The Feds have no idea how to grow decent pot

❝ The only marijuana researchers can legally obtain for studies looks like something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe after walking on a grassy field.

This is not an exaggeration. Take a look at this photo, courtesy of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies:

This is the marijuana that researchers were sent for a study looking at whether pot can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

❝ Due to federal prohibition and regulations, all of the marijuana used for US research is provided by one facility at the University of Mississippi through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But researchers have complained for years that the quality of marijuana that NIDA supplies is terrible — typically far below what you can get from state-legal medical or recreational marijuana markets or even the black market.

The photo above exemplifies this. The marijuana looks like it’s made up more of leaves and stems than the actual bud you’re supposed to smoke. As anyone who’s ever smoked pot can tell you, you’re typically supposed to throw out the leaves and stems — meaning what you see in the photo is basically garbage to the typical user. Usable pot is supposed to look chunkier and laced with crystals that are high in THC (which is what gets you high).

❝ Here’s an example of higher-quality pot, taken before the stems are fully removed:

It ain’t just aesthetics, folks. The questions of usability, effectiveness, say, as a product to be used to wean Americans off opioids – are relevant.

RTFA for all the details and discussion.

Hacker snooping — think it’s just the Feds we have to watch?


No – he’s not leaving his badge number

❝ …Many members of the public first became aware of the FBI’s interest in hacking in February, when the bureau and Apple battled over a locked iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters. That spat ended abruptly when the FBI announced it had hacked into the iPhone without Apple’s assistance…

❝ The present debate around law enforcement hacking is, for good reason, focused mostly on the FBI. At present, the most sophisticated law enforcement hacking capabilities belong to the federal government and remain classified. And although state and local police certainly investigate some serious crimes within their jurisdictions, the FBI routinely handles serious crimes — child pornography, human trafficking, financial crime resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. By many measures, the gravity of the crimes the FBI investigates makes it understandable that when we consider extraordinary hacking measures used by law enforcement, we would start with the FBI.

❝ But law enforcement hacking is not just a matter for the feds, thanks to two trends in particular.

First, just like law-abiding citizens, criminals have access to legal services that allow them to encrypt communications, browse privately, and otherwise minimize their digital footprints. Smartphone encryption frequently prevents crime, but as these tools become easier to use and the commercial default, it isn’t difficult to imagine that criminals—even those who aren’t technologically sophisticated — will use them, too.

Second, state and local police departments are very interested in hacking capabilities that could, as they see it, improve their ability to fight crime. Leaked emails from the past several years show that law enforcement agencies around the country have received demonstrations of spyware being sold by the controversial Italian-based company Hacking Team, whose mission is to “provide effective, easy-to-use offensive technology to the worldwide law enforcement and intelligence communities.” Hacking Team boasts of software that helps law enforcement “hack into [their] targets with the most advanced infection vectors available.”

❝ The federal government is also sharing cybercrime-related knowledge with state and local police departments. The National Computer Forensics Institute, a federally funded center, is “committed to training state and local officials in cyber crime investigations” and offers tuition-free education on many elements of policing in a high-tech crime era. And after unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone, the FBI hastened to assure its local partners that it would share technical assistance whenever possible.

RTFA for details. Reflect upon your local coppers being as likely – more likely? – than the Feds to consider Free Speech a crime. They can expect the range of political fools from Trumpkins to FuzzyWhigs to back them up. Many of America’s conservatives look at the Bill of Rights as a failed experiment.

Feds bust 3 healthcare kingpins for $1 billion Medicare scam in Florida

One of the state’s wealthiest healthcare operators was arrested Friday at his Miami Beach waterfront estate on charges of orchestrating the nation’s biggest Medicare fraud scheme — $1 billion.

Philip Esformes, 47, charged with two other defendants, is accused of exploiting his network of about 20 Miami-Dade skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities to fleece the taxpayer-funded Medicare by filing false claims for services that were not necessary or in some instances not provided over the past 14 years.

An unidentified local hospital referred some of the thousands of Medicare patients to his network through kickback payments to physicians and other medical professionals, according to an indictment.

Esformes is charged with conspiring with Arnaldo Carmouze, 56, a Palmetto Bay physician’s assistant, and Odette Barcha, 49, a former longtime director of outreach programs at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami. Authorities would not confirm whether that was the local hospital at the center of the alleged scheme.

