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Monday, March 31, 2014

Can you say disgusting?

Remember the case of affluenza? The kid who killed four people and basically got away with it because he was rich?

How about this case?

A Delaware man convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter only faced probation after a state Superior Court judge ruled he "will not fare well" in prison.

In her decision, Judge Jan Jurden suggested Robert H. Richards IV would benefit more from treatment. Richards, who was charged with fourth-degree rape in 2009, is an unemployed heir living off his trust fund. The light sentence has only became public as the result of a subsequent lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, which charges that he penetrated his daughter with his fingers while masturbating, and subsequently assaulted his son as well.

Richards is the great grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, a chemical baron.
According to the lawsuit filed by Richards' ex-wife, he admitted to assaulting his infant son in addition to his daughter between 2005 and 2007. Richards was initially indicted on two counts of second-degree child rape, felonies that translate to a 10-year mandatory jail sentence per count. He was released on $60,000 bail while awaiting his charges.

Richards hired one of the state's top law firms and was offered a plea deal of one count of fourth-degree rape charges -- which carries no mandatory minimum prison sentencing. He accepted, and admitted to the assault.

In her sentence, Jurden said he would benefit from participating in a sex offenders rehabilitation program rather than serving prison time.

Wait, so poor people fare well in prison?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Still obsessed

Even after a mudslide in the United States that may have killed more than 100 people--apparently in a place built by people with knowledge that a massive landslide would one day likely occur in the area--the nation's news organizations are still obsessed with the mystery surrounding one disappearing plane.


Watch this video

Change based on radar analysis

After the search for Flight 370 debris moved 680 miles to the northeast, a plane takes images of "objects." Those will be analyzed in Australia. FULL STORY

Of course I understand why this story is "newsworthy" but the level of coverage has been nothing less than astounding, especially considering how many people die (and are killed) from other causes that never make the news.

This is a reminder of one of the main points of the book: The media focus on some things and not others, directly impacting the things that people think about, worry about, and fear (and the things they don't).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Exciting criminal justice reforms?

Increasingly, in the face of tight state and federal budgets, governments are considering major criminal justice reforms.

Two examples discussed in an op-ed in the New York Times:

The Smarter Sentencing Act — introduced in the Senate last year by Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, the Utah Republican — would halve mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes, which currently stand at five, 10 and 20 years. It would also give judges more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some cases, and it would provide a chance at early release for thousands of inmates sentenced under an older law that disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders.
The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs.
The op-ed has also generated some interesting letters to the editor in response.
We discussed this issue yesterday on the campus of Appalachian State University as part of its amazing series of social justice week events. My take? It's great we're discussing reforms, no matter the motivation. But, given that much of the motivation is financial in nature, I fear we'll lose focus once the budget situation turns around, if it ever does.
In fact, it is the conservative political ideology promoted by state and federal legislators since the 1960s that has gotten us into this mess, an ideology that says individual criminals are solely responsible for their crimes and only a get tough on crime response will stop them. This has not only led to massive disparities in criminal justice practice but also broken the bank.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

About that missing airplane ...

Yesterday I posted this as my Facebook status: "Imagine all the time and money and human resources devoted to telling the story of one missing airplane. Now imagine what we could have done with it all and what a better world it would be if we had."

Of course, it takes a comedian to show how ridiculous it all is:

And yep, CNN is still at it today:


Families, experts want proof

One thing's missing from the official version of what happened, say some experts and family members: hard evidence.FULL STORY

And so just look at all the stories NOT being widely covered in the news, but that are featured in sources like Truthout ... these stories are not covered by sources like CNN because they are complex and thus not easily boiled down to soundbites and ridiculous speculation.

  • Who's Buying our Midterm Elections?

    Who's Buying our Midterm Elections?

