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Monday, October 29, 2012

Think a "MONSTER storm" takes crime out of the news?

Wrong ...

CNN calls it a "Monster storm." And yet on its website here are some of the other lead stories:

See? Bad stuff. Random stuff. Accidents. Violence. Dead people. That's still the news.

Fox News calls it a monster storm too. But their lead stories are political, and of course, not biased at all.

Cartels, Lawmaker Warns

Lebanese terror group, whose leader is shown above, is gaining a larger presence in Mexico, lawmaker says

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blog closed for international travel!

Hey, I am going to SOUTH KOREA to deliver a talk to the Korean National Police University.

So the blog will be closed until Monday, October 29th.

See you on the other side of this incredible trip!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New movie questions war on drugs

... one of its main proponents is actor Brad Pitt.

The documentary claims the war on drugs has cost more than $1 trillion, has accounted for over 45 million arrests since 1971, and that it preys largely on poor and minority communities.
According to Pitt: "I know people are suffering because of it. I know I've lived a very privileged life in comparison and I can't stand for it. ... It's such bad strategy. It makes no sense. It perpetuates itself. You make a bust, you drive up profit, which makes more people want to get into it. To me, there's no question; we have to rethink this policy and we have to rethink it now."
Yeah, you think? My own analysis shows the war to fail to meet its goals (consistently) and to impose fr more costs on society than benefits. So, it is a failing policy.
It's nice that a documentary company is calling attention to it, and that the New York Times is as well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Media FINALLY telling us implications of the election

Obviously, the upcoming elections are in the news. Everywhere. Every day.

But I'm not sure we're learning much other than what we want to learn about the candidates we already support.

But today, there is a great article from Yahoo News about the possible implications of the presidential election for the US Supreme Court.

This is refreshing. Perhaps we'll think long and hard about it before we vote.

Whoever wins the election this fall may be in a position to radically change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court, a legacy that far outlasts a four-year term. On Wednesday, the nine justices will hear oral arguments over whether and in what ways universities can use the race of applicants as a deciding factor in admissions. Just nine years ago, the Court upheld race in admissions in a 5-4 vote when swing justice Sandra Day O'Connor joined the liberal wing of the court for the decision. 

O'Connor has since been replaced by the much more conservative Samuel Alito, and some judicial experts think the relatively recent decision will be reversed, displaying how quickly court nominations have consequences on the law.

President Barack Obama has already appointed two new justices to the Court and, if he's reelected, he'll most likely get at least one more crack at it. There are currently four justices in their seventies on the aging Supreme Court, and three of them are within four years of 79, the average age at which justices have retired since 1970.

As we wrote last week, Romney would be in a better position to drastically reshape the court if he is elected, because the oldest justice right now is the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79. Romney would choose a conservative-leaning justice to replace her, shifting the makeup of the court so that conservatives have six votes and liberals just three. Ginsburg has hinted she will step down when she's 82, which would be during the next presidential term.

If Ginsburg retires, Obama will almost certainly replace her with another liberal justice and the court will remain split between four reliably liberal justices and four even more reliably conservative justices, with Justice Anthony Kennedy swinging between them, but more often siding with conservatives. Obama's earlier two Supreme Court appointments kept the status quo: He replaced two retiring liberal justices with people of a similar ideological bent, leaving the balance of the court unchanged.

But two of Ginsburg's conservative colleagues are not far behind her in age, which means it's possible that Obama would be in a position to replace Antonin Scalia or Anthony Kennedy, both 76, or Clarence Thomas, 74.
If Obama is able to replace Kennedy, a moderate conservative, or the very conservative justices Scalia or Thomas, the court's ideological make up would change dramatically.

A left-leaning court could alter laws on same-sex marriage, gun rights, affirmative action, campaign finance, property and a whole host of other legal issues we might not even know about yet.
And such a move would have major consequences. Geoffrey Stone, the former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, found that if a liberal judge had replaced one of the four most conservative judges starting in 2002, the liberal wing of the court would have won 17 out of the 18 most important Supreme Court cases over the past ten years, including Citizens United, which struck down campaign finance reform laws. Meanwhile, if a conservative judge had replaced one of the liberals, the conservative wing would have won 16 out of the 18 cases, including the health care reform case.

