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Archive for April 11th, 2017

Jeff Sessions wants to keep forensics in the Dark Ages

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

When Jeff Sessions was a senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was part of hearings to address the National Academy of Sciences report on the use of forensics in America’s courtrooms. The NAS report had been commissioned by Congress after DNA testing had revealed not only that hundreds of people had been wrongly convicted of serious crimes like murder and rape, but also that about half those people had been convicted due in part to or because of forensic testimony that could only have been wrong.

Sessions wasn’t buying it. “I don’t think we should suggest that those proven scientific principles that we’ve been using for decades are somehow uncertain and leaving prosecutors having to fend off challenges on the most basic issues in a trial,” he said, rebutting the scientists who had come to precisely that conclusion in their report. The “scientific” and “proven” parts were precisely what the report found lacking in too many forensic disciplines. Sessions either didn’t read it — he has a record of criticizing reports without reading them — or simply dismissed it.

When witnesses noted that there was no scientific research to support the field of handwriting analysis, Sessions remarked, “Well, I’ve seen them testify and I’ve seen blow-ups of the handwriting, and it’s pretty impressive.” Who are you going to believe, a team of scientists, or Jeff Sessions’s sense of wonder?

Longtime critics of bad forensics worried that the NAS report was too diplomatic: For example, it didn’t call for the abolition of any dubious disciplines. But for Sessions, even tepid criticism of the tools he and other prosecutors had used for years was a threat. One witness at the hearings was a prosecutor from Wyoming who was testifying in opposition to the report. Sessions tossed him a softball: “Do you believe that the report, perhaps trying to get our attention, used some pretty strong language suggesting the unreliability of what I have always understood to be proven scientific techniques? Is that something that the district attorneys are finding . . . that this is being thrown up to create the impression with a jury that there’s no basis for these kinds of reports?” His main concern was not whether evidence was accurate, but whether the report could make it more difficult to get convictions.

All of which brings us to the big news this week, which, given Sessions’s history, shouldn’t be terribly surprising.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.

In a statement Monday, Sessions said he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers chartered by the Obama administration in 2013.

A path to meet needs of overburdened crime labs will be set by a yet-to-be-named senior forensic adviser and an internal department crime task force, Sessions’s statement said.

The announcement came as the commission began its last, two-day meeting before its term ends April 23, and as some of its most far-reaching final recommendations remained hanging before the department.

The NCFS was created by the Obama administration in the wake of mounting evidence that forensic evidence was being misstated and misused in courtrooms. The commission was charged with coming up with broad directives on proficiency training, accreditation and certification, and quality control practices.

Sessions’s decision to end the commission is somewhat complicated by a vote the commission members took earlier this year. Under a memorandum of understanding with the Justice Department, the NCFS was initially commissioned to operate for two years. During discussion over what to put in a summary report of the commission’s work, the members voted 16 to 15 not to include language recommending that the commission be renewed.

That could be interpreted to mean that the NCFS members themselves voted to end their own commission — which would make Sessions’s decision to end it seem less controversial. But sources familiar with committee deliberations tell me that this isn’t quite right — a strong majority of the commission does want to continue its work. Some of the 16 who voted against the measure did so because they thought the summary report should include only the commission’s findings; they felt that adding the language about renewal seemed self-serving. Others believe the commission is important and should continue but were somewhat disillusioned by the new administration’s antipathy toward science. Still others wanted the commission to continue, but under a new structure and organization, preferably outside of the Justice Department. According to the sources, there were a few members who may have voted to end the commission entirely, but they were firmly in the minority.

Sessions may not be finished. There’s another important forensics reform initiative started during the Obama administration that Sessions may target next. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 6:31 pm

It’s time to regulate airlines again: We gave deregulation a shot, and it hasn’t worked well for the flying public

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Regulation is not always bad, particularly when a business quite deliberately downgrades its regular service to an intolerable level in order to sell service upgrades to those who can afford it. When the only guidance a business gets is the increase in profit, the public is screwed, repeatedly.

Libertarians, of course, know that when this sort of situation arises, free-market competition will result in some airline giving very satisfactory service at a competitive price, no regulation required.

That line of reasoning can be persuasive until you look at what has actually happened after airlines were deregulated. The Libertarian prediction has utterly failed in this case.

