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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

President Obama on Baltimore Riots

Fifty years ago, the Watts section of south Los Angeles erupted in violence after a police encounter with an African American man. For the first time, television covered this sort of urban rioting, looting, burning of businesses, police beating of rock-throwing protesters, and National Guardsmen fully armed, enforcing marshal law in an American city. In the next few years, other cities followed ... 
Promises were made ... nothing changed ... things actually got worse ... 
Meanwhile, we wasted trillions in Viet-Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan ... 
Ignoring the Third World neighborhoods with their permanent underclass of hopelessness ... 
Yesterday, President Obama, the first Black president, who began his activism as a community organizer in Chicago slums, was asked for his reaction to the events in Baltimore. 
Thoughtful and infuriatingly articulate, as always, he made six points. The first five related to the incident that ignited the protests, the police, the criminality of looters ...
The sixth point was the most insightful ... and this is a transcript of those remarks (the italics are mine):
We can’t just leave this to the police.  I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching.  I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching.  But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching.  This is not new.  It’s been going on for decades.
And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, 
what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; 
they’ve got parents — often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves — can’t do right by their kids; 
if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.
 In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem.  
And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.
If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do — the rest of us — to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; 
to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons
so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense
that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs.  
That’s hard.  That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force.  And there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that.
Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training, and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities trying to attract new businesses in.
But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could.  It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant — and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.  We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they’re important.  And they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.
That’s how I feel.  I think there are a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way.  But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time.  And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference.  But I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it’s easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law and order issue, as opposed to a broader social issue.
That was a really long answer, but I felt pretty strongly about it.
... AMEN...

Sunday, April 19, 2015


More proof that innocent people have been executed. Or condemned to rot in prisons as rapists, child molesters, arsonists, murderers:

Prosecution forensic “experts” have bee shown to be biased, negligent, and / or incompetent, resulting in false opinions to support prosecution theories of guilt. See the Texas Arson expert scandal, the many case reversals after DNA review, the many other reports about false fingerprint and blood evidence, as well as all the revelations about police and prosecutors withholding contrary evidence from defense and court.

As reported in the WASHINGTON POST, APRIL 18, 2015,
Byline: Stephen Hsu


2,500  = cases FBI Lab reported a match
342 = cases reviewed so far. (1,200 remain, including 700 in which police / prosecutors have not responded to requests for transcripts, etc.)
268 = trials in which hair evidence was used by prosecution.
257 = cases in which FBI examiners gave “flawed” testimony (more than 95% of the cases)

200 = death penalty cases reviewed so far
32 = death penalty cases with flawed forensic testimony.
14 = died by execution or on death row.

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.
The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.

Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”

While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespread problems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.

“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), urged the bureau to conduct “a root-cause analysis” to prevent future breakdowns.

“It is critical that the Bureau identify and address the systemic factors that allowed this far-reaching problem to occur and continue for more than a decade,” the lawmakers wrote FBI Director James B. Comey on March 27, as findings were being finalized.

The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines.

Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2012 after The Washington Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes nationwide.

The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.

In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. Since 2000, the lab has used visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or in combination with more accurate DNA testing.
Warnings about the problem have been mounting. In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time. In the District, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have re-investigated all FBI hair convictions, three of seven defendants whose trials included flawed FBI testimony have been exonerated through DNA testing since 2009, and courts have exonerated two more men. All five served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.
University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.

“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.

However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.

Defense attorneys say scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered as violations of due process, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.

The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.

Reviews of 342 defendants’ convictions were completed as of early March, the NACDL and Innocence Project reported. In addition to the 268 trials in which FBI hair evidence was used against defendants, the review found cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, FBI examiners did not testify, did not assert a match or gave exculpatory testimony.

When such cases are included, by the FBI’s count examiners made statements exceeding the limits of science in about 90 percent of testimonies, including 34 death-penalty cases.

