Wednesday, November 29, 2023

LAPD uses Israeli company's technology to bolster surveillance

 LAPD has bolstered its online surveillance operations by adding another piece of technology to its roster. LAPD’s newest surveillance partner, Cobwebs Technologies, gathers data from your phone and social media activity and turns it into intelligence, reported KnockLA. The Israeli company’s surveillance software, which outsources much of their surveillance work to AI and machine learning, gives police warrantless access to your personal information. 

Cobwebs Technologies was founded in 2015 by former IDF special operatives Omri Timianker, Shay Attias, and former Mossad official Udi Levy. The company is part of the controversial billion-dollar surveillance industry in Israel, where the technology is often tested on Palestinians before being implemented elsewhere in the world. During a 2014 trip to Israel, LAPD’s top brass saw firsthand how Israel used drones, social media surveillance software, and automatic license plate readers. Within five years of the trip, the department would be using all three. This year, Cobwebs was acquired by private equity firm Spire Capital, which owns the surveillance companies GeoTime and PenLink. The company currently has several contracts with local and federal agencies including the Texas Department of Public Safety (who use it to track migrants), the IRS, and the Department of Homeland Security

LAPD purchased the nearly $200,000-per-year subscription to the technology in 2022 with the help of a $600,000 DHS grant that focuses on terrorism prevention in urban areas. Part of the purchase was a suite of over 50 digital tools, including surveillance and investigative software built by other companies. In the grant proposal for the technology,  LAPD said it would make it easier to share intelligence with federal police agencies. 

Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, banned accounts used by Cobwebs and labeled it a surveillance-for-hire company. In a 2021 report, Meta found that Cobwebs was being used to target activists, opposition politicians, and government officials in Hong Kong and Mexico. The report pushes back against the surveillance company’s claims that it tracks only criminals and terrorists.

It is not news that LAPD monitors your social media and surveils your online activity. It is also not news that your phone and computer are doing the same, sending you targeted ads based on the links you click and apps you use. Cobwebs can combine all of this data and turn it into intelligence for police with the help of two platforms: Tangles and Webloc. 

Tangles is Cobwebs’ marquee platform. It uses AI and machine learning to automate its surveillance capabilities. The software’s AI is continually searching, scraping, and extracting information from the public’s online activity. This includes monitoring geotags of geographic locations, social media posts, and online communities, including those on the dark web. 

Tangles allows police to create extremely detailed dossiers on people, either targeted by police or found by Cobwebs while scraping personal and online data. Per the company’s promotion material, the information it provides to police includes “locations, context, internal relations, group structures, [and] hierarchies,” as well as the influence of the target’s “social communities.” This data-driven profiling, as Cobwebs describes it, can infer a person’s social network, whether they are “likely perpetrators of violence,” and monitor changes in a person’s sentiment. Cobwebs says it can help police “prevent events before they occur.”

Cobwebs’ AI can also profile a person by using its deep image analysis to make “connections” the company claims are “invisible to the naked eye.” The software scans photos and videos to find connections in people’s faces and intentions in text and labels within those photos, labeling anything it deems suspicious. Cobwebs doesn’t elaborate on what connections the software makes or how it can assert intentions from an image. 

 To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Texas executes a man for 2001 murder of 5-year-old

 The 23rd Execution of 2023

Texas executed David Renteria on on November 16, 2023, for the 2001 murder of 5-year-old Alexandra Flores. Renteria, 53, was the eighth person executed in Texas this year and the second execution of day following the Alabama execution of Casey McWhorter, reported The Texas Tribune.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a late petition from Renteria's legal team just before his execution that alleged the El Paso District Attorney’s Office violated Renteria’s constitutional rights by failing to turn over case documents. Other legal efforts failed to halt the scheduled execution.

At 7 p.m., Renteria was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. He died 11 minutes later.

“To the victims of the family, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think about that fateful event of that day and what transpired,” Renteria said as part of his final statement. “To the people that have shown compassion and that have been there for me you are my true family and I have been pleased. I am a man of many faults for those I have hurt and caused pain in their life, I beg for forgiveness.”

Cecilia Esparza, Renteria's sister, and three friends were present at the execution, according to the El Paso Times.

In 2003, Renteria was convicted of killing Alexandra while he was on probation for indecency with a child. Security camera footage showed a man who appeared to be Renteria leading the child out of an El Paso Walmart on Nov. 18, 2001, according to court documents. The girl was Christmas shopping with her family when she disappeared.

The next day, her partially-burned body was found in an alley 16 miles away from the Walmart. An autopsy found she was hit twice in the head and strangled by hand before being set on fire.

Alexandra's family, including her sister, Sandra Frausto, and brother, Ignacio Frausto, also attended the execution, according to the El Paso Times.

A jury sentenced Renteria to death. Five years later, after an automatic appeal resulted in the same conviction from an appeals court, Renteria again received a death sentence.

Renteria claimed Barrio Azteca gang members forced him to kidnap the child and dispose of her body, according to court documents, but he maintained that he did not murder the girl. Renteria said he feared for his family’s safety if he refused to help the gang members, whom he alleged murdered Alexandra.

