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Ocasio-Cortez faces 13 challengers – but can anyone unseat her?


Democratic leftist superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to national – and even global – fame from an unlikely position as a young first-time congresswoman from New York.

But now she faces 13 different challengers, including from within her own party as well as Republicans, as she prepares for her first congressional re-election campaign. News of the multiple bids to unseat AOC, however, came as a surprise to many voters on the streets of her district in the Bronx last week.

Some voters still had not heard of the progressive superstar. Others said they would weigh the merits of her rivals as the contests heat up over the summer. But most voiced support, arguing that almost two years since Ocasio-Cortez threw a grenade at the Democratic establishment by ousting incumbent Joe Crowley, her progressive agenda – touting universal healthcare and a Green New Deal – was only now taking hold in the nation’s political capital.

“Give her a chance! We knew who she was when we sent her, that she’d make a noise, and making a noise was why we sent her,” said local businessman Abdul Abbas.

“She’s done good things for the Bronx,” concurred Carol Heraldo. “I like how she presents herself as woman, that she’s firm, that she took what she believed and made it real. We don’t see a lot of young people accomplish a lot because they’re afraid – and she’s not afraid.”

That’s not how all see it. The first-term congresswoman is facing eight Republican and five Democratic candidates aiming to unseat her. Some appear symbolic, with little fundraising potential or appetite for collecting the necessary 4,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

At her first campaign rally on Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez said she hoped to multiply turnout by four, reaching 60,000 votes in the primary election. She declined to be drawn on the challengers that have lined up to contest her seat.

“I think everyone has a right [to run]. I of course won my seat with a primary,” she told the New York Post. “I would never begrudge anyone trying to run in a primary.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s Republican challengers certainly seem to have their work cut out for them. In 2018 she steamedrolled the Republican candidate by a margin of 78%.

With about $3.4m in her campaigns re-election coffers in a solidly Democratic district, Ocasio-Cortez’s Republican challengers probably plan on merely damaging her or securing a bigger national media profile by taking on such a famed opponent.

John Cummings, a former police officer, raised $425,000 in 10 weeks after announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination on Fox & Friends. Jamaican immigrant Scherie Murray gave her first interview to Fox News’s Sean Hannity and raised a similar amount.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a rally for Bernie Sanders in Venice, California, on 19 December 2019.



Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a rally for Bernie Sanders in Venice, California, on 19 December 2019. Photograph: Christian Monterrosa/EPA

But having led a campaign to prevent Amazon from establishing a headquarters in neighboring Long Island City, and established herself as a leading member of “the Squad”, the self-described group of progressive congresswomen that includes Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ocasio-Cortez is a political target.

In a district that hasn’t voted Republican in half a century, the Republican candidates are tackling a candidate who has become a lightning rod for rightwing anger nationally.

“Anything that indicates AOC is vulnerable would be godsend to people who don’t like her or are upset about the Amazon loss of 27,000 jobs in New York,” said veteran Democratic party strategist Hank Sheinkopf, warning: “Politics are unstable across the nation. Things are happening that we haven’t seen or thought about before.”

Strategically speaking, a challenge to one of the most influential voices on the American left also could affect candidates in other, more marginal races. Within New York City, more than three dozen candidates promoting progressive, generational change are taking on congressional incumbents.

In her own district, enthusiasm among supporters for Ocasio-Cortez is unwavering. The Working Families party “knows Ocasio-Cortez will beat any challengers who might arise because she’s fighting tirelessly for her district and her agenda speaks to the people of Queens and the Bronx”, the group said in a statement to the Guardian.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez serves drinks in support of One Fair Wage at the Queensboro restaurant in Queens, New York, on 31 May 2019.



Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez serves drinks in support of One Fair Wage at the Queensboro restaurant in Queens, New York, on 31 May 2019. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

But the Ocasio-Cortez campaign also knows that opposition to her remains deep within the Democratic party establishment. Open warfare broke out in July when the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, took aim at her and her close colleagues in the Squad.

“All these people have is their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi said. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

In a tweeted response, Ocasio-Cortez said: “That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment. And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country.”

The progressive-moderate split could be clearly discerned, too, in the battle last year over the election of a new Queens district attorney when Tiffany Cabán, an Ocasio-Cortez-backed candidate running on a platform to reduce record levels of incarceration, initially declared victory with a margin of 1,100 votes.

But establishment-backed candidate Melinda Katz demanded a recount and ultimately pulled ahead by 55 votes after a series of court challenges over voter eligibility.

Ocasio-Cortez’s most coherent Democratic challenger to date is former longtime CNBC correspondent and anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. Caruso-Cabrera, who published a book in 2011 called You Know I’m Right: More Prosperity, Less Government, is a skeptic of big government and a proponent of free markets.

