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20th December   

Update: Not So Non Lethal...

US police tasers kill 334 and are open to abuse
Link Here
Full story: Taser Not So Non Lethal...Taser stun gun proves lethal in police hands

Amnesty International has said that industry claims that Taser stun guns are safe and non-lethal do not stand up to scrutiny.

The organization called on governments to limit their deployment to life-threatening situations or to suspend their use.

The call came as the organization released one of the most detailed reports to date on the safety of the stun gun. The report USA: Less than lethal? is being published as the number of people who died after being struck by Tasers in the USA reached 334 between 2001 and August 2008.

Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be, said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report. They can kill and should only be used as a last resort. The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks.

Amnesty International's study – which includes information from 98 autopsies – found that 90% of those who died after being struck with a Taser were unarmed and many did not appear to present a serious threat.

Many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks – far more than the five-second "standard" cycle – or by more than one officer at a time. Some people were even shocked for failing to comply with police commands after they had been incapacitated by a first shock.

In at least six of the cases where people died, Tasers were used on individuals suffering from medical conditions such as seizures – including a doctor who had crashed his car when he suffered an epileptic seizure. He died after being repeatedly shocked at the side of the highway when, dazed and confused, he failed to comply with an officer's commands.

Police officers also used Tasers on schoolchildren, pregnant women and even an elderly person with dementia.


10th December   

Welcome to America...

Brit in jail, re-punished for smoking a joint 6 years ago
Link Here

TV Interviewer : Why do you risk
holidaying in Thailand at a time of unrest?
Tourist : It's safer than going to America!

A Briton who has lived and worked legally in America for 35 years, married a US citizen and raised three children there, has been locked up in a New Jersey jail after falling victim to a draconian immigration crackdown.

Paul Clements, 58, a permanent US resident and former tour manager for bands such as the Rolling Stones and Dire Straits, is threatened with expulsion from his adopted homeland after his passport and green card were confiscated following a work trip abroad.

He now spends his days in a khaki prison jumpsuit as his case works its way through the US legal system and his wife and teenage daughter were reduced to tears when they saw him chained and in handcuffs in a recent court appearance.

The turmoil in their lives has its roots in a night out with friends at a local pub in 2002. On the way home, Clements, a manager at a large events production company, was arrested on suspicion of drink driving and police found a third of a joint of marijuana in his car.

He was fined, put on a year's probation and ordered to attend drug information classes as punishment for possession of 0.8 grams of marijuana, an amount so small that the authorities would not prosecute in many American cities, including neighbouring New York.

The offence did not leave him subject to the threat of deportation and he thought no more of the incident, even as he flew in and out of the country on subsequent trips overseas. But in late-May, he was held for several hours at New York's Kennedy airport as he arrived home from a work trip to Italy.

For the Department of Homeland Security has been updating its computer records to include thousands of offences committed by foreign residents (known as "aliens" in official US parlance).

And although Clements could not be deported for his offence, any conviction for controlled substance is cause for immigration authorities to refuse an arriving alien entry to the US.

He was eventually allowed into the country but ordered to return to the airport for what is known as a deferred inspection. On the second such trip, on Nov 12, he was arrested, handcuffed and taken away to an immigration jail in New Jersey.

Worse was to come on Nov 24 when Mr Clements appeared in an immigration court for a bail hearing arranged by his lawyer. The room was packed with his friends, family and colleagues who hoped he would be freed pending the immigration hearing, but the judge ruled that he was subject to mandatory detention until his case is heard – in March at the earliest.

His attorney, Michael DiRaimondo, is now attempting to arrange a deal with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials for him to receive parole so that he can spend Christmas with his family.


4th December   

Thought Police...

Self incrimination of one's own private sexual thoughts
Link Here

A man who has recently suffered torture in the Homeland of America now talks about it.

Just picture what would happen if the authorities developed a forensic instrument capable of detecting illicit fantasies in the mind, rather than on the computer hard drive (does anyone, really have nothing they would prefer to sexually hide?).

Pretty well everyone would end up on the Sex Offender's Register, and, if current sentencing policies were pursued, large areas of land would have to be surrendered for a massive new building development: Her Majesty's Prisons.

