Great time for this article to appear in the latest issue of The New Yorker, right at the beginning of the semester. For students in Intro, deviance, criminology or punishment, new students, or even former students who remember the name, Howard Becker is one of the giants of contemporary sociology. And as this article points out, even at 86 years old, Becker remains as much a force in the discipline and in society as he’s ever been.

He has been a major figure in American sociology for more than sixty years. Now a brisk eighty-six, he remains most famous for the studies collected in his book “Outsiders,” of 1963, which transformed sociologists’ ideas of what it means to be a “deviant.” In America’s academic precincts, he is often seen as a sort of Richard Feynman of the social sciences, notable for his street smarts, his informal manner, and his breezy, pungent prose style—a Northwestern professor who was just as at home playing piano in saloons. (Indeed, the observations that put him on the path to academic fame, on the subculture of marijuana smokers, began while he was playing jazz piano in Chicago strip joints. “Not burlesque houses,” he says. “These were strip joints.”)

Yet it is his position in France that is truly astonishing. Two critical biographies of Becker have been published in French in the past decade, and “Beckerisme” has become an ideology to conjure with. YouTube videos capture him speaking heavily accented Chicago French to student audiences, and he now spends a good part of every year in Paris, giving seminars and holding court. His work is required reading in many French universities, even though it seems to be a model of American pragmatism, preferring narrow-seeming “How?” and “Who, exactly?” questions to the deeper “Why?” and “What?” supposedly favored by French theory. That may be exactly its appeal, though: for the French, Becker seems to combine three highly American elements—jazz, Chicago, and the exotic beauties of empiricism.

This summer, Becker published a summing up of his life’s method and beliefs, called “What About Mozart? What About Murder?” (The title refers to the two caveats or complaints most often directed against his kind of sociology’s equable “relativism”: how can you study music as a mere social artifact—what about Mozart? How can you consider criminal justice a mutable convention—what about Murder?) The book is both a jocular personal testament of faith and a window into Becker’s beliefs. His accomplishment is hard to summarize in a sentence or catchphrase, since he’s resolutely anti-theoretical and suspicious of “models” that are too neat. He wants a sociology that observes the way people act around each other as they really do, without expectations about how they ought to. Over the decades, this has led him to do close, almost novelistic studies of jazz musicians, medical students, painters, and photographers.

We do, admittedly, tend to peg him in the area of symbolic-interaction/learning theory or theories of deviance and crime generally, without acknowledging his contributions outside those areas.

The “field notes” gathered at the strip clubs and night spots helped inspire a seminal paper of 1953, “Becoming a Marihuana User,” in the American Journal of Sociology. (Asked if he knew so much because he was smoking weed himself, he says, “Yeah. Obviously.” And does he still smoke it? “Yeah. Obviously.”)

Side bar: LOL.

Becker insists that his accomplishment in the paper was no more than the elimination of a single needless syllable: “Instead of talking about drug abuse, I talked about drug use.” “Deviance” had long been a preoccupation of sociology and its mother field, anthropology. Most “deviance theory” took it for granted that if you did weird things you were a weird person. Normal people made rules—we’ll crap over here, worship over here, have sex like so—which a few deviants in every society couldn’t keep. They clung together in small bands of misbehavior.

Becker’s work set out to show that out-groups weren’t made up of people who couldn’t keep the rules; they were made up of people who kept other kinds of rules. Marijuana smoking, too, was a set of crips, a learned activity and a social game. At a time when the general assumption was that drug use was private and compulsive, Becker argued that you had to learn how to get high. Smoking weed, he showed, was most often strange or unpleasant at first.

In the sociologese that Becker had not yet entirely discarded, he wrote, “Given these typically frightening and unpleasant first experiences, the beginner will not continue use unless he learns to redefine the sensations as pleasurable.” He went on, “This redefinition occurs, typically, in interaction with more experienced users, who, in a number of ways, teach the novice to find pleasure in this experience, which is at first so frightening.” What looked like a deviant act by an escape-seeking individual was simply a communal practice shaped by a common enterprise: it takes a strip club to smoke a reefer.

But elsewhere, he began synthesizing his visions related to deviance to other kinds of social behavior.

Jazz musicians smoked weed to get high, but one of the effects was to set them off from the night-club-going customers they despised. “This insight looks original only now,” Becker says. “If you were playing, that was all you heard: ‘Fucking squares, now look what they want!’ I remember learning to leave the stand quickly, before any one could ask me to play ‘Melancholy Baby.’ That was the stuff of every minute of what you were doing.” He adds, “The originality—I shouldn’t even call it that—was to pay attention to it as something worth talking about.”

This insight turned out to apply to a lot more than marijuana smokers. “My dissertation supervisor, Everett Hughes, loved the idea that anything you see in the lowly kind of work is there in privileged work, too, only they don’t talk about it,” he says. “Later on, he went to the American nurses’ association and they hired him as a consultant, and he said, ‘Let’s do some real research: why don’t you talk about how nurses hate patients?’ There was a shocked silence and then someone said, ‘How did you know that?’ ”

His experiences as a working photographer, like his earlier ones as a working jazzman, illuminated what eventually became his second important book, “Art Worlds” (1982), which advanced a collaborative view of picture-making. Like reefer-smoking among jazz musicians, artmaking was not the business of solitary artists, inspired by visions, but a social enterprise in which a huge range of people played equally essential roles in order to produce an artifact that a social group decided to dignify as art. Art, like weed, exists only within a world.

The article then discusses Becker’s popularity in France as the kind of “anti-Bourdieu,” while bringing his friend and contemporary, the also-legendary Erving Goffman.

This view of the world has something in common with that of Becker’s longtime friend and colleague Erving Goffman. “But Goffman got more interested in the micro-dramatics of things,” Becker points out, meaning, for instance, his studies of how people look when they lie. “I was always more interested in the big picture.”

Which is ironic, since the article ends with this observation from Becker:

“What does sociology bring to the table? Well, I’d expand the definition of sociology. Calvino, in ‘Invisible Cities,’ is a sociologist. Robert Frank, in ‘The Americans’—that’s sociology. There’s a thing that I’m sure David Mamet said once, though I’ve never been able to track it to its source. He was talking about the theatre, and he said that everyone is in a scene for a reason. Everyone has something he wants. Everyone has some plan he’s trying to pull off. ‘What’s the reason?’ is the real question. So that’s what you do. It’s like you’re watching a play and you—you’re the guy who knows that everyone is there for a reason.”

Essentially, Goffman’s Dramaturgical Analysis, Presentation of Self, and Impression Management.

What a great read. At a time when most people would be resting on their laurels in comfy retirement, it’s so good to see Becker still blessing us with his piercing insights, observations and theories.

And a great way to start the semester.

Cross posted from: The Power-Elite Blog

Liberals and Democrats are crying in their milk, Conservative and Republicans are celebrating what seems like a clean sweep of the U.S. 2014 mid-terms, and we at the Cranky Sociologists blog are busy celebrating this article in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology on why Big Data and the “Polling Industrial Complex,” where predicting statistically who is going to win and/or prevail, has become just as meaningless and vapid in politics as the standard attack ad.

While the 2012 re-election of America’s first African-American President signaled resurgence in support for social liberalism, it also announced a sea change in our media culture: the triumph of polling statisticians over the “go with your gut” prognostications of traditional punditry. On Election Day, Nate Silver finally burst the bubble of such notable blowhards as Joe Scarborough, Peggy Noonan, and most dramatically Karl Rove, whose on-air denial of the election results and subsequent dismissal by Fox News’s election team quickly became YouTube spectacle. Meanwhile, Silver published quantitative analyses of how minorities’ limited access to voting booths would affect Obama’s chances of victory; the Obama campaign itself received plaudits for its use of statistical algorithms to identify likely voters and encourage turnout. It seemed the era of Big Data had finally come not just to political coverage, but to political activism.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. If 2012 was the tipping point for media-savvy statisticians, 2014 is the first cycle where their reign is undisputed. Silver launched the new fivethirtyeight.com under ESPN’s auspices with a self-described manifesto ending with the line “It’s time for us to start making the news a little nerdier.” Other bloggers such as Ezra Klein proudly crow their “wonky” credentials. Wasn’t our media shocked back into shape by Silver’s data-centric journalism?

