Saturday, July 4, 2015

Last Call For Pardon Me, Mr. President

A big complaint I hear from the left is that President Obama isn't doing nearly enough to deal with non-violent convicts sent to prison for federal drug crimes with huge mandatory minimum sentences, people who are essentially victims of the War on Drugs.

Lame Duck Obama is best Obama.

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of his clemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

But even as he exercises authority more assertively than any of his modern predecessors, Mr. Obama has only begun to tackle the problem he has identified. In the next weeks, the total number of commutations for Mr. Obama’s presidency may surpass 80, but more than 30,000 federal inmates have come forward in response to his administration’s call for clemency applications. A cumbersome review process has advanced only a small fraction of them. And just a small fraction of those have reached the president’s desk for a signature.

“I think they honestly want to address some of the people who have been oversentenced in the last 30 years,” said Julie Stewart, the founder and president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a group advocating changes in sentencing. “I’m not sure they envisioned that it would be as complicated as it is, but it has become more complicated, whether it needs to be or not, and that’s what has bogged down the process.”

And I know that it's a fraction, less than one percent.  But it's a start, and it's more than any other US President has done.  Hopefully we'll see this process starting moving over the last 18 months of the Obama presidency and that 80 will become a lot, lot more. The prison pipeline is a massive issue for all of us, and I'm glad to see that the White House is starting to take real steps, to help real people.

Surviving The Hard Cell

Dylann Roof, the 21-year old man allegedly behind the slaughter of 9 black churchgoers in Charleston, may not have been alone in the knowledge and planning of the deadly attack.

A joint state and federal investigation into the activities of accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof has widened to include other persons of interest, according to multiple sources familiar with the ongoing investigation.

The expanded scope of the investigation now includes people with whom Roof associated in the weeks before the June 17 shootings of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the sources said. Roof, 21, of Columbia, is white.

Although it appears Roof traveled alone to and from Charleston on the day of the killings, it is possible others had some knowledge of what he planned to carry out, said the sources, who are not being identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Investigators began to explore how much Roof’s associates knew, and when they knew it, after reviewing his cellphone and computer records, the sources said.

Prosecutors are still studying exactly what charges, if any, some of those associates might face, the sources said.

Asked Friday about the Roof case, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, “As the Attorney General (Loretta Lynch) said, ‘We have opened a file on this and are continuing to investigate this tragedy.’ ” He declined to elaborate.

One possible charge could be misprision of a felony, which means a person had knowledge of a crime to be carried out and did not inform law enforcement. Other charges might be lying to a federal law enforcement officer.

Similar charges were brought against associates of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, so I'm not surprised in the least about the obstruction of justice style of charges.  The more disturbing question is whether or not anyone helped Roof plan his deadly attack.

As I've said before, dozens of right-wing domestic terrorist cells operate in the US: white supremacist groups, sovereign citizen outfits, anti-government militias, they're still out there and by and large we pretend they don't exist until after they massacre people in a church or plant a bomb at a MLK Day parade.

It would be nice to take these guys out before somebody gets hurt or killed for once.

Read more here:

Making The Havana Run

With President Obama's announcement of a US embassy in Havana and opening up, the first practical charter flights by a major carrier, in this case JetBlue, are now available.

The airline said Cuba Travel Services Inc is offering the weekly flight on Fridays between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. It did not say how much the trip would cost.

JetBlue now operates five weekly round trips to Cuba, including flights from Tampa and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood with various charter partners, the company said in a statement.

Since the Obama administration issued new regulations that eased some restrictions on trade with Cuba, including permitting more travel by Americans to the island, U.S. airlines such as United Airlines Inc [UALCO.UL] and Delta Air Lines have also said they would look into adding service.

Other charter airlines already operate limited service to the Caribbean island.

American citizens are still not allowed to visit Cuba as tourists, but they can visit the island for one of 12 reasons, such as visiting family or participating in academic, professional, religious or educational programs.

I'm going to have to imagine that tourism flights to Cuba, a regular thing enjoyed by our Mexican and Canadian neighbors, will become a reality within a year or two.  Well, if Republicans don't kill it. 

Somehow I think it'll be academic pretty soon.
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