‘This Instrument Can Kill’: Tasers Are Not as Harmless as Previously Thought

‘This Instrument Can Kill’: Tasers Are Not as Harmless as Previously Thought
By Tess Owen
Aug 28 2015

Natasha McKenna was being held at the Fairfax County jail in Virginia this past February for allegedly assaulting a police officer. She weighed just 130 pounds, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 12, and was the mother of a young girl.

When a half dozen sheriff’s deputies in protective gear came to transfer the 37-year-old from her county cell to a jail in Alexandria where she would receive appropriate mental health treatment, she put up a struggle. The officers slapped handcuffs and leg shackles on her, and forced her into a restraining chair. When she resisted, one of the officers pulled out a Taser and shocked her four times.

After the fourth shock, McKenna stopped breathing. She was transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead three days later.

The April 28 autopsy report listed the cause of death as “excited delirium associated with physical restraint including use of conductive energy device, contributing: Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar disorder.” It referred to the manner of death as an “accident.”

Following a recent spate of high-profile deaths in police custody — including those of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas — the autopsy’s ruling in McKenna’s death was met with public skepticism, and many have wondered if the four shocks delivered by a Taser device had a larger part to play in her death than the report indicated.

Last week, the US Department of Justice announced that it would conduct its own investigation into McKenna’s death.

‘Too often Tasers feature as the punch line to a joke, which makes them seem like they’re not much of a big deal when really they’re a huge deal.’
As law enforcement agencies come to rely more and more on Tasers as a less lethal alternative to guns, Taser-related deaths are on the rise. With few regulations surrounding the devices and such scant independent research on the effect they can have on the human heart, they are becoming an increasingly controversial weapon in the police officer’s arsenal.

When a person dies after being shocked by a Taser, Taser International, Inc. — the multi-million dollar weapons manufacturer behind the product — often denies responsibility by suggesting that the device hadn’t been used properly, or by citing “excited delirium syndrome” as the cause of death. The syndrome is a contentious collection of various anxiety-related symptoms that can result in respiratory or cardiac arrest.

According to a study by Amnesty International, there were more than 500 Taser-related deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2012. Some states are considering higher regulatory standards for Taser devices amid growing public concern over their safety.

Data recently compiled by VICE News showed that there were more than 49 Taser-related deaths as a result of officer-civilian interactions since August 2014. Of those 49, two victims were armed with crossbars and one with a pair of scissors. The rest were reportedly unarmed.

***Jack Cover, an aerospace scientist, invented the Taser in the 1970s. He intended the weapon to be used by law enforcement in emergency settings, such as hijackings, as a nonlethal alternative to guns. “TASER” is an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle,” a reference to an early 20th Century adventure series in which a character named Tom Swift invents a weapon that he calls “the electric rifle” with the intention of traveling to Africa to kill “cannibals,” “pygmies,” and big game.

Taser devices were initially classified as firearms by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives because they originally used gunpowder to discharge electrified darts at a target. Taser International asked Cover to modify the devices in 1993, and he replaced gunpowder with compressed nitrogen — an adjustment that exempted the device from firearm regulations and government oversight.

Between 2000 and 2011, the number of US agencies purchasing Tasers rocketed from 500 to more than 16,000.


A Roadmap for a World Without Drivers

A Roadmap for a World Without Drivers
By Alex Rubalcava
Aug 27 2015

Recently, a number of analysts have written thoughtful pieces about the future of mobility in a world of self-driving cars. Often, the projections assume that most cars will transition to electric motors over time, replacing the internal combustion engine. Presented below are links to some of the better recent works:

Benedict Evans, of Andreessen Horowitz, offers his analysis here: http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2015/7/27/ways-to-think-about-cars

Tory Gattis, a fellow at Center for Opportunity Urbanism, writes here: http://www.newgeography.com/content/005024-preparing-impact-driverless-cars

KPMG offers an analysis of the impact of these changes on the auto insurance market. https://www.kpmg.com/US/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/Documents/automobile-insurance-in-the-era-of-autonomous-vehicles-survey-results-june-2015.pdf

Brian Johnson, an analyst at Barclays, has a PDF on what he calls “disruptive mobility” here: http://orfe.princeton.edu/~alaink/SmartDrivingCars/PDFs/Brian_Johnson_DisruptiveMobility.072015.pdf

As an investor in public and private markets, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future of transportation. At the moment, my portfolio includes a global auto OEM, two materials suppliers to automotive OEMs, and a semiconductor company that sells to auto OEMs. So this exercise is not theoretical for me — there are risks to be avoided, and opportunities to be captured, from understanding what’s going to happen in the the world of transportation.

