• iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- African-American men serve longer sentences than white men for the same crime, a new study by the U.S Sentencing Commission shows.The commission's analysis of demographic prison data from 2012 to 2016 found that black men serve sentences that are on average 19.1 percent longer than those for white men for similar crimes.The racial disparity in sentencing can't be accounted for by whether an offender has a history of violence, according to the study by the commission, an independent bipartisan agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary branch."Violence in an offender’s criminal history does not appear to contribute to the sentence imposed" except as it may factor into a score under sentencing guidelines, the study said.When accounting for violence in an offender's past, black men received sentences that were on average 20.4 percent longer than that of white men, according to the commission's analysis of fiscal year 2016 data, the only year for which such data is available.The new study updates an earlier commission report in 2012, known as the Booker report, that came after a Supreme Court decision in 2005, United States vs. Booker, which permitted judges to enhance an offender’s sentence based on “facts” determined by their own judgment. Before then, federal judges were only allowed to sentence an offender based on guidelines provided by the sentencing commissionAccording to the non-profit organization, The Sentencing Project, the U.S. is the world's leader in incarceration, with 2.2 million people in prison as of 2015, a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.The Sentencing Project also found that black men are nearly six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. For black men in their 30s, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day, according to 2015 data cited by the organization. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • DigitalVision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Democrats are seizing on big wins this November as a sign of hope for the future of their party. While it is true the big winners were overwhelmingly Democrats, the elections may have also introduced the country to a new brand of politician. They’re fueled by their rejection of Trumpism and inspired by their own ideas of what makes America great. Many have never run for office, or even ever considered themselves “political,” but they say they felt called to serve at this moment in history. They come from diverse backgrounds and have overcome adversity. One is a refugee who fled the civil war in Liberia in the 1990s. He didn’t meet his daughter in America until her second birthday while he waited out the lengthy refugee vetting process. Another candidate, a turban-wearing member of the Sikh community, says his daughter experienced racism for the first time as campaign flyers accused him of “terrorism.” A New Jersey woman, a political novice, decided to stand up and run against a Republican incumbent after he mocked women participating in the Women’s March. All three emerged from election night with new authority and a perceived mandate for change. They spoke with ABC’s Rick Klein and Mary Alice Parks for ABC’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast. The refugee that won over Montana votersOn election night this November, Wilmot Collins became the mayor-elect of a majority-white community in Helena, Montana. “I looked at my wife -- both of us are refugees -- and we hugged,” Collins told “Powerhouse Politics.” “It was an emotional moment.” The people of Helena chose Collins in spite of attacks on his immigrant status. “I was reading the papers almost every day and people were talking about, ‘We can’t have an illegal immigrant running for mayor.’ They didn’t understand,” he said. Collins went through a lengthy refugee vetting process that took him two years and seven months in order to join his wife and daughter in the United States. He says “the only thing they didn’t do is [cut] me open and look inside of me. ... We’re already doing extreme vetting. The process works.” Collins has a message for President Donald Trump on immigration: “If I have the chance, I will tell him, ‘I think you got it wrong.’ I would try to explain to him why I think the process he’s using is not in the best interest of the country, rather to a few who don’t want to see this country move forward.” Collins, who will be the first black mayor of Helena, also advocated earlier this year for a Confederate fountain to be removed after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I don’t want this community to be the breeding ground for white nationalists and white supremacists,” said Collins. However, he says easing racial tension is not at the top of his political agenda. Working in human services, he’d observed increases in homelessness among teenagers and veterans, as well as short-staffed fire departments. “Those are the issues that resonated with my community,” said Collins. Standing up for the Women's MarchAshley Bennett ran and won against a New Jersey county official who mocked women participating in the Women’s March, sharing a sexist meme that read: “Will the women’s protest end in time for them to cook dinner?” Bennett, a first-time candidate who works full-time as a crisis evaluator for a hospital, says she was first inspired to get active in politics after Hillary Clinton lost the race for the White House in the 2016 election. “I just knew that Hillary was going to win -- so much so that I went to sleep,” she said. Bennett said she woke up at 2:30 a.m. to a red map and a new reality. “I was so shocked, so confused, and that was the catalyst to really
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  • moodboard/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration's move to reverse a ban on elephant trophies has elicited strong reactions all over social media, including a number of celebrities invested in preservation. The government is likely to overturn a ban on hunters bringing trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S., reversing an Obama administration rule put in place in 2014, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News. Elephants are officially an endangered species, but the governments of those countries can allow hunting if there is evidence it benefits conservation of the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said the Trump administration has new evidence that has emerged to support reversing the ban. Elephant populations have declined 6 percent in Zimbabwe since 2001, according to the Great Elephant Census study published last year. Similar questions about using game hunting to generate money for conservation efforts arose after the controversial killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in 2015. Ellen DeGeneres dedicated a portion of her show to speaking out against the move by the administration, starting a #BeKindtoElephants hashtag. "Basically by lifting this ban, he is encouraging Americans to kill elephants," Degeneres said. "Elephants show compassion, sympathy, social intelligence, self-awareness, they're excellent at learning abilities -- all the things I have yet to see in this president." Chelsea Clinton commented on a link to a Humane Society condemnation of the move, calling the lifting of the ban "infuriating." British comedian Ricky Gervais, who has previously tackled animal rights issues such as the Yulin Dog Festival, also condemned the Trump administration move. Oscar winner Russell Crowe echoed Gervais, saying "Dear people with no soul, stop shooting elephants." Actress Olivia Munn, actor Henry Winkler, actress Kristin Davis, actress and singer Daniella Monet, actor Carl Reiner and actor John Cusack were just a handful of the many celebrities weighing in on Twitter over the past two days. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, failed to disclose campaign emails regarding Russian overtures to the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to congressional investigators, top senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday.In a letter circulated to media outlets, chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Kushner failed to provide the committee with all the documents requested as part of their investigation into Russian election interference."We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete," they wrote in a letter to Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.On Thursday, Grassley and Feinstein referenced “several documents that are known to exist” that Kushner did not previously turn over to the committee.Those documents, they said, include an email to Kushner about Wikileaks that he forwarded to another campaign official, another regarding a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” Kushner also forwarded, and “communications” with Belorussian-American businessman Sergei Millian.Millian, a naturalized American citizen who led a Russian-American business group, is reported to be the source of some of the allegations in an uncorroborated intelligence dossier about Trump and Russians. He was in Moscow in 2013 at the time the dossier claimed Trump was involved with Russian prostitutes. Millian has said he was not the source.Keith Schiller, Trump’s former head of security who accompanied him to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, recently told House investigators he turned down an offer to provide Trump with women in Moscow, and that he thought the offer was a joke.Grassley and Feinstein also asked Kushner to turn over phone records and documents related to Kushner’s security clearance and President Trump.“You also raised concerns that certain documents might implicate the President’s Executive Privilege and declined to produce those documents,” they wrote. “We ask that you work with White House counsel to resolve any questions of privilege so that you can produce the documents that have been requested.”Lowell, Kushner's attorney, tells ABC News, "Mr. Kushner and we have been responsive to all requests. We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner's calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request.”“We also informed the committee we will be open to responding to any additional requests and that we will continue to work with White House Counsel for any responsive documents from after the inauguration. We have been in a dialogue with the committee and will continue to do so as part of Mr. Kushner's voluntary cooperation with relevant bi-partisan inquiries.The warning to Kushner’s team comes amid new developments regarding the Trump campaign and Russia.Earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr. admitted to communicating with Wikileaks over Twitter’s direct messaging system. During the election the group released emails from Democrats that U.S. intelligence officials believe were hacked in an effort orchestrated by the Russian government.And on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned once again about his knowledge of campaign contacts with Russia. He initially said he was not aware of such contacts, a claim that was scrutinized after unsealed court documents and congressional testimony indicated that he was aware of campaign aides’ contacts with Russians.Kushner, who is of interest to investigators because of his proximity to Trump and his role in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, was questioned by House and Senate Intelligence Committee inve
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  • US Department of Interior(WASHINGTON) -- The office of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was warned Wednesday that an investigation into Zinke's official travel was delayed by "absent, or incomplete documentation," the latest snag in the months-long controversy over Trump administration officials' travel.The Interior Department's inspector general issued the management advisory to Zinke's office, explaining that paperwork for the secretary's travel was insufficient and that the department's ethics office had not included sufficient documentation in its trip reviewing process. Such warnings are given when the department needs to be made aware of a deficiency immediately, so it may begin working to correct it, according to a spokesperson.The advisory further notes that the inspector general has been unable to determine the number of trips by which Zinke was accompanied by his wife, Lolita Zinke, due to the incomplete records. It does state that, aside from the documentation issue, the department has cooperated with the probe.Scrutiny of Cabinet members' travel reached its apex earlier in the fall after a number of officials found themselves in the midst of inquiries over their use of private and military aircraft in lieu of commercial flights. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in late September, expressing regret that the issue of his more than 25 chartered and military flights "created a distraction."The investigation into Ryan Zinke's travel began after he chartered three flights since March totaling $12,375. A spokesperson for the secretary has said that commercial options weren't viable in each instance. Other officials whose travel is under audit include Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.The Interior Department's inspector general's office is asking Ryan Zinke's office to provide complete documentation by Dec. 11 as well as develop better procedures to process travel documents in the future.Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt blamed his and Ryan Zinke's predecessors at the department in his response to the inspector general's letter, writing: "When I arrived at the department … it was clear to me that the secretary and I inherited an organizational and operational mess from the previous administration."Bernhardt added that they are following the same procedures used under former Secretary Sally Jewell and that they "remain dysfunctional." He pledged that the department will work to provide documents for travel in 2017 and will start documenting travel for Lolita Zinke.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday meant to strengthen the existing background check system for firearms.The Fix NICS Act, which refers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, would set up incentives and penalties for state and federal agencies to boost their compliance with existing requirements that they report criminal history records to the system, helping ensure it stays up to date.“Just one record that’s not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement on Thursday. "This bill aims to help fix what’s become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.”Devin P. Kelley, the man who has been identified by federal and state law enforcement officials as the shooter who killed 26 people, including an unborn child, in Texas on Nov. 5, was court-martialed while in the Air Force on charges of assault on his wife and child in 2012. But his convictions were not reported to the background check service used for gun buyers, and he was able to purchase the weapon that was used in the Nov. 5 shooting.Outspoken gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats from Connecticut, helped Cornyn craft the bill in a rare instance of bipartisanship on the issue. It is also being backed by Republican Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Dean Heller of Nevada, as well as Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.“Mass murderers in Sutherland Springs, Charleston, and Blacksburg were legally prohibited from accessing firearms, but gaps in NICS allowed each of them to walk out of a gun store with the weapons used to commit their crimes," Blumenthal said.The announcement of the bill comes one day after another bipartisan group of senators — made up of Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Shaheen — sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to ask how the Department of Defense classifies and reports cases of domestic violence, specifically referring to Kelley and the Texas church shooting."The recent tragedy in Texas has raised serious questions about cooperation between the military justice system and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in preventing statutorily barred persons from purchasing firearms," the letter read. "As you know, the military failed to send pertinent information relating to Devin P. Kelley’s domestic violence related convictions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) at the FBI."The Fix NICS Act would punish federal agencies that fail to upload relevant records to the background check system by prohibiting bonuses for political appointees, and would incentivize state agencies to comply by offering federal grants.It would also allot funding for a Domestic Abuse and Violence Prevention Initiative "to ensure that states have adequate resources and incentives to share all relevant information with NICS showing that a felon or domestic abuser is excluded from purchasing firearms under current law," according to a statement announcing the bill.Murphy, who advocates more sweeping gun control legislation than the Fix NICS bill, said that it is a step in the right direction.“It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns," Murphy said, adding that the bill "provides the foundation for more compromise in the future.”Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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