Sam Brodey

Sam Brodey

Online Editorial Fellow

Sam Brodey is an online editorial fellow at Mother Jones in San Francisco. Before coming to the magazine, he worked at Slate and PolicyMic while an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter at @s_brodez or drop him a line at sbrodey [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Amnesty International's Latest Hot Spot? Ferguson.

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 5:06 PM EDT

Amnesty International is best known for monitoring human rights conditions in places like Afghanistan and China—while active in the United States, it rarely makes headlines here. That's why the sight of yellow-clad Amnesty activists walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, is attracting so much attention: It marks the first time an Amnesty delegation has been dispatched to monitor a human rights crisis unfolding on American soil.

Margaret Huang, deputy executive director of campaigns and programs for Amnesty USA, was in Ferguson earlier this week for what she called a "support mission" and says that Amnesty came at the request of the community. Huang and her colleagues did field trainings to educate protesters on their rights and how to respond to police. "The goal was not necessarily to produce a report, which is what Amnesty has typically done, but just to make sure things have been examined from a human rights angle and for people to understand international legal obligations," Huang says. She says the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive; the police, however, haven't been as welcoming. On Monday night, police forced Amnesty observers out of the protest area at gunpoint.

Amnesty began reporting on human rights in the United States in 1998, and it has since become just as vocal about conditions here as it is elsewhere. The organization's 2013 report on the US is a laundry list of alleged human rights transgressions, including solitary confinement, detention of prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, drone strikes, and police brutality. This tweet about the situation in Ferguson sums up the organization's angle:

While the nature of Amnesty's mission in Ferguson is unprecedented in the United States, it's not the first time delegations have been on the ground in times of crisis. After Hurricane Katrina hit, teams went to New Orleans to interview residents, with the purpose of producing a report detailing how government was failing in its recovery efforts. Amnesty also helped organize protests and raise awareness leading up to Troy Davis' execution in 2011.

To find the closest parallel to what Amnesty is doing in Missouri, though, you have to look abroad. Huang says that Amnesty's work during Turkey's massive anti-government protests in 2013 most resembles the Ferguson mission. In Istanbul, activists gave medical assistance to injured protesters and observed the violent clashes involving protesters, police, and sometimes members of the press. They ultimately produced a huge report detailing the numerous human rights abuses carried out by Turkish police. Their concerns then—police brutality, harassment and detainment of the press—were also articulated in a statement about Ferguson.

What's happening in Ferguson and what happened across Turkey last year aren't the same, of course. But the similarities between the two situations—and the fact that Amnesty is in Ferguson in the first place—are, for many, making what's unfolding now even more troubling. Huang didn't say how long the delegation plans to stay in Ferguson, calling the situation "very fluid," but Amnesty USA's executive director, Steven Hawkins, is there now.

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The Latest Court Case Didn’t End the NCAA As We Know It. The Next One Might.

| Wed Aug. 13, 2014 4:50 PM EDT
NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis

On Friday, a federal judge made college sports history when she ruled that the NCAA could not deny players from profiting from the use of their likenesses on TV or in video games. In doing so, Judge Claudia Wilken laid down two rules: (1) Schools can put up to $5,000 a year in a trust for athletes; and (2) they can offer more comprehensive scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college.

Many NCAA watchers have argued that the ruling in O'Bannon v. NCAA doesn't change much, contrary to what some thought a year ago. For example, schools in the rich, successful power conferences already were moving to beef up scholarships. In the sense that the NCAA suffered a manageable setback, some have argued that it actually came out on top. But, they say, the NCAA might not be so lucky the next time around.

That's because its upcoming legal battle could kill the governing body as we know it. Representing four former college athletes, big-time sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler is targeting the NCAA and its five biggest conferences—the Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pacific 12, and the Southeastern—in an effort to dismantle the NCAA's "amateur" system entirely. In a powerfully worded claim, he writes that the defendants "have lost their way far down the road of commercialism," adding that their refusal to pay student-athletes is "illegal," "pernicious," and has brought "substantial damages…upon a host of college athletes whose services have yielded riches only for others." The offering of scholarship money, he writes, is not nearly enough. "This class action is necessary to end the NCAA's unlawful cartel, which is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of antitrust law."

The athletes represented in Jenkins v. NCAA—all onetime Division I basketball and football players—aren't seeking damages, but rather an injunction that would make the status quo illegal, open up athlete compensation to market forces, and basically blow up the NCAA as currently constructed.

"My instinct is that the NCAA probably feels better about winning the Jenkins case than it did before the O'Bannon decision," says legal expert Michael McCann.

Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire, finds that outcome unlikely. "My personal belief is that none of these cases are going to be a death blow to the NCAA," he said over the phone. If anything, he says, the outcome of O'Bannon boosts the NCAA's chances in the Jenkins case, especially since Wilken's decision highlighted the limits of antitrust law and didn't come out in favor of endorsement deals for high-profile players. "My instinct is that the NCAA probably feels better about winning the Jenkins case than it did before the O'Bannon decision."

Still, Jenkins is by far the broadest and boldest challenge to the NCAA's amateurism system yet, and Kessler's involvement is an enormous boost to the cause. He's a giant of sports law, having won the fight to secure free agency for NFL players in 1992, and his clients have included the players' associations of the NFL and NBA, Tom Brady, and Michael Jordan. The NCAA, not to be outdone, has spent $240,000 on its congressional lobbying efforts this year, already shattering past spending records with months left to go in 2014.

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples figures that the outcome of Jenkins, and the future of the NCAA, will come down to the "lifeline" Wilken tossed the NCAA: her opinion that paying college athletes more than a small amount (like $5,000 per year) could harm college sports. If the NCAA's lawyers can make the case that fans would abandon college sports if athletes were paid pro-level salaries, the association will likely survive. If Kessler can persuade otherwise, then the NCAA as we know it could be history. "The ultimate winner," Staples writes, "will be the one with best lawyers."

McCann suggests, however, it may not even come to that. "This is the kind of case that could get settled," he says. "Maybe it is resolved internally. Maybe the NCAA and conferences will get together and make some changes. The O'Bannon case took five years. This case was filed earlier this year…There may not be a resolution on this for a long time."

Obama's 5 Most Atrocious Dinner Guests at the US-Africa Leaders Summit

| Wed Aug. 6, 2014 7:33 PM EDT
President Obama talks with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz at the US-Africa summit.

As the historic US-Africa Leaders Summit winds down in Washington, headlines have been dominated by concerns over ebolacompetition with China, and what food was served at the mega-dinner the White House hosted for attendees. (Papaya flavored with Madagascar vanilla, anyone?) What garnered less attention, however, was the parade of autocrats from the continent that descended on DC for the event.