Monday, June 29, 2015

More on the Confederate Flag Flap

Banning the Confederate flag and battle flag battle continues to heat up.  Some argue that secession and the Civil War were about state’s rights and individual liberty.  , “’Most mainstream historians now agree that slavery was the leading reason driving the conflict. From, among other sites, the Christian Science Monitor:
First; “Slavery is the major cause of the Civil War,” said James I. Robertson, a Civil War historian at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg. “There are people ... who will argue to the sky that slavery was just a byproduct, but without slavery, there was no cause for the North and the South to start killing each other.’” Robertson was born, raised and educated in the South.

See also Confederate VP Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech.”

What was the ‘state right’ involved?  The right of states to authorize and protect slavery.  White supremacy and the Bible were the the main theories used to justify the practice. What was the individual liberty involved?  The right of white people to own black people. 

Supreme Court to rehear university uses of race in admissions

"Raising new doubts about state universities and colleges’ use of race in choosing their entering classes, the Supreme Court on Monday assigned itself once more the task of judging the constitutionality of the admissions plan at Texas’s flagship university.  The grant of review of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin — the Court’s second look at that case — signaled uncertainty and maybe discontent with the way a federal appeals court had carried out a new review of that plan.
At this point, the Fisher case does not appear to pose a direct threat to the Court’s most recent ruling allowing some use of race in higher education admissions — the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.  But that precedent may be at least reinterpreted, and possibly narrowed."

S.Ct. Stays lower court ruling on TX abortion clinics

According to;
"The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Monday to stay a recent lower court ruling that would have shuttered all but nine abortion clinics in Texas.
The high court will allow the clinics to remain open while it decides whether to hear an appeal over a Texas law that requires all abortions to take place in ambulatory surgical centers -- essentially, mini-hospitals. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with his four liberal colleagues -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- to keep the clinics afloat. Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservatives Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito opposed the stay."

PD's focus on verbal techniques and confllict avoidance/resolution

After every major crisis involving excessive force by police agencies decide to get serious about conflict avoidance/resolution and verbal techniques.  The current scenario is being repeated.  A number of issues are raised. First is the debate between those who argue for 'community-oriented' policing and those who favor more aggressive 'broken windows' or 'quality of life' polcing  Among the other issues are officer safety, officer role and officer discretion.
Some officers are afraid that too much emphasis on conflict avoidance, etc. will compromise officer safety.  Some officer don't see this as their role. They see themselves as 'crime fighters' and not 'social workers.'  Finally, is the discretion issue.  Officers and some experts assert that officers need discretion on how to handle situations, not one-shoe fits all.  Police critics and some administrators are wary of such discretion.  The want uniformity in the handling of all cases.

A number of years ago, I taught 'verbal judo' in a police academy.  Some of you may remember that verbal technique system.

Supreme Court uphold OK use of controversial lethal injection drug

In a 5-4 decision, with the Court's 4 liberals dissenting, the Court upheld Oklahoma's controversial use of  a lethal injection drug.  As usual, J. Kennedy, was the swing-vote.  This is a little surprising as he has not otherwise been supportive of the death penalty.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage nationwide

This morning the Supreme Court released its long-awaited decision on legal gay marriage.  The Court ruled in favor of the gay plaintiffs. "The justices found that under the 14th Amendment, states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex unions that were legally performed in other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. "   The decision rested on both the due process and equal protection clauses. This decision is consistent with recent precedents and appears to  be the correct result. I applaud the Court! The decision is also consistent with public opinion and the statewide trend in new laws.  There will be widespread celebrating across the nation. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Supreme Court Saves Obamacare

In a 6-3 decision with CJ Roberts and swing-vote Kennedy joining the liberals, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Obamacare. Although I had my reservations about Obamacare on a number of grounds, we have spent too much on it already and millions are relying on it.  The Supreme Court did the right thing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Victims Survivors forgive black church massacre suspect

As you  may already know, a young white male apparently murdered 9 parishioners at a black church in SC.  It was erroneously reported that his parents have him the handgun.   Later reports are that he used money they gave him to purchase it. Survivors' of the victims have expressed forgiveness.  The alleged murderer's mugging with the Confederate flag and damaging the national flag has renewed calls for removing the flag from state grounds and buildings. (see post below).

Review of U.S. Supreme Court's First Amendment cases this term.

From See links in article to the 3 separate decisions. The Texas license case plate is in the 3rd  post directly below.

Confederate Flag Flap--Editorial

Symbols mean different things to different people, so regulating them can be a complicated mess. Obviously for the alleged black church mass murder, it symbolized white supremacy and hatred of blacks.  Unfortunately, white supremacy is an idea accepted by many Americans.  Some, such as the KKK will admit it.  Once, during a visit to Louisiana I saw a Confederate flag flying over a sign that said "5th Generation Klan, and proud of it.' Others quietly harbor the ideology.  Apparently, some think the flag symbolizes the acceptability of white supremacy and violence against blacks.  It appears to them to say such ideas and behavior are accepted by the people of that state.   It's time to move the flag to museums, and out off government property. We need to start pulling together in this country and governments need to stop flaunting things which divide us. Hopefully those who view it as a more benign symbol will not loner need government endorsement and place the national interest above their own ideology.  Further, a myopic focus on 'heritage' ignores the huge dark-side of history. Millions of human beings treated like property.  Many were sexually and physically abused.  A poisonous heritage the passed on white supremacy?  Would you support German government  flying the Nazi flag if they only talked about how Hitler saved Germany from the Communists?  See this column by a Dallas woman whose great-great grandfather was a Confederate soldier.  Some excerpts follow.

"So I claim to have a stake in this argument because it’s my heritage as much as anybody’s. And I vote we remove it from every courthouse and license plate and state capitol where it still exists, because it also represents hate.
It has been used by too many Klansmen and skinheads and violence-besotted killers to pretend otherwise. If nothing else, it would be a gesture of common decency for those who have heritage ties to that flag to willingly part with something that, for so many other Americans, represents barbarism and cruelty.
In its modern incarnation, the Confederate flag is used to promote a lie — one that is unfortunately given fresh currency with every generation.
The lie is that the Civil War was about something — anything — other than slavery. . .
But their documented insistence, shared with too many otherwise rational people, that the Civil War was fought about “tariffs” or “state’s rights” or “principles” — anything other than the legal ability of a person with white pigmentation to own as property a person of African descent — is a ludicrous falsehood.
“The Confederacy was a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal, and that the government’s job is to preserve and ensure that inequality,” said South Carolina historian Gordon Rhea in a speech to the Charleston Library Society in 2011. “It is time for Southerners to squarely face this era in our history so that we can finally understand it for what it was and move on.”
The massacre, he said, may finally have made it plain to many in the “heritage” camp that, for many people, “the Confederate flag is hateful, causes tremendous pain, and has been a symbol for white segregation and racism.”

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Texas wins rebel flag license plate case

The Court held that the plates were government speech and not a public forum.  Much of First Amendment jurisprudence involves trying to place cases in categories.  Here there was a choice of two catregories, government or private/personal speech and whether or not the state had created a pulic forum.  It's a close case, but I agree with the 5-4 decision.  Interestingly, J. Thomas, the Court's most conservative Justice voted with the Court's 4 liberties.  The syllabus is below."

Texas offers automobile owners a choice between general-issue and specialty license plates. Those who want the State to issue a particular specialty plate may propose a plate design, comprising a slogan, a graphic, or both. If the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board approves the design, the State will make it available for display on vehicles registered in Texas. Here, the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and its officers (collectively SCV) filed suit against the Chairman and members of the Board (collectively Board), arguing that the Board’s rejection of SCV’s proposal for a specialty plate design featuring a Confederate battle flag violated the Free Speech Clause. The District Court entered judgment for the Board, but the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Texas’s specialty license plate designs are private speech and that the Board engaged in constitutionally forbidden viewpoint discrimination when it refused to approve SCV’s design.
Held: Texas’s specialty license plate designs constitute government speech, and thus Texas was entitled to refuse to issue plates featuring SCV’s proposed design. Pp. 5–18.
(a) When government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says. Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U. S. 460, 467–468. A government is generally entitled to promote a program, espouse a policy, or take a position. Were the Free Speech Clause interpreted otherwise, "it is not easy to imagine how government would function." Id., at 468. That is not to 2 WALKER v. TEXAS DIV., SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS, INC.


say that a government’s ability to express itself is without restriction. Constitutional and statutory provisions outside of the Free Speech Clause may limit government speech, and the Free Speech Clause itself may constrain the government’s speech if, for example, the government seeks to compel private persons to convey the government’s speech. Pp. 5–6.

