Compound protects nerve cells targeted by diseases

first_imgHarvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers have identified a compound that helps protect the cells destroyed by spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the most frequent fatal genetic disease in children under 2 years of age.SMA is a neurodegenerative disease targeting motor neurons, the long nerve cells that relay messages from the brain to the muscles and that are, consequently, responsible for bodily movements, including walking, swallowing, and even breathing. Patients with milder forms of SMA experience muscle wasting that may confine them to a wheelchair, while the more severe forms cause paralysis and death before the second birthday.About one in 50 people are genetic carriers of the disease.Because of a dysfunctional gene, many motor neurons in SMA patients are unable to produce adequate amounts of a protein called survival of motor neuron (SMN). The deficiency causes cellular stress and eventually cell death. Rather than fixing the gene, which has been the strategy of many labs looking to develop SMA therapies, the Harvard team has identified a compound that helps stabilize the SMN protein both in human neurons in a dish and in mouse models.The findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.“This discovery opens up new lines of drug interrogation,” said Lee Rubin, HSCI principal faculty member and the senior author on the study. Rubin’s lab, which operates out of in Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) to make human models of neurological diseases.In 2015, Rubin made a variety of neuronal types from the iPS cells of SMA patients in order to determine why motor neurons in particular were targeted, and found they experienced a fatal stress response similar to motor neurons affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the late-onset neurodegenerative disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.Additionally, some SMA-affected motor neurons were dying before others, though all of the neurons had the same genetic mutations and were experiencing the same stressful environment.“Clearly, some motor neurons were surviving, so the next question was whether this is random or if there is a molecular explanation,” Rubin said.Early on in their most recent study, the researchers found that within a single petri dish of motor neurons derived from an SMA patient, some produced up to four times as much SMN protein as their neighbors. Over time, those motor neurons with higher levels of SMN were more likely to survive after exposure to toxic environments and stressors.When the team analyzed motor neurons derived from ALS patients, they found similar results: Motor neurons with higher levels of SMN were likelier to survive than those with lower levels.“The surprise was when we looked in a control culture and also saw differences between the individual neurons,” Rubin said.“It is clear that the SMN protein is necessary for all motor neuron survival, not just motor neurons targeted by ALS or SMA,” said Natalia Rodríguez-Muela, a postdoctoral fellow in Rubin’s lab and co-first author on the paper. The results suggest that if the team could increase the amount of SMN protein in any single motor neuron, they would be able to rescue the cell.During a cell’s life span, proteins are constantly being made and degraded, made and degraded again. To interrupt the process of breaking down the SMN protein, the researchers looked at a family of proteins called Cullins, which act as a part of the cell machinery that regulates protein degradation.In 2011, the Rubin lab had determined that an enzyme called GSK3b helps control SMN stability. Nearly all proteins degraded by GSK3b are flagged for degradation by a pathway that involves a specific member of the Cullin family. Rubin said the researchers hypothesized that if they could block that Cullin-mediated process, the SMN proteins would not be flagged for degradation and would remain stable longer.The researchers, led by co-first author Nadia Litterman, then dosed human and murine motor neurons with a compound known to block the specific Cullin and found that exposure to the compound made SMN proteins more stable and more abundant. As a consequence, the compound promoted survival of all motor neurons, both in human cells in the dish and in mouse models.Additionally, mice with SMA, even the more severe forms of the disease, had some of their symptoms improve after exposure to the compound.“This process points to an unexplored therapeutic direction that could benefit patients of not one, but two separate diseases,” Rubin said.Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has filed a patent application on the approach.This work was supported by the SMA Foundation, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant P01 NS066888, National Institutes of Health grants NS045523 and NS075672, Massachusetts Spinal Cord Injury Research Trust, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.last_img read more

