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The recent opinion piece (below) by Amy Zegart and Marshall Erwin of the conservative Hoover Institution suggests the NSA spy agency’s real problems are caused by our not knowing how well they protect us from terrorists. They think the NSA should focus on this rather than correcting our “misperceptions” about how they use our email and telephone data. They wrote that, “…there is no evidence the NSA is engaged in any illegal domestic snooping,” even though such evidence requires transparency and everything the NSA does is secret.
Setting aside recent proof that NSA employees do sometimes breach security protocols, we know the NSA maintains a database of electronic “envelope” information from all our calls and emails. From this information they create their meta-data analysis that reveals how closely each of us is linked to anyone else. But the NSA also has yet to deny that they are storing the content of our emails, and possibly our phone calls, in huge data storage facilities such as the recently built Utah Data Center, officially called the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center. The NSA may not be previewing all this content data, but saved records can be accessed and reviewed in the future if they choose to look. By any stretch of meaning, saving private electronic content by government, even if it is never opened, is still an unreasonable government seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.
So, is it reasonable for government to seize all our private emails or phone conversations providing they don’t peek? If so, then what’s to stop state or local law enforcement from doing the same. And what’s to stop the NSA from making secret allegations, obtaining secret FISA court access to stored communications or even altering those files to persecute citizens perceived as a threat? Our founding fathers would not have consented to this and neither should we. Protecting us from terrorist threats doesn’t justify suspending Fourth Amendment rights protecting us from tyranny at home.
The NSA’s image problem
To know the spy agency is not necessarily to love it.
By Amy Zegart and Marshall Erwin
November 1, 2013
In the wake of Edward Snowden‘s ongoing revelations about U.S. surveillance programs, the National Security Agency is facing the worst crisis in its 60-year history. Today, too many Americans mistakenly believe the NSA is listening to their phone calls and reading their emails. But misperception is only part of the agency’s problem. In an Oct. 5-7 YouGov national poll we commissioned, we also found the more that Americans understand the NSA’s activities, the less they support the agency. [snip]
Our poll results found the part about the public’s ignorance was true. But we did not find that ignorance bred greater distrust of the agency. [snip]
For example, Americans who accurately understood the NSA’s telephone metadata program were no more favorable toward the agency than those who mistakenly thought metadata involved snooping on the content of calls. [snip]
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander [has said]: “And so what’s hyped up in a lot of the reporting is that we’re listening to your phone calls. We’re reading your emails. That’s just not true.” [snip]
The NSA needs to win this debate on the merits. What we need to know is whether the agency’s telephone and Internet surveillance programs are wise and effective.
Though legal scholars will continue to debate endlessly just what “relevance” or “targeting” means, the message from these disclosures for the rest of us is this: There is no evidence that the NSA is engaged in any illegal domestic snooping operations.
For national security, the more important question now is whether these programs are good counter-terrorism policy. We have lost sight of that.
It seems possible that Halliburton Energy Services didn’t what it’s three-dimensional computer simulations of what when wrong in the Macondo Well blow-out to get into the hands of federal prosecutors. The simulations were destroyed and the DOJ filed criminal charges against Halliburton for this destruction of evidence. Halliburton was subsequently allowed to settle the charges of destroying evidence with the DOJ, pleading to just one count. Sen. John McCain is among those who feel that justice was not being served here. The following excerpt is from E&E News. A link to the full article is found below as is a PDF copy of Sen. McCain’s letter.
Republican questions Halliburton’s Gulf spill settlement
Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013
Arizona Sen. John McCain today expressed deep concerns about the Department of Justice’s recent settlement with Halliburton Energy Services Inc. over the destruction of evidence following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The Republican asked DOJ several questions about how the $200,000 settlement came about and whether it is sufficient given the nature of the allegations. [SNIP]
Halliburton admitted to one count of destroying evidence and agreed to pay the maximum statutory penalty of $200,000. Additionally, Halliburton faces three years of probation and has agreed to cooperate with DOJ’s ongoing investigation into the Gulf of Mexico explosion and spill that killed 11 rig workers.
The settlement stems from three-dimensional computer simulations that Halliburton ran after the blowout on the Macondo well. Engineers were trying to determine whether BP PLC’s decision to use fewer centralizers around the well’s casings than Halliburton had recommended may have caused the blowout. [SNIP]
“Why did DOJ settle this case for such a relatively small fine rather than choose to prosecute Halliburton to the full extent of its culpability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster?” McCain asked.
McCain also raised questions about Halliburton’s decision to contribute $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation separate from the settlement.
