Category Archives: Law

Days of Revolt: Trouble in Steinbeck’s country


Monterey County, California, is one of the world’s richest agricultural producers, as the county Farm Bureau notes:

[C]rops grown in Monterey County supply large percentages of total national pounds produced each year:  61% of leaf lettuce, 57% of celery, 56% of head lettuce, 48% of brocolli, 38% of spinach, 30% of cauliflower, 28% of strawberries, and 3.6% of wine grapes.

In other words, if it’s green and on your dinner table, there’s a good chance it came from Monterey County.

And just how much do all those agricultural commodities bring in? Consider this graphic from the latest annual report [PDF] from the Farm Bureau:

BLOG MontereyAccording to the latest [2012] U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture [PDF], all those riches are produced on 1,179 farms with an average size of 1,076 acres, and each selling crops worth $2,527,341.

That’s a lot of wealth.

But Monterey County is also the home a tremendous income inequality, with some of California’s richest living it Carmel and Monterey, as well as in lavish homes along some of the state’s most spectacular coastline.

Head inland to Salinas — where many of the farm laborers live who produce all that wealth — and things are different, giving rise to high levels of poverty, as evident in these two charts from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

Estimated Percent of People of All Ages In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 17 percent

Estimated Percent of People of All Ages In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 17 percent

Estimated Percent of People Age 0-17 In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 25.2 percent

Estimated Percent of People Age 0-17 In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 25.2 percent

When there is great disparity of wealth, political tensions are inevitable.

And that brings us to the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the weekly series for teleSUR English by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, focusuing on the political struggle in Salinas:

Days of Revolt: Company Town

From the transcript:

CHRIS HEDGES: Joining me in the studio is Jose Castaneda. He is an independent radical city councilperson who big business has made war against. And Anthony Prince, an attorney who has been working with groups in Salinas to fight back against the power of big business, and all the ways that they are distorting life within the city, including of course going after what has become a large homeless population. Thank you, Jose, and thank you, Anthony.

>snip<

HEDGES: What do they produce, primarily?

CASTANEDA: This is lettuce, iceberg lettuce. We have strawberries, as well.

HEDGES: Driscoll is there, right, which is huge.

CASTANEDA: Driscoll’s one of the major ag-business as well, Taylor Farms, Tanimura and Antle. There’s a long list of these agriculture–what I call agriculture empire within the county. And it’s an international market, now.

HEDGES: Whole parts of your city have, in essence, been destroyed by these corporations. Perhaps you can give us a picture of what’s happened and what it looks like.

CASTANEDA: I can tell you, the $8 billion industry has controlled, directly and indirectly, the politics. We can go into history. For example, John Steinbeck’s writings of In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath, Mice and Men, Tortilla Flats, just pick any novel and you’ll see how the, the Depression, as well as oppression in regards to the worker–.

HEDGES: We should be clear that Steinbeck was based in Salinas, right?

CASTANEDA: That is absolutely right. Until Steinbeck was banned, and his books were burned and he had to come to New York, as well, and finish a lot of his work there. That same lineage has continued to control the, the governance system as well, as a state. And it continues to be the case in 2015. I have experienced that myself, even running as an independent.

HEDGES: We should be clear, when you were elected, it used to be under the old rules that any city council member could bring an issue to be discussed at the council. And because they knew that you would be bringing issues that they did not want discussed they just rechanged–changed the rules. Perhaps you can explain what happened.

CASTANEDA: Sure. You’re absolutely correct. And the last time there was any type of rule change it was 1994. Once I defeated two candidates that were part of the status quo horses in this race, we had a 30-day waiting period, which was a certification of election results.

So one week before I took the oath of office at the city council, those rules were already being changed, with the action of the old council. And that’s implemented as rules of the quorum. It was a buddy–so-called buddy system, where you needed at least two council members at a minimum to agree to put any item on the agenda. Of course, what has affected, historically, my district area, which is considered the East Salinas, or the Alisal, as drawn and depicted in John Steinbeck’s books, where you have more–half of the major–half of the population in a concentrated five-mile radius. And that’s where you have the housing issues, water issues, crime.

Sleep deprivation, tasers lead to false confessions?


Two new studies cast doubt on police-obtained confessions of criminal suspects, the first in case of those deprived of sleep before or during the interrogation process, and the second in the case of those who have been subjected to taser shocks.

First, from the  Michigan State University newsroom:

Sleep deprivation linked to false confessions

Sleep-deprived people are much more likely to sign false confessions than rested individuals, according to a groundbreaking study that has important implications for police interrogation practices.

The odds of signing a false confession were 4.5 times higher for participants who had been awake for 24 hours than for those who had slept eight hours the night before.

Led by Kimberly M. Fenn, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, the study is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is the first direct evidence that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that a person will falsely confess to wrongdoing that never occurred,” said Fenn. “It’s a crucial first step toward understanding the role of sleep deprivation in false confessions and, in turn, raises complex questions about the use of sleep deprivation in the interrogation of innocent and guilty suspects.”

