Obama cuts sentences of hundreds of drug offenders


By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer


President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 reduced or eliminated the sentences for hundreds more non-violent drug offenders.

The move brings Obama well beyond his most recent predecessors, who used their commutation powers more sparingly. He’s now reduced sentences for 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom are serving time for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics.


Many of those whose punishments he’s reduced were incarcerated for crimes involving crack cocaine, which came with mandatory sentences that were longer than those for the powdered version of the drug. The discrepancy — a facet of a decades-long war on drugs — overwhelmingly affected African-Americans.


Obama had hoped for legislation to permanently end the disparities in sentencing laws. While an unlikely group of activists have pushed in Congress for a bill that would alter mandatory minimums and reform the prison system, a rancorous political climate during last year’s presidential campaign prevented progress.


Instead, Obama encouraged Americans serving lengthy terms to apply for clemency, prompting a flood of applications to his Justice Department. A group of legal aid groups established the Clemency Project to help screen applicants and complete the required paperwork.


An onslaught of requests required Obama’s aides to establish a process for vetting applications, which began backing up in the Pardon Attorney’s office.

At the beginning of 2017, 13,568 petitions for clemency were still pending. The Obama administration has received more than 30,000 petitions over eight years.


The power to grant pardons and commutations is written into the US constitution as one of the president’s clearest unilateral prerogatives. With large batches often coming in the final weeks of an administration, an act of clemency cannot be challenged in court or overturned by Congress.


President George W. Bush granted 189 pardons and 11 commutations, including reducing the prison term for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in the probe of the leak of the name of a CIA operative.


President Bill Clinton issued a flurry of pardons on his final day in office, including for financier Marc Rich and the president’s half-brother Roger Clinton. In sum, Clinton ordered 396 pardons and 61 commutations.


No recent commander-in-chief, however, has used the powers as liberally as Obama to enact a criminal justice reform agenda. Writing in the Harvard Law Review earlier this month, Obama said his push toward eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and offering clemency to non-violent drug offenders was informed by his own history.


“This is an effort that has touched me personally, and not just because I could have been caught up in the system myself had I not gotten some breaks as a kid,” Obama wrote, recalling meetings at the White House with recipients of his clemency grants who had turned their life around.


“By shifting the narrative to the way clemency can be used to correct injustices in the system — and reminding people of the value of second chances — I worked to reinvigorate the clemency power and to set a precedent that will make it easier for future presidents, governors and other public officials to use it for good,” Obama wrote.


While President-elect Donald Trump has yet to detail his planned use of clemency powers, there’s little optimism about criminal justice reform advocates that he’ll continue Obama’s efforts. Trump ran on a “law and order” platform, though rarely addressed issues of clemency or sentencing on the campaign trail.


“I’m looking at various predictors to try and decide where he might go. He wants to make America safe again. We know based on data that locking up low-level offenders won’t make America safe,” said Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director and co-founder of #cut50, a group committed to reducing the US prison population by half. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be surprised,” Sloan said.


Rockettes balk at dancing at Trump’s inauguration


By: Mary Sanchez, KCStar

rockettes-dancingRockettes in tradition dancing pose

            Guessing how many Radio City Rockettes will show for the Trump inauguration will be something of a parlor game in the coming weeks.

A sad new day is dawning when such a classic slice of Americana is dragged into the political fray. Members of the famous high-stepping troupe are no longer under orders to perform for the president-elect. The choice to dance or not will be voluntary. Or so goes the about-face from the Rockettes’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Just before Christmas, members of the Rockettes joined the growing list of professional entertainers who have declined a role in the inaugural festivities for President-elect Donald Trump. Reportedly, a majority of the nearly 100-woman ensemble were repulsed upon learning that management had booked them for the Jan. 20 event.

One Rockette spoke at length with MarieClaire.com, detailing the concerns as a moral question on which the dancers wanted to express solidarity with their many support staff who were demoralized by the Trump campaign rhetoric and misogyny. “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — this is a women’s rights issue,” the woman, who was quoted anonymously, said. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics.”

For those valid concerns, the ladies are being painted as petulant, hyper-liberal whiners who can’t get over the election results. Nope. This is a workplace issue. The 13 full-time dancers in the Rockettes, in particular, know their jobs may be on the line if they refuse to perform.

For the rest of us, this saga is a taste of the next four years. When and how will it be appropriate or pragmatic to react to the latest Trump offense or to recall the heinous rhetoric of his campaign?

A tenor of the Trump administration is already on full display. His crazy becomes the norm that everyone else accepts. There appears to be little other choice. If you work in government, or in a business that deals with government, you will ultimately have to answer to Trump. And the only realistic checks on his power, Congress and the courts, are dominated by Republicans who have zero or unknown inclination (respectively) to exercise it.

Thus, many Americans are behaving like families do around a member who is a volatile alcoholic or addict. They walk on eggshells, lest they ignite unwanted fury. Better just learn to live amid the dysfunction, they decide. The problem is it tends to make people complicit, co-dependent.

We see a parade of business, military and political leaders march into Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago to genuflect before the gilded one. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and Apple have been represented, along with past political rivals. Other industry giants, like Bill Gates, have apparently spoken with Trump by phone.

You can’t fault them for trying to take a measure of the man, or for trying to fill the empty vessel that he is with some of the understanding he will need to lead the nation. At times he seems to be listening, giving hints that he’s open to persuasion on issues of high importance such as climate change, the environment and torture as a tool of war.

But what one suspects their audiences with Trump are all about is flattering him, getting a good word in, kissing his ring, because the man will do as he pleases.

The Rockettes drama may seem trivial compared with the other items of the news cycle. Yet this may turn out to be an object lesson about preserving our core democratic values in the face of power. The office of the presidency is due respect, but we must also demand respect for everyone the incoming president maligned to get elected: women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants. Maybe it takes a chorus line to remind us.

Trump’s disgusting behavior and attitudes toward women are beyond disputable — his own words indict him. Need a reminder? Here are three: his demeaning talk of grabbing women’s private parts, his gross verbal assaults on female newscasters and entertainers who challenged him and his bragging about walking in on undressed teenaged beauty contestants.

His behavior is the very pattern and practice of sexism. No sane human resources director would countenance compelling a female employee to work for such a man. And yet the Rockettes are expected to dance. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes,” one dancer wrote in an email to her colleagues, according to MarieClaire.com.

Thank you, ladies. Without even stepping on stage, you offered a well-timed reminder of one of the major challenges we face in the coming four years: ensuring dignity for all. The applause is deservedly yours.

In a related matter, a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, resigned from the group rather than participate in the Trump inaugural.


Police arrest NAACP protesters at Senator Jeff Sessions’ Mobile office

By Prescotte Stokes III, AL.com

protestors-sitting-in-sessions-officeProtestors sitting in Sessions office

            Six people including NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks have been arrested during a sit-in staged at the Mobile office of Sen. Jeff Sessions. The group was protesting Sessions’ nomination by President-elect Donald Trump to be U. S. Attorney General.

While there were about 30 protesters at the sit-in when it began around midday on Tuesday, many of them left before the arrests were made by the Mobile Police Department just before 7:00 p.m. The NAACP and other organizations held similar protests outside Senator Sessions offices in Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Dothan.

The remaining members that were arrested were: Alabama State Conference President, Benard Simelton, Humanity in Action Fellow, Devon Crawford, the President of Mobile Chapter 5044, Lizzetta McConnell, National Director of the Youth and College Division of NAACP, Stephen Green and Joe Keffer.

NAACP President Cornell William Brooks tweeted shortly before 6:30 p.m. that he believed he and others occupying the office were soon to be arrested.”The building manager has requested that we leave. And the police have just arrived. We are about to be arrested.”

Earlier today, Brooks joined Alabama NAACP President Bernard Simelton to rebuke Sessions — President-elect Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. The national organization and the Mobile chapter said they would sit in Sessions’ office until he withdraws his attorney general nomination or they get arrested.

“As a matter of conscience and conviction, we can neither be mute nor mumble our opposition to Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions becoming attorney general of the United States,” Brooks said in a statement.  “Sen. Sessions has callously ignored the reality of voter suppression but zealously prosecuted innocent civil rights leaders on trumped up charges of voter fraud. As an opponent of the vote, he can’t be trusted to be the chief law enforcement officer for voting rights.”

Shortly after the press conference held by the NAACP at Sen. Sessions Mobile office located at 41 West I-65 Service Road North, Sarah Isgur Flores, spokeswoman for Sen. Sessions released this statement.

“Jeff Sessions has dedicated his career to upholding the rule of law, ensuring public safety and prosecuting government corruption.  Many African-American leaders who’ve known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General.  These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited. From the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sheriffs Association to civil rights leaders and African-American elected officials, to victims’ rights organizations, Senator Sessions has inspired confidence from people across the country that he will return the Department of Justice to an agency the American people can be proud of once again.”

According to Mobile County jail records all six of the arrested members have been charged with second-degree criminal trespassing. McConnell, the President of Mobile Chapter of the NAACP has a court date set for her charge on January 30 at 8:00 a.m.



Trump fills Cabinet quota with Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)



  •  Dr. Ben Carson
    In 1984, at age 33, Ben Carson became the youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital. He pioneered a number of neurosurgical procedures and was even awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.
    Carson is a skilled neurosurgeon and has earned a number of accolades during his storied career in medicine, but none of those accomplishments speak to the skills needed to craft policy for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that President-elect Donald Trump has asked him to lead.
    Carson’s ability to run a federal bureaucracy with a $27 billion budget such as HUD is unknown. But Donald Trump has been consistent in selected unqualified millionaires and billionaires with no specific policy expertise to run the federal government. With that, Trump has selected Ben Carson to run HUD.
    HUD has traditionally been the cabinet department that Republican presidents have chosen African American nominees. It has been the predictable quota position for GOP presidents and Trump is carrying on that tradition. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan selected Sam Pierce as his HUD Secretary and, in 2004, President George W. Bush chose Alfonso Jackson. But whether they were picked in part, because of skin color or not, both Jackson and Pierce still had at least some experience in a government position before becoming Secretary of HUD. Jackson was the former executive director of the St. Louis Housing Authority and later ran the Dallas Housing Authority. “Silent Sam” Pierce had at least served in the Department of Treasury before being selected as Reagan’s only Black cabinet member.
    During Pierce’s tenure, a Congressional investigation revealed that, “Pierce’s aides, who said they had been acting on his orders, distributed millions of dollars in housing subsidies to prominent Republican consultants at a time when the Reagan administration was sharply reducing the agency’s budget,” according to “The New York Times.”
    The New York Times article continued: “Under President Ronald Reagan, annual spending on subsidized housing programs dropped to $8 billion from $26 billion, cuts that Mr. Pierce defended.
    Carson’s housing strategy is likely to be a mix of novice policy making and unproven theory. That’s how policy novices who think they know everything on subjects they have no expertise typically approach government. Given that, Congress is likely to be the entity truly in charge of the policy as Carson fumbles around with the details.
    Ben Carson has already shown a rugged disregard for plain fact since the time he retired from Johns Hopkins in 2013. That trait hasn’t gone unnoticed. On the day Carson was nominated, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) blasted Trump’s decision. “Dr. Carson’s nomination to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is frightening. He may be a brain surgeon but he is not qualified to run HUD. Donald Trump knows this,” Waters asserted in the statement. “During the Republican primary, [Trump] called him a liar, pathological and even violent. Dr. Carson himself has said he is not qualified to lead a federal agency. Now, we are expected to forget these disqualifying statements by both of them and entrust Dr. Carson with overseeing HUD, which has a budget of $47 billion.”
    The statement continued: “Millions of Americans rely on HUD assistance to help them access safe, decent, and affordable housing. And they are not all in the inner cities; they are in rural and suburban areas as well. HUD provides critical investments in these areas to spur economic development and house the most vulnerable. This is no easy task. The rural and urban Americans who benefit from HUD programs deserve a strong, qualified leader at the helm of this important agency. Dr. Carson is not this person. We know it, Donald Trump knows it, and yes, even Dr. Carson knows it.”
    The confirmation hearing for Carson should be quite long and entertaining. Just like Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, the choice of Carson by Trump would indicate that the department is of little to no importance to the incoming President, but that there may be major change in federal housing policy on the horizon.