North Dakota first to give coppers armed drones

Lucky intern gets to volunteer as test subject for drone taser

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

The bill’s stated intent was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence. In fact, the original draft of Representative Rick Becker’s bill would have banned all weapons on police drones.

Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones…

And as we all know…

Even “less than lethal” weapons can kill though. At least 39 people have been killed by police Tasers in 2015 so far, according to The Guardian. Bean bags, rubber bullets, and flying tear gas canisters have also maimed, if not killed, in the U.S. and abroad.

RTFA for a great deal of pro-and-con discussion. Not all of it very bright. But, when today’s class of state legislators in involved with corporate lobbyists, I’m surprised when any mention of civil liberties is allowed to creep into a question.

Coming – $470M GM plant to build and sell electrified vehicles in China


SAIC already plans to build an electric Lavida with Volkswagen

Building on its current momentum within the region, General Motors announced it will be part of a new venture to construct an electrified vehicle factory in China.

GM is joining SAIC Motor Corp Ltd and Wuling Motors to build the $470 million plant. A GM representative said the factory will be dedicated to producing only “new energy vehicles,” China’s term for battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Annual capacity is expected to be 200,000 vehicles per year…

This new factory expands on a collaboration already in place between GM and SAIC Motors. Last month, GM announced that it is creating a new vehicle family from the ground up, which will replace several existing models. SAIC Motors is working alongside GM to develop the powertrain architecture and engine for this new line…

GM noted that this product line will be manufactured and sold in China, Mexico and India, among other regions.

“There are no plans to export the vehicles to mature markets such as the United States,” said GM.

GM does well in China. They sell more Buicks there than anywhere else in the world. Yes, they still look like Buicks to me. But, informed consumers + government support = equals an opportunity to market products more in line with forward-looking values.

Which is why there are no plans to offer any of these cars in the United States.

Christie says “track immigrants like FedEx packages”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Saturday if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.

Christie, who is well back in the pack seeking the Republican nomination for president, told a campaign event in the early voting state of New Hampshire that he would ask FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith to devise the tracking system.

Immigration has become a top issue in the Republican campaign, with front-runner Donald Trump vowing to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to build a wall along the southern border…

The Republican clown show is getting so desperate to out-demagogue each other that Scott Walker is now proposing a wall blocking access to the US from Canada.

Christie has been lagging in recent opinion polls and is in danger of not making the top 10 candidates who will participate in the next official Republican debate on Sept. 16.

With real estate mogul Trump taking a hard line on illegal immigration, other Republican candidates in the 2016 White House race have sought to toughen their stances as well.

Christie did not say specifically how the system he proposes would track people the same way packages are tracked by FedEx, which scans a bar code on the package at each step in the delivery process.

The concept hasn’t changed much since the Nazis catalogued folks with tattoos before they warehoused and killed them in concentration camps. Christie just wants to modernize things.

More tech-oriented Republicans [Carly Fiorina?] might prefer injecting RFID tags under the skin. Tidier.

Tens of thousands of Japanese march against war constitution


Click to enlargeReuters/Kyodo

Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied outside Japan’s parliament to oppose legislation that could see troops in the officially pacifist nation engage in combat for the first time since World War II.

In one of the summer’s biggest protests ahead of the new laws anticipated passage next month, protesters on Sunday chanted “No to war legislation!” ”Scrap the bills now!” and “Abe, quit!”

Organisers said about 120,000 people took part in the rally in the government district of Tokyo, filling the street outside the front gate of the parliament, or Diet. Similar demonstrations were held across the nation.

In July, the more powerful lower house passed the bills that allow the army, or Self Defence Force, to engage in combat when allies come under attack even when Japan itself is not.

The upper house is currently debating the bills and is expected to pass them by late September, making it law.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters say the bills are necessary for Japan to deal with the changed security environment in the world.

Public polls showing the majority of people oppose the bills and support for Abe’s government is declining.

Decades behind the US, Japan has learned the lessons of sophistry well. I recall the smattering of debate after WW2 when the pointy-heads in Washington decided to change the name of the War Department to the Department of Defense. As we changed to a time when the rest of the world needed to defend itself against Imperial America instead of Imperial England and Imperial Europe.

Not so incidentally, it may not take the anti-war movement in Japan to bring down Abe. Abenomics may do it for him. Pledging – as conservatives always do – to bring jobs growth and better economic times to the working people of Japan, the prime minister has only aided his Zaibatsu buddies. The rest of the nation suffers through a renewal of stagnation and ennui.

This is your government [on the war] on drugs

A new report shows just how much the war on drugs fundamentally changed the scope of the federal prison system — without any significant benefits to show for it.

The report from Pew Charitable Trusts found the number of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses skyrocketed by more than 1,800 percent between 1980 and 2015 — from fewer than 5,000 to more than 95,000.

These prisoners are also serving much longer sentences, according to the report. While sentences for non-drug offenses declined by 3 percent from 1980 to 2011, sentences for drug offenses spiked by nearly 36 percent in the same time period.

After they were sentenced, the average time released drug offenders spent in prison increased 153 percent between 1988 and 2012 — from 23.2 to 58.6 months — while time served grew by 39 and 44 percent for property and violent offenders.

Although these stringent sentences were originally meant for some of the worst drug offenders, the Pew Charitable Trusts report found that they’re by and large picking up low- and midlevel traffickers. It estimated, based on federal data, that high-level suppliers and importers represented just 11 percent of federal drug offenders.

