‘Another mass shooting in America’: Oregon killings a grim familiarity for U.S.

The Guardian reports: The US is reeling from another school shooting, the 45th this year, after a 26-year-old gunman murdered as many as nine people and wounded seven more at a community college in Oregon before he was killed.

The gunman was named as Chris Harper Mercer, a 26-year-old man who lived near Umpqua college in the rural town of Roseburg. He is thought to have been born in England before moving to the US as a young boy.

Investigators were focusing on reports from survivors that Mercer told students to state their religion before he opened fire.

The police were also looking at reports that hours before the attack he posted messages on an internet chat site warning people to stay away from school. Investigators said they were attempting to trace people on the site who discouraged him while others urged him on. It does not appear anyone reported the messages to the authorities before the shooting. [Continue reading…]

Quartz reports: A study this summer from Arizona State University found “significant evidence” that school shootings and other mass shootings were far more likely if there had been reports of a similar shooting in the previous two weeks.

And last year, after analyzing 160 mass shootings in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013, Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded, “The copycat phenomenon is real.”

“As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks,” Simons said at the time.

The reporter’s typical mandate—to paint the clearest, most accurate picture of an event using all available information—may, in this case, be unintentionally encouraging further crime, sociologists and psychologists say. [Continue reading…]


Refugee crisis: How border closures in Europe are boosting the profits of organized crime

Misha Glenny writes: In the midst of the refugee crisis, the European Union has for the first time ever been considering deploying naval assets against organized crime. People smuggling, chiefly from Syria and the Horn of Africa, is now a multibillion-dollar business that is as profitable, if not more so, than the trade in illegal narcotics.

This is not the trafficking of migrant labor or women for sexual purposes. These criminal gangs are effectively offering travel-agent services to desperate people fleeing conflict. Their services can include false documentation, bribes to border guards and transport, in dangerous, often deadly, circumstances.

Sadly, the measures countries are taking to counteract the flood of refugees serve only to make organized crime stronger. As long as European countries fail to implement a plan to take in refugees across member states, the business of people smuggling will continue to grow.

It has been almost a decade since I first argued that organized crime should be seen as a priority for resources above the more emotive issue of combating terrorism. The crisis in Europe demonstrates just how devastating the impact of organized crime can be, through both the exploitation of defenseless refugees and the undermining of legitimate governments at a time when countries on Europe’s periphery are facing daunting economic challenges. [Continue reading…]


Guns, germs, and steal

We have all been raised to believe that civilization is, in large part, sustained by law and order. Without complex social institutions and some form of governance, we would be at the mercy of the law of the jungle — so the argument goes.

But there is a basic flaw in this Hobbesian view of a collective human need to tame the savagery in our nature.

For human beings to be vulnerable to the selfish drives of those around them, they generally need to possess things that are worth stealing. For things to be worth stealing, they must have durable value. People who own nothing, have little need to worry about thieves.

While Jared Diamond has argued that civilization arose in regions where agrarian societies could accumulate food surpluses, new research suggests that the value of cereal crops did not derive simply from the fact that the could be stored, but rather from the fact that having been stored they could subsequently be stolen or confiscated.

Joram Mayshar, Omer Moav, Zvika Neeman, and Luigi Pascali write: In a recent paper (Mayshar et al. 2015), we contend that fiscal capacity and viable state institutions are conditioned to a major extent by geography. Thus, like Diamond, we argue that geography matters a great deal. But in contrast to Diamond, and against conventional opinion, we contend that it is not high farming productivity and the availability of food surplus that accounts for the economic success of Eurasia.

  • We propose an alternative mechanism by which environmental factors imply the appropriability of crops and thereby the emergence of complex social institutions.

To understand why surplus is neither necessary nor sufficient for the emergence of hierarchy, consider a hypothetical community of farmers who cultivate cassava (a major source of calories in sub-Saharan Africa, and the main crop cultivated in Nigeria), and assume that the annual output is well above subsistence. Cassava is a perennial root that is highly perishable upon harvest. Since this crop rots shortly after harvest, it isn’t stored and it is thus difficult to steal or confiscate. As a result, the assumed available surplus would not facilitate the emergence of a non-food producing elite, and may be expected to lead to a population increase.

