One set of coordinates provided to SIGAR by USAID led to this random spot. The SIGAR caption read: "Blurred figure 1 - no structure half mile."
The US government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on heath care facilities in Afghanistan as part of its efforts to rebuild the war-torn country. The problem is that two government agencies involved with the project can't seem to agree on whether they know where the facilities are located—or even whether they're all in Afghanistan.
Under the US Agency for International Development's Partnership Contracts for Health program, the US government helps support basic health care needs for people across Afghanistan. As of March 2015, it had spent more than $210 million on the program, spread across 641 individual facilities.
But the location data USAID gave to a federal inspector general doesn't seem to line up with actual facilities. John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), who leads the group charged with making sure Afghanistan reconstruction resources are used appropriately and lawfully, told USAID in a June 25 letter that the location data are incorrect—sometimes wildly so—for nearly 80 percent of the 641 health care facilities the agency is helping to support. Using geospatial data from the Army Geospatial Center, SIGAR tried to verify location data for the list of facilities that USAID provided.
"Thirteen coordinates were not located in Afghanistan," Sopko wrote, noting that six were in Pakistan, six were in Tajikistan, "and one was located in the Mediterranean Sea." There were also 13 cases where USAID reported two distinct facilities at the same location, more than 150 coordinates that didn't clearly identify a specific building, and 90 cases where a location wasn't provided, Sopko wrote. "To provide meaningful oversight of these facilities, both USAID and [the Afghan government] need to know where they are," he added.
USAID says the data SIGAR used for its analysis is Afghan government data rather than USAID data, that USAID data is accurate, and that the agency knows how to find these clinics and monitor them, thank you very much.
"Local staff, third-party monitors, Afghan Government officials, and the benefiting community do not use GPS to navigate, let alone to find a health facility, because they are familiar with the area or from the community benefiting from the project," Larry Sampler, an assistant to the administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs for USAID, said in a statement provided to Mother Jones. Sampler said USAID has put in place a "rigorous" monitoring system to oversee these clinics.
A USAID spokesperson further said the agency has its own set of data, distinct from Afghan government data, and that it is working with the Afghan government to bolster its record-keeping, a process that has already improved the Afghan data in the time since SIGAR requested information in the first place.
In response, a SIGAR spokesperson told Mother Jones that the information was originally requested in the course of an ongoing investigation into the Partnership Contracts for Health program, and that SIGAR went forward with the information provided by USAID. When asked why USAID didn't just give SIGAR the correct data if it had it, a USAID spokesperson said, "The separate USAID data came from third party site visits that took place after May of 2014. I believe that SIGAR's initial request for the data was informal in nature. SIGAR did not express concerns about the data with us prior to this inquiry letter."
The point might seem trivial, but the geospatial data within geotagged photos, along with site visits, are used by USAID to verify that inspections actually take place. In a country where civilian travel is incredibly difficult, geotagged photos with precise location data are one of the best ways to ensure work is getting done and money is being spent correctly. In order to inspect these costly facilities, it's helpful to agree on where to find them.
The Confederate flag is hardly the only symbol of the South's racist history that has yet to go away. Indeed, public schools nationwide still bear the names of long-dead champions of a white-supremacist state.
The good news is that several of those schools have reconsidered their loaded names. Last year, the Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Florida, became Westside High School. Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. And Aycock Hall at Duke University, named for former North Carolina Gov. Charles Aycock, an avowed white supremacist, became East Residence Hall. This move prompted East Carolina University eight months later to rename its own Aycock Hall as Heritage Hall. Last May, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill changed Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall to shed its association with Klan leader William Saunders.
Last week, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who formerly served as San Antonio's mayor, posted a message on his personal Facebook page calling on that city's North East Independent School District to rename Robert E. Lee High School. "There are other, more appropriate individuals to honor and spotlight as role models for our young people," Castro wrote.
But scores of American schools still bear the monikers of Confederate brass. Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, we put together a map of some of those schools below. It includes more than 60 schools—mostly in the South, not surprisingly—and there are undoubtedly others, between private schools and public schools, that have changed names recently in the opposite direction. And then there are the schools located on streets named for Confederate figures, such as the ironically named Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School on Mosby Street in Richmond, Virginia. John Singleton Mosby, a.k.a. "the Gray Ghost," was a Confederate colonel who reportedly wrote to a colleague, "I've always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the North about.…I've never heard of any other cause than slavery.
Jeb Bush's campaign released 33 years of his tax returns on Tuesday. According to his campaign, he has paid an effective tax rate of 36 percent over that period. His taxes also show a significant jump in his net worth in recent years. Since leaving office as Florida's governor in 2007, Bush has made nearly $30 million.
"[S]adly, the Court's hubris and thirst for power have reached unprecedented levels. And that calls for meaningful action, lest Congress be guilty of acquiescing to this assault on the rule of law," Cruz wrote in the National Reviewafter the court's Friday ruling on same-sex marriage. "And if Congress will not act, passing the constitutional amendments needed to correct this lawlessness, then the movement from the people for an Article V Convention of the States—to propose the amendments directly—will grow stronger and stronger."
Cruz's plan calls for the justices to face retention elections beginning with the second national election after their appointment, and every eight years after that. "Those justices deemed unfit for retention by both a majority of the American people as a whole and by majorities of the electorates in at least half of the 50 states will be removed from office and disqualified from future service on the Court," Cruz wrote.
In defending his plan, Cruz wrote that 20 states already have judicial retention elections. What he didn't mention was that many of those states have taken steps to compensate for a major problem that tends to arise when judges' jobs get politicized. Of the 39 states that have some form of judicial elections (whether retention or otherwise), 30 have bans on judges personally soliciting donors for money to avoid conflicts of interest. Those bans were recently upheld by the Supreme Court itself, which ruled in April in Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Barthat states can legally prohibit judicial candidates from directly soliciting money. Why?
"Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's 5-4 majority opinion in Yulee.
And there's a good reason for Roberts' reluctance to lump judges in with other politicians. In writing about the Yulee decision in April, Mother Jones reported:
A major problem with all of this money is that more and more of it is independent and unaccountable spending, some of which comes from people who appear before the very judges they're donating to. Even when judges don't actively fundraise, outside groups pour funds into attack ads, putting money at the center of what was once a fairly sleepy and restrained electoral process. And that's just on the state level. Imagine the national campaigns to retain (or unseat) Antonin Scalia or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"If the justices themselves couldn't raise the money, who would step forward to [run] campaign contributions?" asks Liz Seaton, the campaign deputy executive director of judicial watchdog group Justice at Stake. "Why? And to what end?"
Seaton says political attacks on the Supreme Court after controversial decisions aren't new, and that the Founding Fathers gave federal judges lifetime tenure to protect them from exactly the kind of political pressure Cruz is hoping to apply.
"What kind of political campaigning and spending would there be if such a system would be put in place?" Seaton asks. "It's just hard to imagine just how much that would blow the system out of the water."
The case before the Supreme Court concerned a specific question: Was a certain sort of capital punishment via lethal injection constitutional? In a decision issued Monday morning, the four conservative justices plus swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy said yes, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion for the court's liberals taking the opposite position. But in a stinging dissent of his own, Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, went much further: He called for abolishing the death penalty, contending that capital punishment, as it is currently practiced, violates the Constitution. His opinion was methodically argued and chockfull of research (on exonerations, various disparities in the application of the death sentence, and more). Breyer, who in 2008 sided with the court majority in upholding the use of lethal injections in Kentucky, noted that his own experience overseeing capital punishment cases has led him to a forceful and passionate position: The death penalty must go.
Here are the best passages from his opinion.
In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.
I shall describe each of these considerations, emphasizing changes that have occurred during the past four decades. For it is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited "cruel and unusual punishmen[t]." U. S. Const., Amdt. 8.
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[R]esearchers have found convincing evidence that, in the past three decades, innocent people have been executed.
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[T]he evidence that the death penalty has been wrongly imposed (whether or not it was carried out), is striking. As of 2002, this Court used the word "disturbing" to describe the number of instances in which individuals had been sentenced to death but later exonerated. At that time, there was evidence of approximately 60 exonerations in capital cases….Since 2002, the number of exonerations in capital cases has risen to 115……Last year, in 2014, six death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence. All had been imprisoned for more than 30 years (and one for almost 40 years) at the time of their exonerations.
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[T]he crimes at issue in capital cases are typically horrendous murders, and thus accompanied by intense community pressure on police, prosecutors, and jurors to secure a conviction. This pressure creates a greater likelihood of convicting the wrong person.
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[R]esearchers estimate that about 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent.
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[B]etween 1973 and 1995, courts identified prejudicial errors in 68% of the capital cases before them.
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This research and these figures are likely controversial. Full briefing would allow us to scrutinize them with more care. But, at a minimum, they suggest a serious problem of reliability. They suggest that there are too many instances in which courts sentence defendants to death without complying with the necessary procedures; and they suggest that, in a significant number of cases, the death sentence is imposed on a person who did not commit the crime….Unlike 40 years ago, we now have plausible evidence of unreliability that (perhaps due to DNA evidence) is stronger than the evidence we had before. In sum, there is significantly more research-based evidence today indicating that courts sentence to death individuals who may well be actually innocent or whose convictions (in the law’s view) do not warrant the death penalty’s application.
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Thus, whether one looks at research indicating that irrelevant or improper factors—such as race, gender, local geography, and resources—do significantly determine who receives the death penalty, or whether one looks at research indicating that proper factors—such as "egregiousness"—do not determine who receives the death penalty, the legal conclusion must be the same: The research strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily.
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The studies bear out my own view, reached after considering thousands of death penalty cases and last-minute petitions over the course of more than 20 years. I see discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations... Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death penalty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and an after-the-fact robbery), while another defendant does not, despite having kidnapped, raped, and murdered a young mother while leaving her infant baby to die at the scene of the crime...Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death penalty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and acting recklessly with a gun), while another defendant does not, despite having committed a "triple murder" by killing a young man and his pregnant wife?... For that matter, why does one defendant who participated in a single-victim murder-for-hire scheme (plus an after-the fact robbery) receive the death penalty, while another defendant does not, despite having stabbed his wife 60 times and killed his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son while they slept?... In each instance, the sentences compared were imposed in the same State at about the same time.
The question raised by these examples (and the many more I could give but do not), as well as by the research to which I have referred, is the same question Justice Stewart, Justice Powell, and others raised over the course of several decades: The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant’s perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law?
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[N]early all death penalty States keep death row inmates in isolation for 22 or more hours per day….This occurs even though the ABA has suggested that death row inmates be housed in conditions similar to the general population, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on solitary confinement longer than 15 days... And it is well documented that such prolonged solitary confinement produces numerous deleterious harms. See, e.g., Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement, 49 Crime & Delinquency 124, 130 (2003) (cataloging studies finding that solitary confinement can cause prisoners to experience “anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations, and self-mutilations,” among many other symptoms)
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The dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement is aggravated by uncertainty as to whether a death sentence will in fact be carried out. In 1890, this Court recognized that, “when a prisoner sentenced by a court to death is confined in the penitentiary awaiting the execution of the sentence, one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected during that time is the uncertainty during the whole of it.”... The Court was there describing a delay of a mere four weeks. In the past century and a quarter, little has changed in this respect— except for duration. Today we must describe delays measured, not in weeks, but in decades.
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The second constitutional difficulty resulting from lengthy delays is that those delays undermine the death penalty’s penological rationale, perhaps irreparably so. The rationale for capital punishment, as for any punishment, classically rests upon society’s need to secure deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, or rehabilitation. Capital punishment by definition does not rehabilitate. It does, of course, incapacitate the offender. But the major alternative to capital punishment—namely, life in prison without possibility of parole—also incapacitates.
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Recently, the National Research Council (whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) reviewed 30 years of empirical evidence and concluded that it was insufficient to establish a deterrent effect and thus should “not be used to inform” discussion about the deterrent value of the death penalty.
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Sometimes the community believes that an execution could provide closure. Nevertheless, the delays and low probability of execution must play some role in any calculation that leads a community to insist on death as retribution. As I have already suggested, they may well attenuate the community’s interest in retribution to the point where it cannot by itself amount to a significant justification for the death penalty.... In any event, I believe that whatever interest in retribution might be served by the death penalty as currently administered, that interest can be served almost as well by a sentence of life in prison without parole (a sentence that every State now permits.
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The upshot is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale. And this Court has said that, if the death penalty does not fulfill the goals of deterrence or retribution, “it is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering and hence an unconstitutional punishment.”
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And that fact creates a dilemma: A death penalty system that seeks procedural fairness and reliability brings with it delays that severely aggravate the cruelty of capital punishment and significantly undermine the rationale for imposing a sentence of death in the first place...(one of the primary causes of the delay is the States’ “failure to apply constitutionally sufficient procedures at the time of initial [conviction or] sentencing"). But a death penalty system that minimizes delays would undermine the legal system’s efforts to secure reliability and procedural fairness.
In this world, or at least in this Nation, we can have a death penalty that at least arguably serves legitimate penological purposes or we can have a procedural system that at least arguably seeks reliability and fairness in the death penalty’s application. We cannot have both. And that simple fact, demonstrated convincingly over the past 40 years, strongly supports the claim that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.
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The Eighth Amendment forbids punishments that are cruel and unusual. Last year, in 2014, only seven States carried out an execution. Perhaps more importantly, in the last two decades, the imposition and implementation of the death penalty have increasingly become unusual.
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[I]f we look to States, in more than 60% there is effectively no death penalty, in an additional 18% an execution is rare and unusual, and 6%, i.e., three States, account for 80% of all executions. If we look to population, about 66% of the Nation lives in a State that has not carried out an execution in the last three years. And if we look to counties, in 86% there is effectively no death penalty. It seems fair to say that it is now unusual to find capital punishment in the United States, at least when we consider the Nation as a whole.
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I recognize a strong counterargument that favors constitutionality. We are a court. Why should we not leave the matter up to the people acting democratically through legislatures? The Constitution foresees a country that will make most important decisions democratically. Most nations that have abandoned the death penalty have done so through legislation, not judicial decision. And legislators, unlike judges, are free to take account of matters such as monetary costs, which I do not claim are relevant here….
The answer is that the matters I have discussed, such as lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quintessentially judicial matters. They concern the infliction— indeed the unfair, cruel, and unusual infliction—of a serious punishment upon an individual.
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I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question.