Apparently not. Data journalism has failed to mitigate the feedback loop governing Americans’ distaste for mass media, and has become a manifestation of the very social phenomenon it was meant to dissect: the bifurcation in media culture between fear mongering and colorless prognostication. The real problem with our media wasn’t that it was bad at predicting elections (although it was)—it’s that it spends so much time on predicting elections at all, as opposed to moderating and shaping a national debate on what is at stake at the ballot box. Statisticians like Silver have helped eliminate bias when it comes to election prognostication, but there hasn’t been a similar commitment to eliminating the bias of spurious political narratives peddled by major media outlets. This leaves data journalism in the unfortunate position of helping to predict our electoral choices without evaluating their significance and pointing to alternatives.

Exactly. Over the past two years I’ve been surprised by the lack of analysis over the quality or point of such predictions (and the general hagiography around Nate Silver). Coming from academia, predictive analysis is great and a gold standard to pursue, but without context, your research data is meaningless.

It’s ironic that Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com is under ESPN’s banner, because when you watch predictive analysis on SportsCenter or MLB’s Quick Pitch, not only do you get quantitative predictions, but you get in-depth evaluation of the significance behind a team or pitcher, and alternatives to quarterbacks, draft picks, etc.

Put it this way: the press coverage and analytics behind the NFL and MLB drafts is far superior to any political reporting that was done in the run up to the mid-term election this year.

This isn’t to say there isn’t value in the technocratic skill and rigor behind data journalism. There is no question that a refined quantitative methodology for predicting election results is leagues beyond the horserace neuroticism of sites like Politico. But if, as Silver has said, he will not “do advocacy” and “won’t do a ton of public policy coverage,” then sites like FiveThirtyEight are really just a more skillful extension of the media circus Silver made a career out of criticizing. This is because eliminating bias when predicting events, in the absence of preventing bias when interpreting them, leaves intact the dysfunctional trajectory mass media has taken: its propensity for navel-gazing and sensationalism over actual journalism. As a result, data journalism runs the risk of statistically aggregating the U.S. political electorate before it can even express itself—and thereby downplaying its potential for transforming the political realities we face.

It’s like being told your team preference before having a chance to figure it out yourself. Not only is that “advocacy” of the worst kind, it circumvents any kind of thoughtful input from the voters themselves. In that sense, Fantasy Football or Fantasy Baseball is far preferable to the media coverage of partisan politics in the U.S. right now.

But I think proof of how meaningless this Big Data dump on people is, without context, is seen in the results on Tuesday. Once you get past the simplistic binary battles between candidates and parties, you find that Congress still, as a whole, has an approval rating of 11% (only pedophiles poll slightly lower), and despite that, the incumbency return rate on Tuesday was 95%. Meaning, 95% of incumbents were voted back into office.

So bravo on being the “most accurate” in calling the election. The predictions and results are simply meaningless.

Getting past partisanship, the real surprise for this blog was in the social issues, which struck a surprisingly liberal/libertarian theme that contradicts the conservative electoral sweep. In every state where the issues were on the ballot, marijuana was legalized, the minimum wage raised, and sentencing reform enacted.

On at least six high-profile and often contentious issues — minimum wage, marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform, abortion rights, gun control and environmental protection — voters approved ballot measures, in some cases overwhelmingly, that were directly at odds with the positions of many of the Republican winners.

MINIMUM WAGE Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appeared on the ballots in four deep-red states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — and passed in all of them. The new hourly minimums range from $8.50 in Arkansas by 2017 to $9.75 in Alaska by 2016. Minimum-wage increases were also approved in San Francisco (to $15 an hour by 2018) and Oakland (to $12.25 an hour by 2015). In all, an estimated 609,000 low-wage workers will see raises from these approved increases.

MARIJUANA Oregon and Alaska became the third and fourth states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes (Colorado and Washington were the first two), while the District of Columbia repealed all criminal and civil penalties for possession and allowed limited, private cultivation of the drug.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM For the second time in three years, Californians voted to shorten the sentences of people serving time in prison. The state — which created the notorious three-strikes law — remains under federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

On Tuesday, the measure, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, passed with more than 58 percent of the vote. Many politicians are still afraid of looking soft on crime, but California’s experience shows that voters can lead the way.

ABORTION RIGHTS The overwhelming rejection of “personhood” measures in Colorado and North Dakota dealt another well-deserved blow to the effort by some opponents of reproductive rights to ban all abortions (and some common forms of contraception) by passing laws giving fertilized eggs legal rights and protections that apply to individuals.

GUN CONTROL In the aftermath of the school massacre in 2012 in Newtown, Conn., Congress — caving to the National Rifle Association — did nothing to protect the public from gun violence. In Washington State, a campaign started by outraged church and community leaders fared much better. Initiative 594, which will require criminal and mental-health checks on gun buyers, drew an impressive 60 percent voter support on Tuesday.

CONSERVATION Environmentalists who may be singing the blues over the election results can take heart from approval of a record $13 billion in land conservation measures in states and cities across the country.

Again, further proof that Big Data and “predictive” quantitative politics without context is pointless.

When you get out of the cesspool and circle jerk of partisan politics in this country, what you see is how the people really are moving on a variety of social and economic issues. And it has nothing to do with partisanship, Washington, Republicans or Democrats, or the next “big victory.”

Cross posted from: The Power-Elite blog

Miss A Payment? Good Luck Moving That Car:

Auto loans to borrowers considered subprime, those with credit scores at or below 640, have spiked in the last five years. The jump has been driven in large part by the demand among investors for securities backed by the loans, which offer high returns at a time of low interest rates. Roughly 25 percent of all new auto loans made last year were subprime, and the volume of subprime auto loans reached more than $145 billion in the first three months of this year.

But before they can drive off the lot, many subprime borrowers must have their car outfitted with a so-called starter interrupt device, which allows lenders to remotely disable the ignition. Using the GPS technology on the devices, the lenders can also track the cars’ location and movements.

The devices, which have been installed in about two million vehicles, are helping feed the subprime boom by enabling more high-risk borrowers to get loans. But there is a big catch. By simply clicking a mouse or tapping a smartphone, lenders retain the ultimate control. Borrowers must stay current with their payments, or lose access to their vehicle.

Awesome…it’s like Big Brother meets Repo Man. Check this clown out, who the article calls the “GPS Man”, a new kind of virtual repo superhero for the 21st Century:

“I have disabled a car while I was shopping at Walmart,” said Lionel M. Vead Jr., the head of collections at First Castle Federal Credit Union in Covington, La. Roughly 30 percent of customers with an auto loan at the credit union have starter interrupt devices.

From his office outside New Orleans, Mr. Vead can monitor the movements of about 880 subprime borrowers on a computerized map that shows the location of their cars with a red marker. Mr. Vead can spot drivers who have fallen behind on their payments and remotely disable their vehicles on his computer or mobile phone.

The devices are reshaping how people like Mr. Vead collect on debts. He can quickly locate the collateral without relying on a repo man to hunt down delinquent borrowers.

Gone are the days when Mr. Vead, a debt collector for nearly 20 years, had to hire someone to scour neighborhoods for cars belonging to delinquent borrowers. Sometimes locating one could take years. Now, within minutes of a car’s ignition being disabled, Mr. Vead said, the borrower calls him offering to pay.

“It gets their attention,” he said.

Mr. Vead, who has a coffee cup that reads “The GPS Man,” has been encouraging other credit unions to use the technology. And the devices — one version was first used to help pet owners keep track of their animals — are catching on with a range of subprime auto lenders, including companies backed by private equity firms and credit unions.

 “GPS Man”, don’t you love it? “GPS Man…he can disable cars in a single key stroke!” (I feel like I’m reading a really bad Marvel Comic that was pulled from the shelves for lack of sales).

Except it’s not a cartoon…it’s Wall Street providing the capital for these subprime bottom-feeders who then scam low income individuals into taking out loans (up to 29% interest rates) they can’t afford.  Sound familiar?

Without the use of such devices, said John Pena, general manager of C.A.G. Acceptance, “we would be unable to extend loans because of the high-risk nature of the loans.”

If you read the article, this is the same company that turned off a woman’s car while she was on the interstate in Las Vegas, forcing her to cross three lanes and almost killing her and untold other drivers on the road that day.

Across the country, state and federal authorities are grappling with how to regulate the new technology.

Consumer lawyers, including dozens whose clients’ cars have been shut down, argue that the devices amount to “electronic repossession” and their use should be governed by state laws, which outline how much time borrowers have before their cars can be seized.

State laws governing repossession typically prevent lenders from seizing cars until the borrowers are in default, which often means that they have not made their payments for at least 30 days.

