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Honda helps urge Justice probe of Ahmed’s arrest

Rep. Mike Honda joined the only two Muslims in Congress to lead 26 other House members Tuesday in urging the Justice Department to investigate the detention of Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas boy who brought a homemade clock to school.

Mohamed, 14, was arrested after he brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers and was later accused of having a “hoax bomb.”

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose; Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; and Andre Carson, D-Ind., wrote to express concern that “Ahmed was denied his civil rights… and refused the right to speak to his father.” The representatives went on to call attention to “reports surrounding the incident that strongly suggest that Ahmed Mohamed was systematically profiled based on his faith and ethnicity.”

“As the President said, ‘Cool clock, Ahmed.’ It’s high time we end discriminatory practices in this country. Profiling and mistreatment of an individual based on presumed or actual faith or ethnicity has no place in the world, let alone in the United States of America,” Honda said in a news release, adding an implicit smackdown to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who said Sunday he “absolutely would not agree” with having a Muslim serve as president.

“From presidential candidates to teachers and police officers, we all must take a strong unified stand against this seemingly growing trend of fear mongering and bigotry being wrongly perpetuated in our society,” Honda said. “People shouldn’t fear mistreatment or persecution simply for being who they are. As a world leader, America should be setting the bar for tolerance and equality – principles that speak to the foundation of this great nation,”

Among other House members signing the letter were Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel.

Jenifer Wicks, national civil rights litigation director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said her organization stands with Honda and other lawmakers in calling for a Justice Department civil-rights probe. “It is disturbing that Ahmed was suspended by the school and arrested by the police after officials ‘followed protocol’ and determined that he had merely brought a clock to school and that there was no actual threat,” she said.

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House passes bill on NSA phone records program

The House voted 338-88 Wednesday to pass a bill that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, the Washington Post reports.

Supporters say the USA Freedom Act would keep phone “metadata” out of government hands and make other changes to surveillance practices; some critics say that it goes too far, others that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The Senate still must take up the bill amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which without congressional action will expire June 1.

Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, voted against the bill Wednesday, while the rest of the Bay Area’s all-Democrat delegation supported it.

“Congress may have changed the name but the USA Freedom Act is just a watered-down version of the Patriot Act,” Farr said in a news release. “I commend the bipartisan effort to adhere to the 2nd Circuit Court’s ruling and to develop more safeguards to protect our civil liberties. Unfortunately, this bill still contains too many provisions that threaten the privacy of American citizens.

“I cannot vote for a bill that does not protect the privacy rights enshrined in the 4th Amendment,” Farr added. “The risk of faulty information collection is not a risk I am willing to take with any American’s privacy. Upholding the Constitution is non-negotiable.”

But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, issued a statement saying “our government has a responsibility to respect people’s civil liberties and protect our national security. This legislation does both.

“It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe,” Thompson said.

Records of phone numbers, call dates, times and durations would be kept by telecommunications companies under this bill, not by the government. Company employees could still search such records under a court order specifying a particular person, account or address, but not an entire phone or Internet company or a broad geographic region, such as a state, city or Zip code.

The bill has the rare combined support of House Republican leaders and President Obama.

“In order to stay secure in these dangerous times, we must have the tools to track terrorists and spies. But the American people have strong concerns about a big government watching over our phone calls, collecting our metadata, and possibly invading our privacy,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in a news release.

“So the House has looked at the facts on the ground and recalibrated our approach to keep America safe while protecting civil liberties,” he said. “The USA FREEDOM Act stops bulk data collection while still making sure those fighting terrorism have access to what they need so they can do their job and prevent future terror attacks. That’s what makes it a good, bipartisan bill.”

But in the wake of last week’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the NSA’s phone-records collection program as illegal, civil libertarians aren’t happy with this bill.