Unfortunately, regulating airlines would be impossible in the current political climate, but the overall situation in the US is getting so bad that I think the public might be ready to vote in some reform. The Kansas election today will be very interesting to see. Kansas has had an intensely conservative state government under Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled legislature, enacting all sorts of GOP principles, and it has worked out horribly for the residents of the state (much like deregulation has worked out horribly for the flying public). The state economy is in terrible shape—it turns out that (as everyone else knew) cutting taxes does not lead to an economic boom.

See: “Why Republicans Are Worried About Kansas,” a post at FiveThirtyEight. He weights the two previous presidential election votes 75% (2016 election) and 25% (2012 election). Extremely interesting post.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 3:18 pm

The Trump Administration Lost Again in Court, This Time on Voter ID

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Jessica Huseman reports in ProPublica:

A federal court in Texas has again ruled the state’s 2011 voter identification law intentionally discriminated against minorities. It’s the latest loss in the case for Texas — which has spent years unsuccessfully defending the law. But it also has implications for the Trump administration.

In February, the new administration abruptly abandoned the crux of the Justice Department’s opposition to the voter ID law. Government lawyers also asked the judge to delay her decision on whether the law intentionally discriminated against blacks and Latinos.

Judge Nelva Ramos Gonzales rejected their request for a delay. And Monday, she ruled that the law “was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

When it passed in 2011, Texas’s law had the country’s strictest voter ID provisions. It required one of seven forms of Texas or federally issued IDs to vote and allowed exemptions only for disability or age. It allowed no exception for low income voters.

Civil rights groups have long argued that the law was meant to disenfranchise minority voters, who often lack the ID required. The Obama administration and other plaintiffs brought suit against the bill in 2013. They won in 2014, but Texas appealed. In 2016, a federal appeals court agreed the law had a discriminatory impact, but asked Judge Ramos to reconsider whether legislators had intended for that to be the case.

Last August, Ramos signed off on a compromise to temporarily fix the law ahead of the November election. Voters could sign an affidavit explaining why they didn’t have ID, and then show an alternate form of non-photo ID to cast their ballots. Legislation that essentially locks that compromise in place is now being considered.

Proponents of voter ID argued that the case for intentional discrimination was no longer valid because of the new bill. Lawyers for the Trump Department of Justice echoed that perspective and urged Ramos to delay her decision until the new bill could work its way through the Legislature.

“Regardless of what the record was at the time, the record is clearly evolving,” John Gore, the new deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division, told Ramos in a Feb. 28 hearing in Corpus Christi, Texas, which ProPublica attended.

Gore said empathically that the new legislation created “a new legislative mosaic.” He added: “It paints a new picture of Texas’ intent with regard to voter ID.”

Over the course of Gore’s arguments, which lasted only a few minutes, Ramos repeatedly asked him to explain how a bill proposed in 2017 would impact how she should rule on whether a law passed six years prior had been intentionally discriminatory. Gore did not give a direct answer.

Ramos dismissed the government’s bid for delay last week, saying she would rule on whether the law was intentionally discriminatory “in due course.” In her ruling issued yesterday, the judge wrote that Texas’ passage and defense of the law “revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on non-racial grounds, to suppress minority voting.”

While the state claimed the law was necessary to combat in-person voter fraud, Ramos noted that there is little evidence of such fraud.

The DOJ declined comment on the decision. Texas is likely to appeal the ruling. . .

Continue reading.

The Trump administration in general, and Jeff Sessions in particular, wants to return to an America before the Civil Rights movement forced some positive changes in a racist country.

The article later notes that the new 5-conservative Supreme Court might well reverse this ruling Neil Gorsuch is certainly no friend to the public at large.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 2:54 pm

Why the DEA intentionally lets drugs into communities

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The DEA has its oddities (e.g., having marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug), but this one is surprising. Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

Last week, the acting director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was asked whether his agents ever intentionally allow drug shipments into communities in the interest of making a bigger bust later on.

Chuck Rosenberg’s answer: “I’ll have to check and get back to you on that.”

Rosenberg was addressing the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing on oversight of the DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. During that hearing, Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric L. Richmond asked about the practice. Here’s the full exchange:

RICHMOND: This committee held many hearings, and was furious about the Fast and Furious program. At least from my knowledge of DEA and other drug agencies, oftentimes part of a bigger sting is letting transactions and other things go through. Now, it’s a very specific question. In DEA’s past, present, future, any times do you let drugs hit communities to get the bigger fish?

ROSENBERG: We’re not supposed to know, sir.

RICHMOND: Okay. Are you aware of any instances where it may happen?

