Saturday, February 28, 2015

States predict inmates' future crimes with secretive surveys

...Across the country, states have turned to a data-driven movement to drive down prison populations, reduce recidivism and save billions of dollars. One emerging practice is the use of risk-and-needs assessment tools, which are questionnaires that explore issues beyond criminal history. They are based on surveys of offenders making their way through the justice system.

In a country with the highest incarceration numbers in the world, these questionnaires are a pillar of a new effort to get people out of prison. Repeat offenders are a major driver of bloated prison populations. But an Associated Press examination found significant problems with the surveys, which are used inconsistently across the United States, sometimes within the same jurisdiction.


Why Does the FBI Have to Manufacture its Own Plots if Terrorism and ISIS Are Such Grave Threats?

The FBI and major media outlets [on Wednesday] trumpeted the agency’s latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS... As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”

In this regard, this latest arrest appears to be quite similar to the overwhelming majority of terrorism arrests the FBI has proudly touted over the last decade.


Holder Delivers Remarks at Portrait Unveiling Commemorating Tenure at the Justice Department

Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarks at Portrait Unveiling Commemorating Tenure at the Justice Department
Washington, DC
United States
Friday, February 27, 2015
Remarks as prepared for delivery 
I came to this department as an unformed twenty- five year old graduate from law school.

I will leave grayer and wiser but still struck by the wonder of all that this great organization and its people have exposed me to.  I have made friends during my time here, and lost some of them to the vagaries of life, but each has left an indelible mark on who I am and who I still aspire to be.

The beauty of this department is that, at its best, it is, like our country, at its best, always growing, always changing, always being vigilant in the defense of those values that have distinguished this nation and made it truly exceptional.  This quality is derived from the ideals that serve as the foundation for all that we love about America.

Great as it is, our nation is not yet perfect.  The fact that we can acknowledge this is what truly distinguishes us as a people.

We have always examined ourselves and determined that which needs to be improved, that which needs to be maintained and that to which we should aspire.  This is the essence of, and beauty of, the United States of America.  Unlike other countries complacent in an older, sclerotic system, we are still, young, dynamic and unafraid to question ourselves.  This spirit led initially to revolution and then to the removal of the sin of slavery, the right for women to vote, a great civil rights movement that truly transformed our nation and now a recognition of the rights of all Americans regardless of their sexual orientation.

Make no mistake.  We still have unfinished business and work to do.  Reform of our criminal justice system must continue.  The historic wrongs visited upon our native people must be righted.  The widening gap in income inequality must be reversed.  In the defense of our nation we must always adhere to the values that define us.  And, at all costs, the right to vote must be protected.

That list may seem daunting, but if we are true to who we are as Americans, no problem is too big, no issue insurmountable.

Beware those who would take us back to a past that has really never existed or that was imbued with a forgotten inequity.

Our destiny as Americans is always ahead of us.  Our gaze is always focused on the horizon.  Those who have loved this nation most have dared greatly and sought to change the status quo for the better: the Founding Fathers who, never let it be forgotten, chose revolution rather than accept an unjust status quo, Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Garvey, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, John Lewis and Dr. King, JFK and LBJ, Vivian Malone, Harvey Milk — Barack Obama.

We should not fear change: it is part of who we are as Americans; it is what distinguishes us, makes us unique.

I leave this place proud of what we have accomplished over the last six years and grateful for all that DOJ has given me these past thirty nine years. This has been my home - and you will always be my family.

I thank the parents who raised me and the West Indian sensibility that they instilled in me, the New York City public school system that educated me, Columbia University that nurtured and tolerated me, the woman who has loved me so long, the kids who have been the joy and, I hope they really understand, the true pride of my life, a brother who has been more a dear friend than a sibling, the guys at the Colum and the crew from 24th Avenue and 101st Street.  And more recently, a President and colleagues in this Administration who stuck by me when I didn't always make it the easiest thing to do.

And I am grateful to this great nation who gave a black kid from East Elmhurst, Queens, New York City more support and opportunities than any individual could have hoped for.  Thank you America.

To the wonderful, dedicated, accomplished men and women of this great Department, I realize that I have asked for so much from each of you over the last six years.  But let me make one final request: Keep going.  Keep fighting.  Keep believing in your ability to improve our country and our world.

And know this: no Attorney General, no AG, has ever loved this institution or you more.  Not one.

I lack the words to fully convey what this place and all of you mean to me.  So let me end this way and paraphrase Duke Ellington: I will miss you as I have loved you all: madly.  I love you madly.

Thank you and good bye.
Updated February 27, 2015

U.S. Seeks to Deport Bosnians Over War Crimes

WASHINGTON — Immigration officials are moving to deport at least 150 Bosnians living in the United States who they believe took part in war crimes and “ethnic cleansing” during the bitter conflict that raged in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
In all, officials have identified about 300 immigrants who they believe concealed their involvement in wartime atrocities when they came to the United States as part of a wave of Bosnian war refugees fleeing the violence there. With more records from Bosnia becoming available, the officials said the number of suspects could eventually top 600.
“The more we dig, the more documents we find,” said Michael MacQueen, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement historian who has led many investigations in the agency’s war crimes section. The accused immigrants, many of them former soldiers from Bosnia, include a soccer coach in Virginia, a metal worker in Ohio and four hotel casino workers in Las Vegas.

