Video of the day

I do like a good time-lapse.  And I like nature.  Here’s a spider building it’s web in a minute:

False confessions

Great story on 60 Minutes last night about all the coerced confessions of juvenile defendants in Chicago.  You really should watch it.  A couple observations…

1) One former district attorney felt really guilty about his role and said that he had just never believed that anybody would actually confess to a crime they didn’t commit?  Really?!  He seemed genuinely remorseful, but how do you learn anything about our criminal justice system and actually believe that?

2) Once someone is strongly suspected, much less convicted, it’s amazing how much people want to believe they are guilty.  The most disturbing part of this piece to me Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez who still insisted these kids (well, men now) were guilty based on their coerced confessions when DNA evidence showed the semen of a convicted rapist/killer (now deceased) in the victim.  She suggested that perhaps he had stumbled across the body– in a vacant field!!– and committed necrophilia thereby placing his DNA at the crime scene.   I’m outraged that somebody with such a prominent role in the criminal justice system would get on 60 Minutes and offer something so ludicrous with a straight face. Seriously?!  You seriously have to wonder how any poor Black man (race and poverty were never mentioned in the story, but let’s be honest here) can hope to have justice with a person like that in charge.

3) On a related note, great story in Slate last week by Emily Bazelon on the tunnel vision of police and prosecutors that leads to so many false convictions.  This really is a national shame that we need to systematically address:

It’s natural for police and prosecutors to want to ease public fears. And it’s also natural for them to stick with the evidence that supported their preferred explanations. As University of Wisconsin clinical law professor Keith Findley shows in his excellent 2010 article Tunnel Vision, the phenomenon “is the product of a variety of cognitive distortions,” chief among them confirmation bias. In other words, we tend to give weight to evidence that confirms our existing beliefs. “Although such confirmation-biased information is often less probative than disconfirming information might be, people fail to recognize the weakness of the confirming feedback they receive or recall,” Findley writes. He cites studies finding that “police officers who are convinced that a suspect is lying are very resistant to changing their minds” and often “rate disconfirming or exonerating evidence as less reliable or credible than guilt-confirming evidence that supports their initial hypotheses.”

I called Brandon Garrett, the law professor who wrote the book on wrongful convictions and why they happen, and he pointed out that police and prosecutors have no obligation to pursue alternative explanations, or even to follow a particular method of investigation or keep a record explaining the course they’re taking. Which means it’s close to impossible to hold them accountable for their errors…

Police too, Garrett thinks, should have to record every witness interview they do; perhaps they should also keep notes about how their thinking evolves or doesn’t. Garrett also suggested giving the defense more resources to do their own investigations or requiring police and prosecutors to open their files to the defense. Tunnel vision isn’t going away. But to protect the innocent, we should diminish its dark power.

Yes indeed.  Its time we started taking justice seriously in our criminal justice system and not just convictions.

Israel and liberals

I get all the problems with the Israeli occupation and why it gets many liberals very upset.  As Tomasky puts it:

The occupation is beyond terrible, beyond indefensible. The blockade makes things even worse. Netanyahu’s current position (and his past positions of course–he onceordered Meshal’s assassination) seems intentionally designed to make Israel’s last friends in the world abandon it. All that is understood.

Right, but here’s the thing, as Tomasky points out– here’s the rhetoric from the leaders of Hamas:

Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Mr. Meshal said the Jewish state would be wiped away through “resistance,” or military action. “The state will come from resistance, not negotiation,” he said. “Liberation first, then statehood.”

His voice rising to a shout, Mr. Meshal said: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” He vowed that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants would one day return to their original homes in what is now Israel.

“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he said. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”

Ummm, yeah.  More Tomasky:

But I ask you how any progressive person can fully support a movement like Meshal’s. Granted, the world doesn’t always offer us clean choices. We must prioritize, and the clear priority here is opposing occupation and working to end it.

But secular liberal people must also have the fortitude to demand that leaders of the occupied move away from destructive positions like Meshal’s, which just make for a downward spiral to nowhere.Too often in the history of the postwar era, the left in the developed world has let its hatred of imperialism and occupation prevent it from seeing and denouncing the problems within the movements around the world it has supported.

I’ve never been part of the knee-jerk left on these issues and stuff like this is exactly why.  I’m not big fan of Israel’s right-wing government, but I’m much less a fan of movements that embrace terrorism and nihilism.

Photo of the day

This collection of Reuters Best photos of 2012 is absolutely amazing.  So many amazing and powerful photos.  If you appreciate photography at all, you owe it to yourself to check out the whole gallery.  Obviously hard to pick just one, put this photo packs such an emotional punch:

mage 47 of 95: MINZAYAR, Myanmar 

“At about 4:30pm on November 6, I went for the last time to the burnt areas at ‘East Pikesake’ village to take more pictures of the details of the ruins. While walking around, I saw this scene. It totally stopped me. No more walking, no more taking pictures, I just stood still staring at this scene which was breaking my heart. That little puppy was leaning on the leg of the dead one as if it was still alive. Normally, when I see scenes that are strong, I would just quickly take the photos, but this time, I forgot about taking a picture. 

