Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts

February 18, 2017

Three Different FBI Investigations into Russia’s Election Hacking

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing at least three separate probes relating to alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential elections, according to five current and former government officials with direct knowledge of the situation.

While the fact that the FBI is investigating had been reported previously by the New York Times and other media, these officials shed new light on both the precise number of inquires and their focus.

The FBI's Pittsburgh field office, which runs many cyber security investigations, is trying to identify the people behind breaches of the Democratic National Committee's computer systems, the officials said. Those breaches, in 2015 and the first half of 2016, exposed the internal communications of party officials as the Democratic nominating convention got underway and helped undermine support for Hillary Clinton.

The Pittsburgh case has progressed furthest, but Justice Department officials in Washington believe there is not enough clear evidence yet for an indictment, two of the sources said.

Meanwhile the bureau’s San Francisco office is trying to identify the people who called themselves “Guccifer 2” and posted emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, the sources said. Those emails contained details about fundraising by the Clinton Foundation and other topics.

Beyond the two FBI field offices, FBI counterintelligence agents based in Washington are pursuing leads from informants and foreign communications intercepts, two of the people said.

This counterintelligence inquiry includes but is not limited to examination of financial transactions by Russian individuals and companies who are believed to have links to Trump associates. The transactions under scrutiny involve investments by Russians in overseas entities that appear to have been undertaken through middlemen and front companies, two people briefed on the probe said.

Reuters could not confirm which entities and individuals were under scrutiny.

Scott Smith, the FBI's new assistant director for cyber crime, declined to comment this week on which FBI offices were doing what or how far they had progressed.

The White House had no comment on Friday on the Russian hacking investigations. A spokesman pointed to a comment Trump made during the campaign, in which he said: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people."

During a news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump said he had no business connections to Russia.

The people who spoke to Reuters also corroborated a Tuesday New York Times report that Americans with ties to Trump or his campaign had repeated contacts with current and former Russian intelligence officers before the November election. Those alleged contacts are among the topics of the FBI counterintelligence investigation.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in San Francisco and Mark Hosenball, John Walcott and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Tomasz Janowski)

February 13, 2017

Gallop Says Americans See US Standing at Its Worst in a Decade

  • 42% of Americans believe the world views the U.S. favorably
  • 29% say world leaders respect Trump; 67% said same of Obama in 2009
  • Satisfaction with U.S. on the world stage is near record low
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans believe the world at large sees the U.S. more unfavorably (57%) than favorably (42%), their worst assessment of the country's image in 10 years. A year ago, Americans' perceptions were more positive than negative.
Graph 1
These results are from a Gallup survey conducted Feb. 1-5, about two weeks into Donald Trump's presidency. The 42% favorable rating is one of the lowest since Gallup began asking this question in 2000 and may be attributable to the election of Trump, whose sometimes controversial statements and actions have rankled several world leaders. However, Americans' perceptions of the image of the U.S. abroad were marginally worse in 2007, when 40% thought the world viewed the nation favorably. At the time, the U.S. was embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and President George W. Bush was highly unpopular.
The high-water mark for Americans believing the U.S. is viewed favorably was 79% in 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Much of this year's drop in favorable perceptions of how the world views the U.S. is fueled by a precipitous slide among Democrats now that a Republican president is in office. Currently, 31% of Democrats think the world views the U.S. at least somewhat favorably, down from 68% last year. By contrast, Republicans' views have improved this year, to 54% from 39%, but not enough to offset the decline among Democrats.
Few Americans Believe Leaders Worldwide Respect Trump
Fewer than three in 10 Americans (29%) say leaders of other countries have respect for the new president, with 67% saying world leaders do not have much respect for him. When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the results were nearly opposite: 67% of Americans then believed global leaders respected the president, while 20% said leaders did not. At the time of the prior presidential transition in 2001, more Americans also believed George W. Bush was respected than believed he was not.
The 29% now believing that world leaders respect the president also represents a sharp drop from one year ago, in the last year of Obama's presidency. At that time, 45% said they believed the president was respected.
One reason for the drop is that fewer Republicans today think Trump is respected (60%) than Democrats in 2016 thought Obama was respected (79%).
Satisfaction With World Position Little Changed From 2016
Despite Americans' depressed perceptions of how world leaders view their new president, Americans' satisfaction with the country's position in the world hasn't changed much from last year -- 32% say they are satisfied with the position of the U.S. worldwide, down slightly from 36% in 2016.
Graph 3
The current reading continues a recent trend of relatively low satisfaction with the nation's global status, something that has persisted since the Iraq War troop surge in 2007.
While the Iraq War may have been a factor a decade ago, satisfaction has remained low even as U.S. involvement has wound down. The rise of the Islamic State and terrorism in general may be contributing to Americans' continued low level of satisfaction with their country's position in the world. Americans' widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. could also affect their level of satisfaction with the nation's world standing.
Bottom Line
At the beginning of Trump's presidency, Americans' perceptions of how the world views the U.S. and its new president are significantly worse than they were a year ago -- and are on the low end for the past decade. This has been fueled by a sharp decline among Democrats who hold highly negative views of Trump's character and opening job performance.
But even a year ago, when Americans thought the world viewed the U.S. and Obama positively, Americans were still largely unsatisfied with the nation's global standing. This trend has been steadily negative for the past decade. Americans may not put much weight on how the rest of the world perceives the president in assessing whether they are satisfied with the United States' standing in the world. In addition to concerns about international matters such as Syria and terrorism, those views may be influenced by how they think things are going in the U.S., their low confidence in public institutions and their low trust in government. Such factors appear to have a marked effect on how Americans feel when they look beyond their borders.

