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Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy holidays!


blog closed for the week for the holidays!

See you back here next week!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Yes, this is a criminal justice story

Today I was forced to watch or at least listen to (well, to hear) the beginning of a Fox News show as I sat in the lobby of my doctor's office while I tried desparately to read over the loud volume of the three talking heads on the show.

The show was "Fox & Friends" and featured three shrill hosts babbling over and over about the action of the Senate yesterday to use the "nuclear option" thereby only requiring 51 votes to move forward on voting on judicial nominees of the president rather than the standard 60 votes.

The three hosts spent about 30 minutes talking about how this vote had nothing to do with judicial nominees or democracy but instead was just an effort to divert the attention of the nation away from what has been and should be the lead story in the news--the many problems of Obamacare.

That's right, they suggested that the reason the Senate took this action was only to change the lead story in the news!

They did not even mention the stated rationale by those who forced the change: Frustration over the inability to even get a vote on three nominees; the record level of obfuscation by the Senate to block Obama's judicial nominees.

I was stunned. I mean, this is the network whose slogans include "Fair and Balanced" and "We Report: You Decide."

So, instead of even saying something like, "one side says this and the other says that" (fair and balanced) so that you can decide on their reporting, they instead made the ridiculous argument that this had to do only with diverting the attention of the public away from Obamacare.

And you wonder why people who watch this network are the least informed people in the country according to studies?

Here is what remains on the Fox News website about the story:

Legislative agenda may be victim of Reid, Obama win


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Jameis Winston, DNA, rape, and the media

So one of the lead stories in the news the past couple weeks has been about a football player and his "association with" an alleged sexual assault in Tallahassee, Florida roughly a year ago.

If you've followed the story, you know that Florida State QB (and Heisman trophy favorite) Jameis Winston was "linked to" an alleged rape. At first no one knew what this meant.

Frankly, the media coverage reminded me of all those stories I heard in the news for years about people allegedly "associated with" or "linked to" al-Qaeda. You know, we apprehended this guy or killed that guy who was "associated with" or "linked to" al-Qaeda. Almost never did we learn what that association or link meant.

In the case of Winston, it could have simply meant he was a witness to the alleged sexual assault. That would associate him with or link him to it. The media jumped the gun--SURPRISE!--implying and at some times asserting that he was a suspect. They used words like "allegation" and "presumption of innocence" to suggest he might be charged or that he already had been charged. All of this occurred before there was literally any evidence he was a suspect.

Now that DNA test results show that his DNA matches that found in the accusers underwear (!!!), these kind of media reports seem justified in retrospect, but it does not change the fact that they were premature and unjustified, even irresponsible.

Now the media are reporting that the victim may have been coerced or warned by the police not to pursue the case. But that story could also just be a misunderstanding of what the cops actually told her. 

Read the statement of what the police allegedly said. 

Assuming it is even true (who knows, right, it's been almost a year!) were they encouraging her NOT to pursue it or were they telling her what would likely happen if she did? In other words, was it a warning NOT to pursue it or was it just an honest assessment of what she could expect?

The mainstream news seem to assume the former but perhaps--just perhaps--the latter is true and this is yet another rush to judgment by news organizations? (as a media scholar that would not surprise me). 

Who knows. 

Hopefully we will find out. 

I want to conclude by saying this: If Jameis Winston did this or had anything to do with it, I hope he gets what he deserves (and if he is charged with a felony, he is, by team policy, immediately suspended).

And if he did not do this or have anything to do with it (this is possible given the description of the suspect which does not match him at all), I hope the media get raked over the coals for their coverage of it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Death penalty all over the news

First there is this, your typical media hyping of a non-issue:

Serial killer gets stay of execution

Reprieve based on lethal injection

A federal court has granted a stay of execution for white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, hours before he was scheduled to die in Missouri.FULL STORY

Then there is this, which should be all over the news, from Dr. Frank Baumgartner of UNC-Chapel Hill:
Recently, former President Jimmy Carter called for the abolition of the death penalty based on continued and significant evidence that, just as in 1972, the application of our ultimate punishment is as arbitrary as a lightning strike. North Carolina’s recent repeal of the Racial Justice Act was designed to remove an important barrier to the resumption of executions, on hold since 2006. But the state, like the nation, is unlikely to return to the days of greater use of the ultimate punishment.
Nor should it.

The death penalty has become almost purely symbolic, applied only in extremely rare instances, and in a limited number of legal jurisdictions that seem to have little in common except that they differ from the vast majority of the United States in their occasional use of capital punishment. The majority of death sentences since the modern resumption of the death penalty in 1976 come from only two percent of U.S. counties. The vast majority of counties, nationwide, have never witnessed an execution.

