Category Archives: Crime

Schadenfreude alert: Who meddles in elections?


Now that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State is claiming – based on no evidence whatsoever – Democrats have hacked his state’s election, it’s time for a reminder of the identity of the world’s number one election-rigger.

Guess what?

It’s Uncle Sam.

We begin with a video report from The Intercept:

A Short History of U.S. Meddling in Foreign Elections

Program notes:

Meddling in foreign elections is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And almost everyone – bar Donald Trump – seems to believe that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election. So that should be condemned. Here’s the problem, though: U.S. politicians and pundits cannot credibly object to Russian interference in U.S. elections without also acknowledging that the United States doesn’t exactly have clean hands. Or are we expected to believe that Russian hackers were the first people in human history to try and undermine a foreign democracy? In this video, I examine the ways in which the the United States has, in fact, spent the past 70 odd years meddling in elections across the world.

From flagship public broadcaster WNYC in New York comes a glimpse of the depth of Uncle Sam’s ongoing meddling:

For decades, American intelligence agencies have historically used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to U.S. national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It’s something Tim Weiner has explored in great detail. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on clandestine national security programs, and his books include “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” He says election meddling is not a grey area for the CIA.

“Several months after the CIA was created in 1947, it set out to steal the Italian election in 1948 to support the Christian Democrats who were pro-American, against the socialist Democrats, who were pro-Moscow, and they won,” says Weiner. “It’s just the beginning of a long, long story.”

After seeing success in Italy, the CIA took this formula — which involved using millions of dollars to run influence campaigns — and brought it across the world to places like Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Afghanistan, and beyond.

“The president [of Afghanistan] after the American invasion post-9/11 was a paid CIA agent, Hamid Karzai,” Weiner says. “The list is very long, and it’s part of what the CIA does in political warfare.”

A report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds up the numbers:

Dov Levin, a researcher with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, created a historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in foreign elections. According to Levin, the U.S. meddled in other nation’s elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946 and 2000. Examples include Italy in 1948; Haiti in 1986; Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia in 1990; and Serbia in 2000.

A more recent example of U.S. election interference occurred in Israel in 2015. A Washington Post report in 2016 revealed U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in an effort to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department were used “to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform” not only to support peace negotiations, but to launch a large anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign.

Through the years, the U.S. has also gone so far as to fund the election campaigns of specific parties; make public announcements in favor of the candidates they support; and threaten to withhold foreign aid should voters favor opposition candidates.

More on Levin’s numerical findings on American interference comes from across the pond, via Britain’s Channel 4 News:

According to his research, there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions” between 1946 and 2000. That’s around one of every nine competitive elections held since Second World War.

The majority of these – almost 70 per cent – were cases of US interference.

And these are not all from the Cold War era; 21 such interventions took place between 1990 and 2000, of which 18 were by the US.

“60 different independent countries have been the targets of such interventions,” Levin’s writes. “The targets came from a large variety of sizes and populations, ranging from small states such as Iceland and Grenada to major powers such as West Germany, India, and Brazil.”

It’s important to note that these cases vary greatly – some simply involved steps to publicly support one candidate and undermine another.

But almost two thirds of interventions were done in secret, with voters having no idea that foreign powers were actively trying to influence the results.

Forbes reports on some of the methods employed:

The U.S. uses numerous tools to advance its interests. Explained Nina Agrawal of the Los Angeles Times: “These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.”

It’s not clear how much impact Washington’s efforts had: Levin figured the vote increase for U.S.-backed candidates averaged three percent. The consequences often didn’t seem to satisfy Washington; in almost half of the cases America intervened at least a second time in the same country’s electoral affairs.

Ironically, given the outrage directed at Moscow today, in 1996 Washington did what it could to ensure the reelection of Boris Yeltsin over the communist opposition. The U.S. backed a $10.2 billion IMF loan, an ill-disguised bribe were used by the Yeltsin government for social spending before the election. Americans also went over to Russia to help. Time magazine placed Boris Yeltsin on the cover holding an American flag; the article was entitled “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”

The Hill gives a voice to the interventionist hidden hand:

When asked whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, James Woolsey said, “Well, only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over,” he told Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night.

Woolsey served as CIA director under former President Clinton. His comments follow a federal indictment released on Friday that accused 13 Russian individuals and three Russian groups of attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian embassy to the United Kingdom quoted Woolsey on Saturday, adding the comment: “Says it all.”

Yep.

There’s lot’s more, after the jump. . Continue reading

Republic bigot of the day: State Rep. Matt Shea


You know it’s bad when the FBI launches a criminal investigation of a lawmaker for threats of violence against folks who look or think differently, but that’s exactly what’s happening to a state legislator in Washington.

Fr0m the Center for Media and Democracy:

Washington State Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane) has found himself in hot water with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for circulating a manual for how to conduct a Christian holy war in the United States.

Rep. Shea is the Washington State Chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and has served on its Civil Justice Task Force.

Shea’s outline for holy war, entitled “Biblical Basis for War,” details who would qualify as a holy warrior — mainly “able bodied males” — and under what circumstances peace might be had, including a stop to all abortions, an end to same sex marriage, an end to idolatry, an end to communism, and replacing the current justice system with Biblical law.

And if the country does not yield, Shea’s manifesto says, “Kill all males.”

More from Rolling Stone:

For several years, Shea has proposed the same initiative in the Statehouse: A place named “Liberty” — a 51st state that would sever the rural, arid and deep-red eastern half of Washington from the urban, forested, blue coastal region. A place where God and guns won’t be regulated. A place where Shea says, consequently, there will be more freedom.

snip<

People have been talking about hacking off the eastern part of Washington — from the Cascades to Idaho — since at least 1915. But recently, creating a bastion of God-fearing, gun-toting, canned-food eating whiteness where conservatives can survive the End Times has been embraced by survivalists and dubbed the American Redoubt — an idea that’s gained enough interested parties to demand an actual corner of the real estate market. Though Shea’s Liberty idea hasn’t gained much traction in the Statehouse, it’s red meat for anti-government extremists at a time when some Americans really are viewing this area of the country as the last remaining holdout for the type of America they think can be great again.

Now that Donald Trump has given the greenlight to American extremists, it’s no surprise to see that a lawmaker has taken the hint, advocating  creation of a state designed to exclude folks who are Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and others who decline to embrace Christianity.

And given that the majority of non-Christians have higher levels of melanin in their epidermal cells, it’s also fair to say that Rep. Shea’s proposed new state is inherently racist.

Chart of the day: Far Right’s religious murders soar


America’s rising cycle of home-grown Far Right homicidal violence increasingly focuses on members of religious minorities, and a new graphic from The Conversation dramatically illustrates the rising role of faith in the selection of homicidal violence by White Supremacists and other fanatics of the sort empowered by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with the body count including Muslims, Jews, Christians [specifically, those with darker skins], Unitarians, and Sikhs [click on the image to enlarge]:

Headline of the day: The panic hits home


From the Washington Post, terror, followed by obfuscation

Trump says Sessions should end Russia probe ‘right now,’ calls it a ‘terrible situation’

  • Two of President Trump’s attorneys said later that he was not using his tweets to order Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take any specific action.