The findings likely scratch the surface. The FBI said as of mid-April that reviews of about 350 trial testimonies and 900 lab reports are nearly complete, with about 1,200 cases remaining.

The bureau said it is difficult to check cases before 1985, when files were computerized. It has been unable to review 700 cases because police or prosecutors did not respond to requests for information.
Also, the same FBI examiners whose work is under review taught 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts to testify in the same ways.
Texas, New York and North Carolina authorities are reviewing their hair examiner cases, with ad hoc efforts underway in about 15 other states.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monotheism + Religion = EVIL

The Problem With Monotheism

Why the world's two largest faiths, Christianity and Islam, have a tendency to 'turn evil.'

Charles Kimball is a religion professor at Wake Forest University who was director of the Middle East Office at the National Council of Churches from 1983-90. He made more than 35 visits to the Middle East and has for the last 20 years worked with Congress, the White House and the State Department. From this perspective, he wrote When Religion Becomes Evil in the months after September 11 and leading up to the Iraq War. The book outlines warning signs of when a religion is "turning evil," while also describing corrective measures that religions can take, particularly now, with the world worried about an Islamic-Christian "clash of civilizations."

How does a religion become evil?

Well-intentioned people can do things and justify behavior that contradicts what's at the very heart of their religious tradition, and it can descend into cruel and violent behavior.

One example is a belief in absolute truth. People who believe they have God in their pocket and know what God wants for them have proven time and again that they're capable of doing anything because it's not their will but God's will being carried out. You see this most obviously in a suicide bomber-someone who is convinced he or she knows what God wants, and can end up doing the most horrific things to innocent people.

Another example is blind obedience to a leader. When people become so convinced of a particular person or charismatic leader that they blindly will follow that person, it can lead to Jim Jones and Jonestown. It can lead to the Buddhist group Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo in 1995 that released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system. There's a pattern in sects, and also in local churches, where power is concentrated in too few hands with not enough checks and balances. And you can have a charismatic leader who gets out of control.

One of the scariest examples is the belief that the end justifies any means. Every religion is predicated on the notion that something in the world is terribly wrong. If we weren't ignorant we wouldn't need the Buddha to enlighten us, and if we weren't sinful we wouldn't need Jesus to save us, and if we weren't forgetful we wouldn't need Muhammad to guide us. The presupposition that something is wrong is premised on rectifying that wrong, overcoming obstacles, and moving toward a more hopeful future or meaningful end, whether that's heaven or nirvana or whatever. And often that has a component of making life more just and peaceful. That's normal.

The problem is when people become convinced they know the route to the peaceable kingdom and they are God's agents to make it happen. And here is where you get groups of extremist Jews whose messianic mission leads them to tunnel under the Dome of the Rock and try to blow it up in order to facilitate the building of the Third Temple. Or Christian fundamentalist groups who long for Armageddon to the point that they will support violent extremists trying to destroy the Dome of the Rock. Now, pious Orthodox Jews pray for the coming of the Messiah and the Third Temple, which they believe God will bring down from heaven. But that's a very different thing from saying, "I'm going to give God a helping hand and blow up some buildings in the process."

And this behavior is dangerous in a place like Israel and Palestine. You have millions of Christians fixated on Armageddon theology. They spend a great deal of time watching TV preachers, picking apart Bible verses, looking at headlines in the news, patching together pieces of information to create a sort of image that "Jesus is coming on Tuesday." But when I read the New Testament it's pretty clear Jesus says nothing like, "On Judgment Day how much of your puzzle did you piece together?" He says, "When I was hungry, did you give me something to eat, and when I was thirsty did you give me something to drink?" The mandate of following Christ involves reaching out to people in need, and peacemaking. Whether Jesus comes next Tuesday or in a thousand years is really God's business.

Even worse, there are many well-intentioned Christians who actively oppose any kind of reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians because it's theologically counterintuitive to them. They say, "Why would you work for peace when we know Armageddon is about to occur?" In their theology Israel is part of God's plan. This is one of the most dangerous things because you put that over against 50 million copies of the Left Behind series, which makes good reading, but a lot of people gobble this up as though it's God's truth.