ROSENBERG: I’ll have to check and get back to you on that.

Rosenberg’s demurral isn’t entirely surprising, given the framing. “Fast and Furious” was the name of an ATF operation that allowed illegal gun sales to proceed to track their buyers and sellers. Roughly 1,400 of the guns were lost, two of which turned up at the scene of a Border Patrol agent’s murder in 2010.

But it’s notable that Rosenberg didn’t deny his agency conducts similarly structured operations and likely wasn’t being entirely forthcoming, as there is considerable evidence that DEA does allow drugs to enter communities in the hopes of bringing down major players in drug dealing and distribution.

In 2015, the DOJ’s Inspector General criticized the DEA for how it tracked and approved the illegal activity of its sources: “These inadequate DEA policies and procedures related to OIA greatly increase the risk to the DEA, the U.S. government, and the public from the involvement of DEA confidential sources in OIA.”

Federal law allows informants, like those employed by the DEA, to engage in “otherwise illegal activity” as part of an investigation. Those activities include “trafficking in what would be considered as large quantities of controlled substances” — 450 kilos of cocaine, for instance, or more than 90,000 kilos of marijuana.

“DEA undercover agents or DEA confidential sources of information commonly pose as buyers or sellers of controlled substances,” explained DEA spokesman Russell Baer in an email. Those informants are permitted to engage in all manner of illegal activities, even the large-scale trafficking of drugs.

Baer added that “as a general rule, DEA does not sell drugs. This type of activity is not a normal investigative technique, and is not commonplace.” Moreover, any illegal activity undertaken by confidential sources must be approved by supervising agents, Baer said.

But we don’t know how often such large-scale trafficking might happen under DEA supervision because the agency doesn’t release this information. Outside experts say that DEA-approved drug sales are “routine.”

“In my experience dealing with hundreds of drug war prisoners this behavior is embedded in DEA practices,” said Tony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group.

Papa knows better than others: Down on his luck in the Bronx in the 1980s, he agreed to deliver an envelope containing cocaine on behalf of a friend for $500. The friend was actually an informant cooperating with the DEA to get out of his own drug troubles.

Papa was busted and given a sentence of 15 years to life under New York state’s harsh drug laws. “Something like this is routine,” he said.

The DEA maintains its confidential sources “provide invaluable contributions and assistance in furtherance of DEA investigations against major domestic and transnational criminal organizations.” But the use of confidential sources in drug investigations has come under fire in recent years, particularly after several high-profile deathsof young people who critics say were coerced into becoming informants after being arrested for low-level offenses involving marijuana and other drugs.

Aside from direct involvement in drug deals, law enforcement officials may also allow drugs to flow into communities because they’re interested in seizing the cash proceeds from the sale of those drugs. Investigations have revealed that drug task force authorities working the nation’s highways often focus on the routes where cash from drug transactions travels, rather than the routes the drugs themselves flow through.

That’s been the case, for instance, in Oklahoma, according to an ACLU report. “We are deliberately letting the drugs get to their final destination, get sold, get used, and in some cases letting someone die of an overdose,” said Brady Henderson of the Oklahoma ACLU last year.

Critics say there’s a simple reason for this: When police seize drugs, those drugs get destroyed. But if they seize cash, they often get to keep it under highly permissive state and federal asset forfeiture laws. This can create an incentive for law enforcement to look the other way when drugs flow into cities to grab the cash from those transactions on its way back out. . .

Continue reading.

Drugs have had a serious and corrupting effect on law enforcement at every level, a problem made worse by the police code of silence, which protects criminal cops.

It would be interesting to know the number of overdose deaths following drug shipments expedited by the DEA. I’m sure the DEA will go to any lengths to keep that information from becoming known to the public. (To be fair, the DEA has a very low opinion of those who use drugs; they seem to view drug users as scum, barely human, and so having a drug user overdose probably doesn’t strike them as that big a deal. Some probably view it as a positive)

UPDATE: A revealing look at what law enforcement in the US is becoming: “Secret A.T.F. Account Paid for $21,000 Nascar Suite and Las Vegas Trip,” by Matt Apuzzo in the NY Times. It begins:

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used a secret, off-the-books bank account to rent a $21,000 suite at a Nascar race, take a trip to Las Vegas and donate money to the school of one of the agents’ children, according to records and interviews.