Police kill at twice the reported rate, study shows


And the killings soar in rural areas and mountain states, Trump territory.

Overall, police account for one in twelve of the nation’s homicides, according to new research just released by Cornell University. Blacks are disproprtionately represented as are Latinos.

Mountain states account for one-sixth of all homicides, nearly three times rate of major cities, followed by rural areas.

We would also note, following up on our recent post on the collapse of American journalism, that the areas with the highest killing rates are concentrated in areas when their are few papers, and those left running are often owned by investment bankers with no interest in hard-hitting investigations that might alienate advertisers.

The prevalence of higher police killings of minorities in the Bible Belt recalls a time before integration when folks of color relief on The Negro Motorist Green Book to find safe places to sleep in the misnamed era of “separate but equal.”

That said, here’s the results of the research, via Cornell University:

According to a new study led by a Cornell researcher, an average of nearly three men in the United States are killed by police use of deadly force every day. This accounts for 8 percent of all homicides with adult male victims – twice as many as identified in official statistics.

These starkly contrasting numbers are part of the study, “Risk of Police-Involved Death by Race/Ethnicity and Place, United States, 2012-2018”  [$38 for non-sundscribers], led by Frank Edwards, postdoctoral associate with Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, published July 19 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Official statistics show that deaths attributable to legal intervention by police account for close to 4 percent of all homicides with adult male victims,” Edwards said. “We estimated that over this period, police were responsible for about 8 percent of all U.S. homicides with adult male victims – or 2.8 per day on average.”

Past work on police-involved mortality has been limited by the absence of systematic data, Edwards said. Such data, primarily collected through the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest-Related Deaths program or the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report, are widely acknowledged as unreliable due to limited scope and voluntary data reporting.

“Police departments are not required by law to report deaths that occur due to officer action and may have strong incentives to be sensitive with data due to public affairs and community relations,” he said. “Effectively, we don’t know what’s happening if all we look at is the official data.”

In response to such shortcomings, journalists, activists and researchers have begun collecting data that count police-involved deaths through public records and media coverage, a method the Bureau of Justice Statistics says is actually more reliable than relying on police departments to report, Edwards said.

Through this method, the research found that the risk of being killed by police is 3.2 to 3.5 times higher for black men than for white men, and between 1.4 and 1.7 times higher for Latino men.

Edwards and his co-authors identified 6,295 adult male victims of police homicide over a six-year period between Jan. 1, 2012, and Feb. 12, 2018 – averaging about 1,028 deaths per year, or 2.8 deaths per day.

Of those 6,295 victims, 2,993 were white, 1,779 were black, 1,145 were Latino, 114 were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 94 were American Indian/Alaska Native. During this period, black men were killed by police at a rate of at least 2.1 per 100,000 population, Latino men at a rate of at least 1.0 per 100,000, and white men at least 0.6 per 100,000.

The research also showed that this risk varies dramatically by location. The data showed that although risk is high in large urban areas typically associated with police homicide, the majority of police homicides occur in less-populated regions.

“One thing that really stands out within our research is that while the large central metros see a large chunk of killings by police, it is only a third of the total,” Edwards said. “That means two-thirds of all the shootings we’re finding are in suburban, smaller metropolitan and rural areas, which have received scant attention from both researchers and the media.”

In the Mountain States, police were responsible for about 17 percent of all homicides, while in the Middle Atlantic states, police accounted for about 5 percent of all homicides. Police accounted for more than 10 percent of all homicides in predominantly rural areas and about 7 percent of all homicides in large central metropolitan areas.

Edwards says that though this research provides more accurate data on the use of deadly force by police, it does not paint the whole picture.

“The new data that we’re using is capturing a lot more cases than what the official data is showing us, but there is still an undercount,” he said. “Everything that we’ve put forward within our research, we still think of that as being conservative.”

According to Edwards, this data indicates that deaths of men by police use of force is more common and reaffirms that structural racism, racialized criminal-legal systems, anti-immigrant mobilizations and racial politics all likely play a role in explaining where police killings are most frequent and who is most likely to be a victim.

“From a public health perspective, developing targeted interventions for sites with particularly high levels of or inequalities in police-involved mortality may serve as a productive framework for reducing them,” Edwards said.

Bigotry in the news: It’s been institutionalized


In our previous post, we outlined the collapse of American community journalism. Now we look at what’s happening to journalism when ownership shifts to those who only interest in the news is as a source of profit.

With the election of Donald Trump, racism has and other forms of intolerance have been given free rein, as evidence by two recent studies which should alarm us all.

First this, from the Guardian:

Terrorist attacks committed by Muslim extremists receive 357% more US press coverage than those committed by non-Muslims, according to new research from the University of Alabama. The researchers controlled for factors like target type, number of fatalities, and whether or not the perpetrators were arrested before reaching their final statistic.

Terrorist attacks committed by non-Muslims (or where the religion was unknown) received an average of 15 headlines, while those committed by Muslim extremists received 105 headlines.

The findings, which are illustrated below, were based on all terrorist attacks in the US between 2006 and 2015 according to the Global Terrorism Database. The disparity in media coverage is particularly out of sync with the reality given that white and rightwing terrorists carried out nearly twice as many terrorist attacks as Muslim extremists between 2008 and 2016.

Not all headlines have the same audience, though. Lead researcher [and criminologist — esnl] Erin Kearns explained: “We broke it down by the two different types of sources and we found that the over-coverage is much bigger among national news sources than local papers.”

[Yes, the main source of relatively more balanced coverage is precisely the one that’s most endangered, the subject of our previous post.]

Here’s the essential information in a Guardian graphic:

While crimes involving Muslims are given outsized play in American media, the opposite is true when Muslims are victims of crimes perpetrated by violent bigots. What follows is a shocking story of an attempted mass murder in the heart of the Bible Belt, reported by the Guardian.

White Fright

Program notes:

In 2015, the community of Islamberg discovered that a Tennessee minister was plotting the deadliest attack on US soil since 9/11 against their village. Why have Americans heard nothing about him, and why has the safety of their community been ignored?

On 10 April 2015, the FBI quietly arrested Robert Doggart, a white, 63-year-old Christian minister after they discovered he was plotting an attack against Islamberg, a small African American Muslim community in upstate New York.

Inspired by Fox News claims that the community was a terrorist training camp, Doggart discussed firebombing a mosque and a school in the village, and using assault rifles and a machete to murder the residents. No terrorism charges were brought against Doggart. No national news outlets covered his arrest, and one month after he was taken into custody, a judge released him on bail.

As Doggart’s case went before an all-white jury, White Fright cross-examined the US’s inconsistent system of national security, the media’s role in exacerbating terrorist threats, and the failure to protect vulnerable communities from racist attacks.

Making excuses for white mass murderers

And just as crimes by Muslims are overreported, American newspapers are making excuses for white killers denied to perpetrators who are black.