We should start with the points about the future of transportation that are nearly “consensus.” I use that word with quotes, because each analyst, consultancy, and forecaster offers opinions that coalesce around these points, though they differ on questions of degree, timeline of adoption, and other details. With that said, the consensus:

• Uber, or someone like them, will offer autonomous shared vehicle services. Widespread adoption of such services would reduce the amount of vehicles needed to accomplish the same amount of transportation by between 75% and 90%, depending on assumptions about utilization rates and consumer preferences for sharing rides.

• Without the need to pay drivers, Uber-like services with autonomous vehicles (AVs) will cost 50% to 90% less than they do today.
• The improved safety of AVs will reduce insurance premiums between 50% and 90%.
• Much of the urban real estate dedicated to parking will get re-purposed.
• There will be much less traffic, even if shared AVs do not take off, from the more efficient driving patterns of AVs.
• Vehicle miles traveled per person will not change much from today.
• The first vehicles on the market will arrive between 2017 and 2020, with rapid changes to the transportation infrastructure following in short order.

Let’s call this the Consensus Model, and let’s stipulate that much of the Consensus Model is correct. Nevertheless, there are profound security risks that will delay and complicate the full deployment of AVs. Once those risks are addressed, consumers will respond to the low cost and high convenience of AVs by increasing their consumption of transportation, most likely to high levels not contemplated by most analysts. And if those two forecasts are correct, most investors and analysts are making fundamental mistakes about the implications of AVs on existing industries, and on industries that will emerge once enabled by AVs. Let’s discuss these issues in order.


How the Great Exhibition of 1851 still influences science today

How the Great Exhibition of 1851 still influences science today
Six million people visited the Crystal Palace to see cutting-edge science and technology. The vast profits generated continue to pay for innovations today
By Nigel Williams
Aug 28 2015

More than three million people visit the Science Museum every year, and the site is UK’s most popular destination dedicated to science, technology, engineering. Yet this figure seems almost modest when considering the six million visitors who attended the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park between May and October of 1851 – equivalent to a third of the population of Britain at the time.

Visitors to the Crystal Palace, a marvel in its own right, were treated to demonstrations of cutting-edge technology of the day, including electric telegraphs, microscopes, a prototype facsimile machine, a revolving lighthouse light and an early submarine. This was the first, and perhaps the only time that such a large scale effort was made to promote technology to the masses. The event, masterminded by Prince Albert, made a profit of £186,000 (equivalent to tens of millions today).

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, which was appointed in 1850 to organise the Exhibition, was continued in perpetuity to spend these profits. Prince Albert decreed they were to be used to “increase the means of industrial education and extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry”. The Commissioners’ first act was to purchase 96 acres of land in South Kensington, and over the next fifty years they established the institutions that make up “Albertopolis”: the great museums of the V&A, Natural History and Science; the Royal Colleges of Art and Music; Imperial College and the Hall of Art and Science (the Royal Albert Hall). Unbeknownst to many, although the museum sites were sold to the government in the late 19th century, the Commission remains the landlord of much of this hotspot of British culture and innovation today, and continues to hold sway over it as a whole.

Whilst the Great Exhibition was a tremendous success, exposure to international competition proved something of a rude awakening for British industry. British exhibits were upstaged by the French in terms of design flair, the Germans in terms of precision engineering, and the Americans in terms of large-scale manufacturing and Prince Albert was determined to do something about it. As well as creating a unique cultural estate, he envisaged the establishment of a series of scholarships and this started to be realised in 1891, thirty years after his death, with the foundation of the Commission’s science scholarships, aimed at encouraging bright, early-career scientists to develop their research.

