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Federal Profiling Policies, Addressing Incarcerated Kids’ Education Needs, LASD Civilian Oversight…and More

December 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced new profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement agencies. Now, federal officers can no longer discriminate based on religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Before, only discrimination based on race or ethnicity was banned.

While the move does appear to be a step in the right direction, advocates say it may not make a huge difference in curbing profiling across the nation. For instance, the guidelines are only for federal agencies—not state and local departments, and some of these new rules don’t apply to TSA and border patrol officers.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has some helpful examples of changes the new policy will bring (and things that will not be changed). Here are some clips:

Will the new rules help prevent the kinds of deadly encounters seen recently in Ferguson, Mo., and New York that have left African American men dead at the hands of white police officers?

Not likely. The new guidance applies only to federal law enforcement officers, such as those from the FBI and Justice Department. Local or state police would have to abide by the guidelines only if they were working on a joint task force with federal officers.

But Justice Department officials said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is hopeful that the federal guidelines will become a nationwide model that is eventually embraced by local law enforcement as well.


Can federal law enforcement investigate someone simply because they are gay or lesbian?

No. For the first time, sexual orientation and gender identity are protected in the anti-profiling guidelines. Gay rights advocates have praised the new language.

Does the new policy apply to terrorism and national security cases?

In theory, yes. The new guidance revoked the national security exemption that had existed under the old rules.

But like border agents, the FBI and other agencies that investigate terrorism argued that profiling was sometimes needed to protect the nation. Civil rights lawyers say other provisions in the rules appear to permit certain kinds of profiling in the name of national security.

The new guidance specifically allows the FBI and other federal law enforcement to continue to “map” communities, focusing their investigations on neighborhoods or communities based, for example, on religion or national origin. Also, some critics of the new rules are concerned that Holder was noncommittal Monday when asked whether the FBI field manual would be updated to reflect the new guidance, raising questions about whether federal agents will change their behavior.


On Monday, AG Eric Holder also announced, with the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a new Correctional Education Guidance Package to help states and local agencies provide better education services to locked up kids. The package comes as a result of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative aimed at improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The package instructs juvenile facilities to provide boys and girls with equal access to education programs, end discriminatory discipline practices, and better serve the education needs of english-learning kids.

Evie Blad has more on the new guidance in a story for Education Week. Here’s a clip:

The guidance consists of “Dear Colleague” letters that outline the education obligations of juvenile justice residential facilities under federal civil rights laws, clarify that many confined youth are eligible for federal Pell grants for higher education, and specify facilities’ obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The agencies’ also released a set of “guiding principles” for providing education in juvenile justice settings.

The package includes a special focus on issues that are especially relevant to education in juvenile justice settings, including coordination with schools as students transition in and out of their care, use of highly qualified and credentialed teachers, promoting a positive and safe climate for learning, and identifying special education needs.

“Although the overall number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system has been decreasing, there are still more than 60,000 young people in juvenile justice residential facilities in the United States on any given day,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, and Vanita Gupta, the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote in the guidance.

Holder noted that the agencies released the guidance at a time of “growing national dialogue about ensuring that America’s justice system serves everyone equally.” Youth in detention facilities are sometimes recipients of inadequate instruction or no instruction at all, Holder said, calling such experiences “unacceptable failures” and “lost opportunities.”


Today (Tuesday), the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the creation of a permanent citizens’ oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The motion, previously submitted by Mark Ridley-Thomas and termed-out Gloria Molina, was rejected by the board. (Ridley-Thomas has championed the idea for more than two years.) Now, Ridley-Thomas and new Supervisor Hilda Solis have reintroduced the proposal. And new 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has said before that she will support civilian oversight.

An LA Times editorial urges the board to approve the motion. Here’s how it opens:

New leaders bring fresh perspectives, so there is reason to believe that Los Angeles County government will be reinvigorated by the four officials who took office earlier this month. But sometimes it’s not enough to change faces and ideas; the structure of government itself needs an occasional shake-up. So it’s doubly heartening that the reconstituted Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will take up the idea of a citizens commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department. The action is overdue.

Sheriffs are directly elected by county voters, affording a level of independence so great that it sometimes veers into unaccountability. That was part of the problem with former Sheriff Lee Baca, whom voters returned to office repeatedly while he presided over a department in which management breakdowns led to inmate abuse in the jails and other critical and costly problems. For years, voters had too limited a view into the department to know of its failings; the Board of Supervisors had too many other things on its plate to adequately spotlight them; and outside monitors who had access and knowledge had no public forum at which to share them.

To address that structural shortcoming, new Sheriff Jim McDonnell supports the creation of a citizens oversight commission — a panel to scrutinize the department’s actions and operations and report on its findings in a public setting. A divided Board of Supervisors rejected such an idea in August but one of its new members, Hilda Solis, has joined with Mark Ridley-Thomas to reintroduce it. New Supervisor Sheila Kuehl noted numerous times on the campaign trail that she, too, is in favor.

(The Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial board is also calling for civilian oversight.)


Advocates as well as New York officials and lawmakers—like state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York Public Advocate Letitia James—are pushing for cases involving death at the hands of law enforcement officers to be handled by independent state prosecutors. The calls became more urgent after a grand jury did not indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The AP’s Jennifer Peltz has more on the complicated issue. Here are some clips:

The city’s elected public advocate and some state lawmakers are pressing for appointing special state prosecutors for police killings, saying Eric Garner’s death has bared problems with having DAs lead investigations and prosecutions of the police who help them build cases. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday to give Schneiderman’s office the authority to investigate deaths at the hands of police.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Missouri since the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson.

“This is a watershed moment,” New York Public Advocate Letitia James said by phone. “It’s clear that the system is broken and an independent prosecutor is needed.”

She’s advocating appointing such prosecutors whenever police kill or seriously injure someone. Assemblymen Karim Camara and Marcos Crespo are proposing special prosecutors for police killings of unarmed people.

Cuomo said last week on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that the state should examine whether DAs should bring such cases and “potential roles for special prosecutors,” as part of a broad look at the criminal justice system.


“There has to be a permanent special prosecutor for police misconduct because of the inherent conflict” in tasking local prosecutors with exploring allegations against the police who are often their partners, said civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel.

