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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

News media linking isolated incidents, as usual

This morning while enjoying my coffee on a slow-starting day, I was watching CNN Headline News and one of the lead stories was this one about "another financial figure accused of sexual assault."

According to the article: "The alleged incident took place on May 29 -- two weeks and a day after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a housekeeping employee at another swank New York hotel. Strauss-Kahn's attorneys deny the allegations, and he has since stepped down from the IMF to focus on his defense."

So, it happened two weeks and a day after another similar assault. Does this mean the two are somehow connected? Of course not.

Yet, the news media connects them anyway. It's called linkage, and it is a tool used to create a hook to grab viewer attention, and it tends to unnecessarily promote fear in viewers. So how many of us are now afraid of wealthy men in their 70s who are staying in expensive hotels?

Frankly, we should be, for these are the most dangerous people in the world (these are the ones who commit the corporate crimes that kill and injure more people every year than all street crimes combined). But that story is not being told in the media.

Instead, we get two unrelated stories linked together with questions like this one: "Is there some reason why we have two stories, two weeks apart, of older men allegedly committing sexual assaults against hotel maids? Is this an epidemic?"


By the way, the next story on the same network was this one about the more than 800 people stung by jellyfish in Florida.

"Sort of like those old men at expensive hotels with their tentacles all over innocent women just trying to make a living as maids."

Friday, May 27, 2011

USA PATRIOT Act renewed, again

Immediately after the terrorists attacks of September 11th, 2001, Congress passed and President Bush signed a law that changed the way Americans lived. Specifically, it eroded several Constitutional freedoms we enjoy as citizens.

We were told the law was meant to stop another attack by al-Qaeda, which was imminent. Members of Congress were warned by the Justice Department that, if you do not pass this law, the blood of Americans will be on your hands.

We were also told the law was temporary. Much of the law was permanent from its passage.

Yet, about every four years, some provisions of the law come up for renewal. And remarkably, even though we are led by people who say they value our freedoms, these lawmakers routinely extend the USA PATRIOT Act again and again. First the Senate (in a 72-23 vote) and now the House (in a 250 to 153 vote). All that is needed now is a signature by President Obama, and Americans will continue to live in a world where the Constitutional freedoms (specifically the protections against unreasonable search and seizures in the Fourth Amendment) not longer exist, at least in terrorism investigations.

I've written a comprehensive article of the USA PATRIOT Act, outlining the facts of its passage as well as its benefits and drawbacks. It is a disturbing account.

The article concludes with this:

"From the review of the USA PATRIOT Act presented in this article, it is safe to conclude that the US government has restricted the liberties of all Americans in order to prevent or reduce the threat of terrorism on our soil. We may be wise, then, to carefully consider the admonition of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in 1755: 'Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.' A slightly altered version of this statement appears on a stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, overlooking the very city that suffered the worst of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001."

Sadly, we have forgotten these words and their meaning. Further, I find it highly ironic that we routinely recognize our military troops for fighting overseas in the "war on terror" to "protect our freedoms" while we willingly sacrifice them at home as part of this same war.

Edit: I should have added this: The law was passed at the last possible moment with virtually no debate. It was so late in the process, in fact, that President Obama had to sign it from abroad using an "autopen." Nice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Casey Anthony trial underway (and who cares???)

The trial of the accused murderer of (almost) three year old Caylee Anthony is now underway in Orlando, Florida. The accused is her mother, Casey, who allegedly killed her own daughter and then was seen out partying regularly.

Data from 2008 show there were 14,180 murders in the US that year.

So the obvious question is, why does this one case deserve so much media attention?

For example, the Orlando Sentinel has an entire website devoted just to the case. The Today Show featured a long segment on the case and featured two "legal experts" commenting on the case. And every news network and major newspaper is discussing the case.

Recall that certain types of crimes and certain types of offenders and victims are more likely to appeal to the news media.

Violent street crime like murder.

Young, innocent (and white) victims.

Cold-hearted, evil offenders.

This case has all of those elements. It fits perfectly with the major narratives used to describe crime in the news. And that is why it is all over the news.

The problem with the coverage is that it creates major misconceptions about crime and takes up valuable time that could be devoted to more serious issues.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

US Supreme Court orders prisoners released in California

NPR reports that a "bitterly divided U.S. Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to reduce its prison population by some 33,000 prisoners within the next two years.

