More than 30 years ago, Congress identified what it said was a grave threat to the American promise of equal justice for all: Federal judges were giving wildly different punishments to defendants who had committed the same crimes. The worries were many. Some lawmakers feared lenient judges were giving criminals too little time in prison. Others suspected African-American defendants were being unfairly sentenced to steeper prison terms than white defendants. In 1984, Congress created the U.S. Sentencing Commission with remarkable bipartisan support.
After Hurricane Irma hit three months ago in Orlando, Florida, the local police got a desperate 911 call from a 12-year-old boy reporting that his mother and siblings were unconscious. Fumes overcame the first deputy who rushed to the scene. After the police arrived at the property, they found Jan Lebron Diaz, age 13, Jan’s older sister Kiara, 16, and their mother Desiree, 34, lying dead, poisoned from carbon monoxide emitted by their portable generator. Four others in the house went to the hospital. If 12-year-old Louis hadn’t made that call, they might have died, too.
To become a police officer in the U.S., one almost always has to enroll in an academy for some basic training. The typical academy session lasts 25 weeks, but state governments — which oversee police academies for local and state law enforcement officers — have wide latitude when it comes to choosing the subjects that will be taught in the classrooms.
How to properly identify and investigate hate crimes does not seem terribly high on the list of priorities, according to a ProPublica review. Only 12 states, for example, have statutes requiring that academies provide instruction on hate crimes. In at least seven others — Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas — recruits aren’t required to learn about hate crimes at all, according to law enforcement officials. Even states that provide new recruits with at least some education on hate crimes often provide training that is cursory at best. Officials overseeing police training in three states — Wisconsin, North Carolina and Washington — told ProPublica that their recruits spent about 30 minutes of class time on the subject.
On Friday, in response to a judge’s order, the Department of Justice released data showing the authors, recipients, timing, and subject lines of a group of emails sent to and from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. They show that in the weeks before the commission issued a controversial letter requesting sweeping voter data from the states, co-chair Kris Kobach and the commission’s staff sought the input of Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams on “present and future” state data collection, and attached a draft of the letter for their review — at a moment when neither had yet been named to the commission. The commission’s letter requesting that data has been by far its most significant action since its formation in May — and was widely considered a fiasco. It sparked bipartisan criticism and multiple lawsuits. Yesterday, a state court blocked the state of Texas from handing over its data due to privacy concerns. The involvement by Adams and von Spakovsky, both Republicans, in drafting the letter even before they were nominated to the commission shows their influence.
IN AUGUST 2016, an inspector from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived at Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, a nerve center for the U.S. military’s global air combat operations, to conduct a routine look at the base’s handling of its hazardous waste. Barksdale, like many military bases, generates large volumes of hazardous materials, including thousands of pounds of toxic powder left over from cleaning, painting and maintaining airplanes. For years, Barksdale had been sending a portion of its waste to an Ohio company, U.S. Technology Corp., that had sold officials at the base on a seemingly ingenious solution for disposing of it: The company would take the contaminated powder from refurbished war planes and repurpose it into cinderblocks that would be used to build everything from schools to hotels to big-box department stores — even a pregnancy support center in Ohio. The deal would ostensibly shield the Air Force from the liabililty of being a large producer of dangerous hazardous trash. The arrangement was not unique.
The Trump administration made false assertions to justify an executive order expanding police forces’ access to military equipment such as tanks and grenade launchers. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that President Trump would make defensive gear available to police again by undoing a policy from the Obama administration. Trump then signed an executive order whose title emphasized that branding: “Restoring State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement’s Access to Life-Saving Equipment and Resources.”
“He is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies’ ability to get equipment through federal programs, including life-saving gear like Kevlar vests and helmets and first-responder and rescue equipment like what they’re using in Texas right now,” Sessions said in the speech. But that’s not what the Obama administration’s restrictions did, according to documentation from a unit inside of Sessions’ own Justice Department, the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Kevlar vests were never subject to any restrictions.
For most of Joe Arpaio’s two-plus decades as Maricopa County sheriff, he directed operations from the top floor of a downtown Phoenix tower, worlds away from the jails overseen by rank and-file deputies. The executive offices wrapped around an expansive conference room, where I spent weeks in early 2008 with banker boxes full of arrest records, and hanging out with Arpaio himself, a politician who built his career on bashing immigrants long before the rise of Donald Trump. Back then, I was working for the East Valley Tribune, then a daily newspaper in the Phoenix area. I had filed a public records request for all documents from deputies’ immigration operations. Teamed with Paul Giblin, a fellow Tribune reporter, we were trying to figure out how the sheriff was enforcing immigration laws, and what effect their monomaniacal focus was having on regular police work — like solving crimes.
President Donald Trump’s efforts to boost fossil fuel extraction face a courtroom hurdle of his own making. His March 28 executive order “promoting energy independence and economic growth” rescinded the Obama administration’s calculation of the “social cost of carbon” — a metric that had been central to the process of crafting and justifying government rules addressing human-driven climate change. All government regulations are subject to cost/benefit analysis. The “social cost of carbon” was developed in large part to compare long-term costs from coastal flooding and other impacts of emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide with upfront costs to the economy from curbing the burning of fossil fuels, the main source of such emissions. The value at the end of the Obama presidency was set at roughly $40 for each ton of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, or equivalent amounts of other gases such as methane.
Earlier this month, someone involved in the government’s latest report on climate change provided The New York Times with a copy of the version submitted to the Trump administration for final approval. The main intent of the leak, according to several people tracking the report, was to complicate any attempt to suppress the study or water down its findings. Publication of the document inflamed an already-fraught debate about climate change. Administration officials and Republican lawmakers accused the leaker and journalists of manufacturing a dispute. They said the report, which was required by law, was moving through a normal process of White House review.
The white supremacist forces arrayed in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend — the largest gathering of its sort in at least a generation — represented a new incarnation of the white supremacy movement. Old-guard groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and the Nazi skinheads, which had long stood at the center of racist politics in America, were largely absent. Instead, the ranks of the young men who drove to Charlottesville with clubs, shields, pepper spray and guns included many college-educated people who have left the political mainstream in favor of extremist ideologies over the past few years. A large number have adopted a very clean cut, frat-boyish look designed to appeal to the average white guy in a way that KKK robes or skinhead regalia never could. Interviews show that at least some of these leaders have spent time in the U.S. armed forces.