New York City

10 things you need to know today: December 4, 2014

Protesters took to the streets across the country.

Protesters took to the streets across the country | (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Week

Protests erupt after officer cleared in Eric Garner’s death, 17 states sue Obama over immigration, and more

1. New Yorkers protest decision not to charge officer for chokehold death
Protests broke out in New York City on Wednesday after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Demonstrators chanted, “Black lives matter,” and, “I can’t breathe” — one of the last things Garner said. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, has said he didn’t mean to hurt Garner. Attorney General Eric Holder promised an investigation into whether Garner’s civil rights were violated. [NBC News, The New York Times]

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2. States sue over Obama’s executive order on immigration
Seventeen states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on Wednesday over President Obama’s executive order on immigration deferring the deportation of up to 4.7 million undocumented immigrants, most of them parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents. The states, led by Texas, said Obama was exceeding his authority and violating his constitutional duty to enforce the nation’s laws. The White House says Obama has legal authority for the move under his right to set priorities in enforcing federal laws. [Reuters]

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3. American teacher murdered in Abu Dhabi shopping mall
An American kindergarten teacher was stabbed to death in an Abu Dhabi shopping mall, apparently by an attacker seen in a surveillance video wearing a black robe and veil, police in the United Arab Emirates said Wednesday. The victim of the Monday attack was identified as Ibolya Ryan, 47, the mother of 11-year-old twins. The murder came weeks after U.S. embassies in the Middle East were warned of a posting on an Islamist terrorist website calling for attacks on American teachers in the Middle East. [USA Today]

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4. Iran launches airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq
Iranian jets recently started carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, U.S. and Iranian officials confirmed Wednesday. Iran’s Shiite Muslim leadership, which publicly denied the bombing campaign recently, has been taking on an increasingly public role in helping Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government fight ISIS, a Sunni extremist group. Tehran and Washington, which haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1979, deny they are coordinating their battles against ISIS. [The New York Times]

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5. Court halts execution of mentally ill man in Texas
A federal appeals court on Wednesday halted the controversial planned execution of a Texas man, Scott Panetti, so the judges can determine whether he is too mentally ill to receive the death penalty. Panetti’s lawyers have argued that he suffers from schizophrenia and does not understand why he was sentenced to death, so executing him would be unconstitutional. Panetti was convicted in 1992 of shooting and killing his estranged wife’s parents. [The Christian Science Monitor]

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6. Terrorists threaten to kill American hostage in Yemen
Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has released a video threatening to kill Luke Somers, a 33-year-old photojournalist kidnapped last year, unless the U.S. meets an unspecified list of demands, the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist organizations, said on Thursday. Somers is believed to be one of the hostages U.S. special forces tried to rescue last month in a rare joint operation with Yemeni troops. The mission freed eight captives, but Somers and four others had been moved by their captors days before the raid. [The Associated Press]

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7. Appeals court clears path for gay marriages to begin in Florida next year
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that it would lift a stay on a ruling overturning the state’s gay-marriage ban in one month. The decision by a three-judge panel cleared the way for same-sex couples in Florida to get married as early as Jan. 6, the day after the stay expires. State officials had asked the court to extend the stay until the appeals are exhausted. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said the ruling found that “the harm is being done to the people, not the state.” [The Miami Herald]

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8. Officer who shot 12-year-old had “dismal” record before Cleveland hired him
The police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland had been deemed unfit for duty by a suburban police department, but Cleveland police said Wednesday that they had never reviewed his old personnel file. The officer, Tim Loehmann, had “dismal” handgun performance during firearms qualification training, and “could not follow simple directions,” Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police wrote. No amount of training will “correct the deficiencies,” Polak said. Cleveland police are investigating the Nov. 22 shooting. [Cleveland.com]

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9. Denver police injured in accident
A driver who was experiencing a medical emergency on Wednesday hit four Denver police officers on bicycles who were monitoring students protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white Ferguson, Missouri, officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August. One of the officers was hospitalized in critical condition. The other officers were treated and released. The driver was in stable condition. Police said the accident appeared unrelated to the protests. [Colorado Springs Gazette]

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10. Military sexual assaults drop but reported cases rise
A new report due to be released Thursday found that the number of sexual assaults in the military dropped to about 19,000 this year from 26,000 two years ago, officials told The Associated Press. The victims included 10,500 men and 8,500 women, according to the anonymous survey. Despite the trend, the number of sexual assaults reported to military authorities rose by 8 percent, from 5,500 last year to 6,000 in 2014, as the number of victims filing reports increased from 1 in 10 in 2012 to 1 in 4 this year. [The Associated Press]

10 things you need to know today: November 28, 2014

A boy waits outside a Toys R Us in New York City.

A boy waits outside a Toys R Us in New York City. (Getty/Andrew Burton)

The Week

Oil prices dive, millions shop for deals on Thanksgiving to beat Black Friday crowds, and more

1. OPEC rejects pressure to reduce production, sending oil prices plummeting
Oil prices dropped by 7 percent to $69 per barrel on Thursday, the lowest level since May 2010. The dive came after OPEC announced that it was leaving production levels unchanged, dashing expectations that the group of leading oil exporters would slash production to boost prices. Saudi Arabia pushed to keep production levels steady despite pressure from Russia, Nigeria, and Venezuela, which need higher prices to bolster their economies. [CNN]

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2. More than 25 million hit stores before Black Friday
Millions of Americans hit the stores before Thanksgiving was over, not waiting until Black Friday to hunt for deals as the holiday shopping season began. Retailers offered deep discounts on TVs, mobile devices, computers, and other items. Online sales were up 14 percent on Thanksgiving, and 96 million people are expected to go shopping on Black Friday. Roughly 140 million are expected to shop in stores or online at some point over the Black Friday weekend. [The Chicago Tribune]

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3. Ferguson tensions ease on Thanksgiving
Protests calmed in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Thursday, with no signs of the sporadic violence and looting that have prevailed in the three nights since a grand jury announced it would not charge white police officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. In New York City, at least seven protesters were arrested for incidents during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In Los Angeles, authorities released 90 protesters arrested Tuesday and Wednesday so they could go home for Thanksgiving dinner. [Reuters]

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4. Storm leaves 344,000 New England customers without power
The first major winter storm of the year left 344,000 customers in northern New England without power on Thanksgiving, after disrupting holiday travel on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Record snowfall piled up across the region, snapping tree branches and downing power lines. Officials said it could take several days to restore all power. “This is not something you should try to wait out in your house,” said Michael Todd, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Safety. [The Associated Press]