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera in May 2011.



Michelle Caruso-Cabrera in May 2011. Photograph: Evan Agostini/AP

Caruso-Cabrera is a relatively recent Democratic party member who registered her candidacy last week, appear to be preparing a more serious challenge as she seeks to take on Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary.

“Caruso-Cabrero is as wild a card as AOC was two years ago,” said Sheinkopf. “Caruso-Cabrero is likely to lead a spirited challenge and could be very competitive.”

She certainly fancies her chances.

“I am the daughter and granddaughter of working-class Italian and Cuban immigrants,” Caruso-Cabrera said in a statement. “I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful career and I want everybody to have the opportunity that I’ve had. That’s why I’m running.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign declined to comment on the challenge. But people close to the campaign said Caruso-Cabrera could be AOC’s most potent opponent at least from the Democratic side, even though she represents a radically different vision of the party.

“It’ll be interesting if she decides to hide her libertarian-conservative ideology,” one source said. “Certain conservatives are upset that AOC beat Crowley and over Amazon so there maybe certain Koch-type figures who have had some role in recruiting her. I don’t think [Caruso-Cabrera] is going to get young Democrats from around the country to work for her, but you could see young conservative activists in the district because they all spend so much time condemning her politics or lusting after her.”

However, candidates on both sides will be looking to raise money from outside the relatively poor, racially diverse district. Ocasio-Cortez’s fame has long transcended the borders of her hardscrabble patch of the Bronx.

“AOC can raise an awful lot of money throughout the country from all sorts of people, but within the district there’s not an awful lot of money to raise,” said Sheinkopf.



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'iPhone supply shortages'…


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Detained for beards, veils and internet browsing…


Redacted copy of The Karakax List in Chinese

A document that appears to give the most powerful insight yet into how China determined the fate of hundreds of thousands of Muslims held in a network of internment camps has been seen by the BBC.

Listing the personal details of more than 3,000 individuals from the far western region of Xinjiang, it sets out in intricate detail the most intimate aspects of their daily lives.

The painstaking records – made up of 137 pages of columns and rows – include how often people pray, how they dress, whom they contact and how their family members behave.

China denies any wrongdoing, saying it is combating terrorism and religious extremism.

The document is said to have come, at considerable personal risk, from the same source inside Xinjiang that leaked a batch of highly sensitive material published last year.

One of the world’s leading experts on China’s policies in Xinjiang, Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, believes the latest leak is genuine.

“This remarkable document presents the strongest evidence I’ve seen to date that Beijing is actively persecuting and punishing normal practices of traditional religious beliefs,” he says.

One of the camps mentioned in it, the “Number Four Training Centre” has been identified by Dr Zenz as among those visited by the BBC as part of a tour organised by the Chinese authorities in May last year.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe BBC previously visited one of the camps identified by scholars using the Karakax List

Much of the evidence uncovered by the BBC team appears to be corroborated by the new document, redacted for publication to protect the privacy of those included in it.

It contains details of the investigations into 311 main individuals, listing their backgrounds, religious habits, and relationships with many hundreds of relatives, neighbours and friends.

Verdicts written in a final column decide whether those already in internment should remain or be released, and whether some of those previously released need to return.

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It is evidence that appears to directly contradict China’s claim that the camps are merely schools.

In an article analysing and verifying the document, Dr Zenz argues that it also offers a far deeper understanding of the real purpose of the system.

It allows a glimpse inside the minds of those making the decisions, he says, laying bare the “ideological and administrative micromechanics” of the camps.

Row 598 contains the case of a 38-year-old woman with the first name Helchem, sent to a re-education camp for one main reason: she was known to have worn a veil some years ago.

It is just one of a number of cases of arbitrary, retrospective punishment.

Others were interned simply for applying for a passport – proof that even the intention to travel abroad is now seen as a sign of radicalisation in Xinjiang.

In row 66, a 34-year-old man with the first name Memettohti was interned for precisely this reason, despite being described as posing “no practical risk”.

And then there’s the 28-year-old man Nurmemet in row 239, put into re-education for “clicking on a web-link and unintentionally landing on a foreign website”.

Again, his case notes describe no other issues with his behaviour.

The 311 main individuals listed are all from Karakax County, close to the city of Hotan in southern Xinjiang, an area where more than 90% of the population is Uighur.

Predominantly Muslim, the Uighurs are closer in appearance, language and culture to the peoples of Central Asia than to China’s majority ethnicity, the Han Chinese.

In recent decades the influx of millions of Han settlers into Xinjiang has led to rising ethnic tensions and a growing sense of economic exclusion among Uighurs.