    By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company | Video Report
  • NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat to Humanity

    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat to Humanity

    By Jessica Desvarieux, The Real News Network | Video Interview
  • New Lawsuit Alleges That Wells Fargo Has a Manual for Mass Fabrication of Foreclosure Documents

    New Lawsuit Alleges That Wells Fargo Has a Manual for Mass Fabrication of Foreclosure Documents

    By Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism | News Analysis
  • Monday, March 24, 2014

    Watch TV and see the world as a "mean and scary place"

    This is what studies conclude consistently. The more people watch TV the more they come to the world as a "mean and scary place."

    They also become cynical, pessimistic, and fearful of people different then they.

    And it's not wonder. Just look at the headlines today:


    Watch this video

    Jet crashed in ocean, families told

    A new analysis of satellite data shows the plane was lost in the southern Indian Ocean, Malaysia's PM says. DEVELOPING STORY

    BREAKING NEWS: Oscar Pistorius trial

    Messages retrieved from Oscar Pistorius' cell phone reveal a jealousy-fueled dispute between the athlete and the girlfriend he later shot to death. LIVE BLOG

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    News coverage of a disappearing airplane

    Go ahead, go the website of CNN or Fox News or any news organization.

    Then, read what they report there. Or, heaven forbid, turn on the TV and watch and listen to what they say. And then tell me this does not about sum it up:

    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Holy cow! A real important op-ed in a major newspaper

    And it is about criminal justice--as in, the real criminal justice system--as it actually operates!

    Titled, "Our criminal justice system has become a crime," the author of the column argues that the ideals of criminal justice on which our "system" was founded (i.e., due process), really do not exist. For example:

    He writes: "Here's how things all-too-often work today: Law enforcement decides that a person is suspicious (or, possibly, just a political enemy). Upon investigation into every aspect of his/her life, they find possible violations of the law, often involving obscure, technical statutes that no one really knows. They then file a 'kitchen-sink' indictment involving dozens, or even hundreds of charges, which the grand jury rubber stamps. The accused then must choose between a plea bargain, or the risk of a trial in which a jury might convict on one or two felony counts simply on a 'where there's smoke there must be fire' theory even if the evidence seems less than compelling.

    "This is why, in our current system, the vast majority of cases never go to trial, but end in plea bargains. And if being charged with a crime ultimately leads to a plea bargain, then it follows that the real action in the criminal justice system doesn't happen at trial, as it does in most legal TV shows, but way before, at the time when prosecutors decide to bring charges. Because usually, once charges are brought, the defendant will wind up doing time for something.

    "The problem is that, although there's lots of due process at trial — right to cross-examine, right to counsel, rules of evidence, and, of course, the jury itself, which the Framers of our Constitution thought the most important protection in criminal cases — there's basically no due process at the stage when prosecutors decide to bring charges. Prosecutors who are out to 'get' people have a free hand; prosecutors who want to give favored groups or individuals a pass have a free hand, too."

    This issue is discussed in my media book on the chapter on courts. Yet, you rarely see it raised in the news media, especially in a major newspaper that is widely read such as USA Today. So of course I thought you needed to see it!

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    Entertainment over news???

    I suppose if people want to see it, news organizations will show it to them?

    Teen dies after half-marathon
    Videos like these are increasingly likely to appear on the front pages of news organizations that are supposedly to be taken seriously. Those from above appear on the front page of CNN.

    Is it any wonder that Americans are so unable to identify what is going on in the world, why we are so easily misled by our leaders (including into war, for example), why we cannot identify other countries on a world map, why we don't know our history, and so on. 

    News organizations such as CNN are partly responsible for a celebration of entertainment over news, as well as the dumbing down of America.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Stories also NOT in the news today

    Yes, there is a missing airplane. And, as I suspected from day one (because I studied the 9/11 attacks and thus know much of what we knew prior to that attack with airplanes), it is looking more and more like the plane did not crash but instead was hijacked and possibly even landed safely. I seriously suspect that, eventually, evidence will surface that we also saw this coming too.

    But alas, there are other, far more important stories that should be news today but largely are not. Here are some frightening examples from the independent news source, Truthout.