These scholarships, now titled Research Fellowships, are still going strong over a century later, and have a long and illustrious list of recipients. Among the first beneficiaries of the programme was a young physicist from New Zealand who came to Cambridge in 1895, named Ernest Rutherford, whose pioneering research on the structure of matter would eventually win him the Nobel prize for Chemistry. A total of thirteen Nobel laureates have received early career funding from the Commission’s scholarships, including Paul Dirac and Peter Higgs. Each year some £2 million is distributed to new Fellows across a range of awards.


Obama defends Arctic drilling decision on eve of Alaska climate change trip

Obama defends Arctic drilling decision on eve of Alaska climate change trip
President accused of undermining own agenda with decision to allow hunt for oil in Arctic, as he prepares for three-day tour to showcase effects of climate change
By Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent
Aug 29 2015

Barack Obama has been forced to defend his decision to allow the hunt for oil in the last great wilderness of the Arctic, on the eve of an historic visit to Alaska intended to spur the fight against climate change.

The three-day tour – which will include a hike across a shrinking glacier and visits to coastal communities buffeted by sea-level rise and erosion – was intended to showcase the real-time effects of climate change.

But a defensive White House was forced to push back against campaigners who accuse Obama of undermining his environmental agenda by giving the go-ahead to Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, only weeks after rolling out his signature climate change plan.

Obama, in his weekly address on Saturday, insisted there was no clash between his climate change agenda and Arctic drilling.

America was beginning to get off fossil fuels, he said. But Obama went on: “Our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports.” 

The challenges of protecting the Arctic from climate change as well as the risks of offshore drilling were both on full display on the eve of Obama’s visit.

Disappearing sea ice cover forced an estimated 6,000 walruses, mainly females and their young, to come to shore on a remote barrier island off the Chukchi Sea, US government officials said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Shell was forced to pause its drilling in the Chukchi and evacuate workers “because of extreme weather conditions”, a company spokesman said in an email.

Obama defended the drilling operation, saying: “We don’t rubber-stamp permits.” 

The president had hoped to use his visit to showcase the changes unfolding in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, the White House said.

“This is an issue that is very here and now,” Brian Deese, a senior White House advisor told a conference call with reporters on Friday. “Near and above the Arctic circle the impacts of climate change are particular pronounced and Americans are living with those impacts in real time.”

He said Obama would use the visit to draw public attention to those consequences: the retreat of sea ice, land loss due to melting permafrost and coastal erosion, increasingly severe storms and growing risk of wildfires.


I’m Too Old for This

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Isenberg.  DLH]

I’m Too Old for This
Aug 8 2015

There is a lot that is annoying, and even terrible, about aging. The creakiness of the body; the drifting of the memory; the reprising of personal history ad nauseam, with only yourself to listen.

But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: “I’m too old for this.”

This line is about to become my personal mantra. I have been rehearsing it vigorously, amazed at how amply I now shrug off annoyances that once would have knocked me off my perch.

A younger woman advised me that “old” may be the wrong word, that I should consider I’m too wise for this, or too smart. But old is the word I want. I’ve earned it.

And let’s just start with being an older woman, shall we? Let others feel bad about their chicken wings — and their bottoms, their necks and their multitude of creases and wrinkles. I’m too old for this. I spent years, starting before I was a teenager, feeling insecure about my looks.

No feature was spared. My hairline: Why did I have to have a widow’s peak, at 10? My toes: too short. My entire body: too fat, and once, even, in the depths of heartbreak, much too thin. Nothing felt right. Well, O.K., I appreciated my ankles. But that’s about it.

What torture we inflict upon ourselves. If we don’t whip ourselves into loathing, then mean girls, hidden like trolls under every one of life’s bridges, will do it for us.

Even the vogue for strange-looking models is little comfort; those women look perfectly, beautifully strange, in a way that no one else does. Otherwise we would all be modeling.

One day recently I emptied out an old trunk. It had been locked for years; I had lost the key and forgotten what was in there. But, curiosity getting the best of me on a rainy afternoon, I managed to pry it open with a screwdriver.

It was full of photographs. There I was, ages 4 to 40. And I saw for the first time that even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I had been beautiful.

And there were all my friends; girls and women with whom I had commiserated countless times about hair, weight, all of it, doling out sympathy and praise, just as I expected it heaped upon me: beautiful, too. We were, we are, all beautiful. Just like our mothers told us, or should have. (Ahem.)

Those smiles, radiant with youth, twinkled out of the past, reminding me of the smiles I know today, radiant with strength.