The Pew Charitable Trusts report concludes that this increase in incarceration and time served came with high costs and little returns. Drug offenders currently make up nearly half of the federal prison population, and the federal prison system now uses up roughly one in four dollars spent by the US Justice Department. Drug use, meanwhile, appears to have steadily risen over the past two decades, according to the nationwide surveys.

Our nation has a modern history of declaring war on any problems that requires thoughtful time to build a solution. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that killing enough people wins wars, spending large enough sums makes that possible. That generals think that is a load of crap makes no difference to most politicians. So, we have a War on Drugs, a War on Terror. They’re both working out about the same.

That takes serious stupidity. Congress is surely up to the task.

China passes new pollution law

Legislators have approved amendments to China’s 15-year-old air pollution law that grant the state new powers to punish offenders and create a legal framework to cap coal consumption, the Asian giant’s biggest source of smog.

The draft amendments were passed by 154 votes to 4, with five abstentions, Zhong Xuequan, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, told a media briefing…

The ruling Communist Party has acknowledged the damage that decades of untrammeled economic growth have done to China’s skies, rivers and soil. It is now trying to equip its environmental inspection offices with greater powers and more resources to tackle persistent polluters and the local governments that protect them.

The amendments are expected to make local governments directly responsible for meeting environmental targets. They also ban firms from temporarily switching off polluting equipment during inspections and outlaw other behavior designed to distort emission readings.

Tong Weidong, vice-director of the NPC’s legal work committee, told the briefing the law would improve the way local authorities were assessed and allow them to draw up their own plans to meet environmental targets…

However, researchers said the changes do not go far enough and that the third reading of the bill should have been postponed until all its shortcomings had been resolved.

Sounds like another step forward. The article isn’t clear about household air pollution though broadly it sounds as if it is covered.

Like England in the period after WW2, half of China’s coal-generated air pollution comes from home fires for cooking and heating. These are almost always in the least efficient stoves for any purpose – regardless, there isn’t any way to bring them up to useful standard.

I’ve blogged earlier about efforts to bring NatGas into easy urban access and the last-mile problem will remain the greatest obstacle. That solution is what changed life in many American industrial cities as well as the UK in the fifteen years or so after the war. That change didn’t have to provide new pipelines or local access. We already had use of coal gas. The conversion only required a new orifice for each burner in every stove or furnace.

China’s cities will have to excavate.

New Mexico attorney general charges secretary of state with corruption


Hector Balderas at Navajo Nation Police Headquarters

New Mexico’s Democratic attorney general on Friday charged Republican secretary of state Dianna Duran with embezzlement, fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations, further widening a rift between the two over enforcement of the state’s laws governing campaigns.

Attorney general Hector Balderas’ office filed the 64-count complaint…in state district court in Santa Fe…

The attorney general’s investigation stemmed from a confidential tip received in July 2014. Duran was accused of funneling contributions intended for her campaign into personal accounts for her own use.

According to the complaint, the investigation centred on deposits of large amounts of cash as well as campaign contributions into both personal and campaign accounts controlled by the secretary of state. The movement of money often culminated with cash expenditures at casinos throughout the state, the complaint states.

Investigators obtained subpoenas for multiple casinos where Duran withdrew cash. Records show those electronic debits totaled more than $282,000 in 2014 alone. Another $147,641 was withdrawn in 2013.

The complaint also cites a series of detailed bank transactions as well as donations from supporters, calling into question Duran’s campaign finance reports.

I have no knowledge whatsoever where the tip came from. BUT – I almost wager dollars to donuts it involves the good old Bank Secrecy Act. Among other requirements, banks must report suspicious transactions to law enforcement.

In addition to the numerous felony and misdemeanour embezzlement and money laundering charges, Duran also faces counts of tampering with public records, conspiracy and violating the state’s Governmental Conduct Act…

Republican governor Susana Martinez said she has talked with Balderas about the charges against the secretary of state.

“These allegations are deeply troubling and concerning, and all relevant state agencies have and will continue to assist the attorney general throughout the process,” Martinez said in a statement…

State law requires that candidates’ reports list donations and expenditures. The public documents are also supposed to list the donations’ sources.

Balderas said his office had received only one criminal referral from the secretary of state for a violation of the reporting law.

A review by the Daily Times newspaper in Farmington also showed that Duran’s office collected only 4% of roughly 2,000 fines imposed on candidates during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections…

Duran, a former Otero County clerk and state lawmaker, is serving her second term as the state’s top elections official. She was the first Republican to be elected to the office in eight decades, inheriting an agency that had been plagued by scandal.

A stellar example of the inbuilt failings of our 2-party farce.

New Mexico voters – including many independents and progressives like me – voted for Duran as the only choice offered as an alternative to a Democrat Secretary of State notorious for her own corruption. The only reason she stayed in office was a Democrat AG – from one of our political royal families – who deliberately stalled out her indictments and trial until she could claim lack of timely due process and charges finally had to be dropped.

So, the Republicans offered up an alternative in Duran – when we would have voted for a prairie dog as an alternative to what Democrats offered.

What did we get? The same old, same old. More corruption, money laundering, embezzling payoffs. What do we need? An open primary system like those in many Western democracies, like the system used in California. We haven’t any independents or Greens capable of building a grassroots base for a 3rd or 4th party. At least let us have a primary system where the occasional Bernie Sanders-style independent might be allowed to run and win.

The corruption, liaison between thieves and reactionaries representing every interest but workers and working class families, has given us 2-party indoctrination for so many decades in American politics, young people must think real democratic participation is a foreign invention. To be feared, not embraced.

I’d love to be able to think of Election Day as an opportunity – not a half-hearted defense against the evil of two lessers.