In North Carolina, from 1976 through 2011, over 21,000 homicides occurred. But during that period there were only 43 executions: just one execution per 489 homicides, or 0.2 percent. Why so few? Actually, the North Carolina numbers are not far from the national average. Nationally, we often have 15,000 to 20,000 homicides each year, but we consistently execute fewer than 100 people per year. Death is simply not the penalty for murder, and it never has been.

When the Supreme Court ruled the application of the death penalty to be unconstitutional in 1972, its focus was on the “arbitrary and capricious” nature of its application. The decision prompted a massive overhaul of the nation’s death penalty system, including innumerable reforms in North Carolina. However, even the most well-intentioned reforms have not succeeded in making the death penalty’s application equitable.

Our state has executed 43 individuals for murder since 1976. Collectively, these condemned inmates killed 56 victims. Forty-two percent of people murdered in North Carolina during that time were black men. However, only one person has been executed for the crime of killing a black man. (A second was executed for killing three individuals, one of whom was a black man.) Forty-three percent of the victims of those executed in North Carolina were white women, even though white females represent only 13 percent of homicide victims during this period. In our state, people who kill white women are 40 times more likely to be executed than those who kill black men, based on the numbers from 1976 to present.

Recent litigation associated with the now-defunct Racial Justice Act demonstrated that blacks were systematically excluded from juries in capital trials at significantly higher rates than whites. The response of the legislature was to rescind the legislation in hopes that executions could resume. But we should recognize that the death penalty has never been used as the punishment for homicide. Rather, it has always been targeted at only a miniscule subset of homicides. The process is highly selective and subject to geographic disparities. The death penalty is also far more costly than the alternative punishment of life without the possibility of parole, and is used so rarely as to render moot any possible deterrent effect. More than 100 individuals, including several in our state, have been exonerated after being sentenced to death. This discovery of innocence has transformed the debate. Further, in North Carolina as in most states, the vast majority of death sentences imposed by the courts are later overturned on appeal. Only about 20 percent of those sentenced to death nationwide have been executed. The more likely outcome is that the sentence is later changed to life in prison without parole. Rather than continue this costly and racially-charged symbol, we would all be better off with abolition.

The Gallup poll recorded the lowest level of support for the death penalty in 40 years, based on its recent survey. Sixty percent (60%) of Americans say they support the death penalty, a sharp decline from the 80% support registered in 1994. When Gallup has asked respondents to choose between the death penalty and life without parole as a sentence for murder, less than 50% of Americans expressed support for the death penalty (Gallup, Oct. 29, 2013).

There is, of course, little chance that our current legislative leaders in Raleigh will move away from their stated enthusiasm for the death penalty. But as more Americans recognize that the system is costly, arbitrary, ineffective, prone to error, and biased in terms of the race, class status, and gender of the victims, capital punishment will disappear. That trend has already begun. Six states have abolished the death penalty in the past six years, and many more, including North Carolina, have not carried out an execution in years. It is only a matter of time before our state recognizes that the death penalty is a failed policy that must be abandoned. When it does, it will be a victory for the due process of law and equal protection for all victims of horrible crimes.

Frank R. Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. For more information on the many problems with North Carolina’s capital punishment system, visit

Monday, November 18, 2013

About that story of the crack using mayor in Toronto ...

... yes Toronto, as in Canada.

Haven't heard of it? Then clearly you've not been watching, reading, or listening to the news.

So Google it. Or actually, don't. It will just lower your IQ.

Today--in the gym!--they had on CNN, including with volume (who works out to that?).

The story they were talking about was the crack using mayor in Toronto and his buffoonish brother, who happens to serve on the city council.

Incredibly, as they were talking about the story, CNN went live to a city council meeting where the mayor's brother was speaking passionately about why his brother should remain mayor.

Yeah, the guy who admitted to smoking crack while in one of his drunken stupors. That guy.

My question is, WHY IS THIS NEWS in the United States? And how does knowing about it improve my life? How does seeing it unfold live better my understanding of important events?

Isn't this just a crystal clear example of how even supposedly serious national news is now nothing more than celebrity, scandal, and nonsense (mixed in with drugs and crime of course)?

One smokes crack, the other? Monster Thick Burgers? (sorry that is a joke)

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Liberal bias" in the news

In the book I address the issue of liberal bias in the news.

As pointed out by scholars, news organizations--in fear of being labeled "liberal"--often make mistakes that are aimed at convinving their viewers and readers that they are not liberal. One result is an effort to either tell "both sides of the story" (even when one side has way more evidence that it is correct on a particular issue). Another is an actual effort to be conservative in story telling.