Consider now another hypothetical farming community that grows a cereal grain – such as wheat, rice or maize – yet with an annual produce that just meets each family’s subsistence needs, without any surplus. Since the grain has to be harvested within a short period and then stored until the next harvest, a visiting robber or tax collector could readily confiscate part of the stored produce. Such ongoing confiscation may be expected to lead to a downward adjustment in population density, but it will nevertheless facilitate the emergence of non-producing elite, even though there was no surplus.

This simple scenario shows that surplus isn’t a precondition for taxation. It also illustrates our alternative theory that the transition to agriculture enabled hierarchy to emerge only where the cultivated crops were vulnerable to appropriation.

  • In particular, we contend that the Neolithic emergence of fiscal capacity and hierarchy was conditioned on the cultivation of appropriable cereals as the staple crops, in contrast to less appropriable staples such as roots and tubers.

According to this theory, complex hierarchy did not emerge among hunter-gatherers because hunter-gatherers essentially live from hand-to-mouth, with little that can be expropriated from them to feed a would-be elite. [Continue reading…]


Karen J. Greenberg: The mass killer and the national security state

You want to profile America’s mass killers? No need at all for the FBI or the national security state. You don’t have to secretly read anyone’s emails or check their phone metadata. You don’t need to follow them on Twitter. All you have to do is narrow down the possibilities in a logical way by looking at the history of mass killing in recent years. That means, as a start, leaving aside half the population, since women make up close to 0% of American mass shooters.

So, start with men. Admittedly, that’s a pretty broad category. Still, among men, you can narrow the field fast. Begin with age. Generally, mass killers are young. Unfortunately, this category isn’t quite as blanket as the no-woman rule. Just recently, in what looked like a copycat mass killing — a repeat of the 2012 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater — a mentally unstable 59-year-old white man in Lafayette, Louisiana, with a chip on his shoulder about women (as well as blacks), opened fire in a theater showing the new Amy Schumer hit, Trainwreck, a film drawing female audiences, and killed two women. Similarly, in February, a disturbed and mentally unstable 36-year-old white man, barred from owning guns, carried out a mass killing of seven in the tiny Missouri town of Tyrone. Nonetheless, when you’re conjuring up the next mass killer, think young man (16-24) and think white.

Now, we’re getting somewhere. One more obvious thing: look for someone carrying a gun, generally obtained quite legally — most likely a semi-automatic pistol or an assault rifle — or come to think of it, three or four or more weapons and lots and lots of ammo. Now, given the 300 million or so guns floating around this country and the spread of “right-to-carry” laws that let anyone bring lethal weaponry just about anywhere, this may not narrow things down quite as much as we’d like. But it should be helpful. And yes, there are other factors, too, that might aid you in setting your sights on the next mass killer. As Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and TomDispatch regular, points out today, these would undoubtedly include feelings of hopelessness and anger, a history of mental instability, depression, and drug or alcohol abuse.

In the grips of a much overblown panic about ISIS-inspired terror in the U.S., the government, Greenberg reports, is about to spend a pile of taxpayer money doing a version of what I just did. Here’s my guarantee: it will cost you a boodle, most of which, as she makes clear, won’t go where it might do some good — that is, to helping unnerved or disturbed young men. And I’ll also guarantee you one more thing: the massed thinking and resources of the national security state won’t do much better than I’ve done above when it comes to the problem of identifying lone-wolf killers. But that state within a state will, as ever, emerge from the experience more powerful and more entrenched. And, as novelist Kurt Vonnegut might once have said, so it goes. Tom Engelhardt

Dealing with mass killings in America
Funding our children, not our wars
By Karen J. Greenberg

Imagine that you’re in the FBI and you receive a tip — or more likely, pick up information through the kind of mass surveillance in which the national security state now specializes. In a series of tweets, a young man has expressed sympathy for the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, or another terrorist group or cause. He’s 16, has no criminal record, and has shown no signs that he might be planning a criminal act. He does, however, seem angry and has demonstrated an interest in following ISIS’s social media feeds as they fan the flames of youth discontent worldwide. He’s even expressed some thoughts about how ISIS’s “caliphate,” the Islamic “homeland” being carved out in Syria and Iraq, might be a place where people like him could find meaning and purpose in an otherwise alienated life.