Young(er) women, take this to heart: Why waste time and energy on insecurity? I have no doubt that when I’m 80 I’ll look at pictures of myself when I was 60 and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty.

I’m happy to have a body that is healthy, that gets me where I want to go, that maybe sags and complains, but hangs in there. So maybe I’m too old for skintight jeans, too old for six-inch stilettos, too old for tattoos and too old for green hair.

Weight gain? Simply move to the looser end of the wardrobe, and stop hanging with Ben and Jerry. No big deal. Nothing to lose sleep over. Anyway, I’m too old for sleep, or so it seems most nights.

Which leaves me a bit cranky in the daytime, so it is a good thing I can now work from home. Office politics? Sexism? I’ve seen it all. Watching men make more money, doing less work. Reading the tea leaves as positions shuffle, listening to the kowtow and mumble of stifled resentment.

I want to tell my younger colleagues that it doesn’t matter. Except the sexism, which, like poison ivy, is deep-rooted: You weed the rampant stuff, but it pops up again.

What matters most is the work. Does it give you pleasure, or hope? Does it sustain your soul? My work as a climate activist is the hardest and most fascinating I’ve ever done. I’m too old for the dark forces, for hopelessness and despair. If everyone just kept their eyes on the ball, and followed through each swing, we’d all be more productive, and not just on the golf course.

The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.

And, I might add, resilience is the key to feeling 15 again. Which is actually how I feel most of the time.


Hedrick Smith: Can we heal our great divide?

[Note:  This item comes from friend John McMullen.  DLH]

Hedrick Smith: Can we heal our great divide?
Apr 1 2015

An investigative journalist explores the cause of economic disparity in the United States, its effects, and what we can do to correct our course as a country. In the earlier half of the 20th century, workforce productivity and median hourly wages increased equally. In the 1970’s everything began to change as economic growth was channeled toward the 1%

One of America’s premier journalists, Hedrick Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter and editor, and Emmy award-winning producer/correspondent. For PBS and Frontline Smith has created 26 prime-time specials and mini-series on such varied topics as “Inside the Terror Network,” “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” “The Wall Street Fix,” “Inside Gorbachev’s USSR,” “Can You Afford to Retire?” and “Rediscovering Dave Brubeck.” He has won most of television’s top awards including two Emmys and two Dupont-Columbia Gold batons for the best public affairs programs on U.S. television in 1991 and in 2002. His current best-seller, “Who Stole the American Dream” is a startling and revealing portrait of how we became Two Americas over the past 30 years and how the middle class got left behind.

Video: 23:21 min

Two Separate Americas: David Simon’s New Mini-Series Looks at “Hypersegregation” in Public Housing

Two Separate Americas: David Simon’s New Mini-Series Looks at “Hypersegregation” in Public Housing
Aug 26 2015

Today we spend the hour with David Simon, the man behind “The Wire,” what some have described as the best television series ever broadcast. His latest project is titled “Show Me a Hero,” a six-part mini-series now airing on HBO. It looks at what happened in Yonkers, New York, in the 1980s when the city was faced with a federal court order to build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighborhoods of his town.

David Simon, journalist and television writer best known for creating the HBO series The Wire and Treme. He is a former journalist at The Baltimore Sun. His newest project is the mini-series Show Me a Hero, now airing on HBO.


See also the other segments in the hour:

David Simon on Katrina Anniversary: New Orleans “May Be the Greatest Gift We Have to Offer”: <http://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/26/david_simon_on_katrina_anniversary_new>

The Drug War Has to End: David Simon on “The Wire” & Over-Policing of the Poor: <http://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/26/the_drug_war_has_to_end>

Signs, Long Unheeded, Now Point to Risks in U.S. Economy

Signs, Long Unheeded, Now Point to Risks in U.S. Economy
Aug 25 2015

As investors scramble to make sense of the wild market swings in recent days, a number of financial experts argue that, for more than a year now, signs pointing to an equity crisis were there for all to see.

The data points range from the obvious to the obscure, encompassing stock market and credit bubbles in China, the strength of the dollar relative to emerging market currencies, a commodity rout and a sudden halt to global earnings growth.

