Nel's New Day

March 27, 2018

Conservatism on Trial

Lawyers continue to earn salaries from the outrageous edicts of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and GOP laws. Some of the ones from just last week:

Decisions:

Women may legally bare their breasts in public, according to a federal ruling on a 2015 Fort Collins (CO) law preventing female bare breasts in public except for breastfeeding and girls under the age of ten. Fort Collins said that male and female breasts are different and the law is to prevent disrupting order. The group Free the Nipple won’t disband because Fort Collins isn’t giving up.

For the second time, the Supreme Court rejected a GOP request to stop a Pennsylvania court mandate for redrawing the state’s congressional map in a way that removes some of the massive GOP gerrymandered advantage. State legislators considered impeaching the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of redrawing the map, but the Chief Justice, a GOP appointee, may have embarrassed them out of the idea.

Two class-action lawsuits over contaminated water in Flint (MI) can go to trial, according to the Supreme Court. Federal Judge John C. O’Meara earlier ruled that the federal Safe Drinking Water keeps the cases out of his jurisdiction, but the 6th Circuit Court reversed O’Meara’s dismissal and allows plaintiffs to seek monetary damages.

A unanimous SCOTUS ruling sent a case back to the 5th Circuit Court after it ruled that indigent prisoners must expect success to get funding for investigating a case. SCOTUS disagreed. In Ayestas v. Davis, the petitioner, sentenced to death for his part in a 1995 murder during a robbery, claimed ineffective trial and post-conviction counsel.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a new law in Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the strictest limit in the nation that violates the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (R) refused to hold special elections for empty legislative seats in violation of state law after a Democrat upset in a January special election. A circuit court judge appointed by Walker told him that he will hold the elections. Walker had erroneously claimed that he didn’t need to hold elections because they didn’t occur in an election year. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald plans to get GOP legislators to overturn the judge’s ruling and called on the state Supreme Court to discipline the judge for “politicizing” her ruling.

A federal judge slapped down the Federal Election Commission (FEC)—again—for wrongly dismissing a 2012 complaint against the conservative American Action Network (AAN) that failed to register as a political committee and report the millions of dollars it spent for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2010 campaign.

New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter ruled that a sexual harassment defamation lawsuit against DDT by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos can proceed. Schecter used the court precedent in a lawsuit against Bill Clinton—that “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal courts for unofficial acts”—as the basis for her decision. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal also filed a lawsuit against owner of the National Enquirer, American Media, to be released from her contract to keep quiet about an affair with DDT.

The Supreme Court refused to roll back the ability of federal agencies to interpret their regulations. Under DDT, agencies are pushing abstinence-only regulations affecting women’s reproductive rights, net neutrality, and otherwise burdening people in the U.S. with religious and business-oriented advantages. Even so, ultra-conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch disagreed with the majority.

Ongoing trials:

The “anti-trust trial of the century” has started in the government’s fight against AT&T’s desired $85 billion merger with Time Warner. The merger’s lawyer claimed that they would never charge people more or block any content.

Filings:

Consumer groups are suing DDT for its elimination of standards for treatment of animals if the meat is designated “certified organic.” The Department of Agriculture claims that it lacks the authority and that the regulation would be costly despite the agency’s economic analysis of only minor costs.

Civil rights groups are suing DDT for document about the decision blocking a rule requiring companies with over 100 employees to track wages based on race and gender.

Environmentalist and animal welfare groups are suing DDT on his new stand allowing people to bring elephant trophies into the U.S. after he described big-game trophy hunting as a “horror show.” The new suit is an amendment to an ongoing case against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s lifting the ban last year on lion trophies from Zimbabwe. Zinke’s International Wildlife Conservation Council is composed of “celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers, and well-heeled trophy collectors,” according to AP. One board member, Peter Horn, co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with DDT’s big-game hunting sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

 

 

Pending:

The strangest case comes from a 1990s capital murder case involving two Native Americans that could restore tribal sovereignty to almost half of Oklahoma for the first time in a century. Patrick Murphy, death-row inmate and member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, claimed that the state cannot try him for the murder of another tribal member on land that was part of the Creek Nation’s reservation. In the late 19th century, Congress took courts, governments, and laws from the Creek Nation and forced them to change tribal lands into privately-owned allotments for the tribe’s members before selling surplus land to white settlers.

Last summer, however, a three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court ruled that Congress had never specifically abolished the Creek Nation’s reservation which left it intact. The panel ruled that Royal v. Murphy had to be tried in federal court like other major crimes between Native Americans. In effect, the ruling returned the territory to the tribe and opened the door to other Oklahoma tribes, including the other four of the Five Civilized Tribes. They were all moved from southeastern U.S. on the Trail of Tears that killed over 4,000 people and promised the Oklahoma land in perpetuity. The land for just the Creek Nation comprises 4,600 square miles with 750,000 inhabitants including most of Tulsa. The five tribes together would take over 40 percent of Oklahoma.