[Read more…]


Hunting down the world’s most notorious fish poacher

The New York Times reports: As the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, began sliding under the sea a couple of hundred miles south of Nigeria, three men scrambled aboard to gather evidence of its crimes.

In bumpy footage from their helmet cameras, they can be seen grabbing everything they can over the next 37 minutes — the captain’s logbooks, a laptop computer, charts and a slippery 200-pound fish. The video shows the fishing hold about a quarter full with catch and the Thunder’s engine room almost submerged in murky water. “There is no way to stop it sinking,” the men radioed back to the Bob Barker, which was waiting nearby. Soon after they climbed off, the Thunder vanished below.

It was an unexpected end to an extraordinary chase. For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the trawler, with the three captains close enough to watch one another’s cigarette breaks and on-deck workout routines. In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history. [Continue reading…]


Watch out! Millions of angry, impulsive Americans with guns

Another day, another shooting.

While it’s hard to construct a profile of the typical American shooter who engages in random killing, there are a few generalizations that can be made with reasonable confidence:

1. The shooter will be male,
2. his weapon(s) will much more often than not have been acquired legally, and
3. he’ll probably be white.

Whether a demographically disproportionate number of homicidal, gun-wielding Americans are white, I have no idea. But the latest shooting — this time the gunman, at 59-years-old, was probably above average age — illustrates the fundamental problem with the idea that carrying a gun is the best way to defend yourself against another gun owner who’s on the rampage: By the time you’ve figured out who the crazy guy is, it’s too late. Why? Because the crazy guy looks just like the regular guy.

The gun lobby would have everyone believe that guns are really only dangerous if they get in the wrong hands and thus when gun ownership turns deadly we are encouraged to overlook the central fact: guns are designed to kill.

There are lots of things that can be deadly — cars, alcohol, cigarettes, passenger aircraft, and so forth — but when these become instruments of fatality, they are not performing the function for which they were designed.

But when a gun owner goes on the rampage, unless his weapon malfunctions, each time he kills or injures someone, his gun and its ammunition were functioning exactly in accordance with specifications.

Although guns can be used to pop holes in paper targets or shatter bottles, what they’re really meant to do is rip flesh apart and end lives. This is machine tooled, high precision, state of the art, carnage.

Lisa Wade writes:

While it seems that much of the discourse around curbing gun violence focuses on the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, these two issues — gun violence and mental illness — “intersect only at their edges.” These are the words of Jeffrey Swanson and his colleagues in their new article examining the personality characteristics of American gun owners.

To think otherwise, they argue, is to fall prey to the narrative of gun rights advocates, who want us to think that “controlling people with serious mental illness instead of controlling firearms is the key policy answer.” Since the majority of people with mental illnesses are never violent, this is unlikely to be an effective strategy while, at the same time, further stigmatizing people with mental illness.

What is a good strategy, then, short of the unlikely event that we take America’s guns away?

Swanson and colleagues argue that a better policy would be to look for signs of impulsive, angry, and aggressive behavior and limit gun rights based on that. Evidence of such behavior, they believe, “conveys inherent risk of aggressive or violent acts” substantial enough to justify limiting gun ownership.

By Wade’s estimate, based on an unspecified national data set, there are several million American gun owners who pose a risk.

Political realism may dictate that America’s gun owners can’t be deprived of their cherished weapons, but civil libertarians would just as surely guarantee that no screening process would ever be put in place (if such a process could even be devised) that would keep guns out of the hands of impulsive, angry, and aggressive Americans.

The remedy, it seems to me, will have to come from the other end by making legally available weapons less deadly and by holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for the effects of their products.

No other industry enjoys impunity from product liability yet in 2005, Congress, under pressure from the NRA, conspired with the gun makers to protect their profits at the expense of American lives.

The authors of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act have blood on their hands. Each time the families of victims of yet another mass shooting attempt to sue the gun makers, this law provides them with protection.