The devices, lawyers for borrowers argue, violate those laws because they may effectively repossess the car only days after a missed payment. Payment records show that Ms. Bolender, the Las Vegas mother with the sick daughter, was not in default in any of the four instances her ignition was disabled this year.

All of this is troubling on a number of levels. The fact that the gps tracking systems allows “debt collectors” and other unqualified people access to these borrower’s every move is borderline stalking. And given that the debt collection industry is rife with criminals, thieves and other malcontents (a “Candy Store for Criminals”), you are basically ensuring this technology will be used in other criminal ways.

But as well all know, Wall Street is rife with criminals, thieves and other malcontents as well, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the psychopaths on The Street have figured out a way back into the subprime scams of the 00’s.  The regulations have been tightened to prevent similar predatory lending in the housing market, but apparently not when it comes to auto loans. Just another way the poor are scammed, ripped off, surveilled and controlled by the power-elite in society.

I need GPS Man to go kill ISIS terrorists or Russian insurgents. I don’t need him hounding single mothers with kids and no money, shutting off their vehicles.

Cross Posted From: The Power-Elite Blog

Grenade Launchers, Armored Personnel Carriers, M-16’s, All Standard Fare on Campus:

At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments (see table of equipment).

Campus police departments have used the program to obtain military equipment as mundane as men’s trousers (Yale University) and as serious as a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (Ohio State University). Along with the grenade launcher, Central Florida acquired 23 M-16 assault rifles from the Department of Defense.

Luckily none around these parts, but nice to see Kennesaw University representing in the M-16 assault rifle’s category. Go Owls!

Some argue that the procurement of tactical gear doesn’t help with the types of crimes that occur more frequently on college campuses, like alcohol-related incidents.

Are you kidding? Nothing would clear a rowdy, drunken frat party faster than a mine-resistant personnel carrier, grenade launchers and drawn bayonets.

Here’s the typical myopic, bureaucratic response, justifying the unjustifiable:

“For me, this is a cost savings for taxpayers,” said Jen Day Shaw, associate vice president and dean of students at the University of Florida and chair of the Campus Safety Knowledge Community, a forum for members of Naspa: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. When police departments “have the ability to get equipment that will help them do their jobs at a greatly reduced price,” Ms. Shaw said, “it is a benefit for the whole campus.”

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen “scaring your student body into submission and intimidating student dissent” referred to as a “benefit,” but uh, go Gators.

“It is a force multiplier for us,” said David Perry, chief of police at Florida State University and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. “Typically, we are not staffed at optimum levels. We are not given budgets comparable to some large cities and municipalities, so we need to find ways to make it reach.”

Maybe you’re not given budgets “comparable to large cities” because, uh, you’re not a large city, Chief.

Michael Qualls, an associate professor of criminal justice at Fort Valley State University, in Georgia, agrees. A retired Army officer, Mr. Qualls worked for several campus police departments before he began teaching. “If we continue on with the 1033 program, as those items become obsolete at the military level and if they become available, why not get ’em?” Mr. Qualls said. “It’s better to be prepared than not prepared.”

For what? An invasion of Fort Valley State in south Georgia?

Most of this is driven by the “active-shooter” scenarios, along the lines of Virginia Tech in 2007. And while there is a remote possibility of this occurring on any campus anywhere in the U.S., the chances are infinitesimally slim.

For Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami, the possibility that an extraordinary event could occur doesn’t justify the procurement of assault rifles and armored vehicles. The real danger Ferguson residents faced came not from a terrorist attack, she said, but from police officers armed with this sort of equipment.

“Mostly, I’m wondering why,” she said. “As much as one might wonder about why major cities are getting this type of equipment—which I think we should wonder about and ask questions about—it seems even stranger to talk about it happening in voluntary communities that don’t experience much violent crime.”

Ms. Franks raised another concern: As students become aware of the military gear some police departments possess, she said, that may curtail their willingness to express themselves and protest.

Precisely. Imagine protesting outside the dean’s office for lower tuition (or whatever) and suddenly the jack boots and body armor, tanks and grenade launchers show up. “Hey, Hey, tuition’s high, I’m going broke, but don’t want to die!”

Anyway, it’s just another extension of the militarization of policing that’s been going on throughout the U.S. the past 40 years or so. At the end of the day, we deploy the same spectacle of brute, state force on college campuses for the same reason we do it in low-income and minority neighborhoods: social control.

Cross posted from: The Power-Elite Blog

I’ve been writing about the militarization of policing on this blog (The Power-Elite) since I started it in 2007, and have been teaching about it in Criminology and Punishment and Society since 2000. With the grotesque events unfolding in a place called Ferguson, Missouri, suddenly everyone seems to be cognizant of the disaster that comes when you give military equipment to domestic law enforcement with little or no training in how or when to deploy such force. It’s Keystone Cops meets the Battle for Baghdad, right here in your backyard.

In fact, you get classic footage like this SWAT video, posted by a Georgia police department to their website (but recently removed after national outrage).

I particularly enjoyed reading about (and watching) the Ferguson SWAT arrest two reporters at a McDonald’s, decked out in “suburban camouflage.”

The defense for jack boots, body armor and camo at McDonald’s is found in the following exchange:

Ever see St. Louis County cops in camouflage military fatigues on the street and wonder why they’re dressed like they’re going to Iraq instead of Creve Coeur?

That’s the county’s Tactical Operations Unit — the SWAT team — and Sergeant Matthew Pleviak tells Daily RFT that the camouflage is worn so the SWAT cops can “blend in with the environment.”

Blend in with the environment of Creve Coeur?

“If you go to any subdivison, there’s grass and trees and bushes,” Pleviak explains.

Snicker. From Walter Olson at the Cato Institute:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

Plus, the Hamburgler is often present at McDonald’s, so there’s that.

Oddly (or maybe not, if you can put away your ideological blinders for one second and think rationally), the outrage over the heavy handed SWAT tactics on display in Ferguson have cut across party and ideological lines, one of  the best articulations I’ve found comes from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (Republican):

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Again, “duh” for those of who have been studying this insanity for years now, but welcome to the debate, ideologues right, middle and left.

The one thing that’s missing in all the coverage, however, is historical context. Most of this militarization is chalked up to post-9/11 and the buildup of surveillance, technology, etc. following the advent of the War on Terrorism. But the militarization of policing has been going on since the Johnson administration and the creation of the LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Administration) in 1968.

The LEAA funneled federal monies directly to local police departments to increase training, build up firepower and armor and, among other things, create SWAT teams in any department that wanted one. SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) was designed for urban hostage situations. Now, under Nixon’s increase of LEAA funding, even Chief Smith of the Podunk Police Department in rural nowhere can have a SWAT team (and does).

This continued throughout the 70’s (Ford, Carter), the drug wars of the 80’s (Reagan, Bush), then kicked into high gear following the end of the Cold War in the early 90’s. Once we stood down from the threat of nuclear war and Communism, all the surplus Defense Department equipment began to find its way to the streets and local police. The Clinton administration (via the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act; aka “The Biden Bill“), accelerated the flow of bayonets, grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers and military firepower to the streets of America.

Following 9/11, the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security, which took over LEAA and turned on the spigot of funding for more military equipment (including mine-resistant trucks) in the newly launched War on Terror. The Obama administration has continued the flow, more targeted towards the War on Immigration (for more, see our featured sociologist of the semester Christian Parenti and his book “Lockdown America”).

And so we stand today a true garrison state, as originally envisioned by sociologist Harold Lasswell back in 1941: a state maintained by military firepower (Constitution, Posse Comitatus, and common sense be damned).

As Parenti notes in Lockdown, all of this spectacle put on by local law enforcement is not about the immediate threat of convicts, druggies, rioters or even terrorists. Spectacle is a way you control people through brute force and state terror, and these kinds of egregious uses of force have been on display in poor, minority neighborhoods for decades. What seems to have changed here is the Ferguson PD took this into middle class areas, and the immediate social media reaction was swift and intense.

The debate over militarization is, again, much welcomed by those of us who have been sounding the alarm for years now (and met with essentially deaf ears and eye rolls). Let’s hope we reach the point soon where our local police departments can stand down from militarization insanity and go back to the business of keeping the peace.

Cross posted from: The Power-Elite

Two Hour Botched Execution in Arizona:

Arizona had never tried the two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone before it injected an unknown dose into Joseph Wood’s veins Wednesday afternoon. Most executions by lethal injection take between 10 and 20 minutes once the drugs are injected, if performed properly. This experimental cocktail took almost two hours to end Wood’s life, so long that his lawyer had time to file an emergency stay of execution in federal court, claiming that Wood had been “coughing and snorting for over an hour” by then. “I counted about 660 times he gasped,” reported an Arizona Republic reporter who witnessed the execution. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement that Wood “died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer.”