    Luckily, it's noting serious: just global climate change; environmental disasters all over the US; a high risk of a nuclear disaster in the US; hazardous working conditions; stunning NSA spying; police brutality; rising income inequality; reckless spending on "defense."

    Why do the mainstream media largely ignore such stories?

    Abrupt Climate Change: No Bioperturbation

    Abrupt Climate Change: No Bioperturbation

    By Bruce Melton, Truthout | News Analysis 

    Monday, March 17, 2014

    Things in the news, things not ...

    So for all of my spring break, I was not surprised that the lead story in the news was of an airplane, packed with people, that just disappeared. And to this day, almost two weeks later, no one knows where it is.

    Still in the news? Yep:

    Plane search area: 11 countries, deep ocean

    Could jet have avoided radar?

    New reports add to the mystery surrounding Flight 370 while an aviation engineer among the passengers draws investigators' interest.FULL STORY

    Why is this story newsworthy?

    Well, it is random. Unusual. Potentially violent (if all those poor people died) and criminal (if someone did it). It is a mystery on top of all that.

    But lots of other important things are not making news, as usual. Many of them are of course more deadly than plane crashes. Such as corporate crime. As one example, consider yet another example of car manufacturer not recalling cars even after it knows for years about a defect--a defect that killed dozens of people.

    Yeah, that story made the news, because it is another corporation killing people for money. But it is not the lead story. Nope, that would be the airplane.

    Here is another story that is not making the news, in spite of its importance:

    Florida has executed 84 people since the Supreme Court announced the modern death penalty regime in 1976. Zero of them are white people sentenced to death for killing an African American. Indeed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “no white person has ever been executed for killing an African American” in the state of Florida.

    Where do I find this? ThinkProgress. Not the newspapers or TV stations. Even though this pattern is found in just about every death penalty state!

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    Take at look at this year's Oscar winners

    How many of these winning films (and nominated films) deal with issues of crime and criminal justice?

    Clearly, the winner of the Best Picture category, 12 Years a Slave is all about violence and focuses on one of the greatest "crimes" in world history (even though slavery was technically not illegal).
    (View Trailer / More Information)

    I have not seen these films but I see one about crime: American Hustle
    another about piracy: Captain Phillips
    another about an illicit drug trade: Dallas Buyers Club
    and yet another about widespread fraud on Wall Street (we celebrate this stuff? This is entertainment?): The Wolf of Wall Street

    So it appears that crime and violence are still the tried and true ways to get recognition in the film industry! 

    I guess no one cares about all these studies showing violence in film impacts violence in the real world?

    Or maybe ... just maybe ...

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    Prisons in the news

    I was deathly ill at home yesterday, so I did not blog.

    But these stories came across my newsfeed this weekend and yesterday.

    Sex in men's prisons: 'The US system cultivates rape. If you treat ...

    The Independent-Feb 28, 2014
    But the 3D picture of prison rape in America, the how and why and what happens next, is scarcely uttered because those who survive the ...

    Sexual abuse by guards at Tutwiler Prison for Women could lead to ...

    The Huntsville Times - (blog)-by Kelsey Stein-Feb 23, 2014
    "Prison rape and abuse is unacceptable, and we are taking appropriate steps to make Alabama facilities safer." - governor's spokeswoman ...
    'Get with it, Alabama:' Hire more female guards at Tutwiler Prison ... (blog)-Feb 24, 2014
    Explore in depth (19 more articles)

    Report: Guards May Be Responsible for Half of All Prison Sexual ...

    Mother Jones-Feb 4, 2014
    A new Justice Department study shows that allegations of sex abuse in the nation's prisons and jails are increasing–with correctional officers ...
    As noted in the book, it is explained that prison life remains largely a mystery to Americans, and that when prisons make the news, it is usually for stories like this.
    Frankly, as a criminologist, I think such stories are justified and even refreshing--not that they happen--but that they are finally in the news.