After the El Paso District Attorney’s Office declined to turn over case files related to the murder to Renteria’s lawyers earlier this year — which the office had done for a previous capital case — his legal team asked District Court Judge Monique Velarde Reyes to postpone the execution. The El Paso District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Renteria’s attorneys argued that declining to produce documents related to the case, which they suspected contained information about the involvement of gang members in the crime, violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

On Aug. 29, Reyes granted that request, ordering the district attorney’s office to produce the documents and postponing Renteria’s Nov. 16 execution date indefinitely.

El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks appealed Reyes’ order, questioning if the district court judge has the authority to postpone the execution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s highest criminal appeals court — heard the appeal and overturned Reyes’ order, rescheduling Renteria’s execution date.

“Without a pleading before [Reyes] invoking a legitimate source of district-court jurisdiction, [Reyes] had no freewheeling jurisdiction to seek to safeguard Renteria’s Fourteenth Amendment rights," the appeals court wrote in its September order.

Renteria’s lawyers subsequently filed a petition for removal to bring the case in front of federal courts. Last month, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo denied Renteria’s motion.

 “We are basically saying we have been shut out of this equal protection claim that the El Paso district judge found had merit,” said Humphreys McGee, an assistant federal public defender in the Capital Habeas Unit, who represented Renteria.

Before his execution, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the motion on Thursday.

Renteria had another petition against the state over its use of expired drugs to kill prisoners. That petition was in front of the Criminal Court of Appeals.

The ongoing controversy has not stopped the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from extending the use-by dates of its lethal doses of pentobarbital, the only drug used in Texas executions, after retesting their potency levels. Similar legal challenges to halt executions in light of the practice have been unsuccessful this year.

To read more CLICK HERE

Mangino appears on Court TV to discuss the leading trials of the day

Watch my interview with Julie Grant on Court TV discussing the latest developments in the Alex Murdaugh case  and the coming trial of Richard Allen in the Delphi murders.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

Monday, November 27, 2023

No-Knock Raid: Castle Doctrine or Murder? Texas jury provide an answer

A jury in Texas convicted a man of murdering a local police officer in a case that pitted no-knock raids against the right to self-defense, reported Reason Magazine.

Marvin Guy, who waited in jail for over nine years before his trial, was found guilty of murdering Detective Charles Dinwiddie, whom Guy said he mistook for an intruder after a SWAT team in 2014 smashed his bedroom window and tried to break into his home with a battering ram during a 5:45 a.m. drug raid. The panel declined, however, to convict him of capital murder and instead opted for murder, meaning they did not agree—at least not unanimously—that Guy knew he was shooting at law enforcement.

The raid was the product of a no-knock warrant, which police pursued in response to a tip that Guy had been dealing cocaine, and which allowed them to break into Guy's apartment without first identifying themselves.

On May 9, 2014, before the sun rose, about two dozen officers arrived at Guy's residence. The team struggled to fully penetrate the door with their battering ram; something was blocking it from behind. One officer accidentally detonated his stun grenade, inflaming what was already a raid rapidly going awry.

Guy, who lived in a high-crime area, said he was woken up and assumed the police were criminals trying to break into his home. He had allegedly been on edge about such a situation: One of his neighbors had reportedly been victimized similarly a week before when an intruder choked her after forcing entry by way of her first-floor window. Guy allegedly hit four officers, killing Dinwiddie and prompting police to fire over 40 rounds in return.

The prosecution, however, theorized that Guy had somehow come to know the police were coming and that he'd set a trap to "ambush" them. "One man's ambush is another man panicked, being scared his home is being broken into," countered Jon Evans, Guy's defense attorney.

Key to the defense's case were the frenzied circumstances characteristic of many no-knock raids—namely that it was set in motion without warning and before dawn, when the target is likely to be disoriented. A witness for the government testified the first day that during such raids it was department policy to shine a light into the home so police could see in but the subject couldn't see out.

The prosecution concluded their case on Thursday with testimony from Dinwiddie's widow, Holly, in what was effectively a victim impact statement. "He had a zest for life," she said. "He woke up happy." The defense rested the same day after calling one witness: retired Killeen Police Department Commander Scott Meads, who conducted an administrative review of the raid and identified several tactical errors and concerns, including that the officers were confused over the apartment's layout.

Texas has the Castle Doctrine, the legal principle that entitles someone to stand their ground in their home if they perceive a deadly threat. That protection evaporates, however, if the person is engaged in illegal activity. Law enforcement allegedly found traces of white powder on Guy's apartment floor, in his car, and in the trash, though the government did not charge him with a drug crime.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Forced sterilization still utilized in much of Europe and U.S.

Forced sterilization, with its history of racism and eugenics, is banned under multiple international treaties, reported The New York Times. Thirty-seven European nations and the European Union have ratified the Istanbul Convention, which declares, without exception, that nonconsensual sterilization is a human rights violation.

The United States has signed but not ratified a separate treaty on the issue and sterilization laws vary by stateThere are many laws in the United States that allow forced sterilization of disabled people. Today, 31 states and Washington, D.C., have laws allowing forced sterilization of disabled people. Under these laws, a judge can decide whether to sterilize someone. This happens when the judge thinks the disabled person cannot make the decision on their own. The judge can order the sterilization if they think it is the best choice for the disabled person.

But a New York Times investigation found over a third of those countries have made exceptions, often for people that the government deems too disabled to consent. Some countries have banned the practice but not actually criminalized it. And records show that the Istanbul treaty’s official watchdog has repeatedly criticized governments for not doing enough to protect disabled people. 

The result is that people with intellectual disabilities — mostly women — are still being sterilized, even when it is not medically necessary.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Pennsylvania's 'Compassionate Release' law anything but compassionate

The current compassionate release statute in Pennsylvania purports to provide sick and aging incarcerated people with a way to spend the end of their life free from prison. In reality, it is so narrowly written that only 48 people have successfully used it in 14 years, according to Spotlight PA.

The law grants release only to those who are sick or older, cannot walk, and have less than a year to live.

Because of the narrow criteria, the state has received very few petitions since the legislature established the process in 2009. And in many cases, petitioners have died before their petitions came before a judge.

The process is obscure even to lawyers such as Trama who regularly defend clients in civil rights and defense cases. Before Caliman’s case, the attorney had never heard of it, much less represented an incarcerated person in a petition. Trama received a “huge lift,” she said, from ALC attorney Rupalee Rashatwar.

“I was terrified the entire time that we were going to be one day too late,” Trama said.

Rashatwar and the firm have driven the uptick in successful petitions in recent years. There were 24 petitions granted between 2009 and 2020, before ALC began its focused practice. Courts have granted release to 24 people in the past three years alone, with ALC representing nearly half of them. The firm now partners with Pennsylvania University law students to help file petitions.

But the small rise in successes still represents a fraction of the aging population receiving costly medical care for chronic and serious health conditions inside state prisons.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections incarcerates 10,300 people over the age of 50 who are considered elderly because lack of access to health care and atypical living conditions age them at a faster rate than those on the outside, according to state officials. These people account for more than a quarter of Pennsylvania’s prison population and there is a financial as well as human cost to keeping them incarcerated.

To read more CLICK HERE


Friday, November 24, 2023

Federal court strikes down Maryland's gun licensing law

 A U.S. appeals court declared that Maryland's licensing requirements for people seeking to buy handguns were unconstitutional, citing a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that expanded gun rights, reported Reuters.

A three-judge panel of the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 2-1 vote blocked enforcement of a 2013 Maryland law that required people to undergo training and background checks before applying for licenses to buy handguns, saying it violated the right to "keep and bear arms" under the U.S. 

The Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in a case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v Bruen required gun laws to be "consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation" in order to survive a Second Amendment challenge.

"Maryland has not shown that this regime is consistent with our nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation," U.S. Circuit Judge Julius Richardson, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling.

Richardson called the Maryland law an "additional, preliminary step" that subjected law-abiding people to a 30-day waiting period before they could begin the usual process to acquire a firearm through a separate background check system.

Randy Kozuch, the executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legal Action, its lobbying arm, called it "a significant ruling for the Second Amendment and every American who cherishes our constitutional freedoms."

The NRA backed the lawsuit that challenged the law and covered the legal costs of the litigation, an NRA spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Andrew Brown, a Democrat who is defending the law, said his office was "weighing options for next steps in this case."

At issue was a handgun qualification licensing requirement adopted as part of Maryland's Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a broader gun control measure.

Prospective handgun buyers were required to submit fingerprints for a background investigation and take a four-hour-long safety training course. They would then wait up to 30 days before undergoing the rest of the usual process to buy a gun.

A gun rights group called Maryland Shall Issue sued in 2016 along with two individuals and a gun store, arguing that the restrictions violated the Second Amendment. But a lower court judge twice rejected their claims, prompting the appeal.

Richardson on Tuesday said the Supreme Court in 2022 "effected a sea change in Second Amendment law" when it struck down New York state's limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home. The test set out under that ruling has led to a series of court decisions striking down federal and state restrictions on firearms.

Maryland had said its law mirrored historical limitations on "dangerous" people owning firearms. But Richardson said no historical laws worked by "preemptively depriving all citizens of firearms to keep them out of dangerous hands."

U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, an appointee of Democratic former President Barack Obama, dissented, saying the court majority's reasoning "would render presumptively unconstitutional most non-discretionary laws in this country requiring a permit to purchase a handgun."

To read more CLICK HERE


Thursday, November 23, 2023

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving was actually not really celebrated as a regular national holiday until the Civil War, and even then, there was a lot of contention surrounding where and when that Thanksgiving actually happened, according to Before then, a national day of giving thanks was declared by the president of the United States.

What can be considered the first U.S. Thanksgiving holiday came in 1777, as a celebration for the Continental Army's surprise victory against the British at the Battle of Saratoga. At the request of the Continental Congress, George Washington declared the day in December.

In April 1789, Washington became the first president of the United States, and by October, he declared Nov. 26 to be the country's first Thanksgiving Day to celebrate God's assistance in the war for independence. He would declare another in 1795, during his second term.

Future presidents adopted the right to declare days of Thanksgiving. James Madison declared a national Thanksgiving to recognize the end of the War of 1812. By 1846, a movement of Americans began to call for a permanent national Thanksgiving holiday, a movement that didn't catch on until a large part of the country was trying not to be part of the country.

In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. It was a means of thanking the almighty for what success that Union cause saw as the war began to turn in its favor. He was also grateful that foreign powers had not intervened for the southern cause.

The new holiday took the place of Evacuation Day, which was celebrated nationally despite not being an actual recognized holiday. It began as a local celebration of the British evacuation from Manhattan Island.

But even though Thanksgiving was a holiday intended to bring Americans together, it initially ignited a culture war before Lincoln even made it a holiday. One of the staple foods of the movement to create the new holiday was pumpkin pie, a New England tradition. Southerners saw pumpkin pie as an act of aggression to impart northern values on the South.

After the war, President Ulysses S. Grant made Thanksgiving a national holiday for Washington but left it to governors to declare the holidays in their states. Few former Confederates forgot the North's pumpkin-pie aggression, and many refused to acknowledge it. It took a long time for Thanksgiving to catch on. Still, U.S. presidents would declare the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving year after year.

What finally bridged the divide between North and South on Thanksgiving Day? Football. Although the Green Bay Packers wouldn't be founded until 1919 and the Detroit Lions wouldn't appear until 1929, it was high school and college football rivalries toward the end of November that finally made the South give in to giving thanks. That tradition brings us together to this day. 

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the most infamous crime of the 20th Century

Just minutes after President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot as his motorcade rolled through downtown Dallas, Associated Press reporter Peggy Simpson rushed to the scene and immediately attached herself to the police officers who had converged on the building from which a sniper's bullets had been fired, reported ABC News.

“I was sort of under their armpit,” Simpson said, noting that every time she was able to get any information from them, she would rush to a pay phone to call her editors, and then “go back to the cops.”

Simpson, now 84, is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination on Wednesday.

“A tangible link to the past is going to be lost when the last voices from that time period are gone,” said Stephen Fagin, curator at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which tells the story of the assassination from the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald's sniper's perch was found.

“So many of the voices that were here, even 10 years ago, to share their memories — law enforcement officials, reporters, eyewitnesses — so many of those folks have passed away," he said.

Simpson, former U.S. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill and others are featured in “JFK: One Day in America,” a three-part series from National Geographic released this month that pairs their recollections with archival footage, some of which has been colorized for the first time. Director Ella Wright said that hearing from those who were there helps tell the “behind the scenes” story that augments archival footage.

“We wanted people to really understand what it felt like to be back there and to experience the emotional impact of those events,” Wright said.

People still flock to Dealey Plaza, which the presidential motorcade was passing through when Kennedy was killed.

“The assassination certainly defined a generation," Fagin said. “For those people who lived through it and came of age in the 1960s, it represented a significant shift in American culture.”

On the day of the assassination, Simpson had originally been assigned to attend an evening fundraising dinner for Kennedy in Austin. With time on her hands before she needed to leave Dallas, she was sent to watch the presidential motorcade, but she wasn't near Dealey Plaza.

Simpson had no idea that anything out of the ordinary had happened until she arrived at The Dallas Times Herald's building where the AP's office was located. Stepping off an elevator, she heard a newspaper receptionist say, “All we know is that the president has been shot," and then heard the paper's editor briefing the staff.

She raced to the AP office in time to watch over the bureau chief's shoulder as he filed the news to the world, and then ran out to the Texas School Book Depository to track down more information.

Later, at police headquarters, she said, she witnessed “just a wild, crazy chaotic, unfathomable scene.” Reporters had filled the hallways where an officer walked through with Lee Harvey Oswald 's rifle held aloft. The suspect's mother and wife arrived, and at one point authorities held a news conference where Oswald was asked questions by reporters.

“I was just with a great mass of other reporters, just trying to find any bit of information,” she said.

Two days later, Simpson was covering Oswald's transfer from police headquarters to the county jail, when nightclub owner Jack Ruby burst forth from a gaggle of news reporters and shot the suspect dead.

As police officers wrestled with Ruby on the floor, Simpson rushed to a nearby bank of phones “and started dictating everything I saw to the AP editors,” she said. In that moment, she was just thinking about getting out the news.

“As an AP reporter, you just go for the phone, you can’t process anything at that point,” she said.

Simpson said she must have heard the gunshot but she can’t remember it.

“Probably Ruby was 2 or 3 feet away from me but I didn’t know him, didn’t see him, didn’t see him come out from the crowd of reporters,” she said.

Simpson's recollections are included in an oral history collection at the Sixth Floor Museum that now includes about 2,500 recordings, according to Fagin.

