June 13, 2013
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Civil rights leader Medgar Evers helped create a more inclusive and open Mississippi by increasing black voter registration, Gov. Phil Bryant said Wednesday during a service marking the 50th anniversary of Evers’ assassination.
A racially diverse crowd of more than 150 people gathered outside the Mississippi Museum of Art in downtown Jackson for speeches, gospel singing and the ringing of bells to remember the NAACP leader who was killed outside his home just after midnight on June 12, 1963. Evers was 37.
The Republican governor stood by Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, just before going on stage to speak. Bryant said Evers “paid the ultimate sacrifice” in challenging segregation.
“The young people that I met, who were here reading today, live in a vastly different Mississippi than existed 50 years ago because of the hard work of men like Medgar Evers and women like Myrlie Evers,” said Bryant, 58. “So, as we ring the bell today, we pay homage to them.”
Evers, a World War II veteran from Newton, Miss., was hired in 1954 as the state’s first field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In addition to working for black voter registration, he led a boycott of downtown Jackson’s white-owned businesses, where black customers received shoddy service and few black clerks were hired.
Evers also investigated violence against African-Americans, including the 1955 killing of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was said to have whistled at a white woman working in a grocery store in rural Money, Miss. Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s home near Money and was beaten beyond recognition and shot in the head. His body was weighted down with a fan from a cotton gin and dumped into the Tallahatchie River.
Till's mother allowed photos of his brutalized body to be published in Jet magazine, and the images galvanized the civil rights movement.
Simeon Wright is one of Till’s cousins and was in the home the night Till was taken. Wright said during the memorial service Wednesday that Evers was “a light in a dark place” during the investigation of the slaying — a crime for which two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury.
Wright said Evers taught him how to give a sworn statement to law enforcement.
“He said, ‘Whatever you do, tell the truth. Tell the truth,’” Wright said.
During the service Wednesday, four young adults read several quotes from religious leaders and civil-rights activists, including this 1961 statement from Evers, which was printed on a banner with a black-and-white photo of him: “Let men of good will and understanding change the old order, for this is a new day.”
In 1967, Democrat Robert Clark of Ebenezer became the first black Mississippian since Reconstruction to win a seat in the state House of Representatives. Clark, who knew Evers, served 36 years. By the time he retired, black representation in the state House and Senate was almost equal to Mississippi’s 38 percent black population — a change that was largely made possible by two federal laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I did not take a single vote during those 36 years that Medgar would not have taken himself,” Clark said.
Hollis Watkins, 71, of Jackson, was a teenager when he became involved in civil rights work and met Evers, who was 15 years older. He said Evers was not afraid to speak truth to power.
“Medgar did his job,” Watkins said. “The question becomes: How about us today? Are we doing our work?”
A white supremacist, Byron De La Beckwith, was tried twice for Evers’ slaying in the 1960s, but all-white juries deadlocked without convicting or acquitting him. After a reopened investigation, Beckwith was convicted of murder in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison. He was 80 when he died in custody in 2001.
June 13, 2013
By JASON STRAZIUSO
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Former President Nelson Mandela began responding better to treatment Wednesday morning for a recurring lung infection following “a difficult last few days,” South Africa’s president said.
President Jacob Zuma told parliament that he is happy with the progress that the 94-year-old is making following his hospitalization on Saturday.
Mandela spent a fifth straight day Wednesday in a Pretoria hospital, where he was visited by one of his daughters and two granddaughters.
Zuma noted that Wednesday marked the 49th anniversary of the sentencing of Mandela to life in prison in 1964. He said “our thoughts” are with Mandela and his family “on this crucial historical anniversary.”
“We are very happy with the progress that he is now making following a difficult last few days,” Zuma said. “We appreciate the messages of support from all over the world.”
Zuma on Wednesday applauded the legacy of Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists. South Africa's government disbanded its official policy of apartheid — racial segregation and discrimination — in 1994.
“Our country is a much better place to live in now than it was before 1994, even though we still have so much work to do,” Zuma said.
Mandela, the leader of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule. He was freed in 1990, and then embarked on peacemaking efforts during the tense transition that saw the demise of the apartheid system and his own election as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
His admission to a hospital in Pretoria, the capital, is Mandela's fourth time being admitted to a hospital for treatment since December. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama wished Mandela a “speedy recovery” on Tuesday.
Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, visited his grandfather on Wednesday and said the family has been deeply touched by the outpouring prayers and messages of goodwill from around the world. He said the family is satisfied with the care Mandela is receiving.
Zuma used Wednesday’s budget address to parliament as an occasion to highlight the work carried out by the African National Congress, the party that Mandela led to South Africa’s presidency, over the last 19 years.
South Africa’s economy has expanded 83 percent since 1994 and per capita income increased by 40 percent, Zuma said. But the recession in Europe, South Africa’s biggest trading partner, has hit Africa's biggest economy hard, and he said South Africa — which has experienced deadly labor strife in recent years — must move past labor violence.
The vestiges of apartheid, Zuma said, remain in South Africa: Black South Africans have less education and fewer skills than whites because of the apartheid era. As part of promoting national reconciliation, the implementation of black economic empowerment policies will continue, he said. Direct black ownership in Johannesburg's stock market is less than 5 percent.
“In addition, annual Employment Equity reports indicate that white males still own, control and manage the economy,” Zuma said.
The government is amending the black economic empowerment law to address some of these challenges, he added.
Outside Mandela’s Johannesburg home, well-wishers continued to leave tributes to the former president. A neighbor, Zaheerah Bham’Ismail, said it’s an emotional time for South Africans because Mandela “portrays the entire legacy of what everybody has fought for and our ideals.”
“But at the same time we know we have to say goodbye at some point because he needs ... his peace, as well. But I think in order to hold onto him, we’ve got to go back to fight for the ideals that he fought for,” Bham’Ismail said.
June 13, 2013
By MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s massive collection of Americans’ phone records is drawing protests and lawsuits from civil liberties groups, but major legal obstacles stand in the way. Among them are government claims that national security secrets will be revealed if the cases are allowed to proceed, and Supreme Court rulings that telephone records, as opposed to conversations, are not private to begin with.
Justices have written recently about the complex issues of privacy in the digital age, and the high court could have the last word on challenges filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others.
The Obama administration has said the collection of phone records — telephone numbers and the time and length of calls — is necessary to protect Americans from terrorism and that it does not trample on their privacy. The National Security Agency collects millions of phone records from the United States each day, but says it only accesses them if there is a known connection to terrorism.
The ACLU this week filed the most significant lawsuit against the phone record collection program so far. The suit demands that the courts put an end to the program and order the administration to purge the records it has collected. Conservative lawyer Larry Klayman also has filed suit over the program.
Before either suit gets a full-blown court hearing, the administration could try to employ two powerful legal tools it has used in the past to block challenges to closely held surveillance programs.
In February, the Supreme Court shot down an effort by U.S. citizens to challenge the expansion of a surveillance law used to monitor conversations of foreign spies and terrorist suspects by finding that the Americans could not show that the government would eavesdrop on their conversations. In legal terms, they did not have standing to sue, the justices said in a 5-4 decision.
The ACLU and Klayman both say they are or were customers of Verizon, which was identified last week as a phone company the government had ordered to turn over daily records of calls made by all its customers. In so doing, they said it is a simple matter of fact that records of their calls have been seized by the government.
“We meet even the standard the government has been foisting upon the courts for the past decade,” said the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer.
But American University law professor Steven Vladeck said the challengers might face a different problem. “They’re not suing Verizon. They’re suing the government for something a third party did. And so the issue is not their ability to prove that their communications were involved. It’s how they can object to a third party’s cooperation with the government in a suit against the government, rather than the third party,” Vladeck said.
Another issue the administration could try to use to derail the suits is the jeopardy to national security that would result from allowing them to proceed, the so-called state secrets doctrine.
Seven years ago, allegations that phone companies were allowing the government to siphon huge quantities of customer data without warrants led to dozens of lawsuits against the companies and the government. In the lone surviving case against the government, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said that the government risks “exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States” if forced to fight the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco has yet to say whether the case can continue, and the Justice Department has asked for a delay of a month now that the secret court order to Verizon has been revealed.
Whether the government will maintain its “state secrets” defense in the California case or attempt to use it in the new suits is unknown. But courts almost always side with the government when it makes the claim, and the Supreme Court has shown little appetite for revisiting its 60-year-old ruling upholding the state secrets doctrine.
Neither suit addresses the government's recently revealed surveillance of Internet activity, known as PRISM.
The Internet program allows the NSA to reach into the data streams of U.S. companies — Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and others — and grab emails, video chats, pictures and more. Just how much the government seizes is unclear, but Clapper says it is narrowly focused on foreign targets.
If the phone record lawsuits clear whatever legal hurdles the government seeks to put in their path, there remains a line of high court cases that casts doubt on the privacy claims raised by the ACLU and by Klayman.
The Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures clearly applies to telephone conversations. In 1967, the court said authorities ordinarily need to persuade a judge to issue a warrant before they can listen in, based on significant evidence that a crime has been committed or is underway.
But phone records are different, the court said in Smith v. Maryland in 1979. “All telephone users realize that they must ‘convey’ phone numbers to the telephone company, since it is through telephone company switching equipment that their calls are completed. All subscribers realize, moreover, that the phone company has facilities for making permanent records of the numbers they dial, for they see a list of their long-distance (toll) calls on their monthly bills,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in rejecting the claim police need a warrant to obtain phone records.
Fast forward to 2012, and some members of the court appeared to recognize that technology may have altered privacy concerns.
In separate opinions in last year’s case involving a GPS device used to track a criminal suspect for four weeks, two justices described how advances in technology can shake up Americans’ expectations of privacy.
“Dramatic technological change may lead to periods in which popular expectations are in flux and may ultimately produce significant changes in popular attitudes. New technology may provide increased convenience or security at the expense of privacy, and many people may find the tradeoff worthwhile. And even if the public does not welcome the diminution of privacy that new technology entails, they may eventually reconcile themselves to this development as inevitable,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in an opinion that was joined by three other justices. “On the other hand, concern about new intrusions on privacy may spur the enactment of legislation to protect against these intrusions.”
Writing only for herself, Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed more anxiety about the wealth of information that people disclose about themselves in the performance of daily tasks, including using their cell phones, surfing the Internet and making online purchases. “Perhaps, as Justice Alito notes, some people may find the ‘tradeoff’ of privacy for convenience ‘worthwhile,’ or come to accept this ‘diminution of privacy’ as ‘inevitable,’ and perhaps not. I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year.”
Sotomayor suggested that the court may need to revise its 1970s-era views about the privacy of information that people voluntarily hand over in what otherwise seem to be closely held transactions.
June 13, 2013
By Alicia a. Caldwell
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five months after President Barack Obama called on lawmakers to approve his choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Senate is considering the nomination.
When B. Todd Jones appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday he was just the second ATF nominee to face congressional questioning since the Senate was given authority to approve the agency's chief in 2006. Like his predecessors, Jones' nomination is likely a longshot, despite vocal support from law enforcement and the White House. The bureau hasn't had a confirmed director for six years.
The powerful gun lobby has worked aggressively and successfully behind the scenes since 2006 to convince lawmakers to not even give a previous nominee a hearing.
Four other people have led ATF on a temporary basis since 2006, and two men have been nominated for Senate approval. In 2007 President George W. Bush's nominee, Michael Sullivan, was given a hearing but his nomination was ultimately blocked.