The Washington Post reported in 2013 on those stymied efforts.

Marc Bern, a New York trial lawyer representing family members of Aurora victims, said the gun law severely limited his clients’ options. He is pursuing a case against the movie theater company, although some of his clients had expressed interest in trying to pursue companies that provided guns or ammunition to the shooter.

“We looked at the gun industry, but they were able to insulate themselves with this law,” Bern said. “It is absolutely outrageous that the gun industry is not accountable when virtually every other industry in this country is accountable.”

President Obama bemoans the fact that the U.S. does not have “sufficient, common-sense gun safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings,” and the chances of new legislation being crafted during what remains of is term are slim.

He could, however, push for the repeal of the 2005 law.


British police carrying guns almost never use them

The Washington Post reports: To join the few and the proud who police Britain’s streets with a gun, first you have to walk the beat unarmed for years.

Then there is the rigorous selection process — an unforgiving complement of fitness tests, psychological appraisals and marksmanship exams. Finally, there is the training, which involves endless drilling on even the most routine scenarios.

“They rehearse those situations like a SEAL team trying to get into Osama bin Laden’s compound,” Cambridge University criminologist Lawrence Sherman said.

Yet, in a country where the vast majority of police officers patrol with batons and pepper spray, the elite cadre of British cops who are entrusted with guns almost never use them. Police in Britain have fatally shot two people in the past three years. [Continue reading…]


Organized crime on Wall Street

James Kwak writes: One of the central dramas of the early seasons of The Wire is the cat-and-mouse game between Avon Barksdale’s drug operation and the detectives of the Major Crimes Unit. The drug dealers started off using pagers and pay phones. When the police tapped the pagers and the phones, Barksdale’s people switched to “burner” cell phones that they threw away before the police could tap them. By Season 4, Proposition Joe advised Marlo Stanfield not to use phones at all.

Well, apparently, Wall Street currency traders don’t watch The Wire. I don’t think anyone was surprised to learn that major banks including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, and UBS conspired to manipulate currency prices — something that regulators have been investigating for over a year and a half. One common strategy was cooperating to time large transactions in order to manipulate daily benchmark rates at which other client transactions are executed.

What is surprising is that these traders — supposedly the smartest people around — carried out their criminal conspiracy in online chat rooms whose contents could be discovered by investigators. (In this day and age, the last thing any bank’s general counsel wants to be accused of is destroying evidence, so you should assume that everything you do over a bank’s networks will be tracked.) Even using their personal cell phones would have been much safer. (Apparently they do watch The Sopranos, however: one of the chat rooms was nicknamed “The Mafia, which is probably not a good idea when you are actually engaged in a criminal conspiracy.)

The game is still to make money any way you can. “If you aint cheating, you aint trying” is the new money quote. The clients are just collateral damage — whether or not JPMorgan says, “Throughout our long and distinguished history, we have been steadfastly committed to putting our clients’ interests first.” The offenses described in the settlement documents extended at least into 2013 — more than four years after the financial crisis. [Continue reading…]


The cruel and unusual execution of Clayton Lockett

Jeffrey E. Stern reports: On the morning of his execution, Clayton Lockett hid under the covers.

Before a team of correctional officers came to get him at 5:06 a.m., he fashioned a noose out of his sheets. He pulled the blade out of a safety razor and made half-inch-long cuts on his arms. He swallowed a handful of pills that he’d been hoarding. And on April 29, 2014, when the team of officers knocked on the door of his cell in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett — a 38-year-old convicted murderer — pulled a blanket over his head and refused to get up.

The officers left and asked for permission to tase him. While they were gone, Lockett tried to jam the door. They came back, forced their way in, tased him, and dragged him out.

Eleven hours later, at about 5:20 p.m., after a medical examination, X‑rays, eight hours in a holding cell, and a shower, Lockett was brought by a five-member strap-down team into the death chamber. It was a small, clinical-looking room with white walls and a polished floor that reflected the lights overhead. A gurney stood in the center of the room; above it hung a microphone for Lockett’s final words. [Continue reading…]


The Italian Mafia’s grip on Africa

CORRECT!V reports: The Italian mafia has established a hidden but lethal presence in Africa. Its members own diamond mines, nightclubs and land, all with the complicity of corrupt regimes.