Durbin wants to rein in prison use of solitary confinement

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is calling for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to reform how solitary confinement is used to discipline inmates. 
Though a BOP report released Friday found that the number of inmates being held in solitary confinement is declining, Durbin said the U.S. still holds more prisoners in segregated restricted housing any other diplomatic nation.
“Originally used to segregate the most violent prisoners in the nation’s supermax prisons, the practice has been used more frequently in recent years, including for the supposed protection of vulnerable groups like immigrants, children and LGBT inmates, according to a news release issued by Durbin’s office.
Durbin requested the first assessment of the segregation policies in 2013 after a hearing on human rights and the fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. From 2011 to 2014, the number of inmates in segregation dropped from 14,942 to 10,747.
But the report found that inmates are facing disproportionately long periods in confinement due to lack of time parameters. The report recommend the Bureau of Prisons reduce the length of segregation in Special Management Units from 18 to 24 months to 12 months.

Net Neutrality Is Here — Thanks To an Unprecedented Guerrilla Activism Campaign

Activists troll Comcast with Net Neutrality message from The Intercept on Vimeo.

[On Thursday] the Federal Communications Commission voted to guarantee the open Internet through so-called net neutrality rules, and with it, forged ahead with one of the biggest policy accomplishments of the Obama administration.

“This is probably the most important ruling in the history of the FCC,” says Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press.

Net neutrality, a principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally, was a founding concept for the web. But many Internet service providers have attempted to change that. Cell phone companies have attempted to block apps that could compete with their services and cable companies have pressed for paid prioritization, seeking extra income by forcing users to pay for faster connections to select websites.

For Internet start-ups and political activists alike, the efforts by the ISP industry to move away from net neutrality represented a transformation of the Internet, from a place in which all voices were equal to a world of big incumbent websites and corporate media-dominated information sources. “The question came down to, who ultimately controls this Internet? Is it going to be these powerful corporations?” says Karr.

And only a year ago, prospects for protecting net neutrality seemed doomed. The Internet service provider industry, including companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, had lobbied furiously against the rule, spending tens of millions on lobbying and on so-called “astroturf” efforts to pay third party groups to support their position. In January of 2014, a federal court struck down a previous iteration of the open Internet rules after Verizon filed suit. And shortly thereafter, the newly installed FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable and cell phone lobbyist, began moving forward with a plan that would allow broadband providers to create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.

Now, with the FCC voting to reclassify Internet access providers under Title II of the Communications Act, net neutrality rules are stronger than ever. The credit for such a seachange, say activists who agitated for the decision, belongs to a mix of online and traditional activism.

[Update: On Friday, three activist groups that strongly backed net neutrality — Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and Free Press — ...flew a victory lap, literally, around Comcast’s corporate headquarters in Philadelphia (see video above). A banner towed by an airplane mocked the corporate ISP giant with a picture of internet-famous feline “Grumpy Cat” and a message “Don’t Mess With The Internet. #SorryNotSorry.”]

The victory comes after a scrappy, underdog campaign. Pro-net neutrality protesters made headlines by storming hearings, confronting Wheeler at public events, and carrying out a string of stunts designed to raise public awareness.


Tsarnaev friend could be freed under Supreme Court ruling

A college friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may move to have his obstruction of justice conviction overturned, his lawyer said, after the US Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a ruling that redefined the law that prosecutors used to charge him.

Azamat Tazhayakov, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth classmate of Tsarnaev, was tried and convicted in US District Court in Boston last year under a stringent obstruction of justice law that was enacted in the wake of numerous Wall Street scandals in which company officials destroyed internal records.

The nation’s high court ruled Wednesday that federal prosecutors could not use that law to charge a Florida fisherman who had thrown undersized fish back into the water to avoid an investigation.

That obstruction of justice charge, which the majority of justices agreed was meant to address paperwork and computers destroyed to avoid detection, provides for a tougher penalty than other obstruction laws.


Opening remarks in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial set for March 4

Opening statements in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should begin next Wednesday, nearly two years after the bombs went off, as the federal judge overseeing the case wound down the difficult two-month process of picking a jury.

After weeks of interviewing potential jurors, US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. has found more than 64 suitable people to serve on what is known as a death-qualified jury, meaning those selected must be willing to hand out the death penalty.

During jury selection Wednesday, O’Toole told one potential juror that the trial “may well” last into June. Hundreds of people have been identified as potential witnesses.
On Monday morning, a hearing will be held to resolve last-minute legal matters.


Out of Prison, and Staying Out, After 3rd Strike in California

Formerly branded career criminals, those released over the last two years have returned to crime at a remarkably low rate — partly because they aged in prison, experts say, and participation in crime declines steadily after age 25, but also because of the intense practical aid and counseling many have received. And California’s experience with the release of these inmates provides one way forward as the country considers how to reduce incarceration without increasing crime.


#TDIH Waco

On Feb. 28, 1993, a gun battle erupted near Waco, Texas, when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to serve warrants on the Branch Davidians; four agents and six Davidians were killed as a 51-day standoff began.

Remove Unfair Barriers to Employment

About 70 million Americans have criminal histories that may prevent them from ever finding a job, even for arrests or minor convictions that occurred in the distant past. Fourteen states and about 100 cities and counties have tried to help by barring public agencies — and in some instances, private businesses — from asking job candidates about criminal convictions until later in the application process, when they have had a chance to prove their qualifications. These measures help, but federal action is needed to ensure that people with criminal convictions are not unfairly walled off from the job market.
The fair-chance employment movement started out slowly a decade ago but has recently gained momentum even among conservative elected officials who recognize that keeping people from working is counterproductive. This week Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, a Republican, signed an executive order that ends the practice of automatically barring state employment when there is a criminal record. The purpose is to cut recidivism.

