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Monday, August 12, 2013

Holder To End Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder called for much-needed changes to the criminal justice system, most notably, he announced his plans to change Justice Department policy so that low-level, non-violent drug offenders would not be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum prison sentences. This comes at a time when the federal prison system is overextended and cost $80 billion in 2010 alone.

Federal prosecutors will be ordered to omit the quantity of drugs when charges are filed, which would allow judges to exercise their discretion and not force them to mete out harsh five- to ten-year prison sentences for minor offenses.  He also voiced support for diverting people to drug treatment and community service programs, and allowing prisons to release elderly, non-violent offenders.

Three related bills were also recently introduced to Congress. One to allow judges to sentence below the ‘minimum’; the second, to make retroactive  the 2010 law mitigating the racial disparity between crack and cocaine sentences; and finally, to allow low-level offenders out of jail early.

In what is probably the most surprising element of this story, Holder’s comments drew bipartisan support from members of Congress.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Announces More Jailbreaks

Yemen’s Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, announced that the group would be freeing more jailed members soon. The group has already staged at least two prison breaks last month in Iraq and Pakistan, and was likely behind the one in Libya as well. American drone strikes have increased exponentially in Yemen over the past two weeks. Drone strikes against suspected militants in Yemen began four years ago, when AQAP was first identified as a serious threat. As the US does not have good intelligence on the ground in Yemen, its reliance on drones has obviously done little good.

The drone strikes are the face of America to most Yemenis and their frequency has become psychologically traumatizing, especially as strikes are authorized on anyone suspected of being involved with AQAP (such as, say, a driver) and can be ordered without even knowing the suspected militant’s name. The deaths of five guards on Sunday was likely a retaliation for recent drone strikes.

Tragic Few Days for Nigeria

Suspected Islamic militants wearing military fatigues gunned down 44 people who were praying in a mosque in northeastern Nigeria, while another 12 civilians were murdered in a simultaneous attack.  The news arrived just as journalists received a video of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau gloating over recent attacks, threatens worse ones to come, and brags that the group could take on the US.

Today, hundreds of homes were destroyed by heavy floods in Nigeria’s biggest northern city of Kano, which also unearthed around 20 corpses in the city’s main cemetery.

Finally, Amnesty International released a report saying that 9,000 people have been forced from their homes and thousands more have lost their livelihoods as part of a redevelopment plan for Lagos. It is still only the first phase of the plan, and thousands are now sleeping out in the open, with nowhere else to go.

Philippines Hit By Typhoon Utor

At least 23 people are missing after Typhoon Utor swept across the northern Philippines. It is the most powerful storm to strike anywhere in the world this year, with the strongest sustained winds. The winds toppled power lines, tore roofs off of houses and triggered landslides. Telecommunications networks in many areas were out of order and roads were blocked by fallen debris. In one town alone, there reports of 600 houses being damaged; in another, 80% of its infrastructure was destroyed.

With winds speeds of up to 150 mph and gusts of up to 184 mph before it made landfall, Utor is technically, a Super Typhoon. While the Philippines are routinely battered by storms, the five worst on record have all happened since 1990. As the seas get warmer, sea levels rise and storms get stronger, it is likely that these typhoons will become ever more destructive.

As US ‘Strategic Ally,’ Bahrain’s Struggle Ignored

On February 14th, 2011 – in the middle of the Arab spring – Bahrain’s peaceful protest movement began and at one point swelled to include a quarter of the population.  Then the Bahraini regime and its Gulf Cooperation Council partners, led by Saudi Arabia, crushed them.

Despite claiming that the US supports all those who want democracy, President Obama has not offered his overt support for the protesters because of Bahrain’s status as our ‘strategic ally.’ Meanwhile, members of the political opposition, human rights activists, doctors and ordinary citizens have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and brutally murdered.

The opposition plans to stage major protests on August 14th – the day the country was freed from British colonial rule.  Bahrain’s prime minister said he would ‘forcefully confront’ protesters, who would be ‘punished.’

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