Italian anti-Mafia authorities estimate that organised crime groups earn €26 billion a year in Italy alone. But the figure only scratches the surface of its economic power. Mafia Inc. is more than ever a global business, infiltrating legitimate economies worldwide. And the extent of the empire is unknown.

An international team of reporters from the non-profit investigative journalism centres IRPI and ANCIR (with the Investigative Dashboard Africa) partnered with the data analysts of QUATTROGATTI and the production room of CORRECT!V to uncover for the first time the Italian Mafia’s grip on Africa.

Supported by two working grants for independent journalism, the Innovative Journalism Grant of the EJC and Journalism Fund, the work took seven months, and included trips to Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Lombardy, in Italy and South Africa, Namibia, Senegal and Kenya, in Africa.

Ten investigative reporters from six different countries, one data-journalist and a data-scientist, three editors, one cross-examiner and a bunch of lawyers joined the effort in producing in-depth research into the Mafia’s involvement in 13 countries. [Continue reading…]


Mass incarceration: The silence of the judges

Jed S. Rakoff writes: For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: the mass incarceration of people in the United States today. It is time that more of us spoke out.

The basic facts are not in dispute. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in US jails and prisons, a 500 percent increase over the past forty years. Although the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The per capita incarceration rate in the US is about one and a half times that of second-place Rwanda and third-place Russia, and more than six times the rate of neighboring Canada. Another 4.75 million Americans are subject to the state supervision imposed by probation or parole.

Most of the increase in imprisonment has been for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. And even though crime rates in the United States have declined consistently for twenty-four years, the number of incarcerated persons has continued to rise over most of that period, both because more people are being sent to prison for offenses that once were punished with other measures and because the sentences are longer. For example, even though the number of violent crimes has steadily decreased over the past two decades, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has steadily increased, so that one in nine persons in prison is now serving a life sentence.

And whom are we locking up? Mostly young men of color. Over 840,000, or nearly 40 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are African-American males. Put another way, about one in nine African-American males between the ages of twenty and thirty-four is now in prison, and if current rates hold, one third of all black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. Approximately 440,000, or 20 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are Hispanic males. [Continue reading…]


The Silk Road: where libertarian dreams collided with criminal realities

Henry Farrell writes: The Hidden Wiki holds the keys to a secret internet. To reach it, you need a special browser that can access ‘Tor Hidden Services’ – websites that have chosen to obscure their physical location. But even this browser isn’t enough. Like the Isla de Muerta in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the landmarks of this hidden internet can be discovered only by those who already know where they are.

Sites such as the Hidden Wiki provide unreliable treasure maps. They publish lists of the special addresses for sites where you can use Bitcoin to buy drugs or stolen credit card numbers, play strange games, or simply talk, perhaps on subjects too delicate for the open web. The lists are often untrustworthy. Sometimes the addresses are out-of-date. Sometimes they are actively deceptive. One link might lead to a thriving marketplace for buying and selling stolen data; another, to a wrecker’s display of false lights, a cloned site designed to relieve you of your coin and give you nothing in return.

This hidden internet is a product of debates among technology-obsessed libertarians in the 1990s. These radicals hoped to combine cryptography and the internet into a universal solvent that would corrupt the bonds of government tyranny. New currencies, based on recent cryptographic advances, would undermine traditional fiat money, seizing the cash nexus from the grasp of the state. ‘Mix networks’, where everyone’s identity was hidden by multiple layers of encryption, would allow people to talk and engage in economic exchange without the government being able to see.

Plans for cryptographic currencies led to the invention of Bitcoin, while mix networks culminated in Tor. The two technologies manifest different aspects of a common dream – the utopian aspiration to a world where one could talk and do business without worrying about state intervention – and indeed they grew up together. For a long time, the easiest way to spend Bitcoin was at Tor’s archipelago of obfuscated websites.