Changing the land to reservation would restrict state criminal jurisdiction to minor offenses such as traffic violations. Federal and tribal courts would be in control of all other crimes. State taxation would also be impacted, and oil companies are concerned. Murphy has a lot at stake in this case: federal government bans the death penalty for crimes on tribal land.

In Solem v. Bartlett (1984), the Supreme Court ruled that each reservations keeps its original boundaries unless Congress specifically changes the borders or completely abolishes the reservation. The 10th Circuit ruled that this had not happened “and if it never did, that post–Civil War reservation is still intact.” [Above map showing 1866 boundaries of the Creek Nation.] That ruling stays unless the Supreme Court decides to take the case.

During March, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the man determined to disenfranchise every Democratic voter, took up eight days in court to defend his state law that requires prospective voters to prove their citizenship before they can register. He tried to present new information after the deadline, tried to testify to a document that he couldn’t find, and couldn’t phrase questions for cross examination or impeach a witness. Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in “gamesmanship” and skirting her orders. Calling the 11 illegal voters of 1.8 million on the voter rolls the “tip of the iceberg,” Kobach kept 35,000 people from voting. Kobach stands accused of violating federal law by refusing to register these legitimate voters who signed up to vote through driver’s license offices.

The question of the trial is whether widespread voter fraud is credible, and Kobach had to admit it isn’t. On the first day of his trial, he said that federal databases cannot identify noncitizens—although that was the mission of DDT’s now-disbanded federal commission he headed up to find illegal voters. His witnesses confessed that their research is unreliable because it isn’t subject to peer review and suffers from flawed methodology. The “expert” who testified that noncitizen voting didn’t change the outcome of the popular vote, in opposition to Kobach’s claim about three million noncitizens voting in 2016, and testified that he identified potential noncitizens in Kansas by how “foreign-sounding” a name was. Another “expert” disclosed that his belief in Kansas voter fraud was entirely based on a list of about 30 voters that Kobach’s office gave him and he used incomplete information which could make it appear that more noncitizens tried to vote than those who existed. He, too, could not name any election swayed by noncitizens. Kobach’s legal opponent, Dale Ho (also a “foreign-sounding” name, concluded, “The iceberg, on close inspection your honor, is more of an ice cube.”

Koback’s latest attempt to remove Democratic voters was to tell DDT that the census should ask about everyone’s immigration status. May Kobach be brought down by creatures that he considered much smaller than himself. May he become afraid.

 

October 11, 2015

State May Be Separating from Church

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 30, 2015 file photo, the Ten Commandments Monument is pictured at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s June 30 decision to order the monument removed from the state Capitol grounds has so angered conservatives in the Legislature that some Republicans are calling for justices to be impeached. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

In another failure for Oklahoma conservatives, after they didn’t execute Richard Glossip at the end of September, is the removal of a one-ton granite monument with the text of the bible’s Ten Commandments. Afraid that protesters would obstruct their actions, a “large Oklahoma Highway Patrol presence” guarded the workers late at night. The behemoth isn’t gone; it’s just moved a few blocks away where it doesn’t violate Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution mandating that public property can’t be used to benefit or support any “sect, church, denomination, or system of religion,” either directly or indirectly. Gov. Mary Fallin has asked voters to amend the state constitution so that the monument can return to the capitol grounds. Oklahomans might want to note the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” when considering future state executions.

 

Teaching evolution in public schools does not violate the First Amendment, a federal district court has reaffirmed. Kenneth Smith of Harpers Ferry (WV) had filed suit, stating that his religious freedom rights were violated because his daughter learns about evolution in public school. She plans to be a veterinarian, and her father claims that evolution is teaching her “a faith base (evolutionary ideology) that just doesn’t exist.” Judge Gina M.Groh ruled that he couldn’t prove that state agencies had committed any wrongdoing. Last year, the creationist group Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) sued to stop the state of Kansas from implementing new science education standards that included the teaching of evolution. COPE argued that by teaching evolution, public schools had effectively endorsed atheism as a religious viewpoint. They lost too.

Forced to find money elsewhere after her older brother’s sexual crimes, Jill (Duggar) Dillard, of 19 Kids and Counting, decided to collect money with her husband,Derick Dillard, for a mission to El Salvador. Disillusioned fans after the experience seemed to be more a vacation than actual work were  right: the Dillards had applied for missionary status to the Southern Baptist Convention that decided the couple lacked enough education. Fortunately for them, they still have the money from the “Dillard Family Ministries,” a tax-exempt religious organization that keeps them from having to declare how much money they have or where it is.

This tax-exempt status of religious groups may someday run into legal trouble. Pope Francis has already taken potshots at churches that “worship the God of money” instead of helping the sick and the poor as Jesus commands. Televangelists and preachers who run their “churches” like businesses or political organizations may want to take notice. As in the U.S., Italian churches act as umbrellas for its property and businesses to avoid taxation. Religious groups operate churches as hotels and still don’t pay taxes. One famous example of tax dodging in the U.S. is John Hagee, who reorganized his TV station in 2001 as a church to shelter tax records for his income of over $1 million. Hagee’s personally-owned 8,000 acre ranch is covered through the Cornerstone Church.

