30 Oct 2014

Eleven countries studied, one inescapable conclusion – the drug laws don’t work. Eight month study shows legalisation policies do not result in wider use, and the US should be watched with interest

The Home Office comparison of international drug laws, published on Wednesday, represents the first official recognition since the 1971 Misuse ofDrugs Act that there is no direct link between being “tough on drugs” and tackling the problem.
The report, which has been signed off by both the Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, and the Liberal Democrat crime prevention minister, Norman Baker, is based on an in-depth study of drug laws in 11 countries ranging from the zero-tolerance of Japan to the legalisation of Uruguay.
The key finding of the report, written by Home Office civil servants, lies in a comparison of Portugal, where personal use is decriminalised, and the Czech Republic, where criminal penalties for possession were introduced as recently as 2010.
“We did not in our fact-finding observe any obvious relationship between the toughness of a country’s enforcement against drug possession, and levels of drug use in that country,” it says. “The Czech Republic and Portugal have similar approaches to possession, where possession of small amounts of any drug does not lead to criminal proceedings, but while levels of drug use in Portugal appear to be relatively low, reported levels of cannabis use in the Czech Republic are among the highest in Europe.
“Indicators of levels of drug use in Sweden, which has one of the toughest approaches we saw, point to relatively low levels of use, but not markedly lower than countries with different approaches.”
Endless coalition wrangling over the contents of the report, which has taken more than eight months to be published, has ensured that it does not include any conclusions.
However, reading the evidence it provides, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Home Office civil servants who wrote it seem to have been impressed that a health-based rather than a criminal justice-based approach is where effective policies lie.
It also, rather remarkably, says that the experiments in legalisation now under way in the US states of Washington and Colorado, and in Uruguay, should be watched with interest. This is a world away from the “war on drugs” rhetoric that has formed the mainstay of the political debate on drugs in the past four decades.
The report, Drugs: International Comparators, documents in great detail the experience of Portugal, where personal use was decriminalised nearly 11 years ago and those arrested for drugs are given the choice of going before a health “dissuasion commission” or facing a criminal justice process.
“Trend data from Portugal shows how levels of drug use changed in the years following decriminalisation in 2001. Although levels of drug use rose between 2001 and 2007, use of drugs has since fallen to below 2001 levels. It is clear that there has not been a lasting and significant increase in drug use in Portugal since 2001,” the report says.

Overweight crash test dummies being developed in response to rising obesity levels in the United States

Car safety testing has come a long way since the days of dropping cadavers down unused elevator shafts in the 1930s.

That we enjoy greater peace of mind on the road -- with fatal accidents in the US at historic lows -- is largely due to the evolution of crash test dummies. Vehicle manufacturers must prove their safety with dummies before they can be legally sold in the US and Europe, and these unsung heroes have developed into extraordinarily sophisticated tools for collecting data and assessing risk. 
"The newest dummies can have over 130 channels of information," says Chris O' Connor, CEO of Humanetics, the world's leading producer of dummies. "So the amount of data is up four or five times what it could years ago."

Humanetics work with insurance and academic institutions to analyze the ever-increasing data. This allows them to establish and prioritize the most common injuries, but also the most common victims. 
"Obese people are 78% more likely to die in a crash," says O' Connor. "The reason is the way we get fat. We get fat in our middle range. And we get out of position in a typical seat."
To accommodate the increasing numbers of overweight drivers, Humanetics are developing an obese dummy. One prototype has already been produced that weighs 273 pounds with a body mass index of 35.

The analytics also reveal that risk of a serious injury increases by 20% in 50-year-old drivers, by 40% at 80, and steadily higher thereafter. Replicating age in a dummy is an ongoing challenge, but the company hope to have a prototype by 2015.

Humanetics are also rolling out their next generation THOR (Test device for Human Occupant Restraint) for median range occupants, with the most advanced sensitivity yet.
"The idea of these new dummies that they start to measure new types of load, (such as) shoulder loads, they interact with restraints better," says Dr. Joel Stitzel, director of the Center for Injury Biomechanics. "They have more measurement capabilities, so they can do a better job of predicting injury."

But Stitzel believes the time-honored crash test dummy could be challenged by a new concept. anatomy."

Sewell, An Abandoned Mining Town in The Andes

Located on the slopes of the Andes in the commune of MachalĂ­ in Chile, at an altitude of 2,000 metres, lies the abandoned mining town of Sewell built by the Braden Copper company in 1905 to house workers of the world’s largest underground copper mine, El Teniente. It was the first copper company town in Chile, the largest producer of this metal in the world, and an outstanding example of the global phenomenon where company towns were established in remote parts of the world to extract and process natural resources. Sewell Mining Town is particularly notable for its contribution to the global spread of large-scale mining technology.