But DAs bristle at the implication that they’re too close to police for public comfort.

“Why would the people’s choice to be their elected law enforcement officer be disqualified in favor of some political appointment?” said Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the Syracuse prosecutor who is president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association.


Some states have established permanent special prosecutors’ offices for various types of cases. Maryland’s handles everything from election law violations to misconduct by public employees, including police.

But the idea of a special prosecutor specifically for police has a particular history in New York. The state created a state special prosecutor’s office in 1972 to explore police corruption in New York City, responding to the allegations later chronicled in the 1973 film “Serpico”….

The New York Times Editorial Board agrees that an independent prosecutor should be brought in to eliminate possible bias on the part of local DAs who work closely with police. The editorial suggests that law enforcement agencies should welcome such a shift. Here’s how it opens:

It is a long-established and basic reality of law enforcement in America: Prosecutors who want an indictment get an indictment. In 2010 alone, federal prosecutors sought indictments in 162,000 cases. All but 11 times, they succeeded.

Yet the results are entirely different when police officers kill unarmed civilians. In those cases, the officers are almost never prosecuted either because district attorneys do not pursue charges in the first place or grand juries do not indict, as happened most recently in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.

There are various explanations for this, but the most obvious is the inherent conflict of interest that exists for prosecutors, who rely heavily on the police every day. Cops arrest suspects; they investigate crimes; they gather evidence; and they testify in court, working essentially in partnership with prosecutors.

Whether or not bias can be proved in a given case, the public perception of it is real and must be addressed.

The best solution would be a law that automatically transfers to an independent prosecutor all cases in which a civilian is dead at the hands of the police. This would avoid the messy politics of singling out certain district attorneys and taking cases away from them.

The police should be among the strongest supporters of this arrangement because both their authority and their safety are undermined when the communities they work in neither trust them nor believe that they are bound by the same laws as everyone else.

For further recommended reading, Alameda County public defender Seth Morris explains how easy it is to get an indictment. Here’s how it opens (but read the whole thing):

It is, we are told, very hard to get grand jurors to indict police officers — which supposedly explains why Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo walk free, despite the men they killed in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island. But as a public defender, I know exactly what it takes to get an indictment. I could get one in either case. In fact, I am ready and willing to fly to any town in this country to get an indictment in any case where a police officer kills an unarmed civilian. It’s just not that hard.

I’d start by saying this. “A man, a member of our community, has been killed by another. Only a trial court can sort out what exactly happened and what defenses, if any, may apply. I believe in our trial system above all others in the world. I ask for an indictment so that all voices can be heard in a public courtroom with advocates for both sides in front of trial jurors from the community. This room is not the room to end this story. It’s where the story begins.”

I’d do it by asking the grand juries to apply the law to these men as the law demands it be applied — equally. I’d ask them to consider the recent fateful events as the work of ordinary humans, not police officers. I’d explain that the cases are too important to be settled in a secret grand jury room. The lives lost are too valuable to avoid a public trial.

I’d ask them not to consider the defenses the men may raise at trial, because these are irrelevant to the question of indictment. Judges routinely tell my clients — indigent, poor, often young men of color — that they will face trial because probable cause is an exceedingly low standard of proof. All it requires is a suspicion that a crime occurred and a suggestion that the defendant may be responsible for the crime.

Posted in DEA, Department of Justice, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT, National issues | No Comments »

Brown Hopeful About Prison Negotiations…Crucial Justice Programs Denied Federal Funding…LAPD’s New Digital “Library of Homicide”…and More

November 20th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown sounded hopeful for the first time regarding coming to a potential agreement with California prisoners attorneys. Brown also again called for an extension on the state’s deadline for a workable plan that would persuade federal judges to grant a larger extension on the court-ordered prison population reduction. Part of that plan will require successful negotiations (months in the making) with inmate attorneys that have brought suit against the state over prison conditions.

(Brown was also to meet this week with all of California’s 33 wardens and a number of prison administrators to discuss prison conditions.)

The LA Times’ Anthony York has the story. Here are some clips:

As ordered by federal judges, the Brown administration has been in talks with attorneys for inmates whose lawsuits led the court to declare the prisons unconstitutionally crowded.

“I’m reasonably optimistic that we’re going to come to something that we can make work,” Brown said at a charity event in the capital.

The governor said the meetings, moderated by state appellate Judge Peter Siggins, have “been collaborative and informative.”

But he declined to provide details. The parties are under orders not to discuss specifics of the negotiations.

Lawyers for the prisoners declined to assess the progress of the talks.

“I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment at this point,” said Don Specter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, “though I’m glad to see that the governor is optimistic about it.”

The optimism is a shift for Brown, who had previously dismissed any suggestion that the two sides could reach an accord. He declared in September that he would not let inmates rewrite prison policies.


On Tuesday, the governor called for more time to comply with the court. He cited the recent problems with the new federal healthcare rollout as a reason to proceed with caution.

“When government embarks on major programs, it should do so with humility and caution and a lot of planning,” he said. “So whenever people say ‘Hey, we need 10,000 fewer people in prison, do something,’ I want to do that something very carefully.”


A new report from the Vera Institute found that between 2010 and 2013, federal funding decreased by 43% for such state and local criminal justice areas as law enforcement, juvenile justice programs, victim assistance, courts, and community-based strategies.

Here’s what some of those seeing the detrimental effects of the cuts have to say:

“When funded we have been able to reduce criminal recidivism by up to 50 percent by providing education, resources and social services intervention to persons returning to the community from custody. When cuts are made, these same persons are more likely to return to custody, which results in more substantial costs of incarceration, and families returning to social service assistance.”
— Manager in education and prevention in California

“Our federal [Byrne] JAG funds help to support our juvenile diversion program which has a 96 percent success rate. With the reduction in funds we will no longer be supporting this program with federal dollars. Over 80 children are served annually in this program.”
— Juvenile justice manager in Florida

“Our Behavioral Health Therapeutic Drug Court program recently completed a review of our success for recidivism. We found that, before Drug Court participation, defendants recidivated (new felony charges over a two-year period) at a rate of approximately 75 percent. After Drug Court participation, that rate decreased to 25 percent; for our graduates, the rate decreased to 11 percent. The costs savings can almost not even be computed, when one considers the impact for improving public safety and return- ing citizens to productive, tax-paying status. Without federal discretionary funds, our program (and others across the country) would have to be reduced or eliminated.”
— Manager in Washington state

“We’ve experienced a total loss of funding for a residential program serving juvenile males with sexual assault histories; those youths are now being served at residential treatment centers in other Texas communities, away from home and not in coordina- tion with local treatment providers. There has also been a loss of funding for First Offender Programming, which enables law enforcement to refer youth charged with minor crimes and their parents to an educational/skills-building program. Drug Court funding has also been severely decreased, pushing eligible youth further into the juvenile justice system without treatment.”
— Texas budget and administration manager in juvenile justice


The LAPD, through a helpful new partnership with the FBI, is digitizing thousands of cold case files into a homicide database that detectives can access instantly—instead of spending anywhere from hours to weeks searching through boxes of binders for information when victims’ loved ones have unanswered questions.

The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz has the story. Here are some clips:

Adrian McFarland awoke in a panic. His brother had come to him again in a dream. In this one, McFarland walked into a bar and there his brother stood, flashing a toothy smile.

But Charles had been gone for nearly two decades, shot to death in Los Angeles when he was 27.

McFarland, younger by four years, knew little about the crime. The dreams, he thought, were a sign. After all these years, had anyone been caught?

A few days later, LAPD Det. Mark Hahn’s phone rang. McFarland was on the line from Monroe, La., with questions long unasked…

Usually, answers would have been hard to come by, especially for a case so old.

But this time, Hahn knew where to turn: to the detectives creating the Los Angeles Police Department’s first library of homicide…

A large lecture room serves as the homicide library’s headquarters. It’s lined with blue and black binders labeled with names and dates, and in the middle of the room files are neatly organized in rows. This is where Det. Teddy Hammond maintains a spreadsheet tracking the location of each file…

For two years, Hammond and several other detectives have organized the binders, getting them ready to be scanned. They’ve seen crime scene photos, Polaroids of witnesses, medical reports, notes scrawled on yellowing paper.

The task wasn’t feasible before because of a lack of resources, but this first-of-its-kind partnership with the FBI will place sought-after information a click away for detectives, who sometimes spend weeks tracking down a file’s location. When the database is complete, investigators will be able to search any aspect of a murder book, including license plate numbers and gang monikers.

First, the department plans to digitize more than 4,500 files from the southern part of the city — long the deadliest — between 1990 and 2010. Eventually, cases from the entire city will be included. Officials plan to open the doors to a brick-and-mortar library where families can go for answers and detectives can check out files.

“No case will be lost,” said Tom McMullen, a recently retired LAPD captain, who oversaw the group of detectives who handle the area covered in the database.

McMullen called the database a “one-stop shop” that will make it easier to piece together cases involving multiple murders, such as the Grim Sleeper serial killer.

(Go read the rest.)


On November 21 (Thursday) LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino and Californians for Safety and Justice will co-host an event on public safety and how to help individual victims of crime, as well as communities plagued by high crime rates.

Here’s more on the event:

Leading voices from the survivor community, service providers and elected officials will share insights on:

em>How survivors and communities can recover and be safe;
How to reduce repeat victimization, assess gaps in services;
Better understanding crime and closure rates of serious offenses; and
Exploring how a city and/or county task force could improve the use of resources and policies for survivors of crime.


Thursday, November 21, 2013, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium, 100 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Keynote Speaker: Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer

Speakers on the “What Survivors Need” panel:

Aqeela Sherrills, Survivor Outreach Strategist, Californians for Safety and Justice (moderator)
Adela Barajas, Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts
Stinson Brown, Los Angeles Police Department, Gang Intervention Liaison
Vickey Lindsey, Project Cry No More
Eve Sheedy, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Domestic Violence Policy

You can register here.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors postponed a vote on a contract for an adult electronic monitoring program (EMP) through Sentinel Offender Services, a company recently fired by Orange County. (Read more on the issue in the post below this one.)

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, National issues, prison, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

The Damage Inflicted by Putting Kids in Isolation, SD’s Juvenile Justice Issues Deserve Candidates’ Attention…and More

October 12th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A new report by the Human Rights Watch and the ACLU reinforces the need for effective alternatives to the all-too-common use of solitary confinement in the youth detention setting. The report surveys over 125 kids in 19 states, including California, who have spent time in isolation, and provides first-hand accounts of the devastating effects of solitary confinement on developing youth. Here’s a clip from the Human Rights Watch article:

Because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow, the groups found. Solitary confinement can exacerbate short- and long-term mental health problems or make it more likely that such problems will develop. Young people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to treatment, services, and programming required to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.

The New York City Department of Corrections, for example, reported that in fiscal year 2012, which ended in June, more than 14 percent of all adolescents were held in at least one period of solitary confinement while detained. The average length of time young people spent in solitary confinement at Rikers Island was 43 days. More than 48 percent of adolescents at Rikers have diagnosed mental health problems.


The solitary confinement of young people under age 18 is itself a serious human rights violation and can constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Conditions that compound the harm of solitary confinement, such as denial of educational programming, exercise, or family visits, often constitute independent, serious human rights violations.

A number of corrections officials have begun to recognize and speak against the use of solitary confinement, saying that it is costly, ineffective, and harmful.

There are alternative ways to address the problems – whether disciplinary, administrative, protective, or medical – that officials typically cite to justify using solitary confinement, while taking into account the rights and special needs of adolescents, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Youth could be housed in specialized facilities organized to encourage positive behavior. And punishment should be proportional to the infraction, using any short-term isolation as a rare exception.

Here’s what some of the surveyed kids had to say about their time in isolation:

“In seg[regation] you either implode or explode; you lose touch with reality, hear voices, hallucinate and think for hours about killing yourself, others or both. The anger and hurt gets so intense that you suspect everyone and trust no one and when someone does something nice for you, you don’t understand it.” – “Douglas C.” Colorado, April 2012.