But first, the president would have to get such a person nominated--and it might not be an easy task. The Supreme Court confirmation process has become bitterly polarized in recent years, says Stone. Obama's first two nominees--Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor--both received an average of 35 "no" votes in the Senate, even though they were nominated to replace judges of a similar ideological bent, and were both widely regarded as qualified for the job. In the past, such nominations sailed through, attracting an average of only three "no" votes, Stone says.

With the stakes so high on altering the makeup of the court, confirmation fights could get ugly. "There's a pretty good chance that the minority of the opposing party would do everything they could to prevent a shift," Stone said.

This suggests that the president could receive an all-out rejection from the Senate if he replaces a conservative justice with a liberal one in a second term. If that happens, Obama may be forced to look for a "stealth" candidate, one who has a thin judicial record on constitutional issues, to squeeze him or her through the confirmation process. Stone describes the perfect under-the-radar candidate as "somebody who everybody agrees is competent but nobody knows anything about." This approach can backfire on the president, however. Think about Justice David Souter. President George H.W. Bush nominated this stealth candidate to replace the court's liberal leader, William J. Brennan, without knowing where Souter stood on abortion, affirmative action and other issues. Soon after his confirmation, Souter defected from the conservative wing of the court, disappointing many on the right.

Obama's short list will most certainly be skewed toward female candidates, especially if Ginsburg retires on the president's watch. "There will be real pressure to appoint another woman on the court so there's no backsliding there," says Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Diane Wood, a judge on the 7th Circuit, has been rumored to be on Obama's short list in the past, but she will be 62 this year. Presidents generally aim to nominate someone in their late 40s or early 50s for the spot, to maximize the length of their tenure.

Jacqueline Nguyen, a recent Obama appointee to the 9th Circuit Court, might fit the bill. She's in her late 40s, and also doesn't have an extensive paper trail on controversial constitutional issues. Nguyen also would be the first Asian-American on the court if nominated. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and California Attorney General Kamala Harris are also rumored picks. But both women would have to be willing to give up their promising political careers to take the posts. (Harris would be the first black woman ever appointed to the court.)

Paul Jeffrey Watford, another recent Obama appointee to the 9th Circuit who is in his 40s, might also be considered.

It's a guessing game that Supreme Court watchers will continue to play until there's a nominee. And one with significant consequences: Whoever makes the final cut, on either side of the aisle, could alter the Court for years to come.

[Related: Meet the Supreme Court justices]

Monday, October 8, 2012

Media coverage of Christopher Columbus

Today is Columbus Day.

Many government buildings and businesses such as banks are closed for the day.

Why? For the man who "discovered" America?

Google it. Here is what I read:

Columbus "discovered" the Bahamas (with people already living there), then "discovered" Hispaniola (with people already living there), then came back to "visit" what is now Venezuela. And every time he landed in the region, he thought he was in Asia? China specifically.

Given Americans' knowledge of geography, that sounds like a man we should celebrate!

But just whom are we celebrating, really, besides the man who knew nothing about geography and the continents that he accidentally sailed into?

According to a blog on Huffington Post:

"If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus' reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish."

Now, that sounds like a guy the media would love to cover! I mean, all that crime!

Wanna' know what he really did? (things like kill women and children, rape women and children, force people into slavery, etc.). Read it here:

Or just Google "The real Christopher Columbus."

Spend even just a few moments reading these accounts and an obvious question is, why do we celebrate this man and this day? Another is why is there nothing about this on most mainstream media websites?

This media silence is a great example of what is wrong with the mainstream media today--far less about reality than about myth ever makes it to the news.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wanna see BIAS in the news?

Today I went over to Fox News to see what they were saying about the debates and whether it influenced the polls. Most news organizations I've heard have reported that Romney's debate win did not move the polls in a meaningful way.

Yet, today Fox News disagrees. And it is the lead story! Here is what the front page looks now now, October 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm:

Click on the word surge and the story takes you here:

There Fox News suggests Romney has closed the gap between he and Obama, including in some key swing states.

But what I noticed on the front page was stunning.

It seems Fox News has started pointing out what they persceive to be bias in the media in its "BIAS ALERT" feature (they use capital letters, all red, to show examples). See the image below for what it looks like. I've circled two examples on today's Fox News website, which appear just below the lead story shown above:

The two stories I've circled suggest that, according to Fox News, bias in the news occurs when a reporter makes a point that suggests he or she is one-sided (and that a politician is biased because he offers a reason or excuse for Obama's poor performance in the debate).

