In response to a series of scandals involving mistreatment of children under state supervision, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed into law new rules giving county social workers access to the criminal histories of foster parents and employees at foster care contractors before abused and neglected children are placed in their care.
The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.
In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.
The law takes effect on Jan. 1.
As it turns out, the scanners are actually pretty easy to fool.
On Thursday, security researchers from UC San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins presented results from a months-long study that show how someone can hide weapons from the scanners through a number of simple tricks. From using Teflon tape to cover an object or just strategic placement of an object around the body, to more cunning approaches like installing malware onto the scanner’s console, a person could get away with a concealed weapon or explosive with little trouble.
Although the scanners the researchers tested – the Rapiscan Secure 1000 machines – haven’t been used in airports since 2013, they are still widely used in federal buildings like jails and courthouses. It cost taxpayers over $1 billion to have them installed in more than 160 airports.
Wired has more details on the study. One of the more striking aspects is how the researchers approached their testing, which differs from past experiments:
Unlike others who have made claims about vulnerabilities in full body scanner technology, the team of university researchers conducted their tests on an actual Rapiscan Secure 1000 system they purchased on eBay. They tried smuggling a variety of weapons through that scanner, and found—as [blogger Jonathan] Corbett did—that taping a gun to the side of a person’s body or sewing it to his pant’s leg hid its metal components against the scan’s black background. For that trick, only fully metal guns worked; An AR-15 was spotted due to its non-metal components, the researchers report, while an .380 ACP was nearly invisible. They also taped a folding knife to a person’s lower back with a thick layer of teflon tape, which they say completely masked it in the scan.
“As I sit here constantly hearing and watching you execute innocent men, women and children in the Middle East I chuckle. Why do I chuckle you may ask? Well let me explain something to you cowardice fools who think you are so tough behind all your propaganda videos. You are scaring a population that doesn’t know how to fight, you’re bullying the weak.
You say Islam is the religion of peace, but since when does terrorizing the innocent and beheading men, women and children constitute peace? WTF? But keep in mind, what did Saddam’s troops do when we came rolling into town? They surrendered, twice… So all your empty threats of coming to America and raising your flag over the White House amuse me more than any of you sick, sadistic bastards could ever imagine or comprehend.
In 2012 there was about 21.2 million veterans in the United States. Do you understand what that means? Let me break it down for you. That means there are literally millions of disgruntled, dysfunctional, pissed off veterans who have been dealing with years of abuse from their government stabbing them in the backs and having to watch their friends die because you Islamic extremist idiots can’t seem to act like normal human beings and stop terrorism and the violence.
It’s one thing to take over an Islamic state, but if my memory serves me correctly, I’m pretty sure we plowed through Fallujah in 4 days. Better yet, it took us about month to control your entire country. At this point, with 13+ years of war under our belts, how long do you think it would take us to do it all over again? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one. Do you really think you stand a chance on US soil? Do you really think it would be smart to poke that bear? Remember, never bite the hand that feeds you.
Remember we are armed to the teeth in the US and I can promise you this… the Geneva Conventions will not apply to you. You attack us and there will be no mercy. We will bring the righteous hand of God down upon you and crush you. The ball is in your court now ISIS. We are more than ready to arrange your so called “meeting” with your 72 virgins and send you to your “prophet” Mohamed.”
– Nick Powers
Don’t make us angry. You won’t like us when we’re angry…
Tear Gas Is A Banned Chemical Weapon, But US Lobbying Made It Okay For Domestic Use… And, Boy, Do We Use It
The Washington Post has a detailed look at how it’s being used in Ferguson, and how the police there seem to think it’s perfectly safe:
Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson has defended the use of tear gas. “There are complaints about the response from some people,” he said, “but to me, nobody got hurt seriously, and I’m happy about that.”
But another report highlights that the negative health effects of tear gas are severely underestimated by law enforcement groups who use it. In an interview with Vox.com, Sven-Eric Jordt, a scientist who studies tear gas, warns that law enforcement has become too complacent with this narrative that tear gas is a harmless way of dispersing crowds:
I frankly think that we don’t know much about the long-term effects, especially in civilian exposure with kids or elderly or people in the street who might have some kind of lung disease already. There’s very few follow-up studies. These are very active chemicals that can cause quite significant injury, so I’m concerned about the increased use of these agents.