In 2009, Obama nominated Andrew Traver. The NRA strongly opposed him, saying at the time that Traver "has been deeply aligned with gun control advocates and anti-gun activities." He never had a hearing.
The NRA has not publicly opposed or endorsed Jones.
Jones is likely to face aggressive questioning from Republicans about his decisions as the top federal prosecutor in Minnesota and the ATF's widely criticized gun-smuggling sting operation called "Fast and Furious."
In an opening statement submitted to the committee, Jones said he took over an agency "in distress" in 2011.
"There had been a lack of strong visionary leadership, and of accountability and attention to detail," Jones said in the statement. He said he had appointed 22 new special agents in charge in the agency's 25 field divisions and worked "on creating a leadership team to strengthen the bureau" on its various missions.
The White House again Monday urged the Senate to approve him.
"Todd Jones is a highly qualified nominee who has decades of experience in law enforcement and a track record of effective leadership as acting ATF director," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "The ATF is a critical law enforcement agency that helps protect our communities from dangerous criminals, gun violence and acts of terror, yet for the past six years it has been serving without a confirmed director because Senate Republicans have blocked every nominee, regardless of their qualifications."
Jones, 55, took over the agency on an interim basis in 2011, after the Fast and Furious operation was made public. But lawmakers including the panel's senior Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, have questioned what he knew about the operation before taking over ATF.
Jones chaired an advisory committee to Attorney General Eric Holder from 2009 through 2011, when the operation was in effect. That committee doesn't have oversight over any law enforcement operations, but Grassley and others insist that Jones should answer questions about whatever he knows of the program that allowed thousands of guns to be smuggled across the border with Mexico and into the hands of some of Mexico's most violent drug cartels.
The Iowa senator and others have also pressed Jones to answer questions about decisions he made in a false claims case involving the city of St. Paul, Minn. They have accused Jones and the Justice Department of agreeing to drop the case against the city so long as the city dropped an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unrelated case.
The former head of the Minneapolis FBI office, Donald Oswald, has also written a letter to Congress accusing Jones of impeding federal prosecutions of gang, drug and gun laws.
Oswald said Jones was "substantially motivated by personal political gain and not by doing what's in the best interest of the citizens he is sworn to protect."
Jones, who was appointed U.S. attorney in Minnesota in 2009, has declined to discuss Oswald's allegations and other issues surrounding his nomination. In a statement Monday he said he was looking "forward to meeting with the Judiciary Committee and answering all of their questions."
Grassley said Monday the Jones' hearing was "highly unusual, if not unprecedented," because there is an ongoing Office of Special Counsel probe of his work as U.S. attorney.
The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal agency that investigates and prosecutes prohibited personnel practices, such as reprisal for whistle-blowing. In April the special counsel notified Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Grassley that she was looking into an allegation that Jones retaliated against a federal prosecutor for whistle-blower-protected activities in Minnesota. The specifics of the allegation were not available.
"I take whistle-blowers' complaints very seriously, and the rest of the committee should, too, and not push a hearing on a controversial nominee with several unresolved issues and a formal complaint pending against him for a position that the president left open, without a nominee, for two years," Grassley said.
The hearing comes nearly six months after 26 people, including 20 children, were shot to death in Newtown, Conn., spurring Obama and some lawmakers to push for new gun control laws. So far, those efforts have failed. Gun control advocates, including some families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, are in Washington this week to again push lawmakers to support expanding background checks for gun purchases. The Senate rejected a bill to do that in April.
The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates have argued that expanded background checks would lead to a national registry of guns and the federal government should focus on enforcing existing laws.
The ATF long has been criticized for perceived failures to prosecute gun crimes, including against those people who lie on federal forms when trying to buy a gun.
According to statistics provided by the ATF, the agency recommended charges be filed against more than 70,500 people from 2009 to 2012. More than 42,000 of those people were eventually convicted of firearms-related offenses.