AG Jeff Sessions Lays Out Priorities To Optimistic Police Groups

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 15 2017, 6:17 AM ET

AG Jeff Sessions Lays Out Priorities to Optimistic Police Groups

In five weeks as attorney general, Jeff Sessions has taken fire for his testimony about past meetings with Russia’s ambassador and been criticized for the abrupt removal of dozens of politically appointed U.S. attorneys around the country.

But Sessions is getting a much warmer welcome among the nation’s law enforcement community, which has largely embraced his plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases, crack down on immigration offenses and ease up on suing local police departments accused of violating minorities’ civil rights.

Sessions will further explain his plans to realign the Justice Department’s priorities on Wednesday, when he addresses a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officers in Richmond, Virginia. He can expect an enthusiastic response.

“Happily for us, on vast majority of issues, we’re on the same page,” said James Pasco, a senior adviser at the Fraternal Order of Police.

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FEB. 28: Sessions: ‘We Don’t Need To Be Legalizing Marijuana’ 1:15

The Justice Department wouldn’t comment on what Sessions will say in Richmond. But a spokesman said his remarks will expand on a number of his recent actions, including a memo ordering a crackdown on violent crime and a speech that warned that a recent uptick in crime was “the beginning of a trend” that requires a “return to the ideas” that cut lawbreaking to historic lows since the 1990s.

Related: AG Sessions Says DOJ to ‘Pull Back’ on Police Department Civil Rights Suits

In that Feb. 28 speech to state attorneys general, Sessions blamed Mexican drug cartels for a record spike in heroin overdoses and suggested that he would reverse Obama administration policies that sought to reduce the prosecutions of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders on charges that carried mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Sessions said in the speech that from 2010 to 2015, the number of gun and drug prosecutions had dropped. “This trend will end,” he said.

Sessions, a Republican former U.S. senator and federal prosecutor from Alabama, also signaled a new approach toward police departments accused of discriminatory policing. He said that rather than “spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court,” federal money would be better used going after criminals.

Related: Trump Orders Crackdown on Drug Trafficking and Anti-Cop Violence

Michael Ramos, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said it was refreshing to hear Sessions promise to “get back to tough-on-crime.”

The Obama administration, Ramos said, went too far in seeking ways to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and get people out of prison. That lenience, he said, could be driving crime rates.

“We’ve gotten to a point where the pendulum is starting to swing back,” Ramos said.

Lawrence Leiser, vice president for policy at the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, said his organization opposed easing up on mandatory minimum sentencing and welcomed a return to earlier approaches.

He said he viewed Sessions’ take on law enforcement as “inspiring.”

Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference in Washington
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on March 2, 2017. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

“Assistant U.S. attorneys are encouraged by the attorney general’s approach to combating drug trafficking and violent crime by using all of the lawful tools that are currently available to prosecutors,” Leiser said.

Related: Trump Administration Tells Remaining U.S. Attorneys to Resign

That said, law enforcement officials cautioned that the Trump administration is only a couple months old, and Sessions had yet to articulate how the new priorities would be put in place.

Ronal Serpas, a former police superintendent in New Orleans and chairman of the group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said he embraced Sessions’ focus on violent crime. But his group has also warned the administration against using jail and prison as the tools to attack crime more broadly.

Many nonviolent, first time offenders, particularly those suffering from mental illness or drug addiction, would be better served by alternatives, the group said in a set of recommendations for the new administration.

The group also urged Sessions to rethink his opposition to sentencing reform.

And it warned against rumored cuts to the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

“I’d like to see the attorney general focus narrowly on the issue of violent gun and drug crime and not get distracted by the big sweeping arrests we had in the 1990s,” Serpas said. “I argued for those things back then. But I saw that those massive arrest strategies don’t work. There’s tremendous collateral damage.”

Thomas Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he was encouraged by the mere fact that Sessions was speaking directly to local law enforcement agencies so early in his tenure.

That’s important to many police officials who saw the Obama administration as being too critical of police during a time of eroding trust between cops and the public, he said. Much of those problems have been driven by increased scrutiny of shootings by police and an uptick in attacks on officers.

“We’re just trying to get off on the right foot and help influence things in a direction where the big cities around this country are providing the best service we can,” Manger said.

Gorsuch Asserts His Independence: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 21 2017, 9:34 AM ET

Gorsuch Asserts His Independence: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge’

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Watch Live: Confirmation Hearing for SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch insisted that he would not shy from ruling against President Donald Trump and assured lawmakers during the second day of his confirmation hearings Tuesday that he made no commitments to the president when he was nominated to the Supreme Court.

“I have no problem ruling against a person or any party,” Gorsuch told Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, calling the question of his independence a “softball.”

  • Gorsuch said he would have “no problem” ruling against President Trump or anyone else.
  • The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge said he would have “walked out” if Trump asked him to vote against Roe v. Wade.
  • He called it “grossly improper” to speculate about how he would rule in case about travel ban.

“There is no such thing as a Republican judge, or Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country,” he added.

Gorsuch has used the start to his high-profile confirmation battle to present himself as a consensus building, independent jurist with views well within the mainstream. He repeatedly told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he made no promises to the Trump administration about future rulings, even saying he would have “walked out the door” if Trump asked him to commit to voting against Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

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Gorsuch Pressed About Legality of Trump’s Travel Ban 3:03

But Democrats prodding him about his opinions on both established Supreme Court precedent and the legality of Trump’s most controversial acts thus far as president, including Trump’s travel bans, received few clues.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge called it “irresponsible” to tip his hand on potential future rulings.

Related: Follow the Confirmation Hearing Live Blog

“It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that and a violation of the separation of powers and judicial independence if someone sitting at this table, in order to get confirmed, had to make promises or commitments about how they’d rule in a case that’s currently pending and likely to make its way to the Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., examined him about Trump’s controversial travel restrictions.

Trump’s revised executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority nations, issued after his first travel order was described as a “Muslim ban” by critics and met with significant legal challenges, was blocked from going into effect by a federal judge last week.

Gorsuch called Roe v. Wade “precedent” that has been “reaffirmed many times” and declined to say whether he agreed with a host of other precedent-setting rulings on issues like gun rights and the power of the executive branch.

“If I indicate my agreement or disagreement with the past precedent of the United States Supreme Court, I’m doing two things that worry me sitting here: The first thing I’m doing is signaling to future litigants that I can’t be a fair judge in their case. Because those issues keep coming up,” Gorsuch told Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee.

Democrats and liberal groups have attacked Gorsuch for his ties to big business, centering on his skepticism of the so-called Chevron Doctrine that allows federal agencies to make rules to clarify areas where the law is ambiguous. His opposition to Chevron could curtail federal agencies ability to tackle issues like climate change and workers’ rights.

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Gorsuch: I Would Have ‘No Difficulty’ Ruling Against the President 2:26

Feinstein asked the nominee for assurances “that you will be for the little man” and stand up to corporate interests.

“If you want cases where I ruled for the little guy as well as the big guy, there are plenty of those, Senator,” he told Feinstein, who asked for examples to be sent to her office.

Democrats also used the hearing to voice their frustrations over Republican efforts to block Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to fill the court vacancy left after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016.

“Do you think [Garland] was treated fairly by this committee, yes or no?” Leahy asked Gorsuch.

“I can’t get involved in politics, and there is judicial canons that prevent me from doing that,” Gorsuch said.

Scalia’s death — and Republicans’ subsequent refusal to allow President Barack Obama to fill the seat, made the Supreme Court one of the top issues in the 2016 race. Trump won 56 percent of voters who said the nominee was important, according to national exit polls.

Outside groups are pushing Democrats to unite in opposition to Trump’s pick, though most have said they will wait for the hearings to conclude before deciding how they’ll vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has painted Gorsuch as an ideological extremist and said he will make his views “very strongly known to them” once the public hearings conclude.

Outside groups have also been working to promote Gorsuch’s confirmation with millions of dollars in undisclosed donations. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked if it was “any cause of concern” for him that a reported $10 million ad campaign was launched to support his nomination.

“There is a lot about the confirmation process today that I regret,” Gorsuch said, including the strain it has put on his family.

“The fact of the matter is, that it is what it is, and it’s this body that makes the laws. And if you wish to have more disclosure, pass a law and a judge will enforce it,” he added.

Even a united front would unlikely be enough for Democrats to stop Gorsuch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not ruled out invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” a parliamentary maneuver that would eliminate the 60-vote threshold required to advance a nominee, and intends to approve the nominee before the Senate breaks for Easter recess.

Federal Judge In Hawaii Rules That President Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Illegal, Freezing Implementation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) A federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Donald Trump’s new travel ban on Wednesday afternoon, hours before the ban was set to go into effect.

In a 43-page ruling, US District Court Judge Derrick Watson concluded in no uncertain terms that the new executive order failed to pass legal muster at this stage and the state had established “a strong likelihood of success” on their claims of religious discrimination.
Trump decried the ruling during a rally Wednesday night in Nashville, introducing his statement as “the bad, the sad news.”
“The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first one,” Trump said, as the crowd booed the news.
“This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach,” he added, before pledging to take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The practical effect of the ruling — which applies nationwide — is that travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees will be able to travel to the US.
Unlike the previous executive order, the new one removed Iraq from the list of banned countries, exempted those with green cards and visas and removed a provision that arguably prioritizes certain religious minorities.
The new ban was announced earlier this month and was set to take effect Thursday. It would have banned people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,” Watson wrote.
“Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries,” Watson added. “It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%.”
“It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam,” Watson added. “Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.”
“When considered alongside the constitutional injuries and harms … and the questionable evidence supporting the Government’s national security motivations, the balance of equities and public interests justify granting the Plaintiffs’ (request to block the new order),” Watson wrote.
The Justice Department said it will defend the new travel ban.
“The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope. The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” DOJ said in a statement Wednesday night.

Judge points to cable news comments

After Trump initially blasted a federal judge in Seattle on Twitter for blocking the original travel ban, and several other federal courts halted its implementation last month, the White House went back to the drawing board for over a month and rewrote the ban — hoping this one would survive legal scrutiny.
Yet certain statements made by Trump’s senior advisers have come back to bite the administration in court.
In the ruling, Watson brought up specific statements made by the President and Stephen Miller, one of his top policy advisers and a reported architect of the original order, in cable news interviews.
Trump made plain his opposition to Islam in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper last year, asserting: “I think Islam hates us.”
Cooper asked then-candidate Trump in the interview to clarify if he meant Islam as a whole or just “radical Islam,” to which Trump replied, “It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”
The judge cited this interview as an example of the “religious animus” behind the executive order and quoted Trump telling Cooper: “We can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.”
Likewise, the decision cited an interview Miller had on Fox News following the legal struggles of the first executive order last month, which the legal opponents of the ban have emphasized repeatedly.
In a February interview, Miller downplayed any major differences the new executive order would have from the first and said it would be “responsive to the judicial ruling” holding it up and have “mostly minor technical differences.”
“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller added.
“These plainly worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose,” Watson wrote.
“Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” he added.

Changes not enough, judge says

While Watson signaled that this temporary freeze of the travel ban may not last forever, he nevertheless concluded that the changes made between the first and second versions of the travel ban weren’t enough.
“Here, it is not the case that the Administration’s past conduct must forever taint any effort by it to address the security concerns of the nation,” he wrote. “Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions.'”
Immigration advocates applauded the ruling immediately.
“The Constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump’s disgraceful and discriminatory ban. We are pleased but not surprised by this latest development and will continue working to ensure the Muslim ban never takes effect,” said ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, who argued for the case for the challengers in Maryland federal court earlier on Wednesday.
The Justice Department has yet to indicate its next legal steps, but Trump administration has argued the ban is necessary to protect the nation’s security.
“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said March 6.
Federal judges in several states, including Maryland and Washington state, are also in the process of evaluating challenges to the new travel ban, but may defer ruling in light of the nationwide ruling in Hawaii.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,'” recalled Shibly. “And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.'”

The officer asked a second time.

Watch Cynthia McFadden on Nightly News for More

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

“I was not about to get tackled,” she said. She handed it over.

American citizens Akram Shibly, left, and Kelly McCormick had their phones searched as they reentered the U.S. at Niagara Falls, New York on two separate trips in January 2017. They say Shibly was put in a chokehold when he refused to hand over his phone on the second crossing. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

“That’s shocking,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. “That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that’s not happenstance.”

“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet.”

“This is just going to grow and grow and grow,” said Senator Wyden. “There’s tremendous potential for abuse here.”

What Changed?

What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published 24 reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps.

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

“The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,” said Callahan. “That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.”

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP’s spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole “in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to.”

On January 31, an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an “X” on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump’s original “travel ban” executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was “detention.”

“I didn’t know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn’t want to find out,” said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

“Once they had that, they had everything,” Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. “Your whole digital life is on your phone.”

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.Sidd Bikkannavar poses for a portrait in 2014. Takashi Akaishi

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport’s lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

“They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something,” said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. “That’s reckless and that’s how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy.”

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

“As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” wrote Roberts. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers’ digital cloud data. The ‘cloud’ is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

Wyden Pushes to Change the Policy

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government “overreach”. As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

“The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,” said Senator Wyden. “I think it is time to update the law.”

Akram Shibly at home in Buffalo, Sunday March, 12, 2017. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can’t comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it “firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs.”

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: “CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence.” A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News’ requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP’s electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.

FBI Director James Comey Warned Wednesday That Americans Should Not Have Expectations Of “absolute privacy,

 

(CNN) FBI Director James Comey warned Wednesday that Americans should not have expectations of “absolute privacy,” adding that he planned to finish his term leading the FBI.

“There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America; there is no place outside of judicial reach,” Comey said at a Boston College conference on cybersecurity. He made the remark as he discussed the rise of encryption since 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed sensitive US spy practices.
“Even our communications with our spouses, with our clergy members, with our attorneys are not absolutely private in America,” Comey added. “In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications.”
But, he also said Americans “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices.
“It is a vital part of being an American. The government cannot invade our privacy without good reason, reviewable in court,” Comey continued.
In the last four months of 2016, the FBI lawfully gained access to 2,800 devices recovered in criminal, terrorism and counterintelligence investigations and the FBI was unable to open 43% of those devices, Comey said.
Americans’ desire for privacy and security should never be viewed as incompatible, he said.
“We all value privacy. We all value security. We should never have to sacrifice one for the other,” Comey said. “Our founders struck a bargain that is at the center of this amazing country of ours and has been for over two centuries.”
FBI director at center of many controversies
Comey’s leadership of the FBI has been marked by controversy in the wake of the bureau’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email controversy and President Donald Trump’s baseless accusations that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of phones at Trump Tower.
He did not address the wiretapping claim nor WikiLeaks’ recent claim that it obtained internal CIA documents.
Comey did, however, say he plans to finish out his 10-year term.
“You’re stuck with me for about another 6 1/2 years, and so I’d love to be invited back again,” he said.

Ten U.S. States Are Trying To Make Peaceful Protest A Criminal Offence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF EVAN GREER’S WEBSITE AND FFTF NEWS)

 

Hi,

Ten states have legislation pending to criminalize some peaceful protest. [1]

80,000 of us have already spoken up about a bill in Washington state, in which any protesters deemed “disruptive” could be charged with “economic terrorism.”[2] But the idea is spreading — in Missouri, wearing a hood at a protest would be considered “criminal identity concealment”; in North Dakota, drivers would be allowed to run over and kill a protester with no legal liability, as long as it was done “negligently.”[3]

These bills are an urgent threat to free speech and patriotic dissent. If we speak up now and raise the alarm, we can make them politically toxic and protect the right to protest.

Sign the petition to stop laws that attack our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly!

No matter what your cause is, we should all have the basic right to speak out — and lots of people have been using it. But powerful and corrupt institutions are threatened by people getting together to make their voices heard, that’s why they want to silence them. So they’re trying to insulate themselves from the public by making it effectively too dangerous to actually use our constitutional right to free speech.

The ten states already considering these bills are Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Virginia, and Washington [4] — click through for links to each bill. Lawmakers seeing these bills fly under the radar could get the wrong idea. We’ve got to speak up now to make sure our ability to speak up on any issue is not silenced.

Authorities argue that these laws are necessary to protect the public from radical protesters. But these laws are not even written to do that — they’re so vague that they could criminalize completely nonviolent protest, or leave it to local authorities to pick and choose the groups they want to silence. Any one of these laws even getting serious debate in a state house is a threat to our freedom to express ourselves, online and offline, everywhere.

Sign the petition to reject laws that criminalize protest!

Fight for the Future exists to support the Internet’s ability to do good. So let’s come together as Internet users to defend our rights.

Sincerely,
Evan
[1] The Intercept – https://theintercept.com/2017/01/23/lawmakers-in-eight-states-have-proposed-laws-criminalizing-peaceful-protest/

[2] Fight for the Future – https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/urgent-new-law-would-charge-protesters-with-terrorism/

[3] The Intercept – see [1]

[4] NPR – http://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/512636448/bills-across-the-country-could-increase-penalties-for-protesters

 

Corrupt Leaning Romanian Government Survives No Confidence Vote After Hundreds Of Thousands Protest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 

Romania’s Government Survives Vote of No Confidence Amid Protests

9:13 AM Eastern

(BUCHAREST, Romania) — Romania’s center-left government has survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence after mass protests.

Ioana Bran, the parliamentary secretary said 161 lawmakers voted in support of the motion, short of the 232 votes needed for it to pass.

“We can say that the necessary majority has not been met, according to the constitution, for the vote to pass,” Bran said.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested against the government after it passed an emergency ordinance last week to decriminalize some official corruption.

The government eventually scrapped the ordinance and the bill will now be debated and approved by the parliament.

Why the Supreme Court special education case about a boy with autism is so sickening

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF  THE WASHINGTON POST)

Why the Supreme Court special education case about a boy with autism is so sickening

January 12 at 3:42 PM

There is something sickening about a case the Supreme Court just heard about a boy with autism and what level of public education he — and other students with disabilities — deserve.

Here’s some background: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law requiring public schools to provide children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.” Students in special education get “individualized education programs, or IEPs, or blueprints that spell out supports and goals for each child. The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that IEPs must lay out plans that provide some educational benefit, but it didn’t set a benefit standard, and lower courts have been divided over what it should be. Some have required a substantial — or “meaningful” educational benefit — while others require only a de minimis — or anywhere above trivial — educational benefit.

Now the Supreme Court — which held a hearing in the case Wednesday — is being asked to decide on a standard, which is essentially the same as deciding whether the United States really cares about providing all students a free and appropriate public education, and whether it is wholly committed to helping families that have children with disabilities.

These are the facts of the court case, which could affect millions of children with disabilities and the public schools they attend:

A boy named Drew was diagnosed with autism at age 2, affecting his cognitive functioning, language and reading skills, and his social and adaptive abilities. From preschool through fourth grade, he received special education services in schools in Colorado’s Douglas County district.

By fourth grade, his parents saw his behavior get increasingly worse. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which got involved in this case, said fourth grade was “especially rocky.”

Drew exhibited multiple behaviors that inhibited his ability to access learning in the classroom. In the past, he has climbed over furniture and other students, hit things, screamed, ran away from school, and twice removed his clothing and gone to the bathroom on the floor of the classroom.

Drew’s parents said that although they saw some progress in Drew, it was minimal, so they pulled him from the public school system and placed him in a private school that used interventions that experts consider effective for many children with autism. Reports about his progress under an intervention called ABA were very positive, with “great” behavioral gains that led to an ability to pay more attention in class, complete math and verbal skills work  and interact with peers and teachers.

Under the federal law called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents can seek tuition reimbursement from the school district and can win if several conditions are met. One of them is that their son wasn’t getting enough “educational benefit” from the public schools. Drew’s parents applied for reimbursement — arguing that the public district had not provided him with a free and appropriate public education. They were denied by the school system. That started a trek through the courts, leading to the Supreme Court, which is reviewing a 2015 decision by the 10th Circuit, which upheld the school system’s decision, using a very low standard for educational progress.

What is enough educational benefit? That’s what the Supreme Court is being asked to consider, and that, when you think about it, is where this case gets ugly.

Remember that we are talking about young people with disabilities — some of them so severe that a child might, for example, have the intellectual capacity of a 6-month-old, or have frequent disruptive seizures  — and their families, some of whom have daily burdens that others can’t begin to imagine.

So is minimal educational benefit enough? You may not know exactly what “minimal” is, buy by definition, you wouldn’t want that to be the standard for your child. Is “some” benefit — which courts have said means progress that is barely above trivial — enough for your child — or somebody else’s? Or do students with disabilities deserve a standard requiring “meaningful” benefit and if so, what does “meaningful” mean? Should the standard be “appropriate”? During the Wednesday hearing, nine different standards were mentioned in the proceedings within a half-hour period.

Should children with any disability be at the mercy of a standard that depends on the federal appellate jurisdiction in which his school district is located?

The Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed to be dissatisfied with the 10th Circuit’s ruling that public schools can meet IDEA requirements by providing an education to students with disabilities that is more than trivial, but there was no seeming direction indicated about what standard they do think makes sense.

It is understandable that school districts have a difficult time trying to appropriately implement IDEA, not only because of the nebulous standards but also because it has never been fully funded. According to the New America Foundation’s EdCentral (footnotes removed):

In the IDEA legislation, Congress set a maximum target for the federal contribution to special education spending equal to 40 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities. Thus, if the program were “fully funded,” the states would receive their maximum grants, calculated at 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure (APPE) times the number of children with disabilities served in the school year 2004-2005, adjusted for population changes. Under the act, the count of children with disabilities cannot exceed 12 percent of the state’s total school population.

For FY 2014, IDEA federal funding covered 16 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities, less than in FY 2008 when federal funding covered 17 percent of the cost and well below FY 2009 when additional funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act covered 33 percent of the cost. IDEA Part B “full funding” for FY 2014 would have amounted to approximately $28.65 billion, or roughly $17.17 billion more than was actually appropriated. The shortfall in IDEA funding has been assumed by the states and local school districts.

Yet there is something chilling about some of the debate about this issue. The debate is being played out in legalese — there’s  lots of talk about “procedure” — in the world of words rather than people. As Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in Wednesday’s hearing: “What is frustrating about this case and this statute is we have a blizzard of words.”

A blizzard of words that seem to fly right over the actual people being affected. As Gary Mayerson, a civil rights lawyer and board member of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, said in this article by my colleague Emma Brown: “I can’t even believe that this is really a question for the court to wrestle with.”

Lebanon Agrees On New Covenant To Form A New Government

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘LEBANON NEWS’)

“The Covenant” Althelatinih materialized

After a month and a half of negotiations and consultations between the political parties, the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Fouad Fleifel announced the completion of the new line-up headed by Saad Hariri from Baabda Palace. Issued on Sunday evening, December 18, 2016, three decrees relating to accepting the resignation of the government of President Tammam Salam and the designation of Hariri as Prime Minister, and the lineup of the new government. The first two decrees signed by President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, while the third decree signed Aoun and Hariri.

The decree accepting the resignation

The broadcast decrees Fulayfel, it came in the text of the decree accepting the resignation of Tammam Salam government, which holds the number 1, as follows: “The President of the Republic, based on the Constitution, especially Section 5 of Article 53 thereof, and paragraph (d) of article 69, item one thereof, upon the resignation submitted by Prime Minister Mr. Tammam Salam, paints the following:

Article I: considered the government headed by Mr. Tammam Salam resigned.

Article Two: The decree of where needed and shall immediately upon its release. “

Baabda the president of the Republic, General Michel Aoun

Decree naming Hariri

According to the Decree No. 2 to nominate Mr. Saad Hariri as Prime Minister: “The President of the Republic, based on the Constitution, particularly Section 3 of Article 53 thereof, based on the Decree No. 1 date of December 18, 2016 included the government headed by Mr. Tammam Salam resigned considered, Decrees the following:

Article I called Mr. Saad Hariri as Prime Minister.

Article Two: The decree of where needed and shall immediately upon its release. “

Baabda, December 18, 2016

President of the Republic General Michel Aoun

Forming a government decree

The decree forming the government, which bears the number 3, the text of the following: “The President of the Republic based on the constitution, especially item 4 of Article 53 thereof, based on the Decree No. 2 of 18 December 2016 containing the designation of Mr. Saad Hariri, head of the Council of Ministers, on the proposal Prime Minister, paints the following:

Saad Hariri as Prime Minister

Ghassan Hasbani as deputy prime minister and minister of health

Marwan Hamadeh, Minister of Education

Talal Arslan, Minister for the Displaced

Ghazi Zaiter minister of agriculture

Michel Pharaon, Minister of State for Planning Affairs

Ali Qanso Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs

Ali Hassan Khalil and Minister of Finance

Mohammed Fneish and Minister of Youth and Sports

Jean Oghassabian Minister of State for Women’s Affairs

Yacoub Sarraf, Minister of National Defense

Gebran Bassil and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates

Hussein Haj Hassan, Minister of Industry

Salim Jreissati justice minister

Nihad Hanged Minister of Interior and Municipalities

Mohammed Kabbara Minister of Labour

Ayman Shakir and Minister of State for Human Rights

Jamal Jarrah and communications minister

Certain Almrobei and Minister of State for displaced

Ghattas Khoury, Minister of Culture

Pierre Raffoul and Minister of State for Aiash Republic

Nicola Tueni and Minister of State for fight against corruption

Tariq al-Khatib and Minister of the Environment

Care Izz al-Din, Minister of State for Administrative Reform

Joseph Fenianos minister Oachgal

Melhem Riachy Minister of Information

Pierre Abi Assi, Minister of Social Affairs

Ous Kadeneian Minister of Tourism

Cesar Abi Khalil and Minister of Energy and Water

Raed Khoury, Minister of Economy and Trade

According to the constitution issued a decree forming the government signed by the President and the Prime Minister, as the Constitution in its Article 64 provides that the government offer within a period of 30 days from the date of issuance of the decree forming, ministerial statement to the House of Representatives for a vote of confidence in order to direct its powers.

It is scheduled to take Minister commemorative photo with the president on Wednesday, to be followed by a session of the government headed by Aoun in Baabda Palace.

South Korea Impeaches President Geun-hve

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME MAGAZINE NEWS)

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea’s Loathed President Park Geun-hye Has Been Impeached

A recent opinion survey showed 78% of respondents supported her impeachment

South Korean President Impeached
Following six weeks of street protests and an approval rating that plunged to just 4%, South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached Friday by the nation’s National Assembly.

Following six weeks of street protests and an approval rating that plunged to just 4%, South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached Friday by the nation’s National Assembly, signaling an ignominious end to a term that had become mired in a corruption scandal.

The impeachment vote required at least 28 of Park’s fellow Saenuri Party lawmakers to cross the aisle to make up the majority two-thirds of the 300-seat legislature. The final vote was 234 to 56 in favor of impeachment. Park is suspended with immediate effect although the vote needs to be ratified by the nation’s Constitutional Court within 180 days to become permanent.

The nation’s Prime Minister takes over Park’s responsibilities in the interim, though Park had already offered to resign if lawmakers voted against her. If she does, new elections must be held within 60 days. Crowds of banner-waving protesters greeted the verdict with cheers outside the chamber.

“President Park Geun-hye has not only forgotten her duty as the nation‘s leader and administrative chief but also violated the constitution and other laws concerning her public duties,” said opposition lawmaker Kim Kwan-young while presenting the impeachment bill.

Park is the 64-year-old daughter of former South Korean military dictator Park Chung-hee, who is credited with spearheading the East Asian nation’s rapid economic growth of the 1970s and ’80s. She is accused of sharing classified documents with her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

Read More: Huge Numbers Demand the Ouster of South Korea’s President in a Fifth Week of Protests

Choi, the daughter of the shaman-like cult leader who grew close to Park and her strongman father, has been charged with using her influence over Park to wrest almost $70 million from some of South Korea’s biggest companies, including LG, Hyundai and Samsung.

Crowds between 500,000 to 1.5 million have thronged central Seoul in recent weeks to demand Park’s ouster. Protesters see the corruption scandal as symptomatic of wider problems in South Korean society, including soaring income inequality, ingrained sexism and a lack of social mobility.

Park has yet to resign or formally comment on her impeachment and has not been seen in public since Tuesday, instead ensconced herself in the presidential Blue House despite the roiling demonstrations less than a mile away. “She really has been very tone-deaf to what the people want,” says Professor Sean O’Malley, a political scientist at South Korea’s Dongseo University.

As President, Park is constitutionally protected from prosecution other than for insurrection or treason, though prosecutors say she had a “considerable” role in Choi’s alleged transgressions. There are widespread calls for criminal charges against Park once she leaves office. Park has apologized for the scandal three times but insists nothing she did was for personal gain.

Read More: South Korea’s Familial Presidential Family Scandal

“My heart is crushed when I think I cannot resolve the deep disappointment and anger of the people even if I apologize 100 times,” she said in one tearful televised statement.

South Korea now faces a damaging period of political limbo. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is deeply unpopular among the opposition and protesters, who see him as too close to Park’s scandal-hit administration. The lack of clear leadership has consequences for regional security, with Seoul a vital ally to Washington’s efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions of rogue state North Korea.

However, O’Malley says there are signs the Choi scandal has had the positive effect of empowering the national prosecutors’ office. “I’m hopeful that they will be more aggressive in pursuing political corruption cases in the future,” he says, adding that the saga “may strengthen the legal system in the long run.”

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