by Art Swift
Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,035 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

February 10, 2017

In Iran Thousands March Against USA but Others Are Thankful

Its very interesting that in Iran an enemy of the US and being  a control society, still you find people that are listening not just to Washington nowadays but to Americans and to what americans are saying about immigration and racism. There are some crazy anti US *Mulas in Iran but so in the US. 

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians heeded the call of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to demonstrate Friday against U.S. "threats" — but some had words of support for Americans.

There was a notable absence of burning U.S. flags during the march along Revolutionary Road that leads to Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square - particularly given the fact that Friday marked the 38th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

At similar rallies in years past, it would be typical to see a U.S. flag burning every 10-15 yards, but none were seen Friday. And only one effigy of President Donald Trump was witnessed, as opposed to dozens of former President Barack Obama at the same event last year.

Despite Trump threatening Iran on Twitter last week that it was "on notice," and calls by Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani to rally, a social media movement to tone down the protests appeared to have had some impact in cosmopolitan Tehran. In addition, very few placards handed out by official state organizers mentioned Trump or had anti-American slogans.

Iranians used the hashtag #LoveBeyondFlags to urge an end to the U.S. flag-burning typically seen at the annual anniversary rally.

During the rally in Tehran, some people carried placards in support of the U.S. and thanked ordinary Americans for opposing Trump’s executive order banning entry to the United States to travelers from seven mainly Muslim countries, including Iran.


Image: Iranians mark the 38th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran, Friday.

Iranians mark the 38th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran, Friday. Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA
*In the smapnish language a *mula is a jack ass or donkey.

October 5, 2016

International Observers Getting Ready to Watch US Elections Closely

Amid charges from Donald Trump that the U.S. presidential election could be "rigged" and concerns of rights activists that black voters may face undue obstacles, the head of an international observer team pledged a full review ranging from voting machines to racial bias as it began work on Tuesday.
The team from the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that will monitor the Nov. 8 presidential and Congressional elections is set to be the biggest the organization has sent to the United States, tasked with checking the vote meets international standards.
Republican candidate Trump's apparent suggestion that the vote might not be free and fair has drawn an angry response from his opponents, who say it is baseless.
Democrat Hillary Clinton has led Trump in national opinion polls in recent months. On Tuesday, an average of polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics website showed her with 48.1 percent of support compared to Trump’s 44.3 percent.