Nemtsov, Putin Foe, Is Shot Dead in Shadow of Kremlin

MOSCOW — Boris Y. Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition leader and former first deputy prime minister, was shot dead Friday evening in central Moscow in the highest-profile assassination in Russia during the tenure of President Vladimir V. Putin.
The shooting, on a bridge near Red Square, under the towering domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, ended Mr. Nemtsov’s two-decade career as a champion of democratic reforms, beginning in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, and just days before he was to lead a rally to protest the war in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin condemned the killing, the Kremlin said, and Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said the president would personally lead the investigation.

House Passes One-Week Funding Extension for Homeland Security

WASHINGTON — Republicans vowing to govern effectively as a congressional majority failed a fundamental test Friday, when House leaders only narrowly managed to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security after an embarrassing defeat earlier in the day.
The seven-day funding extension, approved by a vote of 357 to 60, came just hours before money for the department was to run out at midnight. The accord was reached after a stunning and humiliating setback for Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team earlier Friday, when the House voted against their original plan to extend funding for the department for three weeks — a position that Mr. Boehner had considered a fail-safe. More than 50 House Republicans defected, voting against the bill.

Execution Stayed for Rodney Reed

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has stayed the execution of death row inmate Rodney Reed in response to a motion filed by his lawyers, including Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, earlier this month. According to the motion, three respected forensic pathologists have reviewed evidence in connection with the case and concluded that the victim, Stacey Stites, was murdered much earlier than the prosecution claimed at trial, that she was killed in a different location and that her body was taken to the location where it was found. The motion also includes affidavits from two of Stites’ former co-workers who corroborate Reed’s claims that he was having a clandestine romantic relationship with Stites.

Reed, who is black, maintains that they kept the relationship private because it was an interracial relationship in a small Texas community and because Stites was engaged to Jimmy Fennell, a former police officer with the Georgetown police department. These new facts provide strong new evidence supporting the defense theory that Stites was murdered by Fennell who is now in prison for the sexual assault of a woman while on the job.

The stay will give the court time to consider the new evidence presented in the motion. The stay will also provide Reed’s lawyers additional time to pursue their motion for additional DNA testing in the case, which they believe will further support his innocence claim or even prove that someone else actually committed the crime.
Download the stay order from the court here.


Mar. 11 - Rethinking Intelligence: What Will the Intelligence Enterprise Look Like in 10 Years?

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Defense One present:

Rethinking Intelligence:
What Will the Intelligence Enterprise
Look Like in 10 Years?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015
4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
4:00 p.m. Program
5:30 p.m. Cocktail Reception
Constance Milstein and Family Global Academic Center
1307 L Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
featuring video interviews with:
Danielle Brian
Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight
Mary Ellen Callahan
Former Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Freedom of Information Officer,
Department of Homeland Security
John Elliff
Former "Church Committee" Staff Member
Clark Kent Ervin
Former Inspector General, State Department and Department of Homeland Security
Benjamin Freidman
Fellow, Cato Institute
Melvin Goodman
Former Analyst, Central Intelligence Agency, State Department
Cynthia Lum
Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, George Mason University

In partnership with Defense One, former FBI veteran and Brennan Center Fellow Michael German interviewed former intelligence officials, congressional staffers, academic researchers, and advocates for an inside look at underlying structural and strategic problems in U.S. intelligence programs. Their arguments tackle three fundamental questions: what is the scope of the new intelligence community, why does it sometimes fail, and how should the U.S. reform it?

Join intelligence experts for an in-depth discussion about what’s working and what’s not with U.S. intelligence practices as well as a candid discussion about the future of national security policy. Interviews from the Brennan Center’s “Rethinking Intelligence” video project will also be screened.

CLICK HERE to RSVP. If you have any questions, please contact Brennan Center Events Manager, Jafreen Uddin, at or 646.292.8345.

Truth and Reconciliation Is Coming to America From the Grassroots

All over the US, we are witnessing the dawn of a truth and reconciliation movement. There is a rising chorus of voices that is helping us to collectively face an epidemic of racial violence, expose its deep historical roots, and stop it.

At this stage, there’s no centralized national truth and reconciliation body of the sort we saw in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. Instead, these expressions emanate from local, community-based and grassroots groups that are self-organizing rather than following the directives of a high-level governmental entity. For now, letting bottom-up, organic initiatives lead the way is a good thing.
To move toward a reconciled America, we have to do the work ourselves.


Invitation to Submit Testimony -- Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections

Invitation to Submit Testimony -- Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Washington, DC
The Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections is inviting written testimony on issues and challenges with the federal corrections system. The Colson Task Force, established by Congressional mandate, is a nine-person, bipartisan, blue ribbon panel charged with examining challenges in the federal corrections system and developing practical, data-driven policy responses. The insights shared in written testimony will inform the Task Force as it works to identify opportunities for criminal justice reform. Written testimonies should provide specific examples and recommendations for the Task Force to consider, and should focus on one or more of the following areas:
  • the impact of current federal prosecution, sentencing, release, and supervision policies and practices, and suggestions for reform;
  • the consequences of the current size of the federal prison population and its associated costs, and options to reduce the population and/or avert further growth;
  • the nature and impact of overcrowding in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities and proposed measures to address its consequences; and
  • the status of current BOP risk and needs assessment practices, substance abuse treatment, and rehabilitation and employment programs, and opportunities for improvement.
We encourage you to submit testimony of no more than five pages on one or more of the above topics. Written testimony should be double-spaced and no smaller than 12-point type. Citations should be included as endnotes and do not count towards the five-page limit. Written testimony must be emailed in Portable Document Format (PDF) to by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

The Task Force will also hold a public meeting in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 to hear public testimony. If you are interested in delivering in-person testimony to the Task Force at its March 11th hearing, please email your registration request to Following registration, all those invited to deliver oral testimony must provide complementary written testimony in accordance with the guidelines above by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Space is limited, and slots will be filled based on order of registration. Only one speaker per organization will be accepted for in-person testimony. Further information on the March 11th public hearing will be provided as details become available. If you have any questions, please contact Lilly Yu at the Urban Institute at 202-261-5297, or
The Task Force looks forward to receiving your testimony.

For more information on the Colson Task Force, please visit:

Life Sentences in the Federal System

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has published a new report highlighting life sentences in the federal system. In fiscal year 2013, life sentences were most common in cases involving drug trafficking, firearms, & murder. Forty-five percent of offenders serving life imprisonment were Black, 24.9% were White, and 24.2% were Hispanic. Read the full report.

The Commission also released results of its 2014 Survey of U.S. District Judges on Modification and Revocation of Probation and Supervised Release. Half of the U.S. district judges responding to the USSC survey handle more than 20 revocation cases annually. Read the survey results: Key data points are summarized here:

United States Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle, NE | Suite 2-500 | Washington, DC 20002
main (202) 502-4500 | fax (202) 502-4699

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Bee Die-Off

For years, honeybees were dying, and no one knew why.

There have been some glimmers of hope recently. The number of bee deaths wasn't as dramatic last winter. Studies began pointing the finger at pesticides.

But a simple fact remains: Bees still are on the decline, and no one's sure why.
They're dying in large numbers, and scientists are scrambling to identify the cause. Beekeepers used to see about 5 or 10 percent of the bees in their hives die every year, but starting in 2006, losses jumped to 30 percent. About 10 million beehives, worth an estimated $2 billion, have been lost since then. The numbers are down slightly for last winter, when beekeepers lost about 23 percent.

A lot has changed since the issue exploded into public consciousness. Here's what you need to know about what could be causing the bee die-off and what can be done about it.


Net Neutrality Is Back! But the Fight Isn't Over Yet

The FCC approved the rules in a 3-2 vote along party lines, with Democrats in the majority. The rules prevent internet providers like AT&T and Verizon from blocking legal content; degrading or slowing down their competitors' traffic; and favoring traffic in exchange for special fees.

"The internet has redefined commerce, and as the outpouring from 4 million Americans has demonstrated, the internet is the ultimate vehicle for free expression," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, referring to the 4 million people who commented on the agency's net neutrality proposals over the past year. "The internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules."

The open internet debate has taken some twists and turns since last January, when a federal appeals court threw out the FCC's last batch of net neutrality rules and sent regulators back to the drawing board. As public comments piled up and activists rallied across the country, Wheeler eventually shed the skin of a former industry insider and scrapped a milquetoast proposal in favor of a plan rooted in Title II, which advocates say gives the FCC the legal authority it needs to defend the rules against inevitable court challenges from the industry.

The Title II decision could also have a deep impact on the effort to hold broadband companies accountable to the needs of the public and close the "digital divide" that has left low-income and rural consumers, as well as people of color, with few options to stay connected.


Friday, February 27, 2015

#TDIH Occupation of Wounded Knee - 27 February 1973

The Wounded Knee Incident began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to protest the United States government's failure to fulfill treaties with Indian people and demand the reopening of treaty negotiations.

We Shall Remain - Episode 5: Wounded Knee

Jon Stewart Goes After Obama Admin. Prosecution of Whistleblowers

Jon Stewart used a case about an HSBC whistleblower to go after the Obama White House for its repeated prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act.

Stewart went over the many uses of the Espionage Act by the White House, and while he mistakenly believed whistleblowers are normally rewarded with “ten million dollars and unlimited blowjobs,” it turns out that they actually get in trouble.

He cited a few examples of whistleblowers getting in trouble, including the one that involved Fox News reporter James Rosen, and one whistleblower who was prosecuted for trying to reveal what the NSA’s up to. No, not that one, the other one.

Mike Allen interviews Attorney General Eric Holder

In his final weeks in office, Attorney General Holder plans to push for an easier standard of proof for civil-rights offenses, saying in an exit interview with POLITICO that such a change would make the federal government "a better backstop" against discrimination in cases like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin. "I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that's something that I am going to be talking about before I leave office," Holder, 64, said.

The attorney general's comments appeared to be aimed partly at preparing the country for the likelihood that no federal charges would be brought in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. Holder said the inquiry will be completed before he leaves office, expected around the second week of March. In a lengthy discussion, Holder said some of his own struggles with Republicans in Congress were driven partly by race. "There have been times when I thought that's at least a piece of it," Holder said. "I think that the primary motivator has probably been political in nature ... [but] you can't let it deflect you from ... your eyes on the prize."

Asked what book he'd recommend to a young person coming to Washington, like his 32-year-old aide Kevin Lewis, who started at the White House at age 26, Holder said: "I say this not to every African-American of his age, but for every American, that you read 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' to see the transition that that man went through, from petty criminal to a person who was severely and negatively afflicted by race, to somebody who ultimately saw the humanity in all of us," Holder said. "And that would be a book I would recommend to everybody."

