Category Archives: Sterling

Baton Rouge Officer Who Shot Alton Sterling Will Not Be Charged

Mother Jones

The Department of Justice will not pursue criminal charges against an officer involved in the videotaped shooting of a man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last summer, the Washington Post has reported. The announcement—expected tomorrow—will be the first time under Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the department has publicly declined to press charges against an officer investigated in a high-profile police shooting case.

Alton Sterling, 37, was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge Police Department officer in July 2016, setting off days of protests in the city and nationwide. Two officers had responded to a call about a man outside a convenience store who had waived a gun at someone else. When they arrived, they found Sterling outside the store selling bootlegged CDs. A confrontation ensued in the parking lot (the beginning of the incident was not caught on camera), and an officer tased Sterling after ordering him to the ground, cell phone footage of the encounter shows. Sterling remained on his feet, and an officer tackled him while another rushed to handcuff him. In a second cell phone video, one officer is heard yelling “He’s got a gun!” Then he fires several shots into Sterling. Sterling was armed, but it’s unclear from either video whether he reached for his weapon before he was shot. Witnesses told local new outlets that Sterling never reached for his gun during the encounter.

Sterling’s shooting occurred the day before an officer shot and killed another man in a Minneapolis suburb in an incident that was streamed in part on Facebook Live by the man’s girlfriend, and in the same week that a black man—admittedly upset over police shootings of black men—opened fire on officers at a protest over the two shootings in Dallas, killing nine. Just over a week after that incident, three more officers were killed ambush-style in Baton Rouge.

The Obama DOJ launched a criminal investigation into whether the officer who shot Sterling had willfully violated his civil rights by doing so. On Tuesday, the Trump DOJ—led by adamantly pro-police Attorney General Jeff Sessions—will announce that it will not pursue charges against the officer, the Washington Post reports. The decision is not unsurprising—civil rights cases are notoriously difficult to prove in court. The DOJ declined to file criminal charges against officers involved in high-profile police shooting cases on numerous occasions under President Obama, including in the case of of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014.

The report of the Sterling decision comes amid a flurry of other police-related news this week, including the police shooting death of a 15-year-old boy in a Dallas suburb over the weekend and news today that the officer filmed shooting a North Charleston, South Carolina, man in the back multiples times in April 2015 had pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges similar to those considered in the Sterling case. You can read Mother Jones‘ deep dive investigation into the trial of that officer here.

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Baton Rouge Officer Who Shot Alton Sterling Will Not Be Charged

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15-Year-Old’s Death Shows What Can Happen When Cops Shoot at Cars

Mother Jones

Update (5/2/2017): The Balch Springs Police Department officer who shot and killed Jordan Edwards on Saturday has been fired, though the department still has not identified the officer. In a statement, Edwards’ family said they were “grateful” for the decision, but that there was still a “long road ahead” to justice.

Saturday’s police-involved shooting of a 15-year-old boy in a Dallas suburb has raised questions about the law enforcement practice of shooting at moving vehicles.

Jordan Edwards was killed while leaving a house party last weekend after a Balch Springs Police Department officer fired his rifle into a car Edwards and several others were riding in. Police officials originally said an officer had shot into the car after it had backed toward the officer in an “aggressive manner.” But at a Monday press conference that Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber held after reviewing police body camera video, the chief conceded that the vehicle had in fact been “moving forward as the officers approached.” The chief said the shooting “did not meet our core values” and that he was troubled by the video. Edwards is the 303rd person—and the youngest—killed by police this year, according to police shootings database maintained by the Washington Post.

Police shootings targeting moving vehicles have drawn increased scrutiny in recent years, prompting some departments to change their policies to discourage or even ban the practice. In January, the International Association of Chiefs of Police released new use-of-force guidelines that discourage officers from shooting at vehicles barring “exigent circumstances” or an immediate threat. Later that month, the Department of Justice slammed Chicago police officers’ “dangerous” and “counterproductive” habit of shooting at moving vehicles in a scathing report, pointing out that bullets are unlikely to disable a vehicle while carrying a high risk of shooting an innocent bystander or passenger—as was apparently the case in Edwards’ death. Research suggests that banning the practice can lead to fewer police shootings. One study by a criminologist at American University found that police involved shootings dropped by 30 percent in the three years after New York City changed its relevant policy. The number of people killed by police dropped by nearly 40 percent over the same time period.

The shooting took place after two police officers responded to a call about a rowdy house party Saturday night. Officers were inside the house trying to locate the owner when they heard what sounded like gunshots and went outside to investigate, according to a statement released by the police department on Monday. Numerous party-goers fled in panic, and according to Lee Merritt, an attorney for Edwards’ family, the boy, his two brothers, and a friend decided to leave. Once inside the car, Merrit says, they heard someone yelling profanities in their direction—then at least one bullet crashed through a passenger side window as they pulled off. The boys, who were unarmed, drove for about a block before realizing that Edwards had been struck in the head. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Balch Springs’ use-of-force policy encourages officers confronting an oncoming vehicle to “attempt to move out of its path, if possible, instead of discharging a firearm at it or any of its occupants.” The department has not released the name of the officer who shot Edwards or video of the shooting, but the officer has been “relieved of all duties” and placed on leave, Haber said.