Agents also used the account to finance undercover operations around the country, despite laws prohibiting government officials from using private money to supplement their budgets, according to current and former government officials and others familiar with the account.

The revelations highlight the lax oversight at the A.T.F. that allowed agents and informants to spend millions while avoiding the normal accounting process. The Justice Department’s inspector general, who is investigating the secret account, criticized the A.T.F. recently for mismanagement and said the agency did not know how many informants it had or how much they were paid.

The New York Times revealed the existence of the bank account in February, prompting an investigation by the House oversight committee. The Justice Department, which oversees the A.T.F., has denied any wrongdoing, and the department has refused to say whether the bureau continues to operate such secret accounts, which the government called “management accounts.”

The A.T.F. has also refused to say who authorized the account, which was created by agents based in Bristol, Va., who were investigating tobacco smuggling. One government official said the bureau regarded the account as a hybrid of government funds and private money, a combination that is not authorized under federal law. Ryan Kaye, an A.T.F. supervisor, is quoted in public court documents as saying the agents received “verbal directives” from unidentified officials at headquarters to open the account.

The arrangement dates back at least to 2011, court records show. Records show that a pair of A.T.F. informants who ran a tobacco warehouse in Bristol,

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 2:50 pm

Lamb-neck stew

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Our supermarket had lamb neck in the markdown bin (and it is really inexpensive, given that it’s lamb—lots of bone, of course), and since I’d never had it, I couldn’t resist buying a 2-lb package. Before I cooked it, I had to go back to the same store to pick up a prescription, and found another lamb neck in the discount bin, so I got another 2-lb package. Total of $8 for the 4 pounds.

I haven’t cooked lamb neck before (or had it, for that matter), but obviously it would have to be a slow braise, in something acidic (to get nutrients from the collagen and bone). Tomatoes would work, but for some reason I wanted it to be light in color, not dark red. Plus we just had lasagna (skillet lasagna, very easy) and baked Greek shrimp with tomatoes and feta, so I wanted a tomato break.

I’ve made some terrific stews from turkey neck, and I figured this would be much the same: slow simmer for a few hours, until meat falls from the bone. The meat is extremely tender (by that point, at any rate).

It’s odd how lamb neck is butchered: sort of random, which a couple of very thin slices, a couple of slabs, and the rest in chunks. It includes, as you might expect, quite a bit of bone, but also a fair amount of meat.

Here’s what I’m doing:

12-14 cloves of garlic, minced

Let it rest 15 minutes before using, so the compounds formed from the mincing can stabilize before hitting the hot oil. Easiest way to peel a clove is to crush it with the flat of your knife.

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 lb lamb neck

Salt and pepper neck pieces well, brown in batches in the olive oil and remove to a bowl when browned.

In anything like this, I would want allium: shallots, leeks, onions, and spring onions come to mind. Not scallions in this dish, though: insufficiently robust. Add to the hot pan:

5 large shallots, peeled and chopped (and those I had on hand really were quite large)
the garlic already prepared
2 large carrots, diced (I don’t peel carrots)
salt and pepper

Sauté, stirring frequently—shallots cook quickly and burn easily. Once shallots are softened, return lamb to the pot. (I’m using my 4-qt sauté pan, and it’s pretty full.) Push the pieces of lamb down into the vegetables (i.e., the lamb is not resting on top but sitting on the bottom of the pan).

Pour in any combination of dry vermouth, wine, stock, or water to almost cover the meat.

Then add:

juice of 3-4 lemons (acid is good when you have bone and collagen in the dish)
2 preserved Meyer lemons, cut up (I’d made these and was eager to use them, but you can just dice a couple of fresh Meyer lemons, peel and all)
2 Tbsp Crosse & Blackwell mint sauce
10-12 yellow grape tomatoes (somewhat larger than cherry tomatoes), sliced into small pieces
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried cracked rosemary
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp soy sauce or Red Boat fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce
small handful chopped mint leaves

Stir that up (and it was here that I took the photo), then stir in:

1/2 c pearled barley (an afterthought, but a good one)

Cover the pot/pan and put in a 200ºF oven for 6-7 hours. Meat should be falling off the bone. (I cooked this 4 1/2 hours in a 250ºF oven, and the meat fell easily from the bone as you picked out the bones.)

Use tongs to remove bones from the pot. In mine, some of the chunks of meat were fairly large; those I cut into smaller pieces with kitchen shears. Use a spoon to skim off any excess fat. Sprinkle top with chopped fresh parsley.

