Nel's New Day

February 28, 2019

Good News across the U.S.

The week has been filled with testimony from Michael Cohen about the corruption of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and DDT’s failure—and its GOP spin—at the highly vaunted summit with North Korea. Across the United States, however, bits of good news gleam from time to time.

Thanks to Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the House Financial Services, Deutsche Bank is cooperating in an investigation into DDT’s finances.

The House has passed its second gun control bill within two days, this one closing the “Charleston loophole.” A white supremacist was able to kill nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because a background check couldn’t be finished within three days. Three Republicans joined Democrats in the vote of 228-198. Before yesterday, the last gun control bill to pass the house was the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act 25 years ago. In 2017, over 6,000 guns were sold to people with criminal histories or other factors prevent sales because of the three-day deadline, 50 percent up from 2016. Also in 2017, the three-day deadline kept the FBI from completing 310,232 gun background checks.

After almost 50 years, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell are finally legally married in the eyes of Social Security. They had successfully obtained a marriage license in Minnesota in 1971 because the clerk didn’t realize it was for two men, and the state didn’t request that the marriage be dissolved. Minnesota just pretended the marriage wasn’t valid. On September 18, 2018, a district court in Minnesota declared their marriage “in all respects valid.”

Overturning a State Department decision, a federal judge has ruled that Aiden and Ethan Dvash-Banks, twin boys born to a surrogate mother for a gay couple, have the same rights as U.S. citizens. One egg donor is a U.S. citizen, the other an Israeli, and they married in Canada in 2017. When one father applied for U.S. passports for both boys before moving to the U.S., immigration officials refused to recognize that the U.S. citizen was the legal father of both children and demanded a DNA test for the twins’ citizenship. The U.S. consulate in Toronto provided citizenship for only the one twin biologically related to the U.S. citizen and required him to sponsor the other twin as his “step-son” although he is listed on the birth certificate as the boy’s father. The two men sued for recognition of their marital status, and the judge ruled that federal law “does not require a person born during their parents’ marriage to demonstrate a biological relationship with both of their married parents.” The judge cited two court cases which clearly state the word “parents” is not limited to biological parents,” meaning that the twins will be allowed to stay together and with their married parents.

Another family is still fighting for their legal rights. U.S. citizen Allison Blixt married Italian citizen Stefania Zaccari in London because the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act had not yet been struck down. Blixt’s son was recognized as a U.S. citizen, but the State Department used a policy about unwed mothers to deny citizenship to Zaccari’s son. Both children were born after the two women were legally married, but Blixt was told that she had to register her son, born to Zaccari, as her “step-son.”

The State Department language on its website, that transferring a parent’s U.S. citizenship to a child born abroad requires “a biological relationship, or blood relationship,” violates the Immigration and Nationality Act that permits children to inherit married parents’ U.S. citizenship if the adult lived in the U.S. for at least five years and meets other requirements. The State Department appears to ignore the legal marriage of same-gender couples.

A federal judge ordered Texas to stop its purge of electoral rolls because evidence shows no widespread voter fraud in Texas. He described the planned purging “ham-handed” and “threatening.” Writing about the blatantly inaccurate numbers of non-citizens voted, the judge stated:

“It appears this is a solution looking for a problem…. [The policy] exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us.”

Two weeks ago, 80-year-old Goodloe Sutton, the editor and owner of the 140-year-old Democrat-Reporter in Linden (AL), population 2,123, wrote an editorial asking the Ku Klux Klan to “ride again” into communities of Democrats who consider raising taxes before he advocated lynching for his political opponents in an interview with the Montgomery Adviser. Both Alabama senators called for his resignation, the Alabama Press Association censured him, and the University of Southern Mississippi removed him from its Hall of Fame. Sutton, known for his racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic editorials, has now stepped down to be replaced by Elecia R. Dexter, a black woman, as the newspaper’s publisher and editor. In a recent interview, Sutton said the publicity was worth $10 million and that Democratic lawmakers are “terrible” while the KKK is “the nicest.” Dexter has no journalism background and started working at the newspaper two months ago as a clerk.

The New York legislature, now controlled by Democrats, may pass a law requiring DDT to release his state income tax returns. The NY TRUTH Act would require all statewide elected officials, including the president and vice president if they file taxes in the state, to publicly release their taxes each year.

With a pledge from new Dem Gov J.B. Pritzker to make Illinois the “most progressive state in the nation … for women’s reproductive rights,” state Democratic legislators introduced two measures to expand abortion access, repealing parental notification requirements for minors and restrictions for late pregnancies. The act would also require private insurance in the state to cover abortions like any other reproductive healthcare for women and allow advance-practice nurses to perform abortions. A 1975 law criminalizing doctors who perform abortions would be abolished. Former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner had signed legislation permitting Medicaid and state health insurance coverage to be used for abortions.

The Wisconsin National Guard is reviewing whether Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) violated the law when he criticized Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, in tweets and on Fox for withdrawing troops from the southern U.S. border. Hours before Evers issued an executive order for the troops, Zinzinger questioned in a tweet whether the governor’s decision was “based solely on politics.” Federal laws and Wisconsin laws call for “any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, the vice-president, members of Congress, the secretary of defense, the secretary of a military department, the secretary of homeland security, or the governor or legislature of the state of Wisconsin” to be punished. Kinzinger has the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Wisconsin Air National Guard; as governor, Evers is his commander-in-chief. A spokeswoman for Kinzinger says that he can say anything he wants when he’s “off-duty,” but a First Amendment law expert disagrees.

New Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, canceled the sale of a former state prison site to a for-profit private prison company that planned to detain hundreds of immigrants in the facility. The company would not guarantee that the prison “would not be used to detain adults who had been separated from their children or other family members.”

Thanks to grassroots activists and the state of Illinois, the cost of telephone calls for prisoners has gone from the most inflated in the U.S. to under a penny a minute, the lowest cost in the country, although some costly fees put a 30-minute call at $2. DDT had overturned FCC regulations for prisoners’ telephone prices.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the “liberals” to order a review of the death penalty for an inmate suffering from dementia so severe that he cannot understand why he is being punished. The decision requires a lower court to examine whether Vernon Madison’s strokes and vascular dementia leave him unable to remember his crime and the reason that the state wants to execute him. Earlier the court had ruled that people suffering from schizophrenic and psychotic delusions may not be put to death; in her opinion for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan stated that the same logic applies to dementia. He had been on death row for 33 years. Brett Kavanaugh did not vote because he was not confirmed when the case was argued.

May we have more good news.

February 17, 2019

A Wall to Protect People from Religion?

If we used the same standards for religious figures that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) tries to use for undocumented immigrants, the United States would build a wall between the country and all churches. Another former archbishop and cardinal has been defrocked for sexual abuse with no chance for appeal, Theodore McCarrick has been found guilty of “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power” and “solicitation” during confession. A study completed in 2002 found almost 11,000 cases of sexual abuse by almost 5,000 priests. Far more have emerged in the past 17 years, including the uncovering of over 300 priests in just one state who abused over 1,000 children.

Catholics aren’t alone in sexual abuse by their leaders: at least 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced charges of sexual misconduct against over 700 victims in the past 20 years—more in Texas than any other state. The church urged many of the victims to forgive the offenders and for becoming pregnant. Sometimes churches shunned the victims. Some sexual abusers returned to their churches to preach. Southern Baptist Convention officials shielded the predators and refused any reforms.

The above are just two examples of denominations in which people are sexual abused by their religious leaders. The stories go into the tens of millions, unlike DDT’s concerns about undocumented immigrants.

The Roman Catholic diocese has exonerated the male white students from Covington (KY) who appeared to invade the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. after they attended an anti-choice March for Life. The bishop claimed that their students were being threatened can called their behavior “laudatory.” The opinion was based on online video and interviews with 43 students and 13 adult chaperones. No one from the Indigenous Peoples group was interviewed. All of them are quite pleased with themselves.

Wyoming has failed to repeal the death penalty, and state Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) is grateful because Jesus also got the death penalty. Without his execution, he could not have absolved the sins of mankind. Therefore, retaining the death penalty is vital. I’m a bit confused about her logic. Does she compare all executed people to Jesus? Self-identified on her FB as “your only true Conservative, Christian, Pro-Life Candidate,” she also made this argument for her homophobia while speaking to students from Cheyenne Central High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance:

“If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”

Frustrated by two Muslim women in the newly-elected House, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) has accused her of being anti-Semitic because she pointed out that Israel gets its power with the U.S. government because of its donations to legislators. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is right in her claim, but she left out the money that anti-Semitic evangelicals donate to conservative legislators while lobbying them to support Israelis and destroy Palestinians. It all comes from the Christian belief that Christ must convert the Jews after he returns to Israel before the great millennium, the golden age, can begin. Thus their obsession with strengthening Israel for Jesus’s return. Eighty percent of evangelicals viewed Israel’s new state in 1948 as a vital piece of the Second Coming, and 52 percent say they support Israel because of its role in the End Times. VP Mike Pence is one of these people.

The Center for Religion and Civil Culture at the University of Southern California divides evangelical Christians into five different sects since DDT developed power:

Trump-vangelicals:  Primarily white with a few Latinx or black pastors; DDT’s base who want access to political power with the belief that God picked DDT to “make America great again.”

Neo-fundamentalists: DDT supporters who try to keep some Christian values and separate themselves from DDT’s “moral failings.”

iVangelicals: Conservative but pretend to be non-partisan; ministering in big churches to mostly white, financially well-off suburbanites.

Kingdom Christians: Separate from evangelicals but with similar beliefs; keep to smaller, urban churches, sometimes rented spaces.

Peace and justice evangelicals: The left-wing with origins in the 1973 “Chicago Declaration of Social Concern,” urging evangelicals away from prosperity gospel and toward the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia shows that religious fundamentalism comes from a functional impairment in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Damage results in diminished cognitive flexibility and openness—a loss of curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness. Religious beliefs, socially transmitted mental representations of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real, differ from empirical beliefs based on the appearance of the world and updated with new evidence and new theories. People with lesions in the prefrontal cortex rate radical political statements as more moderate than people without the damage possibly caused by brain trauma, psychological disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, or genetic profile. Although brain damage can lead to religious fundamentalism, the reverse can be true: extreme religious indoctrination can harm the development or functioning of the prefrontal brain areas.

Conservatism is connected with religious beliefs because they are not updated with new evidence or scientific explanations. Fixed, rigid beliefs promote predictability and rules of evidence in the person’s tribe. Religious fundamentalism discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues—anything that challenges their beliefs. People can become aggressive toward others who are perceived because they don’t share their anti-science and supernatural beliefs.

Although brain damage can lead to religious fundamentalism, the reverse can be true: extreme religious indoctrination can harm the development or functioning of the prefrontal brain areas. Dr. Marlene Winell, daughter of Pentecostal missionaries and a human development consultant, addresses the problem of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) in her counseling and in her book Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. She explains that emotional and mental treatment by authoritarian religious groups causes RTS from teachings such as eternal damnation, religious punishment and guilt, and neglect when people are denied information and opportunities. Indoctrination leads to fear and anxiety, and some people suffer from nightmares and panic attacks throughout their lives. The syndrome can also cause depression, cognitive problems, and difficulty in social functioning because the core message of fundamentalist Christianity is that people are wrong and deserve to die.

To control people, fundamentalists tell them that they are weak and dependent, keeping them from making decisions because they must follow the Christian leaders. Leaving can be almost impossible because of religious shunning if people don’t conform.  Departure from a church requires a complete change of one’s self of reality and belief systems. Traumas other than RTS are built into society because of an understanding about the horrors of domestic abuse and war-related PTSD. A person needed counseling because of issues related to RTS are sent back to religion.

One of the goals for fundamentalist Christians is to block marriage equality, and seven Kansas GOP legislators are using the concept of religion to accomplish their mission. Their proposed bill would eliminate all rights for sexual minorities because being LGBTQ is “a religion that does not fulfill any compelling state interest.” They maintain that secular humanism was recognized as a religion in the 1961 unanimous Supreme Court decision when the decision merely determined that the U.S. Constitution prohibits government prohibits a religious test for public office. The legislators’ proof is that the LGBTQ community is organized and has “a daily code by which members may guide their daily lives” along with its religious symbols, i.e., a rainbow-colored flag, and the creed of “love is love”—a shibboleth to oppress those outside their denomination.

Perhaps we need a wall to protect people.

August 5, 2018

Religion: Violence, Killing

Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church teaching to fully reject the death penalty, but Texas allows the bible to sentence someone to death. After a juror showed that his religious source recommends death for a person who kills someone with an instrument of iron, Khristian Oliver was sentenced to death and executed. Despite First Amendment separation of church and state, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Thirty-five other offenses qualify for the death penalty in the bible including these:

  • Cursing Parents
  • Striking Parents
  • Not Obeying Parents by Boys
  • Premarital Sex by Girls
  • Rebellion against Law
  • Worshipping Any God but Yahweh
  • Being a Witch
  • Loose Daughters of Clergy
  • Girls Raped within the City Limits
  • Blasphemers
  • Anyone Trying to Deconvert Yahweh Worshipers
  • Working on the Sabbath
  • Kidnapping
  • Men Lying with Men
  • Adulterers
  • Men Lying with Beasts and Beasts Lying with Men

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has surely committed at least five offenses that could lead to the biblical death penalty.

Former CIA intelligence official, Michael Scheuer, is best-selling author, historian, essayist, public speaker, TV commentator, Ron Paul’s adviser, secessionist advocate, Christian nationalist, Vladimir Putin apologist, and terrorism expert. He is also married to a senior intelligence official, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who was referenced as “Queen of Torture” in 2014, and frequently appears on a radio program with close ties to DDT, his family, and his administration, a show directing people to Scheuer’s blog that calls for “well-armed citizens who voted for Trump” to “kill those seeking to impose tyranny.” That classification includes journalists, activists, pundits, abortion providers, Republican and Democratic elected officials, federal judges, law professors, FBI agents, intelligence officials and Justice Department officials, and “all who support them.” Scheuer calls them all “expendables.” To “end the tyranny of their elected representatives,” people should “eliminate” them by stockpiling guns and ammunition.

Scheuer appears often on John Fredericks Radio as either commentator or host—more than 25 times in 18 months– spreading the ultra far-right messages of justifying Putin’s seizure of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, conspiracy theories about Robert Mueller’s investigation, the illegitimacy of the U.S. government, and NATO and Israel as “cancers.” John Fredericks, also CNN commentator and member of DDT’s 2020 presidential advisory board, has interviewed DDT eight times on his program, and many of DDT’s inner circle have done the same, one at least 23 times. DDT paid Fredericks’ company $34,000 for “placed media.”

From his home, Scheuer Skypes with the Russian state TV outlet RT and disparages the CIA as corrupt, incompetent and bloated with too many “immigrants, Hispanics, transgender people, and homosexuals.” In his view, too many members of the Jewish community support Israel. He shocked even Glenn Beck by calling for a “civil war” and the glorification of assassins, listing President Obama and then-British Prime Minister David Cameron as tyrants, ostensibly to be assassinated. Scheuer said, “At some point, when push comes to shove, you kill people and get them out of the way.” Georgetown University decided to not renew Scheuer’s two classes, despite his protests.

Designated for “elimination” on Scheuer’s list are TV journalists Shepard Smith, Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta, and Rachel Maddow and commentators Bill Kristol and Joe Scarborough. Other names are Attorneys General Jeff Sessions, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch; former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein; special counsel Robert Mueller and prosecutors on his team; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Former NSA Director Michael Hayden, current and former and current FBI directors James Comey and Christopher Wray; former CIA Director John Brennan; former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell; former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and other “work-a-day FBI agents,” as well as the staff of the U.S. Department of Justice. The list goes on with elected officials, former presidential aides, and various billionaires. It seems to be endless and he called on DDT to “slay the republic’s domestic enemies now.” Recently he wrote about the “sheer, nay, utter joy and satisfaction to be derived from beholding great piles of dead U.S.-citizen tyrants.”

Close associates of the U.S. president and senior members of his administration support and promote a man who call for mass murder by armed rebels. And white supremacists are planning a rally in Washington, D.C. on August 11-12 to celebrate the violence a year earlier at Charlottesville (VA).

Religious people like to claim that people require religion—preferably Christianity—to be moral. The world of DDT, however, is constantly proving this belief to be wrong. Fundamentalist Christians, dismayed by DDT’s immorality, say that they have to rationalize away some of his behavior and keep the parts that they want. The same is true with the contents of the bible.

Fundamentalists reject fantasy, calling it morally wrong. They often keeping their children from reading books about magic, but the bible is filled with magical occurrences. Most fundamentalists following the biblical interpretations of their clergy instead of reading the document themselves. Religious policies come from church leaders; i.e., not eating meat on Friday isn’t found in the bible. Instead it was developed as a political ploy by the church.

According to research, people have their personal moral compass and then find biblical passages that match their beliefs. If they change their mind about issues, they still claim that God agrees with them—like their acceptance of DDT’s adultery and sexual abuse. A study indicates that the part of a person’s brain activated by personal beliefs is the same as thinking about their perception of God’s beliefs. Thinking about other people’s beliefs activates another part of the brain.

The source of individual morals is complicated, probably a blend of genetics and acculturalization. Atheists get their morals from the same place as Christians—heredity and cultural influence. That’s why atheists don’t score differently than religious people in solving moral dilemmas. Religion is a system of faith and worship of a supernatural power, separate from the moral difference between right and wrong. Christians can easily murder, operate in a corrupt fashion, beat their wives, or commit other crimes. If they don’t break the law themselves, they justify others who do.

Professors Rodney Hessinger and Kristen Toby have an explanation of why fundamentalist Christians support DDT. The preservation of patriarchy that he exhibits has its background in biblical male dominance and superiority that was rooted in the South. Evangelicals have long overlooked the crossing of moral lines as women were forced to ignore their culture’s adultery and acceptance of slavery. Even now, fundamentalist women justify slavery by claiming that slaves were fed, housed, and given health care. With their persecution complex, fundamentalists identify with DDT because he is the “outcast,” the “outsider,” as they believe themselves to be. They believe that all criticisms of DDT are also criticisms of themselves. Fundamentalist religious leaders continually commit adultery, but followers accept this as part of their religion with many leaders keeping their positions.

Thus evangelicals will continue to follow DDT with their violence and patriarchy, believing in the cry to “Make America Great Again,” working for that mythical white nation of centuries ago when immigrants from Europe openly committed genocide.

October 10, 2015

World Day against the Death Penalty

Today, October 10, is World Day against the Death Penalty. This year’s focus is “The Death Penalty Does Not Stop Drug Crimes.” The top five killers of capital punishment, executing more people than the rest of the world combined, are the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and China. Almost two-thirds of countries worldwide, 140 in all, have abolished the death penalty, up from only 16 countries in 1977. Yet death sentences increased by over 500 last year from the year before: at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death in 2014. Actual executions dropped 22 percent to at least 607, not counting China which does not release its numbers of executions. Last year, 22 governments in 22 countries killed people, compared to 41 governments ten years ago.

Why the death penalty is wrong:

  • Innocent people are executed.
  • Capital punishment is extremely expensive.
  • The death penalty prolongs suffering for the victim’s family as offenders may spend 20 or 30 years on death row.
  • No proof exists that executions deter people from committing crimes.
  • Whether defendants receive the death penalty is largely dependent on the quality of legal representation with poor people receiving the worst legal support.
  • The race of both victims and defendants are primary factors in determining death sentences.
  • Politics and geographic location of crimes are also important factors in determining death sentences.
  • Death sentences deny the sanctity of life that religious groups support; capital punishment is immoral.

While the death penalty is decreasing worldwide, the number of executions for drug-related offenses increased in 2015. Of the 33 countries executing people for drug use or trafficking, 13 used this option in the past five years. For example, Indonesia used the firing squad to execute eight people for drug offenses in April 2015. There is no indication that the death penalty prevents drug consumption or drug trafficking.

Singapore had record numbers of drug seizures in 2012 despite the country being a leader in imposing the death penalty for this crime. Countries allowing the death penalty for drug-related offenses show evidence of coercion or torture to obtain confessions in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. Concerns for trial standards for drug-related crimes have been raised in Cuba, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria, amongst other countries.

In the U.S., the death penalty is legal in 31 states, and governors in four of these states, including Oregon, have imposed a moratorium. Only 20 states where approximately one-third of the people in the U.S. live had held an execution in the past eight years.

death penalty map

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the use of inappropriate injections violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual suffering. The conservative majority ruled in Glossip v.Gross that executions would necessarily have some pain and therefore upheld the use of the injections. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority that the there was no identification of a “known and available alternative method of execution” that would carry a lesser risk of pain.

The case led to a wider discussion about the death penalty itself. Two of the four dissenting justices, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote dissents asking the court to examine whether the death penalty is actually constitutional, stating that it likely “violates the Eighth Amendment.” All four of these justices summarized their views from the bench. Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected the court’s conclusion that prisoners must identify an “available alternative means by which the state may kill them.”

Another issue surrounding Glossip is that the convicted man might even be innocent. Richard Glossip’s life continues after three scheduled dates for execution because of a series of errors in Oklahoma. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of executing him, the date was set for September 16, 2015. Pleas from around the country because of new evidence regarding his conviction resulted in a last-minute reprieve for two weeks.

Another last-minute reprieve on September 30, 2015 came when Mary Fallin and state Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced that they had gotten the wrong drug—potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. Although a doctor and pharmacist claimed that the two drugs are interchangeable, the executed prisoner Charles Warner, who suffered great pain last January, received potassium acetate instead of the potassium chloride as the state originally claimed. Glossip’s new execution was set for November 6, 2015 but has been put off indefinitely until the completion of an investigation.

This year the Supreme Court has scheduled four capital punishment cases. On Tuesday, October 13, SCOTUS will hear arguments about the jury’s role in assigning capital punishment in  Florida, the last state that does not require jurors to be unanimous in both explaining why a person is eligible and then recommending that sentence. The other forty-nine states and the federal government consider a unanimous verdict as the norm,  A 2002 SCOTUS ruling in Ring v. Arizona attempted to move death sentencing from a judge to a jury, but Florida’s law gives juries only an advisory role in death penalty sentencing.

The current SCOTUS case, Hurst v. Florida, could reinterpret issues about not allowing judges to make the factual findings about “aggravating factors” and not requiring a unanimous jury vote for death sentences. In the case under consideration, Timothy Lee Hurst received a death sentence after the jury supported it in a vote of seven to five. Florida doesn’t even require a majority advisory vote for the death penalty if a majority of jurors agree that at least one aggravating factor exists. Florida judges are also not required to follow juries’ recommendations in death sentences.

Last week, the Supreme Court addressed two Kansas cases in which the state Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of three men because of confusing jury instructions. The sentence was set aside for another man because he was tried together with his brother instead of separately. A ruling could affect the future for six of the other nine prisoners on death row in Kansas because the same issue can be applied to their sentencing.

Another capital punishment case sent to the Supreme Court was declared “moot” last Friday because of “miscommunication.” Despite a filing to the Supreme Court before the execution, neither Virginia’s governor nor the attorney general notified the state Department of Corrections before Alfredo Prieto was declared dead after an injection of drugs purchased from Texas.

Before this year’s SCOTUS term began, Breyer discussed his views on the death penalty with MSNBC journalist Ari Melber, in an interview following the publication of Breyer’s ninth book, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities. Rachel Maddow’s discussion of the death penalty including parts of the interview is here, and the Breyer/Melber full interview is here.

death penalty

During the past two decades, the difference in opinion about the death penalty has shrunk in half. Those opposing the practice have increased from 16 percent to 33 percent while those in favor have dropped from 80 percent to 63 percent. Maybe some of these people read the statistics that murder rates in New York and New Jersey decreased after these states repealed capital punishment.

September 16, 2015

Condemned Man Granted Two-week Stay

Richard Glossip was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma at 3:00 pm (CT) this afternoon. Yesterday, I wrote a blog about why his execution should be stayed because new evidence might prove his innocence. Less than three hours before Glossip’s time of death, a two-week stay of his execution was announced. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals “reset” his execution to September 30 so that it could reconsider a last-minute petition filed by Glossip’s new attorney. On or before that time, the court can either grant or deny the additional requests with the possibility of further delaying Glossip’s execution.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who had refused to stay his execution, said that she will abide by the court’s decision.

As I wrote yesterday, Glossip was convicted of a murder with no forensic evidence and extremely poor defense at two different trials. The prosecution’s entire case relied on testimony from 19-year-old Justin Sneed, who was given a plea agreement if he implicated Glossip. After “persuasion” from law enforcement, Sneed admitted to beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat and taking about $4,000 out of his car but said that he did it because Glossip told him to do it.

More information about Glossip’s case came out last night when it was reported that prosecutors destroyed a box of evidence in 1999 before Glossip’s first appeal had been heard and his conviction overturned. The box reportedly held financial records that Glossip claimed would prove that he wasn’t embezzling money. The defense was not notified about the destruction of the evidence and may not have even known that the evidence existed—a serious violation of prosecutorial conduct. That doesn’t prove Glossip’s innocence, but the charge is to prove him guilty. The other question is whether the state will execute a person with this much uncertainty.

The testimony from “jailhouse snitch,” Justin Sneed, leaves many questions. In the first trial, he claimed that Glossip offered him $7,000 to kill Barry Van Treese; by the trial in 2004, Sneed said it was $10,000. At first, Sneed said that he had met Glossip only a few times, but by 2004, Sneed claimed that Glossip had told him to kill Van Treese “five or six times” by the time he actually did it. In a videotape, never presented in court, Sneed said he was coming off a meth binge when he killed Van Treese. It also shows interrogators telling Sneed that they had arrested Glossip although Sneed gave a different testimony in the 2004 trial.

Despite the emergence of new evidence, Fallin and the DA who convicted Glossip, Bob Macy, claimed that it was “nothing but a publicity campaign by death penalty—anti-death-penalty activists to try to bring down the death penalty in Oklahoma and in the United States.” There was no concern about whether they might be responsible for executing an innocent man.

Glossip has always maintained his innocence, even rejecting a plea deal to take him off death row.

September 15, 2015

Will Oklahoma Execute an Innocent Man?

Filed under: Capital punishment — trp2011 @ 8:03 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Imagine committing no crime but ending up on death row—for 18 years. That may be what happened after Richard Glossip, now 52 years old, was accused in 1997 of hiring Justin Sneed to kill Glossip’s employer, Barry Van Treese, after Glossip embezzled money from his boss. Physical evidence put only Sneed at the murder, according to Glossip’s original defense. Van Treese’s brother also testified that the shortages used to prove the embezzlement were insignificant. No DNA or fingerprints linking Glossip to the murder, and prosecutors admitted in Glossip’s 2004 retrial that “the physical evidence doesn’t directly implicate Mr Glossip.” All the evidence pointed only to Sneed. Yet Glossip was judged guilty in both the original 1997 trial and the retrial.

Glossip’s first trial was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in 2001 because of inadequate and since debarred counsel, Wayne Fournerat, and suffered from another inadequate public defender in the 2004 trial. Glossip’s attorneys never introduced the videotape of Sneed’s interrogation as leading questions cajole Sneed into blaming Glossip. At the trial, Sneed even added premeditation on the part of Glossip to his narrative. Even Sneed’s daughter, O’Ryan Justine Sneed, wrote that Glossip didn’t do what her father claimed and that he is still afraid of recanting his story because he might get the death penalty.

The actual murderer, 19-year-old Sneed, first said he didn’t know Van Treese, then he didn’t kill him, next he killed him accidentally during a robbery, and finally he admitted he killed him intentionally. Richard A Leo, a professor at the San Francisco University School of Law, said that the investigators’ behavior is “substantially likely to increase the risk of eliciting false statements, admissions, and confessions.”  Investigators who “presumed the guilt of Richard Glossip from almost the start and sought to pressure and persuade Justin Sneed to implicate Richard Glossip” initiated Glossip’s guilt, according to Leo.  Sneed testified against Glossip and saved himself from a death penalty in a plea deal.

Now a legal team is arguing that prosecution framed its case on the testimony of murderer Sneed, whose changing retelling was not adequately disputed in the trial. Attorney Donald Knight said that Glossip’s defense failed to prepare for trial; they didn’t even question key witnesses such as D-Anna Wood, Glossip’s girlfriend, who could have provided alibis for Glossip. Nor did the earlier defense lawyers challenge gruesome evidence about Van Treese taking eight hours to die when new evidence found that death came within 30 minutes. Jurors had considered the length of time as important in their decision.  Asking for 60 more days before execution to gather more evidence, Glossip’s new attorney, Donald Knight, said:

“Richard is sentenced to death because he’s poor. Not very many people can afford a death penalty defense. That should scare everyone.”

Other new evidence, according to Knight, is a witness report that Sneed was addicted to drugs and fed his habit by breaking into cars and hotel rooms. A man who served time with Sneed in prison also said that he overheard Sneed saying that he set up Glossip.

Glossip received a stay one day before his scheduled execution in January because his name was part of the Supreme Court appeal regarding the lethal injection drug midazolam that resulted in several botched executions. The high court ruled that the drug’s use was constitutional, and Glossip’s new execution day was scheduled in July for tomorrow, September 16, 2015, at 3:00 CT.

Even former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) signed a letter with high-profile legal experts urging a stay of execution. They wrote:

“Unless you act, the State of Oklahoma will put Mr. Glossip to death for the murder of Barry Van Treese. Justin Sneed–who, by his own admission, beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat–will not meet that fate.

“The writers of this letter have a wide range of professional backgrounds and political perspectives. But we share a deep concern about the integrity of the criminal justice system in Oklahoma and throughout the United States. We are particularly concerned about the danger of executing an innocent man.”

Oklahoma Gov. has thus far refused to stay Glossip’s execution despite the strong possibility that he is innocent. You can call her at (405)521-2342. Both options are #1. Of the 112 executions in Oklahoma since 1976 and 49 inmates currently on death row, the state has had 10 death row exonerations. That failure rate alone should give Richard Glossip another 60 days.

The National Registry of Exonerations lists 115 defendants sentenced to death but later exonerated and released after the discovery of new evidence of innocence was discovered. Of those 115 innocent inmates on death row, one-fourth of them, 29, were convicted after a suspect in the murder gave a confession that also implicated the innocent defendant. Last year a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are innocent. Most of them, like most of all defendants who are sentenced to death, have not been exonerated or executed. They remain in prison or have died of other causes.

Quality of representation may be the most important factor in the death penalty for a crime. Almost all defendants in capital cases need public defenders who are overworked, underpaid, and/or lack trial experience for these cases. Sometimes appointed attorneys drink alcohol before they come to court or fall asleep during the trial. In 2001, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said:

“People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty . . . I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial.”

Alabama has the highest per capita rate of executions in the United States; the state has no public defender system, and 95 percent of its death row occupants are indigent.

Texas has the largest total number of executions; almost one-fourth of the 461 condemned inmates were represented by court-appointed attorneys who have been disciplined for professional misconduct. According to an investigation, death row inmates today face a one-in-three chance of being executed without having the case properly investigated by a competent attorney and without having any claims of innocence or unfairness presented or heard.”

Washington state has 84 people who faced execution between 1980 and 2000; one-fifth of them were represented by lawyers who had been, or were later, disbarred, suspended or arrested. (The state’s disbarment rate for attorneys is less than 1%.)

These statistics are not unique across the nation.

Support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 30 years: 52 percent of people in the United States advocate life in prison instead of execution. The strongest support for killing inmates comes from evangelical white Protestants and Republicans as well as states that still have the death penalty. Recently, Nebraska joined Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey to repeal the death penalty since 2007.  The governors of Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have each indefinitely suspended future executions.

Death Penalty Map

The death penalty has become less common. Last year saw the lowest number of executions in 20 years, 35, and the fewest new death sentences in 40 years, 73. Just 62 counties of 3,000 nationwide are responsible for the majority of death sentences. Half of all new death sentences between 2004 and 2009 came from less than 1 percent of the country’s counties; all the new death sentences came from fewer than 2 percent of the counties.

executions by region

Proponents of the death penalty claim that its purpose is deterrence. There is no evidence supporting that premise, and the vast majority of top criminologists disagree with the theory. In addition, the death penalty costs state and local governments millions of dollars more than life in prison without parole.

Gov. Mary Fallin has no reason to let the state kill Richard Glossip.

June 30, 2015

Last Week at SCOTUS: More Forward Than Backward

Two landmark cases came down from the Supreme Court last week—keeping health care for low-income people and granting marriage equality. Other lesser noticed cases, however, have influences on people across the United States. In seven other decisions last week, SCOTUS took at least five steps forward with two steps back, a better result than most progressive people expect from the current court.

The two steps backward were pollution and the death penalty:

pollution from power plantsPower plants can continue releasing unlimited mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants, in a step toward invalidating the first U.S. regulations to limit toxic heavy metal pollution from coal and oil-fired plants. The 5-4 conservative ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, accused the EPA of not  considering costs to the power industry before creating its regulation. The EPA actually estimated costs, but Scalia didn’t believe the agency’s calculations. Fortunately, the case was remanded to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration. If the lower court eliminates the regulations, pro-coal states have no arguments against EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions, perhaps leaving the EPA free to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA estimated that the new regulations would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year as well as increasing the IQ for children who survived.

Executions are still permitted to use cruel and unusual punishment because the conservative court didn’t stop the use of a drug that fails to sufficiently sedate the subject. Glossip v. Gross goes farther, however, because it makes the death penalty impervious to many constitutional challenges. In oral arguments for the court, the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, sneered at death penalty opponents and accused the drug companies refusal to sell products to kill people, a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”

A key declaration in the opinion is that the United States is required to have methods to execute inmates despite the fact that there is “some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution.” Another part of the opinion is that lawyers must help decide the method of execution for their clients: a lawyer challenging one method of execution must name another, alternative method to be used instead.

Alito’s opinion brought fiery dissents, two of them read from the bench. Supported by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer protested the argument that the death penalty is constitution, writing, “I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” Scalia went back to the bench to call Breyer’s opinion “gobbledygook.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was far more scorching when she wrote:

“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated.”

By refusing to hear a case preventing mandatory documentation for citizenship in federal elections, the Supreme Court blocked this requirement. Kansas and Arizona wanted a change in registration requirements to include proof of citizenship for these elections, but the 10th Circuit Court ruled that states cannot require this documentation.

 

Another step forward came from the Supreme Court decision to leave women’s clinics in Texas open until the court has heard the appeal about the state law to prevent abortions outside hospitals and “mini-hospitals,” ambulatory surgical centers. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the progressive justices in the 5-4 vote. Texas restrictions had already closed about half the state’s 41 clinics within the past four years, and the newest law shut down all but nine, concentrated in four urban, higher-income areas of the state.

Progressive voters in Arizona may also be rejoicing after a 5-4 Supreme Court vote ruled that a voter-approved independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Complaints of legislative partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts led to the law that a legislative-chosen independent commission of two Republicans and two Democrats with a chair who is not a member of either party make this decision. Although the ballot measure for a constitutional amendment to approve the commission went into effect 15 years ago, Arizona Republicans had no problem with the redistricting process until Democrats started winning more seats in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution states that the “times, places, and manner” of federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The minority argued that a ballot measure is not part of “the legislature” because it is determined by the people of the state although the court had earlier decided that “legislature” can refer to the process exercised by people through direct democracy. The losing lawyer, Paul Clement, failed to persuade the majority with his argument that those election laws didn’t take power away from the legislature but the creation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission did.

In arguing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan asked if all the voter ID laws created by ballot measures would then also be unconstitutional. Kennedy argued that a constitutional amendment had given power to the people by allowing them to select U.S. senators.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “What chumps!” in reference to the Congressional members who passed the 17th Amendment in 2012 that was then ratified by 41 states. The ruling was only for Arizona, but it may have far-reaching effects outside that state. Twelve other states also have commissions to assist in the redistrict process. The ruling also empowers voters in other states to reduce partisan control of the U.S. House. Studies show nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions leads to “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” According to Ginsburg, 21 states have created initiative or direct lawmaking power, and 18 states can adopt amendments to the state constitution.

Arizona redistricting will return to the Supreme Court in the coming year when justices will hear another case accusing the independent commission of using race and partisanship for the congressional boundaries.

The Supreme Court struck a blow against the prison industrial complex in Johnson v. United States with the ruling that part of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutionally vague. Passed in 1984, the law requires judges to sentence people to 15 years life if they have three prior convictions for “serious drug offense” or “violent felonies.” The law, however, had no concrete definition for a “violent felony.” A clause in the ACCA sends felons to prison for any crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” It could be drunk driving, fleeing police, failing to report to a parole officer, or even attempted burglary. Johnson’s prison sentence was extended because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun. Writing the opinion for the 8-1 decision, Scalia wrote that the clause in the law lacking a definition violates due process. Alito likes the law, and the ACCA was very popular with lawmakers because many states are required to fill up beds in private prisons.

prisoners

This room in the California Institution for Men four years shows how overcrowded that prisons have become. Photo by Ann Johansson for The New York Times.

A huge victory for civil rights came from the 5-4 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities. Kennedy again joined the four progressive judges to rule that a lawsuit under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated—only that the policy had a disparate impact which can frequently be shown with statistics.

The case came from Texas’ distribution of tax credits for low-income housing almost exclusively in racially segregated low-income areas, denying minorities few opportunities to move to integrated or wealthier areas. The opinion in this case also requires that decision-makers consider race to comply with the Fair Housing Act and design remedial orders to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means.

The typical 5-4 vote had one almost-silent justice writing the dissent. Clarence Thomas used an unfortunate example for his belief that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.”

“Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities.… And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black.”

Taxpayer funds for religious schools may be on the docket next year after Colorado’s supreme court ruled that conservative families in affluent neighborhoods can not use public funds to send their children to religious charter schools.  A big player in this area is the Koch Brothers, whose Americans for Prosperity PAC works to expand voucher programs and buy school board elections throughout the country. In just one Colorado county, AFP spent $350,000 to dismantle teachers’ unions and public schools. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush is also a big player in the school privatization program. Conservatives desperately need students in private religious schools to indoctrinate them.

June 16, 2015

Jeb for President? Part II

king bushJeb Bush’s plan for the half of 2015: raise tens of millions of dollars, separate himself from his brother’s presidency, win conservatives, and become the Republican who will win the GOP nomination. Thus far, he’s raised the money. Asked about his brother, he waffles between supporting him and trying to find a way to please people who disagree with George W. Bush’s Iraq War. Conservatives still don’t like him, and he has appeared incompetent through answers to questions and consistent flip-flopping.

Last week he changed his campaign manager to the more negative and conservative Danny Diaz, meaning that Bush may have reconsidered whether he’ll still campaign “joyfully.” Diaz’s participation in Bush II’s campaign is another connection between Jeb and Dubya. One Bush ally said that Diaz will signal that “the culture of the Bush operation will now be a Pickett’s Charge engagement campaign with his main opponents.” Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg lost most of its soldiers and contributed to the loss of the Civil War for the South.

The Bush name lacks the gleam it once had. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush.” Sixteen years ago, Bush’s brother had over half the House GOP caucus—114 Republicans—on board with endorsements. The House has more GOP members in 2015, but Bush has only two dozen committed to him and no senators. Bush’s flip-flopping doesn’t seem to bother GOP congressional members, however, as much as his seemingly moderate views on immigration and education.

Bush may be sued for his fund-raising style.  He waited seven months after forming  a leadership political action committee in lieu of an “exploratory” committee to declare his candidacy while he’s acted like a presidential candidate. Without officially declaring as a candidate, he could send “anonymous donations” into his Super PACS, both named Right to Rise.

According to the New York Times, “federal law makes anyone who raises or spends $5,000 in an effort to become president a candidate and thus subject to the spending and disclosure restrictions.” Technically, Bush sidestepped that law, but unethical behavior has never bothered him. As Florida governor, he engineered a vast voter fraud and intimidation program to tip the scales in favor of his brother George W. Jeb, and Jeb is back gaming the system to make more money from corporate interests.

Jeb Bush has declared that brother, George W, is his senior advisor. That’s the Bush with a foundation accepting undisclosed donations from millionaires while he was president. One big donor, Dallas oilman and major SMU supporter Edwin L. Cox, had his son pardoned by former President George H.W. Bush. Other donations to the Bush Foundation come from foreign governments such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. With assets of $47 million and another $3 million a year from undisclosed donations, the George Bush Presidential Library can funnel campaign and influence money—even illegal donations from foreign governments—to Jeb Bush with no record or transparency.

Jeb’s past shows the same sort of dodgy dealings in politics:

1989: Bush successfully lobbied his father, then president, for the release of Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch, who allegedly orchestrated the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976 as well as other terrorist attacks. In a federal prison on an immigration violation and dubbed an “unrepentant terrorist” by then-Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Bosch was a cause célèbre for Miami’s influential Cuban population—a voting bloc that Jeb used to launch his political career.

1994: Despite Bush’s strident advocacy to keep people in a vegetative state alive and prevent abortion, his first campaign for Florida government promoted the acceleration of the death penalty enforcement in the state by limiting death row inmates to only one appeal.

1996: Bush pushed for charter schools in Florida. Providing money to religious schools was later ruled unconstitutional, but after he was elected governor, he made sure that public money went to developers to build schools, free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements, that drained money from public schools. Despite a law that charter schools had to be operated by non-profit groups, for-profit companies were managing three-quarters of the state’s newly approved charter schools by 2002. The next year he signed a bill that removed any cap on the number of charter schools. Although Bush claims to have no profit from these schools, his allies do. Bush sticks to Common Core because it makes money for his friends.

1999: In his first year as Florida governor, Bush signed an executive order to end affirmative action in education and business after calling these policies “stupid and destructive.” Since then, Black enrollment in universities has dropped by almost half in some of the schools while the Black population in the state remains stable at 20 percent.

1999: Bush signed a law making Florida the first state to fund anti-choice initiatives through the sale of “Choose Life” license plates. He also supported “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) that provide women with medically inaccurate information—for example, abortion makes people go insane—and fail to tell women about the full range of their reproductive health options.

2000: During the recount for the presidential election, Bush made 95 calls to the George W. Bush campaign while his secretary of state and George W.’s campaign co-chair, Katherine Harris, lost or spoiled ballots from hundreds of thousands of Black voters.

2001: Bush gave Bsafe Online, an American Family Association subsidiary, $600,000 of tax money to block Internet users from information about LGBT identities. Yet he invested $1.3 million in state pension fund money in Movie Gallery, a video rental company with a wide selection of pornographic films.

2003: Thirteen years and many court cases after Terri Schiavo went into a vegetative state, Bush was instrumental in passing “Terri’s Law,” demanding that her feeding tube be reinserted.  It was another two years before she was allowed to physically die.

2003: Bush initiated the dumping of tons of toxic waste by the Koch brothers company, Georgia-Pacific, into the Florida St. Johns River after he and his cabinet, over the objection of then Attorney General Charlie Crist, gave a preliminary approval to the GP pipeline from its Palatka paper mill to the river. Within the next two years, GP moved forward without a constitutionally-required notice and fair warning for a wetlands permit and an easement. Law required that the public Trustees carefully consider the costs and benefits and the money savings by GP from the river dumping, but it was never done. No compensation has been made for the areas covered with toxic waste and the diminished swimming and fishing use in the affected area. GP got its easement in 2009 with no notice to citizens and environmental groups. After citizens sued and a Bush-supported court rubber stamped Bush’s actions, the case went to the 1st District Court of Appeals.

2003: Bush asked a court to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled rape victim despite an earlier decision by the Florida Department of Children and Families to ask the court to appoint a guardian for the baby only after the woman gives birth.

2005: Bush is responsible for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law through his support of corporate-controlled ALEC. The media described it as a license to hunt and kill.

2006: Bush asked the Florida GOP legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot repealing a constitutional provision separating church and state. The legislature refused.

2009: Bush declared himself Hispanic on his 2009 voter registration. In 2012, Republicans accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of misrepresenting herself as Native American.

2010: Bush and his education reform organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, created a group of school superintendents and other high-ranking officials called “Chiefs for Change” to advance the Florida model of education, which emphasizes accountability and emphasized giving schools letter grades based on performance, especially standardized test scores. One of the original eight chiefs was accused of inflating the grade of a lackluster charter school funded by a Republican donor. The office of another was caught manipulating test score data.

In October, a New Mexico advocacy group filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education failed to disclose thousands of dollars it paid to bring public school superintendents, education officials, and lawmakers to the group’s events, where they had private “VIP” meetings with the foundation’s for-profit ed-tech company sponsors. The complaint alleges that Bush’s foundation disguised travel payments as “scholarships” to hide the fact that the nonprofit was facilitating lobbying between big corporations and public officials.

2015: Bush’s first fundraiser for his PAC was hosted by Charles Davis who held a top job at an insurance brokerage sued by the state of Florida for swindling clients while Bush was governor.

2015: One of Bush’s emails reveals that he closely coordinated with the Florida legislature to schedule Florida’s 2016 presidential primary in a way most favorable for himself.

2015: Bush’s hire for his PAC’s chief technology officer, Ethan Czahor, tweeted about women being “sluts” and joked about being ogled by gay men at the gym. Jeb solved the problem by having the tweets deleted.

Bush promises to deliver a four percent annual economic growth. He has no method; he said that 4 is “a nice round number.” He cited his record as governor—the one that ended just as the housing bubble popped and wiped out 900,000 of Jeb’s 1.3 million jobs created while he was in office. The bubble filled state coffers, Jeb took credit and left office before the disaster, and now the candidate wants to be viewed as an economic genius.

There’s much more here. The last part of the Jeb Bush iceberg tomorrow.

January 28, 2015

Fix the Supreme Court’s Constitution

Conservative justices serving on the Supreme Court try to make people believe that every ruling that they make follows the U.S. Constitution literally—just as fundamentalist Christian leaders swear that every word out of their mouths came from their bible. Both conservative elements are wrong, however, and retired Justice John Paul Stevens has written a book suggesting how the constitution can be brought back into its original text. Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution presents these recommendations with an explanation of the problem and the history to the issues.

Following is a summary of these amendments, thanks to a posting on Daily Kos.

The “Anti-Commandeering” Rule: A 1997 5-4 ruling bans Congress from ordering state officials to carry out federal duties because two county sheriffs didn’t want to carry out Brady Act-mandated background checks for firearm sales. Now people prone to violence, such as the Virginia Tech mass shooter in 2007, can easily get guns. The ruling also affects other federal laws such as emergency responses to national catastrophes and acts of terror.

Suggested amendment adding the four words in boldface to the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges and other public officials in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Political Gerrymandering: The practice of gerrymandering, loading districts with people registered in one political party, makes politicians more radical and elections less competitive, according to Stevens. A 1986 Supreme Court ruling eliminated most challenges to state legislatures controlling elections of U.S. House members: “[A] finding of unconstitutionality must [show] continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective denial to a minority of the voters of a fair chance to influence the political process.” Stevens believes that public power should not be allowed to enhance “the political strength of the majority party.”

Suggested amendment: “Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historic boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.”

Campaign Finance: Congress passed a law 108 years ago that banned all corporate contributions to political candidates; this federal law was followed by many states passing total bans of corporate activity to influence public policy. The laws were slowly reversed, culminating in the 2010 Supreme Court disaster that gave corporations the unlimited right to finance campaign speech. Feeling that they had not gone far enough, the same five justices struck down any limit on total donations a person could make to candidates four years later, giving rich persons the right to spend millions in a single election. Three “sulky Supremes”—Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas—annually boycott President Obama’s State of the Union speech because he disagrees with their ruling. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the two Koch brothers plan to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 election—more than the GOP—to control the results. Stevens purports that the problem can be solved by an amendment stating that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.

Suggested amendment: “Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.”

Sovereign Immunity: Citizens of one state are banned from suing another state in federal court, according to the 11th Amendment. This legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity” originated in 1400 when the king didn’t want to be sued without his consent. It shields the “sovereign,” any of the individual states, from court action by putting it above the law. Stevens disagrees and gives the argument against this amendment from Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was so laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist began a spate of rulings that extended sovereign immunity and weakened state compliance with national law. For example, Illinois avoided paying damages for non-compliance with a federal law for aiding aged, blind and disabled persons in 1974, and 15 years later the Rehnquist Court used this unwritten state sovereignty rule to keep Congress from authorizing the suing of a state of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. In this case, Maine successfully refused to pay probation workers overtime. According to Stevens, state-owned institutions such as hospitals or police forces should not have a defense to federal claims that private institutions lack.

Suggested amendment: “Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution.”

The Death Penalty: Arguments for the death penalty such as deterrence of crime are invalid, and DNA technology shows that many convicted murders, some already put to death, are innocent of the crime. Supreme Court rulings, including upholding a judge’s jury instruction to choose death when the evidence for and against it is balanced, made the death penalty more likely.

Suggested amendment adding the five words in boldface to the 8th Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.”

Gun Control: No amendment has been more debated in the past few years than the 2nd Amendment. For over two hundred years, federal judges ruled two limitations of this amendment: it applies only for military purposes; and while it limits the power of the federal government, it does not limit the power of state or local governments to regulate ownership or use of firearms. Twice, however, the Roberts Court ruled against governments trying to control gun violence. One was creating a new constitutional right for a resident in Washington, D.C. to keep a handgun in the home, and the other extended this newly-created constitutional right to states.

Suggested amendment returning the 2nd Amendment to its original meaning and the power of regulating firearms to state and local governments with the five words in boldface: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia, shall not be infringed.” 

In an interview with NPR, Stevens said:

“I think in time that what I have to say about each of these six issues will be accepted as being consistent with what the framers really intended in the first place. I think in time, reason will prevail.”

We can only hope. 

Referenced Supreme Court Cases:

  • Printz v. United States: 1997. 5-4 ruling. Bans Congress from ordering state officials to carry out federal duties. Holding: Scalia, Rehnquist, O’Connor, Kennedy, Thomas; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Bryer.
  • Davis v. Bandemer: 1986. 7-2 ruling. Adopts a lofty and cloudy standard for unconstitutional gerrymandering. Holding: White, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Burger, O’Connor, Rehnquist; Dissenting: Powell, Stevens.
  • Citizens United v. FEC: 2010. 5-4 ruling. Gives corporations the unlimited right to finance campaign speech. Holding: Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas; Dissenting: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.
  • McCutcheon v. FEC: 2014. 5-4 ruling. Gives individuals the right to spend millions in a single election. Holding: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas; Dissenting: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan.
  • Edelman v. Jordan: 1974. 5-4 ruling. Lets Illinois avoid paying damages for past non-compliance with a federal law for aiding aged, blind and disabled persons. Holding: Rehnquist, Burger, Stewart, White, Powell; Dissenting: Douglas, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun.
  • Alden v. Maine: 1999. 5-4 ruling. Cites an unwritten state sovereignty rule imagined to be in the “plan of the [Constitutional] Convention” and forbids Congress to authorize suing a state for violations of Fair Labor Standards Act. Holding: Kennedy, Rehnquist, O’Connor, Scalia, Thomas; Dissenting: Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • Baze v. Rees: 2008. 7-2 ruling. Holds that Kentucky’s three-drug death penalty system is not “cruel and unusual.” Holding: Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Breyer, Thomas, Scalia, Stevens; Dissenting: Ginsburg, Souter.
  • Kansas v. Marsh: 2006. 5-4 ruling. Allows a judge’s jury instruction to choose the death penalty when aggravating and mitigating evidence were equal in weight. Holding: Thomas, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • United States v. Miller: 1939. 8-0 ruling. Holds that Congress can ban possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon has no reasonable relation to “a well regulated Militia.” Holding: McReynolds wrote unanimous opinion; Not Involved: William O. Douglas.
  • District of Columbia v. Heller: 2008. 5-4 ruling. Overturns a Washington, D.C., law and creates a new Constitutional right for a civilian in D.C. to keep an enabled handgun at home for self-defense. Holding: Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • McDonald v. Chicago: 2010. 5-4 ruling. Overturns a Chicago handgun ban and extends the Court’s newly-created Constitutional right for a civilian to keep a handgun to the states. Holding: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas; Dissenting: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Stevens.

September 6, 2014

Good News for the Past Week

The Israelis didn’t kill any Palestinian children or other civilians last week, the U.S. Congress wasn’t in town to start World War III, and  the Department of Justice plans to investigate the police force at Fersugon (MO).  That’s a few of the good things that happened last week. Locally, the best news is that the conservative Freedom Partners (aka Koch brothers) pulled over $1 million of television ad buys in October for GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby. Ads starting last month continue through the end of this month, but a Rasmussen poll showing incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley ahead by 13 points may have discouraged more than the $1.6 million expenditure for Wehby.

On the national level, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit Halbig v. Burwell that would have taken insurance from almost 10 million people in the nation. The argument was whether some wording in the Affordable Care Act meant that only the 14 state-run exchanges could provide subsidies for low-income people seeking insurance. If the earlier decision had held, ACA might be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court because of differing circuit court rulings. The en banc (entire court) order vacates the earlier three-judge decision, infuriating conservatives because the court is “packed” with Democratic nominees. The “packed” conservative SCOTUS never seems to bother conservatives. Arguments are scheduled for December 17.

The ACA has gotten so popular that at least one Democrat, Arkansas’ Sen. Mark Pryor, is boasting about it in a tough re-election fight. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS weak response is that good benefits don’t matter if they’re part of “Obamacare.” Pryor’s opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, showed his desperation by accusing Pryor of voting for Medicare “cuts” through the ACA, a common conservative lie. As Pryor states in his TV ad: “My opponent knows I did not cut Medicare benefits. I cut waste and protected benefits.

At the same time, more GOP-run states are accepting federal Medicaid funding through ACA, bringing the total number of states to 27, ten of them with GOP governors.  Pennsylvania outright accepted the funding last week, Tennessee plans to do so, and other states—Indiana, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming—are considering the same step.

DB_medicaid_map_lg In another fit of desperation, a state representative from Utah, who is a doctor when not debating in legislature, has a unique argument against health care. “Sometimes access actually can mean harm,” said Utah Rep. Mike Kennedy. “I’ve heard from National Institutes of Health and otherwise that we’re killing up to a million, a million and a half people every year in our hospitals. And it’s access to hospitals that’s killing those people.”

Even more upsetting to conservatives, insurance costs are not rising as fast as in the past and in some places are actually going down. When Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield tried to raise premiums by 12.5 percent, the Connecticut insurance department made them lower the average premium to a 0.1 percent decrease. California, which has seen increases of up to 40 percent in the past, will have an average increase of 4.2 percent. Oregon saw a drop of 2.5 percent. If Halibig v. Burwell were allowed to stand, people using the federal exchange would have an increase of 322 percent (and that’s not a typo!).

A ruling from another circuit court, the 7th, brought marriage equality to Indiana and Wisconsin. That’s the third federal appeals court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. The 10th Circuit struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah, and the 4th Circuit ruled against bans in Virginia. The 6th Circuit, deciding on bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee heard arguments a month ago. In the 7th Circuit decision, Judge Richard A. Posner used a variety of sources, including 19th-century English political philosopher and social commentator John Stuart Mill, to respond to the states’ arguments that many people find same-sex relationships repulsive.  Posner wrote:

 “Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman, the 80-year-old Reagan appointee who’s been on the bench for over 30 years, might want to read Posner’s quote. In Louisiana, Feldman became the first in a string of over 20 federal judges to rule against equality on the basis that same-sex couples cannot procreate. One could ponder whether Louisiana has a law that fertility and desire to bear children are prerequisites to marriage. Feldman is one of those people who believe in human rights by popular vote.

In another decision in Louisiana, Federal Court judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP was “grossly negligent” leading up to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With proper care, the company and its subsidiaries could have prevented the explosion and oil spill that killed 11 and spilled 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf waters. BP is 67% negligent for the spill, and oil-service company Halliburton and rig owner Transocean are 30% negligent.

fire BP

According to the ruling, BP made decisions that were completely unsafe and “motivated by profit.” For example, BP drilled 100 feet deeper, just eleven days before the disaster, although the company’s geologists warned against it. The negative pressure reading on the morning of the explosion should have led to more safety tests. Instead, officials decided to continue working. The explosion occurred that evening.

Under the Clean Water Act, a corporation acting in a grossly negligent manner can be fined up to $4,300 per barrel spilled: the cost of the civil case could be as much as $18 billion. BP plans to appeal. Shares of BP in the United States dropped 5.9 percent at $44.89 and closed down almost 6 percent in London, the worst one-day slide in more than four years. BP has already agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and may face other bills from a Natural Resources Damage Assessment.

Louisiana’s five women’s clinics that perform abortions will stay open, thanks to a ruling from U.S. Federal Judge John deGravelles.  A new law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles was to go into effect last Monday, but the judge ruled that doctors can continue to perform legal abortions if they are seeking these privileges. The judge will hold a hearing within a month to make a more permanent ruling.

Judge Lee Yeakel helped Texas women by striking down the state’s “brutally effective system of abortion regulation.” The overturned law required all women’s clinics to be outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers, costing each one between $1 million and $1.5 million. Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee, tried to block the law mandating admitting privileges last fall but was overruled by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He did succeed in stopping the rule for admitting privileges in McAllen and El Paso.

Ohio’s cuts to early voting and the state’s elimination of same-day voter registration violate both the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting and the constitution’s Equal Protection clause, according to U.S. Federal Judge Peter Economus. An injunction barring the Ohio’s restrictions on voting go into effect before the November election, and the judge ordered the state’s Secretary of State Jon Husted to add a second Sunday of early voting.

not darren wilson This photo is NOT Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) a month ago, despite Chicago firefighter Kevin O’Grady’s claim. For the record, the photo, which went viral, is of motocross rider Jim McNeil who died in a 2011 crash. The photo was taken in 2006 after a motor accident at a friend’s house. There is no indication that Wilson suffered injuries. In another bogus photo posted by Kansas City Police Department Officer Marc Catron, an image of Michael Brown pointing a gun at the camera and biting down on a wad of cash is actually of Joda Cain, a Washington County (OR) murder suspect.

Police Chief Tom Jackson has also been found to lie about his reason for releasing a videotape of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store. Jackson had said that he did thie because of a Freedom of Information Act request. There were actually no requests, but requests have not led Jackson to release the incident report for Brown’s killing. There is also some evidence that the police omitted images of Brown paying for the cigars from the video.

The best news for Leon Brown and Henry McCollum is that DNA has exonerated them from charges for rape and murder. The two men, on North Carolina’s death row for over 30 years, have been released from prison. Ages 15 and 19 at the time of their arrest in 1983, the two mentally challenged men were told that they could go home if they confessed to the crimes. Now that they are 46 and 50, biological material collected at the crime scene has been connected to a known sex offender who lived just feet away from where the 11-year-old girl was found. Since their arrest, the police force has also hidden boxes of crucial evidence and not disclosed it to either the defense team or the prosecuting attorney.

Twenty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used the McCollum to justify the death penalty in an unrelated case. He said, “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with [rape and murder]!” Justice Harry Blackmun answered, “Buddy McCollum … has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old. He reads on a second grade level. This factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in his case is unconstitutional.” Now McCollum will not have to suffer the “quiet death by lethal injection.”

Voting, women’s rights, health care, death penalty, marriage equality, transparency–all these are beginning to succeed because of the judicial system. Now we’ll wait for the appeals.

Next Page »

Civil Rights Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

AGR Daily 60 Second News

Transformational News; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

GLBT News

Official news outlet for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of ALA

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: