Memo to a Federal Judge on Civil Disobedience

We’ve reached a surreal mile marker on the road to Orwell Land. When a federal judge sentences an 84-year-old nun to prison, on behalf of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, and then advises us to have more faith in the system, it’s time to get off that damn road.
Ralph Hutchison . . .
We’ve heard it from the bench in Oak Ridge city courtrooms and from state judges in Clinton, Tennessee. And on February 18 we heard it from a federal judge—there are two variations. The first: There are plenty of ways for you to protest and deliver your message without breaking the law. The second: If you people would just put this time and energy into working for the change you want in the political system, you might get the change you seek.
Both sentiments are either disingenuous or naïve.
But we’re expected to heed the advice of those judges and be grateful that they’ve shared their wisdom with us.
We should have more faith in the system, Judge Thapar?

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On the Detention of David Miranda

A lower U.K. court Wednesday upheld the legality of the nine-hour detention of NSA investigator Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under the Terrorism Act of 2000, and refused permission to appeal the decision. Greenwald comments on the outcome at The Intercept.
Greenwald writes:

The UK Government expressly argued that the release of the Snowden documents (which the free world calls “award-winning journalism“) is actually tantamount to “terrorism”, the same theory now being used by the Egyptian military regime to prosecute Al Jazeera journalists as terrorists. Congratulations to the UK government on the illustrious company it is once again keeping. British officials have also repeatedly threatened criminal prosecution of everyone involved in this reporting, including Guardian journalists and editors.

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How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia's Anti-Gay Movement

In November 2010, Russia's Sanctity of Motherhood organization kicked off its first-ever national conference. The theme, according to its organizers, was urgent: solving "the crisis of traditional family values" in a modernizing Russia. The day opened with a sextet leading 1,000 swaying attendees in a prayer. Some made the sign of the cross, others bowed or raised their arms to the sky before settling into the plush red and gold seats of the conference hall at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

On the second morning of the conference, the only American in attendance, a tall, collected man, stepped up for his speech. Larry Jacobs, vice president of the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an umbrella organization for the US religious right's heavy hitters, told the audience that American evangelicals had a 40-year track record of "defending life and family" and they hoped to be "true allies" in Russia's traditional values crusade.

The gathering marked the beginning of the family values fervor that has swept Russia in recent years. Warning that low birth rates are a threat to the long-term survival of the Russian people, politicians have been pushing to restrict abortion and encourage bigger families. Among the movement's successes is a law that passed last summer and garnered global outrage in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors," a vague term that has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships.

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Juror: Some On Panel Thought The Killing Of Unarmed Teen Jordan Davis Was ‘Justified’

On Saturday, a Florida jury convicted Michael Dunn on several counts of attempted murder for firing ten rounds into a vehicle full of teens after a dispute over loud music, but they deadlocked on the question of whether Dunn was guilty of first degree murder for killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. In the first interview since the shooting, one of the jurors told ABC News Wednesday that the reason for the deadlock was because several jurors believed Dunn was “justified” in shooting Davis under Florida’s self-defense laws.

“We took a poll,” said Juror #4, who identified herself by her first name, Valerie. “There were two of us undecided, two for ‘was justified’ and the rest were ‘not justified’.”

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A civil approach to changing policing

The funky Spadina Ave. loft presents the kind of diversity and hipness you’d find in an Apple ad. The glowing laptops, phones and tablets only reinforce the notion.
But what these young people — many either in university or early into careers — are doing is studying how policing works in Toronto. They’re working on a plan to blitz media outlets with educational op-ed pieces. A crowd-funded documentary is also in the works.
Dubbed the Policing Literacy Initiative, the group is the brainchild of Jamil Jivani, a 26-year-old Brampton native and recent Yale Law School grad. They have been meeting twice a month since August to talk all things policing.

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Brown promises, again, to fix the prisons. Will he?

There's always one kid in class who gets away with it. You know the one. The teacher says the homework is due Friday and if you don't turn it in, you flunk. But this kid pleads for more time. Just give him the weekend and he promises to get it done. The teacher says OK, then Monday comes and he asks to be given until the end of the week. And then he promises to turn it in at the end of the year. Then he says he can get it done by next April. Promise.
Now, how about two years from now?