It immediately occurred to me that just such an instrument capable of detecting illicit fantasies in the mind has indeed already been invented: it is the so-called, much discussed penile plethysmograph, a device with which I am intimately familiar, having myself been one of the unfortunate victims of its use . At the very least, let me say that, if the penile plethysmograph is not such an instrument, it is remarkably close - damn close, I would say.

To rehearse my own personal experience, an elastic band is handed to one, whilst seated in a small, darkened private room, with orders to slip it around the shaft of one's male member. Electrical wires have previously been attached to the elastic band now around one's manhood, and these wires are in fact connected to a device (in a separate room) which records the rate at which the elastic band expands, and the diameter of the expansion, as one's manhood expands during subsequent tumescent erections.

To induce the erections, the male subject is shown a series of slides, and simultaneously hears a recorded running commentary to the slides. These slides consist of mild adult pornography, interspersed with suggestive photos of children of all ages and both genders. Occasional non-human photos are also occasionally shown (undoubtedly as controls). These photos might consist of nature photos, such as leaves or trees, or sunny meadows.

But the thing that really gets the subject's blood pumping (literally) is not so much the suggestive photos (though that undoubtedly helps), but rather, the highly suggestive and erotic descriptive monologue of various sexual acts which accompanies the photos. This, it can definitely be said, is highly pornographic, and involves verbal descriptions of all kinds of possible human sexual interactions: adult with adult, male with female, adult with minor, male with male, and female with female.

The penile plethysmograph, if used on every male alive in our Western democracies, would very soon fill up and overflow every prison now existing, and indeed, it could be said that because hidden sexual fantasies probably exist in all human beings, surely there could not be enough prisons then built to house all the males who would be found guilty of harbouring hidden and illicit sexual fantasies, once those fantasies were revealed to the light of day by this instrument.

What prevents this from happening? Why, only selective use of this instrument, of course, by those in a position of power; the use of this instrument as an effective instrument of repression against sociosexual minorities they wish to persecute and imprison. And a most effective instrument of persecution and repression it is. You may take it from my own firsthand experience.


30th November   

Indiscriminate Arsehole...

Governor of Nebraska considers banning nurses from buying porn for disabled patients
Link Here

Nebraska Governor, David Heineman, is reviewing a state policy that requires state employees to help patients at state hospitals buy pornography.

The policy was highlighted in an alleged sexual assault at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, which houses developmentally disabled residents.

The assault suspect, a developmentally disabled man, had obtained permission from employees to possess pornography and had even been driven by state workers to two sex shops to buy it.

Heineman has plans to discuss with the state Attorney General's Office discontinuing any involvement from state workers. The governor said, however, he would not restrict residents or family members from buying such material.

Officials of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said that under its policies concerning appropriate sexual expression, a resident at the Beatrice center or other state facilities for the developmentally disabled can obtain pornography if it's approved by a treatment team.


26th November   

PopUp Injustice...

Disorderly conduct of prosecutors of spyware infested teacher
Link Here

A Connecticut substitute teacher arrested four years ago for allegedly showing students porn on a classroom computer has been cleared of the felony charges after experts pointed the finger at spyware.

Julie Amero agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, pay a $100 fine, and surrendered her teaching license, according to the Hartford Courant.

The Superior Court judge in Norwich tossed out the charges that she had endangered children by intentionally causing "pop-up" pornography to display on her computer and ordered a new trial after computer forensics experts presented evidence about the spyware. Judge Hillary B. Strackbein said the conviction was based on erroneous and false information.

Despite the expert evidence, and the fact that state prosecutors never conducted a forensic examination of the hard drive, New London County State's Attorney Michael Regan said he remained convinced of Amero's guilt and was prepared to take the case to trial again.

The security expert who led a team of forensic volunteers in the case is outraged that officials are dismissing the evidence about the dangers of spyware.

Regan's pronouncement of his certainty of her guilt speaks to his ignorance and unwillingness to learn the facts of this case, and the facts of what PC viruses can do to a computer and, in some cases, a life, Alex Eckelberry, chief executive of security firm Sunbelt Software, wrote on The Julie Blog, a site spawned by the Amero case and which is focused on seeking fairness in the intersection of law and technology.

All of our forensic investigators felt it was a complete miscarriage. It was clear she was absolutely innocent, he told the Hartford Courant. The mistakes and misinformation that occurred in that courtroom were astounding.


6th November   

Welcome to the USA...You're Under Arrest...