I’m very concerned that, as use has increased, tear gas has been normalized. The attitude now is like, this is safe and we can use it as much as we want.
Even as it’s been banned for use in war. Something seems… very, very wrong with this situation.
NSA whistleblower, Bill Binney, lays this out plain and simple. The real reason for all this NSA surveillance is about money and power. “Stop terrorism” is secondary. After pointing out that all of this data collection has been basically useless in stopping terrorism (as confirmed by multiple independent accounts of the NSA’s activities), the interviewer asks Binney why the NSA keeps doing it:
So why do they keep doing it?
Money. It takes a lot of money, you have to build up Bluffdale [the location of the NSA's data storage center, in Utah] to store all the data. If you collect all the data, you’ve got to store it, you have to hire more people to analyze it, you have to hire more contractors, managers to manage the flow. You have to start a big data initiative. It’s an empire. Look at what they’ve built! Have you ever looked around all the buildings they’ve built up because of 9/11?
So that’s what it’s all about, expanding the budget for the intelligence community?
If you have a problem, you need money to solve it. But if you solve that problem, you no longer have the justification to get money. That’s the way they view it – keep the problem going, so the money keeps flowing. Once you build up this big empire, you have to sustain it. … Look at the influence and power the intelligence community has over the government. They [the government] are giving them everything they want, they’re trying to cover up all their tracks and their crimes. Look at the influence and power they’re gaining.
As Clay Shirky famously noted years ago, “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” That appears to absolutely be the case here. It’s why there’s so much FUD. The NSA and the rest of the intelligence community has built up the threat to be this huge issue that requires huge dollars as well. And once they have the huge dollars and the giant staff, they have to keep that up. So they have to create a continuing problem for which they are the solution — and since it’s all (mostly) done in secret, you get this nefarious circle (as opposed to virtuous), in which more FUD is spread, more money flows in and everyone has to justify themselves to keep it all going.
Whistleblowers like Binney and Snowden actually disrupt that circle and put a threat to the money flows.
Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has long been the leading advocate in condemning the prominence of “he said/she said” journalism in the mainstream media. This kind of journalism is driven by a complete distortion of what it means to be an “objective” journalist. Bad journalists seem to think that if someone is making a claim, you present that claim, then you present an opposing claim, and you’re done. They think this is objective because they’re not “picking sides.” But what if one side is batshit crazy and the other is actually making legitimate claims? Shouldn’t the job of true journalists be to ferret out the truth and reveal the crazy arguments as crazy? Rosen’s latest calls out the NY Times for falling into the bogus “he said/she said” trap yet again. This time it’s on an article about plagiarism and copyright infringement charges being leveled from one biographer of Ronald Reagan against another. We wrote about this story as well, and we looked at the arguments of both sides, and then noted that author Craig Shirley’s arguments made no sense at all, as he was trying to claim ownership of facts (something you can’t do). Furthermore, his claims of plagiarism were undermined by the very fact that he admitted that competing biographer Rick Perlstein’s quotes were different. Shirley claimed that “difference” in the quotes showed that Perlstein was trying to cover up the plagiarism, but… that makes no sense.
Of course, when the NY Times reported on this, it did the “he said/she said” thing, providing no enlightenment whatsoever to the public who was reading it about whose argument actually was legit, and whose was ridiculous.
Hopefully, the ability of the public to call it out will make more lazy journalists and editors recognize what used to be the “safe” move is no longer so safe.
We’ve been covering some of the more troubling details of police militarization across the US, and specifically what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri over the past couple of weeks. However, we knew fairly little about the actual military equipment being used there. And we know that sometimes scary looking military equipment isn’t necessarily so scary when put to use. So it’s interesting to read a former Marine’s analysis of the military equipment being used in Ferguson, which more or less confirms that it not only looks scary but absolutely is scary. Much of the discussion is about how all those “non-lethal” “riot control” weaponry is actually quite dangerous and potentially lethal. Here are a few examples:
There are scattered reports of stun grenade use in Ferguson. Also known as flashbangs or flash grenades, this weapon of choice for American SWAT teams (and Israeli soldiers) originated in the British special forces community more than four decades ago. Ostensibly less than lethal, stun grenades have been known to kill or severely injure numerous victims, and the device was recently in the news for burning a 19-month-old baby in Georgia, resulting in a coma, during one of the thousands of domestic police raids this year.
