Friday, March 27, 2015

A conversation I didn't expect‏

I'm a reporter who covered the police beat in Baltimore. Today, I make television shows. And last Friday, my phone rang. Someone on the other end told me that the President of the United States wants to have a conversation about criminal justice policy in America.

In his effort to try to reconsider some of the sentencing excesses and the levels of incarceration that have become so problematic in America, the President wanted to discuss these issues with me -- particularly because a lot of them were rooted in a television show that we did several years ago called "The Wire." In that show, we were trying to explore what the drug war has become in America and what it was costing us as a society.

So I went to Washington earlier this week and sat down with the President. We shared our experiences, our perspectives on the drug war, and the changes we hope to see.

Amanda Knox and Ex-Boyfriend Are Acquitted of Murder by Italian Court

Italy’s highest court acquitted Amanda Knox and her Italian former boyfriend of murder on Friday, throwing out all charges and ending a long-running courtroom drama over the killing of a British student in 2007.
The ruling was a shock in Italy, where the convictions had been expected to be upheld in the death of the student, Meredith Kercher. It the second time that the court, known as the Supreme Court of Cassation, has vacated an appellate court ruling in the case.
Gasps went up among spectators in the Rome courtroom, where after 10 hours of deliberation, the presiding judge, Gennaro Marasca, announced the decision. The reasoning behind the decision is to be made public within 90 days.



Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison

For years, conditions inside the United States’ only federal supermax facility were largely a mystery. But a landmark lawsuit is finally revealing the harsh world within.

...It hadn’t been easy for Jones to transition back to a life of freedom. He managed to stick it out, he said, because he was determined not to return to the place where he spent the final eight years of his last sentence: the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known more colloquially as the ADX. The ADX is the highest-security prison in the country. It was designed to be escape-proof, the Alcatraz of the Rockies, a place to incarcerate the worst, most unredeemable class of criminal — “a very small subset of the inmate population who show,” in the words of Norman Carlson, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “absolutely no concern for human life.” Ted Kaczynski and the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph call the ADX home. The 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is held there, too, along with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef; the Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols; the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the former Bonanno crime-family boss Vincent Basciano. Michael Swango, a serial-killing doctor who may have poisoned 60 of his patients, is serving three consecutive life sentences; Larry Hoover, the Gangster Disciples kingpin made famous by rappers like Rick Ross, is serving six; the traitorous F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen, a Soviet spy, 15.
Along with such notorious inmates, prisoners deemed serious behavioral or flight risks can also end up at the ADX — men like Jones, who in 2003, after racking up three assault charges in less than a year (all fights with other inmates) at a medium-security facility in Louisiana, found himself transferred to the same ADX cellblock as Kaczynski.
Inmates at the ADX spend approximately 23 hours of each day in solitary confinement. Jones had never been so isolated before. Other prisoners on his cellblock screamed and banged on their doors for hours. Jones said the staff psychiatrist stopped his prescription for Seroquel, a drug taken for bipolar disorder, telling him, “We don’t give out feel-good drugs here.” Jones experienced severe mood swings. To cope, he would work out in his cell until he was too tired to move. Sometimes he cut himself. In response, guards fastened his arms and legs to his bed with a medieval quartet of restraints, a process known as four-pointing.

Agent Orange Funding Opens Door to US Militarism and Covert Action in Vietnam

The use of Agent Orange constitutes a war crime with devastating effects on the people in Vietnam not only during the war but even today. The U.S. military knew that its use of Agent Orange would be damaging, but, as an Air Force scientist wrote to Congress, “because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned.”

Ecocide was committed when “the U.S. military sprayed 79 million liters of herbicides and defoliants over about one-seventh of the land area of southern Vietnam.” The 2008-2009 President’s Cancer Panel Report found that nearly five million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in “400,000 deaths and disabilities and a half million children born with birth defects.”