Cooked lamb neck has very much the same mouthfeel as cooked turkey neck: extremely tender, with the liquid silky smooth from dissolved collagen, as with oxtail soup. Definitely something to look for.

The soy sauce or fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce is to add umami. (Measures are approximate.)

Have you ever had lamb neck? If so, how did you fix it?

UPDATE: This would be ideal in a 6-qt slow-cooker, but I don’t have one. I suggest using “Low” (which seems generally to be 200ºF) for 7-8 hours. Meat should be falling from the bone.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that mushrooms would go well in this.


Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 1:36 pm

What the Data Really Show about Terrorists Who “Came Here,” Part I: Introduction and Overview

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Nora Ellingsen and Lisa Daniels have a multi-part post at Lawfare, with only Part 1 so far posted:

In late February, during his address to a Joint Session of Congress, President Trump claimed, that, “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

A week later, in the revised Executive Order restricting entry from six countries, the administration declared that, “Since 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.”

The White House has offered no data from the Justice Department in support of either of these claims.

Both turn out to have serious factual problems.

A few weeks before the President’s speech, one of us wrote a piece in response to the first travel ban Executive Order, a piece which analyzed FBI arrests of international terrorism subjects over the previous two years. The post identified a trend that undermined the security rationale behind the administration’s new immigration restrictions: Natural-born U.S. citizens accounted for 76 percent of international terrorism subjects arrested by the FBI.

As the original article acknowledged, that dataset was limited. When tracking arrests, the piece relied on the Justice Department’s own press releases over the previous two years. Cases that the Justice Department reasonably wouldn’t want to bring to the public’s attention—including cases that were sealed or operationally sensitive—weren’t included in the dataset or the analysis. But the limited data available seemed to cut against the idea that the criminal terrorist cases in the United States were predominantly a problem of foreign origin. And that made both Trump’s statement in his joint session address—particularly insofar as it was sourced to Justice Department data—and the claims in the revised executive order itself a bit jarring.

Another thing happened around the same time: A new, more comprehensive dataset became available to the public. Shirin Sinnar at Stanford Law School received under a Freedom of Information Act request from 2015 the National Security Division’s list of public and unsealed international terrorism and terrorism-related convictions from September 11, 2001 to December 31, 2015. Writing at Just Security, she pointed out that this list had previously been provided in early 2015 to the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and National Interest, chaired at the time by none other than then Senator Jeff Sessions. The subcommittee had conducted its own open-source research on the immigration status of each defendant and the results were published in February 2017 by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors lower immigration numbers. Fox News and Stephen Miller ran with CIS’s headline: “Study Reveals 72 Terrorists Came from Countries Covered by Trump Vetting Order,” while the Washington Post fact-checked the study. The Post noted that some of the individuals on the list had entered the United States years before they conducted any crime and many of those individuals were not bomb makers, they engaged in more innocuous activities such as transferring money.

This new dataset provided an opportunity to evaluate both Trump’s statement in his joint session address and the factual claims of the executive order itself. This series of posts detail the result of that inquiry.

Here’s the bottom line:

  • The data Trump cited in his speech to the Joint Session of Congress simply don’t support his claims that a “vast majority” of individuals on the list came from outside the United States—unless, that is, you include individuals who were forcibly brought to the United States in order to be prosecuted and exclude all domestic terrorism cases.
  • While the data do validate the Executive Order on its statement that hundreds of convicted individuals were born overseas, it actually doesn’t support the policy the executive order embodies.
  • Of the hundreds of foreign-born individuals, the vast majority were born in countries not covered by the Executive Order.
  • And of the relatively small number of individuals from covered countries—which total 43—the clear majority come from only two countries (Somalia and Yemen), while a vanishingly small percentage of that come from Iran, Sudan, Libya or Syria.

In this first post, we describe our approach to analyze this data and give an overview of our factual findings. In later posts, we will analyze the data country by country to examine which countries are and are not exporting terrorists to the United States; consider what happens to the data if one includes domestic terrorism cases, as well as international terrorism cases; and offer concluding thoughts on what one can and cannot responsibly say about the relationship between terrorism and country of origin and also about whether “entry” into the United States is a meaningful feature of terrorist crimes in the first place.


This inquiry was labor intensive because the Justice Department’s list does not include material about the country of origin of terrorist defendants—we suspect because the Justice Department may not actually keep or have such data, which generally are not relevant to the criminality of the suspects. Whether there exist internal data within the Justice Department that supports the President’s claim we do not purport to know. But if such data do exist, as we will show, they would have to be quite different from the list of cases NSD released in response to Sinnar’s FOIA request.