The town was built on the slope of the Andes with no flat roads, just a giant central staircase rising from the railway station. Along its route formal squares of irregular shape with ornamental trees and plants constituted the main public spaces or squares of the town. The buildings lining the streets are made of timber, often painted in vivid green, yellow, red and blue.

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29 Oct 2014

FBI cut hotel Internet access, sent agents to “fix” it without warrants

When the FBI applied for warrants this summer to raid three $25,000-per-night villas at Caesar's Palace Hotel and Casino, it omitted some key investigatory details that eventually resulted in the arrest of eight individuals, including an alleged leader of a well-known Chinese crime syndicate, defense lawyers maintained in Las Vegas federal court documents late Tuesday.
The authorities built, in part, a case for a search warrant (PDF) by turning off Internet access in three villas shared by the eight individuals arrested. At various points, an agent of the FBI and a Nevada gaming official posed as the cable guy, secretly filming while gathering evidence of what they allege was a bookmaking ring where "hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal bets" on World Cup soccer were taking place.
"If this Court authorizes this duplicity, the government will be free to employ similar schemes in virtually every context to enter the homes of perfectly innocent people. Agents will frequently have no incentive to follow the warrant procedure required by the Constitution," defense lawyers wrote the Las Vegas federal magistrate presiding over the prosecution.
A hearing is set for December, and the defense will argue for a dismissal of the charges.
One of the accused defendants is Paul Phua, charged under the name Wei Seng Phua. The government alleges that the 50-year-old Malaysian man is a "high-ranking member" (PDF) of the 14K Triad specializing in loan sharking, illegal gambling, prostitution, and drug trafficking.
The investigation began this summer when the defendants started requesting a substantial amount of electronic equipment and Internet connections from Caesars Palace staff, the government said. A technician was suspicious and alerted casino security that a bookmaking operation might be underway, the government said in court papers. Nowhere in the search warrant request, however, did the authorities mention that they saw supposed wagering on computers after posing as technicians who in reality briefly disconnected the Internet.
The search warrant that led to the arrests would not have been issued had the judge been told the truth, the defense said in court papers. Evidence of what the defense called an unlawful "scheme" against its clients was produced (PDF) by the government in the pre-trial discovery process, the defense lawyers wrote (PDF):
The notion that an individual “consents” to such searches—so that the government is free to ignore the Fourth Amendment’s explicit warrant requirement—is, in a word, absurd. Our lives cannot be private—and our personal relationships intimate—if each physical connection that links our homes to the outside world doubles as a ready-made excuse for the government to conduct a secret, suspicionless, warrantless search. Only a few remote log cabins lack any Internet, electric, gas, water, cable, or telephone service. But the Constitution does not require us to sever all those connections—and live as hermitic luddites—to protect ourselves from the government’s prying eyes and secret cameras. A ruling upholding these intrusions would cause innocent Americans to live their daily lives burdened with the palpable sense that their government is regularly scheming to spy on them in their homes.

Read more:http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/10/fbi-cut-hotel-internet-access-sent-agents-to-fix-it-without-warrants/ 

Cops do 20,000 no-knock raids a year. Civilians often pay the price when they go wrong.

Most of the time, when a person kills an intruder who breaks into his home, dressed in all black and screaming, the homeowner will avoid jail time. But what happens when the break-in was a no-knock SWAT raid, the intruder was a police officer, and the homeowner has a record?
A recent pair of cases in Texas are an example of how wrong no-knock raids can go, for both police and civilians, and how dangerously subjective the SWAT raid process can be. In December 2013, Henry Magee shot and killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid on his home. He was initially charged with capital murder, but he argued that he shot the police officer, who he thought was an intruder, to protect his pregnant girlfriend. In February, a grand jury declined to indict him, and charges were dropped.
In May, a Texas man named Marvin Guy also killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock raid on his home. Guy, too, was charged with capital murder. Unlike Magee's grand jury, a grand jury in September allowed the capital murder charge against Guy to stand. Guy, who is black, now faces the death penalty. Magee is white. 
Magee's case wasn't completely identical to Guy's — the latter had done prison time on robbery and weapons charges, while Magee's previous arrests were for marijuana possession and DUI. But the circumstances of the raids, if anything, made Guy's reaction more justifiable. Police were trying to enter McGee's house through the door when he shot at them, while, in Guy's case, they were trying to climb in through the window. And during the raid on McGee's house, the cops did in fact find a few pounds of marijuana plants. In the raid on Guy's house, they found nothing.
Advocates say these cases highlight racial bias in the criminal justice system, particularly when the victim is a police officer. But they also highlight the bizarre nature of no-knock raids, which have been criticized for causing unnecessary confusion and endangering innocent adults and children.
In theory, no-knock raids are supposed to be used in only the most dangerous situations. So what might be most surprising about them is how infrequently police officers get killed when they bust into suspected criminals' homes unannounced.
In reality, though, no-knock raids are a common tactic, even in less-than-dangerous circumstances. There are a staggering 20,000 or more estimated no-knock raids every year across America. By the numbers, it's clear that no-knock SWAT raids are far more dangerous to civilians than they are to police.
Here's what you need to know about why no-knock raids happen, why police think they're necessary, and what happens when things go wrong.