No one has been held accountable for this crime. U.S. courts have blocked lawsuits brought by the people of Vietnam, and the United States has never paid adequate war reparations to assist in caring for the victims of Agent Orange or to clean up the environment.

In recent years, however, the U.S. has begun to fund cleanup and treatment programs for Agent Orange victims. The timing of this change in policy comes as the U.S. military has been building a relationship with the Vietnamese military as part of the so-called “Asian Pivot.” Yet this relationship has been impaired by the United States’ failure to properly deal with Agent Orange.

Funding for Agent Orange damages is being used to open the door to greater U.S. military involvement and influence in the region, but it will also allow an expansion of U.S. covert operations in Vietnam that set the stage for the U.S. to install a “friendlier” government, if necessary for U.S. hegemony in the region.


Solidarity Not Fear: World Social Forum Opens In Tunisia

Tens of thousands of people marched in the pouring rain through Tunisia's capital on Tuesday to kick off the 14th World Social Forum—a global gathering of civil society movements—and bring the message of peace and solidarity to the site of last week's deadly attack on the National Bardo Museum. "The march is really inspiring, and despite the rain, the energy is very high," Mai-Stella Khantouche, member of the California-based Causa Justa/Just Cause, told Common Dreamsover the phone from the demonstration as it proceeded to the museum. "There are so many different organizations and people here coming together to show solidarity," added Khantouche, who is attending the Forum as a delegate with the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.


Oakland Has Read 4.6 Million License Plates Tracking People

OAKLAND, Calif.—If you have driven in Oakland any time in the last few years, chances are good that the cops know where you’ve been, thanks to their 33 automated license plate readers (LPRs).

 Now Ars knows too.
In response to a public records request, we obtained the entire LPR dataset of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), including more than 4.6 million reads of over 1.1 million unique plates between December 23, 2010 and May 31, 2014. The dataset is likely one of the largest ever publicly released in the United States—perhaps in the world.
After analyzing this data with a custom-built visualization tool, Ars can definitively demonstrate the data’s revelatory potential. Anyone in possession of enough data can often—but not always—make educated guesses about a target’s home or workplace, particularly when someone’s movements are consistent (as with a regular commute).

White House Ends Transparency During Sunshine Week

Redacted Tonight host Lee Camp sheds light on Washington's shadows in honor of Sunshine Week- a week where activists push for more government transparency. Unfortunately, there were several back-steps this past week with regards to transparency. The White House put into law the ability of one government department to avoid FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. White House Director of Communications Jen Psaki omitted the long list of US-backed violent coups throughout our recent history. And the NYPD began altering Wikipedia articles in several recent cases of police brutality. Redacted Tonight with Lee Camp airs Fridays at 8pm on RT America. You can watch full episodes subscribing to

Holder Addresses the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform

Attorney General Holder Addresses the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform
Washington, DC
United States
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Thank you, Van [Jones], for that kind introduction.  It’s a pleasure to be here today – and a privilege to join so many distinguished public servants, dedicated community leaders, passionate advocates and good friends as we discuss an opportunity to make our criminal justice system more effective, more efficient and more fair for all Americans.  I want to thank the leaders of Cut50 and Gingrich Productions for convening this important conference; the members of the sponsoring organizations for all of their work and support; and everyone here today for your commitment to the ongoing effort to ensure public safety, promote national security and defend the rights and privileges of every American.

We come together at a pivotal moment.  As you know, and as we have heard today, this country faces serious challenges—an excessive prison population that is draining our resources and devastating our communities; systemic institutional biases that disproportionately affect people of color; and an overreliance on incarceration at the expense of alternatives proven to prevent recidivism and strengthen our society.  These are momentous and complex issues calling for urgent and concrete solutions and it is abundantly clear that we cannot allow the status quo to persist.