Holder also told us he's writing a letter to Trayvon Martin's parents: "[O]ne of the things it's certainly going to talk about is my admiration for the way in which they have conducted themselves." And he said the country is ready for Hillary.

Story Transcript ... Video: Touring the A.G.'s office - messy or neat desk?

Eric Holder's parting shot: It's too hard to bring civil rights cases

In an exit interview, the attorney general says his critics may be partly driven by race.

Attorney General Eric Holder plans to push, during his final weeks in office, a new standard of proof for civil-rights offenses, saying in an exit interview with POLITICO that such a change would make the federal government “a better backstop” against discrimination in cases like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin.

In a lengthy discussion ranging from his own exposure to the civil rights movement of the ’60s to today’s controversies surrounding the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Holder also acknowledged that he felt some of his own struggles with Republicans in Congress during his six years in office were driven partly by race.

Read more:

Bipartisan sentencing bill gets White House support

WASHINGTON — President Obama is throwing his support behind a bipartisan proposal to change the nation's sentencing laws by cutting many mandatory minimum sentences in half.

That commitment came out of a meeting with 16 members of Congress at the White House Tuesday night, called by the president to gather their ideas on how to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Members of Congress who attended said the main topic of conversation was the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

Obama supported a similar bill in the last Congress, but the current proposal goes even further. Mandatory life sentences would be reduced to 20 years — effectively cutting life sentences in half because the current life sentence averages 40 years.

Another change: Those convicted of importing drugs into the United States would not be eligible for the reduced sentences unless they were merely couriers whose role was limited to transporting or storing drugs or money.


Canadian Spies Collect Domestic Emails In Secret Security Sweep

Canada’s electronic surveillance agency is covertly monitoring vast amounts of Canadians’ emails as part of a sweeping domestic cybersecurity operation, according to top-secret documents. The surveillance initiative, revealed Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, is sifting through millions of emails sent to Canadian government agencies and departments, archiving details about them on a database for months or even years. The data mining operation is carried out by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the National Security Agency. Its existence is disclosed in documents obtained by The Intercept from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.


How The Government Outsourced Intelligence To Silicon Valley

For years, the outsourcing of defense and intelligence work was, with good reason, controversial in political circles. But in the last years of Bill Clinton’s administration, the president authorized the CIA’s creation of the first US government–sponsored venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, designed to invest in cutting-edge Silicon Valley companies. The firm, named after Ian Fleming’s fictional character “Q,” who masterminds James Bond’s spy gadgets, was founded on September 29, 1999, when the intelligence agencies came to realize they couldn’t produce the technology required to make sense of the vast amount of data they had acquired. The firm’s mission is to “identify, adapt, and deliver innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and broader US community.”


We The People Have A Few New Ideas About Governance

It might surprise you to know that most states do not emphasize civic education, which includes learning about citizenship, law, and governance. So it is not surprising many US citizens believe government is something far removed from ‘real life’. Even some of the Founding Fathers said ‘common man’ couldn’t be trusted to run the country. Somewhere along the line, the governance of We the People became the domain of They the Few. We the People are not satisfied. Many have lost confidence in the national political process and are appalled at the wars waged in our names, at the broken justice system, our horrendous record on the environment, the lack of respect for teachers, and so on. That does not mean we have lost our faith in governance.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Occupy Oak Flat Protest Against Resolution Copper

Leaders of Occupy Oak Flat say they won't give up until the U.S. government repeals the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange. The San Carlos Apache Tribe, leading a three-week protest at the Oak Flat Campground, vows to remain there until the federal government bends. The controversial exchange gave Australian-British mining company Resolution Copper (a subsidiary of the largest mining company in the world, Rio Tinto) access to a vast underground copper reserve under Oak Flat. The deal trades 2,400 acres of previously federally protected land for 5,300 acres of company property. The land exchange was attached to the 2015 United States National Defense Authorization Act as a midnight rider after it failed to pass as a stand-alone bill multiple times during the last decade.


Note from the President on net neutrality

Malcolm X’s challenge to mass incarceration

To Malcolm X, prison was more than its bricks and mortar. It was a metaphor for racism. Prisons use armed force to deny the mobility, insult the integrity and restrict the civic and political participation of its captives. And for the black audiences who heard Malcolm X speak — men and women who went to underfunded schools, worked dangerous and low-paying jobs where they could find them, faced harassment in employment lines or welfare offices, were forced to live in only certain neighborhoods and in many parts of the country were barred from voting by police and vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan — the United States did mean prison.


Recreational Marijuana Now Legal In D.C.

After months of debate, threats and uncertainty, recreational marijuana became legal in Washington, D.C., Thursday -- at least according to the city government.

Adults 21 and over may now legally use marijuana, possess up to two ounces and grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes for personal use. Marijuana sales remain illegal, but the District Council is considering a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana sales, similar to laws in Colorado and Washington state. Because of the city's unique oversight by Congress, it's unclear if any measure legalizing marijuana sales and regulation could go into effect before 2016.

The legalization of marijuana on the federal government's home turf adds to a shift in U.S. marijuana policy that began when Colorado and Washington state allowed recreational marijuana two years ago. Alaska's new recreational marijuana law also took effect this week. Oregon's legalization takes effect later this year.


Net Neutrality Prevails In Historic FCC Vote

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to approve strong net neutrality rules in a stunning decision, defying vocal, months-long opposition by telecom and cable companies and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn joined Chairman Tom Wheeler to approve a rule that reclassifies consumer broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act.

