Federal prosecutors, judges, and other officials at the Justice Department committed over 650 acts of professional misconduct in a recent 12-year period, according to a new report published by a DC-based watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight. POGO investigators came up with the number after reviewing documents put out by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). According to one little-noticed OPR document published last year, a DOJ attorney failed to disclose a "close personal relationship" with the defendant in a case he was prosecuting, in which he negotiated a plea agreement to release the defendant on bond. An immigration judge also made "disparaging remarks" about foreign nationals. POGO contends that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and OPR needs to release more information about this misconduct to the public.
"The bottom line is we just don't know how well the Justice Department investigates and disciplines its own attorneys for misconduct when it occurs," says Nick Schwellenbach, a contributor to POGO. "The amount and types of misconduct DOJ's own investigators conclude has happened suggests more [information] should be public than is already, including naming names of offending prosecutors that commit serious misconduct."
OPR is responsible for investigating ethics complaints at the Justice Department, but the office reports directly to the attorney general. POGOargues that this insular system might not be sufficient to provide effective oversight of prosecutor wrongdoing. Last year, for example, two federal judges issued court orders complaining that DOJ attorneys had misled them about the full scale of the NSA's surveillance activities—but OPR was never aware of the complaints and didn't investigate them even though a former OPR attorney said that they should have triggered an inquiry, according to USA Today.
Between fiscal year 2002 and FY2013, of the more than 650 documented cases of DOJ employee misconduct, 400 were characterized as "reckless" or "intentional" by OPR. In OPR's latest report, from FY2012, the office received over 1,000 complaints and other correspondence about Justice Department employees (over half of these complaints came from incarcerated individuals) and opened 123 inquiries and investigations.
In one case from 2012, a Justice Department attorney falsely told a court that the government didn't have evidence that a key witness suffered from an ongoing mental-health disorder—when the prosecutor did have that evidence, according to OPR. The attorney was suspended for two weeks and the state bar was notified. In another case, an immigration judge presiding over a case where a father and his daughter were fighting removal from the United States was found by OPR to have "engaged in professional misconduct by acting in reckless disregard of his obligation to appear to be fair and impartial" and to have made biased statements against immigrants. The judge was suspended for 30 days.
OPR isn't responsible for disciplining employees; that's up to others in the Justice Department. OPR also no longer publicly names Justice Department employees found to be conducting misconduct, although it did so for a brief period during the Clinton presidency. In 2010, the American Bar Association passed a resolution asking the Obama administration to release more information about Justice Department investigations, potentially including names, but so far, not much has changed.
"The department takes all allegations of attorney misconduct seriously, and that is why the Office of Professional Responsibility thoroughly reviews each case and refers its findings of misconduct to relevant state bar associations when the rules of the state bar are implicated," says a Justice Department spokeswoman. "OPR also regularly provides detailed information on the resolution of complaints to the defense attorneys, judges, and others who send allegations of misconduct to the department."
A bill proposed on Thursday by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would overhaul how misconduct is investigated at the Justice Department. Right now, only OPR is allowed to look into ethics complaints, instead of the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which is widely considered to be more independent. The senators' bill would move that authority to the IG's office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who supports the bill, says: "When Americans pledge to abide by 'liberty and justice for all,' that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions—it means that in America everyone is held equally accountable."
Alaska has the highest per capita rate of reported rapes in the United States, almost three times the national average. Republican Gov. Sean Parnell recently called sexual violence in his state an "epidemic" greater than bear attacks or car accidents. But the number of sexual-assault cases that state prosecutors choose to pursue is low. Only 141 total sexual-assault cases were prosecuted in 2011, according to the latest data. The data doesn't show how many total sexual assaults were reported that year—but the next year, when the state began tracking these numbers, there were 804 sexual assaults reported to law enforcement. Last month, at a House Finance Committee meeting, Alaska state Rep. Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake) criticized Attorney General Michael Geraghty for the low prosecution rate and for not reporting adequate data on sexual assault. In response to Neuman's criticism about sexual-assault prosecutions, Geraghty—who was speaking in support of the state's multiyear initiative to combat domestic violence and sexual assault—blamed victims, particularly those of domestic violence, for refusing to testify (video here at 84:00):
We have a mandatory arrest statute [for domestic violence] in this state, and so…the officer has to make an arrest. Now, it's our job to prosecute and get a conviction. I can tell you, many times—and this is the part of the problem—many victims…change their mind. It may have all been, not a prank necessarily, but a vindictive move by the victim to get back at the perpetrator, her husband or significant other, or whatever. There's a whole gamut of facts that apply in these situations. And it's my job to get a conviction. If the victim won't testify and it's a he-said-she-said, I have to make a decision of where my resources are devoted…the numbers are improving and the rate of [case] acceptance is going up.
In a March 7 letter sent to Geraghty, Peggy Brown, executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA), said that she was "incredibly offended" by the "insensitive and derogatory" comments. "You should…create a climate in which victims have the confidence to step forward and report these crimes; rather than one in which your department dismissively screens out charges, calls victims a 'part of the problem,' shames victims and calls them vindictive," she wrote, noting that, "there are many reasons why victims do not come forward," including "witness tampering, through coercion" in domestic violence cases.
This fiscal year, Alaska dedicated about $10.8 million to stopping sexual assault and domestic violence as part of the governor's "Choose Respect" initiative. But at the hearing, Neuman said the reports coming out of the initiative were lacking data and the numbers weren't reason to celebrate. "Do I think [with] great enthusiasm that we're doing a great job? No, I do not," he said, at one point becoming so impassioned, he said, "I'm trying to calm down here." Geraghty disagreed with that assessment at the hearing, noting, "We go into great detail" in the report, and that sexual assault prosecutions were on the rise. (Earlier in the hearing, John Skidmore, statewide director of the criminal division at the Department of Law, said that the increase in prosecutions was directly related to an increase in sexual-assault reports.)
Rachel Gernat worked as assistant district attorney in Alaska for 12 years until 2011, focusing almost exclusively on sex crimes, and now sits on the governor's council on domestic violence and sexual assault. She says during her work, both past and present, she "often enough" sees cases where prosecutors had enough evidence to move forward on a sexual-assault case, but chose not to. She said that in her experience, "prosecutors are stretched thin and given little support. [New prosecutors] are often sent to practice in bush communities where sex crimes are prevalent. Not only do they have no training on the intricacies of prosecuting sex crimes, but have no experience at all in prosecuting cases."
Gernat adds that, from what she has seen, "of course [victims] are frustrated. They feel like they went through the exam and told their story only to have the case pled out or dismissed. They feel as if they are not believed. This is probably the largest comment about cases that are not accepted or pled out. Often cases are pled because there is no other extrinsic evidence to support the victim's statement." Brown adds that she sees local prosecutors reject cases for a variety of reasons; for example, "if there is a victim who is under the influence of alcohol, unless it's the perfect case, [the local defense attorneys] are not prosecuting."
Richard Svobodny, the deputy attorney general for the criminal division of the Alaska Department of Law, says, "Each year, all prosecutors attend a three-day mandatory conference where training is given regarding prosecution of domestic violence [and] sexual assault…In addition to this yearly conference, mandatory regional training sessions on [these issues] have been attended by all prosecutors and Alaska state troopers." He adds, "I want to stress that communications with people who have a concern about prosecutors not adequately pursuing their duties is encouraged! Once someone has given a specific case example, that case is reviewed." He says he recently reviewed cases in Nome, Alaska [population: 3,757] and "there was no indication that any case was declined because of a 'blame the victim' bias on the part of the prosecutor."
Geraghty said at the hearing that he knows the work isn't done yet. "I don't think I ever characterized this as we're doing a great job. We have a long way to go. It's a marathon."
On Wednesday, a Republican state senator in Alaska took to the floor to explain that the government should not pay for family planning services for low-income women, because anyone can afford birth control. "Even the most [sexually] active folks don't need to spend more than $2 or $3 a day for covering their activity," state Sen. Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) said. He explained that it's easy for women to get access to birth control in Alaska, given that they can get it delivered via Alaska Airlines' express delivery program.
Dyson was talking about birth control as part of the debate on a controversial abortion bill. He is one of six Republicans senators cosponsoring the fast-moving bill, which would stop low-income women in the state from using Medicaid to fund abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest, or to "avoid a threat of serious risk to life or physical health of a woman." The bill outlines a list of 22 conditions that would qualify a woman for a Medicaid-funded abortion, such as risk of coma or seizures. Under Alaska law, since 2001, a woman could still only use state Medicaid to pay for an abortion that was "medically necessary"—but the definition was left up to the woman and her doctor. Critics of the bill say that the bill's new definition is much more restrictive. (Last year, more than 37 percent of abortions reported in Alaska were covered by Medicaid.) Recently, Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services tried to enforce the same restrictions contained in the bill, but Planned Parenthood sued the state over that decision. A court put the regulations on hold as the case unfolds. If this bill passes, it is expected to be challenged as part of that lawsuit. And it's expected to pass—Alaska has a Republican majority in the House, and Republican Gov. Sean Parnell opposes abortion.
Democrats in the state have been trying to limit the bill's effects on women, successfully adding an amendment to this bill last year that would have allowed at least 14,000 low-income Alaskans without children to get their family planning services—including STD testing and birth control—covered by Medicaid. (Right now, Alaska has chosen not to accept money through the government's Medicaid expansion.) But in February, the House Finance Committee stripped the amendment from the bill. State Sen. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage), who proposed that amendment, says that if the state really wants to prevent abortions, lawmakers should focus on giving women access to birth control. "We know that the best and most efficient way to reduce abortions is to ensure that all women have access to contraceptive services. We do not understand the opposition to doing this," Gardner says, characterizing the Republican opposition as part of "the continuing war on women."
Debate has been ongoing about the bill, and whether the birth control amendment should be added back in. At a Senate floor meeting on March 5, Dyson explained that low-income women don't need their birth control paid for, because it's already easy to get: "No one is prohibited from having birth control because of economic reasons," he said, arguing that women can buy condoms for the cost of a can of pop and get the pill for the price of four to five lattes each month. He added, "By the way, you can go on the internet. You can order these things by mail. You can make phone calls and get it delivered by mail. You all know that Alaska Airlines will do Gold Streak, and get things quickly that way." (When reached by Mother Jones, Dyson says that he was referring to the fact that even women in tiny villages in Alaska can get their prescriptions delivered.)
Dyson's "latte" estimate is correct for the cheapest brands of the generic birth control pill—but it doesn't take into account the cost of doctor's visits to get a prescription, and alternative methods, such as IUDs. Additionally, according to our own birth control calculator, small co-pays on birth control add up to big expenses for women who don't have insurance, not including the costs of a doctors' visit associated with getting birth control. For example, a 25-year-old woman without insurance who takes the birth control pill until she hits menopause (estimated at age 51) will end up spending about $150 a month, or $46,650 over her child-bearing years (about $8,290 with insurance). Dyson told Mother Jones, "My guess is that most of those women, if they weren't able to pay, their partner would be able to. I don't see the costs being that big of an issue, in reality."
According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, uninsured women are less likely to consistently use birth control due to high costs, and low-income women are four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy than their higher-income counterparts. (The Obama administration's birth control mandate, which requires private insurers to cover family planning services, is changing that—it has increased the percentage of women who currently don't have to pay for the pill from 15 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2013.)
"It is frankly shameful for Sen. Dyson to claim that low-income people are buying lattes instead of birth control," says Jessica Cler, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. "It's truly puzzling that Dyson and his like-minded colleagues, including Gov. Sean Parnell and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, think that they are responsible for making the personal medical decisions of Alaskan women."
Dyson disagrees, adding, "I don't think public money ought to be paying for Viagra, either."
Facebook is a great place to catch up with your friends—or at least, the shiny, perfect versions of them. On Facebook, every day is a good hair day, and no one ever admits to staying home on weekends to eat cookie dough and watch Downtown Abbey reruns. All of this idealization might be dangerous to those at risk for eating disorders. A new study from researchers at Florida State University and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that college women who use Facebook frequently are more likely to indicate disordered eating, and those who browsed the social network for just 20 minutes reported more body dissatisfaction than those who used the internet to research rainforest animals.
"Young people I work [with] say that overall, social-media platforms like Facebook have a negative impact on their body image," says Claire Mysko, who heads youth outreach at the National Eating Disorders Association, which advises both Facebook and Tumblr on these issues. "This is largely due to the way that social media fuels comparison and the pressure to present a 'perfect' version of yourself." (Their eating disorder hotline is: 1-800-931-2237)
In the first part of the study, 960 female college students, who received course credit for their participation, took a standard eating disorder test that asked them to agree or disagree with statements such as, "I give too much time and thought to food." The survey also asked the women how much time they spent on Facebook. The researchers noted that there was "a small but significant positive correlation" between duration of Facebook use and disordered eating among this group.
In the second part of the study, 84 college women from the first study who said they used Facebook regularly—and represented a random cross-section of eating habits—were then asked to get on a computer. Part of the group spent 20 minutes surfing their Facebook accounts, as they normally would. The other part spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia researching the ocelot, a type of rainforest cat, and watching a YouTube video about them. Both groups of students were told not to browse other websites. After they were done, they were then given a second set of questions regarding their eating habits and Facebook use.
In this study, college women who reported a higher risk of disordered eating were also more likely to consider receiving comments and "likes" on their Facebook statuses important, more likely to untag themselves from Facebook photos, and more likely to compare their photos with those of their female friends, according to the survey. Most significantly, the women who looked at ocelots were more likely to report a decline in preoccupation with their weight after a short period of time, while those who used Facebook maintained their preoccupation. The results also showed that women who surfed Facebook maintained physical anxiety, while internet surfers reported a decrease in anxiety.
"That these effects could be discerned after only 20 minutes of typical Facebook use in a laboratory setting raises concerns about how the use of the site throughout the day may impact eating disorder risk," the researchers concluded. They noted that their research did not address whether Facebook is any worse than say, using Twitter or reading Vogue, and suggested that further research be done. (Facebook could not be immediately reached for comment.)
This isn't the first time that Facebook has been implicated with eating disorders—researchers from American University in Washington, DC, determined last year that girls who scan Facebook photos are more likely to report body dissatisfaction. (Those researchers could not distinguish, however, whether girls with eating disorders are more likely to look at photos.) And last year, The New Yorker reported on a study done by a University of Michigan psychologist that suggested that people who used Facebook were more likely to indicate that they were unhappy. Psychologist Samuel Gosling told the magazine, "It may be that the same thing people find attractive is what they ultimately find repelling."
Update: On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized Ukraine's new leadership, calling the crisis an "unconstitutional coup." He said that Russia is not planning to annex Crimea and he would leave it up to citizens in the region to determine their future. He did not take the option of using military force off the table and said it would be used as "a last resort."
Last month, the world's eyes turned to Russia to see if President Vladimir Putin could manage to get hotel showers ready in time for the Sochi Olympics. Just a few weeks later, Putin once again has the international community waiting in suspense, but for a very different reason. The world is waiting to find out if Russia will launch a full-scale armed assault on Ukraine. After months of anti-government protests in Ukraine—sparked by President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a European Union trade deal—the rubber-stamp Russian parliament authorized Putin to send military forces into Ukraine on March 1. The action is reportedly being undertaken to protect the Russian population in the Crimean Peninsula, where, conveniently, Russia also has strong economic and political interests.
As Putin shoots spitballs into the faces of Western leaders—who, remembering the Cold War, aren't expected to take much action in response to the crisis—Ukraine is mobilizing forces, preparing to take on a military that is far better equipped than its own. The Obama administration has declared that it is prepared to enact sanctions and come up with other consequences if Russia continues to move forward; European Union leaders are having an emergency summit Thursday. Here's what you need to know about the ongoing crisis, in 26 numbers:
Update: $1 billion:US loan guarantees that Secretary of State John Kerry has promised Ukraine's new government.
6,000: The number of Russian ground and naval forces that have entered the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, according to US officials. (On Monday, Ukrainian officials told the UN Security Council that the number was higher, reaching 16,000.)
500,000: The number of anti-government protesters who flooded Ukraine's capital, Kiev, in December to demand the ousting of Yanukovych. Anti-government protests have since been held in the cities of Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, and Kharkiv, according to the Washington Post. Thousands of protesters marched in Moscow on Sunday in support of Russian incursion, and there have also allegedly been pro-Russia protests in many Ukrainian cities. (According to theNew York Times, some of these may be staged by Russian "protest tourists" and Kiev officials say that Moscow is behind pro-Russia demonstrations in Ukraine.)
13: The number of websites blocked by the Russian government because they had links to the Ukrainian anti-government protest movement. Russia's internet monitoring agency accused them of "encouraging terrorist activity."
24 percent: The percentage of people across Ukraine who report Russian as their native language. In Crimea, that number rises to about 60 percent. According to the Brookings Institution, most Ukrainians speak and understand both Ukrainian and Russian.
845,000: The number of total armed forces in Russia. Ukraine has 129,950 troops, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the BBC, which notes that there is no chance of NATO assisting Ukraine militarily.
40: The age cap for men in Ukraine who have been called to defend the country as part of Ukraine's universal male conscription. According to Reuters, Ukraine will "struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for many of them." (Ukrainian women don't have the same obligation to serve.)
221: The number of combat aircraft owned by Ukraine, along with 17 combat vessels. Russia has 1,389 combat aircraft and 171 combat vessels, according to the BBCand IISS.
80 percent: The percentage of Russian gas exports to Europe that travel through Ukraine. Europe relies on Russia to supply 40 percent of its imported fuel. A regional expert told the New York Timesthat the primary gas pipelines passing through Ukraine supply Germany, Austria, and Italy. The global price of crude oil has risen 2 percent since the crisis began.
$60 billion: About the amount that Russian companies lost in a day after the Moscow stock market fell 10.8 percent on Monday, in wake of the crisis. The Central Bank of Russia has sold over $10 billion in US dollar reserves in order to revive the value of the Russian ruble.
37: The number of rubles needed to match the US dollar on Monday as the currency nose-dived in wake of the crisis.
8,500: The number of nuclear weapons that Russia has, according to a January 2014 report put out by the Ploughshares Fund. The United States has 7,700 nuclear weapons.
6: The number of Republican lawmakers who have criticized President Obama for how his administration has handled the crisis: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
0: US lawmakers who have suggested the United States send troops into Ukraine.