US invite repressed Egyptian bloggers to observe US freedom
Link Here

A group of Egyptian bloggers who have been coming to the US throughout the past three months to cover the American elections were welcomed back to the US last night by getting arrested. Ironically, their trip was sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

It's a group of 8 Egyptian bloggers who have been brought to the US for a series of first-hand looks at the election campaigns as part of a project by the Kamal Adham Center for Journalism Training and Research at The American University in Cairo.

The first trips they visited Washington, New York and other major cities. This week, after having returned briefly to Egypt, they are on their way back to visit journalism schools. The group has done an insightful and witty job of covering the 2008 US presidential election.

In their own country these bloggers are fighting for freedom of speech and the press. Many of them have been actively harassed by their government for their efforts. Wael Abbas, for example, had his YouTube account shut down because of his anti-torture coverage.

Imagine their surprise last night when enroute back to the US, two of the bloggers were arrested and detained; one for four hours and the other for ten before being released to do what they came here to do -- observe and record.


12th October   

Body Dangerous...

American injustice threatens youngsters with cameras
Link Here

A 15-year-old Ohio girl was arrested on felony child pornography charges for allegedly sending nude cell phone pictures of herself to classmates. Authorities are considering charging some of the students who received the photos as well.

The student from Licking Valley High School in Newark, Ohio was arrested after school officials discovered the materials and notified police. She spent the weekend in juvenile detention and entered a plea of "deny" according to The

Charges include illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and possession of criminal tools. If convicted, the girl could be forced to register as a sexual offender for 20 years, but because of her age, the judge hearing the case has some flexibility in the matter, an official told the Advocate.

The pictures came to light after a Licking County prosecutor began visiting high schools to educate students on the consequences of transmitting nude photos by cell phone. According to one student interviewed by 10TV News, the teens were warned they could serve 20 years if convicted.

The girl remains under house arrest. She is not allowed to have access to a cell phone or the internet except for school purposes and then only with adult supervision.


11th October   

Offsite: Aborting AIDS Aid...

Bush administration still working to deny world access to contraception
Link Here

With domestic and global attention turned to the financial crisis and the last four weeks of the race for the White House, the Bush administration is taking the opportunity to quietly check off some nefarious boxes in its efforts to spread the American culture wars beyond our shores.

Last week, the UK-based Marie Stopes International, which fairly calls itself "one of the world's leading family planning institutions", received a letter leaders of the organisation had been both dreading and expecting since June. Penned by Kent Hill, assistant administrator at USAID's bureau for global health, it dropped an anvil.

In light of the restrictions on USAID assistance and MSI's work as the major implementing partner of [the UN Population Fund]'s programme in China, which supports China's family planning programme, USAID has concluded that it is not appropriate for MSI to receive USAID funded contraceptives and/or condoms from host country governments.

The reason? The Kemp-Kasten Amendment. The so-called global gag rule that restricts any family planning organisation that even mentions abortion. Since 2002, the Bush administration has cited Kemp-Kasten in its annual decision to withhold our $39.7m in yearly dues from the UN Population Fund.

The impact? In his letter USAID's Hill went on to say that countries working with Marie Stopes International (MSI) had been instructed, effective immediately, to no longer work with MSI. At least six African countries will lose MSI's distribution of crucial USAID-supplied contraceptives and condoms in rural and remote areas and urban slums. The nations affected include Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, countries for whom MSI currently covers some 25% of contraceptive distribution.

...Read full article


8th October   

No Dress Sense...

Worries that Americans are weak minded and swayed by t-shirts
Link Here

Sue Nace thought election volunteers were joking when they told her she would have to remove her T-shirt to vote in the US presidential primary last spring.

But it was no laughing matter to the poll workers-turned-fashion police, who said Nace's Barack Obama shirt was inappropriate electioneering and made her cover the writing.

Now, a political fight over what voters can wear to the polls is headed to court in Pennsylvania, the Republican Party favouring a dress code, the Democrats opposed.

The political showdown was triggered by a Pennsylvania Department of State memo advising counties last month that voters' attire doesn't matter as long as the voter takes no additional action to attempt to influence other voters. Because the memo is not legally binding, some counties have kept past restrictions on clothing and political buttons.