From Ohio State University:

White mass shooters receive much more sympathetic treatment in the media than black shooters, according to a new study that analyzed coverage of 219 attacks.

Findings showed that white shooters were 95 percent more likely to be described as “mentally ill” than black shooters.

Even when black shooters were described as mentally ill, the coverage was not as forgiving as it was for whites responsible for similar kinds of attacks, said Scott Duxbury, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University.

“There’s a big difference in how black and white mass shooters are covered in the media,” Duxbury said.

“Much of the media coverage of white shooters framed them as sympathetic characters who were suffering from extreme life circumstances. But black shooters were usually made to seem dangerous and a menace to society.”

For example, when shooters were framed in the media as mentally ill, 78 percent of white attackers were described as being victims of society – as being under a lot of stress, for example – versus only 17 percent of black shooters.

Duxbury conducted the research with Laura Frizzell and Sadé Lindsay, also sociology doctoral students at Ohio State. Their study appears online in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

The researchers defined mass shootings as those in which four or more victims were shot in a single event, not including the perpetrator.

They used two news data sources to collect 433 media articles or transcripts about 219 randomly selected mass shootings in the United States from 2013 through 2015.

The researchers controlled for a variety of factors that could influence coverage, including the number of victims; whether any victims were women, children, family or romantic partners; whether the perpetrator committed suicide; whether the shooting took place in public; and whether the shooting was framed as gang violence.

After taking these factors into account, findings showed that whites were 95 percent more likely than blacks to be described in coverage as mentally ill. Latinos were 92 percent more likely than blacks to be described as mentally ill in media reports.

Shootings that were murder-suicides had significantly higher odds of being attributed to mental illness, as did those that occurred in public places.

But the number of victims, or whether the victims were women or children, were not related to whether the shooter was labeled as mentally ill.

The researchers identified several themes in articles that framed mass shooters as mentally ill. The most common theme – found in about 46 percent of the articles – was that the shooter was a “victim of society.” This included articles that said the shooter was “going through a lot,” was “stressed out” or “suffered abuse as a child.”

About 28 percent of articles that framed shooters as mentally ill offered testimony to the attacker’s good character, while another 21 percent said the shooting was unexpected or out of character. Another 14 percent said the shooter came from a good environment.

But these descriptions were almost always about white shooters, Duxbury said.

“Black shooters who were described as mentally ill never receive testament to their good character and the media never describe the shootings as out of character,” he said.

“And only white shooters were ever talked about as coming from a good environment.”

The researchers contrasted the coverage of two mass shooters – Josh Boren, a white man, and David Ray Conley, a black man.

“The comparison between Conley and Boren is striking. Both shooters were adult men who murdered their families. Both had a history of domestic violence and drug abuse and both had received treatment for mental illness. However, whereas the media described Josh Boren as a quiet, gentle man – a teddy bear – coverage of Conley described him as perpetually violent, controlling and dangerous,” the researchers said.

The researchers also analyzed shootings that were described as gang affiliated, because these attacks almost always involved minority shooters. Here the most consistent themes in coverage involved the criminal history of the perpetrators, their status as a public menace and the problems of the community.

These results provide a marked contrast with coverage of other mass shootings, Duxbury said.

“When the media frame a mass shooting as stemming from gang violence, they talk about the perpetrators as being perpetually violent and a menace to society,” he said.

“But when a shooting is attributed to mental illness, the media treat it as an isolated incident, or the result of the pressures on the perpetrator.”

Newspaper ownership impacts international coverage

Finally, another form of bias plays a major role in shaping how events are portrayed.

In this case, the focus of the study is international,

From “Media Ownership and News Coverage of International Conflict” by Matthew Baum of the Harvard Kennedy School and Yuri Zhukov of the University of Michigan, published earlier this year in the journal Political Communication:

[M]edia ownership drives the amount, depth and diversity of publicly-available information about international conflict. Media ownership has consolidated significantly in recent decades. In 1983, 50 companies controlled 90% of the US media market. By 2012, that number had fallen to 6 companies. A similar trend prevails globally. In Australia, two companies dominate the newspaper industry, while a single company controls nearly 45% of regional radio stations. In Spain, circa 2009, five companies control more than two thirds of newspaper. In the United Kingdom, also circa 2009, three companies account for over 70% of paid newspaper circulation, and two companies control 98% of radio consumption. Four companies account for 77% of all minutes of news consumed in the UK.

Media ownership matters because parent companies exert a homogenizing effect on the coverage of their media holdings, which can leave citizens with less frequent, less policy-oriented , and less diverse information to monitor or influence their leaders’ activities, including in foreign policy. We investigate the impact of ownership on news reporting, using new article-level data on international media coverage of the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya, the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the 2001 US-led operations in Afghanistan, and the 1999 NATO-led intervention in Kosovo. . .

We find that ownership structure profoundly affects the volume and content of news coverage. Newspapers owned by the same parent company feature news of similar scope, focus and diversity. They are more likely to publish articles on foreign crises if other newspapers within the same ownership chain have recently done so; more likely to emphasize hard news issues of military operations and policymaking if their co-owned counterparts have done so; and more likely to feature topically diverse content if others in their chain have done so. However, market forces can mitigate these homogenizing ownership effects: as diverse, hard news content grows more prevalent within a newspaper’s media market, the influence of co-owned newspapers recedes. The relative strength of ownership and market effects depends on the nature of the political regime within which a newspaper operates: market pressures drive coverage to a greater extent in states with a free press, while co-ownership matters more in states lacking press freedom.

L.A. Latinos fear deportation, don’t report crimes


In the very first speech of his presidential campaign, delivered on 16 June 2015, Donald Trump made clear his view of Latinos:

“When Mexico sends it’s people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Nothing changed for the better in the months since, and in one of the few campaign promises he actually kept, as President, Trump has presided over a major amping up of deportations, creating an atmosphere of fear.

And now that fear haunts those he loathes, victimizing them in new ways.

And some local governments are speaking out.

From El País:

The anti-Trump rebellion already underway in major US cities is coming into sharper focus. In Los Angeles, authorities on Tuesday issued an order prohibiting all municipal employees from assisting federal immigration officials in their search for undocumented migrants to deport. And the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) released data suggesting that Latinos are already losing their trust in law enforcement agencies.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti revealed the figures at a Tuesday presentation in East LA, the heart of the city’s Latino community. According to these statistics, reports of sexual assault filed by Latinos have decreased 25% since the beginning of 2017 compared with the same period last year; meanwhile, reports of domestic violence fell by 10% during the same period. Reports by other ethnic groups did not experience similar falls.

Beck said that although there is no clear evidence that this decrease is directly linked to Latinos’ unease over current immigration policies, the LAPD suspects that fear of deportation is making undocumented residents think twice before reporting a crime.

“These policies are making our cities less safe,” said Mayor Garcetti at one of the four immigration events scheduled for Tuesday in the city.

Headline of the day: Uh, what was that again?


From the London Daily Mail:

Former Colorado Republican party chairman who said ‘only Democrats commit voter fraud’ now faces up to three years in prison for ‘filling out his ex-wife’s mail-in ballot’

  • Steve Curtis, 57, appeared in court on Tuesday in Weld County, Colorado
  • The former Republican party chairman faces charges of voter fraud and forgery
  • Curtis’ ex-wife Kelly claims he filled out and mailed in her ballot for the 2016 presidential election without her consent
  • Curtis also hosts a radio talk show and has talked about the issue of voter fraud on his show in the past 
  • A month before the election, Curtis said that ‘virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats’

New studies reveal deep, deadly racial biases


Republicans declaim endlessly their claim that Americans live in a “post-racial” society, where folks are judged solely by their abilities and not by the color of their skin.

Hence, no need for programs designed to teach tolerance, or to attempt to repair the damages wrought by centuries of bigotry, poor schools, and dangerous environments.

Of course anyone who listened to the virulent bigotry aroused by the Trump campaign knows the Republican rap is, in Fareed Zakaria’s notable phrasing, bullshit.

For those with any lingering doubts, considered the results of four new academic surveys, revealing that, among other things:

  • innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people
  • police view young black criminal suspects as both older and more likely to be guilty of serious offenses than they do white or Latino suspects in identical circumstances
  • people in general judge black men as larger, stronger and more muscular than white men, even when they’re exactly the same size
  • motorists approaching mid-block crosswalks are less likely to yield for black pedestrians than white pedestrians

With liberty and justice for some. . .

The power of the state is no more evident than a confrontation with a person with a badge and a gun, followed by a run through the meat-grinder that is the criminal justice system for those unable to afford expensive lawyers and costly investigators.

And those unfortunates are all too often people of color.

One way to judge the relative impartiality of a system professing to administer itself without bias is in those found guilty and sentenced to prison or death who were subsequently exonerated and freed.

From Michigan State University:

African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration, according to a report recently released that’s co-edited by a Michigan State University College of Law professor.

“The vast majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered,” said MSU Law’s Barbara O’Brien, the author of a companion report, “Exonerations in 2016,” [open access] and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. “There’s no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly—that’s beyond dispute. Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. But will we do enough to actually address it? That remains to be seen.”

“Exonerations in 2016” found a record number of exonerations for the third straight year and a record number of cases with official misconduct.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 – cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. On average, black murder exonerees waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. On average, innocent African-Americans convicted of sexual assault spent almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

In addition, the report, officially titled, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” [open access], found innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

“Of the many costs the war on drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, the author of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

Last year, there were more exonerations than in any previous year in which government officials committed misconduct; the convictions were based on guilty pleas; no crime actually occurred; and a prosecutorial conviction integrity unit worked on the exoneration.

Police attribute more guilt, age to black youth suspects

One reason for those high exoneration rates for people of color can be found in a new study of how police attribute guilt and age when confronting black youth in suspicious circumstances.

The findings represent yet one more piece of evidence of deep flaws in our criminal justice system.

From the American Psychological Association:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study [open access] was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias — prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

A: Participants’ average age estimation accuracy for child suspects of different race. B: Participants’ average culpability rating for child suspects of different races. Error bars represent standard errors. From the study [open access].
Click on the image to enlarge.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of blacks could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9 years old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated blacks with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

The mind creates that ‘menacing big black man’

There’s something about the stereotype of the menacing big black man in films and other aspects of popular culture that you could almost make an acronymn of it, just as porn sites have made BBC descriptive another attribution about black males and size.

But it is in intersection of the menacing big black man stereotype and people with guns that makes a myth downright deadly  especially when most of us have an implicit bias to see black men as both larger more menacing than they would a white man in the same situation.

The findings have deep and troubling implications.

Consider, then, this new research from the American Psychological Association:

People have a tendency to perceive black men as larger and more threatening than similarly sized white men, according to research just published by the American Psychological Association.

“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” said lead author John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”

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Headlines of the day: Time for TrumpTales™


We begin with top two headlines from the New York Times:

White House Tries to Soothe Britain, Angry Over Spy Claim

  • The White House scrambled to deal with an unusual rupture after suggesting that former President Barack Obama used a British spy agency to wiretap Donald J. Trump during the campaign.
  • A spokesman for the prime minister said Britain had been assured the “allegations would not be repeated.”
Add a dash from the Guardian:

White House-GCHQ row reveals a leader willing to alienate allies to save face

  • The extraordinary public rebuke by the United States’ closest surveillance partner has revealed an emerging characteristic of Donald Trump’s White House: a willingness to antagonize even its allies instead of admitting error.
  • GCHQ, the UK surveillance mammoth intimately linked to the National Security Agency (NSA), has taken public exception to an allegation repeated from the White House podium that, if true, would probably shatter the Five Eyes intelligence alliance so dear to both Washington and London.
  • Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, credulously repeated on Thursday an account by a Fox News pundit, Andrew Napolitano, that GCHQ laundered surveillance on Trump at the behest of Barack Obama. Napolitano, who is in no position to actually know, made the allegation apparently to explain away the emerging consensus, even from senior Republicans on the intelligence committees, that there is no basis to Trump’s claim that Obama ordered that surveillance.
  • GCHQ practically never responds to stories about its operations. But the implications of this one are severe. There would be no way for the NSA and GCHQ, which are joined at the hip, to continue their partnership if GCHQ was willing to interfere in the US political process.

And top it all off with the London Daily Mail and an act from the sideshow:

Frantic search for Secret Service agent’s STOLEN laptop containing Trump Tower floor plans and Clinton email details after she left it in her parked car

  • A Secret Service agent’s laptop was reportedly stolen from her vehicle parked in her driveway in Brooklyn, New York Thursday morning 
  • The agency and the NYPD have been frantically trying to find the computer, which reportedly has ‘sensitive’ information that could harm national security
  • The contents of the computer include floor layouts for Trump Tower and information about the Clinton email investigation 
  • A thief was seen on surveillance footage breaking into the car and then walking away with a backpack

Study: The reasons Americans want pot legalized


Three fifth’s of Americans want pot legalized, and the reasons are ones goof Republicans should be able to support, with backers saying they want week legal for sound economic reasons.

And, of yeah, the cost of devastating lives by sending people to prison for a victimless crime also plays its part.

From the summary of Public perceptions of arguments supporting and opposing recreational marijuana legalization [$35.95 to access], to be published in the June edition of Preventative Medicine:

Respondents rated pro-legalization arguments highlighting beneficial economic and criminal justice consequences as more persuasive than anti-legalization arguments emphasizing adverse public health effects. Respondents were more likely to agree with arguments highlighting legalization’s potential to increase tax revenue (63.9%) and reduce prison overcrowding (62.8%) than arguments emphasizing negative consequences on motor vehicle crashes (51.8%) and youth health (49.6%). The highest rated anti-legalization arguments highlighted the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws (63.0%) and asserted that legalization will fail to eliminate the black market (57.2%). Respondents who endorsed pro-legalization economic and criminal justice arguments were more likely than other respondents to support legalization. Our findings indicate that, on both side of the recreational marijuana legalization debate, there are arguments that resonate with the American public. However, public health risk messages were viewed as less compelling than pro-legalization economic and criminal justice-oriented arguments.