A promise to a friend

first_img Figuring out Law School is grueling. Being deafblind doesn’t make it easier The Daily Gazette Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news. Related New gene-delivery therapy restores partial hearing, balance in deaf mice  When Wei Hsi “Ariel” Yeh was an undergraduate, one of her close friends went from normal hearing to complete deafness in one month. He was 29 years old. Doctors didn’t know why then and still don’t. Frustrated and fearful for her friend, Yeh, who graduated last month with a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, dedicated her research in chemistry to solving some of the vast genetic mysteries behind hearing loss.One in eight people aged 12 years or older in the U.S. has hearing loss in both ears. Technologies like hearing aids and cochlear implants can amplify sound but can’t correct the problem. Perhaps gene editing could, scientists decided, since genetic anomalies contribute to half of all cases.Two years ago, Yeh and David R. Liu, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences and a member of the Broad Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), repaired a dominant mutation and prevented hearing loss in a mouse model for the first time. But, Liu said, “Most genetic diseases are not caused by dominant mutations. They’re caused by recessive ones, including most genetic hearing losses.”Now, Liu, Yeh, and researchers at Harvard, the Broad, and HHMI have achieved another first: They restored partial hearing to mice with a recessive mutation in the gene TMC1 that causes complete deafness, the first successful example of genome editing to fix a recessive disease-causing mutation.Dominant disease mutations, meaning those that affect just one of the body’s two copies of a gene, in some ways are easier to attack. Knock out the bad copy, and the good one can come to the rescue. “But for recessive diseases,” Liu said, “you can’t do that. By definition, the recessive allele means that you have two bad copies. So, you can’t just destroy the bad copy.” You have to fix one or both.To hear, animals rely on hair cells in the inner ear, which ripple under the pressure of sound waves and send electrical impulses to the brain. The recessive mutation to TMC1 that Liu and Yeh hoped to correct causes rapid deterioration of those hair cells, leading to profound deafness in mice at just 4 weeks of age.,Jeffrey Holt, professor of otolaryngology and neurology at the Harvard Medical School and an author of the paper, successfully treated TMC1-related deafness with gene therapy by situating cells with healthy versions of the gene among the unhealthy to counteract the disease-causing mutation. But Volha “Olga” Shubina-Aleinik, a postdoctoral fellow in the Holt lab, said gene therapy may have a limited duration. “That is why we need more advanced techniques, such as gene editing, which may last a lifetime.”Yeh spent years designing a base editor that could find and erase the disease-causing mutation and replace it with the correct DNA code. But even after she demonstrated good results in vitro, there was a problem: Base editors are too large to fit in the traditional delivery vehicle, adeno-associated virus, or AAV. To solve this problem, the team split the base editor in half, sending each piece in with its own viral vehicle. Once inside, both viruses needed to infect the same cells so the two base editor halves could rejoin and head off to find their target. Despite the labyrinthine entry, the editor proved to be efficient, causing only a minimum of undesired deletions or insertions.“We saw very little evidence of off-target editing,” Liu said. “And we noticed that the edited animals had much-preserved hair-cell morphology and signal transduction, meaning the hair cells, the critical cells that convert sound waves to neuronal signals, appeared more normal and behaved more normally.”After the treatment, Yeh performed an informal test: She clapped her hands. Mice that had previously lost all hearing ability jumped and turned to look. Formal tests revealed the base editor worked, at least in part: Treated mice had partially restored hearing and could respond to loud and even some medium sounds, Yeh said.Of course, more work needs to be done before the treatment can be used in humans. Unedited cells continued to die, causing deafness to return even after the base editor restored function to others. Study shows architecture of audition likely based on innate factors center_img Investigators caution the approach is years away from use in humans But the study also proved that the clandestine AAV delivery method works. Already, Liu is using AAV to tackle other genetic diseases, including progeria (premature aging), sickle cell anemia, and degenerative motor diseases. “We’re actually going after quite a few genetic diseases now, including some prominent ones that have caused a lot of suffering and energized pretty passionate communities of patients and patient families to do anything to find a treatment,” Liu said. “For progeria, there’s no cure. The best treatments extend a child’s average lifespan from about 14 to 14.5 years.”For Yeh, whose friend is still living with hearing loss, genetic deafness remains her primary target. “There’s still a lot to explore,” she said. “There’s so much unknown.” One L, only harder Auditory cortex nearly identical in hearing and deaf peoplelast_img read more