The investigation into the shooting is being handled by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. Edwards family said he was was a star student and athlete with a 3.5 GPA, and Edwards’ football coach, teachers, and friends’ parents have offered glowing praise of the teen to local media outlets in the wake of the shooting. In a statement on Tuesday, Edwards’ family demanded “JUSTICE FOR JORDAN,” while calling on the community to refrain from protest as they prepare for Edwards funeral.


15-Year-Old’s Death Shows What Can Happen When Cops Shoot at Cars

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“He Killed a Man by Shooting the Man in the Back Cold-Bloodedly. The Country Isn’t Going to Bow Down.”

Mother Jones

Walter Scott in his Coast Guard days Courtesy of the Scott family

By now, you’ve probably heard that former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty on Tuesday afternoon to federal charges of using excessive force and violating the civil rights of Walter Scott in a police shooting that became national news. The big remaining questions are why Slager did so, and how much time he is likely to spend in prison. “It’s murder, regardless of what people think,” Ed Bryant, president of the local NAACP chapter, told reporters outside the courthouse.

Only a life sentence for Slager would be just, Bryant said: “The whole world has seen that. They know what he’s done. He killed a man by shooting the man in the back cold-bloodedly. The country isn’t going to bow down to that. No way.”

Five months ago, a Charleston jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in Slager’s murder trial—a trial I covered for Mother Jones as part of an in-depth story on the lives of the officer and his victim, the state of police training in America, and the obstacles to convicting cops for the questionable shootings we see so often in the headlines. Here’s a scene from the Slager-Scott confrontation:

The officer returned to his cruiser intending to run Scott’s license through an FBI database, standard procedure. Scott stepped out of his vehicle and then climbed back in when Slager, sitting in his squad car, instructed him to do so. But moments later, Scott got out a second time and ran toward an open field, the site of an abandoned trailer park, and onto a painted asphalt path known locally as the Yellow Brick Road. Slager pursued on foot, warning that he was preparing to fire his stun gun: “Taser! Taser! Taser!” Scott didn’t stop, so Slager hit him with two darts.

The electricity brought Scott to his knees, but he refused to surrender. Slager then “drive-stunned” Scott—put the business end of the Taser directly on him and pulled the trigger—but could not cuff him. The men scuffled on the ground, and a winded Slager pleaded for backup. “One-five-six,” he said into his radio, calling out the badge number of the officer he knew was closest. “Step it up!”

Scott managed to break free and run away in a slow, wobbly gait. This time Slager did not give chase. He unholstered his .45-caliber Glock, took a stance, and put his left hand underneath to steady the weapon. His form was perfect, like in a training video. The only problem was that his gun was aimed at the back of a fleeing man. He squeezed off eight quick shots.

Local prosecutors in South Carolina were scheduled to retry Slager in August, but instead, as part of what is called a “global plea agreement” they agreed to drop the state charges in exchange for a guilty plea in the federal case. Slager, who will be sentenced at a later date, faces up to life in prison, but he will likely get far less. There is no mandatory minimum sentence. And, as I wrote in my prior story, the average sentence for officers convicted of murder or manslaughter over the past decade or so has been less than four years. Slager was led away after the hearing today in handcuffs. His lawyer, Andrew Savage III, said in a written statement, “We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss.”

While reporting my story about the case, I toured the police academy where Slager was trained—for 9 weeks, as opposed to the 26 required of an NYPD officer. Inferior training was a key element of Slager’s defense. And while much of the instruction I witnessed seemed thoughtful enough, there was simply too little of it.

A report issued in March 2016 by the Police Executive Research Forum argued that misguided training—specifically, instruction that teaches officers to “draw a line in the sand” and resolve confrontations quickly—contributes directly to problematic shootings by police. Cops in training spend a median of 58 hours on firearms proficiency but just 8 hours learning de-escalation tactics to bring episodes to peaceful conclusions, according to PERF’s research. The mechanics of firing a weapon are usually taught separately from the question of when to use it.

Savage, Slager’s lawyer, had talked to prosecutors from the start about a possible deal, but they had not been able to agree on the length of a term. Although a judge will impose the sentence, Slager’s defense team and prosecutors most likely will have agreed to a sentence the government will recommend—those terms were not made clear on Tuesday. Before the deal was finalized, the government also contacted the family of Walter Scott to ascertain what penalty—if any—they would consider just. The plea deal, which you can read here, says Slager understands that the government will advocate he be sentenced under the guidelines applied to second-degree murder, the equivalent of manslaughter.

Tuesday’s plea arrangement represents a stark reversal in Slager’s account of what occurred on April 4, 2015, the day he fired eight shots at the unarmed Scott, from behind, as Scott fled. The shooting was caught on video by a bystander and viewed millions of times on the internet. Slager testified late last year that Scott was getting the better of him in a fight and he feared for his life. He told investigators initially that Scott had gained control of his Taser, though the video cast that story into grave doubt. The plea agreement states:

“The defendant used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. The defendant acknowledges that his actions were done willfully, that he acted voluntarily and intentionally and with specific intent to do something that the law forbids.”

Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Ohio’s Bowling Green University who has done extensive research on police-involved shootings, says Slager could have decided to plead guilty for a variety of reasons. The first is that federal charges against officers who shoot and kill civilians tend to be easier to prove—though it is notoriously difficult to convict a police officer in an on-duty shooting. “His defense team may have realized the Justice Department had a good case,” Stinson says. “But it could also be that the defendant exhausted his capital in many ways, not just financial, but in terms of family considerations. He may have wanted closure.”

Slager’s lawyer took the case pro bono, and after the trial last fall said he had provided a defense that would have cost more than $1 million had he billed for it. Stinson points out that one calculation of pleading to federal rather than the state charges is the quality of the respective correctional facilities: “He may end up in a prison that is more tolerable than what would have been the case in South Carolina.”

One reason it is so difficult to convict police officers is that their jobs are, in fact, often dangerous. Police and their defense teams can effectively persuade juries that, even if they made an error in judgment, they reasonably feared for their lives. One thing that made the Slager case different—and the hung jury in the first trial so shocking to many—is that the cellphone video recorded by Feidin Santana, a 23-year-old Dominican immigrant on his way to work as a barber, seemed to show a clearly egregious act.

“I don’t get surprised by much,” said criminologist Philip Stinson, “but that video took my breath away.”

Slager was not under imminent threat. After the shooting, he appeared to plant evidence by retreating to where the scuffle had taken place to retrieve his Taser and then placing it beside Scott’s prone body. Slager described a different sequence of events in the hours after the shooting, but more recently he has testified that he has no memory at all of those interviews with investigators.

His memory loss could be viewed as a calculated strategy. Or, alternatively, as an indication of a defendant who was not in the best of mental states to withstand a new trial and, as he did in the state court, testify on his own behalf.

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“He Killed a Man by Shooting the Man in the Back Cold-Bloodedly. The Country Isn’t Going to Bow Down.”

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The National Urban League Just Released a Report that Shows Black America Has a Lot to Worry About Under Trump

Mother Jones

Black and Hispanic Americans continue to lag behind their white counterparts when it comes to equal access to employment, housing, education, and other areas. But a new report argues that with a new presidential administration unlikely to enforce longstanding civil rights laws, black America must also fight to protect the progress that they have already made.

That’s the main takeaway from the 2017 State of Black America report, released Tuesday by the National Urban League, a civil rights organization established in 1910 to focus on the economic empowerment of African Americans. The report, which has been released annually for more than four decades, evaluates how black life in America compares to that of whites on a number of issues, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

For the past 13 years, the report has utilized a “National Equality Index,” a set of statistical measurements that provide a quantitative breakdown to assess exactly how the lives of blacks and Hispanics stack up when compared to whites in the United States. White America is given the baseline number of 100, which is intended to represent the full access to opportunity that whites have historically been afforded when compared to other racial groups. By giving each metric a score out of 100, the report is able to provide a specific assessment of the progress nonwhite groups have made in narrowing the gaps, and how much they continue to lag behind over time.

This year’s report tracks through the end of 2016, making it the last one to follow the progress of black America under President Barack Obama. Marc Morial, the President of the National Urban League, tells Mother Jones, that while looking at yearly changes in the measured variables make it difficult to grasp long-term shifts in the equality of nonwhite groups, this year provided an opportunity to assess the difference in the status of black Americans after eight years with the first African American president. “During the Obama era, the economy added 15 million new jobs, the Black unemployment rate dropped and the high school graduation rate for African Americans soared,” Morial notes in the report. “Now that progress, and much more, is threatened.”

The 2016 edition, which was entitled “Locked Out: Education, Jobs, and Justice,” emphasized that black America still had much farther to go, but this year’s report—”Protect our Progress”—argues that under the Trump administration many hard-won gains are in jeopardy. In an interview with Mother Jones before the report’s launch, Morial noted that the presidential election had played a large role in the shift in tone of the report, adding during the official launch on Tuesday, “It would be difficult to pinpoint any moment in recent history where so much of our economic and social progress stood at dire risk as it does today.”

“There are several actions taken by the new administration that raise great cause for concern,” Morial says. He points to the Justice Department as his most immediate concern, noting Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to undermine consent decrees with police departments and voting rights enforcement “are inconsistent with the idea of a Justice Department that should enforce civil rights law.” He also points to the Department of Education, and “what could be an anti-public schools agenda” should the agency make good on its promise to promote school choice.

The report notes there have been small, but important, developments over the past year. Overall, Black Americans are 72.3 percent equal to their white counterparts, slight progress from last year when they stood at 72.2 percent. Specific areas reveal a more complicated picture. Across individual metrics there were some slight increases for black America, with education moving to 78.2 percent from 77.4 percent last year, likely because of an increase in the number of students working with more experienced teachers and a decline in the number of high school dropouts across all racial groups. Health outcomes improved from 79.4 percent to 80 percent, which may be because of more equal Medicare expenditures among blacks and whites. Economics—a metric that takes employment rates, wages, and business ownership into account—increased slightly to 56.5 percent from 56.2 percent with continued improvements in the black unemployment rate.

Black Americans are more civically engaged than whites, scoring 100.6 percent in both years. Social justice declined, falling to 57.4 percent in 2017 from 60.9 percent last year. The National Urban League attributes much of the decline to the change in the way the Bureau of Justice Statistics—a main source of raw data for the social justice index’s calculation of racial disparities in traffic enforcement—reports racial disparities in traffic stops.