Like the pirate republics of the 18th century, this virtual underworld mingles liberty and vice. Law enforcement and copyright-protection groups such as the Digital Citizens’ Alliance in Washington, DC, prefer to emphasise the most sordid aspects of Tor’s hidden services – the sellers of drugs, weapons and child pornography. And yet the effort to create a hidden internet was driven by ideology as much as avarice. The network is used by dissidents as well as dope-peddlers. If you live under an authoritarian regime, Tor provides you with a ready-made technology for evading government controls on the internet. Even some of the seedier services trade on a certain idealism. Many libertarians believe that people should be able to buy and sell drugs without government interference, and hoped to build marketplaces to do just that, without violence and gang warfare.

Tor’s anonymity helps criminals by making it harder for the state to identify and detain them. Yet this has an ironic side-effect: it also makes it harder for them to trust each other, because they typically can’t be sure who their interlocutors are. To make money in hidden markets, you need people to trust you, so that they will buy from you and sell to you. Having accomplished this first manoeuvre, the truly successful entrepreneurs go one step further. They become middlemen of trust, guaranteeing relations between others and taking a cut from the proceeds. [Continue reading…]


Too big to jail — when justice deferred is justice denied

Jed S. Rakoff writes: So-called “deferred prosecutions” were developed in the 1930s as a way of helping juvenile offenders. A juvenile who had been charged with a crime would agree with the prosecutor to have his prosecution deferred while he entered a program designed to rehabilitate such offenders. If he successfully completed the program and committed no other crime over the course of a year, the charge would then be dropped.

The analogy of a Fortune 500 company to a juvenile delinquent is, perhaps, less than obvious. Nonetheless, beginning in the early 1990s and with increasing frequency thereafter, federal prosecutors began entering into “deferred prosecution” agreements with major corporations and large financial institutions. In the typical arrangement, the government agreed to defer prosecuting the company for various federal felonies if the company, in addition to paying a financial penalty, agreed to introduce various “prophylactic” measures designed to prevent future such crimes and to “rehabilitate” the company’s “culture.” The crimes for which prosecution was thus deferred included felony violations of the securities laws, banking laws, antitrust laws, anti-money-laundering laws, food and drug laws, foreign corrupt practices laws, and numerous provisions of the general federal criminal code.

The intellectual origins of this approach to corporate crime can be traced back at least to the 1980s, when various academics suggested that the best way to deter “crime in the suites” was to foster a culture within companies of acting ethically and responsibly. In practice, this meant encouraging companies not only to provide in-house ethical training but also to enlarge their internal compliance programs, so that responsible behavior would be praised and misconduct policed. The approach found favor not just with some corporations (notably General Electric under the guidance of its then general counsel, Ben Heineman), but also with the US Sentencing Commission, which, in promulgating the Corporate Sentencing Guidelines in 1991, made the overall adequacy of a company’s prior internal compliance programs the most important factor in reducing (by as much as 60 percent) the size of the fine to be imposed on a company found guilty of a federal criminal violation. [Continue reading…]


Silk Road creator convicted on all counts

The New York Times reports: A California man behind the website Silk Road, once a thriving online black market for the sale of heroin, cocaine, LSD and other drugs and illicit goods, was convicted on Wednesday of all seven counts related to the enterprise.

The verdict against the defendant, Ross W. Ulbricht, was delivered swiftly: Jurors began deliberating in the morning, and reported that they had reached a consensus about 3 1/2 hours later.

Prosecutors had portrayed Mr. Ulbricht, 30, as a “digital kingpin” who ran the website on a hidden part of the Internet, where deals could be made anonymously and without the scrutiny of law enforcement.

Evidence showed that Silk Road generated revenues of more than $213 million from January 2011 to October 2013, when Mr. Ulbricht was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a library in San Francisco while he was logged on to his laptop as Dread Pirate Roberts, the pseudonym under which prosecutors said he operated the website. Deals were conducted in Bitcoins, and Mr. Ulbricht took millions of dollars in commissions, the government said. [Continue reading…]


Secret journal allegedly shows Ross Ulbricht planned a Silk Road bank

Andy Greenberg reports: Silk Road, for its more than two and a half years online, was an unprecedented online narcotics emporium. But according to a journal found on the laptop of its alleged creator Ross Ulbricht, Ulbricht wanted it to be even more: a “brand” that extended from communications tools to banking.