Lawmakers invite tougher UPL sanctions

first_img October 15, 2003 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Lawmakers invite tougher UPL sanctions Senior EditorMembers of the Florida House Judiciary Committee have told Florida Bar officials they would welcome a bill that increased the severity of unlicensed practice of law violations from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.Bar President Miles McGrane and Bar UPL Counsel Lori Holcomb spent more than an hour answering questions and explaining Bar UPL operations to committee members. Several representatives expressed frustration that their constituents have been victimized by nonlawyers promising legal help but who frequently collect a “fee” and then disappear.McGrane told the panel that it is frequently the poorest and most helpless Floridians and immigrants who are victimized in UPL scams.“It’s not to get the business for our lawyers. It’s to protect the people who think they’re getting lawyers and they’re not, and they’re suffering irreparable harm,” he said of Bar UPL operations. “We recognize our obligation to protect the people of Florida from the unlicensed practice of law. What we need is the [state] prosecutors to help us resolve this problem.”Raising the penalty for violating the state’s UPL laws from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony would make it more likely state attorneys would prosecute UPL cases, McGrane said.Holcomb said in her 16 years at the Bar — all in UPL operations — she’s seen a wide range of scams. Those include scams to sell worthless documents to immigrants, sell worthless trusts to the elderly, promise legal services that were never delivered, cause harm by providing poor services, and even one group that granted divorces in its self-established “court.”“What we’re dealing with is people who think they have some knowledge and they’re doing great harm.. . . A lot of people are doing it just for the money. They’re the scam artists,” she said. “People are being deported; people are losing their children; people are losing their homes.”In response to a questions from Rep. Mary Brandenberg, D-Palm Beach, Holcomb said her office typically investigates about 700 UPL cases annually. [Last year, the office closed out 782 cases, of which 92 resulted in injunctive relief, 24 with cease and desist affidavits, and several more in contempt citations.]Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami, asked about how the Bar’s process works. The Bar usually first seeks a cease and desist affidavit, Holcomb said, and if that is unsuccessful, it files an injunction with the Supreme Court. If that injunction is violated, then the Bar can go back and seek indirect criminal contempt, which can carry a five-month jail sentence.McGrane noted that the Bar spends $1.4 million of Bar members’ dues annually prosecuting UPL cases.Planas asked if the Bar’s UPL counsels could be appointed as special prosecutors by a state attorney and then criminally prosecute a case. Holcomb said the Bar has offered that, but it has never been accepted. She said the Bar has worked with state attorneys to help work up the relatively few cases that have been prosecuted.Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said he was nervous about having Bar lawyers serve as special assistant state attorneys, but suggested that the statewide prosecutor could be given jurisdiction of UPL cases. He also said for egregious cases where the intent was to defraud victims without trying to provide any benefit, he might support bumping the penalty up to a second-degree felony.Among other issues raised:• Rep. Gustavo Barreiro, R-Miami, said there is little the committee could do “unless we put something into law. Otherwise, I just feel like we’re spinning our wheels.”• Barreiro and Rep. Ken Sorensen, R-Tavernier, asked what the Bar was doing to educate the public about UPL dangers. McGrane and Holcomb showed UPL pamphlets the Bar has prepared in English, Spanish, and Creole, but noted otherwise the Bar spends its $1.4 million on enforcement. Barreiro, Sorensen, and other committee members suggested other options, including taking ads in Spanish and Creole newspapers, preparing public service ads for minority-owned radio stations, and other community outreach efforts. McGrane promised to explore those options, including asking the Bar’s Citizens Forum for its ideas.• Planas suggested that legislation could include modifications to sentencing guidelines to ensure jail time for causes involving outright fraud.• Rep. Mark Mahon, R-Jacksonville, asked whether UPL cases might still be ignored by prosecutors even if they are elevated to felony status, but Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Pompano Beach, said he thought making the violations felonies would improve the prosecution rate.• Seiler said an additional benefit to making violations a felony would be an enhancement of the ability of victims to get restitution and for the Bar to recoup its investigatory costs.• Rep. John Quinones, R-Kissimmee, who last year introduced a bill to increase penalties for UPL, asked about requiring a license for nonlawyers who want to provide simple legal services. But Holcomb said that would be unlikely to work because it would legitimize the nonlawyers and many would go beyond any restrictions on what types of work they could do.At one point, McGrane was asked about alternatives to unlicensed lawyers that the poor might have, and he used the opportunity to lobby on one of the Bar’s top priorities: increasing state funding for legal aid.An alternative to unlicensed practitioners for the poor are the legal aid programs throughout the state, McGrane noted. The state last year approved $1.5 million for use in seven circuits in the Civil Legal Assistance Act, he said, but even more people could be helped statewide if that were increased to $5.5 million.For those who don’t qualify for legal aid, the Bar and local bars offer lawyer referral programs that have a low fee for the initial consultation, he said.McGrane also, at the invitation of committee Chair Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, reviewed ongoing Bar activities.As part of the “For the Children” campaign, Bar members have contributed $160,000 to the Florida Bar Foundation for programs to help children when they deal with the legal system. McGrane said he hopes to increase that to $175,000.In addition, all Bar sections and committees have been asked to review the final report of the Commission on the Legal Needs of Children. “I suspect there will be some proposed legislation from that,” McGrane said, pledging to keep legislators apprised of that effort. He also noted the Bar has set up a permanent committee to work on carrying out the commission’s recommendations.Funding for the court system will continue to be a top Bar priority, he said, acknowledging the legislature will have a difficult task given budget constraints. But everyone from abused children to the business community needs efficient, well-funded courts, McGrane said, adding, “We all know the courts have to function for the state to function.”The Bar acted quickly, he said, to change proposed rules on multijurisdictional practices when it appeared those would interfere with the state’s efforts to land the secretariat of the Free Trade of the Americas Association.The Bar has also launched a year-long effort to review its grievance program, McGrane reported, not because of any problems but to see if anything can be improved. Lawmakers invite tougher UPL sanctionslast_img read more

The Nightmare Continues

first_imgThe Nightmare Continues October 15, 2004 Associate Editor Regular News The Nightmare Continues t Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Hurricane Ivan put half of Escambia County’s lawyers out of business.That’s the grim assessment from Mike Doubek, executive director of the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association.“The bulk of the lawyers are in downtown Pensacola, and the downtown is really devastated,” Doubek said.“We are displaced, too. We cannot get into our offices. And right now, we’re working out of my home with limited resources.”What Doubek is trying to do is act as a clearinghouse for resources to help lawyers get back to work.If attorneys have extra conference rooms or an extra phone line to offer, Doubek wants to know. And if you are a lawyer displaced by Ivan, let him know, and he will connect the offers of help with those in need.J.R. Phelps, director of The Florida Bar’s Law Office Assistance Services, said LOMAS has received more than 125 e-mails and numerous calls offering assistance to lawyers with practices damaged by Florida’s historic killer quartet of hurricanes: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.“We have had offers of analog telephones,” Phelps said, explaining that digital phones don’t work without power but an analog phone will work if the telephone line is intact.Legal secretaries and paralegals have also offered their help using their own equipment.“However, telephone calls requesting assistance are few and far between,” Phelps said.“With no power, no phones, and essentially no courthouse, it is difficult to know how anyone can help until some infrastructure becomes functional,” Phelps said. “Most people are still in ‘survival’ mode.”Doubek agrees.“Getting back to normal will take a month or two,” Doubek said September 28, a dozen days after Ivan ravaged the western Panhandle September 16. “I think they are still trying to balance their personal belongings and affairs.”So far, “less than a half dozen” lawyers have contacted Doubek for help.“We don’t know if the need is not there or if people just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” Doubek said of lawyers with storm-damaged law offices.Larger law firms located in downtown Pensacola, he said, are either relocating or opening up this week.“It’s the small operation—the sole practitioner—we haven’t heard from,” Doubek said.Phelps has discussed with Doubek how to operate a centralized photocopy exchange of those with paper files with those whose files have been totally destroyed.“While records at the courthouse (in Pensacola) are expected to be salvageable, they remain unavailable because of the structural damage to the building,” Phelps said.Doubek said the hard-hit courthouse is closed and a limited case load is being handled out of the civic center.“For the attorneys who are back on their feet, they are starting to do community outreach,” Doubek said. “We are hoping to work with the Pensacola Junior College to put on a community forum to handle legal questions, like dealing with claims adjusters and landlord-tenant issues.“It’s nice to hear the ones who survived OK are willing to reach out to others,” Doubek said. To offer or receive help through the Escambia Santa Rosa Bar Association, call Executive Director Mike Doubek at 850-434-8135. To receive help with a storm-damaged law office, through The Florida Bar’s LOMAS, call 850-561-5611. LexusNexis Relief Plan 1. Bar Member Volunteer Efforts for Hurricane Victims • Complimentary 30-day lexis.com ID for Florida Bar volunteers providing pro bono legal aid to the community (current force numbers more than 700 volunteers across the state). • Menus built around anticipated key legal issues and corresponding LexisNexis content. • Forty laptop computers donated to The Florida Bar Foundation for use by volunteer force providing pro bono legal aid. • Eligible LexisNexis (Florida) employees asked to staff the Florida hotline, providing legal consultation to disaster relief victims. 2. LexisNexis Volunteer/Relief Opportunities •LN employees have been asked to assist with disaster relief efforts by choosing from several volunteer opportunities. * Employees are urged to consider using part of their 2 LN Cares days to volunteer with local relief agencies. * Donate blood. * Financial support to Red Cross. * LN Cares matching employee donations to Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund thru September 30. * Several LexisNexis locations are featuring a LexisNexis Cares disaster relief program in their city (LexisNexis, Mealey’s, Matthew Bender, etc.). 3. Customer Service Print Materials (replacing lost or damaged materials) • Free replacement of Florida print products including Matthew Bender, statutes, rules books, etc. (including Florida Bar titles) for customers with current subscriptions. Affected customers should contact LexisNexis toll free at 1-877-810-5324. • Fifty percent off Florida print products including Matthew Bender, statutes, rules books, etc. (not including Florida Bar titles) for current customers with expired subscriptions or for the purchase of new titles to support their business. Affected customers should contact LexisNexis toll free at 1-877-810-5324. • Five hundred complimentary sets of 2004 Martindale-Hubbell as needs are made known to The Florida Bar. Escambia County lawyers particularly hard hilast_img read more

Promoting fairness and diversity

first_img March 1, 2006 Regular News Promoting fairness and diversity Promoting fairness and diversity Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Representatives from the Cuban American Bar raised questions about the disparate treatment faced by those with language barriers. The Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers brought up slights often directed toward black litigants and lawyers. The Asian-Pacific American Bar Association of South Florida raised concerns about stereotyping.Those were just a handful of the topics discussed when the Supreme Court’s Committee on Fairness and Diversity spent two days taking public testimony at the Bar’s Midyear Meeting in Miami.The committee, chaired by 11th Circuit Judge Gill Freeman, was established a little more than a year ago to advance the court system’s efforts to eliminate from court operations inappropriate bias based on race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, or socioeconomic status.“We are dedicated to making our court system is accessible to everybody and fair to everybody,” Judge Freeman said.The committee already has released a report titled “Promoting and Ensuring the Diversity of Judicial Staff Attorneys and Law Clerks Within the Florida State Courts System” (see story above) and has established a Court Diversity Information Resource Center that provides links to diversity and fairness court education curricula, best practices for diversity recruitment and retention utilized by state and national organizations, and other research materials on the ongoing development of diversity perspectives. The committee’s Web site can be found at www.flcourts.org. Once there, click “Diversity Resources” on the right side of the page.The committee also will use the testimony taken in Miami, and other information gathered from across the state — including the results of surveys of judges, court staff, parties involved in legal cases, and lawyers regarding the court system — to identify areas where changes may be needed. The committee’s final report will be presented to the court by June 30.“I think there are a lot of people who have something they want to say and this is the first and only opportunity they have had to say it,” Freeman said.Judge Freeman has already reviewed survey results from questions the committee asked the Bar to include in its 2005 Membership Opinion Survey and was startled by some of the findings, “but not most of them.”“I was surprised that 50 percent of the lawyers who responded said that the judges do not follow the laws,” Freeman said. “That shocked me” and needs to be explored further.“I’m not sure that is really a bias issue, but as a judge, I find it very upsetting,” Judge Freeman said. “That lawyers don’t think we follow the laws is a problem.”That survey also found that 56 percent of the African American lawyers polled said they disagreed with the statement courts treat Caucasians and minorities alike.“That really did not surprise me because I have been doing this fairness work now for 22 years and I don’t expect it to go away, but I hope that it keeps getting better as we keep working on it,” Freeman said. “But many in the court system thought that those issues were over and so now we have evidence that it is not over and we need to continue to work on it.”Freeman said the best way to address perceptions about disparate treatment in the courts is through education and increasing diversity.“We have no control over the diversity of judges, but we do have some control over the diversity of court staff and the education of judges,” Freeman said, noting that she teaches a fairness course at the new judges’ college and fairness is addressed at the circuit and county court conferences on a regular basis.“What we try to do when we develop the courses is to do it in such a way that the judges recognize and can see that it is something that is really concrete and not touchy-feely.”last_img read more