Those grievances have sometimes found expression in sporadic outbreaks of violence, fuelling a cycle of increasingly harsh security responses from Beijing.

It is for this reason that the Uighurs have become the target – along with Xinjiang’s other Muslim minorities, like the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz – of the campaign of internment.

The “Karakax List”, as Dr Zenz calls the document, encapsulates the way the Chinese state now views almost any expression of religious belief as a signal of disloyalty.

To root out that perceived disloyalty, he says, the state has had to find ways to penetrate deep into Uighur homes and hearts.

In early 2017, when the internment campaign began in earnest, groups of loyal Communist Party workers, known as “village-based work teams”, began to rake through Uighur society with a massive dragnet.

With each member assigned a number of households, they visited, befriended and took detailed notes about the “religious atmosphere” in the homes; for example, how many Korans they had or whether religious rites were observed.

The Karakax List appears to be the most substantial evidence of the way this detailed information gathering has been used to sweep people into the camps.

It reveals, for example, how China has used the concept of “guilt by association” to incriminate and detain whole extended family networks in Xinjiang.

For every main individual, the 11th column of the spreadsheet is used to record their family relationships and their social circle.

China’s hidden camps

Alongside each relative or friend listed is a note of their own background; how often they pray, whether they’ve been interned, whether they’ve been abroad.

In fact, the title of the document makes clear that the main individuals listed all have a relative currently living overseas – a category long seen as a key indicator of potential disloyalty, leading to almost certain internment.

Rows 179, 315 and 345 contain a series of assessments for a 65-year-old man, Yusup.

His record shows two daughters who “wore veils and burkas in 2014 and 2015”, a son with Islamic political leanings and a family that displays “obvious anti-Han sentiment”.

His verdict is “continued training” – one of a number of examples of someone interned not just for their own actions and beliefs, but for those of their family.

The information collected by the village teams is also fed into Xinjiang’s big data system, called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP).

The IJOP contains the region’s surveillance and policing records, culled from a vast network of cameras and the intrusive mobile spyware every citizen is forced to download.

The IJOP, Dr Zenz suggests, can in turn use its AI brain to cross-reference these layers of data and send “push notifications” to the village teams to investigate a particular individual.

Image caption

Adrian Zenz has analysed the leaked document

The man found “unintentionally landing on a foreign website” may well have been interned thanks to the IJOP.

In many cases though, there is little need for advanced technology, with the vast and vague catch-all term “untrustworthy” appearing multiple times in the document.

It is listed as the sole reason for the internment of a total of 88 individuals.

The concept, Dr Zenz argues, is proof that the system is designed not for those who have committed a crime, but for an entire demographic viewed as potentially suspicious.

China says Xinjiang has policies that “respect and ensure people’s freedom of religious belief”. It also insists that what it calls a “vocational training programme in Xinjiang” is “for the purposes of combating terrorism and religious extremism”, adding only people who have been convicted of crimes involving terrorism or religious extremism are being “educated” in these centres.

However, many of the cases in the Karakax List give multiple reasons for internment; various combinations of religion, passport, family, contacts overseas or simply being untrustworthy.

The most frequently listed is for violating China’s strict family planning laws.

In the eyes of the Chinese authorities it seems, having too many children is the clearest sign that Uighurs put their loyalty to culture and tradition above obedience to the secular state.

China has long defended its actions in Xinjiang as part of an urgent response to the threat of extremism and terrorism.

The Karakax List does contain some references to those kinds of crimes, with at least six entries for preparing, practicing or instigating terrorism and two cases of watching illegal videos.

But the broader focus of those compiling the document appears to be faith itself, with more than 100 entries describing the “religious atmosphere” at home.

The Karakax List has no stamps or other authenticating marks so, at face value, it is difficult to verify.

It is thought to have been passed out of Xinjiang sometime before late June last year, along with a number of other sensitive papers.

They ended up in the hands of an anonymous Uighur exile who passed all of them on, except for this one document.

Only after the first batch was published last year was the Karakax List then forwarded to his conduit, another Uighur living in Amsterdam, Asiye Abdulaheb.

She told the BBC that she is certain it is genuine.

Image caption

Asiye Abdulaheb decided to speak out, despite the danger

“Regardless of whether there are official stamps on the document or not, this is information about real, live people,” she says. “It is private information about people that wouldn’t be made public. So there is no way for the Chinese government to claim it is fake.”

Like all Uighurs living overseas, Ms Abdulaheb lost contact with her family in Xinjiang when the internment campaign began, and she’s been unable to contact them since.

But she says she had no choice but to release the document, passing it to a group of international media organisations, including the BBC.

“Of course I am worried about the safety of my relatives and friends,” she says. “But if everyone keeps silent because they want to protect themselves and their families, then we will never prevent these crimes being committed.”