In Ulbricht’s trial Wednesday, prosecutor Timothy Howard read aloud from a journal that was found on the defendant’s Samsung 700z laptop, which was seized at the time of his arrest in a San Francisco library in October, 2013. The journal, which goes back at least as far as 2010, seems to provide the most detailed look yet at Ulbricht’s plans for his libertarian contraband market. And the journal reveals that before his arrest, Ulbricht had allegedly planned to create chat software, a currency exchange, and more, all under the “Silk Road brand.”

The young Texan had allegedly planned to expand the Silk Road into a “brand people can come to trust and rely on,” according to a 2011 passage from the journal. “Silk Road chat, Silk Road exchange, Silk Road credit union, Silk Road market, Silk Road everything!” [Continue reading…]


Mexico’s missing students draw attention to 20,000 ‘vanished’ others

The Guardian reports: They found the first grave in a thicket of spiny huisache trees clinging to the hillside outside the town of Iguala.

Under a pounding midday sun, about a dozen men and women watched as an older man plunged a pickaxe into the heavy soil. Some offered advice on where and how to dig; mostly they looked on in silence

When he turned up a human femur, Mayra Vergara turned her back and broke into silent tears. She had hoped that today she might find some clue to the fate of her brother Tomás, a taxi driver who was kidnapped in July 2012, never to be seen again. But whoever lay in the shallow grave, she said, they deserved more than this.

“Even if it isn’t my brother in there, it is still a person. A person who deserved a proper burial,” she said, her face contorted in anger and grief. “And the question is when? When are they going to do something for us?”

The disappearance and probable massacre of 43 student teachers after they were attacked and arrested by Iguala’s municipal police two months ago has focused world attention on the horror of Mexico’s drug violence – and the official corruption that allows much of it to happen.

A wave of protests triggered by the massacre put President Enrique Peña Nieto under acute political pressure.

But the incident has also lifted the lid on the open secret of Mexico’s many other disappeared: amid the drug-fuelled violence of recent years, some 20,000 people have simply vanished. [Continue reading…]


Domestic violence kills far more people than wars

Reuters reports: Domestic violence, mainly against women and children, kills far more people than wars and is an often overlooked scourge that costs the world economy more than $8 trillion a year, experts said on Tuesday.

The study, which its authors said was a first attempt to estimate global costs of violence, urged the United Nations to pay more attention to abuse at home that gets less attention than armed conflicts from Syria to Ukraine.

“For every civil war battlefield death, roughly nine people … are killed in inter-personal disputes,” Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University and James Fearon of Stanford University wrote in the report.

From domestic disputes to wars, they estimated that all violence worldwide cost $9.5 trillion a year, mainly in lost economic output and equivalent to 11.2 percent of world gross domestic product.

In recent years, about 20-25 nations suffered civil wars, devastating many local economies and costing about $170 billion a year. Homicides, mainly of men unrelated to domestic disputes, cost $650 billion.

But those figures were dwarfed by the $8 trillion annual cost of domestic violence, mostly against women and children.

The study said about 290 million children suffer violent discipline at home, according to estimates based on data from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. Based on estimated costs, ranging from injuries to child welfare services, the study estimated that non-fatal child abuse sapped 1.9 percent of GDP in high income nations and up to 19 percent of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa where severe discipline was common.

Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center which commissioned the report, said household violence was often overlooked, just as car crashes attracted less attention than plane crashes even many more died in road accidents. [Continue reading…]


What I did after police killed my son

Michael Bell writes: After police in Kenosha, Wis., shot my 21-year-old son to death outside his house ten years ago — and then immediately cleared themselves of all wrongdoing — an African-American man approached me and said: “If they can shoot a white boy like a dog, imagine what we’ve been going through.”

I could imagine it all too easily, just as the rest of the country has been seeing it all too clearly in the terrible images coming from Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown. On Friday, after a week of angry protests, the police in Ferguson finally identified the officer implicated in Brown’s shooting, although the circumstances still remain unclear.

I have known the name of the policeman who killed my son, Michael, for ten years. And he is still working on the force in Kenosha.

Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either. [Continue reading…]