(b) This Court’s precedents regarding government speech provide the appropriate framework through which to approach the case. Pp. 6–17.
(1) The same analysis the Court used in Summum—to conclude that a city "accepting a privately donated monument and placing it on city property" was engaging in government speech, 555 U. S., at464—leads to the conclusion that government speech is at issue here. First, history shows that States, including Texas, have long used license plates to convey government speech, e.g., slogans urging action, promoting tourism, and touting local industries. Cf. id., at 470. Second, Texas license plate designs "are often closely identified in the public mind with the [State]." Id., at 472. Each plate is a government article serving the governmental purposes of vehicle registration and identification. The governmental nature of the plates is clear from their faces: the State places the name "TEXAS" in large letters across the top of every plate. Texas also requires Texas vehicle owners to display license plates, issues every Texas plate, andowns all of the designs on its plates. The plates are, essentially, government IDs, and ID issuers "typically do not permit" their IDs to contain "message[s] with which they do not wish to be associated," id., at 471. Third, Texas maintains direct control over the messages conveyed on its specialty plates, by giving the Board final approval over each design. Like the city government in Summum, Texas "has effectively controlled the messages [conveyed] by exercising final approval authority over their selection." Id., at 473. These considerations, taken together, show that Texas’s specialty plates are similar enough to the monuments in Summum to call for the same result. Pp. 7–12.

(2) Forum analysis, which applies to government restrictions on purely private speech occurring on government property, Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense & Ed. Fund, Inc., 473 U. S. 788, 800, is not appropriate when the State is speaking on its own behalf. The parties agree that Texas’s specialty license plates are not a traditional public forum. Further, Texas’s policies and the nature of its license plates indicate that the State did not intend its specialty plates toserve as either a designated public forum—where "government property . . . not traditionally . . . a public forum is intentionally opened

3 Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)

up for that purpose," Summum, supra, at 469—or a limited public forum—where a government "reserv[es a forum] for certain groups orfor the discussion of certain topics," Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 829. The State exercises final authority o ver the messages that may be conveyed by its specialty plates, it takes ownership of each specialty plate design, and it has traditionally used its plates for government speech. These features of Texas specialty plates militate against a determination that Texas has created a public forum. Finally, the plates are not a nonpublic forum, where the "government is . . . a proprietor, managing its internal operations." International Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, Inc.
v. Lee, 505 U. S. 672, 678–679. The fact that private parties take part in the design and propagation of a message does not extinguish the governmental nature of the message or transform the government’s role into that of a mere forum provider. See Summum, supra, at 470–471. Nor does Texas’s requirement that vehicle owners pay annual fees for specialty plates mean that the plates are a forum for private speech. And this case does not resemble other nonpublic forum cases. Perry Ed. Assn. v. Perry Local Educators’ Assn., 460 U. S. 37, 48–49; Lehman v. Shaker Heights, 418 U. S. 298; and Cornelius, supra, at 804–806, distinguished. Pp. 13–17.
(c) The determination that Texas’s specialty license plate designsare government speech does not mean that the designs do not also implicate the free speech rights of private persons. The Court has acknowledged that drivers who display a State’s selected licenseplate designs convey the messages communicated through those designs. See Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U. S. 705, 717, n. 15. The Court has also recognized that the First Amendment stringently limits a State’s authority to compel a private party to express a view withwhich the private party disagrees. Just as Texas cannot require SCVto convey "the State’s ideological message," id., at 715, SCV cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates. Pp. 17–18.

759 F. 3d 388, reversed.
BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. _________________ _________________ 1 Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015)


Border Patrol reviews shooting

64 agents cleared.  Three agents still under investigation.  Recent reforms should improve process. One change offers insight into the BP leadership mentality "Last month, Customs and Border Protection made it possible for people to file written complaints against officers in Spanish for the first time. The move came after pressure from activists who said the Border Patrol deliberately made it difficult to file complaints." The prior rule shows you how seriously the BP was interested in hearing complaints.  No integrity!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dallas PD HQ attacked

In case you missed it, or want more details see this coverage from the Dallas Morning News.  It was a miracle that no one was hit by the attackers spray of bullets fired from an armored van.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Liberal Bias in American Universities

I frequently complain about the left-wing bias against Second Amendment and religious rights that dominates higher education.  There is lots of empirical support for this bias. See this book, for example.

Former Texas DA disbarred for misconduct in capital murder case

A former Texas D.A. who withheld evidence and used false testimony to get a capital murder conviction has been disbarred.  The defendant had bee exonerated and freed.  Prosecutorial misconduct is a major factor in convicting the innocent.  More disbarments are needed to help deal with this problem.

Supreme Court refuses to hear Second Amendment case

The Supreme Court refused to review a 9th Circuit decision upholding a San Francisco gun law.  Only 2 Justices voted to hear the case.  A refusal to hear a case is not a legal affirmation of the lower court decision.  The Court needs to clarify the scope of Second Amendment rights. The last U.S. Supreme Court case on the amendment was in 2010 in McDonald v. Chicago, where the Court held that the Second Amendment applies to the states.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Editorial: Most Waco biker gang shootout arrestees still in custody.

The high bonds and lack of progress in processing their cases have threatened the Fourth Amendment and Due Process rights of the roughly 120 arrestees still in custody following the Waco biker shootout.   Given the chaos, large numbers of people involved and 9 deaths the original mass arrests can perhaps be justified.  However, once arrestees are fingerprinted, photographed, basic information, etc. is obtained, the system should move more rapidly to separate those who still need to be detained and those who can be released on reasonable bail or just released. See the Dallas Morning News' take on this issue (excerpts below):

"Three weeks have passed since the biker gang shootout in Waco that left nine dead and 18 wounded. Yet surprisingly little information has emerged to justify the incarceration of about 120 people, many of whom appear guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. . . .To gain freedom pending trial, they must each either produce a $1 million bond (of which bail bondsmen require a 10 percent payment) or persuade a judge to reduce bail to an affordable amount. In about 70 cases, attorneys have negotiated lower bonds, but only about 53 have paid and gained release. . . .If they’re not able to come forth with facts, sift nonparticipants from shooters and administer swift justice, it might be time for McLennan County to ask Gov. Greg Abbott or federal authorities for help."

SC officer indicted for murder in killing of traffic stop suspect who fled

A S.C. officer was indicted for murder for the April slaying of Walter Scott who was apparently unarmed and shot in the back while fleeing from a traffic stop.  This is perhaps the most egregious and disturbing incident of police use of deadly force ever/yet  caught on video.  For an officer to be indicted for murder of a suspect is nearly as rare as hen's teeth.  According to the New York Times;

Under South Carolina law, there is only a single murder charge, which Ms. Wilson described as being an “unlawful killing with malice aforethought” — with the premeditation required to exist for only a few seconds before a killing in order to gain a conviction.
Mr. Slager was indicted by a grand jury on a murder charge on Monday in connection with an April 4 shooting. Credit Charleston County Detention Center
“As long as malice is proven in the heart and mind, the state has proven its case,” she said.
The case was presented to the grand jury on Monday morning, and the panel returned the indictment within a few hours."
However, the judge or jury may ultimately find him guilty of some lesser-included offense such as some form of manslaughter or reckless homicide.

McKinney, TX use of force case

As you probably know by now, the small north Texas town of McKinney (N of Dallas) made national headlines and got national TV coverage because of a use of a police use of force case.  A few years ago, without video this would not have been deemed newsworthy.  The publicity generated shows how much interest and concern there is about police use of force. Remember, no deadly force was used, no one was seriously injured, and it some respects the incident was arguably fairly routine for police when it gets hot and teenagers are involved. Yet, this case got great coverage.  There hasn't been this much attention to a police use of force case that didn't result in a death since the release of the videotape of the Rodney King beating in L.A. on Mar. 3, 1991
Increased media and public interest and transparency are positive signs that these long-standing issues may finally be addressed in an effective manner.  Keep your fingers crossed. 

You may be interested in today's coverage of this incident by the Dallas Morning News:
"Duelling Views:" and
"Officer was no rookie:"

Although people have a right to be upset and to want appropriate punishment for officers, ultimately, things are not going to change if we obsess about the individual officers.  Real solutions require looking at organizational, legal, systemic and subcultural factors.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Government snooping news

There's good news. "The National Security Agency lost its authority to collect the phone records of millions of Americans, thanks to a new reform measure Co  ngress passed on Tuesday. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Tuesday evening.  It is the first piece of legislation to reform post 9/11 surveillance measures."

And BAD news.  New snooping revealed about international internet traffic.  No warrants, no court approval, no congressional approval.  I can see the need to monitor international internet traffic, but the administration's go-it-alone approach for snooping on U.S. soil is problematic

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Rahim shooting video, false accusations

The presumption of guilt that  all too often attaches to police officers who shoot and kill black males, esp. those later found to be unarmed, is fed by hot-headed people using social media.  This is an example for US News and World Report.
Usaama Rahim was shot and killed by Boston PD.  See the full story at the link.  "An anti-terror task force of FBI agents and Boston police, faced with an imminent threat, confronted Rahim on a sidewalk and fatally shot him when he refused to drop his knife, authorities said.
His older brother, Ibrahim Rahim, is a scholar known for preaching after the Boston marathon bombings that violence is anti-Islamic. Ibrahim Rahim initially posted a message on Facebook alleging police repeatedly shot his brother in the back while he was on a cellphone calling their father for help. But his version unraveled Wednesday after police showed their video of the confrontation to community leaders."
The value of body cams and dash cams is more obvious than ever.  Many departments are  jumping on this worthwhile bandwagon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Supreme Court victory for religious rights in the workplace

A Muslim female gets a reversal of a decision against her. See this "plain English" description of the opinion. J. Scalia wrote the majority opinion.  Only J. Thomas dissented.

Texas to move towards more transparency on police shootings

Texas is moving towards more transparency on police officer shootings.  The Texas legislature sent Gov. Abbott a bill that requires all police shootings in the state to be reported within 30 days, to the Texas Attorney General's office.  The information will then be posted on the AG's website. The governor is expected to sign the bill.  Thanks to James Ragland of the Dallas Morning News for the heads-up.

Another database and analysis of persons killed by police

 A British newspaper, the Manchester "Guardian," like the Washington Post,  is starting a database and analysis ("The Counted") of Americans killed by police.  The Post study only deals with persons killed by firearms.  The Guardian deals with those killed by any means/circumstances.  The Post data (see post below) showed that 385 individuals were shot and killed Jan-May 2015, while the Guardian data for the same period shows 408 such shootings. (See this excellent linked article by James Ragland of the Dallas Morning News)   An additional 56 individual died by other means.  Government statistics are woefully inaccurate and way too low.  As of June 2, the Guardian's count of total persons killed was 470.

2 Second Amend. victories in Texas

By the end of the current biennial session of the Texas legislature, licensed open carry and licensed carry in additional areas of college campuses passed both houses. Gov. Abbot is expected to sign both bills.  The usual anti-gun paranoia, misinformation, distortion and propaganda characterized the Democrats opposition to both bills.  Numerous procedural and political tactics were used to try to stop the bills.  However, unlike legislative session prior to this one, opponents failed to stop the bills. It is become clear in Texas and other states that the Democratic Party is a strong, consistent threat to Second Amendment rights.  Further, the debate was confused by the arguments of those who mistakenly argue that Second Amendment rights are absolute.  This, of course, mirrors the national situation.  The following quotes are from the left-leaning, anti-gun rights New York Times.  Try not to get turned off by the whiney tone and simple-mindedness of their analysis.

"Texas will be one of eight states to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public college campuses, joining Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nineteen others ban concealed weapons on campus, including California, Florida and New York, and 23 others, including Alabama and Arizona, leave the decision to the colleges or state board of regents.
The bill that passed in Texas was something of a compromise that allows private universities to opt out and public ones to designate parts of their campuses as gun-free zones." 
Note that contrary to the fearful predictions of blood baths, none of the 7 states which allowed campus carry, saw an increase in campus gun crime.
Opposition by many professors and university administrators was strong.   This was not surprising given their often authoritarian approach to freedom of speech and religion on campus.  See the FIRE website for more on this topic.
Bottom line, Texas will see strong attacks on these new laws from Democrats and many university faculty and leaders. in it's next biennial legislative session.  Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

licensed concealed carry on campuses take effect in August 2016 at universities and August 2017 at community colleges.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Review of "The Behavior of Federal Judges: A Theoretical & Empirical Study of Rational Choice"