Both lead to a conservatice biases in reporting. This does not mean pro-Republican but instead pro-status quo. And in some cases, it is anti-liberal, as in anti-Democrat.

Here is a great example by Media Matters.

The story, "Is There A Bigger Problem At CBS News?" examines CBS's coverage of Obamacare, disability government payments, and the Banghazi terrorist attack. CBS has been busted for its unfair coverage of stories pertaining to President Obama when it comes to these three issues.

Read it and tell me how you think the media, especially CBS, are liberally biased.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I smell something fishy. Very fishy.

So I am a fan of Florida State University (FSU) and its football team. After all, I have three degrees from there, including my PhD.

And while I know of the evils of big time college football, including many incidents that occurred at FSU, I am still a fan of the team. More than that, I am a fan of its freshman phenom QB, Jameis Winston.

I mean, this young man is not only an amazing football player and athletic talent (e.g., check out his baseball plays on YouTube), but he is also an amazing young man. Read about it here.

So this story that is now one of the lead stories in the nation is deeply troubling. Here is the account from USA Today (as you read it, see if you can find what is fishy about this story):


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Tallahassee Police Department last year received a complaint of sexual battery against Florida State University star quarterback Jameis Winston.
No charges have been filed against Winston, and the investigation remains active. An attorney representing Winston denied the allegation.

"We've been cooperating with the law-enforcement agencies and we're hoping to get a quick resolution in favor of Mr. Winston," attorney Tim Jansen said Wednesday.

The school said in a statement that Winston's status with the Florida State football team, which he has led to a 9-0 record and No. 2 rank in the Bowl Championship Series standings, has not changed.
The complaint was filed Dec. 7, 2012, according to Tallahassee Police Department reports. The complainant is cooperating with the State Attorney's Office, said Officer David Northway, spokesman for TPD.

"The case is open and active and the victim is working with the State Attorney's Office," Northway said.

Jansen said he was told by Tallahassee police last February, about a week after they first contacted him, that the case had been closed. "I talked to the police officer," Jansen told USA TODAY Sports. "He said the case had been closed. I don't know of any reason for reopening it."

He said he found out Monday that a media outlet had requested relevant police records last Friday.
Jansen said Winston has not been interviewed by police or prosecutors.

Winston's regular weekly media availability was canceled earlier Wednesday. Shortly after the incident report had been released, Florida State issued a statement that said Winston and coach Jimbo Fisher would not address the topic. After practice, Winston spoke with reporters but would only discuss football-related topics.

"We are aware of a matter that was investigated by the Tallahassee Police Department almost a year ago," the school said in a statement. "Because the investigation has not been closed by TPD, we cannot comment further at this time. We look forward to a speedy resolution of the issue. There is no change in Jameis Winston's status."

At the site of his weekly radio show, Fisher did not mention the allegations. But he said of Winston: "I think the world of the young man. Always have."

Jansen said he provided eyewitness affidavits Tuesday to the State Attorney, William Meggs. Though Jansen would not disclose the details of the affidavits, he said, "They're witnesses who were present who can provide vital information."

TPD released an incident report on Wednesday in response to a request from the Tallahassee Democrat for any and all reports related to Winston.

The report, which was heavily redacted, does not mention Winston by name. It says the complaint was received at 4:01 a.m. and the alleged victim said sexual battery occurred earlier in the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. The exact location was not listed, though the report says it happened at an apartment.

The suspect – name listed as "Unknown" – is described as a black male with a muscular build between 5-9 and 5-11 and 240 pounds, with "straight" black hair and brown eyes. Winston is listed by Florida State as 6-4, 228 pounds.

The narrative description from the investigating officer is redacted. The incident report indicated that evidence was collected from the complainant's body. Photos also were taken of the complainant. She told police she had been drinking alcohol "before/during offense."

Georgia Cappleman, chief assistant state attorney, said she can't discuss the case because it's an open investigation.

In a news release sent Wednesday night, Northway said TPD had received several requests from local and national media about the complaint of a sexual battery.

"The case was assigned to the Special Victims Unit," Northway said. "TPD is continuing its investigation and has consulted with the State Attorney as to the direction of the case."
The Democrat on Wednesday morning requested police reports involving Winston. Throughout the day, TPD officials said they were redacting documents in response to the request. At 4:59 p.m., Northway sent an email to a Democrat reporter containing the incident report. Minutes later the police department released the incident report, without reference to Winston, to other media.
Winston is a redshirt freshman and is widely considered the current frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy.

Winston, who grew up in Hueytown, Ala., came to Florida State as one of the top recruits in the nation, choosing the Seminoles over Alabama. He was also rated as one of the top high school baseball prospects and played baseball at Florida State last season.