Civil rights advocates have also said voters are more likely to face racial bias at this election than they have in 50 years, because of voting laws that several states passed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the landmark anti-discrimination 1965 Voting Rights Act three years ago.
"We do have concerns about voter registration, voter identification and also electronic voting," the head of the OSCE mission, British lawyer and diplomat Audrey Glover said in a telephone interview, adding that the mission is impartial.
"We always let the facts speak for themselves, so let's see what happens," she said. Allegations such as Trump's, however, were for the U.S. authorities to follow up on while the OSCE observed, she added. "We're not policemen."
The Shelby County v Holder Supreme Court ruling in 2013 struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act that was used to determine which areas with a history of discrimination had to obtain special permission before changing their voting laws.
That has raised concerns among rights groups that laws on issues like voter identification have since been changed to make it more difficult for poor and minority voters to take part.
 The OSCE, which comprises much of Europe, Central Asia and North America, has also suggested that all electronic voting machines be required by law to leave a verifiable paper trail, though many states do not provide one.

Glover said her team would seek to clarify where it legally can and cannot go, adding that states' and counties' stance on international observers was often not clear. Texas also threatened OSCE observers with prosecution four years ago, which the organization called "unacceptable" at the time.
Glover, however, struck a conciliatory tone.
"If the law says international observers are not allowed, then obviously we won't try and go. We're not going to try and make any sort of a scene," she told Reuters.
But the biggest hindrance might be self-inflicted. The OSCE had hoped to deploy 100 so-called long-term observers in the coming week, but OSCE states - including Germany, France, Spain, Romania, Finland, Bosnia - have only provided 26.
Up to 400 short-term observers will begin work close to Election Day.
"We'll do what we can with what we've got," Glover said. “We will try and make a silk purse out of a pig's ear and we will try and cover the whole of the United States, or to the extent that is feasible."

September 4, 2016

President Arrived at a Changed Sour China for Summit

 The problems began as soon as President Obama landed in China.
There were no stairs waiting for him to disembark from his usual door at the top of Air Force One.
On the tarmac, as Obama’s staff scrambled to get lower-level stairs in place for him to disembark, White House press photographers traveling with him tried to get in their usual position to mark his arrival in a foreign country, only to find a member of the Chinese welcoming delegation screaming at them.
He told the White House press corps they needed to leave.
A White House official tried to intervene, saying this is our president and our plane and the media isn’t moving. 
 Obama is greeted at Chinese Airport

