Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Trayvon Tragedy

Having watched most of the trial on TV, and carefully considered the evidence, I firmly believe:
  1. Had Trayvon Martin (TM) been white, he would most likely be alive today, and
  2. The jury decision that George Zimmerman (GZ) was "not guilty" was fully justified by the available evidence.
Although the above conclusions appear to be contradictory, they are not.


I utilized as my main source for quoted testimony and forensics, but the following speculations and conclusions are my own.

There are many "ifs and buts" in this tragic case of the unnecessary death of a teenager.
  • IF GZ had not profiled TM, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM, after noticing that GZ was following by car, had taken the good advice of his girlfriend and gone straight home to the townhouse at which he and his father were staying, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had followed the non-emergency police dispatcher's good advice not to leave his car and follow TM, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM, after noticing that GZ was following him by foot, had gone straight home, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had made it clear that he was a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, and if TM had accepted that information and avoided a physical confrontation, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM had not sucker-punched GZ, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM had run away after punching GZ, instead of continuing the fight and causing two lacerations on the back of GZ's head, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had not shot TM in the chest, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had not shot TM, GZ might have sustained severe bodily harm, or even death.
Much has been made of the fact that "TM did nothing illegal". Yes, TM had every right to purchase candy and a soft drink and wear a hoodie while he walked home in the light rain of the early evening through the gated community where he and his father were visiting. He had no obligation to dress differently or to run home or change his plans when he noticed he was being observed and followed, first by car and then by foot. TM had every right to be there. He had every right to verbally challenge GZ when they approached each other along the dark concrete walk behind the two rows of townhomes.

Indeed, TM did nothing illegal until he sucker-punched GZ. That is what started the physical part of the confrontation. That is what led to the injury to GM's nose and, ultimately, lacerations to the back of GZ's head. The evidence of the eye witness Jonathan Good makes it clear that TM was beating the heck out of GZ. The forensic evidence shows that all the injuries of the fight were suffered by GZ, except for two light cuts on TM's knuckles (and, sadly, the fatal gunshot wound).

On the other hand, GZ did nothing illegal either! According to available evidence, GZ had every right to profile TM and report him as a suspicious person to the non-emergency police number. He was not legally required to follow the dispatcher's good advice that "we don't need you to do that" when he said he was going to follow TM.

According to TM's friend Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with him at the first visual encounter, she urged him to run to the townhouse where he was staying, but TM did not follow that good advice. Furthermore, she testified that when TM and GZ came within talking distance in the dark behind the two rows of townhomes, TM verbally challenged GZ, saying "What are you following me for?" According to her account, GZ returned the challenge with "What are you doing around here?" (GZ's version of the verbal encounter also has TM challenging first, saying "You got a f---ing problem, homie?",GZ replying "No", and TM following up with "You got a problem now" and punching GZ in the nose.).

According to the closest eye witness to the physical encounter, Jonathan Good, GZ got the worst of the fight, calling for "Help" with TM on top of him.

GZ could have submitted to the beating. Had he done so, both GZ and TM would most likely be alive today. On the other hand, the way things were going, GZ might have suffered serious head injury or even death. We will never know.

But GZ did not submit to the beating. Reasonably fearing for his life (or serious bodily injury), GZ drew his handgun and shot TM in the chest. According to the forensic evidence, when the fatal shot was fired, the gun barrel was touching TM's clothing, but the clothing was two to four inches away from TM's skin, indicating that TM was on top and facing downwards, with gravity pulling the clothing down and away from his skin..

Alternative Scenario Where TM is Totally Innocent

Although I generally accept GZ's account of the incident (with some reservations about his claim that he walked past the dark area behind the two rows of houses because he was looking for a street name and an address to provide to the police dispatcher), I have searched my imagination for a scenario that fits all the available testimony and forensics and that shows TM totally innocent. I stretched my brain to come up with the following:

TM purchases candy and a soft drink and, while walking home, he notices GZ stop his car, look at him suspiciously, roll up his windows, and make a cellphone call. TM is also on his cellphone with his young lady friend and tells her that GZ looks like a "crazy ass cracker".

Although he is close to the townhome where he and his father are visiting, TM does not go directly home because he is fearful that GZ may be a sexual predator or otherwise dangerous and that he will track him there and possibly cause trouble. So, TM runs to the dark area behind the two rows of townhomes and hides there.

