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June 30 2016 1:57 PM

Here’s How Passionate America’s “Deadliest Prosecutors” Are About Executing People

For all the inherent drama that comes with high-stakes criminal prosecutions, it's reasonable to hope that the people doing the prosecuting would not let emotion cloud their judgment. One would like to think this is particularly true about death penalty cases, in which people’s lives are literally on the line.

But as a new report makes clear, this is not at all the case. Thanks to the Fair Punishment Project, an organization that advocates for criminal justice reform, we can see just how much feeling America’s most enthusiastically pro-death penalty prosecutors put into their work. While capital punishment has become increasingly rare in the United States, “a tiny handful of prosecutors are responsible for a vastly disproportionate number of death sentences,” the report notes. And boy, do they love playing the part.

Many readers will remember the remarks made last year by Dale Cox, former district attorney of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, about how “we need to kill more people,” and that “revenge brings to us a visceral satisfaction.” Here are a few other similarly jaw-dropping quotes and facts highlighted in Thursday’s report:

1) Joe Freeman Britt, who sentenced 38 people to death during his 14 year tenure as head prosecutor for Robeson County, North Carolina, once told a roomful of D.A.s that, “Within the breast of each of us burns a flame that constantly whispers in our ear, ‘preserve life, preserve life, preserve life at any cost.’ ... It is the prosecutor’s job to extinguish that flame.”

2) Bob Macy, who sent 54 people to death row over 21 years as the district attorney in Oklahoma County, was once described in the New York Times as keeping a stack of customized playing cards on his desk that were printed with a picture of him riding a horse on one side and facts about his record on the other. Among them: “Nation's leading death penalty prosecutor,” and ''Sent 42 murderers to death row.''

3) Donald Myers, who has managed more than one death sentence per year since 1977 in the 11th judicial district of South Carolina, reportedly keeps a paperweight model of an electric chair on his desk.

4) Lynne Abraham, who oversaw 108 death sentences over 19 years as the district attorney in Philadelphia County, once told a reporter after witnessing an execution, “It was a nonevent for me. I don't feel anything.”* She also said, “When it comes to the death penalty, I am passionate."

Maybe it's not fair to be repelled by this stuff. After all, is there really anything wrong with a person who brings his heart and soul to work? On the other hand, it's hard to stomach the unequivocal excitement for death that's on display here. Even for prosecutors who strongly believe in capital punishment, it's wrong to be this stoked about imposing it on people.

*Correction, June 30, 2016: This post originally misspelled Lynne Abraham’s first name.

June 30 2016 1:31 PM

Why Did Boris Johnson Decide Not to Run? Some Theories.

Boris Johnson, whose book about the genius of Shakespeare will see U.S. publication in November, surely has a quotation from the Bard handy for every occasion. This morning, though, it’s hard to imagine that anything would be more apposite than Julius Caesar’s exclamation, “Et tu, Brute?”

Going into the final day for pols to throw their hats into the ring to run for Conservative Party leader/prime minister, Johnson was considered a favorite for the job. And then at 9 a.m. London time, Michael Gove, with whom Johnson had shared many a “Leave” event stage and who was expected to play a key role in his campaign to replace David Cameron, surprised everyone by announcing that he was standing for party leader.

Not only did Gove declare his own candidacy, he also rubbished Johnson’s, saying:

I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

Two hours later, at the press conference where Johnson was scheduled to kick off his campaign, 11 minutes into a speech about what kind of leader Britain needs, he said that “having consulted colleagues, and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”

June 30 2016 1:09 PM

Report: Trump Spied on Mar-a-Lago Phone Conversations Using Personal Switchboard

This is potentially very creepy: BuzzFeed’s Aram Roston has a bonkers scoop that four former employees at Donald Trump’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago say he had a telephone console in his estate bedroom that he used “to eavesdrop on calls involving staff.” Two other former employees confirmed the existence of the private switchboard but denied it was used to spy.

Yikes. Yikes. Yikes.

Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks told BuzzFeed: “This is totally and completely untrue.”

The four former Mar-a-Lago employees would not go on the record with their names because of nondisclosure agreements, but they told the site that Trump listened to calls between club employees as well as between staff and guests in the mid-2000s.