The museum curator said Simpson is “a terrific example of somebody who was just where the action was that weekend and got caught up in truly historic events while simply doing her job as a professional journalist."

Fagin said oral histories are still being recorded. Many of the more recent ones have been with people who were children in the '60s and remembered hearing about the assassination while at school.

“It's a race against time really to try to capture these recollections,” Fagin said.

To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Trump wins another 14th Amendment ballot challenge

After several days of trial involving multiple witnesses and other evidence, a Colorado state court became the fifth to reject an effort to keep Donald Trump off a state presidential ballot under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, a post-Civil War addition to the Constitution ratified in 1868, reported The Bulwork. It provides: “No person shall . . . hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath . . . as an officer of the United States . . . to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Because the Colorado case involved lengthy testimony and detailed findings of fact and rulings on the meaning of Section 3, the 102-page decision is worth summarizing at some length. Clearly, Colorado District Judge Sarah B. Wallace wrote with an expectation that judges at higher state courts and likely even the U.S. Supreme Court would wind up studying her analysis on an appeal petition.

Here’s what other courts have ruled thus far about Trump and Section 3:

  • Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a bid to keep Trump off the state’s primary ballot, but for a different reason than Wallace’s: that “there is no state statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot . . . a candidate who is ineligible to hold office.” Translated, the Republican party is fully in charge of who gets on the primary ballot. Yet Minnesota Chief Justice Natalie Hudson noted that the plaintiffs could file another suit later to keep Trump off the general election ballot should he win the Republican primary in Minnesota.
  • In Michigan, Court of Claims Judge James Redford took a different route altogether, ruling that courts have no business deciding what Section 3 means because it’s a “political question” that exclusively belongs to Congress. (The political question doctrine is a made-up rule the Supreme Court uses if it just doesn’t want to wade into sticky political issues like crafting the technical rules governing an impeachment trial, for example.) However, if Trump wins the general election, Redford added, his eligibility under Section 3 could be revisited, and if he’s then determined ineligible, the Twentieth Amendment—which provides for the vice president-elect to become president if a president-elect dies before taking the oath of office—could somehow kick in.
  • In New Hampshire, a federal judge ruled in October that John Anthony Castro, an unknown presidential candidate from Texas who has initiated over two dozen Section 3 lawsuits across the country, did not have standing to sue under Article III of the U.S. Constitution—meaning he lacked a sufficient injury to bring the matter within Article III’s “case” or “controversy” requirement that gives federal courts jurisdiction in the first place. The judge wrote: “Castro has not established that he has or will suffer a political competitive injury arising from Trump’s participation in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.” In addition, he agreed with the Michigan state court judge that the matter is probably a “political question” that’s for elected politicians—not judges—to decide.
  • Finally, in Florida, another federal judge dismissed a case for lack of standing in September. The plaintiff in that case was an individual citizen who, the judge ruled, had no legal basis to complain about another person’s running for office. A “generalized interest” in the election outcome is not enough of an injury to invoke the power of the courts.

All these cases will undoubtedly be appealed.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 20, 2023

Are we numb to the threats to democracy?

Dahlia Lithwick writing for Slate:

It’s been just a clutch of days since former President Donald Trump and his allies made clear that if he wins reelection, he plans to gut the existing U.S. government and “install a pre-vetted, pro-Trump army of up to 54,000 loyalists” to take over senior legal, judicial, defense, regulatory, and domestic policy jobs in the civil service. It’s been under a week since he announced in an interview on Univision that he’d cheerfully “weaponize” the power of the Justice Department to indict his rivals for no other reason than that they were “beating me very badly.” Also less than a week ago, he delivered his chilling Veterans Day promise to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, lie, steal, and cheat on elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and the American dream.” The news of his plans to carry out mass deportations while rounding up millions of undocumented immigrants and interning them in sprawling detention camps, as well as his hope to cancel U.S. visas—for lawful green-card and student visa holders—who harbor “anti-American” views is also very recent. All of this is to be achieved by installing armies of lawyers, judges, and functionaries who will not erect roadblocks to such projects, as they did when he was president the first time, because they don’t believe in the rule of law as we understand it. As Trump openly described his rationale for his plans last week in the most spine-chilling language yet, undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” And yes, the week is only half done.

We further learned, just a week ago, that Ohio Republicans plan to try to block a constitutional amendment protecting reproductive freedom by stripping state judges of the power to decide such cases. And we have learned in recent days of plans by allies of the new Republican House speaker to reinstate the brutally repressive Comstock Act so as to further limit sexual autonomy. And today we can’t seem to take our eyes off the now-violent physical altercations happening in the very same Capitol building that was stormed by violent extremists trying to overturn the 2020 election. The cogs and the wheels of democratic governance sound janky as hell right now.