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5. 40 killed in Nigeria bus station bombing
A bomb blast demolished a bus station in northeast Nigeria on Thursday, killing 40 people. A witness said the explosion beside a busy crossroads set several buses on fire. “There were bodies everywhere on the ground,” the witness, mechanic Abubakar Adamu, said. The bombing took place about 20 miles west of a town called Mubi, near the Cameroon border, that was seized by members of the Islamist group Boko Haram last month. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. [Reuters]

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6. Gunmen targets public buildings in Austin
Police in Austin, Texas, shot and killed a man suspected of opening fire on three downtown public buildings — the Mexican consulate, the federal courthouse, and police headquarters — early Friday. Police said that the suspected attacker was killed near his car, and that a bomb squad was investigating suspicions that the vehicle had an improvised explosive device inside. Officers also are checking the man’s residence for explosives. [USA Today]

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7. Mexican president, under pressure, proposes sweeping policing reforms
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed broad policing reforms on Thursday after two months of criticism over the kidnapping and presumed murder of 43 student-teachers. Witnesses blamed local police for the abductions, and the mayor of Iguala, in Guerrero state, and his wife have been accused of masterminding the crime along with gang members. Pena Nieto proposed putting the 1,800 municipal police forces under state control, giving the federal government power to dissolve corrupt local governments, and establishing a national 911 system. [The New York Times]

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8. Boys rescued two hours after being buried by snowplow
Two boys were rescued Thursday two hours after they were buried in a snow bank by a snowplow operator who did not see them as he cleared a parking lot in Newburgh, New York. The boys had been building a snow fort when the plow operator pushed snow over them. The boys, one 11 years old and the other 9, were taken to a hospital. Searchers, alerted by the boys’ parents after they failed to go home, found the boys around 2 a.m. after seeing a half-buried shovel. [The Associated Press]

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9. Bloodhound named Nathan wins Best in Show at National Dog Show
Nathan the bloodhound won Best in Show at the 2014 National Dog Show on Thursday. The playful, 4-year-old crowd favorite won the hound category, then outdid the winners of the other groups, including Freda the French bulldog and Bogey the samoyed, to take the top honor. “He just came out and shined today,” owner-handler Heather Helmer said. “Kissing the judge, stretching and scratching — he always pulls those antics and he knows I think it’s funny, that’s why he does it.” [NBC Sports]

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10. Author P.D. James dies at 94
British crime novelist P.D. James died Thursday at her home in Oxford, England. She was 94. James began her literary career at 42, and became known for her cerebral murder mysteries featuring memorable characters such as Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh and private investigator Cordelia Gray. Her stories often included gruesome details. “Let those who want pleasant murders read Agatha Christie,” James once said. “Murder isn’t pleasant. It’s an ugly thing and a cruel thing.” [The Washington Post]

10 things you need to know today: November 26, 2014

Protesters gathered in New York City's Times Square on Tuesday night. 

Protesters gathered in New York City’s Times Square on Tuesday night. |Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The Week

Ferguson protests spread across America, Hong Kong police arrest pro-democracy leaders, and more

1. Ferguson protests spread across the U.S.
Mostly peaceful protests spread from Ferguson, Missouri, across the country on Tuesday following the announcement that a grand jury had decided not to charge Darren Wilson, a white police officer, with the August killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Americans, calling the case a symbol of racial injustice, held at least 170 separate demonstrations, blocking bridges and highways. Protesters filled New York City’s Times Square, holding their hands up and chanting, “Don’t shoot.” [CNN]

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2. Hong Kong protest leaders arrested
Hong Kong police cleared barricades from the main pro-democracy protest camp and arrested key student leaders on Wednesday. It was the second day of a crackdown on the demonstrators’ three protest zones that has threatened the future of the two-month-old movement. Among the dozens arrested on Wednesday were protest leaders Joshua Wong, 18, head of the Scholarism group, and Lester Shum of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. “After the clearance operation we don’t have a leader,” said protester Ken Lee, 19. [The Associated Press]

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3. Judges rule Arkansas and Mississippi gay marriage bans unconstitutional
Federal judges on Tuesday struck down gay marriage bans in Mississippi and Arkansas. Judges Kristine Baker in Little Rock, and Carlton Reeves in Jackson, Mississippi, ruled that the bans — both approved a decade ago — violated same-sex couples’ right to the equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The decisions, coming in two conservative Southern states, marked the latest in a series of court victories for gay-marriage advocates, but both judges put their rulings on hold pending expected appeals. [Reuters]

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4. Winter storm hits the East Coast as Thanksgiving travel rush begins
A powerful winter storm began dumping rain from northern Florida to Maryland early Wednesday, and was forecast to disrupt Thanksgiving travel as it pushed up the East Coast. The nor’easter could bring up to a foot of snow to some parts of the Northeast, with the heaviest snowfall expected from the Poconos to Maine. Weather Channel lead meteorologist Kevin Roth said the storm would be “nothing too much out of the ordinary” normally, but it could create chaos at airports and on highways since it’s hitting on one of the busiest travel days of the year. [NBC News]

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5. New EPA rules aim to reduce ozone pollution
The Obama administration is expected to release controversial regulations on ozone emissions on Wednesday. The sweeping new Environmental Protection Agency rules would lower the allowable threshold for the pollutant, which causes smog and has been linked to asthma, heart disease, and premature death, coming from power plants and factories. Environmentalists and public health advocates applauded the move. Republicans and industry officials said the rules would hurt the economy without benefiting public health. [The New York Times]

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6. German politicians set a quota to get more women on corporate boards
Germany’s three-party ruling coalition agreed late Tuesday to require that 30 percent of all positions on corporate boards go to women. The quota will take effect in 2016, and it will apply to at least 108 listed German companies. The accord was initially negotiated last year but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats balked at formally establishing legal quotas. Women currently hold seven percent of board seats at the 30 biggest companies in Germany’s DAX blue-chip index. [Deutsche Welle]

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7. Female suicide bombers kill more than 40 in Nigeria
Two teenage girls wearing belts laden with explosives blew themselves up in a Nigerian market on Tuesday, killing more than 40 others. The suicide bombings were the latest deadly attacks on civilians in a region in northern Nigeria that has been terrorized by Islamist militants. A day earlier, insurgents disguised as traders indiscriminately gunned down people at another market, and a day before that, another group of militants killed 48 fish traders near Lake Chad. [Los Angeles Times]