Here is BuzzFeed’s characterization of one of these sources:

At Mar-a-Lago, “He listened in,” said one source with deep knowledge of the working of the phones and Trump’s phone use. This person added that workers were told to be aware of it.
For example, this source recalled a time when a staff member was on the phone with a club member. During the phone call, Trump called the staff member on another line to weigh in on the very issue that was being discussed. “There is no other way you could know what that conversation was about unless you were eavesdropping,” this source said.

Two other BuzzFeed sources said that staff were generally aware of what was going on. One said that a light on a separate employee switchboard would come on when Trump was listening in on calls, and the other said that certain executives could tell when they were being listened in on because a light on their phones—but not on other phones in the estate—would turn on if Trump joined a call.

The fourth source said that the resort’s phone network included “barge-in” capability that allowed for discreet monitoring of network calls by certain users and that Trump took advantage of this.

None of the sources claimed to be aware if Trump monitored conversations between resort guests and nonstaff members, or whether he was currently monitoring calls at the estate.

John Velez, the former Mar-a-Lago director of security, told BuzzFeed that Trump had the switchboard, but it was “ridiculous” to say Trump could listen in on phone calls and that instead he used it to dial individual suite numbers, which were difficult to remember without such a line.

Trump’s former butler, Anthony Senecal, said he used the line to connect with friends who stayed at the resort without having to go through the front desk. He was unaware whether or not it had eavesdropping capabilities.

“As far as listening in I can’t believe he would ever do that,” Senecal said. “I don’t know that he ever did that. I can’t see him doing that.”

As BuzzFeed noted, the New York Times has reported that campaign staff "have told associates they believe that their Trump Tower offices in New York may be bugged."

Trump has said that as president he would "err on the side of security" when it came to the NSA's metadata collection program.

June 30 2016 11:24 AM

Welp, Looks Like Trump’s Campaign Has Already Violated Election Law

It’s only been about a week since Donald Trump started emailing supporters to solicit campaign donations, asking them to make “this the most successful first fundraising email ever.” The new fundraising kick, though, seems to have already failed in one crucial regard: obeying basic election laws.

As Bloomberg reports, a pair of nonpartisan watchdog groups filed complaints to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday after Trump’s campaign reportedly emailed foreign government officials to solicit cash, a violation of federal law.

The Washington Post noted that fundraising emails were sent to lawmakers in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Australia, and other countries.

“We’ve set another Trump-sized goal to raise another $10 million by Thursday at midnight. Please chip in what you can to help make Donald J. Trump the next President of the United States,” said one of the emails, which was sent to a conservative in the House of Commons named Sir Roger Gale.

“I don’t know if someone at Team Trump was stupid enough to think that all Conservative Party MPs would consider themselves Republicans,” Gale told the Post. “But I asked around, and it seems that most others did get these emails, too.”

The Post also quoted an Icelandic leftist politician who was solicited by Trump. “I am a Left-Green politician and would not support his campaign,” she said.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to request for comment from the two news organizations. It’s still unclear whether the fundraising effort was intentional or accidental, which would determine how bad of a violation this actually was. It’s also against the law to accept money from foreign nationals, so presumably if any of the people on this list actually donated then those contributions would have to be returned.

“If it's a knowing and willful violation, it could be criminal,” Bob Biersack, a former longtime FEC staffer who could not remember something like this having happened before, told Bloomberg.

“If the solicitations were sent in error, it's not clear what action the FEC would take,” the wire service reported.

June 30 2016 9:58 AM

Turkey Says ISIS Is Responsible for Ataturk Airport Attack

The government of Turkey believes ISIS is responsible for Tuesday's suicide shooting/bombing attack on Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, reports say. CNN writes that the three attackers involved in the incident are believed to have traveled to Turkey from the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa, Syria:

Officials believe the men—identified by another Turkish official and state media as being from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan—entered Turkey about a month ago from Raqqa, along with the suicide vests and bombs used in the attack, the source said.

While ISIS has not yet made any claim of responsibility, the Guardian notes that "analysts and US counter-terrorism officials" including CIA director John Brennan have said "the choice of target and method of the attack" were characteristic of the group's previous terror operations.

At least 43 people are known to have died as a result of the attack.

June 30 2016 9:14 AM

Boris Johnson Says He Will Not Run to Become Prime Minister

In a surprise move, former London mayor and key "Leave" vote advocate Boris Johnson announced Thursday that he will not seek to become the next leader of the U.K.'s Conservative Party; because "Remain" advocate David Cameron is resigning, the next Conservative leader will become U.K. prime minister.

