American Business and Politics: With Liberty and Justice for Some

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On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder, the country’s first African American AG, announced he was leaving the Department of Justice after five and half years in the role, Ryan Gorman reports, US Attorney General Eric Holder to step down. The 63 year old will remain with the Justice Department until his successor is named, but is certain about his departure , according to NPR. While the Obama administration wanted him to stay the full eight years, the final decision was Holder’s to make. According to the source who told NPR, Holder is leery about remaining much longer over fears he “could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama’s second term.” The decision was made over the Labor Day weekend by Holder and Obama. Possible successors include former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, according to the Wall Street Journal. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s name has also been mentioned in reports. Holder is the 82nd AG and worked as the deputy attorney general under President Clinton in the 1990s. His troublesome tenure, the fourth longest in history, was riddled with political infighting and racial divided across the nation, culminating with the Michael Brown shooting last month in Ferguson, Missouri. The AG was dispatched directly to the St. Louis suburb to handle he inquiry into the unarmed black teen’s death at the hands of white police officer Darren Wilson. Nedra Pickler reports, Holder resigning: Attorney general backed rights, in an emotional ceremony at the White House, Obama said Holder did a superb job and credited him with driving down both the nation’s crime and incarceration rate for the first time in 40 years. Obama said, “He believes as I do that justice is not just an abstract theory. It’s a living and breathing principal. It’s about how our laws interact with our daily lives.” In a speech earlier this week, Holder described the dual personal perspective he brought to the job and how it applies to the Ferguson shooting. He said he has the utmost respect for police as a former prosecutor and the brother of an officer, but added, “As an African-American man who has been stopped and searched by police in situations where such actions were not warranted, I also carry with me an understanding of the mistrust that some citizens harbor.” Holder told the Associated Press in an interview that he’s not sure whether the Justice Department will finish its investigation into the shooting before he leaves. Holder said “I don’t want to rush them” and once out of office, he will direct attention to “issues that have animated me” during his tenure, including criminal justice and civil rights. Holder said his biggest regret was “the failure to pass any responsible and reasonable gun safety legislation after the shootings in Newtown and thought after the Connecticut shooting that the nation would embrace change that was “not radical but really reasonable” on gun ownership. As the article reports: “He was a lightning rod for conservative critics and faced a succession of controversies over, among other things, an ultimately abandoned plan to try terrorism suspects in New York City, a botched gun-running probe along the Southwest border that prompted Republican calls for his resignation, and what was seen as a failure to hold banks accountable for the financial system’s near-meltdown. Stung by criticism that the department hadn’t been aggressive enough in targeting financial misconduct, Holder in the past year and a half secured criminal guilty pleas from two foreign banks and multibillion-dollar civil settlements with American banks arising from the sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities. Even then, critics noted that no individuals were held accountable.” Jim Kuhnhenn sums up the legacy of the nation’s first black attorney general and one of President Barack Obama’s longest servicing Cabinet member in his article Holder’s legacy: counterterrorism to civil rights:

TERRORISM

“Holder declared that waterboarding was torture, ordered a review of CIA interrogations, and defended the use of drone strikes overseas. His Justice Department successfully prosecuted terrorism suspects, including Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law. He was widely criticized by Republicans and some Democrats for his plan to try professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged co-conspirators in New York, a plan he ultimately dropped.”

CIVIL RIGHTS

“He fought against voter ID laws, urged federal prosecutors to shy away from seeking mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent criminals, introduced new clemency criteria and backed proposals to give leniency to certain drug convicts. He also advanced legal protections for gay couples, declaring in 2011 that the Justice Department no longer would defend the constitutionality of a 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.”

DEATH PENALTY

“Though not a proponent of the death penalty, Holder approved pursuing capital punishment in numerous federal cases. But in the aftermath of a botched execution earlier this year in Oklahoma, Obama asked Holder to study the protocols used by states in applying the death penalty. The Justice Department already was reviewing practices used by the Bureau of Prisons and had placed a moratorium on federal executions.”

FERGUSON

“Holder became the administration’s point man in the federal response to the police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri. He ordered a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. In the shooting’s aftermath, Holder also enlisted a team of criminal justice researchers to study racial bias in law enforcement.”

FAST AND FURIOUS

“Holder became the first Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress amid a dispute over document production in a long-running congressional investigation of a flawed law enforcement gun-smuggling probe along the Southwest border.”

MEDIA CRACKDOWN

“Under Holder’s watch, the Justice Department cracked down on news media reporting on national security matters. The department secretly subpoenaed phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors and used a search warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist as part of a separate leak investigation.”

While Obama has received several blows in recent years to his Cabinet that ended with resignations, the fight for fairness and accountability in America seems to be on an upswing regarding business practices in the public and private sector. Janet McConnaughey reports, Businesses won’t have to return BP spill payouts, a federal judge Wednesday said that the oil giant BP must stand by its agreement with companies to compensate them for losses blamed on the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP argues that the flawed funding formula enabled nearly 800 businesses to overestimate their spill related claims. Attorney Kevin Downey argued about 150 claimants should return a total of $185 million and overpayments to the rest haven’t been calculated. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier agreed weeks ago to change the compensation formula for any future payments, but ruled Wednesday that a deal is a deal when it comes to the money BP has already paid out. Under that deal, claimants agreed not to sue, and BP agreed that no future court action could change their payments. Company spokesman Geoff Morrell said, “BP disagrees with today’s decision and will appeal it. We asked the Court, as a matter of equity and fairness, to order the return of excessive payments.” Barbier said he would rule later on the issue of compensation for cleanup workers whose chronic medical problems weren’t diagnosed until after the deal’s cutoff date of April 16, 2012. The settlement entitled cleanup workers with chronic conditions including rashes and breathing problems to receive up to $60,700 if the problems first surfaced within days of their cleanup work. Pavel Molchanov, an energy analyst for Raymond James, said, “In 2010 and 2011, BP was willing to cut any deal necessary with anyone to reduce its legal risk. Now the company is taking a more assertive approach.” The judge’s ruling this month that BP showed gross negligence and willful misconduct added a new level of uncertainty around BP’s spill-related expenses, reducing its market value by $9 billion in a single day. BP’s total potential liabilities now include up to $18 billion in fines and penalties that could be imposed for violating federal pollution laws, and more than $27 billion BP says it has already paid to restore the coast and settle damage claims. The claims office said it has paid $4.1 billion to more than 50,700 people and businesses as of Wednesday, and it’s not done yet – the settlement fund is not capped. Meanwhile, the U.S. must pay $554 million to the Navajo Nation for mismanaging reservation resources and leaving the largest Native American tribe in the country at incredible disadvantages for decades, according to the AOL article, U.S. Will Pay $554M Settlement to Navajo Nation. The payout negotiated earlier this year is the largest payout to a tribe in U.S. history and tribal leaders say the payout is much needed, reports Ben Shelly via YouTube. Spread across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the Navajo Nation has more than 300,000 members. The region is rich with natural resources like oil, gas and coal, other resources like water and agriculture land are scarce, the Navajo Tourism Department state. In a video via Indian Country Today, the Navajo lawsuit from 1946 to 2012 said the U.S. didn’t negotiate the best deals from companies mining natural resources from the region and didn’t make sure the Navajos were compensated properly. A CCTV investigation in 2012 found that more than 40 percent of the nation’s members lived without running water or electricity. This is another in a long line of settlements by the Obama administration with Native Americans, who had tried in vain for generations to battle government practices and a system that dated back to the 1800s. The Washington Post reports many tribes with pending litigation wrote to President Obama in 2009 asking the administration to expedite settlements instead of going to court. On the minimum wage front, Claire Zillman reports, 101-year-old law puts minimum wage at heart of Wisconsin governor’s race, a complaint filed with thew state’s department of workplace development Wednesday, by 100 low wage workers and the group Wisconsin Jobs Now, argues that the state’s $7.25 minimum wage violates a 1913 law unique to Wisconsin that requires that the state minimum wage “shall not be less than a living wage,” which is defined as one that ensures “reasonable comfort, reasonable physical well-being, decency, and moral well-being.” The filing is an attempt to force the hand of Governor Scoot Walker on the state’s minimum wage and by law required the administration’s department of workplace development, whose secretary was appointed by Walker, must determine if there’s a basis for a minimum wage hike within 20 day. The timing of the filing comes amidst a fierce race between Walker, who opposes a minimum wage hike, and his opponent in the race for governor, Democrat Mary Burke. A Marquette Law School poll from late August showed Walker leading narrowly by three points. In a statement to Fortune, Walker’s office said the workplace development department is reviewing the complaint: “Governor Walker wants jobs in Wisconsin that pay two or three times the minimum wage. He is focused on finding ways to help employers create jobs that pay far more than the minimum wage or any other proposed minimum.” While the “living wage” law is unique to Wisconsin, there are four other states—California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts—that give the governor the power to increase the minimum wage, according to NELP. On Thursday, Tom Huddleston Jr. reported, Dow Jones plunges more than 260 points amid massive market sell-off, all 30 Dow companies lost value making it one of the worst trading days this year amid investor concern about global instability and the possibility of higher interest rates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 264 points, or 1.5%, to close below the 17,000-point mark at 16,945.80. All 30 companies on the blue-chip index saw their shares drop. JPMorgan Chase JPM and UnitedHealth Group UNH saw the biggest declines among Dow Jones companies, dropping 2.4% and 2.3%, respectively. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq fell 1.6% and 1.9%, respectively, as each index has now declined in four of the past five days of trading. The reason for the fall as Huddleston Jr. reports is due the Obama administration announcement of regulations aimed at fighting corporate tax inversions and the U.S.-led airstrikes conducted in Syria. In addition, reports of a leadership change in China’s central bank and the announcement on Thursday by Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, that the U.S. Federal Reserve could start raising interest rates in spring 2015 sooner than expected has created uncertainty among investors.

While big names in the political and business arena suffered minor set back this week, the people in the trenches so to speak have been dealt an even bigger blow only adding to the already heightened racial tensions and well deserved criticism of the justice system. CNN reports, No indictment in police shooting death of Ohio man carrying air rifle, the grand jury in Ohio has decided not to indict police officers for an August shooting death of a 22 year old man carrying an air rifle at a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio. On Wednesday, prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said, “The grand jury listened to all the evidence, voted on it and decided that the police officers were justified in their use of force that day.” In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the U.S. Justice Department will review the shooting of Cincinnati resident John Crawford III: “Now that the state criminal investigation has finished, it is an appropriate time for the United States Department of Justice to look into whether any federal laws were violated during this shooting.” In a statement, Michael Wright, attorney representing the Crawford family, said: “It makes absolutely no sense that an unarmed 22-year-old man would be killed doing what any American citizen does every day: Shopping at a Walmart store. The Crawford family is extremely disappointed, disgusted and confused. They are heartbroken that justice was not done in the tragic death of their only son. The Crawford family feels they have been victimized all over again and once again request that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct an independent investigation into the tragic death of John H. Crawford, lll.” According to the report: “Crawford was shot and killed by police at a Walmart in Beavercreek on August 5 while carrying an air rifle through the store. Police responded to the scene after a witness called 911 and told dispatchers that Crawford was walking around with a rifle and ‘waving it back and forth.’ According to police, when officers arrived, Crawford did not comply with their commands to drop his weapon. He was shot twice, once in the elbow and once in the torso, Piepmeier said. Crawford died shortly after being transported to a nearby hospital. His death was ruled a homicide by gunshot wound to the torso, according to the local coroner’s office.” Prosecutors showed surveillance video from inside the store, which was made public on Wednesday. The two police officers involved, Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Sean Williams, have been on paid administrative leave after the shooting, but Darkow returned to active duty, according to Beavercreek city attorney Stephen McHugh. Williams will be assigned to administrative desk duty until a federal review of the circumstances surrounding Crawford’s death is complete, according to a statement. Wright said Walmart surveillance video and eyewitness accounts prove Williams “shot and killed Mr. Crawford while his back was turned and without adequate warning.” Beavercreek City Manager Michael Cornell and Police Chief Dennis Evers have requested that the FBI review the case to determine whether there were civil rights violations, the statement said. The nine-member grand jury, which convened on Monday, heard from 18 witnesses. An indictment on charges of murder, reckless homicide or negligent homicide would have required seven votes, Piepmeier said. Meanwhile, Ryan Gorman reports, White SC Trooper faces 20 years in prison for shooting unarmed black male, a newly released video shows a white South Carolina A State Trooper shooting an unarmed black male who was reaching for his driver’s license. Lance Corporal Sean Groubert, 31, was fired from the force and has been charged with a felony in the wrongful shooting of Levar Jones, who luckily survived the incident. Groubert pulled Jones over September 4 for a seat belt violation and shot the man without any provocation, according to The State. The former cop faces 20 years in prison if convicted. Jones was not armed and showed no aggression toward Groubert. Luckily, Jones was shot in the hip, but not seriously hurt and was released from the hospital by the time Groubert was fired last Friday. The disgraced officers was arrested Wednesday and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature with a bond set at $75,000, records showed. Unfortunately, the incident comes on the heels of other high profile cases that involved the shooting of unarmed black men by police this summer, most notably the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

As for the Ferguson, Missouri case, 47 days after the incident, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has apologized to the parents of the unarmed black teen shot dead by one of his cops, Ryan Gorman reports, Ferguson police chief apologizes for Michael Brown shooting — 47 days later. During a Thursday morning press conference, according to St. Louis television station KMBC, Jackson said, “I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son. I’m also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street.” He added his investigators had to secure the crime scene and collect evidence, but the four hours Brown’s body laid in the street was unacceptable. Jackson ended by saying that the investigating officers meant no disrespect to the Brown family, the African American community or the people of Canfield, where Brown lived and was shot. The aftermath of the Brown shooting brought national attention as civil rights leaders and protesters took the streets to express their anger and clashed with police in the process. Regarding this matter, Jackson apologized for the inadequate protection for peaceful protesters as riots raged around them. He said, “The right of the people to peacefully assemble is what the police are here to protect. If anyone was exercising that right and is upset or angry, I feel responsible.” Things had calmed down in the weeks after Brown was laid to rest, however, flared again this week when his memorial caught fire. This lead to violence as protestors armed with guns, rocks and bottles attacked police, according to reports. Thieves vandalized and looted stores with one store was almost set on fire with gasoline. On Thursday, several protestors were arrested after Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson began marching with he crowd and a scuffle broke out near him, CNN and St. Louis television station KMOV reported. Carey Gillam reports, Police, protesters clash at rally in Ferguson, protestors have pledged continued civil unrest until Wilson is arrested and charged in Brown’s death, while a grand jury in St. Louis County is examining the case and the U.S. Justice Department. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s parents, declined to comment on Jackson’s apology. Brown’s parents were in Washington on Thursday calling for federal legislation requiring police officers to wear body cameras to document their activities.

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