For 23rd time, U.N. nations urge end to U.S. embargo on Cuba

The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for the 23rd time to condemn the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, with many nations praising the island state for its response in fighting the deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa.
In the 193-nation assembly, 188 countries voted for the nonbinding resolution, titled "Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba."

As in previous years, the only countries that voted against the declaration were the United States and an ally, Israel. The Pacific island nations Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained. The voting result was identical to last year's.
In a speech on the U.N. podium, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez appealed to the United States to change course on an embargo he said has caused great harm to the people of Cuba and caused cumulative economic damage amounting to more than $1 trillion.

"We invite the government of the United States to establish mutually respectful relations," Rodriguez said. "We can try to find a solution to our differences through respectful dialogue.
"We can live and deal with each other in a civilized way despite our differences," he said. "Cuba will never relinquish our sovereignty."
U.S. envoy Ronald Godard dismissed the resolution, saying Havana uses the yearly General Assembly vote as an "attempt to shift blame" for economic problems that are its own creation.
Evoking former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's famous "tear down this wall" speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987, Godard criticized the Cuban government's restrictions on the Internet, saying "tear down the digital wall of censorship".

While the General Assembly's vote is nonbinding and symbolic, it serves to highlight U.S. isolation regarding Havana. It is one of very few issues where all of Washington's Western allies part ways with the United States.
A number of countries lauded Havana for sending more doctors than any other country to West Africa to combat the biggest outbreak of Ebola since the disease was identified in 1976.
Among those praising Cuba's contribution in the battle against Ebola were Iran, on behalf of the 120-nation bloc of nonaligned countries, and Bolivia, on behalf the Group of 77 plusChina, a group of developing nations. Mexico, India and others echoed that praise.
Adoption of the resolution has become an annual ritual. 

Judge Refuses To Intervene In 40,000 Lost Voter Registrations In Georgia

Earlier this year organizers spread out into every one of Georgia’s 159 counties and registered almost 90,000 new voters-the majority of them being people of color and under the age of 25. When the organizers checked their database against the state’s they noticed that nearly 50,000 of those registrations had vanished-the majority of them being people of color in Democratic-leaning regions.
Georgia State Minority leader Stacey Abrams, whose New Georgia project spearheaded the voter registration drive claimed that the Secretary of State refused to meet with them.

“We asked the Secretary of State to meet with us. We wanted to understand if we were doing something wrong, or if there was another database we didn’t have access to. But he refused to meet with us,” she said.
Even when early voting was underway they still hadn’t heard back. Along with the Georgia NAACP and the  Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law they went to court and tried to compel Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher to process every valid registration.
Lawyers for Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp claim that the state sets no limit on when registrations are processed and people unsure of their status can cast a provisional ballot. In doing so they have to return in three days to present additional documentation. Head of the Georgia NAACP Francys Johnson calls this “Unacceptable.”
“I cannot tell you what little return we actually see in terms of provisional ballots,” Johnson said. “The election is decided the night of the election. It’s not really a ballot at all.”
Today Judge Christopher Brasher of the Fulton County Superior Court denied a petition to force the Secretary of State to process nearly 40,000 voter registrations. Even though early voting has begun in the state the judge referred to the lawsuit as “premature.”

“All in all – a republican appointed judge has backed the republican Secretary of State to deny the right to vote to a largely African American and Latino population,” Johnson wrote in a press release.

Nice Little Trick With Cardboard Cut Out (4 pics)

There's a surprise at the end and you'll never see it coming.

The Coal Fires of Jharia

Jharia and the neighbouring village of Bokapahari, in the state of Jharkhand, lie within one of India’s largest coal reserves. Coke coal is important for India’s economy as more than 70% of the country’s power supply is derived from coal. But for the 90,000 people living around Jharia, there is no benefit. Coal fires rage below the surface and noxious gases spew from fissures in and around houses. The incessant mining and the underground fire that has been burning for almost a century has contaminated everything – the soil, the water and the air. Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons emitted by the burning coal have caused illnesses that range from stroke to chronic pulmonary disease. Nearly everybody in Jharia is ill. Occasionally the ground collapses, swallowing buildings and people into the chasm.