In November, Florida voters decisively moved to restore voting rights to 1.5 million individuals convicted of felonies. But the state’s new Republican governor seems ready to drag his feet. Ron DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday that Amendment 4, which enfranchised non-violent felons in the state and is intended to be self-implementing, “should not take effect” until the legislature devises “implementing language” when it convenes in 2019. “They’re going to be able to do that in March,” he added. “There’s no way you can go through this session without implementing it.” The amendment, which 65 percent of voters approved on November 6, ends the state’s practice of forcing people with non-violent felony convictions to go before the governor to plead for enfranchisement. By the time voters went to the polls in 2018, the state had a backlog of 10,000 such cases to resolve; very few individuals had their voting rights restored.
Even if legislators do pass implementation language in March, the implementation of Amendment 4 will be delayed by at least two months. As the Tampa Bay Timesreported on Wednesday, voting rights activists worry that conservative legislators will weaken the amendment by inserting obstacles in the path to enfranchisement. Legislator comments previously reported by the Times on December 4 seem to support those fears. “How do you evaluate eligibility?” a Republican state senator, Dennis Baxley said. “I still have some questions … What were the terms of their sentence? Do they have to meet probation? Did they complete their debt to society or not?” Baxley will chair the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee when the legislature meets in March.
As a candidate, DeSantis opposed Amendment 4. In a September interview with the Times, DeSantis asserted, unprompted, that he doesn’t “support automatic restoration of voting rights (for felons). I’m going to be very tough on crime, and I’m never going to budge on that.” His position has relatively transparent origins. On the campaign trail, the former prosecutor modeled himself after Donald Trump, both in his tough-on-crime stance and in the delivery of bombastic dog-whistles directed at his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum. As the Washington Postoutlined in October, DeSantis called Gillum “articulate” and, referring to Gillum’s left-wing policy platform, told voters that “the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.” DeSantis also repeatedly spoke at conferences organized by David Horowitz, who has spoken of a race war and once asked why black Americans don’t emigrate elsewhere if they’re truly oppressed.
The Republican has other reasons to fear Amendment 4. He barely scraped to victory over Gillum; a mere four-tenths of a point separated the two in the end. Enfranchising Florida’s convicted non-violent felons will mostly restore voting rights to men of color, who are overrepresented in the demographic. They aren’t likely to vote for DeSantis, or for another Republican candidate, and that puts the incoming governor and his party in a precarious position. DeSantis probably can’t get out of implementing Amendment 4 entirely, and if he intends to try anyway, he might want to speak to Maine’s outgoing Republican governor Paul LePage about the legal ramifications to blocking the implementation of a successful ballot measure. But as Baxley’s comments may foreshadow, DeSantis and other Republicans could still weaken enfranchisement, short of stopping it outright. Florida voting rights advocates are probably in for a fight.
Five years ago, Ms. Kim learned she had invasive ovarian cancer and was treated with chemotherapy. Parts of her colon and intestines were removed. Ms. Kim, one of the plaintiffs in the Missouri case, wants Johnson’s Baby Powder taken off the shelves and, if not, warnings put on it.
Before the Missouri verdict, Johnson & Johnson had been able to knock back most of the legal challenges that connected talcum powder alone to cancer, by claiming, in part, that the scientific research was flawed and offering studies to the contrary.
Of the six cases that Johnson & Johnson has lost on that issue by itself, three decisions were overturned on appeal, one is still being appealed, and one plaintiff won her case but was awarded no damages. One verdict, for $110 million, has been upheld by a judge; the company is appealing.
But asbestos, unlike talc, is an indisputable carcinogen. Even trace amounts are considered dangerous. Its dagger-like fibers penetrate deep into tissue and can lead decades later to cancer of the lungs, voice box and ovaries, and to mesothelioma.
Several lab tests, some conducted in the past few years by plaintiffs’ lawyers, have found evidence of asbestos in talc. The link between asbestos and ovarian cancer was first reported in 1958, and in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer said it was a cause.
“There’s no ambiguity,” said Mark Lanier, the lawyer who represented the women in the Missouri case. Mr. Lanier has won large industry payouts for workers who were exposed to asbestos on the job.
“It’s a no-brainer that asbestos causes ovarian cancer,” he added. “That’s not an argument anyone will win.”
I'd be interested to know if the incidence of cancer is higher than in the normal population, kind of reminds me of the lawsuits over silicone breast implants where the incidence wasn't higher there either but the manufacturers lost.
Ever since his daughter first learned to use a pen, Joseph Onzik has looked forward to her letters. He reads them from a cell in a state prison in Pennsylvania, where he’s been locked up for about five years, since she was three. “I ask her to write me as much as possible,” he says. It “has advanced from scribble to cursive writing like magic as the time passes by.” Sometimes she calls to let him know what color pen she’ll use for the next one: “At eight years old, it is quite hard for her to keep a secret about the little things in life.”
But this ritual changed in September, when Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections announced that because some letters had been soaked with liquid drugs, inmates in state lockups would no longer receive mail directly from friends and family members. Now their mail goes to Smart Communications, a company in Florida that scans the letters and stores them electronically. At mail call, inmates receive printout copies rather than the originals.
With the new change, prisoners say the letters now feel less personal, and scanned photos are sometimes impossible to make out. Families also have privacy concerns about a company handling their correspondence. In recent interviews with Mother Jones, the Department of Corrections and Smart Communications appeared to disagree on how long digital copies of their letters would be stored in a database that could be used by law enforcement for investigative purposes. The company said it would hold onto the copies for many years longer than state officials suggested.
As the winter holidays approach, prisoners are missing the handwritten letters they once received. Some complain of mishaps like lost pages and long delays. Others say the printouts are of such poor quality that letters are difficult to read. When photos arrive—sometimes reduced in size to fit multiple on a page—they can be so distorted that faces are hard to distinguish. And at the end of the day, a printed copy of a card just doesn’t feel the same as the real thing. “Please remember this is the only method and way to watch her progress and grow in life during the best years of her development,” Onzik said of his daughter’s letters in a message sent to an advocacy group in October and shared with Mother Jones. “I find this new photocopying of my beloved mail heartbreaking to say the least.” Another inmate got married two days before prisons stopped processing mail directly; when his wife sent him their marriage license, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it arrived as a double-sided photocopy.
Corrections officials say the new policy was a response to drastic circumstances. The month before it was announced, an unusual number of inmates had overdosed on drugs. Dozens of prison staffers also became sick after handling prisoners’ mail or property—tingling hands, headaches, and dizziness—and many were hospitalized. The corrections department attributed the problem to synthetic cannabinoids like K2, which are potent and hard to detect when soaked into paper. In response, the state’s 25 prisons went on lockdown and rolled out a series of restrictions: They temporarily banned volunteer groups from sending free books to inmates, installed body scanners, and put a 90-day moratorium on vending machine purchases in visitation areas to ensure that drugs would not be slipped into chip bags and passed along. Most mail would be digitized by the company in Florida, while legal correspondence would be photocopied onsite by prison staffers, who would temporarily keep the original documents and hand over duplicates to inmates. (The American Civil Liberties Union is now suing over this handling of legal mail, arguing it violates attorney-client privilege.)
Family members upset about the changes have questioned whether the restrictions are misdirected, noting that guards sometimes sneak contraband into correctional facilities. And some toxicologists have cast doubt on whether inmate mail was really sickening prison staffers in the first place, suggesting that their symptoms could have been psychosomatic, the result of anxiety about drug exposure as opposed to actual exposure. But within a month of implementing the new mail policies, the Department of Corrections says, drug finds in Pennsylvania state prisons dropped nearly in half. Other state corrections systems began calling to express interest in the new security protocols, according to a department spokeswoman.
Still, advocates worry prison officials aren’t considering the full impact on inmates. Writing letters is one of the most popular ways for them to stay in touch with relatives, in part because of the hefty price tag for phone calls. And studies show that those who maintain ties with their family are more successful after their release. “It’s not like the intentions are bad, so we want to make sure people understand what the cost is to families,” says Kevin Ring, who spent time in a federal prison in Maryland in 2014 for his part in a lobbying scandal and now leads the advocacy group FAMM, which collected messages from Pennsylvania inmates like Onzik who are upset about the mail policy. During his incarceration, Ring kept color photos of his daughters in his locker to boost his morale. “That mattered. To get some grainy copy of a picture is not the same,” he says.
Pennsylvania isn’t the first state to ban direct mail to inmates. In Arkansas and Virginia, state prisons began photocopying letters last year, also to stem the flow of drugs inside. But Pennsylvania’s corrections department is reportedly the first to outsource its mail processing to a company that stores inmate correspondence in a database. And it will likely not be the last. Smart Communications already works with dozens of lower-level agencies like counties that run jails; it’s now in talks with about half a dozen other state corrections departments about its services, according to CEO Jon Logan, who notes that revenue has doubled almost every year since the company launched in 2009. It has three patents pending on its mail technology. “I expect it to be the standard in corrections going forth,” he says. The contract with Pennsylvania is worth $376,000 a month, or nearly $16 million over three years.
The company says it can process mail more efficiently and safely than correctional staffers because its employees have special equipment to avoid contact with drugs. And it says its method of storing electronic copies of letters can be useful for investigative purposes. “If there is gang activity, secret communications about an escape, or drugs in the community—now all communications are being documented, so the investigators can look at it even after it’s been delivered to the inmate,” says Logan.
Amy Worden, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, told Mother Jones that Smart Communications would store the original letters and electronic copies for 45 days, a timeline that’s also outlined in an FAQ on the department’s website. But Logan told Mother Jones that his company would hold onto electronic copies of Pennsylvania mail much longer—for at least seven years after a prisoner is freed, he told me. “That is correct. 7 years from the time the inmate has been released,” he reiterated in an email later when I got in touch to double-check how long Pennsylvania mail would be stored, noting that other time frames had been reported. “To be honest [in] almost 10 years of business Smart Communications has never lost or deleted records or any data from our database. There are hundreds of millions of data records stored for investigators at anytime.”
Some inmates aren’t taking any chances. “I won’t send any pictures to him that have faces of our children, our grandchildren,” says Dana Cooper, whose husband is incarcerated at SCI Phoenix in Pennsylvania. “He wants no family faces saved in that database whatsoever.”
At a community meeting in October, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel reportedly acknowledged that the new mail system wasn’t perfect, but said it was necessary to keep prisons safe and better than other options his agency considered, including limiting mail to postcards. The department has also tried to address complaints about lags in delivery time: Smart Communications hired dozens of extra employees and ordered six mail scanners to speed up processing for Pennsylvania, with the aim of delivering copies to inmates within 48 hours. The company says its scanners are some of the highest quality available on the market.
But it’s little consolation to inmates like Thomas Simone, a 34-year-old at SCI Retreat. He recently wrote to FAMM about how the mail policy affects him. “Two years ago my father died,” he wrote. “My father was my best friend and I took his passing really hard. After he past my sister offered to send me a lot of my fathers personal photos…I’m doing a life sentence and now with the new policies I’ll never be able to receive these photos of my father. Sure, I could receive a copy of them on regular copy papper, and I will. However, these flimsy pieces of paper will never hold the same sentiment. That is by far the way these new policy changes have hurt me the most.”
Read Onzik’s and Simone’s letters below, courtesy of Celeste Trusty of FAMM:
Taryn Minthorn was living on an Indian reservation in northeast Oregon when she was brutally assaulted by an ex-boyfriend in front of her children. Minthorn’s abuser was promptly arrested by tribal police. But because the abuser was not Native American, US federal law sent the case straight to the jurisdiction of the federal government, bypassing tribal court. The feds declined to prosecute, and Minthorn’s assailant walked free.
The reason Minthorn’s tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, handed off the case to federal prosecutors comes down to a 1978 Supreme Court decision that stripped tribes of the authority to prosecute non-Natives for crimes committed in Indian Country. Under federal law, tribes only have sole jurisdiction in crimes in which both perpetrator and victim are Native American, and even then, the most serious crimes—including many domestic violence offenses—are automatically sent to the federal government, regardless of who is involved. The policy has long created something of a legal quagmire on tribal lands, giving them a reputation as a safe haven for many criminals. Complicating matters is that historically, the federal government has declined to prosecute many tribal cases—a problem that still continues today. In 2017, the Department of Justice declined to prosecute over a third of Indian Country cases brought to the feds.
Justice for these women started to improve after 2013, when Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with several new provisions, including one that allows tribes to prosecute non-Natives in certain domestic violence cases. The Umatilla later implemented the new program, Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ). Last year, it returned to the Minthorn case; the perpetrator was tried in tribal court, sent to jail, and Minthorn and her children were finally able to get away. Without the help of VAWA, she would likely never have gotten justice. “To hear him saying that he was pleading to these charges, I literally felt the load come off of me, off my shoulders, off my mind, off my heart,” Minthorn toldUSA Today in March 2017.
But today, the landmark legislation, and the help it offers Native women, is in peril as the deadline for VAWA reauthorization looms. Funding is set to run out for the law on December 21 unless Congress strikes a compromise, which is unlikely despite bipartisan support for renewal. (Congress is also scrambling to fund a significant part of the federal government before its funding also runs out on the same day.) Part of the problem with passing VAWA is the same polarization that afflicts the rest of our politics today; for the first time in the act’s history, the main reauthorization bill has no Republican co-sponsors. But complicating matters more are Democratic legislators who are fighting to further expand the bill’s protections for Native women, saying that current law, even with the 2013 provisions, still falls short.
VAWA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and reauthorized with bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005. It passed again in 2013, after lawmakers inserted several new provisions regardingNative women, as well as same-sex couples and undocumented immigrants—all of which were opposed by conservative Republicans. The Native-focused provisions allowed tribal courts and police to prosecute some non-Native Americans who commit domestic violence offenses against Native American women on tribal land, which worried some on the right about potentially limiting the constitutional rights of the accused. Despite these concerns, the bill was passed, adding a necessary layer of protection to Native women who can’t find refuge in the federal court system.
SDVCJ has made progress and helped women like Minthorn, but its success has ultimately still been limited. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) noted in a March 2018 report that SDVCJ had led to 74 convictions of non-Native American abusers in tribal courts since 2013, and no defendants had asked for the federal courts to review their convictions, signaling the program was working the way it was intended. But still, as of March, only 18 of the 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States had implemented SDVCJ. The slow implementation, advocates say, can be partially attributed to the challenges tribes face in adopting some of the program’s requirements, like providing free counsel to defendants who can’t afford a lawyer; many tribes have limited funds, and adhering to the regulations may require them to rewrite tribal law. Still, advocates are hopeful that more tribes will enact SDVCJ over time.
But SDVCJ has other key limitations beyond implementation. As Virginia Davis, senior policy adviser at the NCAI, notes, it only applies to domestic violence charges, which means that secondary crimes—like drug and alcohol abuse or child endangerment, which often go hand in hand with domestic violence—can’t be prosecuted by tribes if they involve a non-Native American. Davis points to another case on the Umatilla reservation in Oregon: When police responded to an instance of domestic violence by a non-Native American man against an Umatilla woman, the perpetrator, who was drunk, fled and promptly crashed his car into a neighbor’s fence. If the tribe had been able to include DUI and destruction of property charges alongside his domestic violence charge, the domestic violence case might have been easier to prosecute. What’s more, because the tribe couldn’t charge the man for his other criminal conduct, the burden of prosecution fell heavily on the victim, who changed her mind several times about whether to testify. The abuser was eventually sentenced by tribal courts to 24 months, only one of which was spent in custody. According to the March NCAI report, “Tribal prosecutors have described [the law’s limitations] as being forced to prosecute these crimes with one hand tied behind their backs.”
These shortcomings have led several lawmakers to try to further expand VAWA’s Native-focused provisions. In July, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced a VAWA reauthorization bill that, crucially, would add sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, and violence against law enforcement officers to the list of offenses that have special tribal jurisdiction. The bill has 180 Democratic co-sponsors, but the legislation, the only comprehensive reauthorization bill introduced thus far, has given Republicans pause, particularly because it includes rules prohibiting people convicted of dating violence and stalking, not just domestic violence, from owning guns.Related bills, separate from VAWA but that specifically deal with Native issues, have been sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) and Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.).
Although tribes’ right to prosecute cases like that of Taryn Minthorn isn’t dependent on VAWA being reauthorized—the provisions for tribal domestic violence cases are written into law—without reauthorization, lawmakers could be forced to draft separate legislation for the new provisions, further holding up protections for Native women at risk of abuse. Advocates are hopeful a more Democratic Congress will push the VAWA legislation through come January if it doesn’t pass now, but it’s not a sure thing. (Alternatively, Congress could pass versions of the related bills, though that seems even less likely with Republicans holding onto the Senate.)
“[The 2013 provisions were] a tremendous step forward and an affirmation of tribes’ authority, but they were drafted in a way in which a lot of victims were still falling through the cracks,” says Davis. “We really need Congress to take action.”
Although Davis thinks it’s unlikely VAWA will be saved by December 21, she’s hopeful that the bill—and an expansion of tribal jurisdiction—will in fact pass next year.
“We’re in this moment of real societal awakening about sexual violence, about violence against women,” she said, “and I think women across the country are demanding Congress do more than just change the dates on the old law.”
Banksy shot his own video of the stunt and posted it to Youtube. The video was widely reused by news networks in their coverage of the prank, including by the French giant Canal+.
Canal+ didn't just make a fair use of Banksy's video, though: they also fraudulently claimed copyright over his footage with Youtube's ContentID filter, resulting in his video being censored.
Youtube eventually restored the video: Banksy is famous, and the video is famous, so Youtube presumably bumped this dispute to the front of the queue. But Canal+ will face no penalties for committing copyfraud: it will still enjoy the privilege of being able to use Youtube's ContentID system to arbitrarily censor works based on evidence-free claims of copyright.
If you think this is unfair, strap in: tomorrow, we'll learn whether the European Union will proceed with the new Copyright Directive, and with it, Article 13, which will require all platforms to create ContentID-style copyright filters that anyone can add anything to, with impunity, to censor anything on the internet merely by making unsubstantiated copyright claims.
Apparently, the French media giant Canal+ used the material as well. However, they went a step further and have claimed it as their own, asking YouTube to remove the original, which it did.
“Video unavailable This video contains content from Canal Plus, who has blocked it on copyright grounds,” a message now reads instead.