At the end of last year China announced that everyone in its “vocational training centres” had now “graduated”. However, it also suggested some may stay open for new students on the basis of their “free will”.

Almost 90% of the 311 main individuals in the Karakax List are shown as having already been released or as being due for release on completion of a full year in the camps.

But Dr Zenz points out that the re-education camps are just one part of a bigger system of internment, much of which remains hidden from the outside world.

Image caption

The outside of one of the camps in Xinjiang

More than two dozen individuals are listed as “recommended” for release into “industrial park employment” – career “advice” that they may have little choice but to obey. There are well documented concerns that China is now building a system of coerced labour as the next phase of its plan to align Uighur life with its own vision of a modern society.

In two cases, the re-education ends in the detainees being sent to “strike hard detention”, a reminder that the formal prison system has been cranked into overdrive in recent years.

Many of the family relationships listed in the document show long prison terms for parents or siblings, sometimes for entirely normal religious observances and practices.

One man’s father is shown to have been sentenced to five years for “having a double-coloured thick beard and organising a religious studies group”.

A neighbour is reported to have been given 15 years for “online contact with people overseas”, and another man’s younger brother given 10 years for “storing treasonable pictures on his phone”.

Whether or not China has closed its re-education camps in Xinjiang, Dr Zenz says the Karakax List tells us something important about the psychology of a system that prevails.

“It reveals the witch-hunt-like mindset that has been and continues to dominate social life in the region,” he said.



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Inside NYPD Fight to Stop Subway Graffiti…


The New York Police Department has employed new technology and partnered with law-enforcement agencies around the globe to fight a surge in graffiti on New York City subway trains that has been fueled by social media, law-enforcement officials said.

Major graffiti incidents, in which trains are taken out of service for cleaning due to large mural-like paintings, have increased in recent years as more vandals share images of their work on Instagram and Twitter, according to NYPD officials.



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Squeegee men, scourge of '90s, back in NYC…


Just when you thought they were washed up, the notorious squeegee men are streaking back to Big Apple streets.

The panhandling window-washers, who became the face of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s quality-of-life crackdown in the 1990s, were back peddling their spotty services in Manhattan over the weekend.

A trio of the in-your-face glass swabbers were spotted plying their trade on 40th Street and Ninth Avenue on Sunday — figures from the annals of New York City history that some folks weren’t in the mood for.

“Get out of the road!” yelled Randy Brechler, 62, a tourist from Florida, as he disembarked a cab. “This is a way of just panhandling. It’s forcing people to do something they don’t want to do.”

Wife Helen Brechler, 55, called the situation “scary.”

“I think it’s nerve-wracking to have somebody to come up to your car, especially in today’s world.”

Overly aggressive window washers were a mainstay of city intersections in the 1980s and 1990s, squirting car windows at stoplights without permission — and at times terrorizing motorists by threatening to break windows or windshield wipers if they didn’t receive a tip.

Giuliani used the windshield cleaners as a symbol of the general disregard for law and order when he took office in 1994 — and made them a focus of his bid to improve the quality of life in the city.

Then-NYPD Commissioner William Bratton deployed New York’s Finest to get the pesky beggars back on the sidewalk.

A city law passed in 1996 elevated aggressive panhandling from a violation to a misdemeanor — though it also acknowledged individuals’ constitutional right to beg “in a peaceful and non-threatening manner.”

The crackdown all but cleaned up the squeegee men, although there have been occasional sightings over the years.

One window-washing beggar remained so prolific that he had nearly 180 busts for aggressive panhandling by 2014.

Locals said the squeegee men spotted this weekend have been on the block since September, appearing mostly on weekends.

Men cleaning cars with squeegees in Manhattan today.
Daniel William McKnight

One of the window washers told The Post the part-time gig actually brings in more than the minimum-wage job he once had.

“I make enough. More than minimum wage,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “That’s a fact. I’m a vet, so I get money every month. I had a construction job.”

His partner in grime, who also declined to give his name, said they are generally left alone by cops — and when they are shooed along, as they were by Port Authority police Sunday, they just wait and come back when the gumshoes are gone.

“The mayor don’t want to f–k with us,” the second man said. “This is nothing. Washing windows, asking for an honest buck. It’s nothing.

“They can’t lock us up for our s–t. We’re just supporting ourselves.”

Most folks in the neighborhood didn’t have a problem with them.

“If you’re trying to make a living, and they’re doing it in a legitimate way … that’s fine,” said Will Turner, 48. “I can’t knock somebody for trying to make a dollar.”

Resident Marc Kalter agreed.

“This is New York,” he said. “This is something I’m familiar with. You didn’t see it for a while, and now it’s starting again. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it matters.”

Panhandling is legal unless beggars physically touch a person or car, block passage or prevent access to an ATM, according to city law.

NYPD officials did not respond to a request for comment.

A police source blamed 2017 criminal justice reforms for emboldening the rogue rag men.

“We don’t even arrest people for pissing in the street anymore, why would we arrest a squeegee guy?” a police source griped.

“They know they won’t get arrested, so why wouldn’t they come back?”

Additional reporting by Tina Moore



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Missing From Prosecution: Police Witnesses…


A Manhattan jury will begin deliberating in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial Tuesday after prosecutors presented testimony from 28 people to support their case. Not one witness was a law-enforcement officer.

Criminal-justice experts said the strategic decision of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to avoid calling police witnesses and testimony about a fraught investigation might affect how jurors view the case when they begin to deliberate.



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He was in prison for murder. Computer algorithm helped set him free…


Nearly a decade into his life sentence for murder, Lydell Grant was escorted out of a Texas prison in November with his hands held high, free on bail, all thanks to DNA re-examined by a software program.

“The last nine years, man, I felt like an animal in a cage,” Grant, embracing his mother and brother, told the crush of reporters awaiting him in Houston. “Especially knowing that I didn’t do it.”

Now, Grant, 42, is on a fast track to exoneration after a judge recommended in December that Texas’ highest criminal court vacate his conviction. His attorneys are hopeful a ruling is made in the coming weeks.

For Grant to get to here hinged on two prongs: the DNA evidence, which was reanalyzed through an emerging software that has also come under scrutiny, and an unprecedented decision to use the findings to conduct an FBI criminal database search that was initiated by a third party not part of the initial investigation. That led to the discovery of a new suspect, who has been charged after police said he confessed.

The search process used in Grant’s case has enormous potential to solve cold cases or re-evaluate other convictions that could pave the way for more exonerations nationwide, forensic scientists say.

“There’s probably 5,000 or 6,000 innocent people in Texas prisons alone,” said lawyer Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, which is representing Grant. “How many of them could benefit from such a reanalysis of DNA that was used to convict them? I don’t really know, but this is a historic case that could open the door for those who thought it was shut forever.”

A match in the database

Grant’s ordeal began in December 2010, when Aaron Scheerhoorn was stabbed outside a Houston gay bar. Authorities said Scheerhoorn, who was bleeding from his abdomen, had run to the bar’s entrance seeking help from horrified bar patrons and employees. The witnesses described the killer as a black man, about 25 to 30 years old and around 6 feet tall. Police told local media that it may have been a “crime of passion.”

A tip came in about a car that might belong to the suspect. Five days later, an officer pulled over a vehicle matching its description, and Grant, who at the time was driving on a suspended license, was taken in for questioning.

Investigators also interviewed seven witnesses, all but one of whom picked out Grant as the suspect from a photo lineup.

Grant, then 33, had a criminal record going back several years, including aggravated robbery, marijuana use and theft. But he maintained his innocence in the stabbing, said he had never met Scheerhoorn and produced an alibi for his defense.

At Grant’s trial in 2012, prosecutors centered their case on the eyewitness testimony — a practice that the Innocence Project argues plays a major role in defendants’ being wrongfully accused. In addition, jurors heard about DNA collected from fingernail scrapings from Scheerhoorn’s right hand. The DNA was actually a mixture of that of two people: the victim and a second male profile.

Houston’s police crime lab at the time was unable to conclude that the other genetic material was Grant’s, and the state’s expert’s testimony suggested to the jury that it “could not be excluded.”

Jurors also heard from Grant’s alibi witness, who said he was with Grant on the night Scheerhoorn was murdered, but his testimony failed to sway them, court documents show.

Grant was found guilty of first-degree felony murder. From his jail cell in Harris County, he began writing to anyone he thought could help.

A letter eventually landed on a pile at the Innocence Project of Texas, which receives hundreds of inmate letters every month. In 2018, it was referred to the Texas A&M School of Law, which partners with the Innocence Project of Texas.

“We knew at the very least the prosecutor put on inaccurate testimony at trial,” Ware said. “We didn’t know where the facts were going to lead to.”

The law students got to work, paying particular attention to the DNA report that described the mixture of genetic materials. In 2011, the Houston crime lab had analyzed it using a traditional method in which a forensic scientist studies the genetic makeup of the DNA sample, which is translated into a type of graph that can be reviewed manually, and determines the probability that a particular person’s DNA matches the sample. But when a sample includes a mixture of DNA from more than one person, it is increasingly difficult to separate and interpret the data. Flawed DNA readings by analysts have been known to ensnare innocent people.

