Nel's New Day

July 28, 2019

DDT: Week 131 – Disastrous Domestic Events

A second day of false and racist tweets from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) about what he calls the “Cumming [sic] district” came from a slanted video by a guest on Fox & Friends who sought out the most struggling, severely impoverished Baltimore neighborhoods. The heavily gerrymandered district has urban, suburban and rural areas ranging from well-off to poor, but the video focused on only one aspect. DDT’s racist rants followed Cummings’ criticism of southern border detention centers, subpoenas for emails and texts of White House aides including Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, and Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony where Cummings asked people to pay attention to activities of DDT and his associates.

Kushner owns thousands of rental units in Baltimore County providing substandard housing to lower-income tenants and cited for hundreds of code violations. His company made repairs only after threats of fines for mice infestations, mold problems, and maggots. DDT wants Cummings to thank him for low unemployment figures for blacks, but most of the drop in unemployment rates for blacks came during President Obama’s terms (16.8 percent to 7.8 percent) and from Democratic policies.

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended DDT’s racist comments, saying he would have been fired as representative if his district had Cummings’ problems. Compared to Cummings’ district, Mulvaney’s former district, South Carolina’s 5th district, has a lower median household income and a similar poverty rate, 14.9 percent versus 16.6 percent. The Baltimore Sun’s editorial ran with the headline, “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”

Afraid that Congress will see his tax returns, DDT is suing the House Ways and Means Committee, the New York state attorney general, and a New York state tax official to hide state tax returns—although the House has not tried to get the returns. His lawsuit follows a complaint from the House committee to get DDT’s federal tax returns.

A judge also ruled that   a lawsuit against DDT’s alleged deceptive and unfair business practices may proceed. Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued the Supreme Court marriage equality decision in U.S. v. Windsor, represents the plaintiffs who claim that DDT and three of his children scammed them.

A federal jury convicted Michael Flynn’s former business partner Bijan Rafiekian because of the work that the two men did for Turkish interests during the last months of DDT’s presidential campaign in 2016—acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to the DOJ. Flynn was DDT’s national security adviser for 24 days; his sentencing is pending.

Four automakers—Ford, Honda, VW, and BMW—from three continents have a deal with California to sell the state more fuel-efficient cars after DDT rolled back tougher standards.

Election systems in all 50 states were Russian targets, according to the heavily-redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report. Subsequent volumes will report on Russia’s use of social media for influencing the vote. The committee recommended a paper trail for voter machines and backups for registration systems, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to take any action. A new hashtag #Moscow Mitch came from Joe Scarborough who asked, “How can Moscow Mitch keep denying that Vladimir Putin continues to try to subvert American democracy?” Lobbyists for the two largest electronic voting machine vendors that provide 80 percent of the voting machines in the U.S. donated to McConnell’s campaigns. Fourteen states used electronic voting systems with no paper trail in 2018.

DDT thought he was home free after a judge ruled in favor of his new rule requiring asylum seekers to ask for protection in another country before crossing the southern border, but soon after that ruling, another judge blocked DDT’s rule. The second judge stated that the “new Rule is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.”

In the UN, DDT blocked condemnation of Israel’s demolishing Palestinian homes on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Israel claimed that the 10 apartment buildings were a threat to Israeli armed forces, a barrier outlawed by the UN in 2004. Israelis performed the demolishment operation in the night and displaced Palestine refugees, some of them for a second time.

This is “who we are” as a country as DDT brings out the worst in people:

Three million more poor people may go hungry, thanks to Minnesota millionaire Rob Undersander who said he managed to get food stamps. Over 250,000 children won’t receive free school meals, no one with $2,000 in savings can receive food stamps, and people are discouraged from working longer, getting a job with better pay, and saving for education or emergencies. The change, claimed to save $2.5 billion, will require expenditures of extra paperwork, staff hours, and other costs.

DOJ’s AG Bill Barr plans to kill people by lifting the 16-year hiatus on federal capital punishment with five executions in December and January. Conviction for one of them has been described as “unreliable.” Twenty-one states abandoned capital punishment, and several others have frozen them.

Pedro Arriago-Santoya is the seventh person to die in ICE custody in the past nine months. At least 25 people have died in ICE custody since DDT was inaugurated, and another 12 have died in federal immigration custody that includes Border Patrol station and youth migrant detention centers.

ICE posted a job from a for-profit company for “lead physician” of a “facility” who will be “philosophically committed to the objectives of the facility” and “based on the company goals, objectives and philosophy.” That company, GEO, “permitted armed men to forcibly remove the fathers [from their children] from their rooms at the Karnes Detention Center by using bulletproof vests, shields, knee pads, boots, helmets, tear gas equipment and guns” and told them “that they would never see their sons again.” That “general practitioner” can make $400,000 a year without board certification.

Francisco Erwin Galicia, the 18-year-old U.S.-born citizen captured in Texas 75 miles from the Mexican border, was imprisoned in a detention center for 23 days. He lost 26 pounds and considered self-deporting just to escape horrific conditions. Locked up with 60 other men in an area so crowded that some of them slept in the toilet area, he was given only a few “HandiWipes” for cleaning—no showers, no clean clothes, no other hygiene. He had his papers, but, according to their own documents, border agents lied about his telling them that he was a U.S. citizen. Galicia was denied a telephone call to his mother for help and released only after Dallas Morning News reporting.

Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley West School District in Pennsylvania sent 1,000 threatening letters to parents, telling them their children could go into foster care if the lunch debt of over $10 wasn’t paid. Rep. Omar Ilhan (D-MN) has co-introduced a bill to stop multiple incidences of lunch debt shaming. Oregon gives free lunches to students up to three times above the poverty level.

Carrizo Springs, the “model” detention center for unaccompanied migrant minors used to show how well migrant children are treated, is closing. Opened last month, the facility has a five-year, $8.8 million lease; BCFS Health and Human Services received a $308 million contract through January 2020 to house up to 1,344 children at a cost of $750 to $800 per child per day. Children will be sent from the non-profit facility to for-profit centers like the already-crowded one in Homestead (FL) where inmates have been abused. 

After McConnell was forced by public decency to allow a vote for the House bill passing by 402-2 that provides health care for 9/11 First Responders, it passed that chamber by 97-2. Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart was instrumental in the bill’s House passage and watched McConnell take the bill to the Senate floor. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the no votes, was furious because of no offset costs for the annual $1 billion expenditure. Paul supported the tax cuts for the wealthy and big business that cost taxpayers $1 trillion ever year.

Like deadbeat DDT, VP Mike Pence isn’t paying his bills, this one $24,000 for security at a fundraiser bringing him $700,000. The event was at the Caribou Club in Colorado owned by a gay couple.

The 40-percent tax cuts for big business failed; private-sector investments dropped for the first time in several years in opposition to GOP promises of increased business investment. Tax cuts aren’t paying for themselves, they aren’t boosting economic growth, and they don’t increase private-sector hiring. Businesses bought back their stocks and gave markets a false short term boost before they sheltered their benefits overseas.

The Equifax settlement promising $125 for each person whose personal data was stolen may be $.21 if all 147 million people apply, and the money won’t hide Social Security numbers. Yet people who do nothing automatically waive any right to take legal action against Equifax. People can check here to see if their data was stolen; the deadline is 1/22/2020. People who settle also waive any right to take legal action. Those who want to keep the option of taking legal action must mail a written “request for exclusion,” postmarked by Nov. 19, 2019, to the settlement administrator. Updates available here.

July 19, 2014

Death Penalty Needs to Be Abolished

The execution of John Middleton in Missouri early Thursday morning at 12:01 am was the sixth execution in that state this year—one every month since November except for May when the U.S. Supreme Court halted Russell Bucklew’s execution. He suffers from a rare congenital condition causing weakened and malformed blood vessels. A hearing before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Bucklew’s case on September 9.

A federal judge had granted Middleton a stay of execution on Tuesday, but a federal appeals court overturned it, and both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Missouri Supreme Court refused to halt the execution. Gov. Jay Nixon denied a request for clemency.

Middleton may have been innocent. When he was convicted of murdering three suspected police informants in 1995, the prosecutors used an insect larva from the body of one victim as a key piece of evidence. Later, it was discovered that the date for the larva was off by a day. On the actual day of the murder, according to this evidence, Middleton was in a Missouri jail on unrelated charges. The prosecution had only circumstantial evidence with no DNA or other physical links to the death. A witness submitted a new affidavit implicating two other drug dealers in all three killings.

Even getting a stay might not have saved Middleton’s life. Missouri tends to rush executing people. February’s executed prisoner was taken by prison guards while he was discussing his attorney’s appeal and injected with deadly drugs. The state pronounced him dead four minutes before the state Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for his execution.

That was the third straight execution in Missouri in which executed prisoners were injected with lethal drugs while their appeals were still pending. In January, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye declared that he was “alarmed” that Missouri proceeded with its execution “before this court had even finished voting on Nicklasson’s request for a stay. In my near fourteen years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”

In addition to ethical problems, executions now openly exhibit incompetence. Drugs are questionable because those used in the past for lethal injections are no longer readily available either in the U.S. or in Europe. States are now using sometimes unsuccessful drugs from non-regulated compounding companies. The people doing the injections, usually not doctors, are also incompetent. In 2009, Romell Broom was poked with needles for over two and a half hours while people searched for a suitable vein in order to insert the IV for the drug. Even the prison doctor failed. The Ohio governor finally stopped the execution after being alerted by the prisoner’s lawyer.

That situation presents the question of whether a state can legally execute a person after he survives an execution attempt. Almost 70 years ago, SCOTUS ruled in a 5-4 vote that a second execution was just fine after a drunk prison guard set up the electric chair incorrectly. The Supreme Court may have a second chance to make a decision.

Broom wasn’t the first problem. Three years earlier, Joseph Clark shouted during his 90-minute execution, “It don’t work! It don’t work.” A year later, Christopher Newton’s execution took so long that officials had to give him a bathroom break.

Because doctors are prevented from killing because of their Hippocratic oath, those who do are not top-notch. The dyslexic Dr. Alan Doerhoff performed 54 executions in Missouri about he had been sued for malpractice at least 20 times and was banned from two different hospitals.

Clearly aware of their failures, states with the death penalty are attempting to shroud executions in secrecy. The Guardian, the Associated Press and three Missouri newspapers now have a landmark lawsuit to remove that secrecy from death penalty protocols. The lawsuit argues that under the First Amendment of the US constitution the public has a right of access to know “the type, quality and source of drugs used by a state to execute an individual in the name of the people.”

Instead of stopping executions, one state legislator has an alternative. After states have used hangings, gas chambers, electric chairs, and lethal injections, Utah Republican state legislator Paul Ray wants the firing squad returned and plans to bring it up in legislature this coming January. Utah outlawed opting for death by bullet only a decade ago. One person used this method for his execution in 2010. Ray isn’t alone; Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin said earlier this year when he was proposing the method for his state. Meanwhile the shortage of drugs has driven Tennessee to legalize the electric chair.

Aside from the argument that executions cost more than life imprisonment, there are several reasons for stopping the death penalty as the United States did for several decades during the twentieth century:

  • Capital punishment doesn’t deter crime. In fact, states without the penalty have much lower murder rates. For example, the South has 80 percent of executions in the country while it holds the highest regional murder rate.
  • Innocent people are convicted and executed. In the last four decades since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty, 144 men and women have been released from Death Row, some of these only minutes before their scheduled executions. Four men may have recently been wrongfully executed for crimes they didn’t commit.
  • Race plays a role in who is executed. A 1990 report from the General Accounting Office concluded that the race of the victim influenced the likelihood of capital murder charges or the death penalty in 82 percent of studies that were reviewed. Those who murdered whites were far more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.
  • The death penalty is randomly applied. Politics, quality of legal counsel, and the location of the crime are more likely to be the determining facts for the death penalty than the facts surrounding the crime.
  • Bad legal counsel is a prime reason for executions. The vast majority of defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. Many of them are highly inexperienced while others sleep through the trial or come to court drunk.
  • Civilized nations don’t execute people. Throughout the world, 140 nations—including most of those in Western Europe, North America, and South America—do not have capital punishment. The U.S. sides with Iraq, Iran, and China in executing people.
  • Capital punishment violates religious beliefs.
  • The death penalty doesn’t heal the pain that victims’ loved ones suffer. Money used for executions could be used for counseling, restitution, crime victim hotlines, and other services for survivors of victims.

The sensible alternative to the death penalty is life without parole. In California alone 3,300 people received this alternate sentence, and only seven of them have been released since this option became available in the state in 1977. All seven proved their innocence.

In a 5-4 vote last May, the Supreme Court determined Florida’s rigid cutoff number for mental disability to be unconstitutional.  This cutoff “creates an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 ruling. “Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.” SCOTUS had prohibited states from executing the mentally impaired in Atkins v. Virginia (2002).

Justice Antonin Scalia was in the minority in both votes. He defends his pro-death penalty stance by claiming that the Bible forgives those who wrongly apply the death penalty to innocent persons on the grounds that the wrongly convicted will have an opportunity to set the record straight in the courthouse of the afterlife.

In a first, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled this week that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Carney said, that the “random few” who will be executed  “will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”  Carney said. His decision will most likely be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Following the uproar after Oklahoma badly botched an execution in May, causing the prisoner to die of a heart attack, the Department of Justice has initiated a national review of the death penalty. It has declared a moratorium for executions on a federal level pending an investigation. The agency will also “include a survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues,” according to DoJ spokesperson Ellen Canale.

Christopher Durocher, government affairs counsel for the Constitution Project, has submitted recommendations to the agency. The prominent think tank, whose members include former attorneys general, judges and prosecutors with differing views on the death penalty, proposes a DoJ office to review innocence claims of death row inmates, especially considering reports of racial disparity. The group also urges the development of “federal standards and procedures” for accrediting forensic laboratories after recent research has called into question the practices used in some of the 32 states that still use the death penalty. Durocher said that states not complying with benchmarks could be ineligible for some federal grants.

Although the approval rating of capital punishment is currently at 60 percent, that’s down from 80 percent 20 years ago when it peaked. We’re heading in the right direction.

February 29, 2012

DNA Testing Could Stop Executions

Human life is the focus of conservatives, if you listen to them describe a fertilized egg as a “person” and rail against birth control. But what about an adult’s life?

Last year Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, despite the total lack of evidence to show him guilty. Tyrone Noling is sitting on Death Row in Ohio, despite the possibility that a DNA test of a cigarette might exonerate him. One month from today, Thomas Arthur will be executed in Alabama for a 30-year-old murder, despite another person confessing under oath to the crime and shaky evidence.

Both Noling and Arthur have always maintained their innocence, and both cases have no physical evidence linking the men to the crimes. And both convictions could be overturned if state officials would permit DNA testing, in Arthur’s case a test so sophisticated that the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences cannot perform it. The state wouldn’t even be charged for this testing because Arthur’s attorneys are willing to do this. The testing could be accomplished by the execution date.

Prosecutors and judges prioritize “finality” in capital punishment cases at the expense of “accuracy” because they want no more delays.

Andrew Cohen, one of the nation’s leading legal analysts and commentators, wrote: “The case [Thomas Arthur] also raises questions about where we go from here on DNA testing. Should a state ever be able to block a new DNA test if it doesn’t have to pay for it? The questions from the past tell us how arbitrary and capricious capital cases can be. The questions about the future tell us how much of a fight is left ahead over capital punishment in America.”

I ask when conservatives will care about the lives of adults.


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