It all boils down to dollars and sense

More on the study from Cornell University:

Four states legalized recreational marijuana in November, nearly doubling the number of states where recreational pot is legal. As more states consider joining them, a range of arguments for and against legalization is swirling around the national conversation.

But which of these arguments resonate most strongly with Americans? It’s the arguments that support legalization, according to a new study co-authored by Jeff Niederdeppe, associate professor of communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

More than 60 percent of people surveyed in the study said they supported legalization because they agreed with arguments saying it would increase tax revenues, create a profitable new industry, reduce prison crowding and lower the cost of law enforcement.

In contrast, fewer people in the study agreed with anti-legalization arguments emphasizing the damage the policy would have on public health. These reasons included that legalization would increase car accidents, hurt youth’s health, expand the marijuana industry, increase crime and threaten moral values.

“The pro arguments are really practical: ‘Give us money and jobs. Keep our prison from being overcrowded, make law enforcement’s job easier,’” said Niederdeppe. “And the con arguments are a little more ideological: ‘This is going to lead to big industry and crime and undermine the fundamental values that make America great.’”

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Quote of the day: U.N. rights chief’s Trump angst


From Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a statement in his report today to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council:

In the United States of America, I am concerned by the new Administration’s handling of a number of human rights issues. Greater and more consistent leadership is needed to address the recent surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities. Vilification of entire groups such as Mexicans and Muslims, and false claims that migrants commit more crimes than US citizens, are harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses. I am dismayed at attempts by the President to intimidate or undermine journalists and judges. I am also concerned about new immigration policies that ban admission of people from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, as well as policies which greatly expand the number of migrants at immediate risk of deportation – without regard for years spent in the US or family roots. These threaten to vastly increase use of detention, including of children. Expedited deportations could amount to collective expulsions and refoulement [forcible expulsion of refugees to countries where torture or worse is likely — esnl] ], in breach of international law, if undertaken without due process guarantees, including individual assessment. I am especially disturbed by the potential impact of these changes on children, who face being detained, or may see their families torn apart.

Headlines of the day: It really is a three-ring circus


A story told in three headlines from the London Daily Mail, starting with this:

James Comey turns on Trump: FBI director ‘asks the Justice Department to publicly REJECT Trump’s claim Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower’ as the President returns to DC amid growing scandal

  • FBI director James Comey asked the Justice Department to reject Trump’s claims
  • The FBI director said the allegations insinuate that the FBI broke the law 
  • Comey has called Trump’s accusations false and said they need to be corrected
  • Sean Spicer said Trump has requested an investigation into ‘troubling’ reports
  • The president tweeted that Obama had been spying on him in October
  • But Obama’s spokesman, Kevin Lewis, said those claims were ‘simply false’

And then this:

Towergate WILL be investigated: Congress will probe Trump’s claims Obama bugged his Manhattan home after White House request – as former intelligence director James Clapper ‘absolutely denies’ it

  • The White House released a statement this morning regarding allegations President Donald Trump made yesterday
  • Trump had accused his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of wire-tapping Trump Tower in the days before the November election
  • An Obama spokesman called the claims ‘simply false’ as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle asked for proof
  • Now the White House is asking Congress to look for proof, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer asking the intelligence committees to look into the allegations 
  • House Intelligence Committee chair, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, said Sunday his panel would look into Trump’s claims as part of a forthcoming probe 
  • Spicer cited ‘reports’ in his statement that concerned ‘politically motivated investigations’ ahead of the election, referring to them as ‘troubling’
  • ‘Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted,’ Spicer wrote

And, finally, this:

Are relations that bad? Video emerges of Trump’s ‘furious Oval Office argument’ with Steven Bannon as Ivanka and Jared look on

  • Donald Trump gave a ‘verbal lashing to his senior staff members’ on Friday 
  • He was angry over the attorney general’s recusal amid Russia links on Thursday
  • Video has since emerged of Bannon in an animated discussion in the Oval Office
  • Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were also in the fiery meeting 
  • Trump was upset Sessions was overshadowing his praised speech to Congress 
  • Bannon and Priebus were told they weren’t flying with Trump to Mar-a-Lago
  • Just days after the row, Bannon was pictured on Sunday boarding Air Force One via a separate entrance to the president as they returned to Washington D.C.
  • Hours after Trump erupted at his staff, he claimed Obama had his phone tapped

Obama wiretapped me: Trump goes full Breitbart


First, the tweetstorm:

blog-trumpet

And the story, first from the New York Times:

Speculation online quickly turned to the possibility that Mr. Trump had been reading an article on the Breitbart News site or listening to the conservative radio host Mark Levin; both have embraced the theory in recent days.

The Breitbart article, published on Friday, alleged a series of “known steps taken by President Barack Obama’s administration in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, later, his new administration.”

It has been widely reported that there is a federal investigation, which began during the 2016 presidential campaign, into links between Trump associates and the Russians.

The New York Times reported in January that among the associates whose links to Russia are being scrutinized are Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman; Carter Page, a businessman and foreign policy adviser to the campaign; and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative who has said he was in touch with WikiLeaks before it released a trove of Democratic National Committee emails last summer.

Mr. Trump appeared on Saturday to suggest that warrants had been issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, alleging that Mr. Obama’s administration had once been “turned down by court” in its supposed efforts to listen in on conversations by Mr. Trump and his associates.

The origins: Breitbart and wingnut radio

Yep, they’re even better than Fox News!

From the Guardian:

Trump’s tweets follow claims made by the conservative radio host Mark Levin on his Thursday night show about the alleged steps taken by the Obama administration to undermine the Republican candidate’s campaign to win the White House.

The presenter called the effort a “silent coup” by the Obama administration and called for a congressional investigation into the issue. That contrasts with demands from across the US political spectrum to examine Russian interference in the presidential election.

Levin’s comments were followed up by Breitbart News, the “alt-right” website formerly run by Steve Bannon, who ran the Trump campaign and is now the president’s chief strategist.

The article stated: “The Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorisation to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA [National Security Agency] rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.”

The Breitbart report references recent claims that the FBI asked the foreign intelligence surveillance court for a warrant last year to monitor members of the Trump team suspected of being in contact with Russian officials. The request for the warrant was initially rejected before being granted in October, the reports have said.

So let’s get this straight. . .

The FBI tried to get wiretaps on TeamTrump™ last year. Then when they failed in the normal federal court system, they headed to the one court that rolls over more than 99.97 percent of the time.

That the FISC granted the request was, then, hardly a surprise.

But what is noteworthy is that you only go to the FISC for a warrant in case of espionage and other national security matters.

We wonder on what grounds the regular court denied the requests. In normal criminal cases of the cases that require the FBI’s participation, wiretap subpoenas allow recordings of conversations between specific individuals named in an FBI agent’s sworn affidavit accompanying the wiretap request.