In one segment on his HBO show, John Oliver satirized U.S. churches and preachers such as Pat Robertson who run ponzi-like schemes in begging money in return for God’s favor. After the first episode of “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption,” the IRS was skewered for conducting only three audits of churches in 2013-14 and non for the four years before that. Any designated “church,” including the Church of Scientology, is tax exempt. Oliver didn’t reveal how much money he received, but the thousands of responses indicated quite of bit of loot. (Oliver gave all the donations to Doctors without Borders.)

john oliver

Luckily for the Duggar family, they are getting financial assistance from GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee through partnership in the sales of a political DVD series. The company markets the series with an initial “free” item, available for only shipping and processing. Ordering it automatically enrolls the “purchaser” into future sales. The “Learn Our History” series supposedly teaches “historical facts without bias” and American pride as the videos  “…recognize and celebrate faith, religion and the role of God in America’s founding…,” and “…correct the ‘blame America first’ attitude prevalent in today’s teaching.” We can assume that many tax-funded charter schools will be showing the videos.

Pope Francis seems to suffer from ambivalence when regarding LGBT people. Progressives praised him when he seemed to support LGBT families before they were disturbed with a supposed meeting with Rowan County (KY) clerk, Kim Davis, who had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. The Vatican explained that she was just part of a crowd, and the pope met for 20 minutes with a former student and his male partner while in the United States. Now The Vatican has fired Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa after he said he was proud to be a gay priest and in love with his boyfriend. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombard, said that Charamsa could remain a priest but could not work at the Vatican.

Charamsa made his announcement just before the Vatican hosted bishops from around the world in a synod discussing families. The reports issued indicate confusion. One of the four groups spoke of a need to reach out to families while another claimed there is a need to point out the sins of current attitudes. Another question is whether the documents are to be distributed publicly or given to the pope as advice.

GOP presidential candidates take great pride in claiming their religious beliefs, but their anti-Christian positions may cause difficulties for them. In a townhall meeting, New Jersey Chris Christie was heard to provide too much information about his use of contraception with his wife. Concentrating on Christie’s sex life, the media failed to publicize the question that led to Christie’s humor. In his audience, a man had cited three biblical verses to argue that Christians should oppose foreign wars and support environmental conservation. Basically, the man was echoing the position of Pope Francis, who the GOP also opposes.

Purporting to be Christians, the GOP candidates oppose curbing global warming, raising the minimum wage, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. Jeb Bush said, “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” and Rick Santorum accused the pope of not being a scientist although pontiff has a degree in chemistry. Marco Rubio said that protecting the economy might be more important than protecting the planet.

Both anti-marriage equality GOP candidates Rand Paul and Donald Trump are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, which supports same-gender marriage, and Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz use Christianity to oppose marriage equality and help for undocumented immigrants, a pathway that conservative Christian groups endorsed in 2013. Huckabee tried to work his way out of trouble at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) in April by emphasizing the need for border security. That was the day after the head of the NHCLC had said that “Republicans must cross the Jordan of immigration reform to step into the promised land of the Hispanic faith electorate.”

It’s a difficult time for conservatives in a changing landscape.

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.

April 30, 2014

Death Penalty Kills Innocent, ”Cruel & Unusual’

Law in the United States is controlled by nine people, six men and three women. It is the final recourse for injustices, and its decision determines legal edicts. That group of people is called the U.S. Supreme Court. They are not bound by any Code of Conduct or other rules.

The last court of appeals for innocent people in prison—even on death row—is the Supreme Court, now ruled by highly conservative justices. Last year, they heard a case about the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) that prevented prisoners from filing more than one “habeas corpus petition,” that sues the warden for release. After one year following the one direct appeal was lost, prisoners couldn’t even file this petition. The ruling in McQuiggin v. Perkins, however, allowed the petition at any time if new evidence could show innocence. The bar in filing the petition is high: the petitioner must show that “it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence.”

The good news is that a prisoner can appeal conviction based on new, solid evidence. The bad news is that four of the justices disagreed. Justice Antonin Scalia thinks that a man locked up for a murder that he did not commit should not be able to challenge his conviction. Three other justices think that most people in prison after unconstitutional convictions should have no recourse to federal courts. Scalia’s position is that federal courts should not overturn state convictions as long as there were minimal safeguards such as counsel and access to state appellate courts.

In 2009, Scalia wrote, “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” Troy Davis was executed two years after Scalia’s statement although seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him at trial had recanted.

Michelle Byrom, who was on Mississippi’s death row for killing her husband, gained a new trial in April after a ruling by the state’s supreme court. Her son had admitted to killing in Byrom’s husband in several documents, including jailhouse letters and an interview with a psychologist, but then recanted on the stand. She was in the hospital with double pneumonia when her husband was killed. The court also required a different judge for the woman’s new trial. Her case, however, is highly unusual.