But two Pittsburgh elections officials brought a court action to have the memo rescinded. Their lawsuit warned that if the memo stands, nothing would prevent a partisan group from synchronising a battalion of like-minded individuals... to descend on a polling place, presenting a domineering, united front, certain to dissuade the average citizen who may privately hold different beliefs.


3rd October   

Witty Police T-Shirts...

Denver Police: We get up early to BEAT the crowds
Link Here

The Denver police union is selling T-shirts that poke fun at protesters at last month's Democratic National Convention, but the main target isn't laughing.

The back of the shirts reads, We get up early to beat the crowds and 2008 DNC, and has a caricature of a police officer holding a baton.

The front has the number 68 with a slash through it, a reference to the Recreate 68 Coalition, which organized several demonstrations during the convention.

Recreate 68 organizer Glenn Spagnuolo called the shirt appalling and tasteless.

Detective Nick Rogers, a member of the Police Protective Association board, said police often issue T-shirts to commemorate big events. Rogers said each Denver officer was given one of the shirts free and others are on sale for $10 each at police union offices. He said the union expects to sell about 2,000 of them. Rogers said he hadn't received any previous complaints about the shirts.

Police arrested 154 people before and during the Democratic convention. There were few reports of violence. In once incident, an officer was videotaped pushing a protester to the ground with his baton and telling her, Back up, bitch.

The district attorney declined to prosecute the officer, saying the woman had disobeyed warnings to back away and had grabbed the officer's baton.


14th September   

Non Erotic Pornography...

US persecutor tries to argue that Star Wars videos are porn
Link Here

A kindergarten teacher, James Perry, accused of raping two young boys is a free man after prosecutors dropped the case against him citing numerous inconsistencies and other factors.

The case against Perry was shaky from the start and juries through a series of trials and retrials didn't find it sufficiently convincing. So prosecutors got a little constructive with the evidence:

At one point, Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Dean tried to argue that movies found in Perry's home, like Star Wars , the Harry Potter films and Little House on the Prairie , constituted non-erotic pornography .

The judge thankfully ruled the videos irrelevant and refused to let the jury hear that argument.


13th August   

Waterboard Thrill Ride...

New installation at Coney Island amusement park
Link Here

A man with a black hood pours water on the face of a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit strapped to a table: no, it's not Guantanamo Bay naval base, but New York's Coney Island amusement park.

The scene using robotic dolls is an installation built by artist Steve Powers to criticize waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique the United States has admitted using on terrorism suspects, but that rights group say is torture. The public can peek through window bars and feed a dollar into the slot to bring the robotic dolls into action.

Waterboard Thrill Ride beckons a sign along with cartoon character "SpongeBob SquarePants" who appears tied down and exclaiming: It don't Gitmo better!

Anyone can see this is painful from 50 feet away, said Powers: I wanted people to understand the psychological ramifications of this.

Alex Soto said he thought it was a good thing for people to learn about waterboarding, but he added: It is pretty twisted.


6th August   

Shit Attitude at Verizon...

US ISP refuses to allow Dr Libshitz his name in an email address
Link Here

This spring, the 69-year-old physician and his wife, Alison, were trying to upgrade the Internet service in their summer place in Rehoboth Beach, Del. They had dial-up. They wanted DSL.

When it was time to enter their user name and create an e-mail address, Verizon wouldn't let them complete the job.

This is how Dr. Herman I. Libshitz remembers it:

We called their help line, and got a wonderful young man in the Philippines who told us: "We can't install it because your name has 'shit' in it."

The doctor asked to speak with a supervisor.

The Libshitzes got the same answer from the supervisor, who suggested they try misspelling their last name. That wouldn't do, either.

The couple uses Libshitz in its e-mail address with Prodigy. So there had to be some way around the rules, the two figured.

Several days later, Libshitz received a letter from Verizon's customer-relations desk in Everett, Wash., informing him that he could not have the user name because it didn't comply with company rules.

So the couple returned the Verizon DSL kit. If I can't use my own name, I'm going to stay with my AT&T dial-up, the doctor said: The hell with them.

I called Sharon B. Schaffer, a Verizon spokeswoman, who offered a refreshing answer to my question as to how this happened: I don't have a clue. Actually, I'm kind of surprised. If this is Dr. Libshitz's name, your name is your identity. He's had this his entire life. . . . I think he needs a little bit of personal attention.