Here’s what we did: We went through the raw list of cases and, using our own open source research, determined the country of origin for each individual defendant on the Justice Department’s list.

Our dataset comprises the National Security Division’s list of public or unsealed terrorism-related convictions from 2001 to 2015. There are 627 individuals on this list. We excluded from our analysis the convictions of 118 of these individuals, which “arose from the nationwide investigation conducted after September 11, 2001.”

It may seem odd to exclude everyone convicted in the 9/11 investigation from such an analysis; it is necessary to do so for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, the Justice Department is candid that it is unable to confirm whether these individuals had an actual nexus to terrorism: “Individuals whose convictions arose from this initial terrorism investigation were included on the chart at that time regardless of whether investigators developed or identified evidence that they had any connection to international terrorism.” This investigation was sprawling and lots of people got swept up in it and were prosecuted for matters having nothing to do with the underlying subject of probe. The result, as Sinnar explains, is that we can’t assume that a nexus to terrorism did exist for most of these convictions. Additional practical reasons advised against including these defendants in our analysis. Given the age of the convictions, fewer public records are available online, and determining country of origin for each defendant grows increasingly difficult with each passing year.

We used open source material to attempt to determine the country of origin for the remaining 508 individuals. We were able to do so for 455 of these persons. We have excluded from our analysis the 53 persons for whom we were unable to determine places of birth. So unless otherwise stated, the analysis below considers a total set of the 455 individuals for whom we were able to identify nationality, who were convicted of terrorism-related offense between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2015, and who were not charged in connection with matters arising out of the original 9/11 investigation.

It’s important to emphasize that the bounds of the dataset here artificially inflate the percentage of foreign-born subjects. In other words, the very dataset we’re consulting is the one most apt to support the administration’s position. As Sinnar pointed out, the list doesn’t include any individuals convicted of domestic terrorism offenses; the Justice Department only released the names of individuals who were convicted of international terrorism offenses; these individuals are dramatically more likely to be foreign born than people convicted of domestic terrorism crimes. Consequently, Sinnar noted, we can only draw limited conclusions from the dataset: “If you exclude all convictions for ‘domestic terrorism’ at the outset, how can you draw any overall conclusions on the citizenship status or national origin of those convicted of terrorism?”

We focus here on the country of origin for each terrorism defendant not because we think country of origin is an especially illuminating metric, but because it is necessary to evaluate the veracity of Trump’s two claims: (1) that the “vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” and (2) that “[s]ince 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.” The immigration status of these persons is thus generally irrelevant to our analysis. We have, however, included notations on individual’s citizenship or immigration status that we discovered through our research for the purpose of showing that many foreign-born persons committed and were convicted of terrorism-related offenses only after spending years in the United States and, in some cases, becoming naturalized citizens. This finding cuts against the notion that foreign-born persons sought to enter the United States for the purpose of engaging in terrorism on US soil.

Figure 1

What Do the Data Show?

Let’s start with the President’s statement that “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

In some very technical sense, this is true. Of the 455 persons, 132 are U.S.-born and 323 were born abroad. So yes, since 2001, a substantial majority of terrorist defendants have been born abroad.

But there’s a big problem: 100 of the 323 persons born abroad were extradited, or brought, to the United States for prosecution. This is a group of persons that the U.S. quite literally imported for purposes of prosecution. Including such people in the count of foreign-born folks convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the U.S. is a little like considering Chinese made products domestic products because we bought them and brought them here. Excluding that group leaves 220 foreign-born persons, which is not quite a majority at all, let alone an overwhelming one.

(If you’re paying attention to the math here, you might have noticed that the numbers do not quite add up to the total universe of 455 persons. This is because for three individuals—Muhammed Abid Hussain, Yildirim Beyozit Tumer, and Mohamed Suleiman Al-Nafi—we were able to determine country of origin, but were unable to determine whether these persons had been arrested on U.S. soil, or had been extradited from another state.)

In all of the extradition or capture cases, nothing in the defendants’ public court records suggest that the individual had ever tried to immigrate to the US; and if they did, immigration policies at the time were sufficient to deny them entry. To be clear, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 11:24 am

Can the Trump White House even manage an Easter egg roll?