A study released this week shows that at least 4.1 percent of all 8,000+ defendants sentenced to death in the U.S. during the past four decades are innocent. According to lead author Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan law school, this is a conservative estimate. Scalia misrepresented the percentage at .027 percent in 2007 when he was trying to justify killing people. Between 1973 and 2004, 7,482 people received death sentences; 1,320 were executed, and 117 were exonerated. About 2,675 people were taken off death row, but most of them were sentenced to life without parole.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia voided 40 death penalty statutes and suspended the death penalty. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, eight states joined the ten states that had already eliminated the death penalty, six of them in the past six years. Connecticut and Maryland stopped executing people since the map below was published. Click here to see the number of executions since 1976.

death penalty in america

In 35 states, approximately 3,095 inmates are waiting to be executed. Although Connecticut, Maryland, and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty, the law is not retroactive. Prisoners on death row in those states will still be executed. Since 1976, 1,374 have been executed—if you count the botched killing in Oklahoma last night.

Because execution drugs are so hard to obtain, some states are increasingly reluctant to divulge the sources. After the U.S. confiscated the drug sodium thiopental because of questions about where it was obtained, Tennessee hides any information about execution drugs. Only six executions were carried out in Tennessee in over one-half century, but the state has now scheduled 11 of them. The last person executed in the state, Steve Henley, died in 2009 saying that he was innocent.

Oklahoma is now center stage in the death penalty business. Last night, Clayton Lockett struggled violently on the gurney for 13 minutes after the execution began. Doctors stopped the drug injection and tried to resuscitate him, only to have Lockett die of a massive coronary 30 minutes later. An execution scheduled two hours after that of Lockett’s was postponed for two weeks. That’s not the entire story, however.

The state’s supreme court had ordered a stay of execution because the composition and source of the execution drugs were kept secret. Despite this decision, Gov. Mary Fallin said that she would continue with the execution, and the supreme court backed off. The lethal drugs were untested; the United States has been unable to purchase execution drugs from its past source, Europe, for several years.

Oklahoma should have learned its lesson last January when Michael Wilson complained “I feel my whole body burning” as he was being executed in that state. The same month, Dennis McGuire made snorting and gasping sounds for ten minutes and then lived for another 14 minutes before he died in Ohio from an untested two-drug method, resulting in a delay of the next execution until November and a plan to use more drugs.

This failure to execute people without “cruel and unusual punishment” is more common that many people realize. Between 1890 and 2010, three percent of all executions were botched, and lethal injections had the highest error rate—about seven percent. In addition, electric chairs have caught on fire, and hangings have led to decapitations. Gov. Jeb Bush suspended the death penalty in Florida after Angel Diaz had to be given two injections and the killing took more than 30 minutes. The suspension was lifted 18 months later under a new governor.

According to Jimmy Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, “the United States is the only country in NATO or North America that still executes its citizens, and Belarus and Suriname are the only exceptions in the Europe and South America…. One hundred forty-three countries have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice…; 90 percent of all executions are carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.”

Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and other violent crimes because of the prevalence of these in the United States. The homicide rate in this country is almost three times greater than in Canada or any Western European country. In the U.S., Southern states have the highest murder rate while they perform over 80 percent of the executions, 35 percent of them in just Texas.

Executions increase homicide rates before, during, and immediately following these tragedies as people become desensitized to killing. The line of thinking is that if the government can kill enemies for vengeance, so should everyone else. Many law enforcement officials have also become desensitized. Susan Green, editor of The Colorado Independent, said the shortage of drugs for execution in Texas led the assistant Oklahoma attorney general to joke with a Texas colleague that he might be able to help Texas get the drugs in exchange for 50-yard-line tickets for a top college football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. Emails revealed not only this exchange but also the fact that leftover lethal drugs were injected into the bodies of dead prisoners in what officials called “disposal purposes.”

Both prisoners to be executed last night are black, an example of the extreme bias against minorities, the poor, and those with diminished mental capacity. Scalia has said that it’s okay to execute mentally disabled people because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t rule against executing people with mental illness and diminishment except in severe cases. Homicide victims are six times more likely to be black than white, but 77 percent of death penalty cases involve white victims. Of death row inmates, 56 percent are black or Hispanic; 20 percent of the blacks were convicted by all-white juries.

The percentage of people in the United States who support the death penalty has gone from 80 percent in 1994 to 60 percent in 2013. Most older and white people support it, while young people are less enthusiastic, and ethnic minorities are solidly opposed. These are the people who hold the future in their voting records. The death of Clayton Lockett may also make a difference.

January 15, 2014

Utah, Oklahoma Overturn Marriage Equality Bans

Less than a month after U.S. District Robert Shelby decreed that banning same-sex marriage in the highly conservative state of Utah is unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern did the same thing yesterday in Oklahoma. U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruling Both of them set up rationales that could be used in the remaining 31 states.