I started asking the people passing by whether there was anyone who would adopt the puppy. They said they are sad as well seeing it refusing to leave its mother, but could not adopt because they had their own difficulties as a result of the violence. Then I put down all my cameras and sat and watched this poor little puppy with extreme sadness. 

After a while, I decided to take the picture no matter what. After a few shots, I paused, rubbed his head, he licked my hands and I continued taking pictures from different angles. By the time I had to leave, I was thinking about taking him with me to my hotel. But then there was one very kind local man on a motor bike who was watching me and the puppy. He said he could not adopt the puppy but still wanted to do something for it. Then we decided to send the puppy to the nearby monastery. We picked up the puppy and put him on the bike and finally, it was taken to the monastery. I will never forget his pitiful eyes as he left. 

Although I wished to take the puppy back with me, under my situation I had to leave him with nothing but sadness, anger, and a couple of pictures. I came back half-believing that the monastery would be the best place for him, half-regretting that I didn’t bring him with me. 

I got back to Yangon and was busy with work for a few days until one morning when my ringing phone woke me up with a question: ‘Minzayar, what happened to the puppy?’ 

I miss the puppy… Now I know, the thin little puppy has given me an inerasable question-mark, deep in my heart. He might survive at the monastery, or he might not, but the mark deep inside me that he left is going to last forever.” 

Canon EOS 5D, lens 50mm, f2.5, 1/60, ISO 200 

Caption: A puppy stands by remains of a dog local residents said was its mother, days after it was killed in an area burnt in violence at East Pikesake ward in Kyaukphyu November 6, 2012.

Don’t negotiate on the debt ceiling

I’ve definitely been glad to see that the idea that Obama should not negotiate with Republicans on the debt ceiling is catching on.   These pieces are from a week ago, and I should have mentioned them then, but as negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” presumably heat up it’s important to emphasize why a deal on the debt ceiling should not be part of any bargain.  First Chait:

Much as they had expected they could win the tax-cut fight by replaying their 2010 strategy of refusing to extend tax cuts for anybody unless the top rates were included, Republicans have been planning to replay their 2011 strategy of using the debt ceiling as a hostage to extract concessions. It worked in 2011 for various reasons that no longer hold true: Obama’s looming reelection made a threat to market stability especially potent, and Obama genuinely believed House Republicans would compromise with him out of a desire to reduce the long-term deficit…

Obama today told business leaders that the debt ceiling “is not a game that I will play” and that “we’ve got to break that habit before it starts.”…

The unanswered question is how Obama plans to break that habit. One possibility would be to include a reform of the debt ceiling into whatever deal he strikes with Republicans…

But Republicans are hoping the debt ceiling will give them leverage over Obama in shaping that deal. Obama is suggesting he won’t allow it. I suspect he’s right about that. It’s not 2011 anymore.

And an excellent Noam Scheiber post:

It’s hard to overstate liberals’ sense of relief that Obama is finally negotiating like someone who’s encountered a deck of cards once or twice in his life…

On its face, taking care of the debt limit now makes perfect sense. We’re due for an increase during the first half of next year, and the GOP has been pretty clear about its fondness for using the limit as a tool of extortion…

All of which points to an obvious debt-ceiling strategy for Obama: Make minimal effort to defuse it during the fiscal cliff negotiation. Once that’s resolved, simply announce to Boehner that you have no intention of bargaining over raising the limit—that whether Boehner wants to flirt with another financial crisis or calmly ease the increase through the House is entirely his choice. I guarantee he will not choose option A.

Democrats will worry that Obama doesn’t have the backbone to see this strategy through. After all, it requires accepting the chance, albeit vanishingly small, that the GOP does in fact plunge us into the abyss, a level of brinkmanship Obama has generally shrunk from in his first term…

Obama is shrewd enough to see that failing to break the GOP’s attachment to debt-limit thuggery will completely upend the balance of power between the president and Congress. Indeed, while addressing a group of business executives on Wednesday, Obama warned that, “If the Congress in any way suggests they are going to tie negotiations to the debt ceiling and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation… I will not play that game because we’ve got to break that habit before it starts.” I have faith that he can hold the line to kill off this destructive precedent once and for all. All the more so given how weak Boehner’s position will actually be.

All I can say is I hope Obama really does prove to play it as tough as both Chait and Scheiber are calling for.  It strikes me as smart politics and smart policy.  And probably a very clear indication of just how much he learned from his first term on why not to negotiate with hostage takers.

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