So you're saying that even though these kinds of Christians aren't literally acting out violence, they are as scary as, say, Islamic jihadists?

Well, not more scary, but potentially a very destructive force. I saw a female evangelist interviewed a few weeks ago on this very topic, and she was claiming, "I love the Jewish people. These are God's people." And someone said, "Yes, but in your theology all but a remnant of them are going to be wiped out. If things unfold the way you believe, most of the Jews are going to be killed." She smiled into the camera and said, "Well this isn't me talking--this is God talking." Now, from where I sit this is not the kind of friends the Jewish people need. She's perfectly willing to watch the slaughter of Jews because it's part of "God's plan." That's only a half-step removed from people who are putting dynamite under the Dome of the Rock.

You sometimes hear that the histories of Islam and Christianity aren't in sync, because Christianity came first and went through its worst violence earlier. And maybe, the theory goes, Islam is going through the same kind of violent spasm that Christianity went through during, say, the Crusades.

Well, there are Christians shooting doctors at abortion clinics.

But it's not the same kind of numbers as militant Islamists.

I don't want to be in the business of saying you're worse than me, or this isn't as bad as that. I call September 11 Exhibit A of religion becoming evil. This is a classic example of people preparing to meet God and feeling justified and righteous in doing a horrific thing, not only for the people in those buildings or on those planes, but the enormous consequences for people all over the world. Who knows how many tens of thousands of people died because of economic dislocations that happened in the aftermath?

So I don't want to in any way say a TV preacher is just as bad as someone flying an airplane into a building. But we can see some of the ways well-intentioned people lose sight of the central focus of their religion and justify evil behavior.

For example, Charles Stanley at InTouch Ministries is preaching that governments are in power because God has them in power. Then he quotes the Hebrew Bible and says that if you don't go to war when God wants you to go to war, God will punish you. I'm no fan of Saddam Hussein-in the 1980s when I was working the Middle East I gave Congressional testimony railing against the U.S. Government because we were supporting Saddam Hussein. He is one of the worst thugs on the planet. Yet I've also seen the tremendous suffering of the Iraqi people. When I hear Christians in this country essentially glorify massive bombing attacks and say this is what God wants us to do, I think we're moving on a continuum that is hard to square with the Gospel message.

But why is it now Muslims in a literal sense acting out with violence?

I don't want to equate suicide bombing with Charles Stanley's sermons, though I have a lot of trouble with Charles Stanley's sermons. But let's take a step back to a few years ago. We had 20,000 documented cases of rape and murder of Bosnian Muslim women and children at the hands of Serbian Christians.

Were they acting as Christians?

They certainly were united and attacking people because they were Muslims. And there were atrocities that went the other way, too--it was so bad that the U.S. Government and many Christians were telling the Serbians "stop this."

But were the Serbians saying, "I want to glorify Jesus and therefore I'm going to rape Muslim woman?"

There were pretty strong statements by Serbian Orthodox and Catholic leaders supporting whatever was being done in the name of Serbian nationalism. The church was endorsing it. They weren't endorsing rape and murder, but they were also denying it was happening. It was a blind nationalism that was linked with religion. It's not quite so easy to say Christian violence just happened during the Crusades. Look at the Phalangists in Lebanon. Who were the people who perpetrated the slaughter of Sabra and Shatila? Those were Christians in Lebanon.

I don't want to be saying all this is equal, but I also want to say that there is a clear pattern in all religious communities. People tend to compare the ideal of their own religion with the flawed reality of everyone else's. So Christians tend to say, "That was in the past" or "We don't really believe that." Here's the classic example in recent memory-Jerry Falwell on 60 Minutes last fall said that Jesus taught a gospel of love, but that Muhammad was a terrorist.