"By a 5-to-4 vote, the high court ruled that severe overcrowding in state prisons has resulted in extreme suffering and even death, a deprivation of the inmates' rights that violates the Constitution and the 1995 federal Prison Litigation Reform Act, as well.

"California's 33 prisons, designed to house 80,000 inmates, housed twice that many prisoners by 2009."

The issue is the law, plain and simple, which specifies what level of overcrowding is permissible. Overcrowded prisons lead to violence, disease, and death, and thereby violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Amazingly, the Court "ordered the state to reduce the prison population to 137 percent of capacity, more than the 130 percent recommended by the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

So even after letting out 33,000 prisoners, the state's prisons will still be way overcrowded.

Given the size of California's budget crisis, one wonders how long it will take citizens and law-makers in the state to realize how much money they waste every year housing inmates who really don't need to be in prison.

Take drug offenders, for example. You arrest a man for selling marijuana and put him in prison. That move will cost you about $50,000 per year. What happens after that? Another person steps in to fill the void and becomes the new dealer. This is called replacement.

So for every drug dealer you arrest, you end up with that many drug dealers in prison (each on costing you about $50,000 per year), but the same number of dealers (and drugs) on the street!

That is sure way to bankrupt a state.

An obvious solution is to stop locking people up for relatively minor crimes. Another is to amend the state's Three Strikes law so that it is only used against repeat, violent offenders.

Of course, in my book, Justice Blind?, I made these suggestions years ago. Too bad people in positions of power don't listen to me.

EDIT: I should have noted this: 

"One would think that, before allowing the . . . release [of] 46,000 convicted felons, this Court would bend every effort to read the law in such a way as to avoid th[is] outrageous result." - Justice Scalia, phony originalist/textualist, dissenting, in Brown v. Plata.

Isn't this an admission of activist judging?

I thought this guy believed in reading the Constitution as written!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crime is STILL down

The good news is street crime is down.

The bad news is no one really knows why, not even criminologists. Well, some think they know.

With a horrific economy criminologists expect crime to increase. Yet, it has not.

From the article, referring to national crime stats:

"... murder declined 4.4 percent, while forcible rape dropped 4.2 percent, robbery 9.5 percent and aggravated assault 3.6 percent — all when compared with 2009 crime figures.

... Regarding property crime, motor vehicle theft was down 7.2 percent, larceny-theft was down 2.8 percent, and burglary was down 1.1 percent. Arson, tracked separately from other property crimes, fell 8.3 percent nationally."

More bad news is this: Every time the news media focus on street crime, we are diverted away from the worst crimes in the country -- corporate and white-collar crimes (which cost more money and kill & injure more Americans every year than street crime).

But hey, at least crimes like murder and rape are down, right?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Republicans are evil because Democrats were evil first

An article about attempts by the state Republican Party to erode or altogether kill off North Carolina's historic "Racial Justice Act" revealed something startling to me.

The bill to gut the law that aims to prevent race from being used as a factor in death penalty cases was attached to a totally unrelated bill about illicit drugs. Yet, as noted in the article: "Under legislative rules, there is supposed to be a link between the issues when one bill is substituted for another. Sponsors provided no explanation for how banning synthetic marijuana was related to Racial Justice Act."

The response of Rep. Paul Stam, Republican from Apex who leads the committee hearing the bill? Democrats did the same thing when they were in power.

So the Republican leader admits he is evil because the other side was evil first?


Here is the article:

 GOP slips Racial Justice Act overhaul into another bill
BY ANNE BLYTHE - Staff Writer
Published in: Crime/Safety

RALEIGH As death row inmates use a fledgling law to claim that racial bias played a role in their trials and sentences, Republicans are working to gut it.

The legislators propose to amend the Racial Justice Act so that anyone seeking relief under the law would have to show that prosecutors intentionally used race as a discriminatory factor in seeking the death penalty or selecting the jury to hear the case.

The amendment, proposed last month in the state House, comes as more than 150 death row inmates are seeking to use the law to have their death sentences converted to life terms.

In a House committee meeting Wednesday, legislators bent on overhauling the Racial Justice Act used an unusual procedure that gives them more time to seek support for their proposal before putting it up for a vote.

They gutted a Senate bill that would add synthetic marijuana, better known as K2 or Spice, to the state's list of illegal controlled substances. They then substituted the proposal that critics describe as an "essential repeal of the Racial Justice Act."