While it would have been impossible to predict the precise timing of the last week’s downturn, this array of economic and financial indicators led to an inescapable conclusion, these analysts say: The United States economy would only be able to avoid for so long the deflationary forces that have taken root in China.

And if the bull market had made it to April, it would have become the second-longest equity rally in United States history.

The one common theme binding all these measures together is the risk that they pose to the economic recovery in the United States. The Federal Reserve has said that it expects to raise interest rates sometime soon, given evidence over the last year that economic growth is picking up.

But more and more analysts are now pointing to problems in China and other markets as posing a real threat to the American economy.

“The global G.D.P. pie is shrinking,” said Raoul Pal, a former Goldman Sachs executive, now based in the Cayman Islands, who produces the Global Macro Investor, a monthly financial report that caters to hedge funds and other sophisticated investors.

Of the hundreds of indicators that Mr. Pal follows, the most crucial over the last year, in his view, has been the relentless upward move of the dollar against just about all emerging-market currencies. The dollar rally began in January 2014, when the Fed signaled that it would raise interest rates.

But the greenback’s strength against currencies like the Russian ruble, the Turkish lira and the Brazilian real began to gather steam a year ago. Veterans of past emerging-market booms and busts will tell you that the party always ends — as it did in Latin America in the 1980s and Southeast Asia in the 1990s — when the dollar takes off against these monetary units.

Suddenly, loans in relatively cheap dollars that financed real estate and consumption booms were no longer available and the ultimate result was always a growth slowdown.

Any discerning investor could have taken note of this trend.

For example, through the year ending on Aug. 19, the worst-performing investments in dollar terms were the following, according to Merrill Lynch: Brazilian equities, down 45 percent; Russian bonds, down 43 percent; Indonesian equities, down 26 percent; Turkish and Korean equities, down 25 percent; and Mexican equities, down 22 percent.


DoD manual allows journalists to be held as ‘belligerents’

[Note:  This item comes from friend Ed DeWath.  DLH]

DoD manual allows journalists to be held as ‘belligerents’ 
Aug 26 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — New Defense Department guidelines allow commanders to punish journalists and treat them as “unprivileged belligerents” if they believe journalists are sympathizing or cooperating with the enemy.

The Law of War manual, updated to apply for the first time to all branches of the military, contains a vaguely worded provision that military commanders could interpret broadly, experts in military law and journalism say. Commanders could ask journalists to leave military bases or detain journalists for any number of perceived offenses.

“In general, journalists are civilians,” the 1,180 page manual says, but it adds that “journalists may be members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents.”

A person deemed “unprivileged belligerent” is not entitled to the rights afforded by the Geneva Convention so a commander could restrict from certain coverage areas or even hold indefinitely without charges any reporter considered an “unprivileged belligerent.”

The manual adds, “Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying. A journalist who acts as a spy may be subject to security measures and punished if captured.” It is not specific as to the punishment or under what circumstances a commander can decide to “punish” a journalist.

Defense Department officials said the reference to “unprivileged belligerents” was intended to point out that terrorists or spies could be masquerading as reporters, or warn against someone who works for jihadist websites or other publications, such as al-Qaida’s “Inspire” magazine, that can be used to encourage or recruit militants.

Another provision says that “relaying of information” could be construed as “taking a direct part in hostilities.” Officials said that is intended to refer to passing information about ongoing operations, locations of troops or other classified data to an enemy.

Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a Pentagon spokesman, said it was not the Defense Department’s intent to allow an overzealous commander to block journalists or take action against those who write critical stories.

“The Department of Defense supports and respects the vital work that journalists perform,” Sowers said. “Their work in gathering and reporting news is essential to a free society and the rule of law.” His statement added that the manual is not policy and not “directive in nature.”

But Ken Lee, an ex-Marine and military lawyer who specializes in “law of war” issues and is now in private practice, said it was worrisome that the detention of a journalist could come down to a commander’s interpretation of the law.

If a reporter writes an unflattering story, “does this give a commander the impetus to say, now you’re an unprivileged belligerent? I would hope not,” Lee said.

“I’m troubled by the label ‘unprivileged belligerents,’ which seems particularly hostile,” said Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor. “It sounds much too easy to slap that label on a journalist if you don’t like their work, a convenient tool for those who want to fight wars without any outside scrutiny.”