Here's Johnson's announcement:

Johnson had been considered the favorite to replace Cameron. In his absence, the leading candidates appear to be justice minister Michael Gove—a Johnson ally whose recent move to enter the race may have triggered Johnson's change of heart—and home secretary Theresa May.

June 29 2016 10:42 PM

Airstrikes Reportedly Kill 250 ISIS Fighters in Iraq as Coalition Forces Gain Ground

Airstrikes in Iraq, led by the U.S., killed 250 suspected ISIS fighters on the outskirts of Fallujah on Wednesday, U.S. officials told Reuters. The attack, which also reportedly destroyed 40 vehicles, is among the most deadly coalition strikes ever launched against ISIS and will help solidify significant coalition gains, including the recent retaking of the city that was the birthplace and military catalyst for the Islamist group to take control of a third of the country.

Here’s more on the recent military gains made in the fight against ISIS from the Wall Street Journal:

… [I]t took Iraqi forces less than five weeks to defeat the extremist group here, much faster than Iraqi and American officials had expected. One reason, these officials and Iraqi commanders say, was how invested Islamic State militants were in Fallujah, which made them loath to blow it up.  “Fallujah was a command-and-control center,” said a senior Iraqi counterterrorism officer. “They were comfortable there. Their leadership lived there and so did their families. They could not destroy the city in the process of defending it.” Commanders said the militants had bet on repelling Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Fallujah, but struggled to adapt to the overwhelming force. The center of the city was still inhabited—one reason it wasn’t booby-trapped, as Islamic State had done in other, largely deserted urban areas they lost.

The victory in Fallujah has put the jihadi group on the retreat in its territorial battle inside Iraq and has set the stage for the next phase of the coalition forces battle in the country—retaking Mosul, ISIS’s final stronghold in Iraq.

June 29 2016 8:55 PM

Mutilated Body Washes up on the Beach at a Rio Olympic Venue

Just over a month out from the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games, Brazil’s already noticeable limp toward the starting gate is starting to resemble a crawl. The Rio Games, already beset with infrastructure problems, labor strife, economic decline, and full-fledged political upheaval, could use a win. Instead, Reuters reports, on Wednesday, parts of a human body washed up on shore at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Copacabana beach, nearby where the beach volleyball competition will be held in a month’s time.

The incident comes as the bottom is falling out of the Rio Games. The state of the city’s polluted waterways was already cause for alarm but seems almost quaint compared with the city’s larger problems. Zika is a potential health risk that has already scared off some athletes; the regional government is broke and the Brazilian economy is contracting. Oh, and the country’s president was impeached and removed from office six weeks ago. Less than two weeks ago, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro requested almost $900 million in emergency funds to ensure that public services are able to be provided in the run up to the Games.

The budget shortfall has already taken its toll (via the Associated Press):

Just weeks ahead of the Olympic Games, police helicopters are grounded, patrol cars are parked and Rio de Janeiro's security forces are so pressed for funds that some have to beg for donations of pens, cleaning supplies and even toilet paper, fueling worries about safety at the world's premier sporting event.

"We can have a great Olympics, but if some steps aren't taken, it can be a big failure,” the Rio de Janeiro state governor said in a worryingly frank assessment of the current state of play in the Olympic host city.

June 29 2016 6:48 PM

Texit Ain’t Brexit

A version of this post originally appeared on AndrewGelman.com and is reproduced here with permission.

Emboldened by Brexit, Texas secessionists are already calling for an exit of their own. On Friday, the Texas Nationalist Movement issued a call for a referendum on leaving the United States. From Reuters:

The citizen-driven vote in Britain can be a model for Texas, which was an independent country from 1836 to 1845, and its $1.6 trillion a year economy would be among the 10 largest in the world, said Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement.
"The Texas Nationalist Movement is formally calling on the Texas governor to support a similar vote for Texans," the group said on Friday. The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott was not immediately available for comment.

Of course, Quebec and Scotland have similarly been talking for a while about leaving Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively. But there’s a big difference between Brexit, on one hand, and Texit or Quexit or Scotxit on the other, and this has to do with the democratic structure, or lack thereof, of the larger political units.

June 29 2016 5:34 PM

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