Despite redshirting last season while E.J. Manuel played quarterback, Winston was considered a future star by Florida State coaches, and he has not disappointed. From his debut in a victory at Pittsburgh in which he completed 25-of-27 passes, his star has only risen. He has passed for 26 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, rising to the top of the Heisman conversation.
Winston has also delivered impressive performances on the Seminoles' biggest stages, leading Florida State to a 51-14 victory at then-No. 4 Clemson and a 41-14 victory against then-No. 6 Miami. Several NFL draft experts project Winston to be the No. 1 overall pick when he is eligible in 2015.


Do you see it? The clear evidence above that this could not have been Winston?

Now, granted, the alleged victim had reportedly been drinking. So perhaps she got the guy's measurements wrong.

But I've seen this too many times before. Look up the case of Delbert Tibbs. Or Ronald Cotton. Or ... there are just so many more of these.

When a suspect does not match the description of the offender, he should not be a suspect. More importantly, the media should do a better job of making this the story rather than smearing someone's good name and character.

Instead, ESPN, which is owned by ABC, runs this headline: FSU QB Winston tied to 2012 sexual assault

"tied to"??? As in did it?

No, in their story, ESPN says "Winston part of investigation" and it notes: "The incident report does not name Winston and describes the offender as being between 5-foot-9 and 5-11. Winston is listed by Florida State as being 6-4."

So why the suggestive headline? And what about that presumption of innocence we supposedly value?

Does it look like I have straight hair?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

60 Minutes busted for broadcasting false story about Benghazi

Just because Fox News keeps diligently reporting on a story with literally no legs--NONE--does not mean CBS News had to embarrass itself by covering the story, too.

But they did anyway.

As noted by a talking head on Fox News:

"60 Minutes does not cover phony scandals."

So of course you know it is phony.

Watch it here:{%2210202417631026302%22%3A506283209479852}&action_type_map={%2210202417631026302%22%3A%22og.likes%22}&action_ref_map={%2210202417631026302%22%3A%22fblike_web%22}


"The criminal justice system spends billions of dollars and significant resources prosecuting and imprisoning people in the War on Drugs. With less than half of all violent crimes being solved, isn't it time to rethink our priorities?"


This is what I always talk to my students about.

I propose ideas to reduce or prevent crime. They always ask, "How do we pay for it."

I say, "We already have the money now. It's just that we are spending it on something else."

So it's about priorities.

As in, what's really important?

This short video from illustrates what is wrong with our priorities in criminal justice.

Watch it and try to understand how the war on drugs interferes with our ability to solve other problems. We think spending money arresting drug dealers is more of a priority than solving violent crimes.

It's all about priorities.


Monday, November 11, 2013

This is what it takes to make them agree?

On this blog I regularly show bias on the part of the news.

And nonsense in the news.

I've focused heavily on CNN and Fox.

Both have their problems, and frankly I don't know which is worse at its job.

But rarely do they focus on the same story, especially as the lead story.

Apparently, this is what it takes for executives at the two networks to see "eye to eye."


Watch this video

Typhoon survivors face grim struggle

People in the Philippines struggle to grasp the enormity of what they lost to Typhoon Haiyan and challenges they still face. The death toll may hit 10,000. FULL STORY


It's refreshing to see an international focus in the news, especially on these two networks ... given that CNN focuses almost exclusively on trivial nonsense and since Fox is almost all about making President Obama looking silly.

But that it takes an international tragedy that killed thousands to get these networks on the same page is just sad.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

This is your country on the war on drugs ....

.... any questions?

My new book with colleague Renee Scherlen is out soon.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics (SUNY PRESS).

In it we show that the drug war fails to meet all its stated and assumed goals, that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy knows this, AND that the White House nevertheless denies it (using data and statistics which are flawed and in some cases manipulated).

Specifically, the drug war does not:

* reduce drug use or drug abuse
* reduce drug availability
* increase the number of people in treatment who need treatment
* prevent illness or death associated with drug use and drug abuse
* raise prices
* decrease purity
* regulate drugs for safety

Meanwhile, the drug war imposes far more serious costs on America than it leads to benefits. Tens of billions of dollars are lost every year ... hundreds of billions if you include criminal justice costs and lost revenues that could be gained if drugs were legally available.

Then there is racial bias.

And deaths caused by our policy.

Here is just one example.

Should anyone, under any circumstances, die in the custody of criminal justice because they smoked a joint? I mean, really? Ever?

Why is the outrage of the drug war not mainstream news? Every day?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Just look at what counts as news

... as in newsworthy.