The man yelled in response, “This is our country!”
The man then yelled more and entered into a testy exchange with Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and her deputy, Ben Rhodes, while trying to block them from moving toward the front of the plane. 
On what is probably his last visit to China, there were flare-ups and simmering tensions during Obama’s meetings with Chinese officials — a fitting reflection of how the relationship between these two world powers has become frayed and fraught with frustration. Over the past seven years, that turbulence with China has colored and come to define Obama’s foreign policy at-large in Asia.
On Saturday, several White House protocol officers and other staff arriving at a diplomatic compound ahead of Obama’s meetings were stopped from entering and had heated arguments with Chinese officials in order to get in.
“The president is arriving here in an hour,” one White House staffer was overheard saying in exasperation.
A fistfight nearly broke out between a Chinese official trying to help the U.S. diplomats and a Chinese security official trying to keep them out. “Calm down please. Calm down,” another White House official pleaded.
Twenty minutes before the arrival of Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two sides were still arguing in the room where the two leaders would soon be meeting to talk about cooperation. The Chinese insisted there was not enough space for the 12 American journalists traveling with Obama. U.S. officials, pointing to a spacious area sectioned off for the media, insisted there was.
High hopes turn to pivot
When Obama became president in 2009, he began with high hopes of improving U.S.-China relations. He tried reaching out to Chinese leaders with offers of increased engagement and decided not to meet with the Dalai Lama to avoid angering Beijing, to the disappointment of human rights advocates.
 Obama became the first U.S. president to visit China during his first year in office. But his administration was taken aback by how completely the Chinese controlled all aspects that visit. “He wasn’t allowed to say much at all,” said Orville Schell, a longtime China scholar who was in China during the visit. “The Chinese kept him from meeting certain people, from taking questions or even radio broadcasts. He didn’t know quite how to respond. He didn’t want to be impolite. It took the U.S. a while to understand that this was the direction China and the relationship was headed.”
Some have blamed Obama for adopting such an overly optimistic and open stance during those early years. For all his outreach, current and former top U.S. diplomats say, Obama has gotten little in return, except the feeling of being burned by Beijing.
But that result could be equally attributed to the simple fact that China itself was undergoing a seismic shift during those early years of Obama’s presidency.
When the global recession plunged the world into financial crisis in the late 2000s, China escaped unscathed. Its leaders looked around and realized for the first time just how much power China had attained in becoming the world’s second largest economy. And shortly after, they began eagerly throwing that weight around.
No longer were they willing to make concessions or bide their time, from big things, such as territorial claims, down to the nitty-gritty of negotiations over who sits where and says what in diplomatic exchanges.
Obama’s response to this newfound Chinese assertiveness was largely a response to reality. “In a textbook, it would be great to have a strategic vision for how you see things being eight years now,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, Obama’s top Asia adviser during those early years. “But in this case, I think the word ‘reaction’ is right. You had a China that was changing in capacity and leadership.”
If the carrot of engagement didn’t work, the Obama administration decided, they would try the stick. And they gave this tougher policy a name: the “Pivot to Asia.”
The pivot policy boiled down to the idea of turning the resources and attention of the United States away from perpetual problem areas in the short term, such as the Middle East, to Asia — an area that would have clear long-term strategic importance in coming years. 
Those overseeing the pivot strategy, senior U.S. officials said at the time, studied other examples in history, where one power was rising while others were declining: Germany’s rise in Europe after World War I; Athens and Sparta; the rise of the United States, itself, in the past century.
The pivot strategy was developed out of a belief that China would respond best to a position of strength. To find that leverage, the United States planned to forge stronger ties with its traditional allies in Asia and pick up new allies among neighbors alienated by China’s new aggression — including Vietnam, Burma and India.
Using that multilateral approach, the thinking went, the United States could offset China’s rising military power and assertiveness.
Doubts in Asia and among allies
The main problem with the Asia pivot was one of perception and substance.
European and Middle East leaders expressed concern with the idea of U.S. attention and priorities suddenly shifting from their regions to another. Chinese leaders saw the pivot as a U.S. conspiracy to interfere with China’s goals and to slow its rise.
Meanwhile, the very Asian allies the pivot was meant to reassure had their doubts, as well. Many wondered how much of the U.S. pivot was empty rhetoric and how much of it would be backed by economic and military substance.
In recent months, those doubts have resurfaced because the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Obama cobbled together as a way to reach out to Asian allies, may die for lack of support among Congress and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, in the years since the pivot strategy began, the U.S.-China relationship has soured to its current fraught state.
Both countries today are trying to avoid open hostility but are increasingly wary, hedging and frustrated with each other. Other countries in the region continue to fear China’s rise but at the same time are not fully convinced that the United States will be a sufficient counterweight.
The U.S.-China relationship may be the biggest problem Obama’s successor will face in Asia. How he or she deals with it — the exact proportion of carrots and sticks chosen and the Chinese response — will probably define the region in the decade to come. 
If this visit by Obama is any indication, the situation is not likely to get better anytime soon.
On Saturday, even as the two presidents finished their talk and prepared for a final nighttime stroll toward Obama’s motorcade. Chinese officials suddenly cut the number of U.S. journalists who could cover them from six to three, and finally to one.
“That is our arrangement,” a Chinese official flatly told a White House staffer, looking away.
“But your arrangement keeps changing,” the White House staffer responded.
In the end, after lengthy and infuriating negotiations, they settled on having just two journalists witness the leader’s walk.

July 15, 2016

IT’S official. Puerto Rico has about as much sovereignty as a United States colony

[San Juan, Puerto Rico]  IT’S official now. Puerto Rico has about as much sovereignty as a United States colony.

The word came down from Washington in mid-June, in two Supreme Court rulings that insult our pride as self-governing United States citizens.

One said our courts lacked the power of state courts to try local criminals separately after federal prosecutors weighed in. The other said we must go hat in hand to Congress if our public utilities are to get debt relief. Unlike states, we cannot help them seek bankruptcy protection.

A third insult — from Congress — came as we reached the brink of default two weeks ago. As it finally consented to debt relief, the Senate also approved an oversight board that could tell our elected government how to handle our finances.

In vulgar street talk here, Puerto Rico has been stripped naked and put on show to be shamed.

This after we’d grown up being told we had a unique, privileged relationship with the United States — we were full citizens, free to migrate north, and autonomous to govern our own affairs. A bit like a state, without surrendering our Latin personality.

But now it is clear that was a charade. We’ve learned how much it left us at the mercy of an unsympathetic Washington. Even as he offered debt relief, the Senate’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, rubbed it in. “The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is in crisis,” he declared.

Territory? Really? I thought — as did Justice Stephen G. Breyer in his dissent from the prosecutorial powers ruling — that Washington granted us a far better status in 1952. As the United Nations pushed for global decolonization, Justice Breyer wrote, we and the Truman administration entered into a social contract that made us neither colony nor state, but something new, called a “commonwealth” in English and, in Spanish, an "estado libre asociado” (free associated state).

My generation, the baby boomers, was told autonomy made us equal but exceptional as citizens, and indeed there were advantages. Tax breaks initiated in the 1970s attracted employers like pharmaceutical producers. Billions of federal dollars flowed to us. All we had to do was behave, serve in the military when called (I was wounded in Vietnam as a combat medic), and not call ourselves a “colony.”

Dissenters advocating statehood warned that “self-government” was a mirage without a vote in Congress, or for president. Still, Congress never showed interest in accepting a bicultural Hispanic state that had more workers than jobs.

There were occasional nationalist uprisings. But Puerto Ricans have never been good at rebellion. Instead, we jabbered away about our politics. And every few years we replayed the same referendum: Statehood? Independence? Stay autonomous?

A clear majority never emerged, partly because the plebiscites were just theater. The results weren’t binding on us, nor on Congress. And we didn’t want to fracture a close-knit island society over that.

So we drifted, even as globalization began undermining what competitive advantages we had; in 1996, Congress even withdrew the tax exemptions that had lured statesiders to invest in industry here.

Today, those industries, jobs and many stateside banks have fled, private employment has cratered, and our debts are due. Our main employer is our destitute government. Emigration and violent crime have soared. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of compatriots have left, bringing to more than five million the number of Puerto Ricans living in the states, according to the Pew Research Center; local demographers estimate that only 3.4 million remain here.

An image, passed down many years ago by my grandfather, haunts me now, in this terrible summer.

Grandpa Chu was a little boy during the Spanish-American War, living near where the last, short battle for Puerto Rico was fought at Asomante, in the island’s central mountains. Afterward, United States troops searched house to house for arms, ordering inhabitants to stay home.

The first “Americano” whom Grandpa Chu saw frightened him; he had eyes like hailstones in a freckle-spattered face. All the soldiers were stone-faced and humorless, even when showered with local hospitality. He stared at them, not knowing what to expect.

Now I feel something similar, after the triple whammy of political reality we have endured. I ask how we can help ourselves. This much has become clear to me: Puerto Ricans must first rediscover our inner political strengths, and unite to demand that Congress, within a decade, allows us a binding referendum on our island’s status.

The choices would be statehood, with whatever consequences for our culture and economy, or independence, with its own economic pitfalls and challenges.

“Autonomy” would not be a choice. It has been drained of all appeal by promises broken over the decades, and indignities recently inflicted; it should be put to rest as the sham it was all along.

This won’t be easy. Puerto Ricans will have to organize politically where members of Congress can hear us — their own districts. For that, we can call on perhaps four million enfranchised compatriots of voting age stateside to form a huge bloc to campaign — and vote — in our support.

In short, we must demand the respect due every United States citizen by using that most powerful weapon of democracy: one person, one vote.


Rafael Matos, a former writer and editor at The Associated Press, The Miami Herald and The San Juan Star, is a co-editor of “Noticia y Yo,” an anthology of Puerto Rican journalism from 1935 to 1980.

June 1, 2016

New Figures on Slavery on the US 57,700

Update on World Slavery of Today

Some 57,700 people are living in conditions that constitute slavery in the United States right now, according to report released today, with undocumented immigrants, refugees, and homeless LGBT youth are particularly vulnerable to abusive conditions.
The Global Slavery Index estimates that worldwide, 45.8 million people are living in some form of modern-day slavery–whether that’s forced agricultural or industrial labor, sex trafficking, or forced marriage.

The report, published yearly by an anti-slavery group called the Walk Free Foundation, ranked the U.S. 52nd out of 167 countries in terms of its protections against slavery and human trafficking. While modern-day slavery might not sound like something that happens on American shores, the disenfranchised face a serious risk of being exploited. Part of the problem is that they’re less likely to seek or receive support from law enforcement. That includes immigrants who may be taken advantage of because they worry about being deported and young homeless LGBT people who could feel pressured into “survival sex” for a safe place to stay.
“The U.S. attracts undocumented workers, migrants, and refugees, who can be at particular risk of vulnerability to human trafficking upon their arrival and during their stay in the U.S.,” the report says. “Research undertaken on vulnerable migrant labourer populations in San Diego, California, and in North Carolina suggests that these populations often include undocumented seasonal labourers who experience significant language barriers, cultural non-assimilation, and fear of deportation.”
The Obama administration has taken some specific steps to address human trafficking, like establishing the Office on Trafficking in Persons to raise public awareness and provide services to victims of human trafficking. But the GSI report says that what could really help is to curb the underlying reasons that people are preyed upon:
Poverty and social instability among specific populations – namely undocumented people, homeless persons, and runaway youth – are some of many vitiating factors contributing to the risk of slavery in the U.S. These factors motivate workers in manual sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, and farming to work in dangerous conditions. They also play a role in prompting minors to engage in survival sex.
Some undocumented immigrants fleeing traumatic circumstances in their home countries are already in a vulnerable position, according to an advocacy group called the Freedom Network which works specifically to fight human trafficking and labor abuses against immigrants to the U.S.
Aside from fearing contact with law enforcement, immigrants on temporary visas or with no documents at all are at a disadvantage because they may not be aware of their rights, the Freedom Network wrote in a 2013 report. “They exploit working conditions knowing that workers most likely do not understand their rights and the applicable laws, may not speak the language, and therefore, would not speak out and risk retaliation.”
The advocacy group suggests that providing a path to legalization for undocumented workers is one step to preventing worker abuses, along with giving immigrants of every status more access to information on their rights, and access to help from law enforcement without the threat of repercussions.
 Young homeless LGBT people who have left their homes after facing discrimination and a lack of support from their families or communities are left in a similarly disempowering situation. A national survey of youth homelessness service providers found in 2012 that somewhere between 30% and 43% of homeless young people served by those housing programs identified as LGBT.
Covenant House, a private child care agency based in New York which provides resources and shelter to homeless youth, found that one in four of the 174 young people they helped and then surveyedsaid they had been a victim of sex trafficking or “survival sex.” The six LGBT youth who were included in the random sample all said they’d been involved in one or the other. Like the other young people included in the Covenant House survey, they said being LGBT exposed them to more discrimination and made it even harder for them to find help.
While the U.S. is ahead of some other countries with severe trafficking problems, there are tens of thousands of people whose human rights are being abused, the report suggests. The approximate numbers in the index were calculated using global surveys conducted with the Gallup group, also referring to a combination of reports from governments, non-profits, and social services groups. The report says that because most cases of human trafficking likely go unreported, actual figures are probably much higher.

December 8, 2015

Following events how do you currently view Muslims living in America?