A couple days later, she e-mailed me a formal response:

As a general rule (since 2005) Verizon doesn't allow questionable language in e-mail addresses, but we can, and do, make exceptions based on reasonable requests. The one from Dr. and Mrs. Libshitz certainly is reasonable and we regret the inconvenience and frustration they've been caused.

The doctor said he was willing to try again, but grudgingly: These people have no trouble putting me in their phone book. They send me mail with that name, they send me a bill routinely, and they cash my checks with Libshitz on it. They just offended me.


19th July   

Snapshot of the Land of the Not So Free...

US man arrested for unlawful photography
Link Here

A Tri-Cities area man ended up behind bars after snapping a shot of a Johnson County sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop.

The cell phone photographer says the arrest was intimidation, but the deputy says he feared for his life: Here's a guy who takes me out of the car and arrests me in front of my kids. For what? To take a picture of a police officer? said Scott Conover.

A Johnson County sheriff's deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.

He says you took a picture of me. It's illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer, said Conover: This is a public highway . And it was not a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy as Tennessee code states. The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times: He said if you don't give it to me, you're going to jail.

Conover expects the charges to be dismissed. The American Civil Liberties Union said there is no law that prohibits anyone from taking photographs in public areas, even of police. Taking photos is protected by the First Amendment.

Conover is ordered to appear in a Johnson County court on August 6th.


15th July   

Muslim Profiling: US Apartheid 2008...

FBI to be enabled to investigate people solely on the basis of racial/religious profiling
Link Here

The US Justice Department is considering a change in the grounds on which the FBI can investigate citizens and legal residents of the United States. Till now, DOJ guidelines have required the FBI to have some evidence of wrongdoing before it opens an investigation. The impending new rules, which would be implemented later this summer, allow bureau agents to establish a terrorist profile or pattern of behavior and attributes and, on the basis of that profile, start investigating an individual or group. Agents would be permitted to ask "open-ended questions" concerning the activities of Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans. A person's travel and occupation, as well as race or ethnicity, could be grounds for opening a national security investigation.

The rumored changes have provoked protests from Muslim American and Arab-American groups. The Council on American Islamic Relations, among the more effective lobbies for Muslim Americans' civil liberties, immediately denounced the plan, as did James Zogby, the president of the Arab-American Institute. Said Zogby, There are millions of Americans who, under the reported new parameters, could become subject to arbitrary and subjective ethnic and religious profiling. Zogby, who noted that the Bush administration's history with profiling is not reassuring, warned that all Americans would suffer from a weakening of civil liberties.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey's explained his rationale for revising the rules: It's necessary to put in place regulations that will allow the FBI to transform itself as it is transforming itself into an intelligence-gathering organization.

When did Congress, or we as a nation, have a debate about whether we want to authorize the establishment of a domestic intelligence agency? Indeed, late last month Congress signaled its discomfort with the concept by denying the FBI's $11 million funding request for its data-mining center.

It is a mystery why the Department of Justice has not learned the lesson that terrorists are best tracked down through good police work brought to bear on specific illegal acts, rather than by vast fishing expeditions. After Sept. 11, the DOJ called thousands of Muslim men in the United States for what it termed voluntary interviews. Not a single terrorist was identified in this manner, though a handful of the interviewees ended up being deported for minor visa offenses. Once it became clear that the interviews might eventuate in arbitrary actions against them, the willingness of American Muslims to cooperate declined rapidly, and so the whole operation badly backfired.


5th July   

No Freedom Writers Allowed...

US Teacher sacked for inspiring her pupils
Link Here

An American teacher has been suspended without pay for introducing her class to an "inspiring" book because it contained swearing.

Connie Heermann used the Freedom Writers Diary , a celebrated non-fiction bestseller, to try to inspire under-performing students at a high-school in Indiana.

The book is a series of true stories written by inner-city teenagers that were compiled by Californian teacher Erin Gruwell, and has been celebrated as a model for transforming young lives.

Mrs Heermann asked her head teacher if she could use it in lessons last autumn and, with the backing of nearly 150 parents, was granted.

But when the matter came before the Perry Meridian high school board for final approval it was rejected, allegedly because a single member objected to swearing in the book.

Mrs Heermann, a teacher with 27 years of experience, said: If you read the whole book you will see how these inner-city students grow and change and become articulate, compassionate, educated young people who want to do something good in their lives despite the environment in which they were raised. I thought my students would very much relate to those kids.