Human Rights Group Publishes Legal Justification For Bush, CIA Torture Probe

first_imgSign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York [dropcap]A[/dropcap] substantial amount of compelling evidence exists to justify a new investigation into former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and more than a dozen other administration officials connected to the CIA’s once secretive torture program, according to a scathing report just published by nonprofit Human Rights Watch.The non-governmental global human rights organization released a 154-page report this week dubbed “No More Excuses,” in which it criticizes the United States government for its failure to hold accountable the CIA’s post-Sept. 11th torture masterminds—those who authorized controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and rectal feeding, as well as the utilization of “Black Sites” across the globe, where these tactics were implemented—an oversight that sullies the country’s reputation and weakens its authority abroad, the report argues. Failure to punish the architects of the torture program, Human Rights Watch warns, leaves the door open to future abuses by US officials.Human Rights Watch also called on governments of other nations to investigate the “egregious abuse of prisoners” condoned by Bush administration officials and the CIA.“The US government has not adequately accounted for these abuses,” the report states. “It has an obligation under international law to prosecute torture where warranted and provide redress to victims, but it has done neither. No one with real responsibility for these crimes has been held accountable, and the government has actively thwarted attempts on the part of victims to obtain redress and compensation in US courts.”The authors of the Human Rights Watch study rely on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture report,” the rights organization’s own reporting, and other published material to support their conclusion.“No More Excuses,” which also includes years of research on the once-covert CIA torture program and interviews with five former detainees, examines the Bush administration’s justification for what the White House referred to as “enhanced interrogation,” the actual techniques used on detainees, and how such practices are, in the report’s view, illegal. Officially there were 119 known CIA detainees, 26 of whom were considered “wrongly held.”The report calls on US Attorney Loretta Lynch, with President Obama’s backing, to appoint a special prosecutor to initiate a federal probe that would rely on interviews with current and former detainees.“We’re saying that there is enormous amount of information now in the public record…that one, there was enormous amount of conduct that went beyond what was authorized, and the Justice Department should take a fresh look at that evidence, which includes what is in the Senate torture report and what also has been released since then, and talk to detainees,” Laura Pitter, senior national security co-counsel for Human Rights Watch, and the author of the report, tells the Press. “There are plenty who are out of US custody…There’s no reason why those investigations shouldn’t be pursued.” Leslie Haskell, former counsel in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, also contributed to the report.The report’s most audacious recommendation calls for an in-depth Department of Justice review of torture under the Bush administration—and it points to specific criminal violations the architects and others involved should face: torture, assault, sexual abuse, war crimes and conspiracy to commit such crimes.The organization argues that the CIA’s torture program is in direct violation of the Convention Against Torture, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1984 and signed by the United States on April 18, 1988, under President Ronald Reagan.“By giving its advice and consent to ratification of this Convention, the Senate of the United States will demonstrate unequivocally our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture,” Reagan said in a letter to the US Senate in May 1988. The torture statute was ratified by Congress in 1994.The report names President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenent, then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and about a dozen others involved in the torture program.Human Rights Watch’s insistence for renewed investigations comes almost a year to the day that the CIA’s detention and torture program was admonished in a long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report that relied on 6.3 million CIA records. Members of the committee spent five years investigating the program, and concluded that it was ineffective, deeply flawed and “far more brutal” than the government previously disclosed to the American public and lawmakers. To the disappointment of Human Rights Watch and other transparency advocates, the so-called torture report only contains a summary of the committee’s findings. Its most controversial assessment, that torture did not in any way produce “imminent threat intelligence,” discredited the Bush administration’s premise that the program was an effective intelligence-gathering tool.“Failure on the part of the US to abide by its obligations to prosecute torture,” says Pitter, “undermines the ability to advocate against torture around the world and it gives other countries a readied excuse to ignore their legal obligations as well.”In the spirit of transparency, Human Rights Watch also recommended that President Obama declassify the entire Senate Intelligence committee report to “ensure there is a full public accounting of government wrongdoing and that victims of torture can obtain redress.”“This is one of the most serious human rights violations that the US has engaged in as a country—the state sanctioned program of torture that was operated globally,” says HRW’s Pitter. “It’s important that the country and the people understand how it happened and what happened exactly.”When previously pressed on initiating probes into the CIA’s terror program, the Obama administration has often evoked the so-called “Durham Investigation,” which Pitter criticized as flawed.“That investigation never looked at the authorization of the program itself as part of any criminal conduct,” she says. “It only looked at conduct that went beyond what was authorized.”Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation began in 2008 but was limited to only examining the destruction of interrogation videotapes by the CIA. In 2009, then-Attorney General Eric Holder instructed Durham to investigate whether any federal laws were broken in connection with the interrogation program, but Holder noted the “Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees,” according to an August 2012 DOJ press release.When the Senate torture report was released, several human rights organizations called for those authorizing the program to be prosecuted. HRW and the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to Holder urging him to conduct a full investigation into the matter. The joint letter acknowledged that Holder’s office had previously reviewed the program, but noted that the torture report would provide investigators with relevant information previously unavailable to them.The Germany-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights went a step further and filed a criminal complaint against the torture program’s perpetrators and accused several Bush administration officials of war crimes.Joining the chorus of those condemning the practice was The New York Times, which shortly after the report was released, published an editorial titled: “Prosecute Tortures and their Bosses.”“I think time is running out” to fully investigate the program, Pitter laments. “Obama only has a year in office, he shouldn’t want this to become part of his legacy—a legacy that leaves torture open as a policy option.“We’ve seen presidential candidates today defending those prior practices and talking about using them again,” she adds. “If Obama doesn’t draw a clear line of criminality across what happened, he basically leaves that door open and that’s a very dangerous precedent to set.”last_img read more

NYPD Muslim Spying Lawsuit: Civilian To Scrutinize Terror Probes

first_imgSign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York The New York City Police Department agreed to increased oversight of counterterrorism investigations as part of a settlement in a lawsuit challenging the department’s mass surveillance of Muslims—including on Long Island—after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.The settlement, which was filed in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday, stipulates that the city appoint an independent civilian representative entrusted to monitor police investigations and report any violations to the police commissioner or federal judge.The city and civil rights attorneys representing three New York Muslims, two mosques and a nonprofit also agreed to a cap on how long investigations can take place, several safeguards to make certain that investigations don’t violate a person’s constitutional rights, anti-discrimination measures, and a requirement that the use of undercover officers and confidential informants be authorized by a high-ranking police official.“There must be an objective, factual basis for initiating” an investigation, the settlement states. “A mere hunch is insufficient.”Civil rights attorneys lauded the agreement for establishing much-needed safeguards to prevent abuse and religious profiling of a disenfranchised population. NYPD officials argued that the settlement wouldn’t hamper anti-terrorism efforts.As part of the settlement, the city admits no wrongdoing.“This settlement is a win for New York Muslims and for all New Yorkers, who have a right to be free from discriminatory police surveillance and to practice their religion without stigma or fear,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, said in a statement.New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the agreement is the latest step in an effort to build bridges with the Muslim community. The new measures, he said, brings policing practices “closer in line” with FBI protocol.“The proposed settlement does not weaken the NYPD’s ability to fulfill its steadfast commitment to investigate and prevent terrorist activity in New York City,” added Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller.The ACLU, along with several other civil right firms, sued the city after the Associated Press revealed mass surveillance of Muslims in the five boroughs, New Jersey and Nassau and Suffolk counties. The AP’s series on the NYPD’s clandestine targeting of Muslims won the outlet a Pulitzer Prize. The so-called Demographics Unit, which has responsible for monitoring Muslims, created maps of Muslim communities and documented mundane interactions at mosques, businesses and coffee shops—and even an occasion in which belly dancers provided entertainment at a Huntington kebab restaurant. The NYPD disbanded the unit in April 2014. The post-9/11 initiative did not lead to a single terrorism probe, officials have said. Rather, Muslim groups contend, revelations of a vast spying network sowed deep fear in communities and did little to build trust between Muslim Americans and police.The safeguards included in the settlement are intended to ensure terror investigations are warranted, and not sparked solely on the basis of a person’s religion. It also calls for the removal of a controversial report from the NYPD’s website dubbed “Radicalization in the West,” which was published in 2007.Under the agreement, which is pending approval by a federal judge, police have 180 days to conduct an investigation, with the possibility of a 90-day extension. Also, the office of the Chief of Intelligence is responsible for reviewing preliminary investigations every six months “to discuss the status…including what operational steps should be taken.”Among the NYPD’s most controversial tactics was its use of undercover officers and confidential informants to gather information inside mosques and Muslim Student Associations. Under the agreement, those tactics must be authorized by the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and any request must be made in writing and include facts to justify such an investigation.While most of the measures call for full cooperation of police brass to effectuate the new stipulations, a public advocate will be included in monthly meetings to scrutinize investigations and ensure the department is acting appropriately. This civilian will be appointed by the mayor, and serve an up-to five-year term.The settlement is an extension of the decades-old Handschu Guidelines, which barred the NYPD from investigating individuals based on political or religious views unless specific information existed connecting purported suspects to a crime or future plot. After 9/11, the NYPD received court approval to modify the guidelines so it could better investigative terrorism. Attorneys involved in the Handschu case argued in this suit that the NYPD’s mass surveillance of Muslims violated the Handschu Guidelines.While the city is not admitting guilt, it has agreed to pay $1.6 million in lawyer fees.With the settlement, two out of three cases challenging the NYPD’s spying of Muslims have come to a close. A case involving New Jersey residents is pending after the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated the lawsuit. A lower court dismissed the suit in October 2014.The controversial surveillance program was implemented under former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner Raymond Kelly. The mayoral successor, Bill de Blasio, promised to reform the NYPD. Since taking office the NYPD has disbanded the Demographics Unit, and, in a sign of pursuing a more inclusive New York City, de Blasio added two Muslim holidays to the school calendar. But de Blasio has displayed mixed messages. In court papers de Blasio administration lawyers called on judges overseeing the New Jersey lawsuit to support a lower court’s decision not to assign blame to the NYPD.“All of the harms alleged by plaintiffs occurred, if they occurred, only after the Associated Press made public certain confidential NYPD documents and did so in unredacted form,” the city wrote in its 79-page brief. Thursday’s settlement, however, appears to more in line with de Blasio’s earlier promises to end Bloomberg-era policies directed at Muslim communities. And those representing Muslim communities appeared eager to see the city move away from policies they argued violated basic Constitutional rights. “Our clients brought this lawsuit to enforce two of the Constitution’s most fundamental guarantees: freedom from government discrimination and freedom of religion,” Shamsi of the ACLU said. “The lawsuit was motivated by the concerns of our clients, and those of New York Muslim communities and their allies, about the of the surveillance, which stigmatized Muslims and chilled their speech and religious practice because of fear of attracting unwarranted police scrutiny.”last_img read more

Performance management mistakes

first_img 7SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr Organizations tend to encounter several common obstacles in their quest to develop effective employee performance management programs that can undermine their efforts or derail them altogether.According to Bill Stavros, founder and CEO of Blueprint Interactions LLC, a Wayne, N.J.-based firm that consults in sales, marketing and customer experience, these include not having:clear goals and objectives;strong managers who provide specific, timely and frequent feedback;systems that automate goal-tracking; andsufficient tools to accomplish the objectives, such as inadequate staffing, overly complex systems, and other top-down impediments.“These issues can adversely impact employee motivation and performance, resulting in a loss of good talent and [compromising] business results,” says Stavros. “Ultimately, the goal of employee performance management is to maximize the employee’s potential and align his or her goals with the organization’s goals to achieve the desired business results.”What to do? Make developing performance goals a collaborative effort throughout all levels of the organization, Stavros advises, explaining this strategy will improve buy-in, a key ingredient for success. Communication is also essential. Managers and organizational leaders must provide frequent and very specific feedback—positive and corrective—as immediately as possible. This helps to speed employee development and reduces the risk that performance reviews will surprise, making that conversation much easier, Stavros says. Additionally, employees appreciate the feedback, which in turn, fosters engagement. continue reading »last_img read more

Your best reopening play is upping your game

first_imgIn response to the pandemic, the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and other leagues have announced plans to create enclosed campuses where their players, coaches and staff members will live and play full-time in venues without fans. The NBA, for instance, will house teams at the Walt Disney World Resort this month near Orlando, Florida, so it can finish the 2019-20 season. To succeed in these times, the sports leagues can’t operate as they always have. They have to be creative and up their business games.There’s a clear parallel in the credit union world. We’re not being asked to reopen our businesses as our best previous selves. We’re being asked to reopen as new and better organizations in a brand-new world.The professional sports leagues will continue to monitor the new information being provided by infectious disease experts as they move forward. As they do so, it’s a fair bet that they’ll continue to innovate how they deliver their products and identify and capitalize on new revenue streams. Similarly, credit union leaders will need to be continuous learners with an eye for innovation if they want to lead forward in the best way possible for their organizations, staff and members.A lot of operational learning will need to take place for credit unions to reopen well. Here are just a few examples:Credit union operations executives will have to define what success now looks like for physical branches and digital channels.Marketers will need to become experts at helping members first and selling second.Compliance pros must learn about new and rapidly changing regulations stemming from the pandemic—and effectively respond to them.These obstacles probably can’t be overcome without good leadership. So leaders at all levels need to spend time learning about making good decisions, how to communicate effectively, and current best practices in setting strategy and planning for growth. As a backdrop to effective reopening, all leaders and emerging leaders also will need to ramp up their understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion to be able to help their organizations overcome injustice.The mission of CUES is to help its members reach their full potential. If you’re not yet a member, consider taking advantage of our 45-day free trial. Committing to ongoing learning will help you lead your credit union toward its best possible future. 4SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr,John Pembroke Since joining CUES in March 2013, John Pembroke has played a leadership role in developing and launching a new direction in CUES’ strategy, branding and culture. Under his guidance, CUES … Web: www.cues.org Detailslast_img read more

Danes Seek Geotechnical Investigators

first_imgDenmark’s Sønderborg Affald A/S has invited bids for geotechnical investigation services on the proposed Lillebælt Syd nearshore wind farm situated between the islands of Als and Funen (Fyn), Denmark.The wind farm will have the capacity of up to 160MW and will feature between 20 and 44 wind turbines ranging in capacity from 3.6MW to 8MW, the developer said.The type of foundations is yet to be determined and will either be monopiles, gravity-based foundations or suction buckets.The work is part of the initial investigations alongside an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).The objective of the works is to verify the ground conditions investigated by the geophysical survey and to establish design parameters for the geotechnical design of the foundations.The final reporting is in May 2018, Sønderborg Affald said.The tender will remain open until 23 January 2018.In June 2017, the Danish Energy Agency granted a permission to Sønderborg Forsyningsservice A/S to explore the possibility of developing an offshore wind farm in the area between the two islands.The permit, valid until December 2018, allows the developer to conduct preliminary investigations for the establishment of offshore wind turbines in an area northeast of Als.Following the completion of investigations, Sønderborg Forsyningsservice will submit a preliminary report as well as the EIA to the Danish Energy Agency.last_img read more