Read John McCain’s Letter Here: http://www.eenews.net/assets/2013/08/01/document_pm_01.pdf
Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman walks free. Was justice served?
Hood Up! Justice for Trayvon Martin by musyani75
That answer depends on who is asking the question. It should be a national outrage that this question splits us along both racial and political lines, but this has all become too predictable for outrage on these grounds. If we focus on the facts of the case the verdict divides us and there is no chance for reconciling our opposing views. If we shift the focus to our racial divide the glacial pace of reconciliation is measured in generations and no satisfactory solution can be seen. If we shift the focus to politics the question of justice will fade like an echo in the wind of endless partisanship. But focusing strictly gun laws in Florida may hold some slim hope for something good to come out of Trayvon’s death. If this trial has done anything useful, it has been to drawn attention to the crazy legal framework that informed this verdict.
Who instigates a conflict that turns deadly has always been a factor in determining guilt. The concept is that deadly conflicts are be avoided at the earliest possible stage, before they turn deadly. If you initiate the conflict, the onus is on you to end it before someone gets hurt. The “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere upends this logic. Now, whoever walks away from a murderous gun fight can legally claim it was self-defense, even if the dead guy was unarmed. It is mostly a reasonable assumption that the survivor of a deadly conflict must have felt their life was in danger at some point.
In Florida, you can now walk up to anyone in the street, provoke them into assaulting you physically and then shoot them in self-defense. You are no longer held responsible for their death. If this was not the intent of the “stand your ground” laws, it is the absurd practical implication following this verdict. These laws, with their faulty legal premises, need to be overturned.
Still I have to wonder what the legal outcome would have been if Trayvon also had a gun and ended up shooting Zimmerman first. Would days pass before he was arrested and charged? Would he have been acquitted by this jury?
If the only twist to this story was that Trayvon had managed to turn the barrel of Zimmerman’s gun around at the last instant to kill him, would the legal premise of the stand your ground law have been applied to Mr. Martin? Would the actions of the police and the outcome of the justice system been different? These questions are too important to ignore, but I am afraid the best answers to them depends largely on what we teach our children.
- The procedure for convicting a defendant of a crime is set by law: unless the defendant pleads guilty, he must be convicted at a trial before a judge or a jury by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
- There is no set legal procedure for deciding that a convicted defendant is innocent when subsequent proof of innocent surfaces.
- Persons convicted of a crime can appeal but
- Appeals are mostly based on some misapplication of law at trial
- New evidence cannot be presented to win a chance to appeal
- Accuracy of the trial court’s judgment is not reviewed
- Winning an appeal triggers a new trial, not an exoneration
- Most exonerated defendants have their convictions vacated by courts at some point, but that almost always occurs in some form of “collateral review” or “extraordinary relief” proceeding after the process of ordinary appellate review has run its course, which can take years.
- We know the race of the defendants in 92% of the cases (802/873):
- 50% were black (399/802),
- 38% were white (303/802),
- 11% were Hispanic (86/802), and
- 2% were Native American or Asian (14/802).
- 8% pled guilty (71/873) and the rest were convicted at trial – 87% by juries and 8% by judges.
- 37% were cleared at least in part with the help of DNA evidence (325/873).
- 63% were cleared without DNA evidence (548/873).
- Almost all had been in prison for years; half for at least 10 years; more than 75% for at least 5 years.
- As a group, the defendants had spent more than 10,000 years in prison for crimes for which they should not have been convicted – an average of more than 11 years each
Exonerations by Category of Crime
1989 – 2003 REPORT
1989 – 2012 REPORT
Murder (including manslaughter)
Rape (and other sexual assaults)
Other Crimes of Violence
Drug and Property Crimes
PDF REPORT: http://www.eji.org/files/Override_Report.pdf
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND MAJOR FINDINGS
No capital sentencing procedure in the united States has come under more criticism as unreliable, unpredictable, and arbitrary than the unique Alabama practice of permitting elected trial judges to override jury verdicts of life and impose death sentences.
- Of the 34 states with the death penalty, Alabama is the only jurisdiction where judges routinely override jury verdicts of life to impose capital punishment.
- Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 107 times. Although judges have authority to override life or death verdicts, in 92% of overrides elected judges have overruled jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty.
- Twenty-one percent of the 199 people currently on Alabama’s death row were sentenced to death through judicial override.
- Judge override is the primary reason why Alabama has the highest per capita death sentencing rate and execution rate in the country. Last year, with a state population of 4.5 million people, Alabama imposed more new death sentences than Texas, with a population of 24 million.
- Override is legal in only three states: Alabama, Delaware, and Florida. However, Florida and Delaware have strict standards for override. No one in Delaware is on death row as a result of an override and no death sentences have been imposed by override in Florida since 1999. In Delaware and Florida, override often is used to overrule jury death verdicts and impose life – which rarely happens in Alabama.
- Alabama’s trial and appellate court judges are elected. Because judicial candidates frequently campaign on their support and enthusiasm for capital punishment, political pressure injects unfairness and arbitrariness into override decisions.
- Override rates fluctuate wildly from year to year. The proportion of death sentences imposed by override often is elevated in election years. In 2008, 30% of new death sentences were imposed by judge override, compared to 7% in 1997, a non-election year. In some years, half of all death sentences imposed in Alabama have been the result of override.
- There is evidence that elected judges override jury life verdicts in cases involving white victims much more frequently than in cases involving victims who are black. Seventy-five percent of all death sentences imposed by override involve white victims, even though less than 35% of all homicide victims in Alabama are white.
- Some sentencing orders in cases where judges have overridden jury verdicts make reference to the race of the offender and reveal illegal bias and race-consciousness. in one case, the judge explained that he previously had sentenced three black defendants to death so he decided to override the jury’s life verdict for a white defendant to balance out his sentencing record.
- Some judges in Montgomery and Mobile Counties persistently reject jury life verdicts to impose death. Two Mobile County judges, Braxton Kitrell and Ferrill McRae, have overruled 11 life verdicts to impose death. Former Montgomery County Judge Randall Homas overrode five jury life verdicts to impose the death penalty.
- There are considerably fewer obstacles to obtaining a jury verdict of death in Alabama because, unlike in most states with the death penalty, prosecutors in Alabama are not required to obtain a unanimous jury verdict; they can obtain a death verdict with only ten juror votes for death. Capital juries in Alabama already are very heavily skewed in favor of the death penalty because potential jurors who oppose capital punishment are excluded from jury service.
What follows is important information needed to understand our juvenile justice system and how it is failing us in many ways. The evidence suggests that jailing juveniles doesn’t rehabilitate and appears to cause more harm than good. This was originally posted earlier this year, but in light of renewed discussions on how to curb violence in America, a review of our Juvenile Justice system is appropriate.
No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new report, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration assembles a vast array of evidence to demonstrate that incarcerating kids doesn’t work: Youth prisons do not reduce future offending, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they frequently expose youth to dangerous and abusive conditions. The report also shows that many states have substantially reduced their juvenile correctional facility populations in recent years, and it finds that these states have seen no resulting increase in juvenile crime or violence. Finally, the report highlights successful reform efforts from several states and provides recommendations for how states can reduce juvenile incarceration rates and redesign their juvenile correction systems to better serve young people and the public.
- Total Number of Juveniles in Committed Custody in the U.S. (1997 and 2007)
- 2008 Juvenile Correction Budgets by State
- Facility Closures in the United States Since 2007
- Change in Juvenile Correction Confinement Rates in the U.S. (1997 and 2007)
- Recidivism by Youth Released from State-funded Juvenile Correctional Facilities
- Quality Gaps in State Recidivism Data for Youth Released from Juvenile Correctional Facilities
- Litigation and Federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act Investigations over Conditions of Confinement
- Juvenile Arrest Rates (1997 to 2007)
- Systemic or Recurring Maltreatment in Juvenile Corrections Facilities
- Does Lowering Juvenile Confinement Rates at the State Level Foreshadow Increased Juvenile Violence?
The following was just published in October. Given the events of yesterday it is worth going back to read this again. Clearly we need to reconsider some sensible changes to our gun laws to keep them out of the hands of people who are emotionally unstable, domestic abusers and criminals. We should also have a national law against gun trafficking (crazy that we don’t).
From: John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
October 25, 2012
Restricting High-Risk Individuals from Owning Guns Saves Lives
On July 20, a gunman in Aurora, Colorado, used an assault rifle to murder 12 people and wound 58 others. Although this was one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, all mass shootings account for a small percentage of gun violence that occurs in the U.S. every day. In the past 100 days since the Aurora shooting, an estimated 3,035 Americans have died as a result of gun violence.
A new report by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examines policies and initiatives for reducing gun violence in the U.S. by reforming current gun policies. The report, a synthesis of prior research and analysis conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, includes the following key findings:
- Easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.
- “Right-to-carry” gun laws do not reduce violent crime.
- Prohibiting high-risk groups from having guns–criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youths under age 21, substance abusers, and those with severe mental illnesses–and closing loopholes that enable them to have guns are integral and politically feasible steps to reduce gun violence.
Please go to the new report (above) or the full News Release.