In the first case, a Romney surrogate called the President lazy and the reporter "suggested" that he take it back (or at least that is what Fox news actually says on the front page of its website). To Fox News this is bias. But in fact if you read the story (here: she did not "suggest" anything. According to the story on Fox News itself, the reporter "asked" him if he wanted to take the comment back, probably in order to clarify his comment. Asking and suggesting are not the same thing, right? Heck Fox News doesn't really know what to call it, for they also say she "nudged" him to take it back.

Perhaps it is Fox News that is biased?

Don't think so? Well, notice the "story" below that. It is titled, "Liberals 'Freak Out' Over Obama's Debate." No bias there, right? That's a fair story to Fox News, I guess.

Finally, check out the top stories under the lead story on Fox News -- the one titled, "Surge" from the same Fox News web site today:


I've circled it to make it easier for you to see. Here, Fox News is taking stands on three separate political issues, offering their own interpretation of the facts. When they offer opinion labeled as opinion, that is appropriate. But when they offer it as news, this is not reporting. It is bias.

Right on the front page of Fox News.

Only notice they don't put, in large red letters beside it, "BIAS ALERT."

"We report. You decide." Right.

"Fair and balanced." Suuuuuuuuuuuuuure.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

War on drugs is over, right?

That is what President Obama and White House drug czar (Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) Gil Kerlikowske have said.

But today in Yahoo News, there is this story about an amazing pot bust in Chicago. So clearly, the war is over now, right?

CHICAGO (AP) — In Chicago, a bustling urban metropolis where skyscrapers are as likely to sprout up as anything a farmer might plant, someone decided there was just enough room to grow something a little more organic: Marijuana.

The plants grew even taller than the tallest Chicago Bulls. However, just days before the crop on a chunk of land the size of two football fields would have been ready to harvest, a police officer and county sheriff's deputy in a helicopter spotted it as they headed back to their hangar about three miles away.

On Wednesday, a day after the discovery of the largest marijuana farm anyone at the police department can remember, officers became farmers for a day as they began to chop down about 1,500 marijuana plants that police said could have earned the growers as much as $10 million.

No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, and police were still trying to determine who owns the property that housed the grow site on the city's far South Side. But police said they were hopeful that because of the size of the operation, informants or others might provide tips about those involved, including a man seen running from the area as the helicopter swooped low.

James O'Grady, the commander of the department's narcotics division, said they've never seen anything like it before, in part because Chicago's harsh winters mean growers have a lot less time to plant, grow and harvest marijuana than their counterparts in less inclement places such as California and Mexico. The bumper crop was likely planted in spring, O'Grady said.

Add to that the urban sprawl: there are few spots in Chicago where such an operation could go unnoticed because of all the buildings, roads and residents. The growers took pains to ensure their crop was largely hidden by a canopy of trees and surrounding vegetation.
"Somebody put a lot of thought into it," O'Grady said. "But they probably didn't anticipate the helicopter."

Chicago Police Officer Stan Kuprianczyk, a pilot, said police helicopters flew "over it all the time," to and from their hangar, without spying the grow site. Yet somehow, a number of factors came together to allow Cook County Sheriff's Deputy Edward Graney to spot the plants.

"We had the right altitude, the right angle, the right sunlight, and I happened to be glancing down," said Graney. He said he initially spotted five plants or so through the trees before he asked Kuprianczyk to circle around for a closer look.

"We just happened to be right over a small hole in the trees and we looked down," Kuprianczyk said.
They also happened to have the right training, Graney said, explaining that just a few weeks earlier a much smaller operation in suburban Chicago prompted them to fly over and videotape the scene so they might be able to recognize marijuana if they ever saw it from the air again.

So, by the time Graney spotted the marijuana plants, which are a much brighter shade of green than the surrounding vegetation, he had a pretty good idea what he was looking at.

Superintendent Garry McCarthy, whose officers are more used to intercepting shipments of marijuana grown elsewhere or discovering hydroponic growing operations inside buildings, said the discovery of the marijuana is significant in a larger fight against street violence.