And of course, Jan Brewer is perfectly qualified to make that judgment given A. she wasn’t there and B. her advanced medical training and background.

Defense attorneys have repeatedly begged the courts to compel corrections officials to at least reveal the source of the drugs that would end their clients’ lives. They have repeatedly been refused. This time, Wood and his lawyers tried a First Amendment challenge to execution-secrecy laws, arguing that the public has a right to know how their government puts their fellow citizens to death. This would also give the inmates the facts needed to pursue Eighth Amendment challenges.

But so far, lower courts have deferred to the states’ claimed need for secrecy. “The information already released by the state enables informed debate about the lawfulness and propriety of Arizona’s two-drug cocktail,” replied federal Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit. Wood appealed that decision to the Supreme Court; last night, the justices denied his petition without further comment or dissent. Less than 24 hours later, Wood died choking.

And I noted the irony of “Judge” Bybee being part of the decision two days ago in my post. If anyone should know anything about torture, it’s the author of the “Torture Memos” I suppose.

Predictably, the git tuff types are howling back with false equivalents and other straw men regarding what Wood did to end up there (as if we should be using a murderer’s actions as our baseline for determining morality and legal punishments), and insisting that the witnesses themselves were wrong (even if they weren’t there).

When states were able to use the single-drug protocol with pentobarbital, the executions went smoothly.  The problem here has been caused by those who pressured the suppliers to stop supplying pentobarbital, and any response should be directed at reopening that supply line.

The anti-death-penalty crowd is already throwing around their favorite word, “botched.”  Wrong.  Joseph Wood died, as he should have, and he was sedated, not suffering extreme pain or, for that matter, any pain.  That is not “botched.”

Again, a pro-death penalty blogger (who wasn’t there and has no medical background or training) isn’t qualified to make that statement. Although I do like the way he assertively identifies the killer “Joseph Wood” by name…ironically, the Arizona Department of Corrections didn’t even know his name when they killed him initially, referring to him as “Robert G. Jones” in a press release. Jones, Wood, Smith, whoever.

More fascinating is that it took so long to be carried out, Wood’s lawyers had time to make an appeal in the courts to stop it, even getting Justice Anthony Kennedy on the phone from the Supreme Court.

In a bizarre twist, Mr. Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to halt the procedure as Mr. Wood lay on the gurney, and they even called Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court.

“He is still alive,” the lawyers said in the district court appeal, filed just after 3 p.m. “This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment. We respectfully request that this court stop the execution and require that the Department of Corrections use the lifesaving provisions required in its protocol.”

Mr. Wood died before the district court responded, while Justice Kennedy turned down the request to halt the procedure by telephone while Mr. Wood was still alive, said Robin Konrad, a lawyer for Mr. Wood.

Which makes no sense. What, “let’s see if he dies first and then make the call to stop it?” I have a hard time believing one of our supreme court justices could be that dense.

Regardless, as I wrote the other day, the death penalty itself is circling the drain and will eventually be relegated to the ash heap of history where it resides in most other civilized worlds. But it won’t be before the junkies (er pro-death penalty states experimenting with illicit drugs) and their supporters torture to death scores more in the process.

Cross posted from: The Power Elite

Two big stories in the past week regarding the DP:

Court Delays Execution over Secrecy With Drugs:

A federal appeals court has delayed the imminent execution of an Arizona man, saying he has a legal right to details about the lethal injection drugs to be used and about the qualifications of the execution team.

The ruling on Saturday, by a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, contrasted sharply with recent decisions by other state and federal courts defending states’ rights to keep information about drug sources secret.

“This is the first time a circuit court has ruled that the plaintiff has a right to know the source of execution drugs,” said Jennifer Moreno, an expert on lethal injection law at the Death Penalty Clinic of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

The notion that where the junkies (er, states) are obtaining their drugs from are “state secrets” in need of protection from the public is ludicrous, as I’ve written for several years now. But it is interesting that this is the first appellate-level decision to recognize the insanity behind so-called secrecy laws.

On Saturday, the appeals panel ruled that Mr. Wood “has presented serious questions going to the merits of his claim,” according to the majority opinion, written by Judge Sidney R. Thomas.

Arizona’s secrecy, he wrote, “ignores the ongoing and intensifying debate over lethal injection in this country, and the importance of providing specific and detailed information about how safely and reliably the death penalty is administered.”

In a dissent, Judge Jay S. Bybee said the court had drastically expanded the “right of access” and had misused the First Amendment “as the latest tool in this court’s ongoing effort to bar the state from lawfully imposing the death penalty.”

For those of you with short memories, Judge Bybee is the same guy who advocated for torture in the infamous “Bybee Memos” (sometimes called “The Torture Memos”) during the Bush years. He has also been the subject of discussion regarding his impeachment and removal from the bench over the years.

Regardless, Judge Thomas’s opinion recognizes the ongoing debate over the efficacy of the death penalty in the 21st century, including the recent take down by a federal judge of California’s death penalty system.

“How has it gone on this long?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked a lawyer for the State of Florida during oral arguments in March on a condemned inmate’s appeal. The legal issue in that case had to do with how states define intellectual disability, but Justice Scalia was troubled that Freddie Lee Hall had been on Florida’s death row for more than three decades.

In that same session, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the last 10 people executed by the state had spent an average of 24.9 years on death row.

“Do you think that that is consistent with the purposes of the death penalty,” Justice Kennedy asked the state’s lawyer, “and is it consistent with sound administration of the justice system?”

Last Wednesday, in an unrelated case, a federal judge in California answered that question with a resounding no. The state’s death-penalty system is “so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay,” wrote United States District Judge Cormac Carney, that it violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In a remarkable ruling overturning the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced in 1995 for the murder of his girlfriend’s mother, Judge Carney, an appointee of President George W. Bush, pointed out that of the more than 900 people California has sentenced to death since 1978, 13 have been executed. More than 40 percent of the rest have been on death row for at least 19 years, and the backlog is growing.

Carney’s opinion is, of course, just one district judge’s opinion. It could easily be overturned at the appellate level or even by the Supreme Court, which itself has said that 20 years or more on death row does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment (Knight v. Florida, 1999).

And the get tough types are immediately pushing back against both decisions. Arizona’s response, for example, to the secrecy injunction:

But Arizona officials were not backing down. On Sunday, the state appealed to the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration by a wider panel of judges and it appeared possible that the state would appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.

And over at my favorite pro-death penalty blogger’s site:

The California Legislature has been derelict in its duty to pass the needed reforms, killing them in committee time after time.  The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and ultimately the Governor, have been derelict in their duty to carry out their responsibilities to execute judgments and implement a protocol that will allow them to do so.  The California Supreme Court has been derelict in its duty to resolve state habeas petitions in a reasonable time by referring them to the superior court where they belong.  The federal courts have been derelict in their duty to fully implement the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, evading it at every turn despite numerous reversals by the Supreme Court.

In other words, blame everyone else for the failings of a system you advocate for but yourself and your ilk. Even funnier is their proposed “Miranda-like” solution to speeding up the appellate process and gettin’ folks dead (all the while, decrying Miranda as “lawless”). The, uh, “logic” of the pro-dp side never fails to amaze.

At the end of the day, neither of these decisions portends the end of the death penalty as we know it in the United States. But if California were to take the extraordinary step of getting rid of its apparatus of death, the trend towards abolition would undoubtedly accelerate. And under Trop, the death penalty may indeed fall at the SCOTUS level, even given the current makeup of the court.

Cross Posted from: The Power Elite

It is not an administrative matter for colleges and universities to adjudicate:

Lawyers representing colleges have a host of worries about if and how their institutions can possibly meet a burgeoning list of federal rules for dealing with sexual violence on campuses.

The new, and still evolving, laws and guidelines have set off a scramble at institutions across the country. Colleges that can afford it are hiring staff members to investigate and help resolve sexual-assault complaints. Smaller institutions that may not be able to afford to hire their own staff are pondering alternatives, such as collaborating with other colleges. Nearly every institution is poring over its policies and procedures for how to manage cases of sexual violence.

OK, let’s stop right there and pause for a moment. Is there another institution in the world that gets to have its own “rules, guidelines and policies” concerning sexual assault or violence in its midst? Is there another organizational entity that has to have its own “sexual assault policy” that is somehow outside the bounds of what the law proscribes concerning sexual assault?