Gov. Jerry Brown is the kid who got away with it, persuading a three-judge federal court panel to give him until February 2016 — long after this year's elections — to reduce the state's prison population by 5,500 inmates and to put in place anti-recidivism programs to keep the numbers down permanently. Even the judges expressed surprise at their own leniency, acknowledging that they've heard similar promises from California governors many times since 2009, when they ordered the state to shrink the inmate population to comply with constitutional strictures against cruel and unusual punishment. The judges noted that in the intervening years, prisoners have continued to be mistreated, that Californians have paid a financial price for the state's delay, and that "this court must also accept part of the blame for not acting more forcefully with regard to defendants' obduracy in the face of its continuing constitutional violations."

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‘Why Have You Gone to Russia Three Times in Two Months?’—Heathrow Customs Agent Interrogates Snowden Lawyer

A lawyer who represents National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and has spoken on his behalf numerous times was detained while going through customs at Heathrow airport in London.

Jesselyn Radack told Firedoglake she was directed to a specific Heathrow Border Force agent. He “didn’t seem interested” in her passport. She was then subjected to “very hostile questioning.”

As Radack recalled, she was asked why she was here. “To see friends,” she answered. “Who will you be seeing?” She answered, “A group called Sam Adams Associates.”

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Stand Your Ground is simply an invitation to more killing, not less crime

Since first-degree murder is apparently legal in Florida as long as the victims are black, it's important to look at the overall impact of the ALEC-funded evil Stand Your Ground laws. The upshot is: more death, more shooting, huge racial disparities in who is killed, and no decrease in crime. Not only do they allow racist killers to get away with murder, they don't provide even the least bit of deterrent to crime. In fact, it's likely quite the opposite:

For any given case, these questions are impossible to answer, and you can make arguments either way. But it is possible to say something more definitive about whether these laws have led to a greater number of total homicides. That is the question my coauthor Cheng Cheng and I addressed in our recent study in the Journal of Human Resources. We asked what happened to homicide rates in states that passed these laws between 2000 and 2010, compared to other states over the same time period. We found that homicide rates in states with a version of the Stand Your Ground law increased by an average of 8 percent over states without it — which translates to roughly 600 additional homicides per year. These homicides are classified by police as criminal homicides, not as justifiable homicides.

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This New Study Proves That Background Checks Save Lives

Missouri’s decision to repeal its law requiring all handgun purchasers to obtain a “permit-to-purchase” (PTP) verifying they passed a background check led to a 16 percent increase in the state murder rate, a new study from Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has found. The additional gun murders occurred as the national and regional homicide rates decreased.

State legislators eliminated the permit requirement in June of 2007, as part of a larger firearms bill granting criminal and civil immunity to homeowners who use deadly force against intruders. Proponents of the change, which included the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, boasted that the measure would streamline the purchasing process, save residents the $10 processing fee, and reduce the wait times.

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"Snowden Was Justified." Get the Facts and You’ll Likely Agree.

A New York audience devoted nearly two hours yesterday evening to a riveting Intelligence Squared debate about Edward Snowden and the surveillance regime that his disclosures revealed.

The motion up for debate was "Snowden Was Justified." Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, and Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden's legal advisor and the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. They debated Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director. A pre-debate vote revealed the audience's feelings on the whistleblower to be evenly split, with 29 percent for the motion, 29 percent against, and 42 percent undecided.

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Cecily McMillan's Occupy trial is a huge test of US civil liberties. Will they survive?

The US constitution's Bill of Rights is envied by much of the English-speaking world, even by people otherwise not enthralled by The American Way Of Life. Its fundamental liberties – freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom from warrantless search – are a mighty bulwark against overweening state power, to be sure.

But what are these rights actually worth in the United States these days?

Ask Cecily McMillan, a 25-year-old student and activist who was arrested two years ago during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Manhattan. Seized by police, she was beaten black and blue on her ribs and arms until she went into a seizure. When she felt her right breast grabbed from behind, McMillan instinctively threw an elbow, catching a cop under the eye, and that is why she is being prosecuted for assaulting a police officer, a class D felony with a possible seven-year prison term. Her trial began this week.

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Jury Fails to Convict a Man for Shooting a Teen to Death over Loud Rap Music

 A jury has declared that it could not reach a decision on whether a Florida man, who shot dead a teenager in a dispute over loud music, was guilty of murder or had acted in self defence. 
The judge in Jacksonville declared a mistrial on the first-degree murder charge on Saturday, although the jury convicted Michael Dunn on three lesser counts of second-degree murder, and shooting into an occupied vehicle. Dunn could face a sentence of between 20 and 60 years. 