In Utah, Shelby referred back to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning that “the Court’s reasoning logically extends to protect an individual’s right to marry a person of the same sex.” Kern, however, uses a simple “rational basis” protection, far lower than the required higher level of scrutiny that other courts have used. He concluded that the two lesbian couples bringing suit had suffered no stigma because they could not marry. Instead he wrote:

“Supreme Court law now prohibits states from passing laws that are born of animosity against homosexuals, extends constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals, and prohibits the federal government from treating opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently. There is no precise legal label for what has occurred in Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Romer in 1996 and culminating in Windsor in 2013, but this Court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.”

In Romer v. Evans (1996) the Colorado Supreme Court struck down Amendment 2 of the state constitution that forbid protecting “those who suffer discrimination due to their sexual orientation” because the amendment violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. That case did not move up to SCOTUS. In Windsor v. United States, (2013) the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of DOMA, allowing the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to be also used by same-sex couples under the due process clause of the constitution’s Fifth Amendment. SCOTUS used the same clause ten years earlier when it decriminalized sex between same-sex couples in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

The Supreme Court’s ruling less than seven months ago that created the impetus for court rulings regarding marriage equality was ambiguous: their decision failed to explain what protections that LGBT people should have. Thus Kern used Justice Anthony Kennedy’s language and tone.

The Windsor decision, the judge said, supports a plea for marriage equality because much of the reasoning of the Court majority about the purpose behind DOMA could also be applied to state bans on same-sex marriage. It supports marriage equality in the state, the judge added, because of the lengthy commentary in the opinion about states’ primary power to define marriage.

Shelby used dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia’s words when he struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage. Scalia predicted that the two successful rulings for marriage equality last summer, including Windsor, would end up legalizing nation-wide same-sex marriage. In his opinion, Shelby wrote, “In his dissenting opinion, the Honorable Antonin Scalia recognized that [legalized gay marriage] was the logical outcome of the court’s ruling in Windsor.” He then quotes from Scalia:

“In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion. As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion … is that DOMA is motivated by ‘bare … desire’ to harm couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”

Shelby continued:

“The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor. … And Justice Scalia even recommended how this court should interpret the Windsor decision when presented with the question that is now before it. The court therefore agrees with the portion of Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Lawrence in which Justice Scalia stated that the Court’s reasoning logically extends to protect an individual’s right to marry a person of the same sex.”

As Shelby did in Utah, Kern granted a stay of same-sex weddings in Oklahoma until an appeal is adjudicated. Yet 17 of the 50 states presently allow LGBT marriage, and Ohio recognizes same-sex marriages if one of the couple is dead. Litigants in over three dozen cases are challenging marriage equality bans in 20 different states. Only one-third of people in the country oppose marriage equality, down 12 percent from the 45 percent in opposition just two years ago.

Who are the judges who made these rulings? Judge Terence Kern, nominated by President Clinton, is a native of Oklahoma and a former Army reservist who easily won Senate approval. Robert Shelby is a registered Republican and former Persian Gulf War engineer. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called him a “lawyer with an unwavering commitment to the law.” Tea Party member Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called President Obama’s nominee a “pre-eminently qualified” nominee who would be an “outstanding judge.” So much for the conservatives’ accusation of “judicial activism.”

Appeals from both Utah and Oklahoma will be heard by the ideologically split 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Half of the ten judges were appointed by presidents of each party. One of President Obama’s appointees is Judge Scott Matheson Jr., a former federal prosecutor and the Mormon son of a former Utah governor.  

Supreme Court

The next few months will show whether more states will be required to recognize same-sex marriages or the U.S. Supreme Court—albeit reluctantly—dives into the fray once again.

Kern wrote, “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed.  It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions.” Hopefully this argument can be used in the struggle to protect LGBT people from discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, and the rest of our lives.

December 15, 2013

Fundamentalist Christians Go Too Far

Fundamentalist Christians have taken great umbrage regarding the proposed memorial that the Satanic Temple plans to put on the grounds of the Oklahoma statehouse (last Sunday’s blog). Not a great surprise! Bryan Fischer has used at least two segments on his radio show to explain that freedom of religion in the U.S. Constitution means only freedom of Christianity. No other religion need apply. Therefore Oklahoma can legally reject any non-Christian memorial:

“Our Constitution protects the free exercise of the Christian religion; yours is not a Christian expression, we’re not going to have that monument. If we don’t understand the word ‘religion’ to mean Christianity as the founders intended it, then we have no way to stop Islam, we have no way to stop Satanism, we have no way to stop any other sort of sinister religion practice that might creep onto the fruited plains.”

Fischer joins the religious lawmakers in Oklahoma who claim that they can reject the Satanic memorial because they live in a faith-based state. Again, their faith is almost certainly Christian.

Another religious memorial may be removed from federal land after a 24-year-old case. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered that a 43-foot cross on Mount Soledad in San Diego be taken down within 90 days. The ruling, however, would be put on hold if it is appealed. Two years ago the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The Supreme Court declined review, and the case went back to Burns to consider possible alternatives.

Charles LiMandri, an attorney for the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, said Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has signaled that the group backing the cross could return directly to the nation’s high court if it disapproved of Burns’ ruling. “Unless the U.S. Supreme Court denies review or takes it and finds it unconstitutional, that cross isn’t going anywhere,” LiMandri said. “At that point, we’ll go to Congress. We’re not giving up.”

ACLU represented the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and several local residents to challenge display of the cross. Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said, “We should honor all of our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol.”

Ohio wants to put pictures of Jesus back into public schools with its proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Rep. Tim Derickson says he plans to block further encroachment on expression of religious freedom such as prohibition of prayer in schools and public places, zoning issues for churches, and public expression of religious faith, such as wearing crosses and displaying Nativity scenes.

Patrick Elliott of Freedom from Religion explained, “The proposal creates special exemptions from state laws for those who claim any religious burden.” Anyone could complain about a mythical burden.

Seventeen other states already have such a law on their books. In DC, firefighters claimed they wore beards for religious expression, and two Chicago churches used the law to oppose land acquisition for an airport runway expansion. Ohio’s proposed law is similar to a 1993 federal religious freedom act that restored a “strict scrutiny” standard in religious freedom cases after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the scrutiny standard in a 1990 ruling.

religious cohabitation

Meri Brown, Christine Brown, Janelle Brown, Kody Brown and Robyn Sullivan of TLC’s The Sister Wives may now legally live together in Utah thanks to a court ruling. U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups struck down the state law preventing cohabitation between a married person and another person not his or her spouse. Although Clark didn’t use the word “polygamy,” he did refer to “religious cohabitation.”

According to the judge, Utah’s law violated the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment because the point of that provision in the statute is “to infringe upon or restrict” people practicing religious cohabitation “because of their religious motivation.” He used the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas that struck down sodomy laws when he noted, “Consensual sexual privacy is the touchstone of the rational basis review analysis in this case, as in Lawrence.”

Another change in Utah last week came from the Mormon leadership. Thirty-five years after the Mormon Church allowed black males to become priests in their church, they decided that brown skin is no longer a punishment of God.  In the Book of Mormon, dark skin is a sign of God’s curse because of the conflict of the two lost tribes of Israel who came to the New World.

The verses about the curse were to explain the dark skin of Native Americans. The blackness of Africans came from the stain of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. In 1960, Church apostle Spencer W. Kimball was delighted that Native Americans who converted to Mormonism were gradually becoming lighter skinned.

Friday’s document removing the stigma of dark skin in the Mormon religion blamed the nation’s prejudicial attitudes in 1830 when the religion was created. It didn’t explain why the discrimination stayed 150 years after the slaves were freed.

People lamenting the ignorance of children in the United States need look no farther than Christian education. Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a fundamentalist curriculum founded in Texas in 1970, is commonly used with conservative home schoolers and in private Christian schools and government-funded voucher programs around the world. Jonny Scaramanga wrote:

“I went to an ACE school for almost four years. By the time I left, I was certain that it was against God’s will for governments to provide healthcare, evolution was a conspiracy to destroy Christianity, parents were morally required to spank their children, and science could prove that homosexuality was wrong. But worst of all was the feeling uneducated; I still struggle with self-conscious fears about gaps in my learning. ACE workbooks consist of simplistic fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice questions. And these questions are often hilariously, spectacularly bad.”

The article lists 33 of these questions. Here are a few:

wiscom: The pastor spoke with great wisdom.

 

  •  Wisdom means (a) a test  (b) Godly thinking  (c) tasty milk
  •  (Sports coaches, Piano tutors, Librarians) can touch the lives of their students. [Scaramanga explained that “piano tutors” is the right answer because that sentence had appeared earlier in the material and students were supposed to remember the sentence.] 
  •  The word alphabet comes from the Greek Letters ____________  and _____________.  Alpha and Iota    Beta and Gamma  Alpha and Beta   [Question for ages 15-16]

 

If you want to shake your head, go to the article for another 30 of these questions.

While ignorance grows among fundamentalist Christians, so does sex abuse. Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators is now asking for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like the South African group that put apartheid behind them. Veteran religion reporter Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal has also noted the attempts at accountability and reform moving through the Southern Baptist society after the lawsuit against C.J. Mahaney, leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson and a Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse, said that evangelicals are worse than Catholics and that too many evangelicals had “sacrificed the souls” of young victims. Mission agencies, “where abuse is most prevalent,” often don’t report abuse because they fear being barred from working in foreign countries, he said. Abusers will get sent home and might join another agency. Of known data from abuse cases, 25 percent are repeat cases, he said.

Georgia pastor Peter Lumpkins sponsored a resolution at this year’s Southern Baptist annual meeting urging urging denominational leaders “to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse.” His reference was to the way that SBC was ignoring their own resolution calling for “a zero-tolerance policy toward the sexual abuse of children in churches.”