If an employee at Google or Home Depot is sexually assaulted at work, would the police turn over the investigation to the company and tell them to adjudicate guilt or innocence using their own “judicial review board”? If you were sexually assaulted at a Braves game, would the Braves get to decide the validity of the claim? If a high school student is sexually assaulted, do we convene a “judicial review board” made up of the principal, a teacher, a student and the janitor to decide guilt or innocence?

Of course not. The police would be called in those instances and trained investigators, experts in physical evidence and in working with victims of sexual assault, would decide whether to make an arrest. And then trained prosecutors would decide whether there was evidence enough to move forward with a prosecution.

But that’s not what happens to victims of sexual assault on campus. Instead, we have created this fantasy world, this extra-legal bubble around colleges and universities where victims of sexual assault have somehow forfeited their 14th amendment right to due process and often endure re-victimization at the hands of university bureaucrats.

In conversations with lawyers here at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, nearly all stressed that colleges want to protect students from sexual violence, and that it is the right thing to do. But even as colleges work to do so—and to meet the administrative and legal requirements that now entails—lawyers here expressed frustration that their institutions were being held to a different standard than even law-enforcement agencies and were being given increasingly complex rules that sometimes go well beyond their capacity.

It goes beyond their capacity because there is not one single qualified individual on a college campus to sit in judgment of such a criminal matter. Not one. That’s a matter that should be left to trained judges in our criminal courts. Bringing in university or college Legal Department lawyers, who claim they want to protect the students, is an insult. These are are the last people who should be involved because university lawyers have only one primary responsibility: to protect the university. Not you.

The pressure on colleges to respond more comprehensively to sexual assaults has been increasing since 2011, when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights sent a letter to campuses explaining that a college’s mishandling of complaints could lead to a finding that it was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal money.

That pressure has grown significantly in recent months. In May the Education Department announced that the Office for Civil Rights was investigating more than 50 colleges for possible violations of Title IX in their handling of complaints of sexual violence or harassment. The number of colleges under investigation has since grown to more than 60.

In Apri, (sic) the White House issued stringent guidelines designed to help colleges prevent and respond to sexual violence and to offer students a “road map” for filing complaints against institutions that fall short in their responses.

Incredibly, all of this federal morass of guidelines, investigations and threats confuses sexual assault/violence with sexual harassment in the workplace. The latter is definitely the purvey of college and university boards to police and handle as they see fit. However, sexual assault on campus is not a “gender discrimination” issue. It’s a crime.

This is very simple: victims of sexual assault should notify the police. And if they choose not to notify the police and instead inform someone at the college or the university, the appropriate measure at that point is for the college or university to bring in the police and determine what happens next.

For those who worry about the nature of “he said, she said” claims involving college students, drinking, etc., (incredibly and stupidly articulated by the brain dead George Will recently) again, this should quite clearly play itself out in the criminal justice system, and not be adjudicated by a university administrator, a professor, a student, and a university lawyer (which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, frankly). As agents of the university, none of those people is qualified to determine what happened in a sexual assault case, and the lack of oversight (and incriminating, blame the victim mentality that seeps into these informal hearings, none of which is made public) is beyond problematic.

Sexual assault and violence on campus is not a civil rights issue. It’s a criminal issue, and as such should be handled in the criminal justice system. Period.

Cross Posted From: The Power-Elite

California Illegally Sterilizes Female Inmates:

An investigation of the California prison system revealed troubling numbers of female inmates who had been sterilized without their consent, in addition to many other breaches of protocol.

A report released on Thursday by the California State Auditor examined 144 cases of tubal ligations (more commonly referred to as having one’s “tubes tied”) performed on imprisoned women over the course of eight years.

“Some of the inmates were sterilized unlawfully, and there were certain safeguards that were designed to limit those occurrences, and those failed,” Margarita Fernández, the auditor’s chief of public affairs, tells TIME.

Among the 144 cases, 39 sterilizations were performed without the inmate’s lawful consent. In another 27 cases, the inmate’s physician did not sign the form that confirmed two key components of consent: first, that the patient was mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure, and second, that the required waiting period had been satisfied.

Odd that they’re calling in the “Medical Board of California” to investigate this rather than, y’know, the FBI with the possibility of seeking criminal indictments against those responsible.

Well, they’re just a bunch of women criminals, right? Who cares?

In other “Orange is the new Dead” news, this past week saw three executions, one here in Georgia, within a 24 hour span.

When Florida followed through with the execution of John Ruthell Henry Wednesday evening, it brought the tally of state executions in the last 24 hours up to three, a change of pace since a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma on April 29 caused a de facto pause on the death penalty due to national jitters over the humaneness of the drugs used in the procedure.

This recent spate of executions comes just months after Oklahoma botched the lethal injection of inmate Clayton Lockett, who had a heart attack and whose physical movements indicated pain for 25 minutes after being administered the lethal injection. In the wake of that execution, a number of appeals have been granted to prisoners seeking to avoid a similar fate.

Lawyers for Marcus Wellons, executed on Tuesday evening in Georgia, and John Winfield, executed Wednesday afternoon in Missouri, used similar arguments in their appeals, but were rejected.

Apparently, there were no incidences of writhing around in agony on the gurney, that we’re aware of anyway. Some reports say it took more than an hour to get Wellons dead in the Georgia execution in Jackson, and that a witness passed out.

Wellons was executed at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, located about 45 minutes south of Atlanta.

His execution was first reported by Alan Blinder of the New York Times. None of the media witnesses reported seeing anything unusual, other than a guard fainting. While an official initially told reporters that the execution took more than an hour, witnesses said later that it didn’t take nearly that long.

Georgia used to carry out lethal injections using a three-drug combination, but the state changed its execution protocol in July 2012. Now executions are carried out using only the drug pentobarbital, which had previously been one of the three drugs Georgia used in executions.

Pet tested, Vet approved, baby.

I suppose it’s a brief but momentary victory for the pro-death penalty bloggers out there. Key word being “momentary.”

BTW, if you read that blog, support for the death penalty, when given LWOP as an option, has been well below 50% for decades. It’s nowhere near “60% for the fortieth straight year” or whatever drivel is noted there.

Cross Posted From: The Power Elite

SCOTUS Extends Curbs on Death Penalty and Retardation:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday continued a trend to limit capital punishment, ruling that Florida’s I.Q. score cutoff was too rigid to decide which mentally disabled individuals must be spared the death penalty.

“Florida seeks to execute a man because he scored a 71 instead of 70 on an I.Q. test,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision.

Justice Kennedy was joined by the court’s four-member liberal wing, a recurring coalition in cases concerning harsh punishments.

When the court barred the execution of people with mental disabilities in 2002 in Atkins v. Virginia, it largely let the states determine who qualified. Tuesday’s decision, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the four dissenters, represented a “sea change” in the court’s approach.

The ruling will affect not only Florida, which has the nation’s second-largest death row after California, but also as many as eight other states by Justice Kennedy’s count, including Alabama and Virginia.

For students who may remember, this all goes back to Trop v. Dulles (1958), “evolving standards of decency,” and counting states. The majority concluded that 41 states did not use IQ tests solely to determine whether an inmate should be executed. The dissenters concluded the majority was using fuzzy math (from Alito’s dissent).

Attempting to circumvent these statistics, the Court includes in its count the 19 States that never impose the death penalty, but this maneuver cannot be justified. he fact that a State has abolished the death penalty says nothing about how that State would resolve the evidentiary problem of identifying defendants who are intellectually disabled.

This is the same debate they’ve had since Atkins in 2002, when Kennedy et al began to add non-death penalty states to states that had the death penalty but may have refused to apply it to certain categories of defendants (the intellectually disabled, juveniles, child rapists, etc.) to come up with “majorities” of states that have done away with certain kinds of punishments, thus indicating cruel and unusual.

Conservatives have long had a beef with the “Trop test,” and the idea of a living Constitution, but Alito’s dismissal of scientific evidence is more troubling.

I cannot follow the Court’s logic. Under our modern Eighth Amendment cases, what counts are our society’s standards—which is to say, the standards of the American people—not the standards of professional associations, which at best represent the views of a small professional elite.

Apparently, he’s either ignoring or hasn’t read the other parts of the Trop test, which clearly allow for scientific evidence to be taken into account when deciding whether a punishment is cruel and unusual (along with world opinion and action, anathema to conservatives). From Warren’s opinion “the words of the 8th amendment are not precise and their scope not static.”