The FCC intends to use this new authority to ban "paid prioritization," a practice whereby Internet service providers can charge content producers a premium for giving users more reliable access to that content, as well as to ban blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. These rules also apply to mobile access.


Arms Control for a Cyberage

A recently disclosed document from the National Security Agency about the escalation of cyberattacks between the United States and Iran presents a chilling summary of how swiftly cyberwarfare developed from the first salvos against Iran’s nuclear program a few years ago to a full-fledged cyberarms race.
The attacks and counterattacks grew in scope, it shows, even as the United States and its Western partners tried to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, fostering the sense that doomsday bombs of the past were being supplanted by futuristic weapons far easier to develop and deploy, yet with enormous potential for destruction.
The N.S.A. document — prepared in April 2013 for the agency’s director — was revealed this month by The Intercept, a website that reports on the trove from the former N.S.A. contractor Edward Snowden. It confirmed for the first time that American cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities — presumably including the Israeli-American Stuxnet attack against Iranian computers that is regarded as the first shot of cyberwar — led Iran to retaliate in 2012 against American banks and the Saudi Arabian national oil company. Iran, the memo declared, “has demonstrated a clear ability to learn from the capabilities and actions of others” and would most likely continue the attacks.

George Clooney on Sudan’s Rape of Darfur

In the early 2000s, a brutal conflict in western Sudan between the government and rebels led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, with millions displaced as refugees. In 2004, the United States declared Sudan’s actions a genocide.
After that spike in attention and concern, the world has largely forgotten about Darfur. Unfortunately, the government of Sudan has not.
Because Sudan’s government routinely blocks journalists from going into the Darfur region and severely restricts access for humanitarian workers, any window into life there is limited. The government has hammered the joint peacekeeping mission of the United Nations and African Union into silence about human rights concerns by shutting down the United Nations human rights office in the capital, Khartoum, hampering investigators of alleged human rights abuses and pressuring the peacekeeping force to withdraw.
Just last week, the regime reportedly convinced the peacekeeping mission to pull out of areas it says are stable, hoping no one takes a closer look. As a result, mass atrocities continue to occur in Darfur with no external witness. This is also the case in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains, two southern regions devastated by the government’s scorched-earth tactics.
Every once in a while, however, a sliver of evidence emerges. In recent years, citizen journalists and human rights defenders from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains have smuggled out videos showing bombing raids and burning villages. Images captured by our Satellite Sentinel Project confirmed the systematic burning and barrel bombing of at least half a dozen villages in Darfur’s eastern Jebel Marra area last year.
To avoid scrutiny, the government has spent millions of dollars provided by Qatar to set up “model villages,” where it encourages Darfuris displaced by violence to settle. Human Rights Watch recently documented a chilling incident of mass rape at one of these villages, Tabit.
After collecting more than 130 witness and survivor testimonies over the phone, its researchers concluded that at least 221 women had been raped by soldiers of the Sudanese Army over a 36-hour period last October. The peacekeepers’ attempts to investigate this incident were obstructed by the government, which allowed them into the town briefly for interviews that were conducted in a climate of intimidation. A leaked memo from the peacekeeping mission shows that Sudanese troops listened in on and even recorded many of the interviews. Since then, the people of Tabit have had their freedom of movement severely curtailed.
The army had controlled the town since 2011, with a base on the outskirts, and was not trying to drive the population from their homes to gain territory. The sexual violence has no military objective; rather, it is a tactic of social control, ethnic domination and demographic change. Acting with impunity, government forces victimize the entire community. Racial subordination is also an underlying message, as non-Arab groups are singled out for abuse.
Human rights courts around the world have found that rapes by army officials or police officers can constitute torture. When issuing its findings about crimes committed in a similar situation in Bosnia, the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia determined that the rapes of women at two camps were acts of torture since sexual violence was used as an instrument of terror. The mass rapes in Tabit follow the same pattern.
During our own visits to Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and refugee camps in neighboring countries, we have heard story after story like those from Tabit. These “torture rapes” are just one tool in Sudan’s criminal arsenal, which also includes aerial bombing of hospitals and agricultural fields, burning of villages and the denial of food aid.

Over time, international outrage has shifted away from Darfur. When change doesn’t come fast enough, attention spans are short — especially for places that appear to have no strategic importance. In the last two years, however, Darfur became important to the Sudanese government when major gold reserves were discovered in North Darfur, the region that includes Tabit.
According to the International Monetary Fund, gold sales earned Sudan $1.17 billion last year. Much of that gold is coming from Darfur and other conflict zones. The government has attempted to consolidate its control over the country’s gold mines in part by violent ethnic cleansing.
Unfortunately, the United Nations Security Council is too divided to respond with action to the crimes being committed in Darfur and other parts of Sudan. Russia and China, which have commercial links to Khartoum through arms sales and oil deals, are unwilling to apply pressure that might alter the calculations of the Khartoum government. But that doesn’t mean the international community is without leverage.

First, international banks, gold refiners and associations like the Dubai Multi Commodities Center and the London Bullion Market Association should raise alerts for Sudanese gold and initiate audits to trace it all to its mine of origin to ensure that purchases are not fueling war crimes in Darfur. The gold industry has already adopted a similar approach to suppliers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Second, the international community has imposed sanctions unevenly and without sufficient enforcement to have a significant impact. The United States and other countries should expand sanctions and step up enforcement to pressure Sudan to observe human rights and to negotiate for peace. Most important, the next wave of American sanctions should target the facilitators, including Sudanese and international banks, that do business with the regime either directly or through partners.
The “torture rapes” in Tabit are a reminder to the world that the same conditions that led to the United States’ declaration of genocide in Darfur are still firmly in place, with devastating human consequences. We must not forget the survivors, and we must impose deterrent costs on the orchestrators and their enablers.

'Jihadi John' Reportedly Identified

LONDON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The "Jihadi John" killer who has featured in several Islamic State beheading videos is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a middle class family who grew up in London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming, the Washington Post newspaper said.

In videos released by Islamic State (IS), the masked, black-clad militant brandishing a knife and speaking with an English accent appears to have carried out the beheadings of hostages including Americans and Britons.

The Washington Post said Emwazi was believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined IS.


Chicago 'black site': former US justice officials call for Homan Square inquiry

Two former senior Justice Department officials are calling on their colleagues to investigate a secretive warehouse used for interrogations by Chicago police and likened to a CIA “black site” facility.
Sam Bagenstos, who during Barack Obama’s first term was the Justice Department’s No 2 civil rights official, said that the Guardian’s exposé of the Homan Square police warehouse raised concerns about “a possible pattern or practice of violations of the fourth and fifth amendments” that warranted an inquiry.
William Yeomans, who worked in the civil rights division from 1981 to 2005, and served as its acting attorney, said the allegations about off-the-books interrogations and barred access to legal counsel reported by the Guardian merited a preliminary investigation to confirm them, a first step toward a full civil rights investigation.
“I would certainly call on them to take a look at it, yes,” Yeomans said.
A Guardian investigation details a secret facility where Americans were unable to be contacted by their legal counsel while locked inside and repeatedly denied access to basic constitutional rights.

Lynch clears committee with three GOP votes

Loretta Lynch cleared a key vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday in her bid to become the nation’s next attorney general, picking up support from three Republicans on the panel in favor of her confirmation.

The vote was 12-8. The three Republicans who backed her nomination, along with all committee Democrats, were Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Read more:

FCC approves net neutrality rules, reclassifies broadband as a utility

It's a good day for proponents of an open internet: the Federal Communications Commission just approved its long-awaited network neutrality plan, which reclassifies broadband internet as a Title II public utility and gives the agency more regulatory power in the process. And unlike the FCC's last stab at net neutrality in 2010, today's new rules also apply to mobile broadband. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler laid out the basic gist of the plan earlier this month -- it'll ban things like paid prioritization, a tactic some ISPs used to get additional fees from bandwidth heavy companies like Netflix, as well as slowdown of "lawful content." But now Wheeler's vision is more than just rhetoric, it's something the FCC can actively enforce.

"It [the Internet] is our printing press, it is our town square, it is our individual soap box and our shared platform for opportunity," said FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during today's open commission meeting. "That is why open internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality."


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Horrifying Truth of Life in Solitary Confinement, From People Who Lived It

After attempting suicide in 2005, Henry* was taken out of the general prison population and placed into solitary confinement. While there, he felt like the world was crushing in on him. He began hallucinating, and talking to people who weren't there.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice diagnosed Henry with bipolar I disorder with psychotic features, yet left him in isolation, where self-harm is eight times more likely and suicide five times more frequent than in the general prison population.
Henry is not the only one to meet such a fate. According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLUTx), more than 6,500 Texas prisoners, including those with preexisting mental health concerns, are currently confined to 60-square-foot windowless cells, alone. 
The ACLUTx collected tales of Texas inmates screaming, self-mutilating and hallucinating while in solitary confinement for its 2015 report, which asserts that such isolation not only compromises inmates' mental health but also leads to increased crime and violence within prisons.
Such assertions are all the more distressing in light of the fact that, as the New York Times has noted, prisoners sent to solitary confinement are often there for breaking a rule, and not for violent behavior. What's more, these horrific stories of seclusion, desolation and abuse aren't exclusive to Texas: Tens of thousands of people across the country are isolated in similar cells, with human contact limited to the hands of correctional officers sliding meals through door slots or, sometimes, physically harming detainees. African-Americans and Latinos are sent to solitary confinement in particularly large numbers, and these racialized groups are also subject to the harshest and most dehumanizing conditions

State of Sentencing 2014

The State of Sentencing 2014 highlights policy changes in 30 states and the District of Columbia in both the adult and juvenile justice systems, including scaling back sentences for low-level drug offenses, reducing barriers to reentry, and eliminating juvenile life without parole. The reforms highlighted in this report represent approaches that lawmakers and advocates can consider to address sentencing policy and collateral consequences at the state level.

Read the report:

Playing with Fire: How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison For Life

...The star witness was ATF Agent James Cooper. Zimmermann made sure the jury heard about his role investigating the Dupont hotel fire, as well as the bombing of the World Trade Center earlier that year. Cooper used slides to walk the jury through the signs of a deliberately set fire. There was the telltale “V” shape identifying the point of origin, in this case, in the living room near the front door. There was the charring, the irregular patterns that form after someone has poured a liquid accelerant on the ground. And there was the bedspread that had been used as a trailer, which tested positive for kerosene. Cooper was especially adamant about the pour patterns. “This is not a spill,” he insisted under cross-examination. “This is a pour and it was deliberately poured to get the fire going from the living room to the back of the house.”

Cooper was voluble and self-assured in his analysis. “These are signs that you can’t change,” he said. “They’re just waving at you, saying, here I am, look at me.” He explained that Claude could have sustained the burns to his face and hand while lighting the kerosene — like when “you’ve got a gas grill and sometimes it won’t ignite and you stick your head down there to see and you’ve got this open flame that comes back with a POOF!”

“I am totally satisfied that the cause of this fire was deliberately set and was set for the purpose of arson,” Cooper concluded. “It was not accidental, whatsoever.”

On August 20, 1993, after two and a half days of deliberations, the jury found Claude Garrett guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.


A Boy Among Men: What happens when you throw a teenager into an adult prison? Guess.

 In 2003, while John was still in elementary school, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, now usually known as PREA. It was intended to make experiences like his far less likely. But like many ambitious pieces of legislation, its promise has proved difficult to realize. The law required studies of the problem that took far longer than initially intended, and adoption of the guidelines they produced has been painfully slow, resting on the competence and dedication of particular employees. PREA has not been a complete failure, but it is also far from delivering on its promise, and John’s story illustrates many of the hurdles that have impeded the law and still lie in its path.


Fresh Nuclear Leak Detected At Fukushima Plant

Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant's operator announced Sunday, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the crippled plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and ground water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus. TEPCO said its emergency inspections of tanks storing nuclear waste water did not find any additional abnormalities, but the firm said it shut the gutter to prevent radioactive water from going into the Pacific Ocean. The higher-than-normal levels of contamination were detected at around 10 am (0100 GMT), with sensors showing radiation levels 50 to 70 times greater than usual, TEPCO said.


Goodlatte Seemed 'Remarkably Open' To Criminal Justice Reform At White House Meeting

The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was "remarkably open to many aspects of criminal justice reform" during a White House meeting on Tuesday, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told The Huffington Post.

Booker, in a HuffPost Live interview immediately following the meeting, said the discussion among a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers and President Barack Obama was "phenomenal." He said he told those at the meeting that criminal justice reform would have to be led by the House chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

"I believe -- and, God willing, I'm gonna go see him -- that he's gonna be a leader on significant reforms," Booker said.



The third inauguration: Evo Morales and nine years of paradox in Bolivia

Chellis writes from Bolivia about Evo's presidency and his third inauguration. In 2006 she was told: "Evo is a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. We'll find out how it tastes." How about sweet and sour? It's a mixed bag, as "paradox reigns."


The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site'

  • Exclusive: Secret interrogation facility reveals aspects of war on terror in US
  • ‘They disappeared us’: protester details 17-hour shackling without basic rights
  • Accounts describe police brutality, missing 15-year-old and one man’s death

  • The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

    The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.


    Keystone combatants brace for Obama's final call

    President Barack Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline bill leaves its supporters bracing for his next move: deciding the fate of the $8 billion project itself.

    Even if that answer is another no — as more Keystone backers are expecting — all of them vow that the heavy-oil pipeline will survive any attempt by Obama to kill it.
    Story Continued Below
    While Obama has never explicitly said whether he favors or opposes the Canada-to-Texas project, his recent public statements scoffing at Keystone’s alleged economic benefits have raised expectations among greens and pro-fossil-fuel Republicans alike that he will reject TransCanada Corp.’s six-year quest for a border-crossing permit.

    Obama has no deadline for making that verdict, but the speed of Tuesday’s veto suggests his administration may hustle to deliver a one-two punch by rejecting Keystone sooner rather than later. The White House issued the veto message within hours of receiving GOP-backed pipeline legislation aimed at taking the permit decision out of his hands.

    Read more:

    Sign the Letter to President Obama: #TIMEtoREJECT - #NoKXL - #OcetiRising

    The long and worthy fight over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is at an end, and the time for a decision draws near. We appreciate your veto of the congressional bill, and we fully support an outright rejection of the permit. We have followed the question of Keystone XL’s impact for many years, and those years have clarified a few key points.
    First, most of those who care about this project oppose it, and with an intensity matched by few issues in recent time.
    Beginning with Tribal Nations and with farmers and ranchers, the opposition spread over time to climate scientists, college students, moms, financial experts, many trade unionists, renewable energy proponents, nurses, artists and an ever-growing swath of the general population. A historic number of them were arrested for this cause; millions wrote public comments, or emailed their elected officials; everyone engaged in public dialogue in precisely the fashion you have asked. Everyday people have stood up to the money on the other side, and done so with civility, firmness, creativity and passion.
    Second, it’s now clearer than ever that the tar sands pose an incredible risk to the health and safety of our families and a livable planet.
    As a major study in Nature last month confirmed, a serious effort to control global warming must keep the ‘dirtiest oil in the world’ safely underground. Keystone XL must be evaluated not just as a pipeline but as part of the tar sands industry’s plans for rapid and reckless expansion. As you have stated, the climate impacts of major infrastructure projects are a matter of national — and international — interest. Rejecting Keystone XL is the kind of the principled choice leaders need to make. There is no way to reconcile this pipeline with a serious climate policy.
    Third, the arguments for this pipeline — never strong — have disappeared on closer examination.
    It is not a potent job-creating tool, nor a route to American energy independence; tar sands expansion is not inevitable; and the sheer number of leaks and spills means a tar sands pipeline would pose a clear danger to public health. It is, instead, a classic boondoggle, whose only beneficiaries will be a handful of rich oil companies while our families take on all the risk.
    Many of the choices that define a presidency come by accident or chance — some storm or crisis that demands a quick response. But this one is firmly in your control. Climate change will be a defining issue of this century. Rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline will powerfully demonstrate your commitment to stopping the rising of the oceans, set the stage for further climate action and build a legacy worth sharing.