The piece suggesting that all of the above represents an objective, verifiable, and historically predictive set of preconditions for authoritarianism, or fascism, or the end of free and fair elections has been said or written, succinctly and brilliantly, in recent days by Jamelle BouieJoyce VanceRuth Ben GhiatRachel MaddowJohn CassidySeth MeyersJason StanleyZack BeauchampChris LehmannMichael TomaskyScott Lehigh, and who knows how many others. And, perhaps paradoxically, the piece suggesting that the press has failed utterly to meet this perilous moment has been done, also brilliantly, by Margaret SullivanBrian Stelter, and Dan Froomkin, all of them echoing the call of New York University professor Jay Rosen, who continues to demand that the media cover the 2024 campaign by emphasizing “not the odds but the stakes.”

The stakes, we can probably agree, are in no way in doubt. As Bouie and others suggest, the Stephen Millers and Jeffrey Clarks and Steve Bannons are counting the minutes before “Flood the Zone With Shit” becomes the new “E Pluribus Unum.” Indeed, it almost seems as if “not the odds but the stakes” no longer captures a media failure alone; it actually also encapsulates the scope of a bitter political failure. We may actually have moved into the realm of journalism adequately covering the stakes, with the sad reality emerging that nobody seems to care much about the stakes at the present moment.

The horse race we are describing? The odds we are clocking? The contest we are all betting on? It’s now just fascism vs. democracy. These “stakes” we are, all of us, fretting about, this question of whether democracy survives the next 12 months, is the very thing everyone is watching like it’s the NCAA playoffs. I’m no longer completely convinced that voters don’t fully understand the stakes; not when you’re hearing Trump talking of executing his former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, not when you’re hearing of mass deportations without due process, and not when family separations at the border is a future promise, as opposed to a recent lawless tragedy.

What if the media is actually covering the spectacle precisely because the stakes—casual brutality, violence, callousness, lawlessness, and the descent into anarchy—are perfectly visible, legible, and clear? It’s hard to read any other way the current threats by sitting senators who promise to beat up committee witnesses, or former speakers of the House who elbow their political opponents, or congresspeople who say they will impeach everyone who makes them mad while dabbling in the recreational threat to shut down the government. What if the problem isn’t that consumers of media fail to understand the actual stakes of losing democracy? What if the problem is really that watching this MMA smackdown between fascism and representative democracy is, in fact, the 2023 version of good, clean fun? As Bouie puts it in his New York Times piece on the subject this week, “The mundane truth of American politics is that much of what we want to know is in plain view. You don’t have to search hard or seek it out; you just have to listen. And Donald Trump is telling us, loud and clear, that he wants to end American democracy as we know it.”

There is going to come a moment—and for many of the writers cited above, that moment has already arrived—in which the media appropriately reports on the enormity of the stakes and nobody flinches.

When you’ve been contending with such enormous stakes for as long as this country has—since at least that golden escalator ride eight years ago—it can be hard to keep flinching at the risks, even as they become ever more undeniable. Here’s hoping that our reflexes start to kick in over the next 12 months, lest we’re once again reminded of what happens when the stakes have been staring us in the face all along and we choose instead to roll the dice on democracy itself.

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Sunday, November 19, 2023

Mangino discusses Kohberger prosecution on the one year anniversary of the murders

Watch my extensive interview on the Law and Crime Network discussing the murder of four Idaho Colleges students on the one year anniversary of their deaths.


Police suicide a growing concern nationwide

Andy O'Hara writing for The Marshall Project

There is a code of secrecy around mental illness in police agencies across the nation, a code that is difficult to break through.

No federal agency keeps an official count of how many law enforcement officers commit suicide each year. That’s in part why I founded Badge of Life, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent police suicides. We’ve collected data in recent years and found that there are an average of 130 law enforcement suicides every year, or eleven per month.

More officers die of suicide than die of shootings and traffic accidents combined. It’s a problem that cries out for answers and remedies, but too many departments are reluctant to admit it exists, much less implement programs to address it.

While a few of the known deaths are publicly attributed to depression or PTSD, the overwhelming majority are listed as having “unknown causes.” Stigma — the fear that it will reflect negatively on a department or result in liability claims by the family — appears to be a motivating factor behind such vague information.

Based on 24 years experience on the job, I believe that work-related stress and depression are far more prevalent in police work than reports suggest. Law enforcement is one of the most toxic, caustic career fields in the world. But, while injuries like PTSD are increasingly acknowledged within the military, its prevalence in civilian police work goes virtually unnoticed.

Instead of continuing to ignore the problem, the law enforcement community needs to address mental health and suicide head-on, devising what they call a “cradle to the grave” approach for officers. Cadets in police academies must be informed of the emotional toll of police work and taught coping techniques.

Additionally, rather than advising officers to get help when they “need it,” it should be strongly encouraged that officers attend regular therapy sessions with a licensed counselor, whether it is through an employee counseling service or on the “outside” to assure confidentiality.

Finally, officers should be encouraged to go at least once a year to a therapist who is adept at dealing with stress and trauma in the same way they get an annual physical or dental check-up. That would give an officer the opportunity to see what has been working well emotionally for the past year, but also affords him or her a chance to see what has not.

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Saturday, November 18, 2023

Disgraced Congressman George Santos faces expulsion from House of Representatives

The Republican chairman of the bipartisan House Ethics Committee introduced a resolution to expel Representative George Santos of New York from Congress, citing the committee’s damning new report documenting violations of House rules and evidence of pervasive campaign fraud, reported The New York Times.