Ken Starr, ruler of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and trial after his affair with a consenting adult named Monica Lewinsky, may have to take a few lumps because he thinks Christopher Kloman, a teacher who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing several female students should not have to do time.  Starr is President and Chancellor of Baylor University in Waco (TX)–the largest Baptist university in the world.  Christa Brown wrote: “Why should parents of high-school students feel any trust in sending their kids off to a university whose president writes a letter urging leniency for a man who molested teens?”

A huge travesty of the sex abuse crisis is that mainstream media fails to report it, instead choosing to protect the fundamentalist Christians. Perhaps, however, embarrassed religious leaders and bigots have reached the tipping point.

August 27, 2012

Cut Defense; Leave NOAA, FEMA, Safety Net Alone

The GOP convention was intended to be the big story for this week until Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) brought abortion and rape into the dialog and dug up the GOP’s position. The biggest story, however, is Tropical Storm Isaac which probably will become a hurricane before landfall somewhere in the Gulf Coast states.

Gov. Bobby Jindal cancelled his speech at the GOP convention to get back to Louisiana because of the threat to New Orleans, and Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott dropped out of the convention to protect his state. Nobody knows Isaac’s actual destination when it’s predicted to his land early Wednesday morning. Governors of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have started evacuations in their states and joined Scott in declaring emergencies.

The irony of the Isaac story is that Republicans have received early warning after trying to drastically cut funds for disaster preparedness and response. Their continuing resolution 2011 budget shrank funding for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Operations, Research, and Facilities by $454.3 million. The National Weather Service, part of NOAA, lost $126 million; FEMA dropped $24.3 million with FEMA state and local programs losing $783.3 million. Fortunately, this budget didn’t stick.

As part of last August’s Budget Control Act, Republicans agreed to make it easier to fund disaster relief but then reneged on this agreement. This isn’t new. Back in his 2009 response to the State of the Union, Jindal ridiculed the stimulus for having “$140 million for something called volcano monitoring.” Jindal is governor of a state that has hurricanes, not volcanoes. Not everyone else in the United States is in the same situation.

NOAA warned Congress that Republican cuts would stop them from warning people about hurricanes five to ten days out because of its aging satellites. Without the funding, the United States could go up to 18 months or even longer without any satellites.  If that were to happen, the Republicans might not know a hurricane is imminent for their 2016 convention.

Even when NOAA doesn’t want extra money for a project, Congress refused to allow them to make their activities more efficient. Last fall, when NOAA wanted to reorganize its existing climate capabilities and services into a “single point of entry” for users, Congress said no. NOAA cannot be permitted to “more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities.”

The idea was that efficient, up-to-date information is important because of the likelihood of more droughts, floods, and storms; Republicans can’t admit that climate is changing. Since Congress turned down NOAA’s proposal, the organization has announced the last year and last half year are the hottest on record. The second half of this past June saw at least 170 all-time high temperatures either broken or tied. As of July 3, 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced drought conditions, the largest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor. During the June 2011-June 2012 period, each of the 13 consecutive months ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time in the 1895-present record. The odds of this occurring randomly is 1 in 1,594,323.

When disastrous tornadoes hit Missouri, Republicans threatened to hold up any assistance until there were cuts in other places. The same for Virginia’s earthquake and the east coast’s Hurricane Irene.  A year ago House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) demanded that “that no more money be allocated for disaster relief unless it is offset by spending cuts elsewhere”—until he asked for FEMA money for his own district a month later.

If Republicans don’t get the FEMA aid that they request, they are angry. When FEMA refused a request for federal aid for wildfire victims in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin called a government agency’s rejection letter “bureaucratic” and “cruel.”

If anything is “bureaucratic” and “cruel,” it’s the Republicans’ refusal to allow states’ residents to get the health care from the federal government that costs the states nothing. Texas is a prime example: the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has now upheld Texas’s decision to deny women any health care through Planned Parenthood or other clinic that simply makes referrals for abortions.  The court decision will deny health care to at least 50,000 women.

Texas has also refused to accept the federal money that would provide Medicaid for people with salaries between one-fourth of the poverty level and one and one-fourth of the poverty level. Because of Gov. Rick Perry’s arrogance and indifference, families making between $5,000 and $25,000 will not qualify for Medicaid or any other remedy from the Affordable Care Act. That’s bureaucratic and cruel.

If Republicans want FEMA help for people who need assistance, they need to allocate funds for it. They also need to revise their position in denying all people any safety net except the wealthy—who don’t need it. And they need to stop using their personal morality to control women.

Where can the government get the money to help people? Defense expenditures went from $583.38 billion in 2003 when we were in two wars to $711.42 billion in 2011 when we were no longer in war. About a half century ago, Dwight Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” We are now living in Eisenhower’s nightmare.

If Republicans want small government, they should start with the defense budget. Support the programs that actually help people, such as the safety net and NOAA.