I believe Jesus taught a gospel of love. But if you happen to have been Jewish for the last 2,000 years and on the receiving end of that "love," it certainly hasn't felt very good. That's not ancient history. The Holocaust happened in the last century. It wasn't done in the name of Christianity, but it was done against Jews by a predominantly Christian country. And it was the culmination of a long history of assault on Jews by Christians.

You say all religious groups and sects have the potential to turn evil, but that Christian and Muslims have a much longer track record. Why?

It may be linked to monotheism. I think that's worth really thinking about, because there is a sense in which monotheism and the missionary impulse-common to both faiths--are linked to absolutist claims. I readily admit this is a difficult area to talk about because I'm an ordained Baptist minister and a practicing Christian, and I believe there is one God. But I also believe that even if I possess some "absolute truth" in the sense of a connection with God, and we have to be humble in appropriating what we understand to be absolute truth. I think the problem comes when you lose that humility and think you know the mind of God and that you're carrying this forward oblivious to history.

If monotheism is the issue, why hasn't Judaism become as evil, as often, as Christianity and Islam?

The missionary impulse of Christianity and Islam is part of it--Jews haven't been historically evangelical. And power. When you combine religious conviction with a kind of certainty with political or military power, then you have a much more powerful combination. And Jews haven't been in positions of power until fairly recently. And the excesses that you primarily see have been excesses from Jewish settlers and extremists in the context of Israel-people who have power.

How does "evil religion" relate now to Iraq?

I'll start with my hope, which is that within Islam and Christianity you have teachings about loving God and your neighbor, and living cooperatively with your neighbor. There's a long history of Christians and Muslims living together in Iraq through good times and bad. And they have an opportunity to find new ways of living together with a government that isn't Islamic or Christian.

But when you inject absolutist claims into the mix-people who believe they have all the answers-and we now have an opening for evangelicals to come in and evangelize where before they couldn't do that. Then you have an incendiary dimension.

So you're concerned about evangelical Christian groups doing relief work there?

I'm very concerned about that. This is an extremely dangerous situation. We have groups clearly identified as hostile to Islam coming into a situation where there is already suspicion about the real motives in this war, people who already believe it's between Christianity and Islam.
What incendiary actions might Muslims take?

There are a lot of things. When you have the head of Alazhar University in Cairo calling for a holy war, that's pretty incendiary. There are dangers in all the traditions, but there are many Muslim voices being anything but helpful right now.

Is there some concern they could persecute Christians in Iraq?

No question, and we've seen this in the past. In the former Yugoslavia you had Christians and Muslims living together for a long period of time, and then something went terribly wrong and people were raping and murdering one another.
So you would liken the situation in Iraq as potentially like Bosnia?

It has the potential. Although since the numbers aren't close to equal--the Christian population is very small--Christians could be in a very precarious position. We've seen this in Lebanon, where Christians and Muslims, who were roughly divided, started lining up against each other and taking hostages and developing militias along religious lines.

There are extremists in the Muslim world, no question. There are many millions of Muslims who aren't looking to blow up anything, but they're angry and frustrated and living in situations of oppression, human rights violations, and economic exploitation. A good deal of their anger is focused internally but also at the United States. My concern is if you start lighting matches in a room full of dynamite, you run the risk of driving hundreds of thousands of people into the arms of Osama bin Laden.

Many of the events in the world right now--September 11, terrorism, the war with Iraq, even the Catholic clergy sex scandal--have religion as a major component. Is there any way that religion can play a good role?

Actually, religion is our best hope, and what we have to do is look to the heart of religious traditions to find the guidelines we need to cut through all this. In every major religious tradition you find a teaching that parallels Jesus' teaching to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. That has direct implications for the way you relate to the rest of God's creation. You can't say "I love God" and fly an airplane into a building.

When Religion Becomes Evil is a book by Baptist minister Charles Kimball, published in 2002. Kimball is a Professor in the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University and also an Adjunct Professor in the Wake Forest Divinity School. In 2008, he became director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Kimball specializes in Islamic Studies.