Those involved with narcotics, whether it is marijuana, heroin or cocaine, purchase firearms with their profits and have shown they're willing to use them to protect their business, he said.

"That's where the violence comes in, the competition for the markets," he said.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Race and the death penalty back in the news in NC

The issue of race and capital punishment has been widely studied in my state.

So we know the facts.

In 2009, the state passed the historic Racial Justice Act. Then the law was repealed. Twice. (Google it, please)

Yet, race still impacts the imposition of the death penalty in my state, as well as just about everywhere it has ever been studied.

So this story from my state caught my attention:

A university researcher testified on Tuesday that race influenced prosecutors' decisions to reject black jurors from serving on three of Cumberland County's most notorious murder trials.

Between 1990 and August 2010, the race of potential jurors "was a significant factor" in whether prosecutors struck them from death penalty cases, Michigan State University law professor Barbara O'Brien testified at a Racial Justice Act hearing for the three defendants.

The three defendants, Christina Walters, Quintel Augustine and Tilmon Golphin, are on death row. They are attempting to use the N.C. Racial Justice Act to prove racism was a factor that led to their death sentences.

If they win, their sentences will be converted to life in prison without parole.

Walters killed two women as part of a gang initiation ritual. Golphin killed a state trooper and a Cumberland County sheriff's deputy in a traffic stop, and Augustine was convicted for the murder of a Fayetteville police officer.

This hearing hinges on allegations of racism in the jury selection process.

At a trial, defense lawyers and prosecutors vet potential jurors on whether they will be helpful to their side. Some jurors express obvious biases and can be dismissed outright.

But each side may also reject a limited number of jurors without stating a reason for blocking them. These rejections are peremptory challenges.

O'Brien co-authored a statistical study of North Carolina death penalty cases. It says prosecutors have a pattern of using peremptory challenges to block blacks from serving on the juries of capital murder trials. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that potential jurors may not be struck peremptorily because of their race.

O'Brien testified that race was a significant factor in prosecutors' jury selection decisions statewide, locally and in the three defendants' trials. The results "support an inference of intentional discrimination" on the part of the prosecutors, she said.

Statewide, black jurors were twice as likely to be dismissed, she said. They also were twice as likely to be dismissed in Golphin's trial, she said.

At Walters' trial, blacks were struck 3.6 times as often, O'Brien said, and 3.7 times as often during Augustine's trial.

Prosecutors sometimes seat death-penalty qualified jurors who still express reservations about it.
Statewide, O'Brien said, 9.7 percent of black jurors with death penalty reservations were approved by prosecutors versus 26.4 percent of non-black jurors.

In Cumberland County blacks with reservations about the death penalty were seated by prosecutors 5.9 percent of the time, versus 26.3 percent of the time for non-black jurors with such reservations, O'Brien said.

O'Brien analyzed the jury selection patterns both under the Racial Justice Act of 2009 and a the more restrictive version that lawmakers passed this summer after a convicted murderer from Fayetteville used the 2009 law to get off death row.

There is dispute over which version of the law applies to Walters, Golphin and Augustine, so O'Brien analyzed their cases under both versions of the law. Under both standards, she said, she found racial bias.

During cross-examination, Union County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Perry questioned O'Brien about her notes, decision-making and her methods in analyzing the data. Perry has a statistics background, so he is assisting the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office with the case.

The hearing was stopped after the electricity failed at 4:10 p.m. Much of the city lost power because of a malfunction at the city's power plant, said Public Works Commission board member Lou Olivera.

In other developments:

The defense lawyers are seeking transcripts of the trials of James Burmeister and Malcolm Wright. Burmeister and Wright were two racist skinheads in the Army who in 1995 went to a poor neighborhood in Fayetteville and killed a black man and woman they found there.

Prosecutors unsuccessfully sought death sentences for Burmeister and Wright. Burmeister died in prison; Wright is serving life without parole.

The District Attorney's Office was looking for the transcripts on Tuesday afternoon.

Augustine wrote a note to his mother, who attended the trial, and lawyer James Ferguson II attempted to deliver it to her. That was a security violation, so Ferguson was stopped.

The incident is to be discussed when the hearing resumes.

So, yes, race is still a problem in the state, in the sense that it continues to impact death penalty practice. So we've got that covered this semester at App State!