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21 Oct 2014

Two SWAT Raids. Two Officers Dead. One Defendant Is Black, One White. Guess What Happened.

One Friday last May, the sun had not yet risen when a SWAT team ignited a flash-bang grenade outside Marvin Guy's apartment in Killeen, Texas. Officers were trying to climb in through a window when Guy, who had a criminal record and was suspected of possessing cocaine, opened fire. Four officers were hit; one of them was killed.
Five months earlier, 100 miles away, a SWAT officer was shot during a predawn no-knock raid on another house. In that case, too, police threw a flash-bang grenade and tried to enter the residence. Henry "Hank" Magee, according to his attorney, grabbed his gun to protect himself and his pregnant girlfriend. "As soon as the door was kicked in, he shot at the people coming through the door," says his attorney, Dick DeGuerin. With his legally owned semi-automatic .308 rifle, Magee killed one of the officers. 
The cases are remarkably similar, except for one thing: Guy is black, Magee white. And while Magee was found to have acted in self-defense, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Guy. He remains in jail while he awaits trial.
Historically, police serving warrants were required to knock on a door, announce their presence, and wait for an answer. But in SWAT raids, this is often no longer the case. Police aren't required to announce themselves if they believe the circumstances present a threat of physical violence, or if they believe evidence would be destroyed. According to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union, no-knock warrants are used in around 60 percent of drug searches.
Like Guy, Magee was initially charged with capital murder, which is punishable by death. But before Magee's trial, a grand jury found there was not enough evidence for him to stand trial on that charge. "In essence it was a ruling in self-defense," DeGuerin said. Guy has been through the grand jury process as well, his attorney said, but in his case, the grand jury allowed prosecutors to move ahead with capital murder charges. So while Magee awaits trial for felony possession of marijuana, Guy awaits potential execution.
Both defendants had previous encounters with the law: Magee had been arrested twice for driving while intoxicated and twice for possessing marijuana. Guy had previous charges of bank robbery, theft, burglary, and "felony in possession of a firearm," and had done time in prison. Guy's arrests warrant shows that police suspected him of possessing cocaine after receiving a tip from an informant who said he was selling. The search of his apartment turned up an "orange glass pipe," but no drugs. Magee, however, did have drugs—"more than 4 oz but less than 5 lbs" of marijuana, according to the district attorney.
When SWAT teams were created, they were not intended for drug raids. They were set up in the late 1960s for extreme scenarios like active shooters and hostage situations. Yet 85 percent of SWAT deployments today are for "choice-driven raids on people's private residences," Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University researcher who studies tactical policing, testified in a recent Senate hearing. The ACLU study found that 62 percent of SWAT deployments today are for doing drug raids. The study also found that in around half of SWAT deployments for drug offenses, no contraband is found at all.

California Man Walks Into Burning House and Rescues Stranger

An unidentified man is being hailed as a hero for rushing into a burning building in Fresno, Calif., to rescue a senior citizen who was trapped inside.
“As I got out of the car, this woman came up with this baby and said, ‘My dad is in there! My dad is in there!’ I didn’t know what to do. I felt so helpless," Beth Lederach, who recorded the footage of the successful rescue, told the Fresno Bee.
Lederach said the hero seemed to come from nowhere.
The video shows the man walk into the smoke and flames. At one point, a crash or explosion sends other would-be rescuers fleeing, but not the hero, who emerges from the blaze with the 73-year-old man draped over his shoulder.
Little is known about the rescuer except that he seems to be a Dodgers fan, at least based on his cap. ABC News reports that he was checked out at a local hospital after the rescue. But then, he seems to have vanished.
The man who was rescued, Robert Wells, told KFSN-TV that he was connected to an oxygen tank and had difficulty escaping the fire. He said two people tried to help him, to no avail.

We Spent $7.6 Billion To Crush The Afghan Opium Trade—And It's Doing Better Than Ever

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is at record levels, according to a new report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. That's despite more than a decade of American efforts to knock out the Afghan drug trade—at a cost of roughly $7.6 billion.
SIGAR's data, which comes from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC), shows that Afghan opium cultivation nearly tripled between 1994 and 2013. More than 780 tons of heroin or morphine could be produced with the current crop, whose total value is estimated at nearly $3 billion, up from $2 billion in 2012. 
In his report, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, informs Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, and USAID administrator Rajiv Shah that the levels of opium poppy production don't exactly square with all the time, money, and effort that have gone into eradicating crop. "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of [prior US government and coalition] efforts," Sopko writes. "Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counternarcotics efforts when planning future initiatives."
Afghanistan produces more than 80 percent of the world's illicit opium. SIGAR reports that much of the 494,000 acres of newly arable land in southwest Afghanistan—created by a boom in affordable deep-well technology—"is dedicated to opium cultivation."
In the State Department's and USAID's joint response to the report, Charles Randolph, a program coordinator at the US Embassy in Kabul, agrees with many of Sopko's observations. Randolph concedes that the situation is "disappointing, as was the decline in poppy eradication by provincial authorities this year."
Randolph notes that the opium trade has undermined the government in Kabul and helped the Taliban and other insurgents. "The narcotics trade has also been a windfall for the insurgency, which profits from the drug trade at almost every level," he writes.
But, he adds, the United States and its Afghan counterparts have had some success with approaches such as special interdiction units and drug treatment programs. "There is no silver bullet to eliminate drug cultivation or production in Afghanistan or to address the epidemic of substance abuse disorders that plagues too many Afghans," he writes.
The Department of Defense, in its official response to SIGAR, says it does not conduct poppy eradication activities in Afghanistan, and points the finger at Kabul. "The failure to reduce poppy cultivation and increase eradication is due to the lack of Afghan government support for the effort," writes Michael D. Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict. "Poverty, corruption, the terrorism nexus to the narcotics trade, and access to alternative livelihood opportunities that provide an equal or greater profit than poppy cultivation are all contributors to the Afghan drug problem."
Drug addiction is a major problem in Afghanistan, with as many 1 million peopleaddicted to opium, heroin, and other drugs—including children as young as four. In a joint statement that prefaced the release of the 2013 data, Din Mohammad Mobariz Rashidi, Afghanistan's acting minister of counternarcotics, and Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the UNODC, said that Afghan and American officials are making progress, and that authorities seize roughly 10 percent of Afghan poppy production. But, they continued, not enough "powerful figures" are being prosecuted. That could be a reference to former Afghan president Hamid Karzai's brother, who was accused of having strong connections to the Afghan heroin trade.