Esformes is also accused of referring his own network of patients to other convicted healthcare fraud offenders, who swindled Medicare for mental health, prescription drug and home healthcare services and ultimately helped federal investigators target the Miami Beach business executive. According to the indictment, those kickbacks were “disguised” as payments for escort services for Esformes as well as related travel and hotel expenses.

Justice Department officials — along with South Florida’s U.S. attorney, the FBI and Health and Human Services agents — described the Esformes case as one for the record books in the nation’s long-standing battle against healthcare fraud…

“This is the largest single criminal healthcare fraud case ever brought against individuals by the Department of Justice,”…assistant attorney general, Leslie R. Caldwell, said Friday…

“The magnitude of alleged false claims in this scheme is staggering and outrageous, even by South Florida healthcare fraud standards,” said U.S. attorney Wifredo Ferrer…

Yes – by “Florida healthcare fraud standards”. Florida’s Republican governor got his management experience from a chain of clinics busted for fraud. Florida is the nation’s center for pill clinics providing opioids for junkies stretching from the East Coast to Texas.

Why Florida voters were dumb enough to put a clown like Rick Scott in charge is beyond comprehension. The proof is once again in the criminal pudding cooked up in his state. Nothing turned up by Florida coppers, state or local. Once again, it took the Department of Justice to turn up this batch of thieves stealing from the taxpayers’ till.

Feds claim Microsoft can’t shield user data from government

The U.S. says there’s no legal basis for the government to be required to tell Microsoft customers when it intercepts their e-mail.

The software giant’s lawsuit alleging that customers have a constitutional right to know if the government has searched or seized their property should be thrown out, the government said in a court filing. The U.S. said federal law allows it to obtain electronic communications without a warrant or without disclosure of a specific warrant if it would endanger an individual or an investigation.

Microsoft sued the Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta Lynch in April, escalating a feud with the U.S. over customer privacy and its ability to disclose what it’s asked to turn over to investigators…

The Justice Department’s reply Friday underscores the government’s willingness to fight back against tech companies it sees obstructing national security and [often bullshit] law enforcement investigations. Tensions remain high following a series of court confrontations between the FBI and Apple over whether the company could be compelled to help unlock iPhones in criminal probes…

The industry’s push against government intrusion into their customers’ private information began at least two years ago, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures about covert data collection that put them all on the defensive.

Microsoft and Apple argue the very future of mobile and cloud computing is at stake if customers can’t trust that their data will remain private, while investigators seek digital tools to help them fight increasingly sophisticated criminals and terrorists savvy at using technology to communicate and hide their tracks…

The government said Microsoft doesn’t have the authority to sue over whether its users’ constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure are being violated…

Secrecy orders on government warrants for access to private e-mail accounts generally prohibit Microsoft from telling customers about the requests for lengthy or even unlimited periods, the company said when it sued. At the time, federal courts had issued almost 2,600 secrecy orders to Microsoft alone, and more than two-thirds had no fixed end date, cases the company can never tell customers about, even after an investigation is completed.

Our government does not recognize any individual right to privacy. Our government does not recognize any individual right to knowledge of the government investigating folks. Yeah, we can all come up with some unique circumstance when that might seem reasonable. Our government presumes a blanket privilege while denying any such right to ordinary citizens.

Not so incidentally, this isn’t especially a conservative vs liberal thing. There are a few of each in Establishment politics who will back up Americans’ right to privacy, right to know. Damned few.

The rest are silent.

#BlackLivesMatter? — unless you’re Homeland Security


Click to enlargePeter Marshall

The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, according to hundreds of documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.

The tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities as its annual budget has grown beyond $60 billion.

Our government thinks anyone who stands up for equal rights is a potential terrorist.

