July 11, 2013

By Jennifer Bihm

Editor

 

As the fate of George Zimmerman, accused of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin plays out in a Florida court this week, the African American community braces itself for his possible acquittal.  A gunshot wound expert testified that Zimmerman’s claim of self defense against Martin was justifiable and witnesses testified that screams on a 911 call from the night Martin was murdered definitely belonged to Zimmerman, two key specifics that could sway the jury in his favor. Now, the Internet is abuzz with comments and essays comparing the case to others where killers and abusers of Black American men like Rodney King and Oscar Grant have gone free, pointing to a nationwide system of inherent racism and injustice.

“There’s a specific thing about young black men being murdered by the people who say they’re protecting us,” said a man identified as “Brother Ali” during a video interview posted last week on hardknock.tv. 

“They find a way to blame the victim, ‘he did something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.’ And they find a way to let the killers go free under some little weird loophole. This case is part of that legacy.”

Last week, a judge denied the prosecution’s request to disallow toxicology reports indicating that Martin had drugs in his system the night he was killed. As of press time the judge had not yet ruled on whether the defense would be allowed to use an animated reenactment of Zimmerman and Martin’s altercation. Also, Rachel Jeantel who had been talking to Martin on the phone moments before he died, was ridiculed profusely in social media after she took the stand for bad grammar and “sounding ignorant and uneducated.”

“If Trayvon Martin’s trial is about his hoodie, his gold teeth, his ominous middle finger, his possible marijuana use, Rachel Jeantel’s trial is about her appearance, her ‘bad attitude,’ and her use of language,” wrote George Ciccariello-Maher in his article “The Racial Politics of Guilt: Black Skin, White Justice” posted on counterpunch.org.

“It’s about bullying a black man,” the late Rodney King told USA Today last year.

“This time, a young man was bullied to death. I’m still alive; Trayvon Martin is not here.”

Since Martin’s death, many have pointed to similarities between his, King’s and Grant’s scenarios. All were unarmed when attacked and in all three cases no arrests were made for the crimes against them until angry cries for justice became loud and persistent. The perpetrators in King and Grant’s cases were found not guilty.

“George Zimmerman may be convicted, but then again he may not,” predicts Charles Richard Brown in an article posted on uptownmagazine.com.

“It’s not clear which outcome is better, more ‘just.’ Of course he should be convicted, but any conviction will only become fodder for the argument, pernicious as it is pervasive, that ours is a “post-racial” society…  There is nothing but racism and white privilege here. Zimmer­man felt privileged enough to be able to gun down a black teenager, and he knew the police wouldn't do anything about it. Zimmerman wasn't stupid. He knew very well what he was doing... protecting his white world from ‘one of them…”

“In this particular case when we start talking about these things, people are looking for some way to make this not a racial issue,” Ali said.

“You know, ‘let’s wait until all the facts come out,’ etc. The major facts are out. This guy approached a black kid who was unarmed and wasn’t doing anything wrong. There may or may not have been a scuffle and he shot and killed him. And, the police took him at his word that he was defending himself, that the grown man with a gun was defending himself against the kid with the skittles and the iced tea... People are looking for ways kind of fortify in our minds that George Zimmerman had a reason to be suspicious of Trayvon or that we as a society have a reason to suspicious of Trayvon.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 11, 2013

By STEPHEN BRAUN

Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal oversight board directed by President Barack Obama to scrutinize the government's secret surveillance system is hearing from civil liberties activists, a retired federal judge and a former Bush administration lawyer in the board's first public event since the spying operations were revealed in news reports.

They were among 16 experts set to testify Tuesday before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board about the National Security Agency's surveillance. The board's five members include an Internet freedom advocate and two former Bush lawyers who helped expand the government's national security authority.

After former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden began exposing the NSA's operations in June, Obama instructed the board to lead a "national conversation" about the secret programs. The board has been given several secret briefings by national security officials and it plans a comprehensive inquiry and a public report on the matter.

"Our primary focus will be on the programs themselves," the board's chairman, David Medine, told the Associated Press last month. "Based on what we've learned so far, further questions are warranted."

American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who is expected to testify, warned the oversight board that the government's massive sweeps of cellphone and telephone call logs and other data on phone and Internet communications erode privacy protections guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Snowden's disclosures revealed that the NSA collects phone "metadata" — records that omitted only the actual contents of conversations — from millions of Americans. A separate NSA surveillance program aimed solely at foreign terrorist suspects also sweeps up metadata about the Internet communications from smaller numbers of Americans, federal officials have acknowledged. Obama urged Americans not to worry about the secret programs because the contents of their communications are rarely targeted.

The president and the director of national intelligence "have been at pains to emphasize that the government is collecting metadata, not content," Jaffer said in advance remarks obtained by the AP. "But the suggestion that metadata is somehow beyond the reach of the Constitution is wrong. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the crucial question is not whether the government is collecting content or metadata but whether it is invading the reasonable expectation of privacy. Here, it clearly is."

Jaffer has urged stricter limits on government surveillance as well as new oversight mechanisms. One of the oversight board's members, James Dempsey, is a top official with the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties advocacy group.

Much of the NSA's surveillance is overseen by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose classified rulings also have been disclosed by several Snowden leaks. Testimony about the court was expected from former federal judge James Robertson, who served on the secret court. Robertson also ruled against the Bush administration in the landmark Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld case, which granted inmates at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detentions. That ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Steven Bradbury, a former top Bush administration lawyer who played a central role in national security decisions, also was to testify. Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, wrote several legal memos backing the CIA's limited use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including simulated drowning. But he also signed other memos that placed legal brakes on some of the Bush administration's expanded national security authority.

Two of the oversight board's members also worked as Bush administration lawyers. Elisebeth Collins Cook is a former Justice Department lawyer who drafted revised guidelines in 2008 that expanded the FBI's ability to conduct domestic intelligence investigations. The guidelines gave FBI agents involved in national security probes new authority to conduct physical surveillance without a court order and to interview people without identifying themselves as federal agents.

Oversight board member Rachel Brand is another former Bush Justice lawyer who urged Congress to give the FBI expanded authority to use what are called national security letters and administrative subpoenas to obtain information in terrorism investigations. The use of such tools is limited but can allow federal investigators to demand data without direct judicial approval.

The oversight board is appointed by the president but reports to Congress. David Cole, a professor of constitutional and national security law at Georgetown University, said the board faces high expectations.

"Their very existence may make government officials more careful about their surveillance programs because they will know that a board empowered and obligated to report on privacy and civil liberties abuses exists," Cole said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 04, 2013

By NANCY BENAC and

ALICIA A. CALDWELL

Associated Press

 

It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of "Reefer Madness" to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of "Just Say No."

The next 25 years took the nation from Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale," to Barack Obama, who most emphatically did.

Now, in just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug — for medical use and just for fun.

It is a moment in America that is rife with contradictions:

—People are looking more kindly on marijuana even as science reveals more about the drug's potential dangers, particularly for young people.

—States are giving the green light to the drug in direct defiance of a federal prohibition on its use.

—Exploration of the potential medical benefit is limited by high federal hurdles to research.

Washington policymakers seem reluctant to deal with any of it.

Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked for a national commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana in 1972, sees the public taking a big leap from prohibition to a more laissez-faire approach without full deliberation.

"It's a remarkable story historically," he says. "But as a matter of public policy, it's a little worrisome."

More than a little worrisome to those in the anti-drug movement.

"We're on this hundred-mile-an-hour freight train to legalizing a third addictive substance," says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration, lumping marijuana with tobacco and alcohol.

Legalization strategist Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, likes the direction the marijuana smoke is wafting. But knows his side has considerable work yet to do.

"I'm constantly reminding my allies that marijuana is not going to legalize itself," he says.

By the numbers:

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since California voters made the first move in 1996. Voters in Colorado and Washington state took the next step last year and approved pot for recreational use. Alaska is likely to vote on the same question in 2014, and a few other states are expected to put recreational use on the ballot in 2016.

Nearly half of adults have tried marijuana, 12 percent of them in the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Fifty-two percent of adults favor legalizing marijuana, up 11 percentage points just since 2010, according to Pew.

Sixty percent think Washington shouldn't enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use.

Where California led the charge on medical marijuana, the next chapter in this story is being written in Colorado and Washington state.

Policymakers there are grappling with all sorts of sticky issues revolving around one central question: How do you legally regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes when federal law bans all of the above?

The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November's election. But seven months later, states still are on their own.

Both sides in the debate paid close attention when Obama said in December that "it does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who favors legalization, predicts Washington will take a hands-off approach, based on Obama's comments. But he's quick to add: "We would like to see that in writing."

The federal government already has taken a similar approach toward users in states that have approved marijuana for medical use.

It doesn't go after pot-smoking cancer patients or grandmas with glaucoma. But it also has made clear that people who are in the business of growing, selling and distributing marijuana on a large scale are subject to potential prosecution for violations of the Controlled Substances Act — even in states that have legalized medical use.

There's a political calculus for the president, or any other politician, in all of this.

Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are more supportive of legalizing marijuana, as are people in the West, where the libertarian streak runs strong.

Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana overall, politicians know there are complications that could come with commercializing an addictive substance. Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased use by young people.

Sabet frames the conundrum for Obama: "Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that's popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?"

Marijuana legalization advocates offer politicians a rosier scenario, in which legitimate pot businesses eager to keep their operating licenses make sure not to sell to minors.

"Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we're not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers," says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for legal pot businesses in the U.S.

While the federal government hunkers down, Colorado and Washington state are moving forward on their own with regulations covering everything from how plants will be grown to how many stores will be allowed.

Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, predicts "the next few years are going to be messy" as states work to bring a black-market industry into the sunshine.

California's experience with medical marijuana offers a window into potential pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot.

Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state, and regulation has been lax, prompting a number of cities around the state to ban dispensaries.

In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. A few weeks later, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure that limits the number of pot shops in the city to 135, down from an estimated high of about 1,000.

This isn't full-scale buyer's remorse, but more a course correction before the inevitable next push for full-on legalization in the state.

Growing support for legalization doesn't mean everybody wants to light up: Barely one in 10 Americans used pot in the past year.

Those who do want to see marijuana legalized range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales.

For some, money talks: Why let drug cartels rake in untaxed profits when a cut could go into government coffers?

There are other threads in the growing acceptance of pot.

People think it's not as dangerous as once believed. They worry about high school kids getting an arrest record. They see racial inequity in the way marijuana laws are enforced. They're weary of the "war on drugs."

Opponents counter with a 2012 study finding that regular use of marijuana during teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ, and another study indicating marijuana use can induce and exacerbate psychotic illness in susceptible people. They question the notion that regulating pot will bring in big money, saying revenue estimates are grossly exaggerated.

They reject the claim that prisons are bulging with people convicted of simple possession by citing federal statistics showing only a small percentage of federal and state inmates are behind bars for that alone.

They warn that baby boomers who draw on their own innocuous experiences with pot are overlooking the much higher potency of today's marijuana.

In 2009, concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, averaged close to 10 percent in marijuana, compared with about 4 percent in the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"If marijuana legalization was about my old buddies at Berkeley smoking in People's Park once a week I don't think many of us would care that much," says Sabet, who helped to found Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. "It's really about creating a new industry that's going to target kids and target minorities and our vulnerable populations just like our legal industries do today."

So how bad, or good, is pot?

J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, set out to sort through more than 100 sometimes conflicting studies after his teenage son became addicted to pot, and turned his findings into a 22-page article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012.

For all of the talk that smoking pot is no big deal, Bostwick says he determined that "it was a very big deal. There were addiction issues. There were psychosis issues.

But there was also this very large body of literature suggesting that it could potentially have very valuable pharmaceutical applications but the research was stymied" by federal barriers.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says research is ongoing.

Dr. Nora Volkow, the institute's director, worries that legalizing pot will result in increased use of marijuana by young people, and impair their brain development.

"Think about it: Do you want a nation where your young people are stoned?" she asks.

Partisans on both sides think people in other states will keep a close eye on Colorado and Washington as they decide what happens next.

But past predictions on pot have been wildly off-base.

"Reefer Madness," the 1936 propaganda movie that pot fans turned into a cult classic in the 1970s, spins a tale of dire consequences "ending often in incurable insanity."

Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Gene Johnson in Seattle, Lauran Neergaard in Washington and AP researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 04, 2013

By Saeed Shabazz

Special to the NNPA from

The Final Call

 

UNITED NATIONS – A five-member panel of experts recently gathered in Beijing, China for a one-day discussion about the way forward for the international community in restarting peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The discussion didn’t produce much optimism and highlighted UN failures over several decades.

One of the purposes of the gathering was to give a candid assessment of United Nations’ ability to rise above the status quo the world body has assumed concerning the on-again, off-again peace process.

Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Political Committee in Ramallah, opened the discussion by saying the UN has been dealing with Israel’s occupation of Palestine since 1947.

He reminded the gathering that the UN Security Council declared inadmissible Resolution 242 (1967), the forcible seizure of territory.

Israel’s violations of that principle have been considered by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, and resulted in adoption of numerous anti-Israel resolutions, said Mr. Abdullah.

Unfortunately, none have been implemented, he said.

That has led to the conclusion that the UN has become irrelevant to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and no force can stop Israel from violating the UN Charter, UN resolutions or international law, Mr. Abdullah continued.

Frenchwoman Christine Chanet, chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements and a member of the Committee Against Torture, offer­ed a candid assessment of Israel’s intransigence.

She recalled establishment in March 2012 of an independent, international fact-finding mission to examine the impact of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians. “The mission addressed many re­quests for cooperation to the government of Israel, but had received no answer,” she said.

Mr. Abdullah said one of the great ironies was Israeli government insistence that negotiations with Palestin­ians happen without preconditions, but Israel declared Jerusalem, settlements, and the Jordan Valley were non-negotiable because of their importance to Israeli military protection.

Panelist Mohammad Loulichki, Morocco’s ambassador to the United Nations, reminded the gathering that his delegation currently holds a two-year seat on the Security Council. He called for a revival of collective international engagement towards a two-state solution for the conflict.

Palestinians cannot be accused of not being a genuine partner for peace, the Moroccan ambassador said, pointing out it was the United States that sponsored the two-state vision and added momentum to the idea around the world. The U.S. gave rise to genuine hope that efforts by the Obama administration would lead to resumed negotiations and a political solution, added the diplomat.

“Yet, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, combined with Israel’s lack of engagement, has triggered pessimism about the two-state solution,” Ambassador Loulichki observed.

Admitting failure would mean that the United Nations and the international community have been unable to deliver on promises made 56 years ago to Arabs, particularly Palestinians, he added.

“Failure to reward the painful compromises made by the Palestin­ians with a solution based on United Nations’ resolutions would be a blow to the credibility of the United Nations,” Ambassador Loulichki warned.

Panelist La Yifan, deputy director-general of the Dept. of International Organizations and Conferences in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “To promote the just, peaceful and proper settlement of the Palestin­ian issue was in the interest of all people in the Middle East and in line with the wishes of the entire international community. The Security Council should send delegations to the region in order to gain a better understanding of the situation. It should also approve at an early date Palestine’s application for full United Nations membership.”

Nathan Stock was the only American speaking at the confab, but not as a panelist. He is assistant director of the Conflict Resolution Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga.

“The political dynamics in the United States made it tougher to maintain the kind of engagement that had led to past territorial withdrawals,” Mr. Stock conceded. But he believes President Barack Obama would like to see a two-state solution and Secretary of State John Kerry would like to make his mark by resolving the conflict.

“However, hopes of success would depend on President Obama deciding to use the full powers of his office to realize the creation of a Palestinian state,” said Mr. Stock.

Mr. Abdullah countered that the peace effort launched by Mr. Kerry faced a “near stalemate” owing to Israeli positions.

On June 18, the Guardian newspaper in London reported how a member of the Israeli cabinet told settlers in Jerusalem that Israel should annex large tracts of the occupied West Bank. The idea of a Palestinian state “is dead,” he said.

France 24, International News 24/7 reported on Twitter June 19 that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians support Mr. Kerry’s efforts to revive peace talks.

Meanwhile activists in 60 nations are marching and protesting the “illegal Zionist State of Israel” in a Global March to Jerusalem.

On June 7, Jews from Neturei Karta International/USA marched from the West Village in New York to the United Nations.

“We are marching for the freedom of Jews and all of Palestine,” said a spokesman. But such freedom re­mains a long way off.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 04, 2013

By JULIE PACE

Associated Press

 

President Barack Obama on July 1 courted African business leaders and announced new trade initiatives to open up East Africa’s markets to American businesses, as he sought to counter the rise of Chinese economic influence in the growing continent.

The United States, he declared, wants to “step up our game” in a region that is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies.

The president was welcomed in Tanzania by the largest crowds of his weeklong trip to the continent where his family ties run deep. Thousands of people lined the streets as his motorcade sped through this city on the shores of the Indian Ocean, some wearing shirts and traditional khanga wraps bearing Obama’s image. The oceanfront road leading to the Tanzanian president’s residence had been permanently changed to “Barack Obama Drive” in honor of the visit.

Throughout his three-country trip, Obama has touted a new model for U.S. partnership with Africa, one based not just on aid and assistance, but also on trade. While the U.S. has long been a leader in foreign aid to Africa, China has surpassed America as sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner. Countries like India, Turkey and Brazil also are increasing their presence on the continent.

“I see Africa as the world’s next major economic success story,” Obama told U.S. and African business leaders Monday. He spoke following a private meeting with top executives, including representatives from Coca Cola, Microsoft and General Electric.

In earlier stops in Senegal and South Africa, the president said he welcomed world economies turning their sights to Africa, declaring “the more, the merrier.” But he also challenged African leaders to pick their international partners carefully, saying they should push back against countries that bring in their own workers or mine Africa’s natural resources but handle the production outside the continent — all criticisms that have been levied against China.

Seeking to draw a contrast with Beijing, the president said his administration’s goal was “for Africa to build Africa for Africans,” and for the U.S. to be a partner in that process.

Obama’s trip marks his first stop in Africa since 2009, when he spent 24 hours in Ghana. China’s new President Xi Jinping embarked on an Africa swing less than two weeks after taking office earlier this year.

During his meetings in Tanzania, Obama announced a new venture, dubbed “Trade Africa,” that aims to increase the flow of goods between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. The initial phase will focus on East Africa – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania – and aim to increase the region’s exports to the U.S. by 40 percent.

The program is designed to assist those countries trade with each other. The president cited the laborious physical roadblocks and border crossings on the continent that delay the transport of goods and products. As an example, Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative who is traveling with Obama, told reporters it takes 42 days to export coffee out of Rwanda, compared to 14 days out of Colombia.

The president’s two-day visit to Tanzania marks the final leg of his weeklong visit to Africa. He arrived in Dar Es Salaam Monday afternoon, along with wife Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha.

During a joint press conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Obama appeared moved by the welcome from the exuberant crowds. He cited his ties to neighboring Kenya, where his father was born, and said that his father’s family had spent time in Tanzania.

Kikwete said there had never been a visit to Tanzania by a head of state that had attracted such big crowds.

Obama will close his Africa trip Tuesday with a rare meeting on foreign soil between two American presidents. George W. Bush is in Dar Es Salaam for a conference on African women organized by his institute and hosted by wife Laura Bush. The presidents will attend a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Tanzania.

Ahead of the meeting, Obama praised the anti-AIDS program Bush began during his tenure, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR.

“I think this is one of his crowning achievements,” Obama said. “Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of lives have been saved.”

Obama rejected the notion that he's reduced the U.S. commitment to the program, saying lower spending on PEPFAR is due to efficiencies in treating more people.

Tanzania in particular has benefited from the programs started under Bush and continued by Obama. Childhood mortality has been cut in half since 2000 and more than 90,000 people are receiving anti-retroviral treatment for HIV through facilities funded by the U.S. Agency for International Develop­ment.

While in Tanzania, the White House also announced a $10 million initiative to support anti-wildlife trafficking efforts on the continent. Grant Harris, Obama’s senior Africa director, said illegal wildlife trafficking is a $7 to 10 billion trade each year, with China and the U.S. the leading destinations for the animals.

The president also signed an executive order creating a task force that will develop a national strategy aimed in part at reducing U.S. demand for trafficked wildlife.

Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler in Dar Es Salaam and Jason Straziuso in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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