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20 Oct 2014

FBI wants Congress to mandate backdoors in tech devices to facilitate surveillance

In response to announcements by Apple and Google that they would make the data customers store on their smartphones and computers more secure and safer from hacking by law enforcement, spies, and identity thieves, FBI director James Comey is asking Congress to order tech companies to build their devices with “backdoors,” making them more accessible to law enforcement agencies. Speaking at the Brookings Institution last Thursday, Comey said that police need new legislation to help them apprehend criminals who use encryption to hide incriminating evidence. “The FBI has a sworn duty to keep every American safe from crime and terrorism, and technology has become the tool of choice for some very dangerous people,” Comey said. “Unfortunately, the law hasn’t kept pace with technology, and this disconnect has created a significant public-safety problem.”
The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) forces telephone companies to build surveillance technologies into their networks to allow law enforcement to install wiretaps. The law has not been updated and it does not apply to new technology including online forms of communication.
Privacy advocates predict that few in Congress will support Comey’s quest for greater surveillance powers. “I’d be surprised if more than a handful of members would support the idea of backdooring Americans’ personal property,” Senator Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) said.
Comey urged Congress to update CALEA to “create a level playing field” so new tech companies would have to provide police the same access to information that telephone providers like AT&T do. Comey’s proposal is already facing resistance from the tech industry, as many industry analysts point out that any backdoor for law enforcement could be exploited by hackers. Additionally, such a mandate would make American tech companies less competitive globally. “Who in Europe is going to buy these newly compromised cell phones if Congress insists that they be made with backdoors for U.S. law enforcement?” asked Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s probably one of the worst job killers a member of Congress could propose.”

GOP House candidate will stop ‘big government tyranny’ with government sponsored religion

Jody Hice is running for Congress in Georgia. He also has an internet radio show, which he earnestly refers to as “one of the most important cultural programs anywhere around.”
On Thursday, Hice decided to talk about how he agrees with Antonin Scalia’s remarks in a speech he gave earlier this month at Colorado Christian University on the concept of the separation of church and state.
“I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion,” Scalia said, and then whined a bunch about how it’s not fair that “secularists” want to take “Under God” out of the pledge despite the fact that it wasn’t there to begin with.
That actually is what it means. It also means that the government cannot favor one religion over another. It’s not actually that big a deal. I’m pretty sure that if you are truly faithful in your religion, that you probably don’t require an entire system of government standing behind you giving you the thumbs up. I manage to not believe in god just fine without any help from the government.
However, Hice believes it is definitely the government’s job to sponsor and encourage religion. Because, you see, if people are religious then they don’t break the law, and then you don’t need big government.
Personally, I can’t think of any government “bigger” than a government that sticks its nose in people’s personal beliefs about religion, but that’s just me.
Via RawStory:
“To be in the midst of a fight against secularists who are trying to impose on all of us that it is unconstitutional to acknowledge God and to honor God,” said Hice, “the secularists want to tell us that that’s unconstitutional. And Scalia is arguing that not only is that, in fact, constitutional, but it is in the best interests of who we are.”
“One of the biggest dangers that we are facing today,” Hice continued, “is judges who think that the Constitution is some sort of living document that changes with the times.”
This is a problem, Hice said, because for Americans to view the Constitution through “the lens of secularism” is not what God intended.
“Folks, that is problematic, that is an enormous danger,” said Hice.
“When it comes to the idea of religious liberty,” he said, “it is not constitutional for the state, if you will, just to be neutral towards religion.”
Religion, Hice said, is “an entrenched part of who we are” as Americans “and a necessary part of who we are.” God-fearing governments, he said, produce “a moral people who are self-governing of their own lives and thus don’t need the big arm of intrusive government all over us. Because we are self-governing people.”
“You remove God and you remove religion,” he said, “and you remove the state from encouraging religious belief and you get more secularism, you get more problems, you get more crime, you get all, whatever, fill in the blank out there.”
“End result,” Hice said, “you get bigger government.”
I’m just gonna throw out there right now that America is probably one of the most religious countries, and has a higher murder rate than nearly all other developed nations. Japan has one of the lowest, and 80% of Japanese people don’t believe in God. Oh! Also! Fewer teen pregnancies there as well. Much fewer.

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