The report also tracks the equality of Hispanics compared to whites, finding that overall, Hispanic Americans are at 78.4 percent in 2017 compared to 77.9 percent in the previous year. Much of this increase was due to a jump in the health index, which can be attributed to a decrease in the maternal mortality rate and an increase in insurance coverage. Similar to black Americans, there were also increases in economics and education. These increases helped offset declines in civic engagement and social justice.

The National Urban League also tracks gaps in unemployment and income equality between racial groups living in major metropolitan areas, and found the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California, metro area continues to have the smallest gap between the incomes of black and white residents. Minneapolis, Minnesota, has the largest. The unemployment rate between the races in the San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas, metro area has the smallest disparity, while Milwaukee has the greatest. For Hispanics, the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida, metro region is best for unemployment equality—Rochester, New York, is the worst. While Modesto, California has the smallest racial income gap, Springfield, Massachusetts, has the largest according to the report.

The State of Black America describes the problems but it also attempts to outline proposed policy solutions in the portion of the report entitled “Main Street Marshall Plan.” During Tuesday’s press conference, Morial called the plan—which supports several policy proposals including a $15 minimum wage, universal childhood education, summer jobs for youth, job training and workforce development, infrastructure, and affordable housing—a “forward-leaning investment,” suggesting that its rigorous research could provide politicians with some guidance as they plan for the future.

Critics have already slammed the Trump administration for being weak on civil rights, and the president notably declined an invitation to address the National Urban League’s annual conference during the election season. The National Urban League has not met with Trump recently, but members of the organization have met with Ivanka Trump and spoken to Jeff Sessions. In the past month several groups, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus, have held discussions with the administration and offered policy proposals for communities of color, only to then speak out when the administration moved against civil rights in some way.

Still Morial remains confident that even under these conditions, there is a chance for progress. “Obviously in this political environment, we are going to face headwinds,” he says. “However I think that this is just a question of politicians being able to get their act together.”

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The National Urban League Just Released a Report that Shows Black America Has a Lot to Worry About Under Trump

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Sean Spicer Runs Away from Press Briefing Without Answering Questions

Mother Jones

Sean Spicer’s tenure as White House press secretary has been rife with endless gaffes, back-flip defenses of his boss, and a highly combative relationship with the reporters he has to face daily.

On Tuesday, it appeared as though Spicer may finally have had enough. Here he is ditching his own press briefing, while stunned reporters erupt in cries for him to answer their questions:

The soundtrack for a presidency.

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Sean Spicer Runs Away from Press Briefing Without Answering Questions

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A Lot of Republicans Are Abandoning the Latest Trumpcare Plan

Mother Jones

Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare could once again be in trouble. According to whip counts from various news outlets, Republicans have already lost nearly enough support from their own members in the House of Representatives to tank the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s bill that would rip apart and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The latest blow for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) came Tuesday, when Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that he’d vote against the bill. Upton is a particularly notable defection, since he’s the former chairman of one of the committees that deals with health care, and he’s spent years trying to undo Obamacare. But the current GOP repeal effort goes too far for Upton, because it would essentially end Obamacare’s ban on discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. “I’m not at all comfortable with removing that protection,” Upton said in a radio interview.

Last week, Republicans thought they were headed toward a deal that could pass the House. The hardcore conservatives in the Freedom Caucus had finally relented and offered their support for the AHCA after an amendment was introduced that would allow states to opt out of two of the core consumer protections in Obamacare: essential health benefits, and the prohibition on insurance companies charging higher rates for people with preexisting conditions. In other words, in order to win over the far-right members of their caucus, Ryan and other House leaders accepted a proposal that would allow insurance companies to once again price-gouge people with any sort of medical history.

But by caving to the Freedom Caucus and agreeing to ditch one of the most popular aspects of Obamacare, Ryan has lost support from a number of mainline Republicans in his caucus—Republicans who were already waffling thanks to the initial bill’s $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid and policies that would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans higher rates.

Republicans can likely afford to lose just 22 votes and still pass their bill. (The exact number depends on how many members of Congress are present if the vote ever happens.) Per a tabulation by HuffPost‘s Matt Fuller, there are 20 Republicans who have publicly said they will vote “No,” with another eight leaning against the bill. And those are just the Republicans willing to share their plains with the press. It’s possible that others are hesitant to publicly defy GOP leadership but are also wary of voting to repeal protections for their many constituents who suffer from preexisting conditions.

Ryan’s strategy for convincing his colleagues to support the bill seems to be to lie about what it actually does. After Upton announced his plans to vote against the proposal Tuesday, Ryan tweeted that it was “VERIFIED” that the bill protects people with preexisting conditions, despite the bill explicitly doing the exact opposite. Ryan’s own website acknowledges that fact, noting that the GOP plan would let states wave the current ban on preexisting condition pricing differences:

President Donald Trump has helped muddy GOP negotiations in recent days with a string of contradictory messages about what sort of health care bill he’d like to sign. In interviews, Trump has said both that the bill already protects people with preexisting conditions (not true) and also that the bill would be altered to add in those protections.

Still, despite all this bad news, Republicans have good reason to want to rush their bill through this week. While the public vote tallies aren’t favorable to Republicans, leadership is applying pressure behind the scenes that could possibly flip enough votes. Ryan reportedly asked his caucus to “pray” for the bill on Tuesday.

