Obama Admin Details Historic Clemency Eligibility for Drug Offenders

The Obama administration has unveiled its plan to grant early release to federal prisoners sentenced under harsh drug laws. The Justice Department will widen the criteria for clemency to consider nonviolent felons who have served at least 10 years behind bars and who would have received shorter terms had they not been sentenced under old laws. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced sentencing disparities between users of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine to address a racial imbalance in prison terms. But the law did not apply retroactively. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the new policy is a matter of basic fairness.

James Cole: "These defendants were properly held accountable for their criminal conduct. However, some of them, simply because the operation of sentencing laws on the books at the time, received substantial sentences that are disproportionate to what they would have received today. … Correcting these sentences is simply a matter of fairness that is fundamental to our principles at the department, and it’s a commitment that all Department of Justice employees stand behind."

The move marks the most substantial clemency effort since President Jimmy Carter offered a reprieve to those who avoided the Vietnam War draft. But while tens of thousands of prisoners may be eligible for the new clemency guidelines, experts warn a lengthy review process and other restrictions could lead to just hundreds being released. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called the shift a small step forward, saying: "We’ve had a significant rhetorical shift in the war on drugs, but we’ve had a moderate policy shift." Both President Obama and drug reform advocates are now calling on Congress to take additional action with major sentencing reforms.

New FCC Rules Allow Tiered Pay System for Content Delivery

Federal regulators are unveiling new rules today that would effectively abandon net neutrality, the concept of a free and open Internet. The Federal Communications Commission will let Internet providers charge media companies extra fees to receive preferential treatment, such as faster speeds for their products and content. Under previous regulations struck down earlier this year, providers were forced to provide all content at equal speeds. In a statement, the media reform group Free Press denounced the FCC’s decision, saying: "Giving the green light to pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls. These users will all be pushed onto the Internet dirt road, while deep pocketed Internet companies enjoy the benefits of the newly created fast lanes." The new rules will likely face a court challenge.

Palestinian Factions Reach Consensus Deal After 7-Year Rift

The two leading Palestinian factions have announced a reconciliation deal aimed at healing a seven-year rift. The agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas calls for the formation of a consensus government within five weeks followed by elections in six months. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh helped unveil the deal in Gaza.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh: "This is good news to tell our Palestinian nation in the country and in the diaspora about the end of the era of division. President Abbas will start the discussions to form the unity government from today, and he should announce it within the legal time, within five weeks."

Israel, U.S. Reject Palestinian Unity Agreement

The two sides have been at odds since Hamas thwarted a U.S.-backed coup attempt by the Palestinian Authority seven years ago. The Israeli government has denounced the agreement. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinian Authority needs to choose between peace talks and Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "We’re trying to relaunch the negotiations with the Palestinians. Every time we get to that point, Abu Mazen stacks on additional conditions which he knows that Israel cannot give. So instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s moving into peace with Hamas. And he has to choose: Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one, but not the other."

The U.S.-brokered talks have faltered over Israel’s continued settlement building in the occupied West Bank. The Obama administration is seeking to reach a framework deal before a self-imposed deadline at the end of the month. On Tuesday, the State Department criticized the Palestinian reconciliation effort, saying it would "seriously complicate" peace talks. The United States and Israel have long called on Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and follow pre-existing agreements, but without asking Israel to reciprocate.

3 U.S. Doctors Killed in Afghan Shooting

A shooting at a hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul has killed three American doctors. The shooter is said to be an Afghan security guard who worked at the facility. Two others were wounded. A spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry announced the attack.

Sediq Sediqqi: "The attacker was a police security guard there, and he opens fire on foreign nationals who were there. Unfortunately, three of them have been killed. One is injured, and the injured has been taken to the hospital. And the police has arrested the attacker, as well, so we will investigate to find out the motives behind this attack."

The hospital is run by CURE International, a U.S.-based Christian group.

Deadly Clashes Erupt in Ukraine as Soldiers Confront Separatists

Violence has broken out in eastern Ukraine today following the collapse of a weekend truce. The Ukrainian government says its forces have killed five pro-Russian separatists in the eastern town of Slovyansk. Ukrainian troops reportedly seized separatist checkpoints and ordered others to vacate the government buildings they’ve occupied for weeks.

