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Martin Kaste

Police departments have come under increased scrutiny from the Obama administration as the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division steps up investigations of corruption, bias and excessive force.

Some of the targeted law enforcement agencies have had ethical clouds hanging over them for years — the New Orleans Police Department being the prime example — but others, like the Seattle Police Department, aren't exactly usual suspects.

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There is still only sketchy information available about Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' recent experience in Afghanistan, but five years ago in Iraq, he was considered an excellent and upbeat soldier.

Bales is suspected of killing 16 unarmed Afghan civilians last Sunday. He has yet to be charged, and his civilian lawyers say they will meet with him at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to learn the facts of the case.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pulled ahead of his rivals in Washington State's presidential straw poll on Saturday, with more than one-third of the votes. Romney finished well ahead of Ron Paul, who himself squeaked past Rick Santorum by just over 500 votes. Newt Gingrich had to settle for about one vote in 10.

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Mandatory DNA collection is fast becoming routine in the American criminal justice system. In many jurisdictions, just being arrested can mean having to submit a genetic sample to the national database. Federal law enforcement and 26 states now permit various forms of pre-conviction DNA sampling and more states are poised to follow suit.

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Washington may soon become the seventh state to legalize gay marriage. Lawmakers passed the bill Wednesday, and it has the governor's support.

Before it takes effect, though, it's likely to face a referendum challenge in November. Same-sex marriage will be on the ballot in a handful of states this year, and supporters have yet to win a statewide vote.

The 'Sanctity Of Marriage'

Last month, a week of winter weather cut power to hundreds of thousands of people in the Seattle area for several days.

A lot of those people were left pondering an old question: Why are their neighborhood power lines strung aboveground?

Nobody seems to have a complete answer.

President Obama is feeling election-year pressure over the pending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans say the Canadian project would provide the U.S. with oil and new jobs, but environmentalists want Obama to block it. They say Alberta's oil sands generate more greenhouse gases than other kinds of oil, and Americans must not become dependent on such a dirty source of energy. But it may already be too late to change that.

Yet another foreign government has accused Americans of meddling in its internal affairs. It says U.S. donors are bankrolling local political activists, and it may be time for a crackdown on the political influence of outsiders.

There's an old joke: The two happiest days in a man's life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.

That's certainly been true for the owners of the Kalakala, a historic art deco ferry that currently resides in Puget Sound. Launched in 1935, the vessel's trials and tribulations have become the stuff of legend in Seattle.

For some of America's lowest-paid workers, the new year means a pay raise. Some states set their own minimum wages, above the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, and that rekindles an old debate over whether minimum wages make sense — especially at a time of high unemployment.

Like several other states, Washington state's minimum wage is indexed to the cost of living. This year, the formula has raised the statewide minimum from $8.67 to $9.04 an hour, making it the nation's highest statewide rate.

This fall American police were confronted with something they hadn't seen in 40 years: prolonged, simultaneous political protests across the country. In most cities, police showed restraint. But there have been exceptions — sometimes involving copious amounts of pepper spray. Those flashpoints have become a cause for concern.

Police in Seattle arrested more than a dozen Occupy protesters Monday night after marchers briefly blocked traffic coming into the city's busy port. The Seattle protest was the culmination of a day of coordinated protests at ports up and down the West Coast.

Soon after hundreds of Occupy protesters marched to Seattle's Harbor Island, some of them started dragging wooden pallets and scrap metal into the roadway, and traffic in and out of the port came to a halt. The protesters were trying to shut down Terminal 18.

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Boeing announced a surprise deal with its machinists' union yesterday. It tentatively extends the workers' contract for four years. The company also promises to build a new version of its popular 737 in union-friendly Washington State.

Do the police need a warrant to read your email? Believe it or not, two decades into the Internet age, the answer to that question is still "maybe." It depends on how old the email is, where you keep it — and it even depends on whom you ask.

Some big-name tech companies are now asking Congress to step in and clarify Americans' online privacy rights.

If you do run afoul of the law and you happen to be one of the millions of people who use Gmail then cops will likely be directing their inquiries to the legal department at Google, in Mountain View, Calif.

Is it fair to blame the Occupy Oakland encampment for a murder on its doorstep?

That's the question everyone's debating today here in Oakland, after a young African-American man was gunned down by the campsite Thursday at about 5 p.m.

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