Ryan doesn’t have a ton of time, though. Congress is scheduled to leave town Thursday for a one-week recess, and a week of angry town hall events back home isn’t likely to shore up wavering moderates who are hesitant to overturn the preexisting condition ban and slash Medicaid.

What’s more, the amendment to end the preexisting condition protections hasn’t been analyzed yet by the Congressional Budget Office. When the CBO ran the numbers on the initial GOP proposal, it projected that 24 million fewer people would have health coverage if the plan became law. That number would probably rise under the new proposal, and premiums for people with preexisting conditions would likely skyrocket. But the CBO hasn’t yet had time to score the new legislation, leaving Republicans a brief window in which they could pass the bill before the American public has a chance to hear what it will actually do.

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A Lot of Republicans Are Abandoning the Latest Trumpcare Plan

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Jimmy Kimmel Makes Impassioned Plea to Save Obamacare After Son’s Heart Surgery

Mother Jones

In an emotional plea to protect the Affordable Care Act, Jimmy Kimmel opened his show on Monday by sharing the news of his newborn baby’s open-heart surgery just 10 days before. The late-night host prefaced the monologue by saying the story had a “happy ending”—both the baby and mother were now home and in good health—but revealed that the heart-wrenching experience had moved him to speak out against President Donald Trump’s desire to repeal his predecessor’s signature health care law.

“We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all,” Kimmel said visibly shaken. “You know, before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease, like my son was, there’s a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance, because you had a preexisting condition.”

“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”

The impassioned monologue was roundly praised by audience members and Democratic officials online. Barack Obama even weighed in to thank Kimmel for sharing his personal story:

Kimmel’s powerful address comes amid the Trump administration’s second harried attempt to dismantle Obamacare, after Republicans pulled their repeal bill in March.

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Jimmy Kimmel Makes Impassioned Plea to Save Obamacare After Son’s Heart Surgery

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Donald Trump’s First 100 Days in Office Have Been a Disaster. Scott Pruitt’s Have Been Even Worse.

Mother Jones

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The far right’s opinion of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has plummeted since the time Breitbart News praised him for doing “the Lord’s work” in early March. In only a few short weeks, Breitbart‘s tone shifted, so by the end of the month, the news site, described by Trump adviser Steve Bannon as “the platform for the alt-right,” warned, “If Scott Pruitt is not up to that task, then maybe it’s about time he did the decent thing and handed over the reins to someone who is.”

Criticism from the left and center was inevitable for a former attorney general who challenged environmental rules on 14 occasions. But the same week the Trump administration rolled out its executive order targeting the Obama administration’s work on climate change, Pruitt also faced an onslaught of unexpected criticism from the far right. Climate change deniers think Pruitt hasn’t gone far enough or fast enough or stood his ground defending their position on the science. And that’s just for starters.

As I previously reported, one issue tops climate change deniers’ wish list for the Trump administration, and that’s gutting the climate endangerment finding. The endangerment finding is a science-based determination, prompted by a Supreme Court decision in 2007, that is the foundational basis for the agency’s regulatory work on climate change.

Analyst H. Sterling Burnett of the Heartland Institute—the right-wing think tank that is best known for pushing out misinformation on climate change—rattled off reasons he’s happy with what Pruitt and the Trump administration have done so far in their reversal of a Clean Water Act rule and clearing the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. But he was firm that the endangerment finding still must go. “My belief is if he doesn’t ultimately get rid of the endangerment finding it undermines all the good work so far,” Burnett said. He notes the endangerment finding poses a legal problem for his organization’s ambitions of gutting the EPA as we know it.

“The endangerment finding ultimately undermines all the climate rules Obama sought to impose,” Burnett continued. “If all Trump does is revisit the Clean Power Plan and the fuel economy standard and withdraw it, environmentalists can just go to court and say, ‘This is an endangerment to human health—you’ve got to do something.’ I think the courts will say, ‘You know, you’re right.'”

Heartland, which has received funding from the Koch brothers and Exxon and ultimately wants to end the EPA, isn’t the only one echoing this all-or-nothing thinking. “People I know are trying to finesse around the endangerment finding,” Cato Institute’s Pat Michaels said to Heartland Institute’s gathering of climate change deniers in late March. “There is no way to finesse around a monster.”

There appears to be an unconfirmed rumor circulating in climate change denier circles that Pruitt has not read EPA recommendations from the transition team, which was led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell. That’s according to Steve Milloy, who contends the EPA overstates the dangers of air pollution; he has also denied human contributions to climate change.

Climate change deniers make rescinding the endangerment finding sound simple. It isn’t. Climate advocates and former EPA officials remain confident it will survive, even as Trump takes aim at much of the EPA’s Obama-era climate work, from fuel economy standards to its regulations on power plants.

“The science basis for climate change and the fact that human activity is the driver of increased CO2 in the atmosphere is, if anything, more compelling than it was in 2009,” said ex-EPA air chief Janet McCabe in an email to Mother Jones. “Any review of the endangerment finding would need to consider all the available science and respond to the public comments that will certainly be provided to the agency on such an important issue. Any revision to the finding will surely be challenged in court, and EPA would need to be able to defend in court any conclusion that is contrary to the vast majority of climate and other scientists in the US and around the world.”

One executive order targeting a broad swath of climate initiatives wouldn’t be enough for the hard-liners. And aside from not having eliminated the endangerment finding, Pruitt is getting slammed by people who should be his natural supporters.

Fox News moderator Chris Wallace asked Pruitt on Sunday about his recent remarks denying the role humans play in climate change and the health consequences of Trump’s EPA budget cuts. Pruitt had said he would “not agree” human activity is a “primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” Pruitt’s original comments have prompted an investigation from the EPA inspector general and drew a rare rebuke from the American Meteorological Society. During the Fox interview, Pruitt still walked the line of climate denial but more subtly, saying that “climate is changing and human activity contributes to that change in some measure.” Breitbart columnist James Delingpole seized on the exchange, criticizing the EPA administrator for wobbling on science denial. It was “an ugly and painful sight,” he wrote.

The problems don’t end there. The Trump administration hasn’t yet filled any of the key political appointments at the agency, even as several on its transition team have stepped down. David Schnare, who like Pruitt sued the agency when he was at the conservative Energy & Environment Legal Institute, recently resigned, cryptically hinting at his frustration with the slow pace of changes the Trump administration is making at the agency. “The backstory to my resignation is extremely complex,” he told E&E News. “I will be writing about it myself. It is a story not about me, but about a much more interesting set of events involving misuse of federal funds, failure to honor oaths of office, and a lack of loyalty to the President.”

The Washington Post suggested one theory for why things are moving slowly: “Pruitt is bristling at the presence of former Washington state senator Don Benton, who ran the president’s Washington state campaign and is now the EPA’s senior White House adviser.”

Then there is the pesky problem of an investigation of Pruitt by the Oklahoma Bar Association following complaints that he lied to Congress about using a private email for state business as attorney general. Less significant, but still embarrassing, the EPA didn’t quite explain how it swapped out a coal-state Republican’s glowing review of Trump last week for a Democratic senator’s blistering take. For Breitbart, this was enough to suggest that a Deep State conspiracy was at work.

Pruitt hasn’t offered any direct response to all these criticisms, but he appears to be paying attention to the conversation in conservative circles. He gave Breitbart an “exclusive” at the EPA headquarters the same week of its columnist’s critical take.

In that interview, Pruitt left the door open for changes to the endangerment finding. “I think that if there are petitions for reconsideration for the endangering sic findings, we’ll have to address those at some point,” Pruitt said. Nonetheless, at his confirmation hearing a month earlier, Pruitt, a lawyer by training, gave a more definitive answer to Democratic senators when they asked him about it. “Nothing I know of that would cause a review at this point,” he said.

Heartland’s Burnett still seems willing to give Pruitt and the Trump administration some benefit of the doubt that they will eventually do the right thing to appease conservative critics. “It’s just so early that I think it’s too early to hit the panic button,” Burnett said. “I haven’t given up hope that just because it wasn’t in this set of executive orders that it won’t be forthcoming.”

But, Burnett added, “You never know.”

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Donald Trump’s First 100 Days in Office Have Been a Disaster. Scott Pruitt’s Have Been Even Worse.

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Here’s How Badly Police Violence Has Divided America These Past Few Years

Mother Jones

In Shots Fired, the buzzworthy police drama premiering March 22 on Fox, federal agents investigate a black cop who has gunned down a young, unarmed white man. By the numbers, police actually kill more white people than they kill black people, but they kill black people at a far higher rate. Using population data from the Census Bureau and police shooting data from the Washington Post‘s 2015 database, we calculated that black men between the ages of 18 and 44 were 3.2 times as likely as white men the same age to be killed by a police officer. And while black men make up only about 6 percent of the US population, last year they accounted for one-third of the unarmed people killed by police.

We’ve obviously got some policing issues, but the Trump administration seems inclined to look the other way. Last month, in his first speech as attorney general, Jeff Sessions made clear that his Justice Department will curtail the monitoring of problem-plagued police departments that the Obama administration used as a tactic to combat civil rights violations by police. (Sessions suggested the monitoring had undermined “respect for our police and made, oftentimes, their job more difficult.”) Lest readers have forgotten just how divisive the racial disparities in law enforcement have been, and continue to be, we put together this brief history of recent police violence and backlash to it.

July 2013
Sickened by the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, labor organizer Alicia Garza writes on Facebook, “I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter.” Her friend Patrisse Cullors turns the last bit into a hashtag.

Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire via AP Photo

March 2014
In a Pew poll, 46 percent of Americans agree that “our country needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites.”
July 2014

Eric Garner is choked to death by an officer on Staten Island, New York. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” become a civil rights slogan.

Bruce Cotler/ Globe Photos/Zuma

Aug. 2014
A white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, kills black teen Michael Brown, sparking weeks of protest. Police deploy riot gear, armored vehicles, and sniper rifles, while demonstrators adopt a “hands up, don’t shoot” posture based on claims that Brown had his hands up when he was shot. On Twitter, #BlackLivesMatter takes off.
Oct. 2014
A Chicago cop shoots Laquan McDonald 16 times. Police officials claim the teen was approaching officers with a knife—a union rep says he “lunged”—but the city won’t release dash-cam footage.
Nov. 22, 2014

Tamir Rice, 12, is killed by a Cleveland officer as he plays with a toy gun in a park.
Nov. 24, 2014
A Ferguson grand jury declines to indict Officer Darren Wilson, Michael Brown‘s killer. More protests. Critics of #BlackLivesMatter respond with #AllLivesMatter.

Darren Wilson St. Louis County Prosecuter’s Office/Reuters

Nov. 30, 2014
Five St. Louis Rams players walk onto the field for a game in the “hands up” position.
Dec. 3, 2014
The NYPD officer who choked Eric Garner escapes indictment. Days later, LeBron James and other NBA players don “I Can’t Breathe” shirts at pregame warmups.

Jonathan Brady/ PA Wire via Zuma Images

Dec. 18, 2014
The White House announces a new task force to “strengthen trust among law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
Dec. 20, 2014
Two NYPD officers are ambushed. Their killer, a black man, had posted a photo of his gun on Instagram: “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today.”
Jan. 2015
#BlackLivesMatter tweets average 10,000 a day.

Erik McGregor/Zuma

March 2015
A Department of Justice report says Ferguson police employees sent racist emails and targeted black residents with nuisance citations to generate revenue.
April 2, 2015
A white sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shoots black suspect Eric Harris after a foot chase. “I’m losing my breath,” Harris pleads in a video. “Fuck your breath,” another officer responds.
April 4, 2015

Walter Scott is fatally shot as he attempts to flee from Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Walter Scott in his Coast Guard days Courtesy of the Scott family

April 19, 2015
Freddie Gray dies of his injuries after a “rough ride” in a Baltimore police van.
May 2015
“I have heard your calls for ‘no justice, no peace,'” prosecutor Marilyn Mosby says as she announces charges against six officers in the Gray case. The White House task force releases its report: Police must “embrace a guardian—rather than a warrior—mindset.”

Alex Brandon/AP Photo

June 2015
Rapper Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” video depicts him being shot by police. It garners about 70 million YouTube views and wins two Grammys.

July 2015
BLM activists seize the mic at a Democratic candidate forum to grill Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders on police violence.
Oct. 2015
Rapper Vic Mensa’s video for “16 Shots,” a song about Laquan McDonald, goes viral.

Nov. 19, 2015
A judge orders the release of dash-cam footage that appears to show McDonald walking away from police when he was shot. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fires his police chief the next month.
Nov. 22, 2015
Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweets out a chart of fabricated crime statistics suggesting that black criminals are responsible for the vast majority of homicides against white people. It’s entirely bogus. Here’s Politifact’s summary:

Feb. 7, 2016
Beyoncé’s dancers adopt a Black Panther look for the Super Bowl halftime show. Police unions call for a boycott of the star.


Feb. 24, 2016
BLM activists disrupt a Hillary Clinton fundraiser, demanding she apologize for her racially charged comments about “super predators” during the 1990s. Clinton appears irritated, but the next day she does just that.
May 2016
The first state “Blue Lives Matter” bill passes in Louisiana. Attacking a cop is now a hate crime.
June 2016
The police-van driver in the Freddie Gray case is acquitted.
July 5, 2016

Alton Sterling is fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while officers have him pinned to the ground.
July 6, 2016
During a traffic stop, a Minnesota cop shoots Philando Castile as he reaches for his wallet—that’s according to Castile’s girlfriend, who livestreamed his demise on Facebook: “You told him to get his ID, sir!”

July 7, 2016
A black gunman kills five cops at a Dallas protest against police violence. He holes up in a parking garage, where police kill him with an explosives-bearing robot.
July 12, 2016
President Barack Obama defends Black Lives Matter at a memorial for the slain officers. “We have all seen this bigotry in our lives at some point,” and “none of us is entirely innocent,” he says. “That includes our police departments.”
July 17, 2016
A black military vet who ranted online about the treatment of black people by police assassinates three officers (one of them black) in Baton Rouge.
July 18, 2016
At the Republican National Convention, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who is black, proclaims that “blue lives matter.” In an op-ed the same day, he calls Black Lives Matter the “enemy.”

Mike Segar/Reuters via ZUMA Press

July 18, 2016
A police officer in Florida shoots a black caregiver who was lying in the street with his hands up. A union rep explains that the officer had been aiming at the man’s autistic patient, whose toy truck he mistook for a firearm.
July 27, 2016
After further acquittals in the Freddie Gray case, charges are dropped against the remaining officers.
Aug. 2016
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick starts sitting out the national anthem to protest police violence. A few pros and countless high school and college athletes follow suit.

Kevin Terrell/AP

Sept. 2016
Clinton debates Trump: “I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police,” she says. Critics pounce. “Yes, Hillary Clinton called the nation racist,” writes a Washington Times columnist.
Oct. 2016
Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the DOJ will (finally) start collecting national data on police use of force.
Dec. 2016
A jury of 11 whites and one African American deadlocks in the trial of Michael Slager. A retrial is scheduled for late August 2017. A separate federal trial, to determine whether Slager violated Walter Scott’s civil rights, is slated to begin in May 2017.

Mic Smith, File/AP Photo

Feb. 2017
In his first speech as attorney general, Jeff Sessions suggests that the Justice Department, under his watch, will discontinue its practice of monitoring police departments suspected of violating people’s civil rights.
March 2017
A new drama series, Shots Fired, debuts on Fox. “There were a lot of people who never saw Trayvon Martin as a kid,” one of the show’s co-creators tells Mother Jones. “He was painted as the victimizer, and Zimmerman Martin’s killer got donations from all over the country. So in doing a show that deals with police violence, the question was how do we make those people who sent in the donations see this kid as a human being? One of the things we came up with was to make one victim white.”

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Here’s How Badly Police Violence Has Divided America These Past Few Years

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In Fox’s New Police Shooting Drama, Even the Extras Cry

Mother Jones

Shots Fired—a 10-part drama series that premieres on Fox on March 22—is a gripping examination of police violence and racial injustice in America. The show stars Stephen James (Race, Selma) and Sanaa Lathan (Love and Basketball, Alien vs. Predator) as Department of Justice officials called by the governor into a fictional North Carolina town to look into the fatal shooting of a young white man by a black sheriff’s deputy. The conflict escalates when the pair learn of another killing—of a black teen whose mother was warned by sheriff’s deputies to keep quiet—that has gone all but unnoticed by the town’s white residents. As the dual investigations unfold, the show offers sharp commentary on the human toll of violence and the role of race in the criminal justice system.

The series was created, written, and directed by husband-and-wife duo Reggie Bythewood (who most recently directed the TV series Gun Hill) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (director of Love and Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees). I caught up with Reggie earlier this week to talk about who inspired the show and what will happen to police accountability under the Trump administration. Watch the trailer, and then we’ll talk.

Mother Jones: Okay, this seems obvious, but I’ll ask anyway. What made you want to do a show about police shootings?

Reggie Bythewood: We have two boys. In July 2013, as the George Zimmerman verdict was being announced on TV, I sat down with my oldest son, then 12 years old. He got emotional when the verdict came back not guilty. Instead of hugging and consoling him, I pulled up an Emmett Till documentary on YouTube and made him watch it. Then I talked to him about the criminal justice system and how in many cases it doesn’t work.

It was the first real man-to-man talk we had. It was also the first time Gina and I felt like we wanted to be a part of the conversation. Not just as parents and black people, but as artists. We had been thinking about making a movie since then. But after Ferguson, Fox approached us about doing a series. We jumped at the idea, because a movie would have been a 90-minute version of the story instead of the 10-hour series we created.

MJ: One of the two shootings investigated on the show involves a white victim and a black cop. Usually we see the opposite. Why did you flip it?

RB: I want to stress that Shots Fired is not about a black cop who kills a white kid. It’s about the shooting of an unarmed white guy and an unarmed black guy. We wanted to create a narrative where we could look at both cases. But to answer your question, there were a lot of people who never saw Trayvon Martin as a kid. He was painted as the victimizer. And Zimmerman got donations from all over the country. So in doing a show that deals with police violence, the question was how do we make those people who sent in the donations see this kid as a human being? One of the things we came up with was to just make one victim white.

MJ: In Jesse’s case—he’s the white kid who is killed—you have these themes of grief and injustice projected onto a white family that are more familiar to a black audience. Then you have a black cop whose life is thrown into disarray—a notion that might resonate more with people who empathize with the police—and that idea is projected onto a black family. That seems instructive for people on both sides of the fence.

Reggie Bythewood created, wrote, and directed Shots Fired along with and Gina Prince-Bythewood. Courtesy Fox

RB: We wanted to let people understand what a mother feels when her son is killed and is painted as the victimizer. We also wanted every character to be three-dimensional and human. Some people are coming into it seeing things from the cop’s point of view who would not ordinarily think that way, but that’s an unintended consequence of the way we approached our primary goal.

MJ: Your research process has been grueling. Tell me about it.

RB: Our writers read articles. We watched the Jordan Davis documentary and several others. We had a two-hour Skype meeting with former Attorney General Eric Holder. We spoke with Ray Kelly, the former police commissioner of New York. He’s a proponent of stop-and-frisk—I’m not. But if you really want to do a good job, you can’t just talk to people who share your point of view. We spoke with Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow, and we read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. We talked to people who have been victims of police misconduct. We talked to black cops and white cops. One of our staff writers, J. David Shanks, a black guy, was a police officer in Chicago for six years. One of the people whose words really resonated with us was Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant.

MJ: What did she say?

RB: She came to the writers’ room and talked to us about what it’s like as a mother to see your child become a symbol—of civil rights for some, and of anti-law-enforcement, of hate, for others—and watch people lose sight of the fact that this is a human being. So part of our goal was to make the victims—all the characters, really—human, and to make people empathize.

MJ: The DOJ launched investigations into two police shootings while you were filming last summer—Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Did that affect production at all?

RB: It was emotional on set when these incidents happened. There was a day when we had a prayer circle because it was hard to continue with the subject matter. It was amazing to see the extras crying on set. But those shootings reminded us that we had a cause. Yes, we’re artists. Yes, we’re doing a TV show to entertain. But this is all for real.

MJ: Now we have an attorney general—Jeff Sessions—who indicates that the Department of Justice will pull back on investigating police abuses. Yet your main characters are DOJ people doing exactly that.

RB: We assumed Hillary Clinton would be the next president and that there wouldn’t be a drastic shift at the Department of Justice. But I think the show is more relevant now in a way that we didn’t expect, because it highlights the importance of having a DOJ that listens to the people it serves, the urgency of these cases, and the need to have a responsive DOJ. I hope we expand that conversation.

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In Fox’s New Police Shooting Drama, Even the Extras Cry

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