False confessions in the United States are thought to account for 15 percent-25 percent of wrongful convictions. And past research has indicated that the interrogation of unrested, possibly sleep-deprived suspects is commonplace.

For the study, conducted in Fenn’s Sleep and Learning Lab, 88 participants completed various computer activities and a cognitive test during several laboratory sessions over a weeklong period. Participants were given several warnings not to hit the “escape” key because “this could cause the computer to lose valuable data.” Participants were monitored during the tasks.

On the final day of the experiment, half of the participants slept for eight hours while the other half stayed awake overnight. The next morning before leaving the lab, each participant was shown a statement summarizing his or her activities and falsely alleging the participant had pressed the escape key. Participants were asked to sign the statement, check a box confirming its accuracy and sign their name.

The results were striking: 50 percent of sleep-deprived participants signed the false confession, while only 18 percent of rested participants signed it.

Further, sleep deprivation had a significant effect on participants who scored lower on the Cognitive Reflection Test, which is related to intelligence. Those participants were much more likely to sign the false confession.

To protect against the harmful effects of false confessions, Fenn and her co-authors recommend interrogations be videotaped, giving judges, attorneys and jurors added insight into a suspect’s psychological state.

Suspects also can be given a quick and easy test to determine sleepiness prior to an interrogation. Participants in the MSU-led study were given the publicly available Stanford Sleepiness Scale; those who indicated a higher level of sleepiness were significantly more likely to sign the false confession.

“A false admission of wrongdoing can have disastrous consequences in a legal system already fraught with miscarriages of justice,” the authors conclude. “We are hopeful that our study is the first of many to uncover the sleep-related factors that influence processes related to false confession.”

Fenn’s co-authors are Steven Frenda of the New School for Social Research, Shari Berkowitz of California State University, Dominguez Hills; and Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine.

The second comes from the Drexel University newsroom:

Taser Shock Disrupts Brain Function, Has Implications for Police Interrogations

More than two million citizens have been Tased by police as Taser stun guns have become one of the preferred less-lethal weapons by police departments across the United States during the past decade. But what does that 50,000-volt shock do to a person’s brain?

Despite widespread adoption by law enforcement – stun guns are now used in 17,000 police departments – little is known about exactly how the shocks affect individuals’ cognitive functioning, or, more specifically, how receiving an electric shock from a Taser might affect the ability of a suspect to understand and waive their Miranda rights.

New research from a first-of-its-kind human study by Drexel University and Arizona State University reveals that the burst of electricity from a stun gun can impair a person’s ability to remember and process information. In a randomized control trial, participants were subjected to Taser shocks and tested for cognitive impairment. Some showed short-term declines in cognitive functioning comparable to dementia, raising serious questions about the ability of police suspects to understand their rights at the point of arrest.

Read the rest, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

A legal Icarus lashes out a a corrupt justice system


In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth to which Minos, king of Crete, consigned the monstrous Minotaur to devour his enemies. Daedalus and Icarus were forced to flee after Daedalus plotted with Ariadne to help Theseus escape the monster.

Daedalus devised wings made of feathers mounted in wax, so he and his son could fly from the island, telling his son he must fly neither to low, lest the sea’s moisture render the wings useless, nor too high, lest the sun’s heat melt the wax.

Icarus, needless to say, flew tie, dying in a plunge into the sea after the wax had melted.

William S. Lerach was a legal Icarus, a San Diego class action attorney raised in an impoverished household in Pittsburgh, he specialized in shareholder litigation, recovering billions for investors in Enron, and served as a passionate advocate for his profession and for the public interest.

When Congress moved to radically restrict his profession, Lerach was outspoken, as Wikipedia notes:

While testifying in Congress in 1995 against the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America) which Congress passed by over-riding the veto of President Clinton, Lerach warned at the hearing: “In 10 or 15 years you will be holding another hearing about a debacle in the securities market that will make you remember the S&L mess with fondness.”

But Lerach may have flown to close to the sun when he took on Vice President Dick Cheney for his actions at Halliburton, and in 2007 he was arrested by the Bush administration’s Justice Department and plead guilty to a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and making false declarations under oath related to his involvement in a kickback scheme, a scheme which to esnl‘s own knowledge was commonly practice by class action lawyers.

He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Lerach suspects his prosecution was political, given that the Bush administration almost never demanded criminal convictions of crooked banksters and corporate executives, the usual targets of Lerach’s lawsuits.

Disbarred after completely his prison term, Lerach lives in La Jolla, and according to one account, is worth nearly a billion dollars.

While he no longer practices law, he remains a passionate advocate, decrying changes in the criminal justice system and law enforcement that fall most heavily on people of color. And much more.

He has a lot to say in this address given to an audience at the University of California at San Diego, and there’s nothing he says we don’t agree with.

From University of California Television:

American Law: Instrument of Progress or Weapon of Oppression? William Lerach — A Life In The Law

Program notes:

Former litigator William S. Lerach explores the chasm between the ideals and the reality of the American legal system, one that promises equal access and accountability but often shields the financial elite from civil liability and criminal prosecution. Drawing on his extensive experience with class action lawsuits, Lerach shows how major court decisions have skewed toward defendants over time, even when evidence confirmed their participation in illegal activity. Lerach also condemns recent judicial decisions that have spared police officers from punishment for incidents that have led to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans. This is the first in a new series from UC San Diego — “A Life in the Law: Practitioners Reflecting on Law and the Legal Process on American Life.”

Charts of the day: Corporate lootocracy at work


From the Economist, first, with what they do:

BLOG ChartAnd how they do it:

BLOG Chart 2

Headline of the day: What evading taxes gets you


From BBC News, rewards for the head of the company that deftly avoids taxes, both at home and abroad [though at least one country has taken action]:

Google boss becomes highest-paid in US

The chief executive of Google, Sundar Pichai, has been awarded $199m (£138m) in shares, a regulatory filing has revealed.

Quote of the day Ted Cruz in a nutshell [Nut’s hell?]


From journalist and author Gary Leech, writing for Counterpunch:

Perhaps nothing captures the imperialist arrogance of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz more succinctly than his campaign’s statement declaring, “What is best for America is best for the world.” In addition to the obvious fact that billions of people around the world might disagree with Cruz on this point is the fact that it is not at all clear that the Republican presidential candidate’s proposed policies are even best for most Americans. But given his victory this past week in the Iowa caucus, Cruz’s ultra-conservative views can no longer be ignored while mainstream and progressive pundits busy themselves dissecting the bombastic rhetoric of the far less scary Donald Trump.

In contrast to most candidates that run for president, Ted Cruz has a clear vision for the future of the country. The problem for many Americans is that it is a terrifying vision. It is a vision that is imperialist, racist, sexist, classist and homophobic. For instance, Cruz proposes building a giant wall across the US-Mexico border in addition to using high-tech measures to keep out “illegal” immigrants while allowing corporate labor needs to dictate the flow of “legal” immigrants into the country. In addition to strengthening the military to ensure US hegemony around the globe, he also vows to boost US military support for Israel and to withhold funding from the United Nations if it “continues its anti-Israel bias.”

On the domestic front, Cruz is calling for a flat tax that will benefit the rich and gut government social spending. He has also vowed to curtail women’s rights by stating that he will order the attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on his first day as president. And he opposes same-sex marriage, declaring that “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.” Finally, Cruz would not only fail to address climate change, which he views as a hoax, he would promote expanded oil and gas production. Given that these policy proposals make Cruz one of the most conservative presidential contenders in decades, it would behoove us to take a closer at them.

Psychedelics linked to reduced spousal abuse


Psilocybin [shrooms], LSD, and other psychedelic drugs [previously] have been shown to provide the most effective agents in reducing chronic severe depression and stopping smoking, and may be useful in fighting alcoholism.

Now comes word that they may also play a role in reducing spousal abuse.

Laws banning psychedelic use, even by researchers, were enacted under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, mainly because their use was associated with the antiwar movements of the area, and with young people who were opting out [mostly unsuccessfully over the long run] of the rat race, as negotiating the corporate maze was then known.

But lots of subsequent use has demonstrated that the bans were failure, since the drugs are still readily available in most places. And with research restrictions slowly being eased, dramatic evidence of their therapeutic potential is emerging.

The latest development, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health

Evidence in a study led by researchers at the University of British Columbia along with University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health Associate Professor Peter S. Hendricks, Ph.D., suggests hallucinogens such as psilocybin or LSD may have therapeutic potential for reducing intimate partner violence, or IPV.

Hendricks says the identification of risk and protective factors for IPV is an important goal for public health research.

“A body of evidence suggests that substances such as psilocybin may have a range of clinical indications,” he said. “Although we’re attempting to better understand how or why these substances may be beneficial, one explanation is that they can transform people’s lives by providing profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences that highlight what matters most. Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters.”

The study looked at 302 men ages 17-40 in the criminal justice system. Of the 56 percent of participants who reported using hallucinogens, only 27 percent were arrested for later IPV as opposed to 42 percent of the group who reported no hallucinogen use being arrested for IPV within seven years.

From the 1950s through the early 1970s, thousands of studies reported on the medical use of hallucinogens, mostly LSD. Due to the classification of the most prominent hallucinogens as Schedule I controlled substances in 1970, research on health benefits was suspended, causing many of these studies to be forgotten. However, research with hallucinogens has experienced a rebirth.

“Recent studies have shown that psilocybin and related compounds could revolutionize the mental health field,” Hendricks said. “However, additional research is needed. This study suggests that hallucinogens could be a useful avenue for reducing IPV, meaning this topic deserves further attention.”