February 26, 2012

The United States, a Theocracy

Let’s just face it. The United States is a theocracy. Let’s look at the indicators beyond the majority of the Republican presidential candidates swearing to the far-right conservatives that they were called by God to work for the nomination,

To encourage churches to intervene in campaigns—illegally—the Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October. Fundamentalists and evangelical churches plan voter turnout drives and distribution of voter guides that tell the church-goers the candidate of the church’s choice.  Meanwhile, pastors such as the influential Dallas one, Robert Jeffress, tell all and sundry that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is a cult member who should not become president. The claims that President Obama is a Muslim of an opponent of Christianity, started when he was elected to this office, have increased since Rick Santorum refers to his policy as a “phony kind of theology.”

Thirty states explored school voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, the efforts driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice. Run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos, the organization is joined by allies to provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers. These vouchers would benefit not only fundamentalist academies but also Roman Catholic parochial schools. Florida currently has a ballot initiative allowing the religious organizations to get taxpayer money. Arizona has already passed such a law that has passed judicial tests. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also pushed a voucher program for the District of Columbia.

A relatively new lobbying group, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has declared war on the separation of church and state in its goal to keep its taxpayer funding for church agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from the law. These agencies have become highly visible recently when they declared themselves exempt from involvement in birth control or same-sex marriage while still receiving government contracts and funds. Faith-based religious groups receive federal advantages that other non-profit groups lack. No federal regulations, no disclosure reports to show how much they’re spending, no transparency.

States plan laws that would require Christian proselytizing in public schools. Missouri, for example, has an amendment on the 2012 ballot that proposes to allow religious activities on all public property including schools. The open-ended bill even permits children to refuse to do homework on religious grounds. Florida’s bill, recently passed by the Senate and being considered by the House, lets students pray at school events. Tennessee is following Florida’s flaunting of separating church and state.

The far-right evangelicals also continue to demand that curriculum and textbooks include religious material, including creationism and refutation of man-made climate change. In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles contrary to the Bible.

Those who believe that President Obama has declared a “war on religion” fail to recognize his current support of the Christian religion through government actions. The president said during his campaign in 2008, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them–or against the people you hire–on the basis of their religion.” Yet he has not changed George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative that exempted faith-based groups from complying with anti-discrimination statutes. Religious groups can refuse to hire gays and lesbians even for secular work. In 2009, Obama put Alexia Kelley, an anti-abortion Catholic, in charge of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the HHS, where she oversees the distribution of more than $20 million in grants to religious groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is also considering a new rule allowing the use of taxpayer funds for the construction and repair of religious buildings overseas.

Under President Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, and the share of USCCB federal grants from HHS have increased from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration that the Catholics claim as anti-religious. Federal money can also go directly to churches rather than nonprofit charitable organizations.

Millions of dollars from the military budget benefits Christians. For over 18 months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been examining these expenditures, such as the $125 million spent for “spiritual fitness” program. To develop “resilience,” those who serve in the military are required to take a survey biased so that nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly. Those people will then be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality, namely Christian.

Department of Defense funds built the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood and the “Spiritual Fitness” centers scattered across the military bases. More spiritual fitness money goes for evangelical Christian concerts with overtly Christian music, light shows of large crosses beamed all over the stage, and Christian testimony or Bible verses songs. Most of the Army’s Strong Bonds program expenditures of least $30 million for retreats for soldiers and their families go to evangelical Christian retreats, many held at Christian camps and resorts, with evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers.

Children of military service people are also targeted by evangelical Christian groups that are financed by the DoD. The biggest one is Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), whose mission statement is “Celebrate life with military teens, Introduce them to the Life-Giver, Jesus Christ, And help them become more like Him.” MCYM has received $12,346,333 in DoD contracts since 2000 and use some of it to stalk “unchurched” military children by following their school buses. The DoD also hires Religious Education Directors to get the kids into Christian churches.

Congress keeps legislating Christian laws. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings despite the fact that this motto, put in place during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, had not been challenged. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced a bill ordering the Secretary of the Interior to add a Franklin Delano Roosevelt prayer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Both the Knights of Columbus and Rep. Denny Rehlberg (R-MT) are fighting the removal of a large statue of Jesus sitting on national forest land in Montana.

States are also working to create Christian law. In Georgia, the state legislature will consider a bill that would require all vehicle license plates to be emblazoned with “In God We Trust” unless drivers pay extra to cover up the message. A prime example of this nation’s theocracy is its anti-Sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed, with 70 percent of the vote, the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” barring enforcement of Islamic law. The challenge to this law is before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the constitution bars government support for religion, legislation barring Sharia law is unnecessary. What appears to be necessary is a law banning Christian legislation, which would provide women with reproductive rights and same-sex couples with marriage equality.

The Christian religious right, both fundamentalists and Catholics, successfully intimidate their opponents by accusing anyone who wants freedom from religion that they are bigots who don’t believe in religious freedom. Their position of victimology comes from the enormous power that they wield over the anyone who disagrees with them. To these Christian conservatives, the definition of religious freedom is forcing everyone to live by their religion, whichever one of the 38,000 Christian denominations it may represent.

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