“Last week’s historic court decision makes clear that this bill must be strengthened to protect privacy rights,” Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, had said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Following the court’s ruling, the House should have amended the bill to prevent the government from amassing and keeping the information of innocent Americans. The Senate should not make the same mistake and instead remedy the bill’s many deficiencies, which have been criticized on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Letting Section 215 expire would be preferable to passing the current version of this bill, which fails to adequately protect Americans’ information from unwarranted government intrusion.”

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Police-community relations hearing set for Tuesday

The state Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees will hold a four-and-a-half-hour joint hearing Tuesday on police-community relations issues that have roiled California and the nation in recent months.

It’s been a hot topic since police shootings including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August and Tamir Rice in Cleveland last November, and the tremendous protests that followed in cities across the nation. Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have grappled with tremendous street demonstrations in which most participants were peaceful while a few resorted to property damage and violence.

“Recent tragic events have led to an increased focus on law enforcement practices. The President has put together a task-force to tackle the issue of police practices across the nation, but I am interested in what we can do in California,” said Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “I look forward to hearing about what data is being collected and how our data collection efforts can be improved. I additionally look forward to learning about innovative programs that have improved relations between the community and law enforcement.”

Hancock’s husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, has taken some heat from the community for his police department’s handling of protests late last year.

The hearing’s agenda includes segments on statewide and local law enforcement data collection; “promoting trust and confidence through data;” investigating and prosecuting officer-misconduct allegations; and building trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. The witness list includes law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators and criminologists from around the state.

Bill Quirk“I believe that this hearing will give us an opportunity to ask hard questions, gain new perspective, and guide us in proposing effective solutions to rebuilding trust,” said Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol; it’s expected to be broadcast live on the California Channel and audio of the proceedings will be streamed on the State Senate’s website.

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AG Eric Holder in Oakland, SF on Thursday

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be in Oakland and San Francisco on Thursday to wrap up his national “Building Community Trust” tour seeking stronger bonds between law enforcement and the people they’re supposed to protect and serve.

Eric HolderHolder – in his final days in his job, as his nominated successor, federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, awaits Senate confirmation – will take part in a roundtable discussion with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee, and other selected officials and community members at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Oakland’s federal building on Clay Street.

The event isn’t open to the public.

“I am very glad the Attorney General accepted my invitation to come to Oakland and hear first-hand our community’s concerns and ideas to enact much needed change,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “We must work together to take the long overdue action needed to build trust between the community and law enforcement and ensure justice for all. This dialogue is an important step in that effort.”

Holder on Thursday afternoon will meet with students and police officers and tour the Willie Mays Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco.

Holder in September announced a National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a $4.75 million effort to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve – a reaction to the massive protests following the slaying of a young black man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

This will be the final stop on his tour. Previous stops included Atlanta in November; Cleveland, Chicago and Memphis in December; and Philadelphia in January.

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Jerry Brown proclaims today ‘Fred Korematsu Day’

Gov. Jerry Brown has issued a proclamation deeming Friday a day for celebration of an East Bay hero:

When Fred T. Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, President Clinton said that “in the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls — Plessy, Brown, Parks. To that distinguished list today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.”

Fred Korematsu was, in the best sense of both words, an ordinary hero. A native Californian, born and raised in Oakland and a welder by trade, he simply refused to accept his government’s order to relocate under the brutal and misguided policy of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Korematsu’s staunch determination to be treated like the loyal American citizen he was came to define his life story, in both his decades-long legal battle against internment and his later recognition as a leader in the cause of civil rights. On this 96th anniversary of his birth, we remember him as one who resisted injustice during a dark chapter in our nation’s history, and later worked tirelessly to prevent its repetition.

NOW THEREFORE I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim January 30th 2015, as “Fred Korematsu Day.”

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 30th day of January 2015.

Actor, activist and social-media phenomenon George Takei – who as a child was interned with his family in a relocation camp – will keynote the 5th Annual Fred Korematsu Day Celebration at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the City Arts and Lectures-Nourse Theatre in San Francisco.

Some Bay Area folks were tweeting on Korematsu today:

Also, California isn’t the only state to mark this day, and some would like to see this made a national holiday.

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Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender