Category Archives: Politics

A tragic shooting is exposing deep divisions across Canada

Canadian activists are calling for political and judicial reforms after a white farmer was found not guilty in the 2016 shooting of a young indigenous man by a seemingly all-white jury, spurring thousands of Canadians to demonstrate across the country.

Protests spread around Canada after the jury acquitted Gerald Stanley, a 56-year-old farmer, in the murder of 22-year-old Colton Boushie, a member of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation in the central province of Saskatchewan, on Friday. Two years ago, Boushie and his friends drove onto Stanley’s land in search of assistance with a flat tire near the town of Biggar. The young people caught Stanley’s attention when he heard a vehicle start; believing it was being stolen, the farmer confronted them. A verbal back-and-forth ensued and Stanley fired a handgun, hitting Boushie. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

In Canada, the use of a firearm to defend private property is illegal. But Friday’s verdict means that Stanley will walk free. A jury reportedly containing no members of color — or indigenous members more specifically — found the farmer not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter. The decision devastated Boushie’s family, who announced following the verdict that they would meet with government officials and demand changes to Canada’s justice system.

“Today, we saw no justice,” said Jade Tootoosis, Boushie’s cousin. “We are angry, we are upset, and we are hurt. But we will continue to speak out for the injustices indigenous people face in this society. This is unacceptable.”

“Some people state that race has nothing to do with this process, yet the defense felt threatened by an indigenous person being on the jury,” she said, referencing the fact that indigenous would-be jurors were rejected in favor of white jurors. “I think that speaks volumes.”

The Boushie family reportedly met with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott on Monday to discuss the decision. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould both offered their sympathies following the verdict, with Trudeau acknowledging that “we understand there are systemic issues in our criminal justice system we must address” in Canada.

“I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times. Indigenous people across this country are angry, they’re heartbroken and I know Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike know that we have to do better,” Trudeau told reporters.

The verdict comes after a bitter case, one that has sparked heated debate across Canada. Stanley testified after the shooting that he did not intend to fire at the car but the gun “just went off.” But Boushie’s family say the case was mishandled from the beginning. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took three of the car’s occupants into custody following the shooting, part of a separate investigation. Much of the initial investigation surrounding Boushie’s death also centered on the indigenous young people involved, rather than Stanley. A junior constable initially headed the investigation and the car where Boushie died was left out in the rain for two days, washing away evidence. His body was left, face-down, in the gravel for 24 hours while officers awaited a warrant.

Boushie’s family learned of his death when RCMP officers arrived with weapons drawn, later asking his mother if she had been drinking. The family were also not present at an August 2016 court appearance for Stanley because the RCMP failed to inform them it was happening. Racist messages peppered social media following the shooting, including on a Facebook page for Saskatchewan farmers.

“F–king indian,” wrote one poster.

“In my mind his [Stanely’s] only mistake was leaving witnesses,” wrote Ben Kautz, then-councillor for the Rural Municipality of Browning, who later resigned over the comments.

At the time, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) blamed the RCMP for the vitriol and for presenting the shooting in a way that disproportionately cast Boushie as the aggressor. Following Friday’s verdict, indigenous communities slammed the decision as a victory for racism, one pre-determined by the treatment indigenous people face in Canada.

“White people — they run the court system. Enough. We’re going to fight back,” Debbie Baptiste, Boushie’s mother, told a crowd on Saturday. “They’re not sweeping us under the carpet. Enough killing our people. We fight back.”

“Justice for Colten” has become a popular rallying cry in the time since the shooting, drawing attention not only to Boushie’s murder but to the larger situation facing indigenous Canadians, who disproportionately live in poverty and lack access to basic necessities. Cases involving the murders and disappearances of indigenous women have haunted the country for years, something Trudeau’s government has pledged to look into.

But indigenous communities say that process has been halting and slow. Meanwhile, suicides and poor health conditions plague majority-indigenous areas of the country — many First Nations communities have been forced to organize because they do not have access to drinking water. And while indigenous Canadians represent around 3 percent of the population, they are close to 26 percent of the country’s incarceration rate.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe reportedly met with Boushie’s family over the weekend and emphasized the need for soul-searching in Canada, especially with regards to racism and the rights of indigenous communities.

“We respect the decisions of the justice system and its independence, but as we move forward it’s incumbent on us as a government to have those very important, very challenging conversations with our aboriginal community here in the province,” he said.

Across the border, conversations surrounding racism and police framing have dominated headlines for several years as movements like Black Lives Matter have gained traction. Indigenous activism in the United States has also seen an increase in coverage, as Native communities have fought against projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Police Recommend Bribery Charges Against Trump Buddy Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Police investigating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have recommended to Israel’s attorney general that he be charged with bribery in two cases, Israeli news media reported on Tuesday. Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, has been questioned several times since the start of 2017. Police can make only a recommendation; the final decision to […]

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White House had big plans to promote serial wife beater Rob Porter before his history went public

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Rob Porter was so exemplary, he was up for a promotion. That news came just after FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed Tuesday during testimony that the White House knew for months about the former staff secretary’s history of domestic violence. Nonetheless, he was in “serious discussions” to take on bigger roles in Donald Trump’s West Wing, writes CNN:

Porter had been actively lobbying to take on new policy portfolios outside the traditional scope of the staff secretary, one person familiar with the matter said, which included speechwriting duties and a role in planning policy rollouts. Neither of those tasks is traditionally carried out by the staff secretary.

One of the areas Porter was set to delve further into was trade policy, according to the person. Porter was a regular attendee at a weekly trade meeting among top-level administration officials.

He was also being considered for the deputy chief of staff position, another source familiar with the situation said.

John Kelly was reportedly one of Porter’s biggest fans and wanted to be sure he was “being used to his full potential.”

Kelly “definitely wanted to expand his role,” a source familiar tells CNN.

Trump will almost surely have someone’s head over this, as he doesn’t look kindly on bad press generated by others. He prefers being he sole source of his own humiliation.

As the fallout from the Porter scandal has stretched into a new week at the White House, a frustrated President Donald Trump has spent his days phoning allies and associates for advice on how to handle negative coverage, sources familiar with the conversations say.

Trump’s also got that sads that the main focus of his “agenda” might be hampered by the exit of key abusers on his staff.

He is particularly concerned with advancing his immigration proposals, a policy objective that has been helmed by Kelly.

And by “immigration proposals,” he means “deportations.” 

Here is where most of Trump’s education cuts come from

The largest portion of President Donald Trump’s cuts to the Education Department in his 2019 budget proposal is buried within 160 pages and mentioned in a single sentence among a slew of other programs.

Making up more than half of the $3.6 billion total cuts to the agency, the budget plan calls for eliminating the $2.1 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant program in its entirety. The program, also known as Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is used by schools to pay for teacher professional development, reductions in class size, and the formation of new evaluation procedures.

Listed in a section entitled “Reduces Waste: Streamlines or Eliminates Ineffective or Redundant Program,” the administration barely gives any other explanation for the cuts.

Credit: Screenshot of FY2019 Budget

Despite the lack of fanfare, the grant program is the key source of federal funding to support teacher training. A recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that schools use the funding not just for professional development, but to “build stronger teacher pipelines” and “modernize and elevate the teacher workforce” by recruiting teachers of color, providing mentoring, and increasing teacher salaries — practices that help prevent teacher attrition. (ThinkProgress is editorially independent of CAP.)

This is especially important at a time when teacher shortages have reached high levels across the country. Education Department data shows that districts in every state are struggling to fill teacher positions for a variety of subjects, including math, science, and special education.

“This would be a significant burden for states charged with staffing in these high need areas,” Constance Lindsay, research associate at the Urban Institute’s education policy department, told ThinkProgress.

The shortages have been a longstanding problem, with teacher education enrollments dropping by 35 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute. The report highlighted the key trends leading to a decrease in the number of teachers, including high student-teacher ratios — an issue that Title II funding also seeks to resolve. According to the Department of Education, more than 40 percent of schools in the 2014-2015 school year used some Title II funds for class size reduction, and 14 percent of schools used all of their funds to reduce class size.

Gutting the Title II program would “be particularly hard felt in our higher poverty schools where educators and students need more support — not less,” explained nonprofit organization Education Trust. According to the organization, Title II money is distributed based on a formula that ensures districts with the highest percentage of students living in poverty receive the most funding. During the 2015-2016 school year, almost half of the money was distributed to the highest-poverty schools. Those schools are often the ones who stand to benefit the most from additional teacher training and professional development, and they typically serve the most diverse populations of students.

“Those students — they’re already going to school in strapped environments,” said Lindsay, adding that schools in high poverty areas “don’t have the resources on their own … it’ll hurt these kids the most.”

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has proposed cutting the program, and while the Obama administration also had its qualms about it — namely, that professional development funds should be better analyzed to measure their impact on student education — former Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested fixing the program, not getting rid of it. Last year, House Republicans unveiled a measure that also calls for the elimination of the program. It currently awaits committee consideration.

A Completely Deranged Trump Claims GM Is Coming Back To Detroit (GM Never Left)

With no evidence to support his claim, Trump assumed that GM was bringing a South Korean plant back to Detroit. Trump said that GM was coming back to Detroit. The problem is that GM never left Detroit. Video: .@POTUS on General Motors closing plant in South Korea: "General Motors is coming back into Detroit. That […]

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Following unleashing of ICE, arrests of immigrants without criminal records more than doubles

It’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: when Donald Trump and members of his administration claim Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is using American taxpayer resources to prioritize dangerous people and “bad hombres” for arrest and deportation, they’re lying to you. Since Trump unshackled his mass deportation agents via executive order after taking office last year, the largest surge in ICE arrests haven’t been people who pose a risk to public safety, but rather undocumented immigrants with no criminal convictions at all:

The agency made 37,734 “noncriminal” arrests in the government’s 2017 fiscal year, more than twice the number in the previous year. The category includes suspects facing possible charges as well as those without criminal records.

Critics say ICE is increasingly grabbing at the lowest-hanging fruit of deportation-eligible immigrants to meet the president’s unrealistic goals, replacing a targeted system with a scattershot approach aimed at boosting the agency’s enforcement statistics.  

That includes arrests resulting from what immigrant rights advocates have termed “silent raids”: “Those facing deportation who show up for periodic ‘check-ins’ with ICE to appeal for more time in the United States can no longer be confident that good behavior will spare them from detention.” In other words, immigrants just trying to follow ICE’s rules by checking in. But, “once-routine appointments now can end with the immigrants in handcuffs.”

In one recent “silent raid,” officials detained an Ohio dad who had gone to what was supposed to be a routine check-in, accompanied by Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) and noted immigration attorney David Leopold. “The first thing out of their mouth was, ‘We’re not going to beat around the bush. We’re going to take him into custody,’” said Leopold. Despite living in the U.S. for nearly four decades with no criminal record, Amer “Al” Adi Othman was deported to Jordan two weeks ago.

“Immigrants whose only crime was living in the country illegally were largely left alone during the latter years of the Obama administration,” reports The Washington Post. 

New York Times publishes column from the world’s least reliable gun researcher

John Lott, a discredited researcher with a history of pushing false and misleading information about guns, scored space in Tuesday’s New York Times. The article, which argues that background checks are flawed and ineffective, continues his streak of misleading and deeply flawed analyses.

It’s unclear why, exactly, the New York Times believed Lott is a credible source of gun research. Lott’s trademark assertion that more guns means less crime was formally and thoroughly repudiated by a panel convened by the National Research Council. In one case, a researcher has suggested that Lott fabricated an entire survey on defensive gun use. Lott has also been caught publishing studies with severe statistical errors.

Faced with mounting criticism, Lott created a fake online persona, Mary Rosh, that would defend his work online.

In recent years, Lott falsely claimed one of his papers was published in a peer-reviewed journal, pushed blatantly false statistics about the relative rate of gun crimes in the U.S. and Europe and failed to report statistically significant results of his research that didn’t match his preferred ideological position.

Nevertheless, the New York Times gave Lott another chance. Its readers were not well-served.

This time, Lott attempts to derail the dwindling momentum in support of bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Chris Murphy and John Cornyn in response to the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November that would help ensure that all records of individuals who are prohibited from gun possession are provided to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Lott grudgingly concedes that doing so is a “good goal” but quickly pivots to what he views as a much bigger problem with the background check system: that it erroneously prevents too many people from buying guns. As evidence for this claim, Lott takes two tangentially related data points to draw the definitive conclusion that the system makes too many “false positives.” Lott cites data from the FBI showing that, from 2006 to 2010, roughly 377,000 people failed a background check. He then says that, because only 460 of these people were charged by federal prosecutors with illegally attempting to purchase a gun when they were prohibited from doing so and only 209 were actually convicted of this crime, the remaining 376,000 denials must have been in error.

Lott’s analysis on this point is deeply misleading. There are a myriad other reasons why federal prosecutors might choose not to prosecute cases where a person who was prohibited from gun possession broke the law by attempting to do so. As Robert Verbruggen of the National Review explained back in November, these cases are often declined by prosecutors because of the high burden of proving that an individual knowingly lied on ATF Form 4473, as opposed to having made an honest mistake. These cases are also time intensive and often viewed by prosecutors as being a low priority.

Indeed, the study cited by Lott for these low prosecution numbers makes this very point. In 2010, only 480 background check denial cases were not referred to federal prosecutors because the individual was subsequently found to have been denied in error because they were not, in fact, prohibited from buying a gun. Far more often, according to this study, cases were not referred for prosecution because they were deemed to have “no prosecutive merit” (1,661 cases) or “federal or state guidelines not met” (1,092 cases).

Lott also fails to account for prosecutions of these cases that occur at the state level, saying only that there are a “similarly small number” of them without any supporting evidence or data. In fact, states have become increasing engaged in following up on these cases and, when appropriate, prosecuting them as violations of state law. For example, since 2013, Pennsylvania state police have investigated every background check denial case in the state, leading to nearly 1,000 arrests for this crime. Virginia state police have a similar policy and arrested 1,265 denied purchasers in 2015.

A better way of quantifying the frequency of “false positives” would be to look at the number of successful appeals of background check denials. In 2016, roughly 30,000 people appealed their denial to the FBI— only 1,834 of these appeals were successful. To be sure, there is a backlog in the appeals system, meaning that there may be more successful appeals in the queue. But even so, this is a far cry from the tens of thousands of people Lott suggests are erroneously denied a gun purchase each year because of inaccuracies in the background check system. Additionally, a September 2016 audit of NICS conducted by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General found that the system has a 99.8% accuracy rate when it comes to denials.

Lott also reverts back to his usual safe space of arguing that the best way to reduce gun violence is to increase the number of civilians who carry loaded concealed guns around with them—a ready army of “good guys with guns.” This myth has been debunked repeatedly, including in a new study by researchers at Boston University that found that states with weak concealed carry licensing standards had markedly higher gun homicide rates that states with stronger standards.

Chelsea Parsons is the vice president of Gun Violence Prevention at American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Trump Compelled Five Former Federal Prosecutors To Seek House Seats As Democrats

Thanks to the chaos Trump continues to unleash with everything he does, five former federal prosecutors have decided to seek House seats — and they’re running as Democrats. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Chris Hunter resigned from the job he’d held at the Justice Department for over a decade in December, prompted by […]

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