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Apparently not. Julie Davis reports in the NY Times:

President Trump received an urgent warning in February, informing him of a crucial date he was about to miss.

“FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near,” said a Twitter post directed at Mr. Trump; the first lady, Melania Trump; and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. “Please reach out!”

The message came from Wells Wood Turning, the company that supplies commemorative wooden eggs for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the 138-year-old celebration that has drawn 35,000 people to the South Lawn in recent years.

The staff of the company, based in Buckfield, Me., wondered whether the Trumps planned to continue distributing the wooden eggs as party favors, or whether they were even going to have a White House Easter Egg Roll at all.

By early March, the White House announced that the roll was on — next Monday, to be exact — and soon followed up with a rush order for the wooden eggs.

By that time, the ovoid uncertainty had raised a question perhaps not as consequential as investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election, a legally dubious travel ban and a collapsed health care bill, but no less a window into the inner workings of the Trump administration: Could this White House, plagued by slow hiring and lacking an on-site first lady, manage to pull off the largest, most elaborate and most heavily scrutinized public event of the year?

“It’s the single most high-profile event that takes place at the White House each year, and the White House and the first lady are judged on how well they put it on,” said Melinda Bates, who organized eight years of Easter Egg Rolls as director of the White House Visitors Office under President Bill Clinton. “I’m really concerned for the Trump people, because they have failed to fill some really vital posts, and this thing is all hands on deck.”

White House party catastrophes have been the stuff of presidential nightmares in the past. During his first year in office, President Barack Obama drew harsh criticism for lax security procedures after a pair of aspiring reality-show celebrities successfully crashed a state dinner honoring the prime minister of India, with one of them managing to buttonhole Mr. Obama for a handshake.

The late start in planning by the Trump White House points to a smaller and less ambitious Egg Roll than in previous years. There may be half as many guests, a fraction of the number of volunteers to manage the invasion of the South Lawn, and military bands in place of A-list entertainers like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Idina Menzel and Silentó who have performed for Egg Rolls past.

White House officials did not respond to several weeks’ worth of inquiries about the Easter Egg Roll, typically a heavily and enthusiastically promoted affair, and declined to provide basic information such as how many people are expected to attend. It is unclear, for instance, whether Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, will reprise his appearance in a bunny suit for the event, as he did a decade ago when George W. Bush was president and Mr. Spicer was an aide in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

“Plans for the Easter Egg Roll are well underway, and the White House looks forward to hosting it,” said Stephanie Grisham, Mrs. Trump’s communications director, installed only a few weeks ago. She said it was “just not accurate” to suggest that the event had been scaled back from past years, but would not provide figures for the size of the event or information about the program. . .

Continue reading.

The refusal to respond to inquiries and to provide information is ominous. This is truly a White House that does not know what it is doing. It’s like a bunch of coal miners trying to sail a ship: they’re out of the depth and their ignorance is harmful. And, like Trump, it will not admit error—and it wants to operate in secret. (It’s requiring a lawsuit to gain what should be public information: the White House logs (and the presidential logs at Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago). President Trump doesn’t seem to grasp that he is an employee of the public.

The damage done by an incompetent Easter egg roll is not great, but incompetence in foreign affairs (like Trump’s whiplash 180º reversal on Syria, shows how the problems can be much more serious. Apparently the US is now committed to regime change in Syria and has the bonkers idea that Russia will help us.

In the meantime, those who voted for Trump see his presidency as a great success so far.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 11:16 am

Timing: Always important, as United Airlines discovers

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Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 9:51 am

Posted in Business

Vie-Long, Strop Shoppe, Fatip Testina Gentile, Speick: The truly great morning shave

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The Vie-Long brush shown is a bit of a mystery. It was sold as a boar brush, but it sure seems like horsehair to me: finer hairs, a bit softer on the face. At any rate, it’s a terrific little brush, and this morning it did a fine job with the late lamented Strop Shoppe’s very good Via Dell’Ambra tallow+lanolin shaving soap, making a fine lather.

The Fatip Testine Gentile has quickly become a favorite razor: extremely comfortable and highly efficient, with no worries about (e.g.) small nicks in the XTG pass—in fact, no nick worries at all. And the end result is invariable BBS. I would have liked this in gold, but the chrome is fine. The head comes in various finishes and with various handles, including some made of wood. Italian Barber has them (but the gold is still “sold out”).

A good splash of Speick, and the day begins. It will be interesting to see how the Kansas election today plays out.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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