As in it is important that you know this.

So you can be informed about the world and make sense of it.

Inmates: Doctor basically confessed  Inmates: Doctor basically confessed 
Amanda Knox's ex speaks at trial
Missing Mississippi family found dead  
Michelle Knight reveals horrors  Michelle Knight reveals horrors
Knight: Captor lured me with puppiesFireball explodes in front of home  Fireball explodes in front of home
Pregnant mom stabbed while online
 Pregnant mom stabbed while online
Oops -- class shirt has gang sign  Oops -- class shirt has gang sign
Jesus spotted in the NYC marathon?
 Jesus spotted in the NYC marathon?

Look at these stories and then ask yourself:

Are these stories I need to know about?

Do they increase my understanding of the world?

Do they make me more informed?

Do they at least make me better comprehend the things that actually threaten me?

If not, why are they in the news?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How do SEE bias in the news?

Open your eyes.

Here is one example, from Fox News:

ObamaCare's red state rate squeeze

  • STUDY FINDS OBAMACARE premiums will be highest in states that did not vote for President Obama, prompting some lawmakers to say it proves 'law picks winners and losers' across the country.
"Study finds Obamacare premiums will be highest in states that did not vote for President Obama ..." ???

So this "proves" that the "law picks winners and losers"???


First, a law cannot pick anything.

Second, premiums go up or down based on a lot of factors, one of which is NOT the candidate for President voted for by citizens.

In fact, one factor that determines rates is whether state governments decided to expand Medicaid. When they did, rates did not increase (or not as much). Then they didn't, rates increased (and increased more).

Turns out, red states generally did not do this, whereas blue states did.

So, the law did not pick winners and losers. The voters in states pick winners and losers.

And for some reason, some voters pick to lose. And keep losing.

Which costs them more money.

Google it.

But at least those same people have an entire news network to tell them it is not their fault.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Quick, what is the most important news story right now?


Compare what you think with these sources.


Thousands protest at former U.S. embassy in Iran



Nonprofits, politics and the money trail

In California, new revelations detail how operatives helped move $15 million into ballot-initiative campaigns while trying to avoid naming financial backers.

'Tied up like a fish'

Michelle Knight: I was hung by feet, hands, neck

Six months after she was freed from the "house of horrors" where Ariel Castro held her captive for 11 years, Cleveland kidnapping victim Michelle Knight speaks out to Dr. Phil on "AC 360." FULL STORY


IT MIGHT BE AN OFF-YEAR for Election Day Tuesday, but union money is reaching deep into key state, city and local contests — including $2 million into the Virginia governor's race — trying to influence the makeup of state houses, city halls and school boards across America.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Here is something different

Dr. Gary Potter offers us an explanation of why criminal justice is the way it is, in his new work, "The Criminal Justice System in Late Modernity."

This piece is published in the media, and specifically in Solidarité: Journal of the Radical Left.

First, this serves as a reminder that there are alternative sources of media out there.

Second, the article might help you understand the role that especially neoconservative ideology has played in forming and maintaining our current criminal justice "system" (as well as the actuarialism in which we live). Actuarialism focuses on risk and asserts we live in a "hostile world of criminal actors and evil doers ... [that are] ... all around us. The risk of crime and its attendant harms to individuals and social institutions is pervasive and omnipresent. Crime has become a social fact, a normal part of everyday life. Criminals roam the streets and rule the ghettoes. But they also occupy political offices, corporate suites and the agencies of the criminal justice system itself. Every stranger is a potential predator. Nannies, teachers, daycare workers, those charged with the duties of caring for the elderly, family members, youth group leaders, hitchhikers and vagrants all pose threats to our safety."

Perhaps this is a pessimistic assessment of our society. You decide for yourself.

But I am impressed with Potter's recognition of the hypocrisy in our society when it comes to crime control policy. For example: "The law itself becomes confusing because the rules change so often. In actuarial justice we have different rules for different people, as evidenced by laws related to crack and cocaine hydrochloride, or the laws requiring the registration of sex offenders for behaviors engaged in by the majority of the population.  The rules change. Gambling is illegal and then legal. Loansharking is a crime, but not when it is engaged in by a check cashing agency. Drugs are illegal but dangerous drugs are prescribed by doctors and required for unruly children in schools. Concepts of right and wrong play no role in actuarial justice."

Why does this happen?

It is determined by who makes the law, who pays for it, and who votes for it. And who are those people exactly? Well, they look like this:

If there is any weakness in Potter's argument, it is that he does not explicitly acknowledge that all of this actuaralism serves the interests of people who make the law, pay for it, and vote for it: White, older, rich men (WORMs).