The surveillance cataloged in the DHS documents goes back to August of last year, when protests and riots broke out in Ferguson the day after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. According to two August 11th, 2014 reports, a DHS FEMA “WatchOps officer” used information from Twitter and Vine to monitor the riots and reproduced a map, originally created by a Reddit user, of conflict zones…

An April 2015 FEMA memo also shows that the DHS appears to have gathered information on anti-police-brutality protests in Philadelphia “organized by members of the Philly Coalition for Real Justice” and in New York on May Day at “Foley Square, start time 1700… Independent factions are being solicited to join in on a full day of demonstration through various open source social media sites, fliers, posters.”…

Baher Azmy, a legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, argues that this “providing situational awareness” is just another word for surveillance and that creating this body of knowledge about perfectly legal events is a problem in and of itself. “What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation,” said Azmy. “Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”

Although DHS spokesman S.Y.Lee says…that the department “does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering,” some of the documents show that the DHS has produced minute-by-minute reports on protesters’ movements in demonstrations…

The documents also elaborate on DHS’s response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who in April died from injuries sustained while in police custody…the DHS’ Federal Protective Service placed more than 400 officers on duty in Baltimore after Gray’s death…

Raven Rakia, a journalist who investigates state surveillance and policing, said that the DHS’ decision to monitor Black Lives Matter is hardly surprising, given the federal government’s well documented history of spying on and suppressing black social movements and groups like the Black Panthers. “There’s a long history of the federal agencies, especially the FBI, seeing black resistance organizations as a threat to national security,” says Rakia…

Same as it ever was. A government that isn’t serious about equal rights for all Americans, a Congress afraid of attempts to guarantee voting rights, civil rights, expected in a democratic nation – sets the stage for activists to be an automatic target for suppression.

Apple and others ask Obama to reject backdoors for cops and other snoops


Yes, this is what it says on my wife’s iPhone, same on my iPad

In a letter…delivered to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Apple is among a group of signatories requesting the White House reject incoming government proposals that would modify current policies to allow law enforcement access to encrypted user data.

As reported by The Washington Post, which gained access to the letter on Monday, Apple joins a cadre of more than 140 tech companies, security experts and interested civil groups concerned with upcoming legislation that could force access to consumer data, even if it is encrypted.

“Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” the letter reads. Further, signatories unanimously recommend that government agencies should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards.”

According to The Post, three signatories were on a five-member presidential review team formed to investigate U.S. technology policy in 2013, just after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked public outrage by leaking information regarding secret government surveillance programs. Among the revelations aired by Snowden was the existence of mass data collection initiatives targeting everything from phone calls to social networks and other high-traffic consumer products…

With iOS 8, Apple built an encryption system so secure that it is technically incapable of decrypting a user’s device even with the appropriate documentation. The lockout method was not well received by officials wanting access to user data, a procedure allowed through [so-called] proper warrants.

RTFA if you need to dull your brain with predictable rationales from security-snoops. The history of this sort of political paranoia tends to end with Big Brother having his patriarchal way with your thought and speech. Coppers are accustomed, now, to the government handing them them anything they need or need to know – or think they need to know – on a bulletproof platter.

They’re incensed that Apple dares to advertise the fact that they can’t decrypt your iPad or iPhone, either.

If you hadn’t noticed – the Global War on Drugs is a failure

LSE War on Drugs

The war on drugs must end and the battle to change international drug policies must begin, says a new report from the London School of Economics.

Five Nobel Prize-winning economists signed off on the 84-page report entitled Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy authored by leading drug policy experts and supported by political figures from around the world calling for drug law reform.

The authors offer compelling evidence that achieving a “drug-free world” based solely on a prohibitionist model is an expensive and wasted effort. According to John Collins, co-ordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report, the drug policy experts’ recommendations show how the war on drugs is a failure requiring a “major rethink of international drug policies…”

Based on rigorous economic and social analyses of primarily the U.S., Latin America, West Africa and Asia, the authors urge that global resources shift from prosecution and imprisonment to more “effective evidence-based polices” such as harm reduction, treatment and public health strategies. Similar recommendations are suggested for Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The report also says the drug war epidemic has produced “negative outcomes and collateral damage.” Prohibition helps push illicit drug prices up exorbitantly compared to what they would cost in a legally controlled market.

Current policies have helped push the black market drug trade to as much as $300 billion, and the 40 per cent of the world’s nine million prison inmates are jailed for drug-related offences — a figure that jumps to 59 per cent in the U.S. Moreover, between 70 and 85 per cent of American inmates are in need of substance abuse treatment.

The report emphasizes that while prohibition holds some value in decreasing drug dependence, the harm to society is gravely outweighed due to violence, government corruption and collateral damage associated with the drug war, especially in drug producing countries like Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala.

Dr. Benedikt Fischer…thinks prohibition is an outdated weapon to fight the modern war on drugs. “The advocates of prohibition had about a century to prove that their approach is actually effective and we’re still waiting for the positive evidence,” he says. “I think it’s fair game to now say, look let’s give some alternative approaches a chance and on an evidence base, not based on ideology.”

RTFA if you need a little more depth on the study and its conclusions.

Read the study itself if you need a bit more ammunition in the battle for reason versus ignorance – with the idiots in charge of the asylum we call government.

More ICD-10 follies: Animal-drawn vehicle collides with train

The switch to the ICD-10 billing system may have been pushed back at least a year by Congress, but MedPage Today still thinks it’s worthwhile to spotlight some of those thousands of new codes that might just be getting a bit too granular.

Today’s code:

V80.62XA: Occupant of animal-drawn vehicle injured in collision with railway train or railway vehicle, initial encounter (Hat tip to reader Debra Fischer for this one.)

There must be a special room for demented bureaucrats selected to produce some of these new – and soon-to-be required – medical codes used by Medicare, Medicaid.

Here are a few more:

V95.42XA: Forced landing of spacecraft injuring occupant, initial encounter

Fear of Easter Bunny
F40.218: Fear of the Easter Bunny

V96.1: Hang-glider accident injuring occupant

W21.11XA: Struck by baseball bat, initial encounter…

V96.03XA: Balloon collision injuring occupant, initial encounter

This last category not so unusual in New Mexico.

Secret court orders U.S. to declassify Prism surveillance ruling

FISA Obama
Click to enlarge

A secret U.S. court overseeing government domestic surveillance activities has sided with Yahoo and ordered the Obama administration to declassify and publish a 2008 court decision justifying Prism, the data collection program revealed last month by former security contractor Edward Snowden.

The ruling could offer a rare glimpse into how the government has legally justified its spy agencies’ data collection programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Judge Reggie Walton of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued Monday’s ruling. The government is expected to decide by August 26 which parts of the 2008 opinion may be published, according to a separate court filing by the Justice Department…

Ever apply for and receive a copy of your FBI case history? That’s what this will probably look like. An advert for black magic marker with everything redacted but Obama’s signature.

In June, after Snowden leaked information about Prism to the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers, Yahoo’s lawyers asked the courts and government to declassify and publish decisions upholding the constitutionality of the program.

Legal experts who follow surveillance cases said the 2008 ruling may not reveal any strikingly novel legal reasoning by the government or the courts. But civil liberties advocates said the significance of the ruling may lie in the court’s decision itself to declassify the previously secret 2008 ruling.

“Unless the public knows what the laws mean, it can’t really assess how much power (it has) given its government,” said Patrick Toomey, a national security fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Monday’s ruling “is a suggestion that the FISA court is primed now to consider the government’s assertion of the necessity of secrecy,” Toomey said. “It’s a promising first step.”

The decision is also a victory for Yahoo…”Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy,” Yahoo said.

Other Internet companies, including Google and Facebook began participating in Prism in early 2009 soon after Yahoo lost its appeal before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

This can be a victory for a lot of ordinary citizens concerned with the government being the ultimate decider – to use George W. Bush’s term – on questions of balance between national security and individual privacy.

Tech Companies finally admit collaboration with snoops

When government officials came to Silicon Valley to demand easier ways for the world’s largest Internet companies to turn over user data as part of a secret surveillance program, the companies bristled. In the end, though, many cooperated at least a bit.

Twitter declined to make it easier for the government. But other companies were more compliant, according to people briefed on the negotiations. They opened discussions with national security officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently and securely share the personal data of foreign users in response to lawful government requests. And in some cases, they changed their computer systems to do so.

The negotiations shed a light on how Internet companies, increasingly at the center of people’s personal lives, interact with the spy agencies that look to their vast trove of information — e-mails, videos, online chats, photos and search queries — for intelligence. They illustrate how intricately the government and tech companies work together, and the depth of their behind-the-scenes transactions.

And, legally, they haven’t a choice. Courtesy of a chickenshit Congress and a cavalier Constitutional lawyer for president.

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