Under legislative rules, there is supposed to be a link between the issues when one bill is substituted for another. Sponsors provided no explanation for how banning synthetic marijuana was related to the Racial Justice Act.

Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican from Apex leading the committee, said the maneuver had been used by Democrats when they were in power.

Supporters of the Racial Justice Act attended the hearing to urge legislators to vote against the proposal. They described the law, passed in 2009 along party lines, as a groundbreaking attempt to move toward a colorblind justice system. They noted that a judge would have to find bias to convert an inmate's sentence and that the new sentence would be life with no chance for parole, not freedom.

Several prosecutors told the committee they were offended by assertions that race played a role in their decisions to pursue the death penalty or pick jurors. They showed pictures from grisly homicides, saying the legislation was an assault on victims. They complained that too much court time and state money would be spent on bias claims when there are already procedures set up to address them.

"Let's not cloud the case with bad pictures, because every homicide case has bad pictures," responded Henderson Hill, a Charlotte lawyer who handles civil rights cases and criminal defense. "This bill is not about guilt or innocence. This is about whether the system is legitimate."

The claims filed so far cite studies that show more than 40 percent of people on North Carolina's death row were sentenced to death by a jury that was either all white or included only one person of color. The studies also found that in selecting juries, prosecutors statewide struck qualified blacks from the jury pool at more than twice the rate as whites.

"These cases are about the actions of the defendants, not the race of the defendant," said Seth Edwards, a district attorney in Eastern North Carolina who also heads the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. "I am personally offended when someone alleges that I see color."

The committee did not vote on the proposal Wednesday. No date had been set for when the topic would arise again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The 4th Amendment is on life support

Combine the USA PATRIOT Act and the war on terror with the war on drugs, and the 4th Amendment is nearly dead.

Which one is that?

It is the one that gives you protection from unwarranted searches and seizures.

From the article:

"The Supreme Court gave police more leeway to break into homes or apartments in search of illegal drugs when they suspect the evidence otherwise might be destroyed.

"Ruling in a Kentucky case Monday, the justices said that officers who smell marijuana and loudly knock on the door may break in if they hear sounds that suggest the residents are scurrying to hide the drugs."

The decision was 8-1 with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting.,0,6746878.story

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why one in five Americans is a blathering idiot

About 20% of Americans do not believe Usama bin Laden (UBL) is dead.

In spite of the President's announcement.

In spite of the fact that other political leaders--including Senators from the other political party--say they have seen the pictures and they have literally no doubt UBL is dead.

In spite of the fact the UBL's wives--yes, WIVES--confirm his death.

In spite of the DNA evidence that proves by a 99.9% certainty that UBL is dead.

And even though al-Qaeda itself--the group UBL formed more than a decade ago--has confirmed UBL's death.

Why? According to the LA Times, it's because political leaders often lie (think Bill Clinton saying "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" or basically everything George W. Bush said about Iraq).

And also because of the media.

From the LA Times:

"The widespread arrival of television some 60 years ago and more recently online video has trained people to expect some kind of visual confirmation of virtually any news, either live or shortly after. Its absence almost surely spawns doubts."

Think about it. On the local news, every day and every night, we see reporters standing at the scenes of car wrecks and crimes even though literally nothing is going on behind them. Even though it adds nothing to a story about a car crash of a murder to have a reporter standing live at the scene where something may have happened hours ago, news stations still send reporters to those scenes presumably because viewers need to "see it to believe it."

The result is a doubting public, unable to accept all the above evidence that one of our most hated enemies is dead.

As for those who celebrated in the streets immediately after hearing about UBL's death? Well, that's another story!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Did you hear about the guy on the plane ...?

... who tried to open an emergency door?

And what about the other guy who also tried to open a door recently on a different plane?

Or the guy who tried to enter the cockpit of a plane recently?

None of these events are connected. It is not a broad plot to bring down airliners again. It is just a random cluster of events that happened to occur near the same time, even though on different airlines and in different cities. Most of these people were probably either deranged or just confused (maybe they thought they could get some fresh air?). Heck, the guy who tried to enter the cockpit may have just wanted to complain to the pilots about the lack of legroom!

Nevertheless, each time a new event occurs, the mainstream press connects it to all the others, fully reporting yet again on each and every event as if they are part of some pattern.

This is linkage, discussed in the book.

Airline travel is incredibly safe. Security is still terrible, no doubt (people have recently smuggled in bombs in their underwear!).

Luckily for us, these "terrorists" are mostly incompetent and we passengers are vigilant enough to be ready to intervene when needed.

The media, meanwhile, just continue to promote fear even when not warranted, because it sells.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An acontextual story about al-Qaeda in Iraq

Here we go again, another example of the mainstream media not providing important context for a story.

This time it is the Associated Press, via Yahoo News, reporting that al-Qaeda's number two man, al-Zawahri, receives a pledge of support from the terrorist group, "al-Qaida in Iraq."

That's all well and good. But what does it mean? And why does it matter?

Further, who are "al-Qaida in Iraq" and where did they come from?

In reality, this is a group that was created by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a group that did not exist under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a brutal dictator, but a secular one, and thus religious extremists posed a major threat to his regime. This is why he so ruthlessly eradicated them from his country, or at least the areas of it he controlled (US officials publicly claimed that an al-Qaeda affiliated group existed in the Northern part of Iraq, but this was in a no-fly zone patrolled by the US and thus out of the control of Saddam Hussein. This group was located by journalists who interviewed its leader who told them he hated Saddam and wanted to overthrow the Hussein regime).

Recall the claims about Iraq and Saddam Hussein made by the Bush Administration in the lead up to the war:

* Saddam Hussein was a "grave and gathering threat" to the US and its allies
* Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that it would likely give to extremist groups bent on hurting America
* Saddam Hussein had known ties to the al-Qaeda network

None of this was true. In fact, every single bit of it was false.

But you won't find it in this story about "al-Qaida in Iraq." Nor will you find any reference to why we citizens should be concerned about this group or how we should best respond as a nation to a group that we are responsible for creating. This is what is meant by stories being "acontextual" or not providing important context for the reader.

One could argue that stories like these make Americans more afraid of or more concerned with terrorism and thus more likely to support US military intervention in places like Iraq. Isn't that thus ironic, given that such intervention is what helps sustain and spread al-Qaeda?

Instead, what you do find in the story is this: "Al-Zawahri has been critical of Obama, even releasing a message that referred to Obama as a 'house Negro,' a slur for a black subservient to whites."

Obama the house negro? And that made it into an AP story about al-Qaeda in Iraq? Wow.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A look at coverage between CNN and Fox

It is probably not surprising that this is still in the news.

And it probably will be for some time, as we continue to learn more in the wake of bin Laden's death.

This is from CNN:

Al Qaeda released a statement on jihadist forums Friday confirming the death of Osama bin Laden, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamist websites. FULL STORY

And this is from Fox News:

Notice the major difference in the coverage of the story.

CNN leads with confirmation of bin Laden's death from al-Qaeda.

Fox leads with a story critical of the Obama White House releasing details of the death.

A lot has been written about Fox being an arm of the Republican Party. This is yet another example of how Fox operates. Even with the death of a man who declared war on the US in the 1990s, who was hunted by three presidents and ultimately killed (as promised) by President Obama, the lead story is not his death but instead how the Democrat who ordered bin Laden's death has mishandled the release of information about the action that killed him.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jon Stewart takes on PRIME TIME TV

Jon Stewart show clips of people in the news clamoring for proof that Osama bin Laden is dead, including the release of pictures showing his dead body.

Government officials respond saying the photos--including one with a gaping head wound above his left eye-- are too gory to release.

Jon Stewart replies:

"Too gory? Too gory? Yeah, have you met us? From 8 pm on, every show on television we watch begins with an internal tracking shot of a gaping wound above someone's left eye, pulling out only to reveal half a hooker in a dumpster discovered by a child on a bicycle. You know, you know what we call it? PRIME TIME!"

Just as showed in the book, murder and gory murder now make up a majority of crimes depicted on prime time TV.

So the picture is not too gory to show.

But the decision is still the right one because the image would serve as a tool to be used by enemies against the US. Further, we have DNA evidence and the word of bin Laden's wife that he is dead, along with all the government officials who have now seen the pictures and who confirm his death.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Closed for grading

So I am STILL in grading hell.

Thus the blog is temporarily shut down. Don't worry, it will be up and running again soon.

Besides, nothing BIG has happened in the news lately, right?

Ha ha.