I also find it troubling that Alito cites Penry v. Lynaugh (1989) over and over in his dissent, which was done away with in Atkins over 12 years ago. The regressive analysis suggests that “evolving standards of decency” stopped evolving back in the days when we were whacking juveniles and the mentally retarded in our society.

Anyway, it’s been predicted since Atkins that the court would eventually have to come back and determine a more “bright line” for states to follow when it comes to executing the intellectually disabled, and that’s precisely what the Hall decision of yesterday has done (from Kennedy’s opinion):

No legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with intellectual disability. To do so contravenes the Eighth Amendment, for to impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being. “[P]unishment is justified under one or more of three principal rationales: rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution.” Kennedy v. Louisiana , 554 U. S. 407, 420 (2008). Rehabilitation, it is evident, is not an applicable rationale for the death penalty. As for deterrence, those with intellectual disability are, by reason of their condition, likely unable to make the calculated judgment s that are the premise for the deterrence rationale. They have a “diminished ability” to “process information, to learn from experience, to en­ gage in logical reasoning, or to control impulses . . . [which] make[s] it less likely that they can process the information of the possibility of execution as a penalty

and, as a result, control their conduct based upon that information.” Atkins , 536 U. S., at 320. Retributive val­ues are also ill-served by executing those with intellectual disability. The diminished capacity of the intellectually disabled lessens moral culpability and hence the retribu­tive value of the punishment.

The professionals who design, administer, and interpret IQ tests have agreed, for years now, that IQ test scores should be read not as a single fixed number but as a range. See D. Wechsler, The Measurement of Adult Intel­ ligence 133 (3d ed. 1944) (reporting the range of error on an early IQ test). Each IQ test has a “standard error of measurement,” ibid. , often referred to by the abbreviation “SEM.”

Can I just pause, as a sociologist, to say how happy I am part of this debate centered on something as common (in my work) as standard error of measurement?

The majority goes on to make its case in a very scientific manner, and thus fulfills the Trop test regarding scientific and intellectual evidence of the constitutionality of a punishment.

But I’ll let Kennedy’s words summarize this issue for me:

The death penalty is the gravest sentence our society may impose. Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our Nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world. The States are laboratories for  experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitu­tion protects.

The case is Hall v. Florida (2014).

Cross Posted From: The Power Elite blog

The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder:

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

Behind that growth has been drug company marketing that has stretched the image of classic A.D.H.D. to include relatively normal behavior like carelessness and impatience, and has often overstated the pills’ benefits. Advertising on television and in popular magazines like People and Good Housekeeping has cast common childhood forgetfulness and poor grades as grounds for medication that, among other benefits, can result in “schoolwork that matches his intelligence” and ease family tension.

A 2002 ad for Adderall showed a mother playing with her son and saying, “Thanks for taking out the garbage.”

Talk about passive-aggressive marketing. But there are even worse, more insidious “Joe Camel” kinds of advertising that Big Pharma is engaging in.

Companies even try to speak to youngsters directly. Shire — the longtime market leader, with several A.D.H.D. medications including Adderall — recently subsidized 50,000 copies of a comic book that tries to demystify the disorder and uses superheroes to tell children, “Medicines may make it easier to pay attention and control your behavior!”

Comic book superheroes? Adderall Man? Leaps tall buildings in a single bound (while acing his SAT’s and reading “War and Peace”)? If that isn’t a Joe Camel issue, I don’t know what is…big business selling drug addiction. And it’s very successful.

Profits for the A.D.H.D. drug industry have soared. Sales of stimulant medication in 2012 were nearly $9 billion, more than five times the $1.7 billion a decade before, according to the data company IMS Health.

Now targeting adults, Shire and two patient advocacy groups have recruited celebrities like the Maroon 5 musician Adam Levine for their marketing campaign, “It’s Your A.D.H.D. – Own It.” Online quizzes sponsored by drug companies are designed to encourage people to pursue treatment.

One of my favorite methods of ADHD diagnosis is the online quiz. Because theoretically, if you had ADHD, would you be able to complete the quiz?

Adults searching for information on A.D.H.D. encounter websites with short quizzes that can encourage normal people to think they might have it. Many such tests are sponsored by drug companies in ways hidden or easily missed.

“Could you have A.D.H.D.?” beckons one quiz, sponsored by Shire, on the website everydayhealth.com. Six questions ask how often someone has trouble in matters like “getting things in order,” “remembering appointments” or “getting started” on projects.

A user who splits answers evenly between “rarely” and “sometimes” receives the result “A.D.H.D. Possible.” Five answers of “sometimes” and one “often” tell the user, “A.D.H.D. May Be Likely.”

Isn’t that great…you don’t even have to complete the quiz for us to diagnose you. And you have Big Pharma spokesmen like Adam Levine, who himself is walking ADD trip wire (meaning when I see or hear him sing, my own ADD kicks in and I reach for the remote…own it!) and Ty Pennington (another reason to change the channel) making it all cool to be f’d up. Or something.

A medical education video sponsored by Shire portrays a physician making a diagnosis of the disorder in an adult in a six-minute conversation, after which the doctor recommends medication.

Like most psychiatric conditions, A.D.H.D. has no definitive test, and most experts in the field agree that its symptoms are open to interpretation by patients, parents and doctors. The American Psychiatric Association, which receives significant financing from drug companies, has gradually loosened the official criteria for the disorder to include common childhood behavior like “makes careless mistakes” or “often has difficulty waiting his or her turn.”

Which is, like, every single child or adolescent under the age of 18. All of them. And they should be because their pre-frontal cortex’s are still under construction during childhood and adolescence. You can view impulse control as being a normal developmental stage, or an “illness” that requires the synapses to be zapped with medication.

Also, as I’ve written about for years on this blog, the symptomology has become so broad and extensive (net-widening in other areas of corrections) that virtually any child or adult with a pulse could now be suffering from ADHD (or any other virtual psychosomatic condition). Look at the creation of Adderall itself.

Modern marketing of stimulants began with the name Adderall itself. Mr. Griggs bought a small pharmaceutical company that produced a weight-loss pill named Obetrol. Suspecting that it might treat a relatively unappreciated condition then called attention deficit disorder, and found in about 3 to 5 percent of children, he took “A.D.D.” and fiddled with snappy suffixes. He cast a word with the widest net.

All.

For A.D.D.

A.D.D. for All.

Adderall.

“It was meant to be kind of an inclusive thing,” Mr. Griggs recalled.

[sound of crickets chirping]

And then they enlisted their army of pushers in lab coats to take these drugs for all to the streets.

Adderall quickly established itself as a competitor of the field’s most popular drug, Ritalin. Shire, realizing the drug’s potential, bought Mr. Griggs’s company for $186 million and spent millions more to market the pill to doctors. After all, patients can buy only what their physicians buy into.

As is typical among pharmaceutical companies, Shire gathered hundreds of doctors at meetings at which a physician paid by the company explained a new drug’s value.

For which the psychiatrists receive ongoing kickbacks for every dispensation.

Many of the scientific studies cited by drug company speakers involved Dr. Joseph Biederman, a prominent child psychiatrist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2008, a Senate investigation revealed that Dr. Biederman’s research on many psychiatric conditions had been substantially financed by drug companies, including Shire. Those companies also paid him $1.6 million in speaking and consulting fees. He has denied that the payments influenced his research.

Of course. And then there are the Big Pharma-funded advocacy groups (again, long written about on this blog) like CHADD whose job it is to ensnare anxious parents into the web of dismay.

The primary A.D.H.D. patient advocacy group, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or Chadd, was founded in 1987 to gain greater respect for the condition and its treatment with Ritalin, the primary drug available at the time. Start-up funding was provided by Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals, Ritalin’s primary manufacturer. Further drug company support helped create public service announcements and pamphlets, some of which tried to dispel concerns about Ritalin; one Chadd “fact sheet” conflicted with 60 years of science in claiming, “Psychostimulant drugs are not addictive.”

A 1995 documentary on PBS detailed how Chadd did not disclose its relationship with drug companies to either the Drug Enforcement Administration, which it was then lobbying to ease government regulation of stimulants, or the Department of Education, with which it collaborated on an A.D.H.D. educational video.

A.D.H.D. patient advocates often say that many parents resist having their child evaluated because of the stigma of mental illness and the perceived risks of medication. To combat this, groups have published lists of “Famous People With A.D.H.D.” to reassure parents of the good company their children could join with a diagnosis. One, in circulation since the mid-1990s and now posted on the psychcentral.com information portal beside two ads for Strattera, includes Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Galileo and Socrates.

LOL. Not only do we over-diagnose this condition today, we can magically go back and retroactively diagnose historical figures who “had trouble completing projects” like the Civil War, or discovering several planets in outer space.

Anyway, last point, and where it ties back to sociology and learning theory for me.

Because studies have shown that A.D.H.D. can run in families, drug companies use the children’s market to grow the adult one. A pamphlet published in 2008 by Janssen, Concerta’s manufacturer — headlined “Like Parent, Like Child?” — claimed that “A.D.H.D. is a highly heritable disorder” despite studies showing that the vast majority of parents of A.D.H.D. children do not qualify for a diagnosis themselves.

A current Shire manual for therapists illustrates the genetic issue with a family tree: three grandparents with the disorder, all six of their children with it, and seven of eight grandchildren, too.

Lost on these dopes is the idea that symptoms such as those associated with ADHD might in fact be simple learned behavior. Like alcoholism or suicide and family history…it’s not in the genes, it’s in the environment, the learned behavior.

Regardless, go and read this article. It’s as if Alan Schwarz the NYT reporter read my blog cover to cover as he pursued his writing, because these are issues I have been howling about for over a decade in the classroom and on this blog since 2007.

The control that Big Pharma and the psychiatric-industrial complex exercise over society is astonishing in both its breadth and scope. And it’s not a “conspiracy theory” to suggest that social control, capitalism and corporatism win out over the army of robots being created on a daily basis via these insidious diagnoses.

Cross Posted from The Power Elite

Suicide During The Great Depression:

Roy was one of at least 40,000 Americans who took their own lives that year and the next, the two-year span (1937-1939) that suicide rate spiked to its highest recorded level ever: more than 150 per 1 million annually. They are forgotten people, mostly men, and mostly brushed out of existence by a generation preoccupied by World War II and the post-war boom. Three-quarters of a century after Roy’s death, I sat across from an old family friend, a woman in her 90s, who was eager to share stories of that monumental past – except when it came to my great-grandfather. When I finally asked her point bank if she had known him, her blue eyes focused.

“He killed himself, didn’t he?” she asked, but it was more of a statement than a question. “Every family had a story like that. We never spoke of them. Why would we?”

While those of us who read and study suicide know that the highest levels ever recorded were during the Great Depression, what is surprising about this article is the level of shame and almost denial many families were in then and are still in today about the people (mostly men) who killed themselves during that era. And how in many aspects, not much has changed today.

As I began to look deeper into the story, I carried a couple of assumptions with me. First, I assumed there were likely to have been previous suicide attempts. Second, that Roy’s suicide was linked to the economy. Neither assumption is correct enough, as I learned by talking to Alan Berman, the executive director of the American Association of Suicidology. People see being suicidal as a long-term state of mind, but most people who survive a suicide attempt do not later die by suicide.

Being suicidal is better understood not as a permanent state but as an acute mental crisis. In the cases of public suicides the people committing the act are probably in the grip of magical thinking.

“They think, ‘I will get attention in a world where I am feeling not attended’. What becomes magical is that they are dead; they will never feel attended,” Berman said.

An article I read brought this point home. The handful of people who survived the leap from the Golden Gate Bridge told interviewers that as soon as their feet left the bridge, they regretted the act.

I wrote about the article he mentions more than five years ago in this post.

My second assumption, that “the economy,” had somehow triggered Roy’s act, was not specific or concrete enough. When it comes to understanding suicide (or maybe anything), specificity is important.

Detailed studies of individual cases, or “psychological autopsies,” might help researchers draw conclusions about causes, but autopsies have not been done in large enough volume. So correlations are the best we can do, but they need to be as specific as possible. Suicide is not strongly correlated to the economy, but to unemployment. In the modern era, for every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, there has typically been an increase of about 1 percent in the number of suicides, according to Steve Stack, a professor at Wayne State University.

Men still, more than women, define their self-worth by how much money they make and their occupations. That partly goes to explain why the suicide rate is three times higher among men than women.

Stigmas, of course, only have the power we give them. The stigma of unemployment helped send Roy and thousands of other forgotten men to their deaths – and still has an effect today. The suicide rates have spiked again following the onset of the Great Recession, rising to 124 per million in 2010 from 115 per million in 2007. The stigma of suicide is in effect, too: Some of those people will be forgotten.

Of course. In that sense, the stigma, shame, and guilt that is associated with suicide hasn’t changed in 75 years. Or maybe ever.

On the numbers, while it is true that suicides have risen (both in real numbers and in rates) since the Great Recession began, it should also be noted that rates of suicide were rising before 2008 as well (up over 30% from 1999-2010). The author is half-correct in saying that suicide isn’t tied necessarily to the economy, but I think it’s a misnomer to assume that unemployment accelerated what was already an upward trend in suicide to begin with. As I pointed out in this post in May, suicide is up in age and various other demographic groups across the board (those too young or too old to work, among military veterans, the middle age, etc.).

We also need to be careful about assuming the “official” statistics are in fact just that. There are correlations to unemployment and economy, certainly, but no causal evidence.

Nonetheless, the point made by Alan Berman is sobering. Suicide is not a “long-term” state of mind, but in fact a very short, sharp reaction to an acute mental or social crisis (unemployment, divorce, rejection, and so forth). As Berman notes, almost every interview we have with people who have attempted suicide shows an extreme “remorse” about their actions and most will not eventually try it again or die by suicide. As the article from five years ago chillingly noted, almost from the moment people jump over the edge, there is instant regret at the decision.

In that sense, the cliche still stands: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As Berman notes, when we can “head off the pathways to suicide” and buy people more time (by restricting access to guns, god forbid, or making it more difficult for people to jump) the more lives will be saved.

As it stands now, we are bordering on 40,000 suicides a year in the U.S., significantly more than die by auto accidents, AIDS or homicide. In fact, at 40,000+, we’re getting into the range of cancer deaths.

And until we reconceptualize suicide as a cancer, we’ll remain powerless to stop the epidemic.

Cross Posted From: The Power Elite

U.S. Won’t Sue to Reverse States’ Legalization of Marijuana:

The Justice Department on Thursday said it would not sue to block laws legalizing marijuana in 20 states and the District of Columbia, a move that proponents hailed as an important step toward ending the prohibition of the drug.

In a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide on Thursday, James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general, erased some uncertainty about how the government would respond to state laws making it legal to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.

Citing “limited prosecutorial resources,” Mr. Cole explained the change in economic terms. But the memo also made clear that the Justice Department expects states to put in place regulations aimed at preventing marijuana sales to minors, illegal cartel and gang activity, interstate trafficking of marijuana, and violence and accidents involving the drug.

“Limited prosecutorial resources”…I guess that means because Holder is so busy prosecuting the white-collar criminals who brought down the economy four years ago, he doesn’t have resources to go after the potheads. Right?

I know…shut up!

Uh, while marijuana advocates are proclaiming a huge victory, the War on Drugs adherents are only beginning to push back.

The prospect that marijuana could be legalized after a ban of decades drew criticism from law enforcement and drug policy officials. They warned that the Justice Department’s decision would have unintended consequences, like more impaired driving and more criminal marijuana operations.

“This sends the wrong message,” said former Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, who is a recovering prescription drug addict and a founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a policy group. “Are we going to send up the white flag altogether and surrender and say ‘have at it’? Or are we going to try to reduce the availability and accessibility of drugs and alcohol? That should be our mission.”

Not sure what that has to do with prescription drugs, but ok.

The White House said last week that President Obama did not support changing federal laws regulating marijuana, which treat the drug as a dangerous substance with no medical purpose.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said the president believed it was best to focus on high-level offenders like kingpins and traffickers.

Which would be a first. Literally. Because no “kingpins” are ever prosecuted in the war on drugs, only the street-level, penny ante dealers who are replaced in a nano-second when one of theirs ends up in the big house.

Nonetheless, I’ll grant you this was a significant announcement. I’m not sure if budget cuts are driving it or whether this is Holder/Obama’s end-game all along, but if it temporarily stops the unnecessary and wasteful arrest and prosecution of spliff heads in those states which have now said “dude, bring us your tired, your poor, your weed,” then so be it.

I’d still like to see data from Oregon and Washington state about the effect that legalization has had on other social barometers like property crime, worker productivity, violence, etc. But for now the “state’s rights” argument on this issue seems to be carrying the day in D.C.

Cross posted from The Power-Elite

States Improvise As Lethal Injection Drugs Run Scarce:

The decision by the Missouri Supreme Court to allow propofol, the same powerful anesthetic that caused the death of Michael Jackson, to be used in executions — coming at a time when Texas, Ohio, Arkansas and other states are scrambling to come up with a new drug for their own lethal injections — is raising new questions about how the death penalty will be carried out.

“The bottom line is no matter what drugs they come up with, despite every avenue these states have pursued, every drug they have investigated has met a dead end,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School who studies execution methods and the death penalty. “This affects every single execution in the country. It just stalls everything, stalls the process.”

Hell, just Beat It.

With manufacturers now refusing to supply corrections departments with the drugs they had been using for executions, some states, like Georgia, have been resorting to obtaining drugs from unregulated compounding pharmacies — specialty drugmakers — which death penalty opponents say lack the proper quality control. Other states, as they run low on their old stock of drugs and are unable to replace them, are turning to new, untried methods like propofol or simply announcing that they are searching for a solution.

I realize this may sound Off the Wall, but if you want to read an excellent article on the lengths Georgia is going to obtain these drugs, and the extraordinary effort to keep it all a secret, read this.

On July 18, one day before he was scheduled to die, Warren Hill, a mentally disabled prisoner on Georgia’s death row, was spared from the execution chamber when a Fulton County Superior Court judge granted him a temporary reprieve.

It was not the first time that Hill, who has been diagnosed as having an IQ of 70, had faced imminent death. One year earlier, on July 23, 2012, Hill ate his last meal and said his final goodbyes as he prepared for an execution that was halted ninety minutes before he was supposed to die by lethal injection. Seven months after that, Hill came within thirty minutes of execution—he was sedated and strapped to the gurney—when a stay was granted. And on July 15 of this year, he was granted another temporary stay with less than four hours to spare, only for a new date to be set, for four days later. All told, in just under a year, Hill has come within hours of execution four times.

Smooth Criminal, eh? In fact, while much of Hill’s ongoing appeals focus on mental retardation, another line of appeals is zeroed in the constitutionality of Georgia’s Lethal Injection Secrecy Act, which is an actual thing the Georgia Legislature passed this past spring.

Under a new Georgia state law called the “Lethal Injection Secrecy Act,” the names of pharmacies that manufacture the chemicals used in lethal injections are now kept secret from the public.

Proponents of the law say it is there to protect the pharmaceutical manufacturers from protests and attacks. But at least one judge is questioning whether this new law is constitutional.

The proposed law, which Corrections officials sought, would make the identities of those who make and supply the lethal injection drug a “state secret,” which means Georgia would have the discretion to hide the information.

The proposed law also makes a state secret the names of prison staff who carry out executions. For decades, the Georgia has kept the names of security staff secret. It would now shield the names of private doctors the prison system hires to carry out executions.

Won’t see Behind The Mask anytime soon. Back in the old days, we just gave the executioner a hood. Now we give them “state secrecy” protection.

But don’t worry, the get tuff all types are fighting back (hey, the kid is not my son).

“This drug issue is a temporary problem that is entirely fixable. It is not a long-term impediment to the resumption of capital punishment. It’s an artificially created problem,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty. “There is no difficulty in using a sedative such as pentobarbital. It’s done every day in animal shelters throughout the country. But what we have is a conspiracy to choke off capital punishment by limiting the availability of drugs.”

Shorter: pet tested, vet approved. You Wanna Be Starting Something, chump?

On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to allow executions using propofol to move ahead in October and November. There is no question that it would kill, but since it has never been used in an execution, death penalty opponents say, there is no way to say how much pain might be involved or what dose should be administered.

Well, if the dude springs up off the gurney, grabs his crotch and starts singing “You Rock My World, Mizzou” you’ll know it’s all good.

Funny how much Michael Jackson and these states scrambling for drugs like junkies came to mirror one another…Man in the Mirror, Dangerous…I could go on.

Cross Posted From The Power-Elite

Two Powerful Signals of a Major Shift on Crime:

Two decisions Monday, one by a federal judge in New York and the other by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., were powerful signals that the pendulum has swung away from the tough-on-crime policies of a generation ago. Those policies have been denounced as discriminatory and responsible for explosive growth in the prison population.

Critics have long contended that draconian mandatory minimum sentence laws for low-level drug offenses, as well as stop-and-frisk police policies that target higher-crime and minority neighborhoods, have a disproportionate impact on members of minority groups. On Monday, Mr. Holder announced that federal prosecutors would no longer invoke the sentencing laws, and a judge found that stop-and-frisk practices in New York were unconstitutional racial profiling.

Alfred Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has studied race and incarceration issues, said Mr. Holder’s speech and Judge Scheindlin’s stop-and-frisk ruling both addressed policies that “were attempts to stop crime, but they weren’t terribly effective.”

Together, he said, the events indicated that society was “trying to become more effective and more targeted and, in the process, to reduce the heavy impact on particularly African-Americans.”

Michelle Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor who wrote “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” an influential 2010 book about the racial impact of policies like stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimum drug sentences, said the two developments gave her a sense of “cautious optimism.”

I prefer Alexander and Blumstein’s comments to some of the other overwrought proclamations regarding Holder’s speech and the ruling on Stop and Frisk (and yes, for those long-time readers wondering “do you still think Holder is the most inept AG ever?” the answer is yes).

Was it a good speech (and about 5 years too late)? Sure. The judge’s ruling was also a step in the right direction. But “historic” or “game-changing” or “ground breaking?” Shake yourself.

Why? Because Holder’s policy for ratcheting down the mandatory-minimum sentences affects only federal level prosecutions, convictions and incarceration. The federal system accounts for slightly more than 200,000 of the 2.2 million people behind bars. A reduction of even 10% in the federal system will barely even register in the national numbers.

Most of those incarcerated in the “War on Drugs” are incarcerated at the state and local level. Until they move away from the get tough policies (which some, admittedly, are doing) we won’t see a wholesale de-carceration take place for quite awhile.

The ruling against Stop and Frisk is also welcome. Stop and Frisk was a relic of the Guiliani era in NYC, part of the Wilson/Kelling/Bratton “Quality of Life” zero-tolerance policing which adherents claimed reduced crime in Gotham and elsewhere.

Of course, it had nothing to do with lowering crime, as critics have pointed out for over a decade, but it took Judge Scheindlin’s ruling to not only point that out, but perhaps begin putting nails in the coffin of the heavy handed police tactics which have been used to muscle and intimidate lower-income, disproportionately black residents of New York for nearly 20 years.

But if you think everyone’s on board (cautiously or deliriously), think again. The proponents of git tuff still exist and they will be heard.

William G. Otis, a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, described Mr. Holder’s move as a victory for drug dealers that would incentivize greater sales of addictive contraband, and he suggested that the stop-and-frisk ruling could be overturned on appeal.

Mr. Otis also warned that society was becoming “complacent” and forgetting that the drug and sentencing policies enacted over the last three decades had contributed to the falling crime rates.

And this, from my favorite group of conservatives over at Crime and Consequences:

 I will make no attempt to summarize the arguments on their merits.  I will just say very briefly that the AG’s action seems to take root in a jaundiced view of our criminal justice system, a system that, certainly in the view of its inmates, is a failure.

At a tiny fraction of the cost of entitlement programs, stern sentencing has helped drop the crime rate 50% in 20 years, thus contributing to thousands if not millions of crimes that were never committed, and thousands if not million of potential victims who were not abused, beaten up, molested, swindled and robbed.

May all our social policies be that “broken.”
For some, the fantasy that the get tough policies produced the drop in crime will never die, no matter what the overwhelming evidence shows to the contrary. And as I’ve warned for several years on this blog, all it will take is a slight uptick in crime nation-wide (more likely to occur as the economy turns around), and they will be bleating down your door with calls to return to the good old days of the lock ’em up 80’s and 90’s.
Meanwhile, to continue the good news of the day, and updating a story I’ve written about a few times, Whitey Bulger was convicted yesterday in Boston.
James (Whitey) Bulger, the mobster who terrorized South Boston in the 1970s and ‘80s, holding the city in his thrall even after he disappeared, was convicted Monday of a sweeping array of gangland crimes, including 11 murders. He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
Looking back on it, Bulger’s defense erred by not invoking the Stand Your Ground laws of Florida and elsewhere. I mean, dude was just defending his territory, wasn’t he? Snicker.
Anyway, a good day over all for those of who study crime and punishment. Cautiously optimistic, indeed.
Cross Posted from The Power Elite