GZ, walking and searching in the dark area with the aid of a flashlight, slips on the rain-soaked grass, landing face-first on the concrete walk (or a hard plastic sprinkler cover or a tree branch). This accounts for the injuries to GZ's nose.

As GZ struggles to his feet, he notices TM hiding in the shadows. GZ angrily challenges TM and grabs him in a bear hug. TM cries for "help" and tries to get away. In the struggle, they fall down, with GZ striking the back of his head against the concrete walk (or other hard object). This accounts for the lacerations on the back of GZ's head and the eyewitness report of TM being on top.

TM manages to break GZ's bear hug grip and pulls himself up, preparing to run away. At that point, with TM still on top, GZ draws his gun and shoots TM in the chest, killing him.

Although the above scenario is possible, it does not appear as reasonable as the defense account. In any case, GZ had to be judged "not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt", and there are many reasonable doubts about the scenario I sketched!

Does "Stand Your Ground" Apply To This Case?

The common law version of self-defense allows a person who is challenged by another person, in their own home, to use deadly force if they reasonably fear death or great bodily harm, even if it would be safe to retreat. However, if in their vehicle or public place, there is a duty to retreat if it would be safe to do so.

The Stand Your Ground extension to the law of self-defense expands the concept to vehicles and public places. Thus, under Stand Your Ground, a person who is challenged, in their vehicle or public place, does not have a duty to retreat, even if it would be safe to do so, but may use deadly force against the person challenging them, if they reasonably fear death or great bodily harm.

Much has been made of Stand Your Ground in the Zimmerman/Martin case, but it does not seem to apply. Once the physical confrontation started, and GZ was getting the worst of it, he no longer had the option to retreat, safely or otherwise. At that point, if he reasonably feared death or great bodily harm, he had the right to use deadly force. (It is true that Zimmerman's defense team initially requested a Stand Your Ground hearing, but later decided to bypass that hearing and go to a jury trial.)

Was George Zimmerman a Racist?

There is no doubt in my mind that GZ profiled TM, using a combination of what he was doing, where he was, how he was dressed, the fact that he was a young man, and ... YES ... the fact that he was black. In other words, TM fit the profile of the young black men who had recently been observed committing burglaries and a home invasion in the gated community.

But, GZ was not any more of a racist than any of the rest of us. I think it is an undisputed fact that most of we Americans (sadly including black Americans who are more often the victims of urban crime than white Americans) are more suspicious of young black men than they would be of young white men, and more suspicious of young men of any race than they would be of older men or of women of any age.

In fact, there is reason to believe that GZ was actually less of a racist than most of we Americans. His voter registration lists him as Hispanic and a Democrat. His mother, from Peru, has both Hispanic and black ancestry. His next-door neighbor in the gated community was a black woman who praised him as a good friend. According to the local ABC TV station, "George Zimmerman accused the Sanford police department of corruption more than a year before he shot Trayvon Martin, saying at a public forum the agency covered up the beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white officer." (

 Ira Glickstein

Thursday, July 4, 2013

IRS and NSA Controversies

In recent months, the Obama administration has been plagued by several serious controversies, chief among them:
  • Charges of political profiling by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in delaying the approval of tax exemption under § 501 (c)(4) to some "patriotic" organizations, and

  • Large-scale domestic snooping by the National Security Agency (NSA) according to Top Secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
You may download my PowerPoint presentation (Philosophy Club, The Villages, FL, 5 July 2013) here:


According to the May 2013 report by the US Treasury Department Inspector General (IG) for Tax Administration (.pdf available here: ), starting in 2010 and continuing through 2012 and two election cycles, "inappropriate criteria were used to identify tax-exempt applications for review".

The IG Report identified some specific inappropriate criteria including "Patriots", "Tea Party", "Issues include government spending, government debt or taxes", "Education of the public by advocacy/lobbying 'to make America a better place to live'", and "Statement in the case file criticize how the country is being run". [exact quotes, including grammatical errors]

The result was that some applications submitted by Liberal groups were approved for § 501 (c)(4) while otherwise identical applications by Conservative groups were forwarded to a team of "specialists" and thus delayed for years.