There’s a lot more in the article as well. But here’s the bit that really stood out for me. After posting a picture of militarized police moving down the street looking pretty scary, the former marine, Lyle Jeremy Rubin, explains how they’re more well armed than the actual military in Afghanistan:
What we’re seeing here is a gaggle of cops wearing more elite killing gear than your average squad leader leading a foot patrol through the most hostile sands or hills of Afghanistan. They are equipped with Kevlar helmets, assault-friendly gas masks, combat gloves and knee pads (all four of them), woodland Marine Pattern utility trousers, tactical body armor vests, about 120 to 180 rounds for each shooter, semiautomatic pistols attached to their thighs, disposable handcuff restraints hanging from their vests, close-quarter-battle receivers for their M4 carbine rifles and Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights. In other words, they’re itching for a fight. A big one. It’s a well-known horror that the US military greets foreign peoples in this fashion as our politicians preach freedom, democracy and peace. It’s an abomination that the police greet black communities in the States with the same trigger-happy posture. Especially on the occasion of an unarmed teen’s death by cop.
U.S. military involvement in Iraq will continue because the long-term threat from ISIS is more dangerous, even than that from al-Qaeda, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.
In a briefing at the Pentagon a day after the U.S. revealed that it launched a failed mission in Syria this summer to rescue U.S. hostages being held by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sharm, Hagel said the U.S. “must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead,” stressing: “U.S. military involvement in Iraq is not over.”
Asked to compare ISIS to al-Qaeda, Hagel said it was “beyond anything we’ve seen,” calling the group more than “just a terrorist group.”
“They marry an ideology with a sophistication of strategy and military prowess” that “represents a whole new paradigm of threats to this country,” he said.
An extensive list of programs and classroom regulations dictate everything from the length of the school day (6.5 hours) to the number of students per classroom (16, with mid-year growth to 18 allowed). Even the physical environment of state-funded preschools— displays, furniture, materials—must meet specific requirements, and the daily classroom schedule must be approved by the Alabama Office of School Readiness.
“[Government subsidized preschool] does away with choice,” Mears said. “There are still those parents who don’t want their little child in class from 8 to 3:30 every day.”
Preschool institutions have not been found to advance a child’s learning long-term, according to the best studies available. Even popular pre-K advocates, such as W. Steven Barnett of Rutgers University, have found that any evident academic advancement of preschool attendees fades out, typically by the second grade. But state and federal lawmakers continue to funnel increasing funds in that direction regardless.
Multiple organizations in the state have studied the topic of federal and state-based preschool programs and expressed opposition. Alongside the ACEA, Eagle Forum and the Alabama Policy Institute have criticized mandating preschool state and nationwide. It’s an excessive amount of money and effort and not even proven to increase graduation rates, Mears said.
“The challenge is for policymakers to ensure that there are an array of options,” Alger said. “There is no one-size-fits-all in [early learning]; the ones who know best how programs are going to work in communities and cities are Alabamans.”
Every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization on sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.
By now, we’ve all heard the refrain that U.S. churches need liberalize their teachings on sexuality and homosexuality or rapidly decline. The logic behind the argument is simple: more and more Americans are embracing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, including growing numbers of religious Millennials. So long as churches remain the face of opposition to gay marriage, those churches will shrink into irrelevancy when gay marriage (inevitably, we are told) becomes a settled political issue.
These arguments often see church acceptance of homosexuality as a carrot as well as a stick. It isn’t so much that denouncing homosexuality will drive people away from church, but that embracing it will also lead people into church. LGBT individuals and their supporters, many of whom hold a dim view of religion after a decades-long culture war, will reconsider church if denominations remove their restrictions on gay marriage and ordination.
But a number of Christian denominations have already taken significant steps towards liberalizing their stances on homosexuality and marriage, and the evidence so far seems to indicate that affirming homosexuality is hardly a cure for membership woes. On the contrary, every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.