We’ve never covered the FISC, but in other jurisdictions, state and federal, documentation of wiretaps becomes public once the wiretap authorization ends.

But because the application was moved to the FISC, a whole different set of rules apply. Because the court deals in state secrets and the court itself is closed to public access, almost all of what happens there stays classified.

Trump may be correct in asserting his campaign offices were wiretapped, but unless he was named in the affidavit, any conversations he had would not have been monitored or recorded. If he was named, then an FBI agent was willing to go on record stating that the Bureau suspected him of involvement in criminal behavior.

We await further developments with interest.

Mexico update: Murders, NAFTA, and more


We begin with the latest development in the infamous case of the 43 abducted students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Aytozinapa in the blood-soaked state of Guerrero, then move on to yet another murder, followed a a Mexican NAFTA backdown.

U.N. slams Mexico over missing students probe

Nothing has done more to damage the rapidly sinking reputation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto than the 26 September 2014 abduction of the students from Ayotzinapa, a crime apparently ordered by members of his own party.

Successive investigations by his government have come to nothing, and the lastest review has dran fire from the U.N.

From teleSUR English:

On Wednesday the head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Mexico slammed a recently released internal review of irregularities in the more than 2-year-old investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ training college.

“It is regrettable that it turned out this way,” said Jan Jarab, the representative of the U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico. “The final results are a missed opportunity to effectively address the serious violations committed in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case.”

Jarab noted that the internal review released on Feb. 9 by Mexico’s attorney general failed to address the serious irregularities documented by an earlier international panel of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

That panel reported that former chief investigator, Tomas Zeron, had planted evidence and tortured potential witnesses and suspects, actions which not only sabotaged the investigation but also called into question its conclusion that the 43 students had been killed by a local drug cartel.

The panel found evidence pointing to high-level political involvement — including by state police and military officials — in the disappearance of the students from the primarily Indigenous teachers’ college known as a hotbed of political organizing and activism.

The internal review released just over two weeks ago was ordered after a previous review — which was left unreleased — reportedly recommended criminal charges against Zeron.

Jarab lamented that this final and official report suggested that at worst Zeron and his team had committed only “administrative” errors in the course of the investigation.

“We feel the government’s priority is no longer finding the truth about what happened to the students, but is much more concerned with hiding the reasons behind a historical cover-up,” said Mario Patrón, a lawyer for the families of the missing students, said when the final review was released earlier last month.

Another Mexican journalist murdered

Mexico, which has become a graveyard for journalists, has claimed another victim.

And the killing was also in Guerrero.

From teleSUR English:

Cecilio Pineda Birto, a 38-year-old Mexican journalist in the state of Guerrero, was shot and killed Thursday night, Mexican authorities have confirmed.

Pineda was lying down in a hammock waiting for his car to be washed when multiple armed men passing by on motorcycle shot him and fled.

The 38-year-old covered local news in Guerrero, one of the most violent states in Mexico known for marijuana production, drug cartels and a recent increase in kidnappings. He often collaborated with national media outlet El Universo and local media outlets such as La Voz de Tierra Caliente.

Just hours before his death, Pineda had published a video about the leader of a local criminal group responsible for kidnappings, in which he indicated that these kidnappings could not be happening without government complicity.

Pineda had previously shared on social media that he received threats in relation to his work. In September 2015, he narrowly escaped an attack outside his home.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists, particularly those working to expose corruption and criminal networks. At least 48 journalists were killed in Mexico in 2016 and 72 in 2015, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mexico signals a shift on NAFTA

Finally, faced with the reality of the current occupant of the White House, Mexico is bowing to the seemingly inevitable.

From Reuters:

Mexico is prepared to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement to modernize the 23-year-old open trade pact grouping the United States, Canada and Mexico, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Friday.

Guajardo said Mexico is prepared to discuss with the Trump administration and Canada revisions to NAFTA, such as including labor and environmental standards. Mexico “is willing to modernize NAFTA,” he said.

However, Guajardo said Mexico will not accept tariffs. U.S. President Donald Trump has called for new border taxes on Mexican-made goods. “It makes no sense to introduce an agreement with border restrictions or tariffs,” he said.

Trump, false flag antisemitism, and an arrest


The Trumpster raised another stink, this time with a claim that antisemitic vandalism in the U.S. masked a deeper purpose,

He implied that Jews themselves were behind the acts.

From the Chicago Tribune:

President Donald Trump questioned who was behind a recent spate of anti-Semitic threats and incidents during a meeting with state attorneys general on Tuesday, one of the people present said after the gathering.

When the recent threats against Jewish facilities and vandalism at a Jewish cemetery came up during the meeting, the president responded by calling the incidents “reprehensible” but then “made this reference that sometimes it’s the reverse,” according to a spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, D.

“He used that word ‘reverse’ several times,” Joe Grace, a spokesman for Shapiro, said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. Grace was relaying what Shapiro had said publicly earlier Tuesday during a phone call with reporters.

Shapiro’s account of the meeting with Trump was first reported by Billy Penn. According to the Billy Penn report, a reporter asked if Shapiro interpreted Trump’s statements to mean that the president thinks his supporters are being framed, but Shapiro responded by saying he is unsure what Trump was implying.

Now Trump is partly right, in that some cases where swastikas have been scrawled and anti-Semitic threats were made by Jews, false flag hate crimes both here  in the U.S. and abroad.

But plain old antisemitism is as American as a Big Mac and even cheesier.

And there’s no just that President Pussygrabber fanned the flames of intolerance during his campaign. And while he didn’t single out Jews as villains in his narrative, his political base harbored latent antisemitism as well as fear of Muslims, black people, and Hispanics.

Simply put, you can’t stir up rage against some traditional targets without it spilling over onto other groups.

And responsibility for the rise in hate crimes that followed the start of his campaign must be laid at his feet, including the tripling in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups over the past year.

Then the Trumpster backpedals. . .

From the London Daily Mirror:

President Trump backed off of suggestions that anti-Semitic threats and vandalism during his presidency were carried out as a false flag.

“While we may be a nation divided by politics, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said at the top of his address to Congress on Tuesday night.

>snip<

The address was a change in tone from earlier Tuesday, when Trump said that the bomb threats and the destruction of gravestones in Jewish cemeteries may have been done in order to “to make others look bad.”

But there was a real new false flag anti-Semitic crime

And it involved an angry young man seeking revenge over a spurned love affair.

From the Associated Press:

A jilted ex-boyfriend is behind at least eight of the scores of threats made against Jewish Community Centers nationwide, plus a bomb threat to New York’s Anti-Defamation League, in an effort to harass and vilify his former girlfriend, federal officials said Friday.

Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested in St. Louis and will appear in federal court in Missouri on Friday afternoon on a charge of cyberstalking, authorities said. There was no information on an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to nearly 100 Jewish Community College schools, child care and other similar facilities in three dozen states. The first wave of calls started Jan. 9. Thompson made threats in his name and in the woman’s name, and his first one was Jan. 28 to the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, authorities said. Federal authorities say Thompson made up an email address to make it seem like the woman was sending threats in his name. He made threats this way to Jewish schools in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Manhattan and to a JCC in Manhattan, authorities said.

He also made threats in the woman’s name, authorities said. An email sent Feb. 21 to the Anti-Defamation League said the woman was behind threats made against “jews,” authorities said.

But it gets even more absurd. . .

It turns out the suspect was a journalist.

Still worse, he had been fired from a very prominent online publication for making up news stories.

Real fake news, in other words.

And the publication was one of the most famous websites in the world, one we’ve often quoted.

From the Intercept:

We were horrified to learn this morning that Juan Thompson, a former employee of The Intercept, has been arrested in connection with bomb threats against the ADL and multiple Jewish Community Centers in addition to cyberstalking. These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted. We have no information about the charges against Thompson other than what is included in the criminal complaint. Thompson worked for The Intercept from November 2014 to January 2016, when he was fired after we discovered that he had fabricated sources and quotes in his articles.

So we’ll give this one to Agent Orange, who was, astonishingly, at least half right for a change.

State Republicans ramp up new anti-protest laws


If there’s one thing Republicans hate, it’s protests.

Unless, of course, they’re run by Republicans, as in the case of that infamous “Brooks Brothers Riot” that disrupted the Florida recount in the 2000 Bush/Gore race a protest organized by Trump lawyer/adviser Roger Stone and using paid protesters.

Because of the Dakota Access Pipeline occupation and the massive anti-Trump protests of recent months, Republican-controlled state legislatures are bust enacting all manner of laws criminalizing protests, even to the point of classifying them as organized crime.

TeleSUR English reports on the of the worst pieces of legislation:

1. Arizona

Arizona lawmakers have approved a bill that could make people who organize or take part in protests that turn violent subject to the same criminal charges used to fight organized crime. The bill also seeks to seize protesters’ assets.

Republicans, who pushed for the bill, say it will help curb the kind of protests that have erupted nationwide over the past few years by penalizing those they term “paid” and “professional” demonstrators, a notion they share with President Trump.

Opponents of the Arizona bill say it is unconstitutional and will serve to harm Arizona’s reputation nationally.

“This bill only serves to chill people’s rights to free speech by allowing one bad actor to turn peaceful demonstration organizers into racketeering felons,” state Senator Martin Quezada, Senate Democratic Whip, said last week.

2. Indiana

Republican lawmakers in the state of Indiana introduced a bill in January that initially required police to clear, by “any means necessary,” protesters from blocked roads and highways within 15 minutes.

The bill was changed last week, removing the phrase by “any means necessary” and instead granting police the power to fine protesters for blocking the roads. The Republican lawmaker behind the bill said it was designed to “limit traffic obstructions.”

3. Minnesota

Republicans in Minnesota have introduced two separate anti-protest bills. One seeks to grant cities the power to sue protesters in order to charge them for the cost of policing demonstrations. The second bill could see protesters fined for blocking streets and highways.

4. South Dakota

As they anticipate renewed protests over both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines, Republican lawmakers are introducing a bill that would expand the governor’s emergency response authority to “destructive” protests, create new trespassing penalties and make it a crime to obstruct highways.

If passed, the law would expire in 2020.

5. Tennessee

In order to counter peaceful protesters in the state, Republicans are introducing a bill that would protect drivers from liability if they hit protesters and injure them in streets and highways as long as the hit is not intentional.

Quote of the day: A scientist who loved his weed


The late Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan was a phenomenon.

As a 2014 retrospective in Smithsonian Magazine described him:

No one has ever explained space, in all its bewildering glory, as well as Sagan did. He’s been gone now for nearly two decades, but people old enough to remember him will easily be able to summon his voice, his fondness for the word “billions” and his boyish enthusiasm for understanding the universe we’re so lucky to live in.

He led a feverish existence, with multiple careers tumbling over one another, as if he knew he wouldn’t live to an old age. Among other things, he served as an astronomy professor at Cornell, wrote more than a dozen books, worked on NASA robotic missions, edited the scientific journal Icarus and somehow found time to park himself, repeatedly, arguably compulsively, in front of TV cameras. He was the house astronomer, basically, on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Then, in an astonishing burst of energy in his mid-40s, he co-created and hosted a 13-part PBS television series, “Cosmos.” It aired in the fall of 1980 and ultimately reached hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Sagan was the most famous scientist in America—the face of science itself.

A mutually flattering encounter

We had the great pleasure of meeting him more than 40 years ago, when we were both attending a conference at Cal Tech.

We were seated at a dinner when we heard Sagan’s very distinctive voice from the next table. Turning to confirm that, yes, it was indeed the famous astronomer himself, we were seized by an impulse.

In our decades of journalism, we interviewed a fair number of celebrities and famous folk from all spheres of life, but when on our own time when we encountered famous folk in public, we left them alone, respecting their privacy.

But something that evening made us break the rule, so we got up and wandered over to Sagan.

“Excuse me, Dr. Sagan,” we said, “I just want to say that, as a writer, I am I am in awe of your work.”

Then the tables were abruptly turned.

“Richard Brenneman. . .are you the fellow who writes Psientific American?”

The publication in question was a monthly newsletter I then wrote for the Sacramento Skeptics Society, a group of scientists, academics, and lay folk devoted to the pursuit of critical thinking. The publication also featured a lengthy column I assembled monthly of idiotic headlines from major newspapers uncritically reporting pseudoscientific claims, enhanced by some satirical commentary.

We confessed that we were, indeed, the author in question.

Sagan broke out in a huge grin.

“Wonderful!,” he said. “I can’t wait to read it every month. It’s wonderful.”

Imagine that, we thought, Carl Sagan and yours truly, a mutual admiration society.

We exchanged a few more compliments, then we headed back to our own table.

That was our first and only encounter with Carl Sagan, but it’s a moment we’ll always treasures.

It wasn’t until years later that we found out that we shared another fondness with Dr. Sagan, and that for something illegal.

Carl Sagan loved his cannabis

Lester Grinspoon is one of the nation’s leading experts on psychiatry, and now serves as Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, where he taught for more than four decades, and known for, among his decades of research dispelling myths about marijuana and advocating for liberalization of laws limiting research and use of the herb.

In an 25 September 2015 interview with MintPress News, Grinspoon explained how he came to be interested in the subject one day in 1966:

During my anti-Vietnam activism I met Carl Sagan and he and I became very good friends. When I met Carl Sagan I was convinced that cannabis was a very harmful drug. Going to his house one day I discovered that he smoked cannabis and so did many of his friends. Now these were not unsophisticated people and I tried to tell Carl how harmful marijuana was but he responded in a joyful manner that it wasn’t harmful at all.

With this experience came the idea of writing a paper which would summarize the medical scientific basis for the marijuana prohibition. At that time marijuana prohibition was leading to the arrest of 300.000 people, mainly young people, a year of which 89% for simple possession. For me it became important that this prohibition was justified.