The move by Representative Michael Guest of Mississippi, the committee’s chairman, laid the groundwork for a pivotal vote after Thanksgiving that could make Mr. Santos only the sixth representative to be ejected in the chamber’s history.

“The evidence uncovered in the Ethics Committee’s investigative subcommittee investigation is more than sufficient to warrant punishment,” Mr. Guest said in a statement accompanying his five-page resolution. “And the most appropriate punishment is expulsion.”

Mr. Santos, a Republican, has survived two expulsion efforts after a crush of reports in The New York Times and other publications exposed his fabricated life story and federal prosecutors charged him with 23 felonies.

But support for Mr. Santos appeared to be eroding on Friday, as dozens of lawmakers in both parties indicated that the ethics report — showing how he spent tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions on Botox, Ferragamo goods and vacations — was the final straw for a lawmaker who has caused a year’s worth of political headaches.

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Friday, November 17, 2023

Alabama executes a man for 1993 robbery and murder

The 22st Execution of 2023

An Alabama inmate, Casey McWhorter was executed by lethal injection on November 16, 2023. He was convicted of killing a man during a 1993 robbery when he was a teenager, reported The Associated Press.

Casey McWhorter, 49, was pronounced dead at 6:56 p.m. at a southwest Alabama prison, authorities said. McWhorter was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for his role in the robbery and shooting death of Edward Lee Williams, 34, on Feb. 18, 1993.

Prosecutors said McWhorter, who was three months past his 18th birthday at the time of the killing, conspired with two younger teenagers, including Williams’ 15-year-old son, to steal money and other items from Williams’ home and then kill him. The jury that convicted McWhorter recommended a death sentence by a vote of 10-2, which a judge, who had the final decision, imposed, according to court records. The younger teens — Edward Lee Williams Jr. and Daniel Miner, who was 16 — were sentenced to life in prison, according to court records.

 “It’s kind of unfortunate that we had to wait so long for justice to be served, but it’s been served,” the victim’s brother, Bert Williams, told reporters after the execution. He added that the lethal injection provided McWhorter a peaceful death unlike the violent end his brother endured.

Prison officials opened the curtain to the execution chamber at 6:30 p.m. McWhorter, who was strapped to the gurney with the intravenous lines already attached, moved slightly at the beginning of the procedure, rubbing his fingers together, but his breathing slowed until it was no longer visible.

“I would like to say I love my mother and family,” McWhorter said in his final words. “I would like to say to the victim’s family I’m sorry. I hope you find peace.”

McWhorter also used his final words to take an apparent verbal jab at his executioner, the prison warden who faced domestic violence accusations decades ago, saying that, “it’s not lost on me that a habitual abuser of women is carrying out this procedure.”

Prosecutors said McWhorter and Miner went to the Williamses’ home with rifles and fashioned homemade silencers from a pillow and a milk jug. When the older Williams arrived home and discovered the teens, he grabbed the rifle held by Miner. They began to struggle over it, and McWhorter fired the first shot at Williams, according to a summary of the crime in court filings. Williams was shot a total of 11 times.

April Williams, the victim’s daughter, said her father today should be spending time with his grandchildren and enjoying retirement.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and how I miss him,” April Williams said in a statement read by Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm. “Casey McWhorter had several hours in that house to change his mind from taking the life of my Dad.”

Defense attorneys had unsuccessfully sought a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, citing McWhorter’s age at the time of the crime. They argued the death sentence was unconstitutional because Alabama law does not consider a person to be a legal adult until age 19.

McWhorter, who called himself a “confused kid” at the time of the slaying, said he would encourage young people going through difficult times to take a moment before making a life-altering mistake like he did.

“Anything that comes across them that just doesn’t sit well at first, take a few seconds to think that through,” he told The Associated Press in an interview last week. “Because one bad choice, one stupid mistake, one dumb decision can alter your life — and those that you care about — forever.” McWhorter maintained that he did not intend to kill Williams. Attorney General Steve Marshall said as Williams was on the ground wounded that McWhorter shot him in the head.

McWhorter spent nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row, making him among the longest-serving inmates of the state’s 165 death row inmates.

“Edward Lee Williams’ life was taken away from him at the hands of Casey A. McWhorter, and tonight, Mr. McWhorter answered for his actions,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

The Rev. Jeff Hood, a death row minister who works with an anti-death penalty group, accompanied McWhorter into the execution chamber as his spiritual adviser. “It is not lost on me that he was a murderer and so are all Alabamians tonight. I pray that we will all learn to stop killing each other,” Hood said in a statement.

The Alabama execution occurred the same night that Texas executed a man convicted of strangling a 5-year-old girl who was taken from a Walmart store nearly 22 years ago.

McWhorter was the second inmate put to death this year in Alabama after the state paused executions for several months to review procedures following a series of failed or problematic executions. James Barber, 64, was executed by lethal injection in July for the 2001 beating death of a woman.

Alabama plans in January to make the nation’s first attempt to put an inmate to death using nitrogen gasNitrogen hypoxia has been authorized as an execution method in Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi, but no state has used it.

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Some Chicago and Philadelphia neighbors literally worse than war zones

For some young black men, it can be safer to be in the U.S. military at war than living at home in the most violent neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Chicago

Alex Knorre is a postdoctoral research fellow at Boston College writing in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Mass shootings tend to dominate the debate over gun violence, but they accounted for just 3% of all firearm homicides in the United States in 2021.

The vast majority of gun homicides are murders that happen in an extremely concentrated number of neighborhoods, places where the rate of gun deaths rivals war zones.

As a scholar of gun violence and victimization in the U.S., I study and publish research on the geographic and demographic concentration of shootings. I’m always searching for new perspectives to help people understand this crisis.

Shootings happen over and over in the same locations. About half take place in just 1% to 5% of the land area in U.S. cities — in other words, in a tiny percentage of the nation’s homes, stores, parks and street corners.

These same neighborhoods tend to suffer from what criminologists call concentrated disadvantage — an unsavory mix of high crime rates, illegal drug markets, poverty, limited educational and economic opportunities and residential instability. Cumulatively, these factors decrease residents’ ability to maintain public order and safety in the ways that safer neighborhoods do informally by confronting violent behavior or supervising teenagers.

Kids who grow up in these neighborhoods suffer the long-lasting repercussions of exposure to violence, such as high levels of stress and trauma that dampen educational attainment and result in decreased cognitive ability.

The demographics of these neighborhoods means that both victims and perpetrators of shootings are disproportionately young Black men, who are 93.9% of firearm-related homicide victims in Chicago and 79.3% of gun homicides in Philadelphia (where young Hispanic men make up another 12.9%). Homicides disproportionately affect the young largely because boys and men ages 15 to 25 are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior, a phenomenon known as the age-crime curve.

For some young men, it can be safer to be in the U.S. military at war than living at home in the most violent neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Chicago.

How we did our study

This finding comes from a study my co-authors, Brandon Del Pozo and Aaron Chalfin, and I did to compare shooting rates in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles with casualty rates of U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our paper is published in JAMA Network Open, an open-source medical journal, and is free to read.

We collected all publicly available city-level data on shooting deaths, including the time, exact place and information about the victim. Our study focused on Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago because they were the largest American cities with public data available. However, gun homicides happen everywhere, with notable rates of gun homicides in St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit and Cleveland.

For military casualties, we relied on the estimates from studies of the mortality of U.S. soldiers at war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Afghan War was deadlier, with 395 deaths of U.S. combatants per 100,000 people per year, compared with 330 in Iraq. We used the higher rate from the Afghan War as our reference, expressing the homicide rate in other places in relationship to this benchmark.

Deadliest ZIP codes in North Philly, Garfield Park

The most violent ZIP code in Philadelphia is 19132 in North Philadelphia. That ZIP code includes parts of Strawberry Mansion and the blocks further north and east. The violence of these city streets was captured by sociologist Elijah Anderson in his ethnographic study “Code of the Street,” published in 2000.

A young man living in this ZIP code had 1.91 times more annual risk of getting killed with a firearm than a U.S. soldier deployed to Afghanistan for a comparable amount of time.

During 2020 and 2021, this ZIP code was home to about 2,500 young men. Thirty-seven were killed in gun homicides.

A similar calculation for the most violent neighborhood of Chicago, an area around Garfield Park with the ZIP code 60624, yields statistics that are even grimmer. Young men living there were 3.23 times more likely to die from a bullet than U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan. Sixty-six young men were shot dead during 2020 and 2021.

Moreover, survivors of this violence bear the burden of it for the whole time they live in these neighborhoods. In contrast, the average deployment is less than 12 months.

Research papers like ours can raise many “Yeah but” questions. Answering them can better help us understand the limitations of our study.

For example, many service members do not engage in active combat. This fact made our research team wonder if the inclusion of data from personnel in safer support roles was skewing our data, so we specifically looked at the casualties of one U.S. brigade combat team that was heavily engaged during the Iraq War.

The brigade had a casualty rate 1.71 times higher than our benchmark. That means that members of the brigade were still safer than male youth in the most violent area of Philadelphia (with a casualty rate of 1.91 times higher) and Chicago (3.23 times higher).

It is also worth noting that we studied two particularly violent years in U.S. cities. 2020 saw a record increase in homicide rates. That number stayed high in 2021, before decreasing slightly in 2022.

Lastly, on a more positive note, gun mortality in New York and Los Angeles was significantly lower than in Philadelphia and Chicago, and much lower than the risks faced in war.

Our research also showed that soldiers who are injured on the battlefield are less likely to die from their wounds than people shot in the American cities we studied.

Surviving a wound is more likely if medical help is immediate. This suggests two ideas to decrease shooting deaths: Train more police officers to provide urgent basic medical treatment to the victims of gun violence and add capacity to trauma centers near violent neighborhoods.

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