But it is equally evident that we have an unprecedented opportunity – even at this time of deep division and stubborn gridlock – to bring about a fundamental shift in our criminal justice system, and to act together to drive historic change.  That opportunity is presented not only by the wide range of distinguished individuals who have come to this conference to speak out against injustice and speak up for progress, but also by the rare consensus emerging across the country.  Recently, we have seen conservative stakeholders like Koch Industries and Americans for Tax Reform join with progressive voices like the Center for American Progress to form a new coalition dedicated to this cause.  President Obama has held bipartisan meetings to discuss possible legislation on this topic with members of Congress, including some of the lawmakers who are here with us this morning.  And the administration has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with independent agencies like the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in our effort to make real the promise of equal justice for all.

The Department of Justice has been an early innovator on this front.  In August of 2013, I launched the Smart on Crime initiative – a groundbreaking reform effort designed to enhance public safety while strengthening our criminal justice system at every stage of the criminal process.  By modifying the Justice Department’s charging policies for certain low-level drug offenses, we are ensuring that individuals convicted of crimes face sentences commensurate with their conduct—enabling us to use our limited criminal justice resources more effectively to combat violent criminals, drug kingpins and high-level traffickers.  By pushing back against well-intentioned but overused and counterproductive zero-tolerance school discipline policies, we are preventing young people from becoming involved in the criminal justice system in the first place, and making sure that routine school discipline infractions are handled in the principal’s office – not in a police precinct.  And by investing in a range of cutting-edge diversion programs, such as drug rehabilitation and community service initiatives, we are reducing recidivism and lessening the burden on our nation’s brave law enforcement officers.

Based on all available evidence, we know that our approach is delivering real, measurable and meaningful positive results.  In the last year, federal prosecutors have gone from seeking a mandatory minimum penalty in two out of every three drug trafficking cases, to doing so in one out of two, representing the lowest rate ever recorded by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  Last year we also saw the first overall reduction in the federal prison population in 32 years.  Most impressive of all, we achieved this drop in incarceration while also cutting the overall crime rate, marking the first simultaneous national reduction in both crime and incarceration rates in more than four decades.

Of course, we also recognize that challenges to re-entry, and the likelihood of recidivism, can be exacerbated by an array of collateral consequences that make it more difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals to get a job, to further their education, to find housing and to participate fully in this country’s democratic institutions.  For example, across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions.  Nearly 150 years after Reconstruction, when felony disenfranchisement laws were first widely  implemented throughout the South to intentionally reduce the electoral strength of former slaves, 40 percent of these individuals are African-American – meaning that nearly one in 13 African-American adults is currently ineligible to cast a ballot.  In three states –Florida, Kentucky and Virginia – that ratio is one in five.

These statistics describe a nation at odds with the promise of its founding, and in tension with its most vital ideals.  They demand that we examine our institutions and reorient our practices to create the more perfect Union that our earliest citizens imagined and the more just society that all Americans deserve.

That’s why the Department of Justice has worked creatively and tirelessly to remove unnecessary obstructions to economic opportunity and independence.  It’s why I convened the Federal Interagency Reentry Council in 2011 to reduce barriers to successful reentry.  It’s why I’ve directed every United States Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator in his or her district to ensure that this work will be a top priority throughout the country.  It’s why I’ve ordered our law enforcement partners and asked state Attorneys General, to reconsider policies that target formerly incarcerated individuals with overly burdensome collateral consequences that do little to meaningfully improve public safety.  And it’s why I have called on governors and state legislatures around the country to tear down vestiges of an unworthy past and restore for all Americans the full and inviolable right to vote.

These are critically important efforts that will make a real and tangible difference in the lives of millions of Americans.  And as you are hearing today, the evidence-based strategies that we are applying – to ensure that 21st-century challenges are met with 21st-century solutions – are producing promising results at the state level as well.
In recent years, states across the country – supported by the department’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative and led by officials from both parties – have begun work to direct significant funding away from prison construction and toward interventions, such as drug treatment and effective supervision strategies that are known to reduce recidivism while improving public safety.  A report by the Urban Institute, supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, projected that 17 states implementing these practices would save $4.6 billion over a 10-year period.  The number of states involved in this initiative has since grown to 24.  And although the full impact of our justice reinvestment policies won’t be known for some time, it’s apparent that these efforts are making a difference already – and showing significant promise across the country.  From Texas, West Virginia and Kentucky, to Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Hawaii, substantial reinvestment and serious-minded reform are improving public safety and saving precious resources.

These innovations and results-oriented strategies have not only made our criminal justice practices more efficient and more effective – they have also made criminal justice more fair by helping to reduce the significant racial disparities within our prison population.  In 2011, while only 30 percent of Americans were black or Hispanic, the U.S. prison population was 60 percent black and Hispanic, a disparity that is simply too stark.  But justice reinvestment policies can help.  The Council of State Governments Justice Center recently examined data from three states – Georgia, Connecticut, and North Carolina – that have employed a Justice Reinvestment approach.  And I am pleased to announce that today our Bureau of Justice Assistance is releasing a report showing that these common-sense reforms produced a marked reduction in incarceration rates – particularly among men and women of color.

In Georgia, since sweeping criminal justice reforms were enacted three years ago, prison admissions have fallen by 8 percent and admissions among African Americans have fallen by 11 percent.  In Connecticut, the total number of people in state prisons has declined by 17 percent since 2008, while the number of incarcerated African Americans and Hispanics has dropped by 21 percent and 23 percent, respectively.  In North Carolina, expanded access to substance abuse treatment and new supervision practices, among other crucial reforms, have led to a 21 percent drop in total prison admissions between 2011 and 2014, while African-American and Hispanic admissions dropped by 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively.  And in each of these cases, policies that reduced racial disparities had no adverse effect on public safety.  In fact, all three states experienced a reduction in their overall crime rates.

These outstanding results demonstrate the effectiveness of our focus on the kind of innovative, data-driven and common sense approaches we are talking about today.  It’s the same spirit that we have applied – and that we must continue to apply – to a wide variety of public safety challenges, from reducing violent crime, to defending against cyberattacks, to safeguarding our vulnerable populations from exploitation and abuse.  It underlies our efforts to repair relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve through programs like the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which helps to rebuild bonds of trust wherever they have been eroded.  And it animates our work through programs like the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which was launched to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all our young people can reach their full potential.  These objectives are redefining the way this country approaches some of its most entrenched and intractable problems and in every case and circumstance, we are relying on the spirit of collaboration and innovation that brings us here today.

We must reject the notion that old practices are unchangeable, that the policies that have governed our institutions for decades cannot be altered and that the way things have always been done is the way they must always be done.  When the entire U.S. population has increased by a third since 1980, but the federal prison population has grown by almost 800 percent, it is time – long past time – to look critically at the way we employ incarceration.  When the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population but incarcerates almost a quarter of its prisoners, it is time – long past time – to reexamine our approach to criminal justice.  And when estimates show that a staggering 1 in 28 American children has a parent behind bars and that the ratio for African-American children is 1 in 9, it is time – long past time – to take decisive action in order to end a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration that traps too many individuals, degrades too many families and devastates too many communities.

That means more state legislatures must end felon disenfranchisement – and so many other barriers to reentry – for individuals who have served their sentences and rejoined their communities, and invest in alternatives to incarceration like drug courts – something I’d like to see in the next five years in every federal district in America.  It means Congress must act to restrict and refine those crimes to which mandatory minimums apply and extend the Fair Sentencing Act so that no one is serving a sentence based on a disparity in punishment between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses that Congress, the President and the Attorney General have all declared unjust.  And it means gatherings like this one must continue to bring together leaders and advocates, academics and public servants, from all backgrounds and circumstances, to renew our commitment to this vital cause.

Ultimately, it means that the work we have completed so far is only the beginning.  As we come together today, we must rededicate ourselves to the spirit of progress.  We must keep fighting for the high ideals that have animated our nation since its inception.  And we must keep standing up and speaking out – no matter the challenges we face – to eradicate victimization and end injustice in all its forms.  There is a long road still ahead of us, and our goals will not be achieved overnight.  But as I look out over the group assembled here, I cannot help but feel optimistic about the future we will build, and the mission we will advance together.

As you know, my time in this Administration will soon come to an end.  But I intend to remain engaged in this work—because, for me, it has never been only a professional obligation; it is a personal calling, and a moral imperative.  No matter what I do – and no matter where I am – I will continue to be an advocate for our efforts to create lasting change.  I will remain committed to fairness and to equality.  And I will always be proud of the work that we have done; of the progress that we have made; and of the challenges we have met with resourcefulness, with ingenuity, and with resolve.

Thank you, once again, for your outstanding work, your unfailing commitment and your devotion to our deepest values and highest ideals.  I look forward to all that we will do and achieve together in the months and years ahead.

Note: To access the report on "Examining the Changing Racial Composition of Three State Prison Populations" click here: [external link]
Updated March 27, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Come and Be a Part of History: An Invitation to Organizations‏

Another world is possible. Another system is necessary!
Our communities and our society are in crisis. There is no economic recovery for the poor and oppressed. State violence and political repression are a daily reality. Climate and environmental change threaten our survival. But we are resisting and building movement for the long haul.
We invite you to attend, to participate and to help create and shape the third US Social Forum June 24-28, 2015. To think together, vision together, act together, and strategize as a movement.

The US Social Forum comes out of the World Social Forum process, a gathering of social movement forces beginning in 2001, that rejects the neoliberal agenda of global capitalism under the banner “Another World is Possible.”

The prior US Social Forums convened in Atlanta in 2007 and in Detroit in 2010, drawing over 10,000 each time! This year, we are gathering in Philadelphia, PA, San Jose, CA and we are collaborating with organizations in the South in areas like Jackson, Houston, Florida and Georgia— with plans to link our work via technology.

This will be a perfect place for social change-agents to educate, agitate and organize together. It is more than an event – it is a movement building process led by poor people, people of color, immigrants, women, LGBT people – the people and organizations on the very front lines of struggle. We organize under a very specific set of principles, and unite under the banner “Another World is Possible. Another System is Necessary.”

So if you are working for peace, justice, democracy, equality, sustainability and liberation, we invite you to join us.

Register your organization so you can submit a workshop or a participatory Peoples Movement Assembly.  Or register yourself as an individual.

Your help is needed. Spread the word.  Join us!

United States Social Forum
US Social Forum
225 E. 26th St, Suite 1
Tuscon, AZ 85713
United States

Secretive group destroys candidates' chances, leaves few fingerprints

NRA-launched Law Enforcement Alliance of America targets state races

LAKE RIDGE, Va. —  Wedged between a nail salon and a pizza shop in a strip mall about 25 miles south of Washington, D.C., is a postal supply store where a small brass mailbox sits stuffed with unopened envelopes.

It’s the unlikely home of one of the country’s most mysterious political hit squads.
The Law Enforcement Alliance of America once had offices in a nearby office park, but it abandoned them more than a year ago. It hasn’t filed required IRS reports in two years, and its leaders, once visible on television and in congressional hearings, have all but vanished.

But the nonprofit that calls itself “the nation's largest coalition of law enforcement professionals, crime victims and concerned citizens” still has teeth. It has succeeded in helping knock out 12 state-level candidates in 14 years, including an Arkansas judicial candidate last year. In doing so, the group helped launch the current governors of Texas and Nevada to their stepping-stone positions as state attorneys general.

The LEAA uses brute tactics — parachuting into otherwise small-dollar races close to the end and buying up TV ads that accuse candidates of siding with “baby killers” and sexual predators.