This is a book for folks with some social science background.  However, it can be ready by anyone with an interest in the topic if you just skip the heavily methodological parts.  The only fault I found was a lack of detail about the dimensions and measurement of attitudes/ideology as used in the book.  Those details can be found in other works, but they would help many readers.  Ideology plays a role in federal court decisions. As you might expect, it is strongest at the Supreme Court level.  However, other "rational choice" factors play a role. Here's a relatively short review from Law and Politics Book Review.  Check it out.  You can subscribe for e-mail reviews for free.

Review of Foner's "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery"

I know what some of you are thinking!  Another book on Lincoln?  This one is well worth it!  There are lots of Linclon haters out there,  It traces the development of Lincoln's attitude toward slavery and legal responses to it.  Lincoln was swayed by a variety of factors, including his philosophical dislike of slavery, the need to keep a basically racist Union together, placing the crucial borders states, keeping Congress happy, keeping the voters happy, loose cannon generals and cabinet members, etc.  At least before the war, he also saw no constitutional way to free the slaves. The book provides lots of historical detail and insight.  The only thing I can complain about is not enough about Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and other arguably questionable interferences with civil rights.   But rather than re-invent the wheel, I have included a link to a very good review. 

With regard to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, I include the following links from Wickipedia;
See also

Monday, June 01, 2015

Pres. Obama on privacy rights and national security

According to the usually left-leaning New York Times:
President Obama suggested ominously on Friday that allowing domestic surveillance programs to expire at a Sunday deadline could lead to a terrorist attack on the United States. . . .

Pushing the Senate to break a logjam on legislation, Mr. Obama warned in the Oval Office that, “I don’t want us to be in a situation in which, for a certain period of time, those authorities go away and suddenly we’re dark.”The measure, passed overwhelmingly by the House this month, would extend the government’s authority to obtain business and other records pertaining to a specific investigative subject, to secure so-called roving wiretaps to track potential terrorists or spies who switch telephones to avoid detection, and to wiretap a terrorism suspect who is not part of a particular group.

But the controversy has centered on the National Security Agency program that collects bulk telephone records, which the bill would eliminate. Instead, under a bipartisan compromise backed by the Obama administration, telephone companies would retain the data, and the N.S.A. could gain access to it by obtaining an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

The Senate has not yet decided what to do.  The law has since expired on its own.  We are now temporarily free to Big Brother on this front.vvStay tuned!

Washington Post study of fatal shootings by police

This Washington Post ongoing study includes only persons killed by police firearms. Death by other means (e.g., stun guns) and deaths in custody were not included.  Among the findings were that 385 individuals were  “shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year, more than two a day, according to a Washington Post analysis. That is more than twice the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade, a count that officials concede is incomplete.

●About half the victims were white, half minority. But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims, two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.

●The vast majority of victims — more than 80 percent — were armed with potentially lethal objects, primarily guns, but also knives, machetes, revving vehicles and, in one case, a nail gun.

●Forty-nine people had no weapon, while the guns wielded by 13 others turned out to be toys. In all, 16 percent were either carrying a toy or were unarmed.”

Stay tuned for more results from the Post.


Police Unions Part of the Problem?

According to the NY Times, the " decline of public trust in the police we’ve seen after a string of incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Cleveland, New York and Baltimore has many causes. Policies like hot-spot policing and stop-and-frisk searches — outgrowths of the “broken windows” law enforcement strategy — have put enormous pressures on minority and low-income communities. But the role played by police unions in shielding their members from accountability for excessive force has also contributed to the erosion of trust. . . .
I met hundreds of officers in my work. The vast majority are honorable public servants, and many see the need for fundamental change.
Union-negotiated rules are only one barrier to change — and police chiefs sometimes cite union contracts unfairly, as an excuse for inaction. But state laws and collective bargaining agreements must be reformed. Disciplinary procedures should be less complex and rules that limit the effectiveness of civilian oversight must be eliminated. Transparency in police conduct must be the rule."  This article presents examples and argues that unions must not be barriers to reform.

I support unions but not if they attempt to shield their members from legal accountability for serious harm.