“I just felt I wanted to die, like there was no way out – I was stressed out. I hung up the first day. I took a sheet and tied it to my light and they came around … The officer when she was doing rounds found me. She was banging on the window – ‘Are you alive? Are you alive?’ I could hear her but I felt like I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe.” – “Luz M.,” New York, April 2012


As election day nears for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ open seat, neither of the two candidates have addressed the colossally important problems of youth gang violence and prescription drug abuse—in fact, these issues remain largely ignored by everyone, says San Diego CityBeat writer Dave Maass. Here’s how Dave’s story for CityBeat and the Crime Report opens:

California’s second largest county is coping with widespread gang violence and prescription drug abuse among youth. But as election day nears, juvenile justice remains a whisper in a monsoon of economic rhetoric.

According to statistics released this year by the San Diego Association of Governments, 38 percent of male juveniles arrestees— and 28 percent of female juvenile arrestees— reported gang affiliations. And last year, 37 percent of juveniles arrested acknowledged prescription drug abuse— the highest rate in four years—according to a county task force.

In the only race on any level with a direct influence over juvenile justice policy in this county of more than 3.1 million people, the challenges of dealing with troubled young people have indeed surfaced—but almost as an afterthought.

The two candidates for the five-member San Diego County Board of Supervisors have an opportunity to take the county in a new direction as they vie for the first open seat in 16 years. So far they’ve traded jabs on funding for after-school programs as part of a larger campaign quarrel over an alleged county “slush fund.”

But in general the juvenile justice problems which are preoccupying some parents and county officials barely get a close examination.

That may not be surprising in an election season that has hinged on jobs and the economy in local as well as national contests. Even in education-related races, the debate has focused squarely on financial mismanagement and labor unions, issues that put the welfare of troubled kids below the concerns of taxpayers.

We, too, wish our local and statewide candidates would focus more on juvenile justice issues which, thus far, don’t seem to be high up on the political talking points list.


A 17-year-old son of a NY law enforcement officer secretly recorded a “stop and frisk” encounter in which police officers called him a “mutt” and told him that they would “break his arm off.”

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf (who happens to live in Venice, CA) talks about how recording perceived wrong-doing can make a big difference and has the rest of the 17-year-old’s experience and its effect. Here’s a clip:

That’s how the politics of this issue will change.

What’s required is more secret recording. It’s very difficult to defend Stop and Frisk when the reality of how it’s administered is made public in a way the average person can understand. Technology is permitting the government to spy on us in unprecedented ways, but it can empower citizens too.

Any 17-year-old can record a Stop and Frisk encounter.

Any non-profit can teach people in affected areas how to inconspicuously record anytime they see one of these encounters.

Big Brother is being watched.

Posted in ACLU, Human rights, juvenile justice, National issues, racial justice, solitary | 1 Comment »

SCOTUS Rules on AZ Immigration and Citizens United…and More

June 26th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Supreme Court decided Monday in a 5-3 decision that Arizona immigration law does not supersede federal immigration law.

SF Gate’s Greg Stohr has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The U.S. Supreme Court scaled back Arizona’s first-of-its-kind crackdown on illegal immigrants, striking down three provisions in a decision that asserts the federal government’s exclusive role to set immigration policy.

The ruling leaves intact, for now, the law’s centerpiece requirement that Arizona police check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. Even so, the 5-3 decision took some of the force from that provision by invalidating parts of the law that would have given the state’s police more power to arrest people for immigration violations.

The ruling gives President Barack Obama’s administration most of what it sought when it sued to block the Arizona law. Supporters of the law said the federal government isn’t doing enough to crack down on an estimated 11.5 million people in the country illegally.

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

It should be noted, however, that the reason that the “show me your papers” part of the bill was left alone was because it has not yet been implemented.

The New Yorker Blog’s Alex Koppelman explains in more detail. Here’s a clip:

You can, if you like, interpret that as a defeat for President Obama and for liberal immigration activists. Certainly that’s what Fox News did, and it’s what Arizona Governor Jan Brewer did, when she called the decision “a victory for the rule of law” and “a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.” Or you can read the parts of the opinion in which Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote it, makes clear that the part of the law he let stand remains because the state hasn’t yet implemented it, or shown how it will implement it, and that it could very well fall later. (And you could take a look around Arizona and see that people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio may very well, in the way they enforce the bit that remains, make it easy for the Court to strike the whole thing down at some point soon.)


Another important SCOTUS decision made Monday upheld the previous Citizen’s United ruling that allows corporate entities to donate unlimited funds to campaigns.

The Atlantic’s Alex Roarty has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court’s rejection of a long-shot legal challenge to let states bar corporate and union political contributions in their own elections underscores the legal quandary in which many left-of-center campaign finance reformers find themselves.

The court, in a 5-to-4 vote split along ideological lines, refused on Monday to strike down a Montana ban on corporate political spending. The decision effectively upholds its landmark 2010 decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and unions were entitled to the same free speech protections as citizens, or at least allow state law to supersede it.

Because the Supreme Court decided Citizens United only two years ago and its conservative majority remains intact, few legal experts expected it to rule in favor of the challenge.

The current case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, stemmed from a century-old Montana law that prohibits corporations from spending money on political campaigns. The effort, joined by more than 20 states, stipulated states should be allowed to carve out their own rules to regulate political fundraising and spending, an argument backed by the Montana Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of the state law last year.


The Department of Justice announced the awarding of grants to fund approximately 800 law enforcement positions to be filled by military veterans.

You can read the press release on the DOJ website. Here are some clips:

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) today announced funding awards to over 220 cities and counties, aimed at creating or saving approximately 800 law enforcement positions. The grants will fund over 600 new law enforcement positions and save an additional 200 positions recently lost or in jeopardy of being cut due to local budget cuts. All new law enforcement positions funded in the COPS 2012 Hiring Program must be filled by recent military veterans who have served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001.


“Today, we step up our support for recent veterans by offering them the chance to pursue meaningful careers in law enforcement,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “At a time of budget shortfalls, these grants will provide opportunities for much-needed, highly-trained professionals – with a proven commitment to service – to continue their careers in communities all across the country.”

By the way, Our Weekly reports that LA received the largest amount of grant money from the DOJ program.