Obama Warns Russia of New Sanctions, Backs Japan in Island Dispute

Speaking today on a visit to Japan, President Obama said Russia has violated the spirit of last week’s truce deal and warned it faces new U.S. sanctions. Obama also offered public support for Japan in its spat with China over a group of islands in the East China Sea. Obama said the islands are covered by a defense pact between the U.S. and Japan.

President Obama: "And let me reiterate that our treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands."

Japan is the first stop in Obama’s four-country Asia tour. He is expected to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive deal among Pacific Rim countries to establish a free-trade zone encompassing nearly 40 percent of the global economy. Critics say the TPP would further entrench the failures of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect 20 years ago and caused mass displacement in Mexico. Protests against the TPP intensified ahead of Obama’s visit, with several marches in the streets of Tokyo.

Mississippi Enacts 20-Week Abortion Ban

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed into law a measure banning abortion at 20 weeks, with no exception for rape or incest. The bill takes effect 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period — two weeks earlier than 20-week bans passed in other states. A law with a similar cutoff in Arizona has been permanently blocked by courts.

Georgia Expands Firearms Permits in Public Spaces

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has enacted a measure that allows for a massive expansion of guns in public spaces. Under the new law, legal owners will have an easier time bringing guns into bars, churches, government buildings and schools.

Gov. Nathan Deal: "The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should reside at the forefront of our minds as we craft, pass and sign laws. Our state has some of the best protections for gun owners in the United States, and today we strengthen those rights guaranteed by our country’s most revered founding document."

Oklahoma Supreme Court Reverses Execution Stay After Outcry from Gov., Lawmakers

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has reversed a decision that stayed the executions of two death row prisoners challenging secrecy over the drugs to be used in their lethal injections. The court granted the stay just this week pending the outcome of the prisoners’ challenge. But on Wednesday, the court abruptly ruled the prisoners, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, aren’t entitled to know the source of the drugs that will end their lives. The decision follows an unprecedented and potentially illegal move by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin that overruled the court’s initial stay. Some Republican lawmakers even called for the judges’ removal from the bench. The prisoners are now scheduled for execution next week.

Texas Couple Wins $2.9 Million over Fracking Near Home

A Texas couple has won a more than $2.9 million judgment against the energy company Aruba Petroleum for disruptive fracking near their land. A jury found Aruba "intentionally created a private nuisance" through its drilling and fracking operations near the home of Bob and Lisa Parr. The pollution was so bad the Parrs had to flee their home for months at a time. Their attorney says the case marks "the first fracking verdict in U.S. history."

Former Oil Exec Calls for Fracking Ban in New York

A former oil executive has joined calls for a ban on natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York. Speaking this week, Louis Allstadt, a longtime executive vice president of Mobil Oil, said: "Making fracking safe is simply not possible, not with the current technology, or with the inadequate regulations being proposed."

Army Whistleblower Chelsea Manning Granted Name Change Request

A judge has granted the request of jailed Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning to legally change her name. Formerly known as Bradley, Manning sought the name change to reflect her desire to live as a woman. Manning remains in a men’s prison at Fort Leavenworth, where she is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking government files to WikiLeaks.

Workers, Families Mark 1st Anniversary of Rana Plaza Factory Collapse

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, one of the worst industrial disasters in history. The collapse of the eight-story building killed 1,135 garment workers and injured more than 2,500. On the eve of the anniversary, family members of the victims joined with workers and protesters outside the site of the collapsed factory. Roy Ramesh Chandra of the United Federation of Garment Workers called for compensation to the victims and their families in accordance with international conventions.

Roy Ramesh Chandra: "We are demanding the deceased’s family members and the injured workers should get the proper compensation as per the International Labor Organization’s Convention 121, based on loss of future earning and pain and sufferings. Our garments workers are workers of the global market; they should get the compensation as per the global standard. And the brands sourcing from here, they should pay this contribution to the trust fund which is organized by ILO."


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