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8. Health workers killed by gunmen in Pakistan
Three Pakistani women polio workers and their driver were shot and killed on Wednesday. Teams vaccinating children have been targeted frequently by Taliban militants who sometimes claim the health workers are Western spies. This was the deadliest such attack in two years. The victims were shot by two men on a motorcycle as they were on their way to meet a police escort. Polio cases have spiked to a 15-year high of 265 in Pakistan as unvaccinated children fleeing fighting near the Afghan border spread out across the country. [Reuters]

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9. Cosby biographer apologizes for excluding rape allegations
Author Mark Whitaker apologized this week for not addressing sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby in his recently published biography of the comedian, Cosby: His Life and Times. New York Times media critic David Carr wrote a column this week scolding journalists, including himself, for not being more aggressive in looking into the allegations — which Cosby’s lawyer has refuted. After the column came out, Whitaker, a former journalist, tweeted that he should have dealt with the rape allegations: “If true the stories are shocking and horrible.” [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

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10. Astronauts test 3D printer in space
NASA’s 3D printer on the International Space Station this week successfully produced the first object ever printed in orbit — a faceplate for the printer itself with the logos of NASA and Made in Space, the company that made the printer. Next astronauts will print parts and tools that will be tested back on Earth to see how they stack up against objects made by an identical printer on the ground. The idea is to manufacture parts and tools in space to save time and make the space station more self-sufficient. [CNET]

10 things you need to know today: November 3, 2014

The World Trade Center opens for business. 

The World Trade Center opens for business. (Getty Images/Pool)

The Week

1. Netanyahu tries to calm tensions in East Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to diffuse unrest in East Jerusalem by vowing to maintain the 47-year-old rules that dictate worship at one of the holiest sites in the Middle East. The shrine, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, was captured by Israel during the 1967 Mideast War. Jewish worship was banned at the site not long after the conflict ended, but that dictate has increasingly been criticized by Jews who want access to the area. Violence has rocked the area in recent months, prompting Israeli lawmakers to strengthen laws designed to punish those who throw rocks and other weapons. [Bloomberg]

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2. New York’s World Trade Center re-opens
More than a decade after New York City’s twin towers were demolished in a terrorist attack, the World Trade Center is again open for business. The new building — a 104-story skyscraper — will see publishing giant Conde Nast move in today. Standing at 1776 feet tall, the building cost almost $4 billion to build and is about 60 percent leased. In addition to Conde Nast, the Government Services Administration and Kids Creative, and advertising firm, are also renting space. [USA Today]

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3. European Union blasts Ukrainian separatists’ election
The European Union is taking a hard line against the election held in Eastern Ukraine on Sunday. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new foreign policy chief, called the vote both illegal and illegitimate. “I consider today’s ‘presidential and parliamentary elections’ in Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ a new obstacle on the path toward peace in Ukraine,” she said. “The European Union will not recognize it.” Pro-Russian forces used the vote to elect Alexander Zakharchenko with roughly 80 percent of the ballots cast, angering the Ukranian government in Kiev. [Reuters]

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4. Kenyan athletes sweep New York City Marathon
It took two hours, 10 minutes, and 59 seconds, but Wilson Kipsang of Kenya won the New York City Marathon on Sunday. The high winds, which at points gusted up to 30 miles-per-hour, contributed to making that the slowest winning time since 1995. Mary Keitany, also from Kenya, won an exciting women’s race, edging out fellow countrywoman Jemima Sumgong by just three seconds. More than 50,000 runners — a record number — competed in the race this year despite the frigid weather. [ABC News]

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5. Shadow groups pump millions into midterms as election day nears
With just days to go until the midterm elections, outside groups not affiliated with any political candidates began injecting millions of dollars into hotly contested races across the country. Who gave the money, which is paying for everything from television advertising to robocalls, won’t have to be disclosed until after voters go to the polls on Tuesday. Many of these groups didn’t exist before September, while several of them were formed earlier in the year and remained dormant until recently. In total, about 90 political nonprofits, super PACs, and outside groups waited until October to start doling out funds. [The New York Times]

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6. Virgin Galactic exec says new spacecraft could be ready by next year
Despite a high-profile crash that killed one pilot and badly injured a second, Virgin Galactic sought to assuage safety concerns by announcing a second spacecraft could be ready to fly by next year. George Whitesides, the company’s chief executive, said the vehicle is about 65 percent complete and is “getting close to readiness.” The accident, which is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, was a setback for Virgin Galactic, which had expected to make its maiden space voyage in March of 2015. [Reuters]

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7. Tightrope walker makes history in Chicago
Despite high winds and frigid temperatures, daredevil Nik Wallenda completed two skywalks in Chicago and in the process broke two world records. The first walk, which took 6:51 minutes and was on a wire with a 19-degree slant, set the record for steepest incline for tightrope walking between two buildings. For the second stunt, Wallenda was blindfolded as he traversed a wire more than 500 feet in the air. That set the record for the highest blindfolded walk ever recorded. [Chicago Tribune]

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8. Santa Ana police make arrests in Halloween hit-and-run
Police announced that they have made “several” arrests in a hit-and-run accident that left three teenage girls dead on Halloween. A Honda SUV struck the three trick-or-treaters while they were crossing the street. The driver and passenger were speeding at the time of the accident and abandoned their car in a nearby parking lot, according to investigators. A spokesman for the Santa Ana police department said they would release more details at a press conference on Monday. [Los Angeles Times]

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9. Brittany Maynard, advocate for assisted suicide, passes away
Brittany Maynard, the woman who became a fierce advocate for the right-to-die movement after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, passed away. Maynard moved to Oregon, one of the few states in the country that allows for physician-assisted suicide, so she could make the decision to end her life before her cancer became too debilitating. Maynard was 29. [Time]

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10. Sistine Chapel gets new lights and air conditioners
The Sistine Chapel is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting thousands of visitors a day. That traffic is wreaking havoc on the 500-year-old ceiling, but Vatican officials are hoping a new lighting and HVAC system will help keep Michaelangelo’s famous fresco from deteriorating. Sensors and cameras mounted in the chapel will keep humidity levels in check while the 7,000 LED lights will illuminate the artwork without emitting too much heat. [CNN]

10 things you need to know today: October 24, 2014

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference at Bellevue Hospital with Governor Cuomo.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference at Bellevue Hospital with Governor Cuomo. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The Week

A New York City doctor tests positive for Ebola, police suggest a motive for the Canadian Parliament attack, and more

1. New York doctor diagnosed as city’s first Ebola case
A New York City doctor tested positive for Ebola on Thursday, becoming the city’s first case. The doctor, Craig Spencer, had recently returned from Guinea, where he treated Ebola patients. Spencer reportedly took a subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn and went to a bowling alley on Wednesday night before waking up the next morning with a 103-degree fever. Health workers quarantined his fiancee and two others, and tried to track down anyone who might have had contact with him before he was rushed to a hospital. [The New York Times]

