate judges…from Cornell…Our debaters were honored that members of Harvard’s team were willing to engage them in competition, and the contributions and character of these Harvard debaters should be celebrated.

It is critically important to remember that our debaters are students first and debaters second – and prisoners a distant third. By the time I encounter BPI students, they have been trained by an incredibly gifted group of faculty members, so I deal with highly literate and intellectually curious students.

One of the primary goals of the Bard Debate Union at Eastern is to provide a robust civic education, in which our students learn how to engage in their own governance. Many of our debaters openly express the desire to someday make positive contributions to society. I have no doubt that they will.

An example of what can be accomplished, what rehabilitation of convicts can be achieved.

I have no idea of the background of these young men. In addition to being ex-cons [when they get out] they face the additional handicap of being Black in a racist nation. Hopefully, they will have an opportunity to confront circumstances based upon what they have become – not who they once were.

Feds counting killings by US coppers — finally

The US government is trialling a new open-source system to count killings by police around the country, in the most comprehensive official effort so far to accurately record the number of deaths at the hands of American law enforcement.

The pilot program was announced by the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, on Monday and follows concerted calls from campaigners and lawmakers for better official data on police killings, after a nationwide debate about race and policing was sparked by protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

In anticipation of the launch, further details of the Department of Justice program were shared with the Guardian, which publishes The Counted, a crowdsourced investigative project that attempts to track all those killed by US law enforcement in 2015. The program is understood to be already active, with a view to full implementation at the start of 2016.

The program will be run by the DoJ’s statistics division, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and is seen internally as a more robust version of the currently defunct Arrest Related Deaths Count, which published annual data between 2003 and 2009 using statistics supplied by some of the United States’ 18,000 law enforcement agencies. The BJS eventually stopped collecting this data in 2014 as the level of reporting varied dramatically from state to state, due to the voluntary nature of the program.

The new program, Lynch said on Monday, will start by procuring open-sourced records, such as media reports, of officer-involved deaths, and then move towards verifying facts about the incident by surveying local police departments, medical examiner’s offices and investigative offices.

This approach is near-identical to the one employed by The Counted. A BJS official told the Guardian that the methodology would essentially standardise data collection, meaning the DoJ would no longer have to rely on voluntary reporting by local law enforcement. It is understood that The Counted along with the Washington Post’s police shootings count are being monitored as part of the DoJ program.

RTFA for some discussion, some bullshit, from government officials. Some truth leaks through.

Still, we’re witnessing a good example of citizens and journalism together shaming the government into doing their job. Casual engagement based on budget and happenstance isn’t a productive way to serve the public.

Kudos to everyone from The GUARDIAN to localized groups like #blacklivesmatter for keeping the pressure on.

Apple products get more personal – and private – and piss off the NSA

Fire up the new Apple News service for the first time on your iPhone, and it’ll ask for your favorite topics and news outlets. Use it over time, and you’ll find that it is behaving like your personal news recommendation engine.

Read a lot about gardening, and you’ll see more stories about hardy perennials. Click on every story about the Red Sox? Get ready for more bullpen analysis. But eventually you may start to wonder — just how much does this app know about me?

You may think you know the answer, given that we live in a world where our every click and scroll is obsessively tracked by tech companies eager to sell us personalized ads. Apple, too, has been employing a small amount of targeted advertising since at least 2010.

But in a revamped privacy policy Web site, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, Apple on Tuesday attempts to lay out how its philosophy on data collection distinguishes itself from its tech industry rivals.

In essence, the company is telling customers it is not interested in their personal data, even as it must use more of that data to deliver personalized products…

Apple News, which can deliver a stream of headlines right onto one of the home screens of the iPhone, launched this month into a crowded space. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have long been using algorithms to serve piping hot headlines from the Web to consumers while using their reading habits to enhance the vast trove of data the companies keep on every user.

Apple’s offering is different in that its stories are also curated by a small team of journalists. And the company clearly hopes a selling point will be its pledges on privacy protection.

“We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter that introduced its privacy Web site last year. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud.”

Apple made substantial updates last fall to its privacy policies and the revamped Web site launching Tuesday offers new details and language on several topics. It is broken down into several sections — such as how it handles information requests from the authorities including the National Security Agency, instructions on how to secure devices from, say, third parties which may be interested in tracking behavior, and how some of Apple’s services work…

A new section on the Apple News app states that it collects data on what each user is reading so it can offer personalized headlines and ads. But the service does not tie reading habits to an Apple account and uses a unique identifier — which functions only within the News app — to send you targeted ads. Readers can also remove a record of their reading history from their device.

It works just like Apple Pay – which is why we love Apple Pay. No chance of anyone from a checkout clerk to the NSA accessing any personal info about the transaction.

In a separate section, the company laid out new language on encrpytion. Last year, Apple made it impossible for the company to turn over data from a customer’s iPhones or iPads — even when authorities have a search warrant — if users turn off automatic back-ups to the company’s servers. The policy has generated protests from police departments and Obama administration officials.

The new language doesn’t mention law enforcement, but the debate over Apple’s decision last fall motivated the company to spell out its thinking on encryption…“Encryption protects trillions of online transactions every day. Whether you’re shopping or paying a bill, you’re using encryption. It turns your data into indecipherable text that can only be read by the right key… And we can’t unlock your device for anyone because you hold the key — your unique password. We’re committed to using powerful encryption because you should know that the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected.”

There’s an interesting discussion at the end of this article about educated consumers coming down on the side of privacy. Hopefully, such questions will make a difference to voters, as well.

Blue skies in Paris — city center car-free

Click to enlarge — Champs Élysées in 1900

With the eight lanes of France’s most famous avenue cleared of all traffic on Paris’s first car-free day, the usual cacophony of car-revving and thundering motorbike engines had given way to the squeak of bicycle wheels, the clatter of skateboards, the laughter of children on rollerblades and even the gentle rustling of wind in the trees. It was, as one Parisian pensioner observed as she ambled up the centre of the road taking big gulps of air, “like a headache lifting”.

There were other weird and pleasant effects of this tiny glimpse of carless utopia. “Everyone seems to be smiling, and not as stressed,” marvelled Elisabeth Pagnac, a civil servant in her 50s, who had been emboldened to cycle in from the eastern edge of the city without a helmet. But strangest of all was the sky.

“I live high in a tower block in the east of the city and looking out of my window today I saw the difference straight away: the sky has never been this blue, it really is different without a hazy layer of pollution hanging in the air,” she said.

Others agreed that looking up towards the Arc de Triomphe and to La Défense beyond, a view that was so often hazy and distorted by the city’s famous smog was suddenly crystal clear.

“What a joy to go down the middle of the road taking in the sights,” said Claude Noirault, a wheelchair-basketball coach, who had done 10km in his sports wheelchair and was planning 30km more.

When Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, launched the idea of the French capital’s first car-free day at the suggestion of the collective Paris Without Cars, pollution was top of the agenda

Hidalgo, launching the event with other mayors who have already pioneered car-free days, including the mayor of Brussels, said the initiative showed people “are not obliged to move around in a personal car, there are other ways to approach mobility in a city”.

It wasn’t a complete success. RTFA. The sophistry brigade will find plenty to whine about, Left or Right.

The core commitment to a day without fossil fuel pollution in the City of Light let in lots of sunlight. A fresh beginning.

Anyone expect Congress to pay attention to folks who don’t vote?

…Americans who vote are different from those who don’t. Voters are older, richer, and whiter than nonvoters, in part because Americans lack a constitutional right to vote and the various restrictions on voting tend to disproportionately impact the less privileged. In 2014, turnout among those ages 18 to 24 with family incomes below $30,000 was 13 percent. Turnout among those older than 65 and making more than $150,000 was 73 percent. The result is policy that is biased in favor of the affluent. As I argue in a new report, “Why Voting Matters,” higher turnout would transform American politics by giving poor, young, and nonwhite citizens more sway…

But would boosting turnout actually change policy? We have reason to think so. Research suggests that voters are indeed better represented than nonvoters, but the historical and international record lend support to the thesis as well…

The expansion of the franchise to women is…instructive. As women gained access to the franchise within the United States, state government spending increased dramatically… Indeed, the enfranchisement of women boosted spending on public health so significantly that it saved an estimated 20,000 children each year.

Later, the civil rights movement mobilized the Southern black electorate, which led to more liberal voting patterns among Southern Democrats and a boost in government spending going to black communities. The elimination of poll taxes and the subsequent mobilization of poor voters also lead to an increase in welfare spending.

There are many reasons the United States doesn’t have an expansive welfare state, like nearly every other high-income country. However, one important part is low voter turnout…There is a dramatic divergence between the United States and other countries in terms of both voter turnout and government spending…

But deep differences in turnout based on income, age, and race only serve to further reduce the poor’s say. In the status quo, politicians don’t have incentives to listen to ordinary Americans, because it won’t cost them anything. That won’t change until turnout among nonwhite and poor voters increases. There are a number of ways that government can encourage voting: by fixing the Voting Rights Act, by enacting automatic voter registration, by repealing voter ID laws. All would give the poor more voice, and give policies they support a better chance of passage.

Of course, the changes advocated by McElwee don’t stand much chance of enactment without replacing most of the conservative Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Who needs to be convinced of the usefulness of that?

Oregon’s new marijuana freedom law includes a chance to erase your record

erika walton
Erika Walton processing paperwork to remove minor weed bust – from 15 years ago

About 15 years ago, when she was in her 20s, Erika Walton handed a bong to someone who turned out be a police officer, and was cited for marijuana possession. She paid the fine, she said, but the violation lingered on, haunting her record.

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Walton was at a free legal clinic here in Oregon’s largest city, filling out paperwork to have that infraction forever sealed. Once the process is complete, she will be able to legally say to an employer, landlord or anybody else who asks that she has never been convicted or cited for any drug crime at all…

The mark on her record was minor — a citation for possession under Oregon law, even back then, was below the level of a misdemeanor, roughly equivalent to riding the light rail without a ticket. But it still cost her, she said, when she had to divulge it on applications for jobs and volunteer positions at her children’s school…

Oregon was not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, which happened through a state ballot vote last November, nor is it the largest. But in preparing to begin retail marijuana sales next month, it is nonetheless blazing a profoundly new trail, legal experts and marijuana business people said.

“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” said Jenny M. Roberts, a professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C….

Decriminalizing really means it – in Oregon. Any chance we’ll see similar thoughtfulness, humanity and courage from the Congress-critters who infest Washington, DC?

In the next couple of decades?

RTFA for lots more detail.

Weed fiends in Colorado have a tax holiday today

Marijuana consumers were taking advantage of a tax holiday in Colorado on Wednesday, with some lining up early for doorbuster-style deals.

A quirk in state law led Colorado to suspend most taxes on recreational pot for one day, including a 10% sales tax on pot and a 15% excise tax on marijuana growers…

At the Grass Station near downtown Denver, a dozen shoppers were in line before doors opened.

“Lower prices are always better,” said Benjamin DelCarpio of Centennial, who was rewarded for standing in line with a 50% off coupon.

The tax break is happening because Colorado underestimated overall state tax collections last year. Under the state constitution, the accounting error triggers an automatic suspension of any new taxes – in this case, the recreational marijuana taxes voters approved in 2013…

Wednesday’s break came a day after Colorado made final its accounts for the fiscal year that ended in June.

The final tax numbers covered the first full fiscal year in which adults over 21 could legally buy both marijuana and alcohol.

Alcohol excise tax collections were up 2.4%, to about $42m. Marijuana-specific taxes came in at about $70m…The figures don’t include a statewide 2.9% sales tax.

The pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project lauded the sales tax holiday as “a much-deserved day off” for marijuana consumers, who carry a heavier tax burden than people who buy alcohol.

Conservative politicians are still holding their breath – and swearing they never inhaled. All that happens in states where weed is legal is that drug use drops, high school kids do not start showing up for class bearing bags of munchies, automobile accidents don’t increase – and the moon doesn’t start shining out the butt of a purple cow.

Fear-stricken fools will not relent. Folks with adult brains, respect for science and real education have to continue to fight to put politicians into elective office with sufficient ethics to avoid being beholden to priests, pundits and payoffs rooted in 19th Century belief systems.

California legislature approves physician-assisted suicide

Ramin Rahimian/NY TIMES

Debbie Ziegler and her husband, Gary Holmes, displaying a picture of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, who died with a doctor’s help in Oregon

In a landmark victory for supporters of assisted suicide, the California State Legislature on Friday gave its final approval to a bill that would allow doctors to help terminally ill people end their lives.

Four states — Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont — already allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to some patients. The California bill, which passed Friday in the State Senate by a vote of 23 to 14, will now go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will roughly triple access to doctor-assisted suicide across the country if he signs it…

The California bill is modeled on the law in Oregon, with several notable changes. The California law would expire after 10 years and have to be reapproved, and doctors would have to consult in private with the patient desiring to die, as part of an effort to ensure that no one would be coerced to end his or her life — a primary concern for opponents of the law.

Leaders of the “death with dignity” movement said they hoped the passage of the California law could be a turning point.

It allows for individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice,” said Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco who compared the issue to gay marriage…

More than half the states, plus Washington, D.C., have put forward bills this year to legalize some kind of assisted suicide, according to the Death With Dignity National Center, which is based in Portland, Ore. So far, none of them have become law.

“If it becomes the law in California, that’s going to be very, very significant nationally,” said George Eighmey, vice president of Death With Dignity and a former state legislator in Oregon…

Until after a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 threw out a Justice Department effort to block Oregon’s law, no other state permitted assisted suicide. Washington adopted its measure in 2008. Several northern European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden, also allow assisted suicide…

But this year in California, the aid-in-dying movement, as advocates prefer to call it, had a public face: Brittany Maynard, a Bay Area woman who received a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer and moved with her family to Oregon last year so she could end her life on her own terms. Ms. Maynard, who died in November at 29, drew nationwide news media attention for her crusade to die legally under conditions of her own choosing. Her family has since been involved in lobbying for the California bill…

…Mr. Brown has been silent about his position on the bill…backers of the bill have discussed bringing the issue to the voters through a ballot measure if Mr. Brown vetoes it. A Gallup poll this year found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support physician-assisted suicide, up 10 percentage points from last year.

Democracy – especially on questions which further free individual liberties – scares the crap out of most establishment politicians. I doubt Brown wants a referendum this popular on his watch.

Here in New Mexico, our courts ruled that we already have the right to assistance from our physicians should we choose to end our lives. I don’t recall whether or not a medical reason, terminal illness, is suggested as necessary; but, affirmation was put on hold when the Democrats in their infinite wisdom chose a candidate for governor because – it was his turn. One of those generational things, an old political family candidate picked to carry on the torch of familiarity.

Gary King was attorney-general when the court decision rolled in; so, in a transparent attempt to curry favor with conservative voters and the Catholic Church, he appealed the court’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. That hasn’t yet been decided. And it didn’t help him to get elected, anyway.

UPDATE: NM Appeal was decided ab’t 4 weeks ago – and overruled the original decision. Back to the Roundhouse, now, and our “courageous” legislators.

Thanks for the update nudge to

2-way freight train service starts between Poland/China


A cargo train consisting of 41 carriages completed its first laden voyage from the city of Lodz in Poland to Chengdu, capital city of southwest China’s Sichuan Province on Sunday.

The train, carrying mostly food and beverages, including beer and cookies, took 16 days to travel the 9,826-kilometer Chengdu-Europe cargo line.

The Chengdu-Europe express railway service was started in April, 2013. So far, a total of 106 cargo trains have traveled to Lodz from Chengdu, exporting goods worth 693 million U.S. dollars, but all have returned to China empty, according to Wan Wenjun, deputy manager of the Chengdu-Europe express railway company.

A number of cities — including Chongqing in southwest China; Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Changsha in central China; Shenyang and Harbin in northeast China — have rail freight services to Europe.

And this is the start of the benefits from the projected Silk Road. As it was centuries ago, China’s new economy intends to be a 2-way street between China manufacturing and Western manufacturing. The redirected focus on consumer goods and services should be a growth market for Western firms bright enough to realize the opportunity.

Understanding the world’s oceans more essential than ever

SOS ocean-acidification
Click to enlarge

The report is the culmination of a collaborative project…looking at the future for: commercial shipping — without which world trade would cease; for navies — so vital for security; and the health of the oceans — addressing the challenges of pollution, climate change and exploitation of resources…

Leading the ‘Ocean Space’ section…experts from the University’s Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute report that since the start of the Industrial Revolution, there has been a 30 per cent increase in ocean acidity and that 25 per cent of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the oceans. In addition, some 16 per cent of global protein intake comes from fish with an increasing amount of the world’s medicines, materials and energy also derived from the oceans.

By the year 2030, the experts forecast that twice as many offshore structures will exist including 100 times more wind turbines than at present, and that 50 per cent of the world’s oil will be produced offshore. They also predict that within the next 15 years, 50 per cent of the global population will live in coastal regions.

To mitigate against these effects and to develop opportunities for the future, they’ve identified a number of key transformational Ocean Space technologies that will make the biggest impact now and in the future. These include:

Advanced materials — rise in the use of ultra-strong materials for ocean structures using embedded sensors to enable remote sensing and support the ability of materials and structure systems to self-repair when damage occurs;

Big data analytics — extracting and using complex data from activities such as resource extraction, exploration and environmental protection to influence the way humankind perceives and interacts with the oceans;

Sustainable energy generation — offshore energy-generation platforms and algae stations will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, mitigate pollution and have a minimal carbon footprint, so their impact on the environment will be relatively small. The combined use of these technologies, say experts from the SMMI, will help the world address the effects of climate change, the higher expected frequency and severity of extreme weather, the further reduction of land-based resources and the increasing coastal populations.

We need grownups in charge of our government, our economy, to respond to world-class analyses of questions facing our future on Earth. Traditional national leaders are in scarce supply. Governments formed of the same conservatives who promulgated the context leading to the Great Recession are hardly likely to have any answers. Any answers, that is, beyond platitudes – and lies.

They can rely to some extent, of course, in the ignorant folk who put them in office. If you’re not bright enough, well-enough informed to choose between the evil of two lessers – much less build or participate in a grassroots movement for qualitative change – you waste a constitutional right.

I don’t mind folks getting what they deserve. When they ask for stupid – they usually get stupid. But, condemning the rest of the world to what follows naturally upon their ignorance is barbarous and backwards.