Mrs Heermann and teachers' union officials said there was no explicit ban on the book when she handed it out to pupils on November 15. But later that day she received an email from the board which advised her not to teach it.

She said: That was the pivotal moment of my life, when I saw how my students were taken with the book, how they loved it, and then I am told not to let them read it? I said no.

After being threatened with dismissal, Heermann was eventually suspended for 18 months without pay. The union is now deciding whether to take the case to court.


17th June   

Man Size Tits in Texas...

Man fined for being topless in Texas
Link Here

Easton police have ticketed someone for going topless in public. Sean Cephus, 18, was cited June 4 when police say he was spotted without a shirt on South Street. He was also cited for failing to obey a lawful order to stop for police.

A town ordinance adopted in 1974 forbids anyone from going topless in public buildings or on public streets and sidewalks. Possible penalties are a fine of up to $100 and up to 10 days in jail.


7th June   

Lies Caught on Camera...

Cameras banned for US railway stations despite official denial
Link Here

The Fox channel in Washington D.C. became aware that photographers were being hassled by security in Union Station (the train station in Washington), so they dispatched a reporter and a crew to do a story on it.

So they're interviewing the head spokesman for Amtrak, who is explaining that there aren't any laws or rules against photography inside the train station...when a security guard comes up and tells the TV crew they'll have to turn the cameras off.


26th April   

Update: Tortured by Guilt...

Amnesty International highlight US torture to UK cinema goers
Link Here

Malcolm Nance, who trained hundreds of US servicemen and women to resist interrogation by putting them through "waterboarding" exercises, demanded an immediate end to the practice by all US personnel.

He said: They seem to think it is worth throwing the honour of 220 years of American decency in war out of the window. Waterboarding is out-and-out torture, and I'm deeply ashamed President Bush has authorised its use and dragged the US's reputation into the mud.

Nance said: The head is strapped down in such a way so they cannot resist the water. The head is elevated so the water goes down the oesoph agus. The water is poured very carefully over the nose – you keep a constant pour. You are drowning in water but you don't have the ability to hold your breath. You feel the water going in, you understand that water is filling your lungs.

Nance, who is now an independent consultant, said the technique was also futile, as well as barbaric, as the prisoner would say anything to survive – regardless of its truth.

Amnesty International is leading the campaign to persuade the US to abandon the practice – a form of torture used as long ago as the Spanish Inquisition – and is stepping up its efforts with the release of a graphic and disturbing cinema advertisement.

The broadcast begins with images of glistening clear liquid, suggesting it could be promoting a new brand of vodka or gin. But the camera pulls back to show water is being poured over the face of a desperate man strapped to a table.

Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, said: Our film shows you what the CIA doesn't want you to see – the disgusting reality of half-drowning a person. For a few seconds, our film-makers did it for real. Even for those few seconds, it's horrifying to watch. The reality – in a secret prison with no one to stop it – is much, much worse.


21st April   

America Growing Up?...

Land of the Free to unban adults from drinking
Link Here

A number of US states are considering legislation to lower the legal drinking age from the current standard of 21 - if only to allow troops coming home from Iraq to drink.

The move would defy a generation of federal law and public opinion, which is strongly opposed to lowering the drinking age. In 1984 Congress set a uniform legal age of 21, threatening to cut highway funding to states which did not comply.

Despite the risk of penalties, however, seven US states are exploring lowering the drinking age - partly for under-age Iraq war vets and more broadly in recognition that teenagers are going to drink anyway.

If you can take a shot on the battlefield you ought to be able to take a shot of beer legally, said Fletcher Smith, who has sponsored legislation to lower the drinking age in South Carolina.

Kentucky, Wisconsin, and South Carolina have introduced legislation to lower the drinking age for troops to 18.

Four other states - Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, and most recently Vermont - would extend the privilege to the general population. However, South Dakota would only allow 18-20 year olds to buy low-alcohol beer. Advocates of a lower drinking age argue that teenagers are drinking, and that the secrecy encourages binge drinking among young people.

Our laws aren't working. They're not preventing underage drinking. What they're doing is putting it outside the public eye, Hinda Miller, a Vermont state senator, told reporters yesterday, after a committee took up her bill to study lowering the drinking age: So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble and they can't call because they know it's illegal.

While the move would be popular with college students and other young people obliged to pay for fake ID if they want a night on the town, there is concerted opposition to lowering America's drinking age. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other nutter groups say raising the drinking age a generation ago has cut traffic related deaths among young people by 13%.

States that do lower their drinking age would also pay a heavy penalty under current legislation that would require them to forfeit 10% of their highway fund from the federal government.


6th April   

Nipple Pedants...

Piercings set off airport metal detector
Link Here

A Texas woman who claims she was forced to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane has called for an apology by federal security agents and a civil rights investigation.

Mandi Hamlin said at a news conference in Los Angeles. My experience with TSA was a nightmare I had to endure. No one deserves to be treated this way.

Hamlin said she was trying to board a flight from Lubbock to Dallas on when she was scanned by a Transportation Security Administration agent after passing through a larger metal detector without problems.

The female TSA agent used a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of Hamlin's chest, the Dallas-area resident said.

Hamlin said she told the woman that she was wearing nipple piercings. The female agent then called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the body piercings, Hamlin claimed.

Hamlin said she could not remove them and asked if she could instead display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent. But several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewelry was removed, she said.

She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped nipple piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.

Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her, said Hamlin's attorney, Gloria Allred.

She said she heard male TSA agents snickering as she took out the ring. She was scanned again and was allowed to board even though she still was wearing a belly button ring.

TSA officials said they were investigating Hamlin's allegations to see if its policies were followed. If an alarm does sound, until that is resolved, we're not going to let them go through the checkpoint, no matter what they're wearing or where they're wearing it, said TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird in Salt Lake City.


26th March   

Offsite: Customary Abuse...

You don't have any privacy rights at the border anyway, so what's the problem?
Link Here
Full story: Laptops at Customs...Travel dangers from Customs searching lap tops

It is clear that people traveling into and out of the US have a lower expectation of privacy at the border. Perhaps more accurately, a governmental search at the border is more likely to be considered "reasonable."

The agents get to do things they can't do if, for example, they simply stop you on the street. They can question you, they can rifle through your unmentionables, and even examine documents you are bringing with you. The agents can even disassemble your gas tank, looking for hidden compartments that you could be using to smuggle things. In the Arnold case, the government argued that its search authority at the border is "plenary" or unrestricted, except that to do an invasive body cavity search, it would have to have some kind of suspicion.

But searches of things? Well, they can do whatever they want it would seem.

The customs agents' job is to protect the nation from "anything harmful," to gather intelligence, prevent terrorism, and to enforce all of the laws, including child pornography and copyright laws. The computer is no different from any other "closed container" that the agent may search. Just as the agent needs no probable cause to search your underwear, they need no probable cause to rummage through your laptop. And besides, they are doing it to protect the country and enforce the laws and prevent terrorist attacks. You don't have any privacy rights at the border anyway, so what's the problem?

...Read full article


20th March   

Moral Turpitude...

US invaders and torturers deny entry to British author on the grounds of immorality
Link Here

Controversial British author Sebastian Horsley was denied entrance into the United States as he arrived to promote his memoir of drug addiction, sex and his dysfunctional family, his publisher has said.

Seale Ballenger, spokesman for HarperCollins Publishers, said Horsley was stopped by immigration officials at New York's Newark airport after flying in from London to promote his latest book Dandy in the Underworld.

He said the flamboyant writer was accused of "moral turpitude" in connection with his former drug use, pro-prostitution stance, and controversial self-crucifixion in the Philippines in 2000.

Horsley claims to have slept with more than 1,000 prostitutes, worked as a male escort, and been in and out of rehab to treat drug addiction, with video interviews of him talking about his drug use and sex life posted on the Internet.

Ballenger said after several hours of questioning by immigration officials, Horsley was put on a plane and returned to London.

The New York Times quoted a customs spokeswoman, Lucille Cirillo, saying she could not comment on individual cases. But in an e-mail to the newspaper she explained that under a waiver program that allows British citizens to enter the United States without a visa, travellers who have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (which includes controlled-substance violations) or admit to previously having a drug addiction are not admissible.

Publisher Carrie Kania, from the HarperCollins' unit Harper Perennial that published the book in the United States, said she found it hard to understand why Horsley would be denied entrance into the U.S. for "his notoriety."

Horsley's memoir was published last September in Britain with reviewers calling it both amusing and revolting.


19th March   

Sketches of My Nightmare...

Banned Guantanamo sketches redrawn
Link Here

The US army has banned the publication of four cartoons drawn by Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman held in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, according to his lawyer.

The pieces, called Sketches of My Nightmare , include a drawing depicting al-Hajj, who has been on hunger strike for eight months, as a skeleton being force fed by US guards.

The drawings were submitted to the military censor but they would not permit their release.

However, detailed descriptions of the sketches were allowed through the censorship process and Lewis Peake, a political cartoonist, was able to recreate one entitled Scream for Freedom.

Al Hajj described the way he sees himself being force fed in the so-called "Torture Chair" - the restraint chair into which they are strapped twice a day to have a 110cm tube forcibly inserted into one nostril so that liquid food can be administered.

My picture reflects my nightmares of what I must look like, with my head double-strapped down, a tube in my nose, a black mask over my mouth, with no eyes and only giant cheekbones, my teeth jutting out – my bones showing in every detail, every rib, every joint. The tube goes up to a bag at the top of the drawing. On the right there is another skeleton sitting shackled to another chair. They are sitting like we do in interrogations, with hands shackled, feet shackled to the floor, just waiting. In between I draw the flag of Guantanamo – JTF-GTMO – but instead of the normal insignia, there is a skull and crossbones, the real symbol of what is happening here, he said.

Al-Hajj was seized by the US military while he was covering the war in Afghanistan for Al Jazeera's Arabic channel and has been held as an "enemy combatant" without trial or charge since 2001.


23rd February   

Concentration Camp US...

What is the US Government up to?
Link Here

Beginning in 1999, the US government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.

According to diplomat and author Peter Dale Scott, the KBR contract is part of a Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of “all removable aliens” and “potential terrorists.”

Fraud-busters such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, have complained about these contracts, saying that more taxpayer dollars should not go to taxpayer-gouging Halliburton. But the real question is: What kind of “new programs” require the construction and refurbishment of detention facilities in nearly every state of the union with the capacity to house perhaps millions of people?

What could the government be contemplating that leads it to make contingency plans to detain without recourse millions of its own citizens?


15th February   

Offsite: Big Brother Sam...

US border authorities seize laptops and copy all the data for analysis
Link Here
Full story: Laptops at Customs...Travel dangers from Customs searching lap tops

Maria Udy, a marketing executive with a global travel management firm in Bethesda, said her company laptop was seized by a federal agent as she was flying from Dulles International Airport to London in December 2006. Udy, a British citizen, said the agent told her he had "a security concern" with her. I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight, she said.

The seizure of electronics at U.S. borders has prompted protests from travelers who say they now weigh the risk of traveling with sensitive or personal information on their laptops, cameras or cellphones. In some cases, companies have altered their policies to require employees to safeguard corporate secrets by clearing laptop hard drives before international travel.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus, two civil liberties groups in San Francisco, plan to file a lawsuit to force the government to disclose its policies on border searches, including which rules govern the seizing and copying of the contents of electronic devices. They also want to know the boundaries for asking travelers about their political views, religious practices and other activities potentially protected by the First Amendment. The question of whether border agents have a right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.

The lawsuit was inspired by two dozen cases, 15 of which involved searches of cellphones, laptops, MP3 players and other electronics. Almost all involved travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern or South Asian background, many of whom, including Mango and the tech engineer, said they are concerned they were singled out because of racial or religious profiling.

...Read full article


5th January   

Offsite: 'Professional' Standards...

Companies spy on off duty employees
Link Here

Many US companies are using the Internet to snoop on their employees. If you fail to maintain amorphous “professional” standards of conduct in your free time, you could lose your job.

Employment law in most states provides little protection to workers who are punished for their online postings, said George Lenard, an employment lawyer. The main exceptions are workers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements or by special protections for public-sector employees; members of these groups can be dismissed only “for cause.” The rest of us are “at will” employees, holding on to our jobs only at the whim of our employers, and thus vulnerable.

A line needs to be drawn that demarcates the boundary between work and private life. When a worker is on the job, companies have every right to supervise activities closely. But what an employee does after hours, as long as no laws are broken, is none of the company’s business. When they do go off the clock and off the corporate network, how they spend their private time should be of no concern to their employer, even if the Internet, by its nature, makes some off-the-job activities more visible to more people than was previously possible.


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