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2. Canadian police say Parliament attacker was angry over passport delays
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who was killed in a shootout at Canada’s Parliament building, might have been lashing out at the government because a delay in processing his passport was preventing him from traveling to Syria. Zehaf-Bibeau, a Muslim convert, had said he wanted to go to Libya, his father’s homeland, but his mother said after he was shot dead that he had planned to go to Syria. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday that the motive for the attack remains fuzzy, “but radicalization and the passport figured highly.” [USA Today]

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3. Mexico-U.S. border deaths fall to lowest since 1999
Deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border have fallen to a 15-year low, The Associated Press reported Thursday. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 307 people died, down from 445 the previous year. The Border Patrol credits the lower death toll to a drop in the number of people attempting dangerous crossings across the Arizona desert, Spanish-language media messages warning against crossing on foot, increased Border Patrol efforts, and a jump in the number of immigrants turning themselves in to authorities. [The Associated Press]

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4. Boko Haram abducts another 25 girls in Nigeria
Boko Haram militants kidnapped at least 25 girls in a remote Nigerian town, witnesses said Thursday. The latest attack came despite a temporary ceasefire with the rebels, and ongoing negotiations for the freedom of more than 200 other young women the Islamist militant group abducted in April. Parents of some of the newly captured hostages said the militants abducted female hostages late in the night, and later released the older women, keeping only girls. [Reuters]

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5. EU announces new goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions
European Union leaders announced Thursday that they had agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said poorer countries that rely more heavily on coal-fired power plants would receive funding to help them reach the targets. Activists were not satisfied. Oxfam’s Natalia Alonso said the goal was “far too short of what the EU needs to do to pull its weight in the fight against climate change.” [BBC News]

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6. Iraq says ISIS used chemical weapon against police
Iraqi officials on Thursday accused ISIS of attacking police with chlorine gas. Eleven police officers were taken to a hospital 50 miles north of Baghdad last month with dizziness, vomiting, and severe breathing trouble. Iraqi defense officials said the attack was the first confirmed case in which ISIS used chemical weapons on the battlefield. Doctors reportedly agreed that the patients’ symptoms were what would be expected from chlorine poisoning. [The Washington Post]

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7. Amazon’s stock sinks on a disappointing quarterly report
Amazon’s shares dropped by nine percent on Thursday after the online retail giant reported a third-quarter loss that was much larger than expected, and lowered its projections for sales in the crucial holiday season. Amazon’s losses have been fueled by huge investments in its new Fire smartphone, grocery deliveries, and the production of its own video content. Analysts said investors overlooked Amazon’s losses when its revenue growth was better than 20 percent, but they’re losing patience as that pace slows. [The New York Times]

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8. Joan Rivers’ daughter reportedly will sue to get answers on her mother’s death
Melissa Rivers plans to file a lawsuit against the medical center where her mother, comedian Joan Rivers, stopped breathing during throat surgery nearly two months ago, TMZ reported Thursday. New York’s Health and Human Services department found that the surgical services and staff of the medical facility, Yorkville Endoscopy, were “deficient.” Melissa Rivers reportedly has grown frustrated trying to find out exactly what caused her mother’s death, and believes the lawsuit will force the staff to answer questions. [TMZ]

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9. Artist investigated for graffiti at national parks
The National Park Service has identified a New York artist as a suspect in graffiti vandalism cases in at least 10 national parks across the West, including Arizona’s Grand Canyon and California’s Yosemite. The investigation began after the woman posted a photo on social media in which she appeared to be working on an acrylic drawing of a woman smoking a cigarette at Utah’s Canyonlands National Park in June. [Reuters]

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10. Christian Bale picked for Steve Jobs role in biopic
Actor Christian Bale has been tapped to play Steve Jobs in director Danny Boyle’s film about the late Apple co-founder and CEO. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the script based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Walter Isaacson’s biography, said that Bale was the first pick for the role after Leonardo DiCaprio dropped out. “We needed the best actor on the board in a certain age range and that’s Chris Bale,” Sorkin said. “He didn’t have to audition.” [CNN]

This Is What Eric Holder’s Legacy Will Be

The Huffington Post

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the top law enforcement position in the United States, announced on Thursday that he plans to step down from his position as soon as a successor can be confirmed. If he remains in office until December, Holder will become the third longest-serving Attorney General in the history of the United States. Here are some key components of his legacy.

He decided not to defend DOMA

The Obama administration initially defended the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. At first, Holder maintained that while the administration disagreed with the law, it was the Justice Department’sresponsibility to defend the laws that Congress had passed. (Some of the briefs written by Justice Department lawyers arguing that DOMA was constitutional were considered offensive by gay rights organizations.)

But Holder’s analysis changed. He announced in February 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend components of the statute because DOMA “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling in June 2013 that key portions of DOMA were unconstitutional.

He lost the fight to bring the Sept. 11 trial out of Guantanamo Bay and into New York City

In one of the biggest disappointments of his tenure, Holder ultimately lost the fight to try the key perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in New York City. The plan, first announced by Holder in Nov. 2009, faced stiff resistance from many politicians in New York who feared the impact a high-profile trial would have on the city. Others objected because they believed that a military commission was a more appropriate venue for the terrorism trial. Holder ultimately announced he was reversing his decision to try the cases in New York and moved them back to the military commission in Guantanamo.

While the process in Guantanamo has hit numerous roadblocks, Holder’s Justice Department has gathered a string of wins against other terror suspects in federal court. Holder has remarked that the Sept. 11 defendants “would be on death row as we speak” if the case had been allowed to proceed in federal court.

He helped turn around the Civil Rights Division and fought for voting rights

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was heavily politicized during the Bush administration. A 2008 inspector general report found the conservative leadership had hired lawyers with little to no civil rights experience into positions due to their ideological beliefs. The environment caused a massive exodus in the Civil Rights Division: more than 70 percent of its attorneys left between 2003 and 2007. Holder, who has long made civil rights a top priority, was widely credited with overseeing the turnaround of the division.

“I think Eric Holder put the ‘J’ back in DOJ, and in particular he restored the luster of the crown jewel which is the Civil Rights Division, and I had the privilege of having a front-row seat for that,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who headed the Civil Rights Division from 2009 to 2013, told The Huffington Post after Holder’s announcement on Thursday.

Holder oversaw several of the Justice Department’s successful voting rights lawsuits during President Barack Obama’s first term, as well as the agency’s continued efforts after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ is currently involved in several voting rights cases, including high-profile suits against voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas.

He addressed racism head on.

Shortly after his confirmation in 2009, Holder delivered a speech to Justice Department employees at an event commemorating Black History Month. In his remarks, he called out the U.S. as a “nation of cowards” when it comes to addressing race. He said Americans believe that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

Those words echoed throughout Holder’s tenure at the DOJ as he fought back against laws that suppressed voting and defended the Voting Rights Act. He stepped in to request federal oversight of the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-friskpolicy, a program that has overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino individuals. More recently, he ordered a civil rights investigation into the largely white police force in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.

“Will we yet again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed?” Holder asked during a speech this week, echoing his 2009 remarks. “Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue?”

He oversaw a crackdown on leaks and disappointed civil liberties advocates

Under Holder, the Justice Department has aggressively — some would say obsessively — pursued government leakers. Eight have been charged with violating the draconian Espionage Act of 1917, more than under all previous administrations combined. Journalists have also come under the gun: Holder’s DOJ subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone logs in a leak investigation, named a Fox News reporter as an “un-indicted co-conspirator” in another case, and is still trying to force Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his sources under threat of jail time.

All of that led Risen to call Holder’s boss, Obama, “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

One of the leakers charged, Edward Snowden, revealed another disappointment for civil liberties advocates: the DOJ’s intimate role in coming up with the legal rationale that underlies the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The FBI’s frayed relationship with Muslim communities, meanwhile, has seen little improvement under Holder. The bureau has continued to use sting operations, which critics say are tantamount to entrapment, to arrest Muslims involved in bogus terror “plots.” And NPR reported on Wednesday that the racial profiling guidelines set to be released soon will still allow the FBI to “map” the demographics of Muslim communities.

Perhaps most worrying for many across the spectrum, it was Holder’s DOJ that came up with the “drone memos” — the legal justification that the Obama administration leaned on to kill al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen without a trial.

He released the so-called “torture memos,” but didn’t go after their authors — Shadee

Two months after assuming office in 2009, Holder moved to publicly release a series of previously classified “torture memos” from the Bush administration that sanctioned specific acts of torture, including waterboarding, for CIA use against al Qaeda suspects.

“There is no reason we cannot wage an effective fight against those who have sworn to harm us while we respect our most honored constitutional traditions,” Holder said in March 2009 after releasing nine previously classified Justice Department memos.

Despite the release, which faced significant pushback from senior intelligence officials, the attorney general’s office never brought criminal charges against any government officials investigated for their involvements in over 100 cases of severe prisoner abuse.

While crediting Holder in other areas, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued a statement on Thursday noting “profound disagreements with the Attorney General on national security issues.”

“During his tenure, DOJ approved the drone killing of an American far away from any battlefield, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any of the Bush administration torturers, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined,” Romero said.

He became the first-ever cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress

In 2012, Holder became the only sitting cabinet member in history to be held in contempt of Congress after the White House claimed executive privilege over documents subpoenaed in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched federal investigation intended to combat gun smuggling. The documents that the Justice Department refused to turn over related not to the actual operation, but rather to how DOJ responded once Congress began investigating the matter.

Holder later dismissed the vote — led by the Republican-controlled House — as political theater, calling it “a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”

The White House also indicated in 2012 that Holder would not face any criminal charges in the matter since the documents being sought were protected by executive privilege.

He took on “draconian” drug sentences and slowly but surely scaled back the war on drugs.

In what Obama described as a “gutsy speech” in front of the American Bar Association in 2013, Holder outlined his plan for “sweeping, systemic changes” to how the Justice Department prosecutes drug-related offenses. While Holder initially faced a lot of internal resistance from career federal prosecutors as he attempted to rein in the so-called war on drugs, he pressed ahead, pushing for changes like allowing low-level and nonviolent drug offenders to avoid “draconian” mandatory minimum sentences and permitting the early release of some elderly defendants.

He continued to push for sentencing reform in March, lending his support to aproposal that would reduce penalties for some drug offenders and help cut prison costs.

“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.

Holder has also urged first responders to carry the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.

He oversaw a crackdown on marijuana shops, but allowed state legalization to move forward

During the first term of the Obama administration, Holder oversaw an expansive federal crackdown on hundreds of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries in states like Colorado and California, which was spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Agency and several U.S. attorneys.

But in a historic step, Holder announced in 2013 that DOJ would allow for Colorado and Washington to implement their groundbreaking new laws legalizing and regulating the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana.

While Holder never explicitly came out in favor of legalization or decriminalization, he has been more open to rescheduling marijuana, which is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance like heroin. Holder said the Obama administration would be “more than glad” to work with Congress to re-examine how cannabis is scheduled federally. He even said in April that he’s “cautiously optimistic”about how the historic changes in marijuana law were working out in Washington and Colorado.

And now, as he plans to step down from his post, he appears to be more open than ever to the possibility of classifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. He said in an interview just this week that “we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious of a drug as heroin” adding that science should be used to make that determination.

He reached big settlements on pollution cases

The DOJ reached a record $4 billion settlement with BP in November 2012 over criminal charges stemming from the 2010 oil spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That included charges related to the deaths of 11 workers on the rig and the “misconduct or neglect of ships’ officers.” The DOJ is still pursuing civil charges related to the spill, but the agency recently scored a big win when a federal judge ruled that BP was grossly negligent in allowing the spill to occur — a ruling that opens the door to up to $18 billion in civil penalties that could be levied against the company.

The DOJ topped its own record fine this year, however, with a $5.15 billion settlementin April 2014 with Anadarko Petroleum over a decades-long legacy of pollution left by one of its subsidiaries.

He failed to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis

Holder’s legacy is likely to be marred by what critics view as DOJ’s lax approach to investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes that sparked, or exacerbated, the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Few Wall Street firms, and even fewer senior financial executives, were officially charged with breaking the law for conduct related to the crisis, despite what experts contend is a wealth of evidence — thanks to civil lawsuits brought by aggrieved investors, prior investigations by state authorities, and probes by Congress and the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — that at the very least should have prompted the Justice Department to investigate further.

Holder’s approach to crisis-era wrongdoing stands in stark contrast to the playbook followed by federal prosecutors contending with the fallout of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 90s.

“In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be,” Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote earlier this year in the New York Review of Books.

The lack of public evidence that Holder’s Justice Department thoroughly investigated crisis-era wrongdoing has contributed to the perception — one eagerly promoted by the defense bar — that perhaps few crimes were even committed in the runup to the financial crisis.

“But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud,” Rakoff wrote, “the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

10 things you need to know today: September 26, 2014

Eric Holder tears up as he steps down.

Eric Holder tears up as he steps down. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Week

Eric Holder resigns, Iraq warns of a possible terrorist plot to attack U.S. subways, and more

1. Eric Holder is resigning as head of the Justice Department
Attorney General Eric Holder, a leading liberal voice in the Obama administration and the first African-American in the powerful post, is resigning, the Justice Department announced Thursday. Holder has been a driving force behind the administration’s support for same-sex marriage and protecting voting rights. That record, along with controversies such as the so-called Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal, have made him a focus of conservative ire. He will stay on the job until his replacement — whom President Obama has not picked yet — is confirmed. [The New York Times]

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2. Iraqi prime minister warns of alleged plot to attack U.S. subways
Authorities in New York City increased police patrols on Thursday after Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said his country’s intelligence network had uncovered a terrorist plot to attack subways in the U.S. and Paris. U.S. security officials said, however, that they were not aware of any credible evidence of a scheme to carry out such an attack. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio boarded city subways to show the added police presence would ensure riders’ safety. [The Associated Press]

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3. Ferguson police chief apologizes to Michael Brown’s parents
Ferguson, Missouri, Police Chief Tom Jackson tried late Thursday to join a march of people protesting the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by one of his police officers in August, but his presence set off scuffles and several arrests. Hours earlier, Jackson had released avideo apology to the Brown family, saying he was “truly sorry” for their child’s death. The killing touched off weeks of unrest, after witnesses said Brown had his hands up when he was shot. [NBC News, The Christian Science Monitor]

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4. Investigators reportedly have identified ISIS killer in beheading videos
FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that intelligence officials had identified the masked, knife-wielding ISIS militant who has been seen in videos of the beheadings of three hostages — including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — kidnapped in Syria. Comey declined to reveal the man’s identity. A European government source said the man, who spoke English with a British accent, appeared to be from a community of Asian immigrants in London. [Reuters]

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5. Three NYC firefighters who breathed WTC dust die of cancer hours apart
Three retired New York City firefighters died within hours of each other this week from illnesses believed linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Daniel Heglund, 58, Robert Leaver, 56, and Howard Bischoff, 58, suffered from cancer, and died on Monday. Ninety-two emergency workers involved in the rescue and then recovery efforts have died in the years since. Hundreds more continue to suffer from respiratory problems after inhaling dust and smoke at the scene. [CNN]

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6. Detroit elected officials regain control over their broke city’s daily operations
Detroit’s City Council unanimously voted Thursday to return oversight of the financially strapped city’s daily operations to elected officials. Under the plan, a state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, would retain control over issues connected to Detroit’s bankruptcy case, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Orr already has been gradually returning financial authority to Detroit’s elected leaders. His 18-month contract ends this weekend. [Detroit Free Press]

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7. British lawmakers expected to approve airstrikes against ISIS
British Parliament is expected to approve Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to join the U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Iraq. Lawmakers are meeting in a specially convened session to consider the matter on Friday. Cameron moved carefully after lawmakers rejected airstrikes against Syrian government forces last year, a humiliating political defeat, but leaders across the political spectrum say Cameron has broad support to bomb the Islamist militant group. [NBC News]

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8. Obama approving huge expansion of Pacific marine reserve
President Obama plans to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Thursday. The reserve, which Obama would establish using his executive authority, would protect some of the central Pacific Ocean’s coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that are among the “most vulnerable” to climate change, Kerry said during a meeting on preserving the world’s oceans. Obama’s move will expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000. [The Washington Post]

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9. Thirty states could soon have gas prices below $3 a gallon
The price of gasoline could fall below $3 per gallon in 30 states by the end of the year, according to a forecast from GasBuddy.com. Prices typically dip in autumn, and this year the trend is being magnified by falling fuel prices worldwide. The national average has already dropped to $3.35 per gallon, which is almost its lowest point this year and a dime below the same time last year. [The Associated Press]

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10. Jeter bats in the winning run in his last game at Yankee Stadium
New York Yankees star Derek Jeter smacked the game-winning hit in the final inning of the final home game of his 20-year career on Thursday night. The 6-5 victory against the Baltimore Orioles was Jeter’s 1,627th regular-season win in a Yankee uniform. Jeter called his final hit — his 3,463rd — “an out-of-body experience.” Next, Jeter will join the team for a season-ending series in Boston, but only as a designated hitter. “I’ve played shortstop my entire career,” he said, “and the last time I wanted to play was tonight.” [The New York Times]

NYPD drags a 48-year-old naked woman from her apartment as neighbors protest and tape arrest

NYPD drags a 48-year-old naked woman from her apartment as neighbors protest and tape arrest

NYPD outside of the United Nations General Assembly Building | AP

A friend emailed me today and asked me why hadn’t I reported some of the malicious treatment by police officers against alleged “perpetrators” in recent weeks.  I think I wrote back saying that I have in fact reported on police violence in the past but wanted to stick to the tagline of this blog: Sorting out the crazies.

The truth of the matter (and my friend touched on this in his email) I probably didn’t want to offend the readers of this political blog with stories of police misconduct across the nation.  Perhaps there’s even a deeper reason…

So, I have decided to include some of the police misconduct craziness going on across the country (especially in the northeast) perpetrated by poorly trained, unprofessional cops everywhere.   (H/t: LTL)

Hence, the following story:

Salon

Disturbing video captures the NYPD arresting a woman as she shouts that she needs her oxygen. The woman was dragged naked from her Brownsville, Brooklyn apartment by NYPD.

Denise Stewart, a 48-year-old Brooklyn woman was dragged by NYPD from her apartment and arrested in the late hours of July 13, New York Daily News reported. The grandmother had just taken a shower and was only wearing a towel and pair of underpants when NYPD pounded on her door.

The NYPD officers were responding to a domestic violence 911-call made from the Brownsville apartment building. However, according to the Daily News, they did not know the apartment number. After hearing shouts from Stewart’s apartment they banged on the door at 11:45 PM. According to the Daily News, Stewart told the police they had the wrong apartment and attempted to close the door. Denise Stewart was then dragged by the NYPD cops into the hallway.

Neighbors captured part of the arrest on video, which shows male officers struggling to subdue the woman, and Stewart calling for her oxygen.

“For approximately two minutes and 20 seconds, Stewart was bare-breasted in the hallway as additional police officers tramped up the stairs and through the hallway, glancing at her as they passed by,” the Daily News reported. Eventually a female officer covered her with a towel.

Shouts of “Oxygen, get my oxygen” can be heard int he video.

“Ok, ok,” a police officer says, and leaves the frame.

“Her asthma! Her asthma! Her asthma,” shouted bystanders.

Stewart, who has asthma, fainted during the arrest, according to the Daily News.

The NYPD arrested Denise Stewart and charged her with assaulting a police officer — she bit an officer’s finger during the scuffle. Denise Stewart’s 20-year-old daughter Diamond Stewart was arrested and charged with acting in a manner injurious to a child, resisting arrest and criminal possession of a weapon. Stewarts’s 24-year-old son Kirkland Stewart was charged with resisting arrest.

Stewart’s 12-year-old daughter was also taken into custody. According to the police, the 12-year-old had injuries on her face and claimed that her mother and sister hit her with a belt. The 12-year-old daughter later resisted arrest, and allegedly kicked out a police van window, cutting an officer’s chin. She was charged with criminal mischief, criminal possession of a weapon and assaulting a police officer.

Denise Stewart’s lawyer, Amy Rameau, was told by a Legal Aid lawyer that the original 911 call came from a different apartment at the Kings Highway address. The NYPD allegedly arrived at Stewart’s apartment by mistake.

“They manhandled [Stewart] and behaved in a deplorable manner,” Rameau said. “She feels completely mortified. This is about human dignity.”

Rameau also explained that the Administration for Children’s Services investigated and found no evidence of neglect.

 

Related Stories:

HOMICIDE: Medical examiner says NYPD chokehold killed Staten Island dad Eric Garner

Video shows cop apparently putting arm around neck of seven-months pregnant Brooklyn woman

10 things you need to know today: January 2, 2014

Bill swears in Bill.

Bill swears in Bill. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Week

Militants attack Somali hotel, de Blasio is sworn in as mayor, and more

1. Attack on Somali hotel leaves at least six dead
Two car bombs and an attack by armed militants left six people dead and several more wounded at the Jazeera hotel in Mogadishu. Police say they were able to stop the assailants from entering the hotel, which is often used by foreign visitors and government officials. [New York Times]
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2. New NYC Mayor de Blasio vows to tackle income inequality
New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, took office vowing to continue the fight against income inequality. “That mission – our march towards a fairer, more just, more progressive place, our march to keep the promise of New York alive for the next generation – it begins today,” he said after being sworn into office Wednesday by former President Bill Clinton. [Christian Science Monitor]
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3. Harry Reid promises vote on long-term unemployment benefits
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate will vote on a bill that aims to extend long-term unemployment benefits when the holiday recess ends on Jan. 6. Reid expressed optimism that the bill will pass the Senate with bipartisan support, but declined to speculate whether he thought the legislation would make it through the House. [FOX]
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4. Massive fire breaks out in Minneapolis
A huge fire broke out in south Minneapolis, destroying a 10-unit apartment building and injuring at least 14 people. Thick gray smoke could be seen rising from the building, which also housed a small grocery store. It took 50 firefighters to quell the blaze in the freezing weather. [New York Times]
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5. U.N. releases 2013 Iraq death toll number
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released its estimate for the total number of civilian casualties in Iraq in 2013. According to the U.N., 7,818 people were killed and 17,981 were injured. It was the most dangerous year since 2008, when 6,787 died and 20,178 were injured. [CNN]
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6. Hawaii Senate primary causing tension among Democrats
A bitter feud is diving Democrats in Hawaii between those who support Sen. Brian Schatz, the politician appointed to fill the late Daniel Inouye’s seat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Inouye’s protegee. Inouye’s deathbed wish was that Hanabusa be chosen to succeed him, but the governor appointed Schatz instead. The primary is scheduled for August 9. [Washington Post]
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7. Historic document tied to American Independence discovered
It had been misfiled in a museum’s attic for more than four decades, but an archivist at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan found a letter from the Continental Congress after going through some old documents that were to be discarded. The letter was a draft of a plea for reconciliation sent to Britain in 1775. Analysts say the draft was written by Robert R. Livingston, a New Yorker who helped draft the Declaration of Independence a year later. The document is expected to be auctioned off later this month. [New York Times]
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8. Kim Jong Un defends uncle’s execution
In a New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defended the decision to have his uncle executed in December. The uncle, Jang Song Thaek, helped Kim rise to power, but Kim said the purge has brought greater unity to the country. Kim accused his uncle of trying to overthrow the government. [CNN]
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9. Actor James Avery dies
Actor James Avery died from complications of open heart surgery. Best known for playing Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Avery was 68. He also appeared in Dr. Dolittle 2 and License to Drive. [ABC]
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10. Gay couple weds during the Rose Parade
Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair became the first same-sex couple to get married at the Rose Parade. The pair was standing atop a giant wedding cake float when they exchanged “I dos.” It was the first gay wedding at the Rose Parade. [CBS]

15 Wins for the Progressive Movement in 2013

Demonstrators protesting for $15/hour wages and proper treatment for fast-food workers march in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The following article is a bit long but quite significant…

Moyers & Company

But there were also some victories for progressives in 2013, especially in state and local politics. While Washington was stuck in the grip of the politics of obstruction, grass-roots activists did their part, scoring some major wins for economic justice, civil liberties and democracy.In politics, as in sports, you can’t win ‘em all. With a divided government and a House of Representatives firmly in the control of tea partiers, it was a tough year for progressives in Washington – one marked by the painful cuts of sequestration and austerity’s continued drag on an already anemic recovery.

As we near the end of the year, here are some of the biggest progressive wins we saw. They’re in no particular order, but you can rank them in the comments.

1. Wounding ALEC …  

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that proved true this year as activists continued to expose the previously shadowy workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The group took a big hit in 2012 when controversy over Florida’s Shoot First law, also known as “stand your ground,” peaked after the killing of Trayvon Martin and ALEC’s fingerprints on the legislation came to light. ALEC’s hand in pushing voter disenfranchisement laws was also revealed before the 2012 election. And earlier this year, ALEC got more bad press for pushing model legislation that would require science teachers to include pseudo-scientific rebuttals to the data on climate change in their curricula.

While ALEC’s corporate sponsors were happy to back the group’s efforts to secure lower taxes and less regulation, they didn’t want to share the heat associated with these other issues. State lawmakers who had enjoyed ALEC’s luxurious junkets also came under pressure to cut ties with the organization. As a result, The Guardian reported that, “by Alec’s own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.”

2. Love wins …

Last New Year’s Eve, gay Americans could legally marry in 10 states. When the ball drops this year, they’ll have that right in 18 states.

2013 also saw the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) overturned by the Supreme Court, a victory that was years in the making.

3. Progressive cities …

In New York City and Los Angeles – two of the most influential cities in the world – unapologetically populist candidates backed by grass-roots community groups organized labor and scored decisive wins over more centrist rivals.

These weren’t partisan battles – in LA, two Democrats, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, made it through the runoff to face each other in the final election, and in New York, the real battle was in the Democratic primary as polls showed that any of the three leading Dems would have beaten Republican Joe Lhota in the general election.

They were contests of ideas. Garcetti ran a campaign focused on restoring public services that had been cut and attacking Greuel for relying on heavy spending by outside groups. Greuel, who had earned plaudits from the Chamber of Commerce for slashing corporate taxes in LA as councilwoman, lost to Garcetti by eight points.

In New York, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio rose from the bottom of the pack to win the nomination – and then trounce Lhota – by relentlessly campaigning against the city’s sky-high levels of inequality. He also condemned the NYPD’s controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ policies and promised reform. Democratic City Council President Christine Quinn, outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preferred successor and the front-runner going into the race, had wounded her reputation by blocking paid sick leave legislation – while raking in contributions from business groups opposed to the measure – and came in third in the primary. Peter Dreier and John Atlas wrote in The Nation that de Blasio’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without years of progressive grass-roots organizing in the City that Never Sleeps.

4. Stop-and-Frisk checked …

Even before the mayoral race, community groups and civil libertarians had made real progress reining in what they viewed as the NYPD’s rampant racial profiling. Not only did they shine a light on the practice, with the help of excellent reporting from NYC’s NPR affiliate, but they also helped win passage of the Community Safety Act, which established a civil liberties watchdog for the NYPD and made it easier to sue the department for incidents of racial profiling. In August, the City Council overrode Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the law.

5. Predatory lending checked …

In November, regulators enacted tough restrictions on predatory lending by  banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Sally Kohn reported that the rules were largely the fruit of a two-year campaign by National People’s Action, “a national network of grass-roots organizations with more than 200 organizers in cities and states across the country.”

6. People got raises … and sick days

On January 1, 2014, working people in 13 states will see their minimum wages increase, according to the National Employment Law Project.

New Jersey not only raised its minimum wage by a dollar, but its citizens also approved a constitutional amendment that ties future hikes to the rate of inflation. Connecticut is raising its minimum to $9 per hour by 2015. A regional block consisting of Washington, DC, and two of its suburban counties in suburban Maryland are on the cusp of enacting an $11.50 living wage that will cover 2.5 million residents.  In Massachusetts, the state Senate approved a measure that will enact a living wage of $11 per hour over the next two years – and double the minimum for tipped workers. The Assembly is expected to take up the bill next year. And in Sea-Tac, Wash., voters narrowly approved a $15 wage that is expected to be matched by Seattle next year.

Also this year, NYC and Portland, Ore., became the fifth and sixth major cities to require employers to offer workers paid sick days. Washington, DC, will soon become the seventh. And the fight continues: According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “legislators and advocates continue to advance proposals in Congress and about 20 other states and cities.”

7. Larry Summers derailed …

Progressive Democrats in the Senate, led by Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jeff Merkeley (Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) — and pressure from reform-minded activists — forced Larry Summers to withdraw his nomination for Federal Reserve chairman in favor of Janet Yellen, who was generally expected to be much tougher in terms of regulating Wall Street.

Summers, who served as Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary before a controversial tenure as president of Harvard University, was widely respected for his knowledge and backed by President Obama. But he was also associated with financial deregulation in the 1990’s, had pushed a tepid response to the 2008 crisis and helped keep millions of homeowners underwater by refusing to endorse allowing bankruptcy judges to reduce what struggling homeowners owed to their lenders.

8. Fili-busted …

After facing unprecedented obstruction that ground the institution to a halt, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) finally killed the filibuster for most executive branch nominations. As CNNnoted, a handful of progressive bloggers, led by Daily Kos writer David Waldman, deserve a huge amount of credit for the change, having spent eight years writing about and organizing around the issue.

9. Gun safety …

Bizarrely, some states and localities responded to the nightmarish shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School by loosening restrictions on firearms. But that doesn’t negate the fact that, asMother Jones reported, “41 new laws in 22 states made it harder for people to own guns, hard for people to carry them in public and enhanced the government’s ability to track guns.”  Seven states passed legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.

10. A march to war was stopped …

Progressives can’t take all of the credit for blocking the Obama administration’s path to entering Syria’s bloody civil war, but they deserve a good amount of it. Highly energetic opposition from the American left let Democrats in Congress know that they would pay a price if they uncritically supported the president’s planned attack.

11. Domestic workers got some dignity …

This year, Hawaii and California became the second and third states to enact a bill of rights law for domestic workers (New York led the way in 2010). The laws guarantee workers overtime pay and some days off and offer protections against sexual abuse and other workplace violations.

12. A global fight in a Washington county…

Whatcom County elections aren’t usually a subject of national attention. But this year, a slate of four progressive candidates for the county council, backed by grass-roots activists and environmental groups, beat back a group of business-backed rivals. As Joel Connelly reported for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the results of the race will likely kill the development of the massive, $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export as much as 48 million tons of climate-changing coal to China every year.

13. California expands access to reproductive health care …

While many red states were passing overly burdensome regulations on abortion providers – which pro-choice activists say amount to “back door” bans on the procedure – California went the other way. A law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October permits more health care providers — trained nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurse midwives – to perform abortions in the first trimester. According to Washington Post health reporter Sarah Kliff, it was the first time a state had expanded abortion access since 2006.

14. Homeowners got some protection against foreclosures …

Homeowners’ bill of rights legislation passed in Minnesota and Nevada and went into effect inCalifornia this year.  Among other protections, these laws banned so-called “dual-tracking,” when lenders foreclose on a homeowner who has an application pending for a loan modification. During the first month the law was in effect in Nevada, foreclosure-related filings fell by almost 40 percent.

15. Immigrant rights activists win a couple in Connecticut …

If immigration reform isn’t dead in the nation’s capitol, it’s gravely ill and on life support. But in Connecticut and California, lawmakers decided that public safety was more important than anti-immigrant sentiment. Those states joined a growing number that allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses after passing a background check and the necessary written tests and driving exams.

Connecticut also passed the TRUST Act, which gives law enforcement officers discretion regarding whether or not to hold individuals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The intent of the law is to encourage the undocumented to report crimes and cooperate with police without fear of deportation.