Photo courtesy RI4A via Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Posted in Free Speech, immigration, law enforcement, National issues, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Louisiana Prison Capital of the World, Brian Banks Exonerated, and more…

May 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Louisiana has more people behind bars per capita than anywhere else on earth, with a rate of one in 86 residents incarcerated. From the for-profit prisons that keep their facilities over-crowded to keep cash flowing, to the minimal rehabilitation opportunities at the local level, to the preposterously lengthy prison sentences–New Orleans Times-Picayune’s eight part series sheds light on the poor infrastructure that makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

NOLA’s entire series is worth reading, but here is a clip from Part 4: Unusual Punishment:

Brian Martin is serving 24 years behind bars — without the possibility of parole — for a car burglary. The 22-year-old had two other burglaries on his record when he was arrested near Abita Springs on June 8, 2011, after stripping a BMW of its stereo and steering wheel. If charged as a three-time offender, he could have received life without parole. His attorney, Doyle “Buddy” Spell, persuaded prosecutors to consider only the two most recent car break-ins, taking a life sentence off the table, but doubling the 12-year maximum for a first-timer.

Martin, a drug addict with a mop of unruly blond hair, will be 46 when he is released from prison in 2036. “I would suggest that we just threw away a life and that the punishment did not fit the crime,” Spell said.

Sentences of several decades, or even life, for nonviolent crimes are not unusual in Louisiana. The state’s prisons are filled with Brian Martins — petty criminals who in another state would have received a much shorter sentence or no jail time at all. Unusually tough sentencing laws are one major reason Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

“We see the only goal that is being reflected accurately might be retribution,” said Katherine Mattes, a professor at Tulane Law School and interim director of the university’s Criminal Litigation Clinic.

In Texas, no bastion of liberalism, a two-time car burglar would be guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a maximum of six months. California’s famous three-strikes law does not kick in unless at least one of the crimes was a rape, murder, carjacking, residential burglary or other major felony. There, Martin would have received no more than a year behind bars.

In Louisiana, about 160 habitual offenders whose most recent crime involved nothing more harmful than marijuana are serving 20 years or more. More than 300 people serving life without parole in Louisiana have never been convicted of a violent crime.


Brian Banks was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction with help from the California Innocence Project. His accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was secretly recorded admitting the accusation was false during a meeting with Banks. Now Banks suing California for his false imprisonment.

KPCC’s Patt Morrison had Brian on the show to tell his story. Here’s a clip:

Banks, who was 17 at the time of his trial, pleaded no contest to the charges in order to avoid the possibility of facing 40 years to life in prison in a conviction. He spent six years in prison and was under very restrictive parole until his accuser was recorded saying she wasn’t raped and that she is afraid of coming forward because she might have to return the $1.5 million her family won from the Long Beach Unified School District in a civil suit.

“I received a Facebook friend request last year from the woman who accused me of raping her, where she wanted to reconnect and, in her words, ‘let bygones be bygones,’” said Banks. After receiving this message, Banks hired a private investigator to set up and record their meeting, in which his accuser admitted to falsely accusing him. “From there I took that information to the California Innocence Project, who accepted my case. The rest is history, and here I am today, a free man,” said Banks.

Justin Brooks is the defense attorney handling Banks’ case. He said that in the history of the California Innocence Project, they have never taken a case of someone who had already been released from prison.

The Daily News has the story on Banks’ lawsuit against the state, and includes a video of the emotional hearing. Here’s a clip:

Brooks said that Banks is entitled to $100 a day for every day he was falsely imprisoned under State Law 4900.

If successful, the lawsuit against the state of California would net Banks about $188,500.

Banks, a football standout at Poly, had been heavily recruited by colleges, and had a verbal offer for a scholarship at USC.


Andrea Lopez, 17-year-old LA Youth writer, felt extremely under-prepared for the SAT prep course she attended at UCLA. Lopez was surprised that she could be one of the top students in her grade, and still be so far behind other students from the same school district. Like many other kids in minority communities, she began to worry that her Sylmar public school education was not adequate enough to get her into a good college.

Here’s a clip from the LA Youth story:

I thought I had a great vocabulary, but I had never heard words like “spurious,” “cogent” and “plaudits.” It’s disappointing that the schools I’ve been to didn’t give me as good an education as these kids. Usually I’m proud of getting some of the best grades in my classes, but I was jealous of what these students knew.

I realized that these kids probably grew up with parents who spoke English and used impressive-sounding words. But having Spanish-speaking parents, I learned most of my grammar and vocabulary on my own. I’ve never been ashamed of having parents who weren’t born here or didn’t graduate high school but sometimes I wish they were more educated so they could help me in school.

Be sure to read the rest of Andrea’s story–it has a very inspirational ending.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LAUSD, National issues, prison, prison policy, Probation, Reentry, Sentencing, social justice, Social Justice Shorts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Monday Must Reads (Views and Listens)

September 12th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The terrible fact is that a staggering 48-percent of all African American males will drop out of high school. Tavis Smiley explores what amounts to a national tragedy and looks at what to do about it.

The PBS show debuts Tuesday night in LA, but check listings for your cable provider to find out what time and which PBS station will have it.


The Times editorial board makes an interesting and worthwhile argument. I still don’t happen to agree with them, but their points in Monday’s editorial are good ones and essential to consider as you make up your own mind.


This story is from Sunday’s Wired Magazine by Ryan Singel, and is a definite must read. Here’s a clip:

Former AT&T engineer Mark Klein handed a sheaf of papers in January 2006 to lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, providing smoking-gun evidence that the National Security Agency, with the cooperation of AT&T, was illegally sucking up American citizens’ internet usage and funneling it into a database.

The documents became the heart of civil liberties lawsuits against the government and AT&T. But Congress, including then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois), voted in July 2008 to override the rights of American citizens to petition for a redress of grievances.

Congress passed a law that absolved AT&T of any legal liability for cooperating with the warrantless spying. The bill, signed quickly into law by President George W. Bush, also largely legalized the government’s secret domestic-wiretapping program.

Obama pledged to revisit and roll back those increased powers if he became president. But, he did not.

Mark Klein faded into history without a single congressional committee asking him to testify. And with that, the government won the battle to turn the net into a permanent spying apparatus immune to oversight from the nation’s courts.

Klein’s story encapsulates the state of civil liberties 10 years after the shattering attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. After a decade, the country is left with a legacy of secret and unilateral executive-branch actions, a surveillance infrastructure whose scope and inner workings remain secret with little oversight, a compliant judiciary system that obsequiously bows to claims of secrecy by the executive branch, and a populace that has no idea how its government uses its power or who is watching out for abuses.

Read the rest.


Hector Tobar’s LA Times story is one you shouldn’t miss. Here’s a clip from the story’s opening:

Before this week, the last time I’d seen Obed Silva was in an immigration court in downtown L.A. On that day, he rolled his wheelchair to the witness box and explained to a judge why he shouldn’t be deported.

That was in 2009. Born in Mexico but raised in Orange County, Silva is a 32-year-old former gang member paralyzed from a gunshot injury who reinvented himself as a scholar. It was the errors of his youth — as a teenager he shot and wounded a man at an O.C. party — that led to the deportation proceeding.

Professors at his alma mater, Cal State L.A., testified in immigration court on his behalf. After I told his story in this column, even a conservative talk-show host said he deserved to stay in the U.S. And in December, the government agreed to stop the deportation proceedings against him.

After nearly four years of court dates and adjournments, Silva’s final appearance before a judge lasted only a few minutes, he recalled. “Next thing I knew, the judge said, ‘You’re free to go.’”

This week Silva and I met again, at his mother’s home in Buena Park. I’d come to see what he was doing with his second chance.

He’s teaching writing at Cypress College and tackling his own painful story in a book. Much of his manuscript is about another man born in Mexico, a heavy drinker who was deported many years ago, and who isn’t missed on this side of the border:

Obed’s father, the late Juan Silva.

Juan Silva was, as Obed writes, “an alcoholic, a drug-addict and a wife beater.” Juan Silva, aged 48 at his death, was one of those fraught men who live hard and leave a lifetime of wreckage in their wake.

“I came to this country to run away from him,” Obed’s mother, Marcela Mendoza, told me. Juan Silva was, by Mendoza’s account, obsessed with the family that had escaped him. Soon after they left, he followed them northward……


“The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In the spring and summer of 2010, law professor and researcher Lucian Dervan
, traveled to prisons in the United States, The Netherlands, and Israel to “compare the way each country detains its most violent and culpable residents.” The results of this research, he wrote afterward, “indicate something quite striking about what makes prisons around the world successful.” His results also indicated an alarming view of the way the United States treats its prisoners and what results from that dehumanizing treatment.

Here is a long clip from Dervan’s conclusions. (You can download the entire paper here.)

What makes one prison a violent and uncontrollable badland, while another is a calm, relatively safe, and productive facility for both staff and inmates? From my travels to three continents in search of an answer to this question, one aspect of each prison seems to contribute significantly to its success or failure. Where prisoners believed they were treated like human beings and were provided with reasonable living conditions and opportunities to utilize their time in meaningful ways, the prison environment was relatively healthy and rates of violence were low. In comparison, [in U.S. prisons] where prisoners were subjected to abhorrent living conditions and no efforts were made to treat them with a modicum of respect or provide them with even a scintilla of meaningful stimulation during the day, the prison environment was poisoned and violence ran rampant.

One final story from my travels will summarize the distinction between treating inmates like human beings and treating prisoners as mere objects for confinement.

[W]hen I traveled to Israel three prisoners were asked if they would volunteer to meet with me and, for their services, they were personally thanked by a prison official. During my visit to the state maximum-security prison, however, the treatment of the prisoners was quite different. At one point, a prisoner was sitting inside his cell reading a book. A
guard, who was showing me this particular wing of the facility, decided to demonstrate how he could control the lights inside this prisoner’s cell from outside. Without acknowledging the prisoner was even present, the guard then began switching the light on and off several times. When he was finished with his demonstration, still not having even acknowledged the presence of the prisoner inside the cell, he simply continued to walk down the corridor. It is striking to observe that the guards at this state facility treated prisoners with considerably less respect than the officers tasked with supervising convicted terrorists in Israel.

In conclusion, it is important to clarify why we care what type of environment exists inside a prison. It is certainly not clear that how prisoners are treated has any positive impact on recidivism rates. In fact, of the four prison systems examined in this Article, the one with the highest rate of recidivism is The Netherlands.Nevertheless, the environment inside prisons is vitally important. First, prisons in which inmates feel a sense of community appear to be less violent than those that serve as little more than warehouses for the one out of every hundred Americans currently behind bars. Second, prisons with high rates of violence are expensive facilities to administer because they require large staffs and incur incidental costs associated with medical treatment, overtime, and sick days. As such, prison systems can perform their functions in a more economically efficient manner by creating environments where prisoners are provided with incentives to cooperate and reject violence. Finally, treating prisoners as human beings and creating positive prison environments is simply the morally correct manner in which to administer a penitentiary.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky stated, “The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.” Even without the significant added benefits of reducing violence and lessening the administrative costs of running our prison systems, treating prisoners with dignity is the moral duty of any government. That abiding by this duty creates a safer environment for both staff and inmates and provides for the possibility of creating better prisons with less money should merely be considered a significant and
wonderful ancillary benefit.


Like most news outlets, NPR had a string of good 9/11 stories. This, about the death of NY City Fire Department chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, is a particularly sweet one.

Father Mychal Judge was a Franciscan friar and a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. He was also a true New York character. Born in Brooklyn, Mychal Judge seemed to know everyone in the city, from the homeless to the mayor.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Father Mychal arrived at the World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit. And as firefighters and other rescue personnel ran into the North Tower, he went with them.

Bill Cosgrove, a police lieutenant, was also there. When the South Tower collapsed, it sent debris flying into the neighboring building. When the dust cleared, Mychal Judge was dead. Soon after, Cosgrove found him. Then, Cosgrove and a group of firefighters emerged from the rubble, carrying Father Mychal’s body….

Listen to the rest here.


As you may or may not know by now, Fox Sports ran a video about the inclusion of two more college teams—Utah and Colorado— in the PAC 10, which will now be the PAC 12. In order to publicize the change on Fox’s college sports show, the show’s “reporter” Bob Oschack interviewed students at USC about their reaction to the new of the change, and asked them to “give a good old fashioned American welcome” the two new schools. Oschack, however, did not interview just any USC students. He picked only Asian students and only Asian students with strong accents. The result was racial caricature that was utterly flabbergasting in its creepiness.

The story was first reported by the Colorado Daily Camera and in short order calls and emails began to stream into the network, Fox Sports at first issued a tepid apology that was little more than an “Ooops. Our bad.” Then, a few hours later, as the fury over the vile video grew, there were evidently some hurried meetings in FoxLand because the apology from the Fox Sports head got a little bit stronger—but not much.

We sincerely apologize to President [C. L. Max] Nikias and the entire USC community for the production and posting of the video. The context was clearly inappropriate and the video was removed as soon as we became aware of it. We will review our editorial process to determine where the breakdown occurred, and we will take steps to ensure something like this never happens again.

The fury continued, thus on Wed, Fox cancelled its college sports show, The College Experiment which had produced the horrid segment, yanked videos from the network site and Hulu, and apologized all over again. (Of course Fox couldn’t stop a million video flowers from blooming on YouTube and the like. For example, here at KCET in it is posted along with a commentary by blogger/teacher Ophelia Chong, which—by the way— is very much worth reading.

Although the news on the incident died down over the weekend, all is far from forgiven. After all, said one Asian commentator, Fox is the network that called Obama’s birthday party “a “hip-hop BBQ” that “didn’t create jobs”—and other fun racist moments. In other words, they created the environment in which it was only a matter of time that the racist crap on the news segments would bleed into areas like sports coverage.

Posted in art and culture, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Gangs, immigration, Middle East, Must Reads, National issues, prison, prison policy, race, racial justice | No Comments »

AND IN OTHER NEWS: The Death Penality, Assange, and Fun Gun Gifts- UPDATED

January 11th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Go Illinois!

Reuters has the story. Here’s a clip:

Illinois was poised to become the first state since 2009 to abolish the death penalty after the state Senate approved the ban on Tuesday and sent it to Democratic Governor Pat Quinn for his signature.

The Senate vote came after House approval late last week. The Senate vote was 32-25.

Illinois has not executed anyone for more than a decade after former Republican Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in January 2000 following a series of revelations that people had been sent to Death Row who were later found to be innocent.

“We’ve had 20 innocent people on Death Row,” said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “It’s time to be done with the moratorium and do the right thing.”

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, the measure’s sponsor, said that too many mistakes had been made in Illinois that sent innocent people to death row.

“We have an historic opportunity … to join the civilized world
and end this practice of risking putting to death innocent people,” Raoul said before the vote.

FYI: The bill just passed would take the money saved from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund (which will no longer be needed), and re-allocate the $$$ to a fund for murder victims’ services and law enforcement.


This cheery ad is on the web page of the Palmetto State Armory.

Palmetto State Armory would like to honor our esteemed congressman Joe Wilson with the release of our new “You Lie” AR-15 lower receiver.

(For those unfamiliar with armaments, an AR-15 is the automatic rifle that is akin to an M-16, and the “lower receiver’ is the “gun” part of this particular gun.)

UPDATE: The above link to the ad no longer works. Obviously, it has been taken down.

Evidently Congressman Wilson was tickled by the matter since he is shown cradling the AR-15 named in his honor.


The NY Times has the story:

Lawyers for Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks antisecrecy group, said on Tuesday that they would oppose his extradition to Sweden because he might subsequently face “illegal rendition” to the United States, risking imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or even the death penalty.

They made the assertion in defense documents released after Mr. Assange made a brief appearance in a British high-security court for a largely procedural hearing concerning his resistance to demands for his extradition to Sweden, where he has been accused of sexual misconduct….



The LA Times has the story:

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was shot in the face Tuesday night in East Los Angeles after he and his training officer were attacked by a reputed gang member on parole, authorities said.

The suspected gunman was fatally shot by the training officer after a struggle ensued, authorities said.

Deputy Mohamed Ahmed, 27, was taken to a local hospital and may lose sight in one eye, said a source familiar with the incident. The Sheriff’s Department initially reported that the deputy had been shot in the cheek.

Ahmed did not appear to have suffered any brain damage and was listed in critical condition. He joined the department in April 2007.

As we hope for the health of Gabrielle Giffords, we also hope for LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Mohamed Ahmed.

Posted in Death Penalty, Free Speech, National issues | 27 Comments »

WORDS MATTER 2: The Consequences of Eliminationist Rhetoric

January 10th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

There are all kinds of other topics that need discussing, but they will have to wait until Tuesday as, for better or for worse, the Tucson shooting, and the issues that swirl around it, still demand to be front and center.

In his Monday column Paul Krugman talks about what he calls “eliminationist rhetoric.”

I don’t know if he coined the phrase or has just appropriated it. Whatever the case, it goes to the heart of what is problematic in a certain kind of political speech that has come out of the weeds and into the open these past few years. It is not the fiery rhetoric that has been part of politics since the country’s founding, rather it is another darker strain of partisan vitriol that characterizes one’s opponents, not as the loyal opposition, but as monsters.

Here’s a clip from Krugman’s column:

….As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

The NY Times Monday editorial has this to say:

Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Ms. Giffords, killing a federal judge and five other people, and wounding 13 others, appears to be mentally ill. His paranoid Internet ravings about government mind control place him well beyond usual ideological categories.

But he is very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery. With easy and legal access to semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the parking lot, those already teetering on the edge of sanity can turn a threat into a nightmare.

Last spring, Capitol security officials said threats against members of Congress had tripled over the previous year, almost all from opponents of health care reform. An effigy of Representative Frank Kratovil Jr., a Maryland Democrat, was hung from a gallows outside his district office. Ms. Giffords’s district office door was smashed after the health vote, possibly by a bullet.

And there is this from the Wall Street Journal:

Jim Gilchrist, who founded the immigration-law enforcement group Minuteman Project, said he sensed a “violent streak” in American politics and brought a bodyguard to public events. “I am in fear of my life from people like this who are on my side of the argument,” as well as from extremists “from the ultra-left,” Mr. Gilchrist said.

As signs emerged that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was a disturbed loner, party leaders weren’t suggesting any direct link between specific political statements and his actions. Authorities haven’t commented on possible motives.

But the shootings appear to be yielding the kind of ruminations on civility and violence not seen since domestic terrorists blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Some lawmakers and liberal activists implored President Obama to use the moment the way President Bill Clinton did in 1995, not only to call for national unity but to denounce a political culture of violence…..

….In the run-up to the November elections, Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle talked of “second amendment remedies” to voter frustrations.

Candidate Allen West, now a Florida congressman, said during the campaign of his Democratic opponent: “Let me tell you what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to make the fellow scared to come out of his house. That’s the only way that you’re going to win.”

And finally this from E. J. Dionne at the Washington Post:

Let’s begin by being honest. It is not partisan to observe that there are cycles to violent rhetoric in our politics. In the late 1960s, violent talk (and sometimes violence itself) was more common on the far left. But since President Obama’s election, it is incontestable that significant parts of the American far right have adopted a language of revolutionary violence in the name of overthrowing “tyranny.”

It is Obama’s opponents who carried guns to his speeches and cited Jefferson’s line that the tree of liberty “must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

…The point is not to “blame” American conservatism for the actions of a possibly deranged man, especially since the views of Jared Lee Loughner seem so thoroughly confused. But we must now insist with more force than ever that threats of violence no less than violence itself are antithetical to democracy. Violent talk and playacting cannot be part of our political routine. It is not cute or amusing to put crosshairs over a congressional district.

Liberals were rightly pressed in the 1960s to condemn violence on the left. Now, conservative leaders must take on their fringe when it uses language that intimates threats of bloodshed. That means more than just highly general statements praising civility.

Quite honestly, other lives may depend on it.

Posted in National issues, National politics | 114 Comments »

Of Ethics & WikiLeaks: “The Job of the Media is Not to Protect Power From Embarrassment”

November 28th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

What everyone now knows
(or ought to know) is that, on Sunday five newspapers—The New York Times, the Guardian of the U.K., Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde and Spain’s El Pais—began publishing carefully vetted excerpts from 250,000 diplomatic cables leaked to the publications by the now infamous website WikiLeaks.

It is, as WikiLeaks itself puts it, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain.

The U.S. government is—surprise, surprise— mighty upset by the leaks, and loudly condemned them as “reckless.”

So what are the ethics of such leaks in general and these leaks in particular?

On this topic many are opining like crazy. Among those most worth reading are the following:

1. Simon Jenkins writing for The Guardian. (Jenkins is a columnist/author/BBC commentator who has previously been the editor for both the Evening Standard and the London Times. In other words, he’s a not a trifler in the world of British journalism.)

Here are some clips:

Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be “world policeman” – an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global. Nonetheless, the Guardian had to consider two things in abetting disclosure, irrespective of what is anyway published by WikiLeaks. It could not be party to putting the lives of individuals or sources at risk, nor reveal material that might compromise ongoing military operations or the location of special forces.

In this light, two backup checks were applied. The US government was told in advance the areas or themes covered, and “representations” were invited in return. These were considered. Details of “redactions” were then shared with the other four media recipients of the material and sent to WikiLeaks itself, to establish, albeit voluntarily, some common standard.

The state department knew of the leak several months ago and had ample time to alert staff in sensitive locations. Its pre-emptive scaremongering over the weekend stupidly contrived to hint at material not in fact being published. Nor is the material classified top secret, being at a level that more than 3 million US government employees are cleared to see, and available on the defense department’s internal Siprnet…..


The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. If American spies are breaking United Nations rules by seeking the DNA biometrics of the UN director general, he is entitled to hear of it. British voters should know what Afghan leaders thought of British troops. American (and British) taxpayers might question, too, how most of the billions of dollars going in aid to Afghanistan simply exits the country at Kabul airport.


The money‑wasting is staggering. Aid payments are never followed, never audited, never evaluated. The impression is of the world’s superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden. Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the United Nations, are all perpetually off script. Washington reacts like a wounded bear, its instincts imperial but its power projection unproductive….

Read the whole thing. It’s worth it.

2. The New Yorker’s senior editor, Amy Davidson, essentially agrees with Jenkins

She writes:

Timothy Garton Ash, who writes that he has been taking “dives into a vast ocean” of cables for the Guardian, says of the cache,

It is the historian’s dream. It is the diplomat’s nightmare….a multi-course banquet from the history of the present.

And that sounds right: the Times, in its summary, managed to work in a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse whom Muammar Qaddafi kept near him and a wedding in Dagestan with “drunken guests throwing $100 bills at child dancers.” (Garton Ash called that “highly entertaining” cable “almost worthy of Evelyn Waugh.”) It also has accounts of attempts to gain control the Pakistani nuclear arsenal (for insight into that matter, see Seymour M. Hersh’s 2009 piece), warnings about Iran’s plans in that direction, and contingency planning for the collapse of North Korea. (One suggested measure to prepare for that last one: help the Chinese make money there.) There are so many anecdotes and so much color that one might forget where it all tends, and what one ought to do about it.

It is, for example, intriguing to read in a cable the Times highlights, about the day Afghanistan’s vice president arrived in the United Arab Emirates carrying fifty-two million dollars in cash with him (how much luggage space would all those bills take up?); but it’s also devastating. The cable said that he “was ultimately allowed to keep [it] without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” What are the options for its “origins”? Drug money, bribes, a straight theft of American taxpayer dollars meant to support our effort there? Here as in many cables, the strong narrative only throws into relief the incoherence of our Afghan policy, which remains a story with no obvious end….


….maybe the government, if it expects the word “secret” to constitute a clear warning about the potential for danger to one’s country, should think hard about what the word means. The White House’s protests Sunday, in response to the release, that “President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal,” would be more persuasive if the Administration hadn’t, for example, recklessly invoked the states secrets privilege itself.

That brings us back to Garton Ash, and the idea that the documents present a historian’s dream but a diplomat’s nightmare. Between the two, one’s sympathy is with the former—because what historians dream of is, more often than not, what voters in a democracy require.

3. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Russell Adams and Jessica Vascellaro, don’t take a side, but give a round-up of what others have said.

Read the cables themselves here.

Pre-scribbled bucket image by Thomas Saur

Posted in media, Must Reads, National issues, National politics | 3 Comments »

Um, yeah. What He Said.

October 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Posted in American voices, media, National issues, National politics | No Comments »

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