It was in the library of the Medical School that I found out that I was completely wrong about the harmfulness effects of marijuana. Not only was it not harmful it was remarkably nontoxic, and the drug itself was not causing harm to the user but the policy of arresting people did. Some went to prison for having it and others saw their career goals compromised.

One result of Grinspooon’s work was the 1971 publication by Harvard University Press of his book, Marihuana Reconsidered, which included a number of fascinating essays, including by a a rousing paean to pot by a mysterious “Mr. X,” penned two years earlier for the book.

Only after Sagan’s death in 1996 did Grinspoon reveal that “Mr. X” was Carl Sagan.

And that brings us to our quote of the day

From Carl Sagan, writing as “Mr. X” in Marihuana Reconsidered:

When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.

There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it’s a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I’ve made the effort – successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.

I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can’t go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.

French and Dutch nationalists vie for the top


Two European politicians who share much in common with the racist, nationalist ideology of President Pussygrabber, most notably militant Islamophobia and an urge to cap immigration.

A wild-haired Dutchman holds the lead

Here’s how BBC News lead their 18 February story on the opening of Geert Wilders’s campaign for prime minister’s post in the Netherlands:

Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders has launched his election campaign by calling some Moroccans “scum”.

Mr Wilders tops opinion polls ahead of the 15 March parliamentary vote, but has seen his lead reduced in recent weeks.

He has vowed to ban Muslim immigration and shut mosques if he wins.

His latest comments come two months after he was convicted in a hate speech trial over his promise to reduce the number of Moroccans in the country.

Mr Wilders addressed his supporters on Saturday amid tight security in his party’s stronghold of Spijkenisse, an ethnically diverse area near Rotterdam.

Polls have him in the lead

Despite a campaign scandal involving the campaign security chief, still holds the lead, Bloomberg reports:

The Netherlands is holding the first of three major elections in Europe this year that will determine whether the populist surge that delivered the Brexit vote in the U.K. and helped Donald Trump into the White house will spread into the European Union’s core.

While some polls have suggested Wilders’s Freedom Party may be losing support, a regular survey published by Peil.nl on Sunday gave him a four-seat lead over Rutte’s Liberals for the second straight week. That raises the prospect of an anti-Islam party that wants to halt immigration and re-establish borders placing first in one of the EU’s six founding members, just as voters in another – France – make the anti-euro National Front favorite to go through to May’s presidential election runoff.

Almost all the established Dutch parties, including the Liberals and Labor, have excluded governing with Wilders, but that doesn’t stop them chasing his votes. Immigration to the Netherlands featured in a televised debate among party leaders on Sunday evening, with Labor and the opposition Christian Democrats both arguing for a halt to new arrivals.

So who is Geert Wilders?

The New York Times offers some background:

He wants to end immigration from Muslim countries, tax head scarves and ban the Quran. He is partly of Indonesian heritage, and dyes his hair bright blond. He is omnipresent on social media but lives as a political phantom under police protection, rarely campaigning in person and reportedly sleeping in a different location every night.

He has structured his party so that he is the only official, giving him the liberty to remain, above all things, in complete control, and a provocateur and an uncompromising verbal bomb thrower.

Geert Wilders, far-right icon, is one of Europe’s unusual politicians, not least because he comes from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, with a centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants.

How he and his party fare in the March 15 elections could well signal how the far right will do in pivotal elections in France, Germany and possibly Italy later this year, and ultimately determine the future of the European Union. Mr. Wilders (pronounced VIL-ders) has promised to demand a “Nexit” referendum on whether the Netherlands should follow Britain’s example and leave the union.

“The Netherlands is kind of a bellwether, a lot of trends manifest themselves here first,” said Hans Anker, a Dutch political strategist who has worked both in the Netherlands and the United States.

“I wouldn’t rule out that Wilders could be prime minister,” he added. “This one is fundamentally unpredictable.”

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Mass deportation is system rooted in racism


And until we grasp how fear of the Other has been used to stroke fear and resentment, it’s a tragedy we’re liable to reenact again and again.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Associate Professor of  History and African-American Studies at the University of California–Los Angeles, gives us a look at this less-than-grand-old propensity in this essay for The Conversation, an academic journal written for the rest of us:

A rowdy segment of the American electorate is hell-bent on banning a specific group of immigrants from entering the United States. Thousands upon thousands of other people – citizens and immigrants, alike – oppose them, choosing to go to court rather than fulfill the electorate’s narrow vision of what America should look like: white, middle-class and Christian.

Soon a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings could grant unrestrained power to Congress and the president over immigration control. More than 50 million people could be deported. Countless others might be barred from entering. Most of them would be poor, nonwhite and non-Christian.

This may sound like wild speculation about what is to come in President Donald Trump’s America. It is not. It is the history of U.S. immigration control, which is the focus of my work in the books “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.”

Historically speaking, immigration control is one of the least constitutional and most racist realms of governance in U.S. law and life.

Made in the American West

The modern system of U.S. immigration control began in the 19th-century American West. Between the 1840s and 1880s, the United States government warred with indigenous peoples and Mexico to lay claim to the region. Droves of Anglo-American families soon followed, believing it was their Manifest Destiny to dominate land, law and life in the region.

But indigenous peoples never disappeared (see Standing Rock) and nonwhite migrants arrived (see the state of California). Chinese immigrants, in particular, arrived in large numbers during the 19th century. A travel writer who was popular at the time, Bayard Taylor, expressed the sentiment settlers felt toward Chinese immigrants in one of his books:

“The Chinese are, morally, the most debased people on the face of the earth… their touch is pollution… They should not be allowed to settle on our soil.”

When discriminatory laws and settler violence failed to expel them from the region, the settlers pounded Congress to develop a system of federal immigration control.

In response to their demands, Congress passed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country for 10 years. The law focused on Chinese laborers, the single largest sector of the Chinese immigrant community. In 1884, Congress required all Chinese laborers admitted before the Exclusion Act was passed to secure a certificate of reentry if they wanted to leave and return. But, in 1888, Congress banned even those with certificates from reentering.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Then, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire in 1892, Congress passed the Geary Act, which again banned all Chinese laborers and required all Chinese immigrants to verify their lawful presence by registering with the federal government. The federal authorities were empowered by the law to find, imprison and deport all Chinese immigrants who failed to register by May 1893.

Together, these laws banned a nationally targeted population from entering the United States and invented the first system of mass deportation. Nothing quite like this had ever before been tried in the United States.

Chinese immigrants rebelled against the new laws. In 1888, a laborer named Chae Chan Ping was denied the right of return despite having a reentry certificate and was subsequently confined on a steamship. The Chinese immigrant community hired lawyers to fight his case. The lawyers argued the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court but lost when the court ruled that “the power of exclusion of foreigners [is an] incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States” and “cannot be granted away or restrained on behalf of anyone.”

Simply put, Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. established that Congress and the president hold “absolute” and “unqualified” authority over immigrant entry and exclusion at U.S. borders.

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