View Muslims the same asany other groupFearful of a fewgroups/individuals of MuslimsGenerally fearful of Muslims0%10%20%30%40%50%60%

View Muslims the same as any other group
50.8% (Confidence Interval: 54% - 47.6%)
Source: Reuters/Ipsos Poll
As of December 4, 2015 | 5 day rolling mean | Sample Size: 1,054 people polled online

May 3, 2015

Executions on the US: Electrocution,Lethal Injection and Nitrogen Gas


Increasingly, US death penalty states are no longer content to have just one method of execution on the books. Instead, with a persistent shortage of lethal injection drugs, fueled in part by the European Union's ban on their export, American states are putting in place "back-up" methods of execution.

In 2014, a Tennessee law took effect permitting the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. On March 23, 2015, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill authorizing the use of firing squads if lethal injection drugs can't be procured. And on April 17, 2015, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill allowing for the use of nitrogen gas if the US Supreme Court rules the state's lethal injection protocol unconstitutional.

In the last decade American executions were put on hold for a short time in the lead up to the US Supreme Court's decision in Baze v. Rees, an Eighth Amendment challenge to Kentucky's three-drug lethal injection protocol. Executions are now on hold again in some states while the Supreme Court considers Glossip v. Gross—a challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection protocol.

The US Constitution's Eighth Amendment contains just sixteen words: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. "At the heart of challenges to capital punishment—and to methods of execution in particular—has been the meaning of the Eighth Amendment's last six words, popularly known as the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.

In a prior book, Cruel and Unusual:The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment, I detailed the Eighth Amendment's history. What I found: the Founding Fathers were not all that gung-ho about capital punishment. In fact they rejected England's "Bloody Code", embraced Enlightenment-era writings and were fascinated by the potential of the penitentiary system to eliminate harsh punishments.

Thus far legal challenges to methods of executions have not fared well before the nation's highest court. In Wilkerson v. Utah, the US Supreme Court approved the use of public firing squads. In In re Kemmler, the Supreme Court gave its approval to electrocution, a then-novel method. And in another ruling decades later, in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, the Court found yet another electrocution constitutional even though an earlier attempt had been botched that failed to kill the same inmate in the electric chair.

The Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in Baze—upholding the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol—was only the most recent rejection of an Eighth Amendment challenge to a mode of execution. In that case the Court found no constitutional violation as regards the administration of a deadly cocktail of drugs: sodium thiopental, an anesthetic to cause unconsciousness; pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant to paralyze the inmate's diaphragm and lungs; and potassium chloride, to induce a cardiac arrest.

Now the State of Oklahoma—with its own lethal injection protocol under scrutiny following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett—has authorized nitrogen gas as a new method of execution. Designed to asphyxiate condemned inmates by forcing them to breathe pure nitrogen through a gas mask, death by nitrogen is just the newest in a long line of execution methods stretching back to the Dark Ages. According to Representative Mike Christian, one of the Oklahoma bill's authors, the new method—put in place in case the state's lethal-injection protocol is struck down—is designed to ensure "a humane, quick and painless death." "The person will become unconscious within eight to ten seconds," Representative Christian explains, saying that death will ensue "a few minutes later."

But what sentiments like these ignore is that whatever the method of execution--hanging, firing squad, electric chair, lethal gas or lethal injection--the end result is exactly the same: the inmate's death. In their desperate search for a Plan B to lethal injections, states like Tennessee, Utah and Oklahoma are only changing the means to kill an inmate, not altering the ultimate outcome. Ironically, in cases like Hope v. Pelzer and Jackson v. Bishop, non-lethal corporal punishments have already been found to be "cruel and unusual punishments."

In the founding era, American lawmakers were greatly influenced by a now-obscure Italian philosopher, Cesare Beccaria of Milan. At age twenty-six, Beccaria published Dei delitti e delle pene, translated into English in 1767 as On Crimes and Punishments. That book called for proportionality between crimes and punishments and argued for the abolition of torture and capital punishment. Among its core principles, ones embraced by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Americans: the certainty of punishment is more important than its severity and any punishment that goes beyond "absolutely necessity" is "cruel" and "tyrannical."

History reveals that American revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Dr. Benjamin Rush were looking for ways to make punishments less cruel—and the society's laws less sanguinary. Jefferson and Madison sought to drastically curtail the number of capital offenses in Virginia and Dr. Benjamin Rush—a signer of the Declaration of Independence—sought to eliminate the death penalty entirely, calling death "an improper punishment for any crime." William Bradford—one of Madison's closest friends and Pennsylvania's and then the country's attorney general—wrote a whole report titled An Enquiry How Far the Punishment of Death Is Necessary in Pennsylvania (1793).

For America's founders, the necessity for a punishment was key. Indeed, James Madison—in his own words—was attracted to "penitentiary discipline" as a substitute for what he called "the cruel inflictions so disgraceful to penal codes." In responding to a letter from a Kentucky physician, Madison wrote: "I should not regret a fair and full trial of the entire abolition of capital punishment by any State willing to make it." Toward the end of his life, Jefferson—a longtime reader of On Crimes and Punishments, having copied more than two dozen passages from it into his commonplace book—penned these words in the 1820s: "Beccaria and other writers on crimes and punishments had satisfied the reasonable world of the unrightfulness and inefficacy of the punishment of crimes by death."

A return to a core principle that any punishment that goes beyond "absolute necessity" is "cruel" and "tyrannical"—a notion embraced by Beccaria, Montesquieu and America's founders themselves—leads to the inexorable conclusion that the death penalty is no longer necessary. In 21st-century America, in our own age and time, the reality is this: life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences and maximum-security prisons are now readily available as a substitute for state-sanctioned executions.

By authorizing death by nitrogen gas, the State of Oklahoma—like other states trying to cling to the use of executions—has only doubled-down on a barbaric and antiquated, not to mention increasingly rare, practice. The number of murderers serving LWOP sentences now far eclipses the number of American death row inmates, and today's death penalty has a lot more to do with geography, race and the quality of one's counsel than with the nature of the crime. No California death row inmate has been executed in years, with a federal judge in that state having declared the death penalty unconstitutional, though it's a different story, of course, in places like Texas.

A recent study found that death sentences are heavily concentrated in a tiny fraction of the country's counties. According to Robert J. Smith, a DePaul University law professor, one percent of US counties account for roughly forty-four percent of all of the country's death sentences. The Death Penalty Information Center's 2013 report, The 2% Death Penalty, similarly found that more than half of all US executions are coming out of just two percent of the nation's counties. That is hardly "Equal Justice Under Law."

In fact, capital punishment has long been administered in a racially discriminatory and arbitrary manner. The race of the victim still often determines who lives and who dies, and death sentences—the product of death-qualified juries, in which death penalty opponents are systematically excluded from service—are being imposed in as arbitrary a manner as they were before death penalty laws were struck down in Furman v. Georgia. With the rise and increasing use of LWOP sentences, the sporadic use of executions by a handful of mostly southern locales should no longer be tolerated by the US Supreme Court.

No matter the method of killing—no matter the number of methods of execution—the death penalty's madness, with its ever-present potential to claim the lives of the wrongfully convicted, seems as clear as ever. Executions are not needed to ensure the public's safety; the incarceration of violent offenders in Supermax prisons can achieve that objective.

As for the Eighth Amendment itself, it is regularly read by the US Supreme Court to protect prisoners from harm, including non-lethal harms. The Eighth Amendment, in fact, can never be read in a principled manner until the death penalty goes the way of the pillory and the whipping post and is declared unconstitutional.

Until that day comes, hopefully sooner rather than later, the US Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence will continue to have a split personality, just like the character in Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

John D. Bessler is associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author of The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2014), which received first prize in the American Association of Italian Studies Book Award competition (18th/19th century category) and which is also a finalist in the IndieFab book award competition for non-fiction.

Suggested citation: John Bessler, The Method to the Madness: The Electric Chair, Lethal Injection and Now Nitrogen Gas, JURIST - Academic Commentary, May 1, 2015,

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