Dunn, 47, shot Jordan Davis, 17, during the altercation at a Jacksonville gas station in November 2012, sparked by the youth’s refusal to turn off the thumping music blaring from the vehicle he was in with a group of friends. 

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Released After Decades of Incarceration, Elders of Color Have No Safety Net

 This article originally appeared at New America Media, and is reprinted here with their permission.
After devoting over 20 years as a prison social worker, Fordham University researcher Tina Maschi, PhD, declared, “There’s something wrong with society when in some ways staying in prison is better than getting out. The people who are older have a much greater struggle, because they have special needs that a younger population doesn’t.”

Current efforts to release prisoners from the nation’s overcrowded and increasingly costly prisons, such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s new initiative to let out more nonviolent federal inmates, barely touching on the needs of older inmates, which Maschi and other researchers say will be more likely to be paroled because of their high health care costs and low recidivism rates.

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Pot Shots: How to Smoke Medical Marijuana

You know how it is: first you get an assignment for Fortune magazine, and the next thing you know, you're taking pictures of people smoking pot. At least, that's how it worked for photographer Robyn Twomey. The Fortune story focused on the business of medical marijuana, and mostly entailed shooting pictures at pot dispensaries; but in the process Twomey got to know and photograph Jordan, a 19-year old who has a rare form of leukemia. This led to a series of over 30 portraits of medical marijuana clients as they administered their medication.

In these images, the smoke becomes part of the portrait: it's a gesture, it's a visualization of the subjects' breath, it's their environment. The smoke competes with the subject for our attention, and the strength of these pictures comes from the tension between the two.

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U.S. Attorney General: Time To Restore Voting Rights Of Every Person Who Has Completed Their Criminal Sentence

In the United States, some 5.8 million Americans can’t vote because they have a current or previous felony conviction — more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states. That figure includes one in 13 African American adults. In Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, one in five African Americans are barred by these felon disenfranchisement policies, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

Citing these figures and many others, Holder called out state laws that block ex-felons from voting as a vestige of Reconstruction-era voter suppression, and called for for states to repeal every law that prohibits those who have completed their sentence from voting. Holder’s address Tuesday morning at a criminal justice reform symposium is the latest in his “Smart on Crime” initiative that has included scaled back prosecution of crimes with mandatory minimum sentences, less targeting of those complying with state marijuana laws, diversion out of prison and improvement of offender re-entry, and a move to cut short the sentences of some drug offenders.

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Crime and punishment with Anthony Doob

photo of Anthony Doob
On February 6, Professor Emeritus Anthony N. Doob of the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies will deliver the annual John Ll. J. Edwards Lecture.
Doob is one of the three-most cited scholars in Canada and one of the top 25 most-cited scholars worldwide. He is renowned for his insights into our youth justice system, sentencing and imprisonment and for his influence on policy. Writer Kim Luke of Arts & Science Communications asked Doob to share his thoughts on Canada’s criminal justice system.

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Three Policies That Can Save Other Drug Users From Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Fate

Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on his bathroom floor Sunday night, with two bags of what is believed to be heroin beside him. If Hoffman did, as suspected, die of a drug overdose, he is one of an estimated 105 people who die every day from that cause. In 29 states, drug overdoses now kill more people than auto accidents. And use of heroin has more than doubled, over the past decade, while overdoses of legal opiates — painkillers — have skyrocketed.

Cop Who Allegedly Said ‘We Don’t Have Time For This’ Before Shooting Schizophrenic Teen Dead Has Been Indicted

A police officer who allegedly yelled “we don’t have time for this” before shooting and killing a schizophrenic teen has been indicted on manslaughter charges.

Officer Bryon Vassey was one of three officers from different North Carolina precincts to respond to a call by the family of 18-year-old Keith Vidal last month. The teen, who suffered from schizophrenia and weighed just 90 pounds, had apparently picked up a small screwdriver and wasn’t putting it down. But his parents say the two other officers already had the scene under control when Vassey walked in. They say the third officer simply tased Vidal, then took out a firearm and shot him dead, saying “we don’t have time for this.”

Records show Vassey was at the Vidal residence for just 70 seconds before calling in that shots had been fired, reports the North Carolina Star News.

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Inside the Shocking 'Kids For Cash' Juvenile Justice Scandal

Today a special on "kids for cash," the shocking story of how thousands of children in Pennsylvania were jailed by two corrupt judges who received $2.6 million in kickbacks from the builders and owners of private prison facilities. We hear from two of the youth: Charlie Balasavage was sent to juvenile detention after his parents unknowingly bought him a stolen scooter; Hillary Transue was detained for creating a MySpace page mocking her assistant high school principal. They were both 14 years old and were sentenced by the same judge, Judge Mark Ciavarella, who is now in jail himself — serving a 28-year sentence. Balasavage and Transue are featured in the new documentary, "Kids for Cash," by filmmaker Robert May, who also joins us. In addition, we speak to two mothers: Sandy Fonzo, whose son Ed Kenzakoski committed suicide after being imprisoned for years by Judge Ciavarella, and Hillary’s mother, Laurene Transue. Putting their stories into context of the larger scandal is attorney Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center. The story is still developing: In October, the private juvenile-detention companies in the scandal settled a civil lawsuit for $2.5 million.

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Study: DNA exonerations declined in 2013, while non-DNA exonerations rose sharply

A new report from the National Registry of Exonerations puts the total number of exonerations in the U.S. at 1,300. Read the report here. Some of the report's most surprising findings below.
The trends in 2013 reflect several long-term trends in exonerations in America:

*Twenty-seven (27) of the 87 known exonerations that occurred in 2013 -- almost one-third of the total number for the year -- were in cases in which no crime in fact occurred, a record number.
*Fifteen (15) known exonerations in 2013 -- 17 percent -- occurred in cases in which the defendants were convicted after pleading guilty, also a record number. The rate of exonerations after a guilty plea has doubled since 2008 and the number continues to grow.
*Thirty-three (33) known exonerations in 2013 -- 38 percent -- were obtained at the initiative or with the cooperation of law enforcement. This is the second highest annual total of exonerations with law enforcement cooperation, down slightly from 2012, but consistent with an upward trend in police and prosecutors taking increasingly active roles in reinvestigating possible false convictions.

In 2013, Reginald Griffin, who had been sentenced to death in Missouri, was exonerated, bringing the total number of death row exonerations to 143 across 26 states since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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Who’s Behind the Rapid Decline in Abortions in the U.S.?

The abortion rate has hit a 30-year low, but anti-choicers had nothing to do with it. The true force behind the drop in the number of abortions is contraception, brought to you by Planned Parenthood and pro-choice activists who have effectively made it universal.

That’s right: universal. About 99 percent of sexually active women have used birth control before and a great majority are still using it. The worrying thing is, however, these numbers were true before conservatives started shutting down clinics left and right.

[According to] the Guttmacher Institute, which records the abortion rate by surveying the known abortion providers in the country… between 2008 and 2011, the number of abortions fell to 1.1 million a year, a drop of 13 percent. Overall, abortion has been in a long-term decline for most of the time it’s been legal. In 1981, 29 women per 1,000 ages 15-44 had an abortion. In 2011, it was only 17 per 1,000.

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Why Do We Have Unsafe Abortion in the United States?

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, Eyal Press, a Nation contributor and the son of an OB/GYN who provided abortions, has a harrowing and important story about the rogue abortionist Steven Brigham, who has owned substandard clinics all around the country. Brigham has been involved in horrifically botched surgical abortions as well as a number of medical abortions that failed because he used methotrexate, a cheaper, less effective and more dangerous drug than the commonly prescribed mifepristone. In some cases, he began a procedure in New Jersey and then had patients driven to Maryland where he would complete it, so as to circumvent New Jersey law governing late-term abortion. One of his patients, an 18-year-old African-American girl who was twenty-one weeks pregnant, had to be airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital after her uterus was perforated and bowel damaged.

There have been complaints and investigations about Brigham going back to the 1990s, but somehow he continues to operate, moving from one state to another and opening new clinics when old ones are shut down. On the surface, his case, like that of gruesome Kermit Gosnell, seems like evidence for the anti-abortion movement’s contention that abortion clinics are under-regulated. “The argument about abortion often centers around the morality of killing the unborn,” writes Jillian Kay Melchior in National Review. “But Press’s story really hammers home the impact on the vulnerable women who often find themselves exploited at sketchy abortion clinics.”

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