After Ware and the students took a fresh look at the original DNA report, they were convinced that Grant’s DNA could not have been a part of the mixture. Last March, Ware began working with DNA expert Angie Ambers, an associate professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

Ambers was familiar with a type of DNA technology known as “probabilistic genotyping.”

“Years after Lydell Grant was convicted and sent to prison, there was a paradigm shift in how we interpreted DNA mixtures in criminal casework,” she said. “Rather than having a human DNA analyst interpret a mixture of DNA, computer software programs were developed to reduce the subjectivity in interpretation.”

Mike Ware walks out of the Bexar County Jail in San Antonio on Nov. 18, 2013, as part of a case in which four women wrongfully accused of sexual assault were later exonerated.Eric Gay / AP file

Ambers learned of one such software program created by Cybergenetics, a small company in Pittsburgh that had analyzed DNA samples from unidentified victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It was worth a shot: Ware requested the raw DNA data from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and then it was shared with Cybergenetics and run through its program, TrueAllele. (The name is a play on the word that signifies the different forms a person’s genes can take.)

The company offered a free preliminary screening, and the software did what a human could not do: determine that Grant’s DNA did not match that of the unknown male profile.

Ambers had a hunch that something was off when she first reviewed the case because a large number of alleles present in the DNA mixture were inconsistent with Scheerhoorn’s or Grant’s profiles. But she said TrueAllele’s discovery alone wouldn’t guarantee that Grant would be cleared of a crime.

Armed with the new evidence, the Innocence Project of Texas went a step further, prompting Cybergenetics to work with a partner crime lab in Beaufort County, South Carolina, which has access to a powerful FBI database known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

Typically, federal, state and local law enforcement and government crime labs can upload an unknown profile into the database and compare it for a possible match against that of one of the more than 14 million convicted criminals and those arrested already in the system. The process, for instance, can help authorities link crimes from several scenes to a single person.

The South Carolina crime lab’s search resulted in a hit. The DNA profile belonged to a man in Atlanta named Jermarico Carter, who police say left Houston shortly after Scheerhoorn’s murder. Carter also has a lengthy criminal record, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement in December that he confessed to the killing.

Acevedo at the time also issued a rare apology to Grant and his family, “as they have waited for justice all these years.”

Trusting the source code

Cybergenetics CEO Mark Perlin, the developer of TrueAllele, said the use of a probabilistic genotyping software’s findings in CODIS is significant, as it’s the first time it was attempted because an independent party, the Innocence Project, requested it, not law enforcement. And most remarkably, it resulted in a match.

He touted his software, which runs DNA data through a statistical algorithm with 170,000 lines of code, for being able to untangle DNA mixtures.

The mixtures “have a complex pattern based on how much of each person is there along with distortions,” Perlin said. “A computer can account for that and dig deeper into the data to get far more information.”

But while TrueAllele has been lauded for helping both prosecutors and defense attorneys get to the bottom of cases, and while it has been used in crimes labs in Baltimore; Cleveland; Bakersfield, California; and elsewhere, the technology also has detractors.

Some who favor transparency ask how, if the patented program’s source code is decipherable only by the company, it can be trusted to be accurate every time.

Greg Hampikian, a biology professor at Boise State University who was an expert consultant in the high-profile case of Amanda Knox, credits TrueAllele with helping to free the wrongly convicted in other cases he’s worked on. But he also supports the release of the software’s source code and believes that if prosecutors have the same access to such a program for a trial, then the defense must, too. He acknowledged that there are difficulties to ensuring that a defense team can be fully trained to “counter these highly sophisticated mathematical programs without having actually used them.” They can also be cost-prohibitive, running in the tens of thousands of dollars.

If probabilistic genotyping software is being used in trials, defendants should have every opportunity to know how the algorithm came to its conclusion to mount a capable defense, said DNA expert Dan Krane, the interim dean of Wright State University’s Lake Campus in Ohio.

“There’s a conflict between a defendant’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses versus an inventor’s right to protect the intellectual property associated with their invention,” Krane said.

Judges in several cases throughout the country have rejected attempts to force private companies to reveal the formulas behind their software.

In 2016, however, a federal judge in New York ordered the release of the source code for a software tool developed by New York City’s crime lab, which was the subject of a ProPublica report that found “increased complaints by scientists and lawyers that flaws in the now-discontinued software program may have sent innocent people to prison.”

Perlin has argued in court filings that TrueAllele’s source code is a “trade secret” and one that must be protected in a “highly competitive commercial environment.” (Its main competitor is the software STRMix, which is being used in more than 50 forensic labs across the country, including the Houston Forensic Science Center, an independent agency that replaced the Houston Police Department’s crime lab in 2014 after past scandals.)

For criminal cases, Perlin said, his source code can be provided to defense experts at no cost under a confidentiality agreement.

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The issue has caught the attention of lawmakers. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced legislation in September that would require defendants to be provided with access to source code and standards put in place to ensure that the algorithm used was fair. The Justice in Forensic Algorithms Act has been referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Space, Science and Technology.

While some experts are wary of how the technology may be applied in cases, they do see a benefit in using its findings to locate a profile match in CODIS. But the FBI, which has used STRMix for cases, has been reluctant to allow third parties like the Innocence Project of Texas direct access to the database, instead requiring that they specifically go through law enforcement or crime lab sources to perform a CODIS search.

Supporters of opening the database argue that, sometimes, law enforcement and crime labs involved in the original case can’t be counted on to run a new search in a timely manner, particularly if the results threaten to undermine an existing investigation.

In response to questions from NBC News, the FBI said CODIS remains a “tool legislatively authorized for law enforcement use only.” In addition, the agency said it uses STRMix for one of two functions: to “help a human figure out DNA mixtures (and therefore possibly put a better profile into CODIS)” or to highlight the likelihood that two profiles are, indeed, a match.

Perlin sees his DNA technology at the forefront when it comes to solving more cases, but he said that will also depend on whether crime labs like the one in South Carolina are willing to partner with third parties that use probabilistic genotyping software.

He said Cybergenetics will continue to help prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted and believes that partnerships with crime labs can grow, although only “to the extent that the FBI lets them.”

“These labs want to use better science to get better justice for all parties,” Perlin added.

Grant’s case, proponents of the DNA technology say, could prove to be the shining example to get more people on board.

While awaiting the court’s finding that he is officially exonerated, Grant, who remains free on a $100,000 bond, told reporters in December that he isn’t angry with prosecutors and has put his faith in God. And he sees a silver lining for others wrongly convicted.

“I really believe that my story will be able to help someone else’s,” he said.



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Woman brings mini-service horse onto plane, into first class…


CROTON, Mich. — It’s not every day you see

a horse on a plane,




let alone in first class. But

Fred the Mini Service Horse went wheels up with a purpose.



“This was our first trip via an airplane. Fred has traveled several thousands of miles in my vehicle but this was the first time in the air,” Fred’s handler Ronica Froese said.

Froese has trained Fred to be a therapy and a service horse. Fred, who lives in Western Michigan, is housebroken and is frankly more well-trained than most dogs.

“I spent a year of my life training this horse extensively for what he has, and I was totally prepared for everything,” Froese said.

Froese put months of work preparing for Fred’s trip, which included two flights each way.

“We left in the afternoon, we flew from Grand Rapids, we connected in Dallas and we went to Ontario, California,” Froese said.

“I purchased two first-class seats in bulkhead seating, I paid an arm and a leg for tickets, but I did so because it was Fred’s first time and I wanted him to be comfortable,” Froese said. “I wanted him to have the most room.”

Other than the expected gawking, the trip went without a hitch.

“Everyone was sweet as pie, TSA was amazing. The experience was way better than I actually anticipated,” Froese said.

With talks of potentially stricter regulations from the

Department of Transportation




on which species of animals can fly, Froese hopes Fred’s trip shows the model for air travel with a service mini-horse.

She added that some passengers often abuse rules about service animals, but for people like herself, a service animal like Fred is a necessary companion.

“It is out of control, it’s a very abused process, there are a lot of untrained service animals on the plane that are not trained,” Froese said.

“It’s definitely an abused system, but the sad part is what the DOT is looking at doing, they are looking at excluding me as a handler from taking my horse on the plane,” she said.

She’s hoping they reverse course so Fred’s first air travel experience won’t be his last.

If you want to follow along with

Fred




or Froese’s other mini horses, Charlie and George,

click here.



This story was originally published by Aaron Parseghian on

WXMI




in Grand Rapids, Michigan.



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Case might be too weak to convict…


The trial of Harvey Weinstein has provided ample evidence that he is a grotesque pig lacking empathy for the many women he preyed upon, but probably not enough to prove he should be convicted as a rapist.

Prepare for an acquittal or a deadlock after the jury goes out Tuesday, because anyone who has sat through the trial can see the prosecution has struggled to prove its case.

If Weinstein does walk, it will be a tragedy for his accusers, who at the very least were degraded by their association with him and have suffered brutal courtroom cross-examination.

But it will be a well-overdue check on the power of the #MeToo movement that was spawned by the Weinstein case, and which depends on his guilt.

What started as a reasonable comeuppance for a powerful movie producer who preyed on aspiring actresses went too far when it mutated into a toxic feminist movement designed to demonize all men.

#MeToo has become a tyranny of its own, a crusade to overturn a mythical patriarchy in which women have no agency or power.

Of course, it’s easy to condemn Weinstein, with his grotesque physical appearance, brutish behavior and self-pity.

But “in a criminal trial, proof matters,” Weinstein’s defense lawyer, Donna Rotunno, told the jury. “This is not a popularity contest. But you have to remember that we are not here to criminalize morality.”

Rotunno has been branded a “traitor to her sex” and a “woman of escalating infamy” for defending Weinstein, after less lion-hearted lawyers dropped out, but she has appealed to the “New York City common sense” of the jury.

At least 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual predation, but, in the end, this jury was told to consider the cases of only two.

Jessica Mann, now 34, an aspiring actress from a dairy farm in Washington state, met Weinstein at a Hollywood party when she was 25 and testified that he raped her in 2013 at a hotel in Manhattan.

Yet she continued a relationship with him for several years afterward, during which time she had consensual sex with him, attended Oscar parties as his guest and sent hundreds of affectionate messages, some of which Rotunno read aloud to the court.

In the weeks after the alleged rape, Mann emailed Weinstein to thank him for arranging an audition for a vampire movie: “I appreciate all you do for me, it shows.”

“Miss you big guy,” she wrote six months later.

She asked him to meet her mother in another email: “You can see how good my genes are.”

And four years later, she wrote, “I love you, I always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call. ;)”

Rotunno read out another message in which Mann wrote she was “blowing a super-rich Hollywood producer.”

“This is not the way you would characterize your relationship with your rapist,” said Rotunno.

“She made a choice that she wanted the life that he could potentially provide for her.”

The other accuser before the jury, production assistant Miriam “Mimi” Haleyi, now 42, also continued a consensual relationship with Weinstein after he allegedly forced oral sex on her in 2006.

According to evidence presented by Rotunno, Haleyi went on to accept hotel stays, limo rides and flights to Los Angeles and London, and sent Weinstein affectionate messages, including one signed, “lots of love.”

It is hard not to feel sympathy for these women, whose vulnerabilities were exploited by Weinstein.

But that is different from a criminal conviction for rape.

The prosecution case raises the frightening prospect that any man could be found guilty for retrospective rape, years later, over a consensual sexual encounter.

It relies on the “Believe all women” slogan at the center of #MeToo, which only disrupts healthy heterosexual interactions and places every man under suspicion of rape.

As Rotunno told Vanity Fair, “Regret sex is not rape.”

Summing up the defense Thursday, she described the prosecution’s case as an alternate universe in which “women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the hotel room invitations, the plane tickets they expect, the jobs they hope to obtain.”

It is no favor to women to pretend they are not responsible for their own choices, including entering into a sexual relationship with a powerful older man who can do them favors in a competitive industry.

To equate those choices with rape is an obscene disservice to genuine victims.

But the pendulum has swung so far toward “believe all women” that it will require courage for those seven men and five women on the jury to come to an unpopular verdict, which will be seen as a referendum on the #MeToo movement.

Don’t expect the activists who banged on pots and screamed “The rapist is you” outside the Lower Manhattan courtroom to accept anything but a conviction.

But even if Weinstein does walk free in New York, he has not escaped punishment.

He faces another trial in Los Angeles — and his reputation and once-mighty career are already in ruins.

Shoddy reporting at trial

Pulitzer Prizes are among the rewards for journalists who exposed Harvey Weinstein’s predatory ways.

But evidence in the trial indicates much of the reporting was one-sided.

“Courtrooms are where slogans go to die,” says Irish journalist Phelim McAleer. With wife Ann McElhinney, he has been in court every day to produce their riveting podcast, “The Harvey Weinstein Trial: Unfiltered.”

“A lot of bad journalism has been exposed in this case because the jury has heard how the accusers neglected to share, but were also never asked about very significant information that would have cast their interactions with Weinstein in a different light,” he said.

The podcast, which features actors reading verbatim from court transcripts, also addresses the pressure placed by liberal activists on the justice system.

Monday, cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who told jurors that human memory easily can be distorted and contaminated, will tell the podcast that she was dropped as a “distinguished lecturer” by New York University after her association with Weinstein’s defense became public.

Australia obit is premature

The opportunistic fearmongering by climate activists over Australia’s far from unprecedented bushfires — and subsequent heavy rain — is getting ridiculous.

The latest is the New York Times’ weekend essay “The End of Australia As We Know It.”

The fact is that Australia always has been a “willful, lavish land” of “flood and fire and famine,” of “droughts and flooding rains,” as the famous poem by Dorothea Mackellar puts it.

The poem was written in 1908, decades before climate alarmism became a thing.



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Porn Shot At Santa Monica Public Library During Business Hours Sparks Outrage…




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