According to the IG Report:
Organizations that applied for tax-exempt status and had their applications forwarded to the team
of specialists experienced substantial delays. As of December 17, 2012, many organizations had
not received an approval or denial letter for more than two years
after they submitted their

applications. Some cases have been open during two election cycles (2010 and 2012). [my bold]

On 13 May 2013, a day before the IG Report was issued, President Obama stated that the practice was "Outrageous, if true."

The next day, when it was clear that the charges were indeed true, Obama followed up stating:
"The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity.
“This report shows that some [IRS] employees failed that test. I’ve directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, … so that such conduct never happens again.
“But regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong."
The IG Report included a detailed list of some of the "unnecessary" questions asked of targeted organizations by the "specialists" to delay approval.
1 Requests the names of donors. 2 Requests a list of all issues that are important to the organization and asks that the organization indicate its position regarding such issues. 3 Requests 1) the roles and activities of the audience and participants other than members in the activity and 2) the type of conversations and discussions members and participants had during the activity. 4 Asks whether the officer, director, etc., has run or will run for public office. 5 Requests the political affiliation of the officer, director, speakers, candidates supported, etc., or otherwise refers to the relationship with identified political party–related organizations. 6 Requests information regarding employment, other than for the organization, including hours worked. 7 Requests information regarding activities of another organization – not just the relationship of the other organization to the applicant.
Were "Progressive" Organizations also Targeted?

The Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee published what they said was evidence that "progressive" groups were also targeted (.pdf available here:

Indeed, the term "Progressive" does appear on a spreadsheet utilized by the IRS reviewers, however, that line of the spreadsheet applies only to § 501 (c)(3) applications, which are very different from the 501 (c)(4) applications that are the main object of the IRS political profiling controversy.

As the IG Report makes clear, § 501 (c)(3) organizations may NOT "engage in political campaign intervention" while § 501 (c)(4) groups may do so up to 40% of their activities. Another difference is that contributions to § 501 (c)(3) groups ARE tax deductible by the donors while § 501 (c)(4) are NOT tax deductible by the donors.

The House Ways and Means Democrats include one example of a "Tea Party" group that appears on an IRS spreadsheet, but careful observation shows that that line applies to BOTH § 501 (c)(3) and § 501 (c)(4) groups. It should be obvious that tax exemption should not be allowed for donors for any "political campaign intervention", whether Liberal or Conservative.

Thus, there is no evidence that "Progressive" groups were subjected to any profiling related to § 501 (c)(4), while it is clear, even from the IRS spreadsheet example published by the Democrats, that such profiling was inappropriately applied to Conservative groups.

Should ANY "Political" Organizations Enjoy BOTH Tax-Exemption AND Anonymity for their Donors?

In reviewing this controversy, I wondered why the IRS allows MAJOR DONORS to make ANONYMOUS contributions to ANY tax-exempt organization that engages in any form of "political campaign intervention" (be it Liberal or Conservative) .

Well, it turns out that this strange rule dates from the 1958 Supreme Court decision regarding the NAACP vs Alabama (see where the Supremes ruled that disclosure of names could render private donors vulnerable to retaliation.

OK, if that is the Law of the Land, so be it, but it should be applied EQUALLY to both Liberal and Conservative groups. Don't you think?

In this case, IRS political profiling, targeting Conservative groups, over two election cycles (2010 and 2012), has almost certainly resulted in a net benefit for Liberal organizations in terms of fund-raising, because some donors will justifiably hesitate to contribute to any organization that has not been approved by the IRS for tax-exempt status.

Has this affected election results at the National level (House, Senate, Presidency), and/or local levels (Governors, State Legislators, etc.)? No one will ever know for sure, but I would think at least some close elections could have gone the other way absent IRS targeting of Conservative "political campaign intervention" groups.


Which brings us to the second part of this (admittedly long) topic posting.

The reason I have linked the IRS and NSA controversies should be painfully obvious:

If any Administration, whether Democrat or Republican, misuses an agency of the government for political profiling purposes, as the Democrats have clearly misused the IRS for two election cycles, how can we trust them not to similarly misuse the awesome snooping powers we now know have been entrusted to the NSA ?

We all know that Edward Snowden, an employee of an NSA contractor, went to Hong Kong (controlled by China) and released several TOP SECRET documents revealing that the NSA has engaged in large-scale domestic snooping. There is no doubt that all TOP SECRET materials contained on the laptop computers and other computer media he had with him have been downloaded by the Chinese and are now in their possession. Snowden subsequently went to Russia, and has been there long enough for the Russians to have downloaded all material he had with him. Also, there is no doubt that both the Chinese and Russians have interrogated Snowden thoroughly and extracted the critical TOP SECRET NSA information that he possessed.  

After the NSA leak was made public by Snowden, President Obama assured the American public:
“… nobody is listening to your telephone calls… 
“… you can't have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We're going to have to make some choices as a society… 
"I don't welcome leaks … There's a reason these programs are classified." [my bold and italic]

Please note that I have bolded the President's word "Nobody". Does that mean no person is listening to our telephone calls (and that no person is reading our emails and other computer communications)?

For example, what if some automatic computer program was listening to our telephone calls (and emails) and searching for some combinations of words that might indicate criminal or terroristic intent? And, only if and when the computer program discovered some suspicious messages and identified the people involved, then the NSA went to the FISA court to get a warrant to have some person listen to phone calls (and emails) to and from the identified persons?

I have also bolded and italicized the word "is". As President Bill Clinton famously observed, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

Is Obama assuring us that nobody is listening to our phone calls (and emails) right now? What if our phone calls (and emails) are being automatically recorded and stored away by the NSA for future use if and when subsequent analysis reveals that they may relate to suspicious activities and then the NSA gets a FISA warrant to have some person listen to them?

That said, I agree with Obama that we cannot expect "100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience" and maintain reasonable security against criminal and terrorist attacks. Like him, given this difficult choice, I come down on the side of security.

What do we know about NSA snooping?

Started as early as 2006 (under G.W. Bush), continued through present (2008-2013 under Obama).

Key members of Senate and Congress are aware of classified details of NSA programs and exercise oversight. Judicial oversight is exercised by FISA court.

MetaData is being collected on virtually ALL domestic home phone and cellphone calls (at least the Calling number, Called number, Date, Time, Duration, …) Internet data (VoIP, Emails, Chat, Photos, Videos, Files, Stored Data [“cloud”], Logins, SPECIAL REQUESTS, …)

What do I suspect about NSA snooping?

I’ve worked on classified military projects, but never NSA projects or any projects related to surveillance or data mining, so I am free to “speculate” without revealing classified information.

Based on my knowledge of electronics and computers and the Internet and “artificial intelligence” I never type anything into my computer that I would not mind seeing on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper or TV news!

For many years I have suspected that NSA (not to mention Google :^) has metadata on all Internet activity and phone calls and that they utilize advanced data mining algorithms to associate Phone numbers, Email addresses, Blogs, Social networks, and so on.

It is also likely they use “artificial intelligence” and “key word analysis” computer techniques to “gist” voice phone calls, looking for languages and word combinations that may indicate criminal or terrorist activities as well as semantic analysis to identify individual writing styles. It is also likely they similarly “gist” Emails, Blogs, Photos and other Internet data and use facial recognition, voice prints, and other biometrics to associate multi-modal communications with particular groups of people and individuals.

Bottom Line

I (along with Obama) am appalled that Edward Snowden violated his pledge to protect classified government documents. Internal government processes (and specialized lawyers) exist for reporting abuses. Snowden should have used these before going to China and before revealing these Top Secret activities to the press. (Hong Kong is an “autonomous” region under the control of China.) We should assume China and Russia have all Snowden’s NSA data.

I generally SUPPORT all the known and most of my suspected NSA snooping activities, assuming proper oversight. As I’ve stated in presentations to The Villages Philosophy Club and my Novel and Blogs, advocates of “privacy” are fighting a phony and lost battle. If you have a home and a job and a credit card and a cellphone and a car – in other words if you are a “respectable” citizen – YOU HAVE NO “PRIVACY”. (The only person with real privacy is the guy using your stolen credit card to buy stuff!)

However, the IRS scandal has increased my distrust of the government. I worry that POLITICALLY-motivated NSA employees may abuse Phone and Internet data for partisan purposes (as some IRS employees have done).

Get the PowerPoint Presentation!

If you'd like more technical background on the "six degrees of separation" between (virtually) any two people on Earth and on the issue of privacy in the Internet age, please download the PowerPoint presentation I gave to the Philosophy Club of The Villages, FL.

Please download that PowerPoint here:,

Feel free to express your opinions on this issue by posting a Comment to this Blog.


Ira Glickstein