Published: Thursday 13 December 2012
Last minute Super PAC spending keeps voters in the dark

 

Over a month has passed since the polls closed on Election Day 2012. Since then, the final totals have been tallied, the results certified and new members of Congress have even made their first trip to Washington D.C. to begin freshman orientation.

Yet voters had to wait until Dec. 6 to see the donors behind a slew of campaign ads carefully crafted by several major SuperPACs. In order to exploit a loophole in the law, these groups waited until the last minute to bombard the airwaves with commercials and stuff mailboxes with flyers, according to the New York Times.

“A last-minute burst of below-the-radar cash has begun flooding into the national elections…,” reported the Times on Nov. 3. “But unlike the well-known outside groups that have dominated the airwaves until now, many of the new spenders did not formally exist a few weeks ago. They have generic-sounding names, rarely have Web sites and are exploiting a loophole that will keep their donors anonymous until long after the last votes are counted.”

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Published: Saturday 1 December 2012
Published: Sunday 4 November 2012
“The OSCE, a 56-member international organization (including the U.S.) which routinely sends observers to monitor and oversee elections in countries around the world, has been monitoring US elections since the highly controversial presidential election of 2000, which ended up having the presidential race decided by a split 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Tuesday’s national election in the US is shaping up to be a bruising affair, with both parties hiring armies of lawyers to fight over likely contentious battles over voter access to polling stations, dealing with long lines that could prevent people from voting after polls officially close, the counting of votes cast, and now, the right of international inspectors from the respected Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the process.

The OSCE, a 56-member international organization (including the U.S.) which routinely sends observers to monitor and oversee elections in countries around the world, has been monitoring US elections since the highly controversial presidential election of 2000, which ended up having the presidential race decided by a split 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. (The OECD was invited to start monitoring US elections in 2004 by none other than President George W. Bush, who was handed the presidency in 2000 by the Supreme Court.) Until this year, its monitors have had no problems doing their job, but this year hard-right officials in at least two states -- Texas and Iowa -- have threatened to have the international observers arrested and criminally charged if they attempt to monitor any polling places in those two states. Other states may join them.

“The OSCE’s representatives are not authorized by state law to enter a polling place,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abott, an activist in the right-wing Tea Party movement who is in his first term as the state’s top law enforcement officer.  “It may be a criminal offense for OSCE representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE’s representatives to criminal prosecution.”

Abbot’s threat to arrest OSCE poll watchers was echoed a few days ...

Published: Monday 29 October 2012
The documents pointed to one outside group pulling the candidates’ strings: a social welfare nonprofit called Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP.

 

The boxes landed in the office of Montana investigators in March 2011.

Found in a meth house in Colorado, they were somewhat of a mystery, holding files on 23 conservative candidates in state races in Montana. They were filled with candidate surveys and mailers that said they were paid for by campaigns, and fliers and bank records from outside spending groups. One folder was labeled "Montana $ Bomb."

The documents pointed to one outside group pulling the candidates' strings: a social welfare nonprofit called Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP.

Altogether, the records added up to possible illegal "coordination" between the nonprofit and candidates for office in 2008 and 2010, said a Montana investigator and a former Federal Election Commission chairman who reviewed the material. Outside groups are allowed to spend money on political campaigns, but not to coordinate with candidates.

"My opinion, for what it's worth, is that WTP was running a lot of these campaigns," said investigator Julie Steab of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, who initially received the boxes from Colorado.

The boxes were examined by Frontline and ProPublica as part of an investigation into the growing influence on elections of dark money groups, tax-exempt organizations that can accept unlimited contributions and do not have to identify their donors. The documents offer a rare glimpse into the world of dark money, showing how Western Tradition Partnership appealed to donors, interacted with candidates and helped shape their election efforts.

Though WTP's spending has been at the state level, it's best-known ...

Published: Monday 22 October 2012
“Social welfare nonprofits — also called dark money groups because they are not required to identify their donors — have poured tens of millions of dollars into state and federal elections in recent years.”

 

A western nonprofit that played a key role in freeing corporate spending on elections nationwide appears to have misled the IRS when it applied for the tax-exempt status that shields its donors from being publicly disclosed.

Documents obtained by ProPublica and Frontline show that Western Tradition Partnership, now known as American Tradition Partnership, said it would not attempt to sway elections when it asked the IRS to recognize it as a tax-exempt social welfare organization in late 2008.

Shortly before submitting the application, however, Western Tradition Partnership, which bills itself as a "grassroots lobbying" organization dedicated to fighting radical environmentalists, and a related political committee sent out fliers weighing in on candidates for Montana state office. The mailers blitzed districts in Montana days before the Republican primary.

Donny Ferguson, listed as the national director of media of American Tradition Partnership on the group's website, did not return a call or an email for comment.

Social welfare nonprofits — also called dark money groups because they are not required to identify their donors — have poured tens of millions of dollars into state and federal elections in recent years.

As spelled out in the tax code, the primary purpose of such groups is not supposed to be political. Yet a ProPublica story published in August showed that dozens of social welfare nonprofits, some formed in the run-up to the 2010 election, had underreported the extent of their political spending and activities to the IRS.

Western Tradition Partnership, though little-known outside Montana and Colorado, is not just any ...

Published: Friday 19 October 2012
“In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

 

By now most folks know that the U.S. Supreme Court did something that changed how money can be spent in elections and by whom, but what happened and why should you care?

The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.

The decision did not affect contributions. It is still illegal for companies and labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office. The court said that because these funds were not being spent in coordination with a campaign, they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

So if the decision was about spending, why has so much been written about contributions? Like seven and eight-figure donations from people like casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson who, with his family, has given about $40 million to so-called “super PACs,” formed in the wake of the decision?

For that, we need to look at another court case — SpeechNow.org v. FEC. The lower-court case used the Citizens United case as precedent when it said that limits on contributions to groups that make independent expenditures are unconstitutional.

And that’s what led to the creation of the super PACs, which act as shadow political parties. They accept unlimited donations from billionaires, corporations ...

Published: Thursday 27 September 2012
In Pennsylvania alone - a state where the concepts of mercy, compassion and understanding appear to be uniquely in short supply - there are an astonishing 470 prisoners currently serving prison terms of life-without-chance-of-parole who committed their crimes as children

 

The United States never misses an opportunity to castigate other countries for “uncivilized” behavior, and certainly there is enough of that to go around almost anywhere you look in the world. But there’s plenty of it here in the U.S. too.

Just consider the case of Terry Williams.

Williams, a 47-year-old black man, has spent almost 30 years on Pennsylvania’s crowded death row while lawyers appealed his death penalty for two murders committed back when he was a 17 and 18-year old boy. Now he’s about to be killed by the state for those crimes.

At the time he was tried and convicted, although it was known to prosecutors that his two victims were adult men who had forcibly raped Williams when he was as young as 13, and that he had been a victim of sexual abuse since he was six, the jury was not informed about any of this. In recent years, a number of the 12 jurors who originally convicted him and sentenced the teenager to death have now said that had they known about the abuse he suffered -- particularly at the hands of the two men he later killed -- they would have decided the case differently, and certainly would not have voted for the death penalty. Even the wife of one of his victims has pleaded with the state to spare him.

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Published: Saturday 15 September 2012
“Earlier this year, the Medicare Board of Trustees estimated that the Medicare hospital trust fund would remain fully funded only until 2024.”

 

Medicare and Medicaid, which provide medical coverage for seniors, the poor and the disabled, together make up nearly a quarter of all federal spending. With total Medicare spending projected to cost $7.7 trillion over the next 10 years, there is consensus that changes are in order. But what those changes should entail has, of course, been one of the hot-button issues of the campaign.

With the candidates slinging charges, we thought we’d lay out the facts. Here’s a rundown of where the two candidates stand on Medicare and Medicaid:

THE CANDIDATES ON MEDICARE

Big Picture

Earlier this year, the Medicare Board of Trustees estimated that the Medicare hospital trust fund would remain fully funded only until 2024. Medicare would not go bankrupt or disappear, but it wouldn’t have enough money to cover all hospital costs.

Under traditional government-run Medicare, seniors 65 and over and people with disabilities are given health insurance for a fixed set of benefits, in what’s known as fee-for-service coverage. Medicare also offers a subset of private health plans known as Medicare Advantage, in which ...

Published: Friday 14 September 2012
“Every place we looked for what was driving inequality, we found the very central role of socioeconomic status.”

 

 New research drawn from the past half-century offers one of the clearest pictures yet of the correlation between political involvement and socioeconomics in the United States, while underscoring the significant implications of recent legal and legislative changes for marginalized groups.

“From decades of data, we can say that socioeconomic status has an overwhelming impact on how politically active people are in the U.S.,” Sidney Verba, a research professor at Harvard University, said while introducing new research here in Washington on Wednesday.

“Every place we looked for what was driving inequality, we found the very central role of socioeconomic status. Even if you look at different groups that differ in their average political activity – minority groups, etc – you find that, within each group, it’s stratified by socioeconomic status.”

While those with higher socioeconomic status have more time to engage in political campaigns and related activities, for instance, Henry E. Brady, a political-science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of Verba’s co-researchers, points to the “stunning, nearly exponential rise in political donations” by those with the highest incomes.

Even in 1990, Brady says, the top 20 percent of the population made 70 percent of all political contributions, figures that have almost certainly shot up significantly in the past few years in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, which allowed for unlimited private donations to political campaigns.

“If the folks at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum have different political priorities from those at the top, and if money in politics really has a big impact on politics, then politics is defined by ...

Published: Tuesday 11 September 2012
The Court overruled a request for public funds in accordance with their pilot program.

One of the many possible avenues to transparency would be to promote and institute publicly financed elections. Allen Loughry is a Republican running for one of the three open Supreme Court seats in West Virginia, and requested access to public funds in accordance with West Virginia’s pilot program for publicly funded elections. However, the West Virginia Gazette reports that:

The West Virginia matching fund provision places a “substantial burden on the unfettered political speech of the privately financed candidates” and could not withstand a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, based on its rulings in two other cases, state Supreme Court justices said in their ruling denying Loughry’s motion…

…While recognizing that as a laudable goal, the court ruled that the current public financing pilot project could not achieve its intended goal since only one of the four candidates on the ballot, Loughry, is using public financing.

 

The West Virginia Gazette further reports on the Court ruling that:

The government matching funds serve no other purpose than ‘leveling the playing field’ between one publicly funded candidate and the three privately financed candidates.

 

The current doctrine is that campaign contributions are considered free speech. Given that,  privately funded candidates that exercise “unfettered political speech” have the capacity to drown out their underfunded opposition. If the sole purpose is to “level the playing field,” then someone who doesn’t have access to those same private funds should, in turn, not be deprived of that same monetary megaphone. Loughry had it right as he argued that:

The pilot project’s goal of strengthening the public’s confidence in the impartiality and ...
Published: Saturday 8 September 2012
“Democrats staked out positions against secret election spending, big-money politics and the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision throughout the convention.”

President Barack Obama urged delegates at the Democratic National Convention to beware “the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election” in his acceptance speech Thursday night.

“If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election,” Obama said to a roaring crowd in the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.

The impassioned speech came the same week that the main pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, said it raised $10 million in August, a record for the group, and enlisted the aid of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s campaign co-chairman, to help it raise money.

Democrats staked out positions against secret election spending, big-money politics and the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision throughout the convention.

The party is being seriously out raised by Republican super PACs and nonprofits, and its position is in stark contrast to Republicans, whose party platform opposes efforts to undo the high court’s decision.

The 2010 Citizens United ruling overturned an existing ban on corporate- and union-funded advertisements that advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates.

It further said that independent political ads — even those funded with unlimited corporate cash — do not pose a threat of corruption. That’s a point that campaign finance reformers have disputed.

In other speeches, Democratic officials, including ...

Published: Thursday 6 September 2012
Pro-Obama super PAC raises $10 million.

 

Super PAC fundraiser Paul Begala climbed atop a table and told a roomful of VIP donors that “giving until it hurts” isn’t good enough.

“I want you to give until it feels good,” he said, because it will “really hurt” to wake up Nov. 7 with Republican Mitt Romney on his way to the White House.

The high-profile Democratic operative was addressing donors at a cocktail party in downtown Charlotte Tuesday, just blocks from the convention hall where Democrats unveiled a platform that condemns big-money politics.

If elected, Romney and his fellow Republicans will “repeal the 20th century,” Begala told the room.

Begala was one of President Bill Clinton’s chief strategists and is now a top adviser to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that is seeking to re-elect President Barack Obama.

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Published: Saturday 1 September 2012
“Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens...”

 

Yesterday, President Obama issued a first-ever statement in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’sCitizens United ruling. During an "Ask Me Anything" conversation with the general public on the website Reddit (a session that has garnered a record-breaking 4 million views for the social news website and inspired 25,000 people to register to vote, according to the Los Angeles Times), participant Suzanne Merkelson asked: “What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?”  The president responded:

Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens ... Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight on the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.

President Obama’s statement marks an important new milestone in the growing movement to reclaim our democracy. In just two and a half years,

Published: Friday 31 August 2012
“States also have the option to seek a favorable judgment from the federal court in Washington, D.C. — a costlier, longer and, therefore rarer, route to take.”

 

 

A single provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been playing a key role on the election front this year. Section 5 has blocked photo voter-ID laws, prohibited reduced early-voting periods in parts of Florida and just Tuesday barred new redistricting maps in Texas.

It's the reason South Carolina is in federal court this week to try to convince a three-judge panel its photo voter-ID law will not disenfranchise minorities. It's the reason that Texas went to trial on the same issue last month — and on Thursday, lost.

Not surprisingly, then, Section 5 is increasingly the target of attack by those who say it is outdated, discriminatory against Southern states and unconstitutional.

Under the provision, certain states and localities with a history of anti-minority election practices must obtain federal approval or "pre clearance" before making changes to voting laws. In present day, that requirement is burdensome, "needlessly aggressive" and based on outdated coverage criteria,

Published: Thursday 23 August 2012
Latinos could be a potent voting force in the Southwest, but traditionally low voter turnout could get even lower with new ID laws.

 

Every month for the next two decades, 50,000 Latinos will turn 18 years old. With that many new eligible voters and dramatic population growth expected, Latinos could dominate voting in the Southwest, particularly Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

Every year, 600,000 more Latinos become eligible voters, making them a potentially potent voting force. However,  Latinos have a historically low turnout at the polls: Only around 30 percent of eligible Latinos vote, according to the non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Pew Hispanic Center. Advocacy groups see the national push toward more stringent voter identification laws as a way to suppress an already apathetic Latino vote.

Of the nation’s 21.3 million eligible Latino voters, only 6.6 million voted in the 2010 elections, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. White and black voters had higher turnout — 48.6 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

“We haven’t been able to engage the community to really participate in the democratic process,” said Carlos Duarte of the Phoenix-based non-partisan voter education organization, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. “To be focusing our ...

Published: Friday 17 August 2012
“Lawsuits have continued to crop up challenging the laws, mostly on the grounds that they violate state constitutions.”

 

On Wednesday, in a closely watched case, a state judge in Pennsylvania declined to block the state’s controversial voter ID law from taking effect. If the ruling is upheld on appeal, registered voters in the state will be required to show acceptable photo ID during the general election in November.

There’s been a lot of attention on this lawsuit, given the closeness of the election and greater focus on voter ID laws, which critics say could disenfranchise voters who are likely to lack photo ID, often the poor, elderly, and minorities. (To catch up on this issue, check out our guide on everything you need to know about voter ID laws.)

Yesterday’s ruling has generated plenty of criticism and concern. But it’s far from the first time a judge has ruled on voter ID laws, a number of times in favor of them. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Indiana’s strict voter ID law, saying in 2008 that it’s constitutional.

Lawsuits have continued to crop up challenging the laws, mostly on the grounds ...

Published: Saturday 11 August 2012
Wilson is the second prisoner in Texas to be executed by a new lethal injection method involving a single drug.

Last night, Texas executed 54-year-old Marvin Wilson, despite evidence that he was mentally disabled and reportedly sucked his thumb into adulthood. Wilson's lawyers had argued that an IQ test on which Wilson scored 61 -- nine points below the standard for competency -- should have saved him from execution under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring execution of the intellectually disabled. Wilson is the second prisoner in Texas to be executed by a new lethal injection method involving a single drug. We speak with Democracy Now! producer Renée Feltz, who has long reported on the death penalty, especially in Texas, where she has covered the state's ongoing execution of developmentally disabled prisoners.

 

Transcript

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with a follow-up to a story we covered Tuesday. Last night the State of Texas went ahead with its execution of 54-year-old Marvin Wilson, despite evidence he was mentally retarded. Wilson’s lawyers argue that an IQ test on which Wilson scored 61 — nine points below the standard for competency — should have saved him from execution under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling barring execution of the intellectually disabled. This is attorney Lee Kovarsky on Democracy ...

Published: Tuesday 7 August 2012
Published: Thursday 26 July 2012
Gubernatorial candidate Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., received a $1 million check from the Republican Governors Association — a contribution whose original sources remain shrouded in darkness

 

The RGA Right Direction PAC is a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC, registered with federal regulators to make independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates. So what is it doing giving $1 million directly to the Republican running for governor of Indiana?

The donation to Mike Pence, the largest to his campaign, appears to be a way around state laws limiting corporate contributions to candidates.

“In one way, it’s legal,” said Andrew Downs of the Center for Indiana Politics, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “But if you say this is a way to give in excess of corporate limits, that’s also absolutely true.”

Right Direction is funded entirely by the Republican Governors Association, a so-called “527” organization dedicated to electing as many Republicans to governorships as possible — a mission fueled by contributions from some of the largest corporations in the country. In Indiana, candidates can accept unlimited donations from individuals and political action committees but only $5,000 from corporations and unions. Corporations and unions can also give to PACs, but only in small sums.

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Published: Tuesday 24 July 2012
“In these so-called ‘non-strict photo ID states’ — Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Idaho, South Dakota and Hawaii — individuals are requested to show photo ID but can still vote if they don’t have one.”

Voter IDs laws have become a political flashpoint in what's gearing up to be another close election year. Supporters say the laws — which 30 states have now enacted in some form — are needed to combat voter fraud, while critics see them as a tactic to disenfranchise voters.

 

We've taken ...

Published: Sunday 15 July 2012
“We speak with Honkala and Dr. Stein about their campaign for the White House and the challenges they face as a third party in a two-party political system.”

Dr. Jill Stein’s Green Party vice-presidential running mate, Cheri Honkala, is a single mother who has firsthand experience with homelessness. In 2011, she ran as the Green Party candidate for sheriff of Philadelphia on a platform of ending foreclosures and halting evictions. "Large sections of the population are just sitting out. ... It’s not just because they’re not interested in what’s happening in this country. They just don’t see that their vote actually matters," Honkala says. "But our campaign gives an opportunity for people to see themselves, because we represent the 99 percent." Her Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is one of the country’s largest movements led by the poor and homeless. We speak with Honkala and Dr. Stein about their campaign for the White House and the challenges they face as a third party in a two-party political system. If elected, Stein says she would work to repeal the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. "There are so many strategies that a president could bring into play to help draw public attention to not only the problem, but how we can solve it with a constitutional amendment to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech."

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Baltimore, Maryland, where the Green Party’s national convention is underway. I’m joined by Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party 2012 ...

Published: Friday 6 July 2012
“One of the issues arose when Mr. Maass asked Ms. Poss about the difficulty she and others have in monitoring consumer hardware and software, because FTC rules and budget limitations constrain their access to such tools as Androids and iPhones.”

On June 28, ProPublica published a story by Peter Maass about the Federal Trade Commission and its efforts to protect the online privacy of consumers. The headline of the story was "How a Lone Graduate Student Scooped the Government and What It Means for Your Online Privacy." The 5,500 word article opened with an explanation of how a Stanford computer science student, Jonathan Mayer, conducted research through which he discovered earlier this year that Google was circumventing the privacy settings on a large number of iPhones and placing tracking cookies on them. The story credited Mr. Mayer with figuring this out before the FTC did. The bulk of the story focused on how well or how poorly the FTC is dealing with privacy issues as the data-mining industry explodes and its own budget remains relatively flat.

On June 29, FTC Director of Public Affairs Cecelia Prewett emailed a letter to us, taking sharp issue with our work. We have reviewed the story and her comments, and we have corrected the spelling of the FTC chairman's name (it is Leibowitz, not Liebowitz). Otherwise, we believe that no correction is appropriate.

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Published: Saturday 30 June 2012
“Opinion is steadily growing that Romney is not that smart in the upper floors.”

 

It's tempting to say the Affordable Care Act decision spells the end of the Romney candidacy. The Mormon millionaire was entirely blindsided by yesterday's long-awaited verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court, as were almost all Republicans who had spent months complacently totting up a conservative majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, and then Lo! here's Roberts saying the famous unfunded mandate is constitutional. People can be compelled to pay taxes for their health insurance.

Romney said rather limply, "What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy." He said the ruling had made it clear: "If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have replace President Obama." Then he flourished the slogan: "Repeal or replace." President Obama drove his point home with a politician's usual piety. "I didn't do this because I thought it was good politics," he said, touting the Act's provisions to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, to allow children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' plans and to require insurers to provide free preventive screenings. "I did it because I believed it was good for this country."

Obama said that even as implementation of the Act continues, it could be improved upon. But the court ruling allows the country to avoid, as Obama put it, going back to "fight the political battles of two years ago" when the law was passed.

Opinion is steadily growing that Romney is not that smart in the upper floors.

There was the disaster when Obama said most young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as kids will not be deported. They do have to fit certain criteria. They must be under the age of 30, have been ...

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
“Now, close to 100 years later, it may take a popular movement to amend the Constitution again, this time to overturn Citizens United and confirm, finally and legally, that corporations are not people.”

“I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” William A. Clark reportedly said. He was one of Montana’s “Copper Kings,” a man who used his vast wealth to manipulate the state government and literally buy votes to make himself a U.S. senator. That was more than 100 years ago, and the blatant corruption of Clark and the other Copper Kings created a furor that led to the passage, by citizen initiative, of Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act in 1912. The century of transparent campaign-finance restrictions that followed, preventing corporate money from influencing elections, came to an end this week, as the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed the Montana law.  Five justices of the U.S Supreme Court reiterated: Their controversial Citizens United ruling remains the law of the land. Clark’s corruption contributed to the passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Now, close to 100 years later, it may take a popular movement to amend the Constitution again, this time to overturn Citizens United and confirm, finally and legally, that corporations are not people.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can contribute unlimited amounts of funds toward what are deemed “independent expenditures” in our elections. Thus, corporations, or shadowy “super PACS” that they choose to fund, can spend as much as they care to on negative campaign ads, just as long as they don’t coordinate with a candidate’s campaign committee. That 2010 ruling, approved by a narrow 5-4 majority of the court, has profoundly altered the electoral landscape—not only for the presidential ...

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
Court finds life-without-possibility-of parole sentencing of kids is cruel and unusual.

 

Children are not adults. That’s the basic message the U.S. Supreme Court sent Monday with a 5-4 decision declaring that mandatory life-without-possibility-of-parole sentences for juveniles represent cruel and unusual punishment.

Children’s vulnerability to family and social pressure — and scientific evidence supporting children’s capacity to change — figured prominently in the court’s ruling that such sentencing violates the Eighth Amendment’s protections.

The justices issued the finding after reviewing a challenge by two prisoners in Alabama and Arkansas who were sentenced to life without parole sentences for killings they committed or participated in when they were 14-years-old.

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and conse­quences,” the decision said. “It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how bru­tal or dysfunctional.”

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Published: Friday 22 June 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide very soon whether to strike down SB 1070, but few observers expect that it will choose to do so based on the Department of Justice arguments.

Shortly after the 2010 passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration bill, 20,000 people gathered in Phoenix for a May Day march to protest the new law. Instead of ending with speakers or a formal program, as political marches often do, organizers broke the crowd into small groups and asked them two questions:

How will the new law impact you and your neighbors? What can you do about it?

And with that, a new phase of the migrant rights movement, based on an age-old model of community organizing, was born.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide very soon whether to strike down SB 1070, but few observers expect that it will choose to do so based on the Department of Justice arguments. That’s one reason local capacity development methods, such as Barrio Defense Committees, are crucial, organizers say. “We went to Congress for reform and were treated like a political football,” says Carlos Garcia, an organizer with the grassroots group Puente Arizona. “We asked the president for relief and instead got record deportations. Now even the courts may give SB 1070 the green light. It's time we realize we have only each other and start organizing deeper in our own community."

In the weeks and months after those small group discussions, communities across Arizona formed Barrio Defense Committees, neighborhood-based groups focused on resolving local problems, building resilience in the face of attack, and building organic leadership for broader social movements.

The committees are based on neighbor-to-neighbor relations where people commit to support each other to mitigate the negative impacts of deportations. Families sign power of ...

Published: Thursday 21 June 2012
“Because of the size of its population and the large number of its uninsured, California, more than any other state, has a great stake in the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

As the nation anxiously awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the health care reform law that guarantees health coverage for all Americans, a study released today shows that California has the highest number of people who die prematurely each year because they do not have health insurance.

In 2010 alone, about 3,164 Californians between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely for lack of health insurance, said the study released by Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers. That translates to about 61 Californians every week. Nationwide, 26,000 Americans in that same age group, died last year for the same reason.

“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed by Congress to address an American tragedy and an American shame,” Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said today during a media teleconference. “The fact remains that for the millions of Americans without health coverage, only the Affordable Care Act offers the promise of access to affordable coverage and to a longer and healthier life.”

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Published: Monday 18 June 2012
“The following is a conservative summary, liberally interpreted, of the five steps necessary to save education in the U.S.”

Milton Friedman would have been proud, if he hadn't been so confused. The push for privatized education is just what the good doctor of economics ordered, in the form of vouchers to allow parents to purchase the best school for their kids. But he also said "We have always been proud, and with good reason, of the widespread availability of schooling to all and the role that public schooling has played.."

 


The following is a conservative summary, liberally interpreted, of the five steps necessary to save education in the U.S.:
 


1. Think of Children as Our Most Important Product


Charter schools are criticized for a few reports that document their poor or mediocre performance in comparison with public schools. The often quoted Stanford University Credo study is one. Others come from the Department of Education, Johns Hopkins University, the RAND Corporation, and the National Charter School Research Project.


But there are numerous reputable research organizations who have not produced negative reports on charter schools.


Success stories like the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and the SEED School show that the concept works if motivated students are chosen, if underperforming students are counseled toward alternative schools, and if expense is not spared to show the potential rewards for those innovating the process. Just as we test and re-test a product to ready it for market, so our children can benefit from industry-like quality control.


Most relevant for charter schools is the level of scalability. With economies of scale the true efficiency of the model touted by Mitt Romney can be realized. An example is the Louisiana Believes project, which will eventually be the country's most extensive voucher system. Although only 5,000 slots exist for about 400,000 eligible students, Louisiana intends to promote equal opportunity by ...

Published: Friday 15 June 2012
For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about only 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year.

 

Last week there was much rejoicing when Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, flanked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, came out in support of ending the practice of arresting individuals for possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view.

The details here are very important. These arrests come in consequence of stop-and-frisk police powers — used across the country — otherwise known as a Terry stop (OK'd by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968) under which a cop may briefly detain a person upon reasonable suspicion of involvement in a crime but short of probable cause to arrest. When a search for weapons is also authorized, the procedure is known as a stop-and-frisk.

In the Bloomberg years in New York City, stop-and-frisks have gone through the roof. In 2002, when Bloomberg had only just stepped into the Mayor's office, 97,296 New Yorkers were stopped by the police under stop and frisk. Out of those, 80,176 were totally innocent, 82 percent.

By 2009, 581,168 New Yorkers were stopped by the police. Of those, 510,742 were totally innocent; 310,611 were black, 55 percent; ?180,055 were Latino, 32 percent; ?53,601 were white, 10 percent; ?289,602 were aged 14-24, 50 percent. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about only 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year.

In 2011, the police stopped 685,724 New Yorkers. ?Of those, 605,328 were totally innocent, 88 percent; ?350,743 were black, 53 percent; ?223,740 were Latino, 34 percent; ?61,805 were white, 9 percent; ?341,581 were aged 14-24, 51 percent).

There are continued protests about New York City's racist application of an already essentially racist law. Last week the New York Civil Liberties Union unveiled "Stop and Frisk Watch" — a free and innovative smartphone application that will enable New Yorkers to monitor police activity and hold the New York ...

Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012
It happens that Romneycare was less conservative than Obamacare because it did little to confront rising health care costs.

For now, let's drop the talk about wanting a liberal America or a conservative America. What we truly need is a modern America. No country can be modern spending twice what its rich competitors do on health care while leaving millions without any coverage.

If the U.S. Supreme Court declares the essential "individual mandate" in the federal Affordable Care Act unconstitutional — or Republicans throw out the reforms — then it's back to the past, back to the economy-dragging health care mess we've been calling a "system."

Republicans say that Americans don't want top-down government control of their health care. But what we have now is top-down corporate control of health care. Insurers, drugmakers, sellers of expensive equipment, hospital executives, labs, home-health-care services, and others unnamed prosper by exploiting the chaos in our health care system.

They get other payers (be they private or government) to purchase $50 drugs when $10 drugs are just as effective. They make more money if patients have to be readmitted into the hospital. They profit from pushing surgery, when careful watching or less invasive therapy might do the trick at far lower cost and risk. They casually order CT scans without much thought to the expense or the patients' exposure to radiation.

The motives are undoubtedly mixed. Some providers see opportunity in siphoning the poorly regulated Niagara of health care dollars into their pockets. Many doctors prescribe far more tests and surgery than do their colleagues, either out of habit or fear of being sued. (Republicans are right about the need for tort reform to curb litigation against responsible doctors.)

Here's the point of an individual mandate requiring the uninsured to obtain coverage. The reforms call for state-run health-insurance exchanges, where the uncovered can find affordable health plans.

The plans can't remain solvent if ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
Even while it is possible (if unlikely, thanks to the 5-4 majority maintained by conservative justices) to overturn Citizens United, the Court’s impending decision won’t affect the 2012 race.

 

Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped bring even more corporate money into politics, has already made history. Outside groups have spent record amounts influencing the 2012 election already propelling unlikely candidates like Newt Gingrich to remain in the race for far longer than actual voters seemed to want them around. People on the right and left have called for the Supreme Court to overturn this decision, and the Court has an opportunity to do so. It’s currently deciding whether to hear a Montana Supreme Court case which ruled that Montana could use a century-old state law on its books to keep corporate money out of politics.

Even while it is possible (if unlikely, thanks to the 5-4 majority maintained by conservative justices) to overturn Citizens United, the Court’s impending decision won’t affect the 2012 race. Justice John Robert’s court schedule makes clear ...

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“Chris Van Hollen says that the only way to mitigate the ability of corporate interests to wield undue, unscientific influence over public policymaking on climate change is to require corporations to disclose more fully where any political funding is going. ”

According to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) here on Wednesday, at least half of the U.S. corporations under review have actively supported the misrepresentation of the science around climate change.

Many more have offered contradictory statements on the issue. 

This despite the fact that all of the 28 companies included in the study have publicly expressed general or concerted support for emissions reductions. 

“Many of these companies influenced public opinion and undermined the public's understanding of scientific consensus around climate change,” Francesca Grifo, the director of the UCS's Scientific Integrity Program, told journalists on Wednesday. 

“They have done so by developing specific strategies to promote false scientific uncertainty and downplay scientific evidence, and by propping up and using front groups to vilify scientists and promote sympathetic experts.”

Grifo says that such actions mirror past approaches by the tobacco industry, “where the end goal is delaying ...

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“African-American churches, historically at the forefront of the nation's civil and voting rights efforts, are grappling this election year with how to navigate through the wave of new voting-access laws approved in many Republican-controlled states, laws that many African-Americans believe were implemented to suppress the votes of minorities and others.”

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to attendees at a summit of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches about the importance of voting as well as the significance of new voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect minorities. The summit was designed, in part, to help black leaders learn about the new laws -- yet Rush Limbaugh and a Fox News contributor attacked Holder's appearance as “reprehensible” and “unseemly.”

C-SPAN: “Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers The Keynote Address At A Meeting Of The Congressional Black Caucus And The Conference Of National Black Churches.” From C-SPAN.org:

Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the keynote address at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches.

The day also features panels on the state of voting rights, protecting a church's non-profit status, and energizing constituents and congregants to vote.

The Attorney General has announced that he will vigorously defend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including the Section 5 provision that Southern states or those that have historically disenfranchised black voters must clear any changes to voting law or electoral systems with the Justice Department. [C-SPAN.org, 5/30/12]

McClatchy: Summit Was Planned To “Discuss The New Laws, Their Potential Impact On African-American Voters And How Churches Can Educate Parishioners.” From McClatchy:

African-American churches, historically at the forefront of the nation's civil and voting rights efforts, are grappling this election year with how to navigate through the wave of new voting-access laws approved in ...

Published: Thursday 24 May 2012
Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups search for a good way to deal with the Citizens United ruling.

 

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, many Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have proposed constitutional amendments to overturn the controversial decision — or attempt to curb its impact. But not everyone who disagrees with the decision thinks that’s the right approach to reducing corporate influence in politics.

Opponents of the decision — which held that unlimited expenditures by corporations to independently advocate for or against federal candidates did not pose a threat of corrupting politicians — gathered at a forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C. 

There, the case was decried as a “product of judicial activism” by Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College Law School. And Jamie Raskin, a Democratic state senator in Maryland who is also a law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, said the ruling has helped move the nation toward a government “by, of and for the corporations.”

But while both Greenfield and Raskin railed against the threats they see from the influence of corporate money in elections, the men were in opposite corners about whether a constitutional amendment was the best way to fight it.

READ FULL POST 10 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse submit a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let Montana’s century-old ban on corporate money in political campaigns stand.

Late last week, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) submitted a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let Montana’s century-old ban on corporate money in political campaigns stand. Montana’s law contradicts the Court’s 2010 decision onCitizens United which declared a similar federal law, McCain-Feingold, unconstitutional.

A lawsuit led by the American Tradition Partnership has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block Montana’s decision. The Court temporarily blocked Montana’s decision in February to allow for more airing and discussion.

McCain and Whitehouse 

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012
Most money in our elections goes to TV stations to run political advertisements and according to writers Robert McChesney and John Nichols in the Monthly Review, the amount of political ad spending is skyrocketing.

 

May Day, Murdoch and the murder of Milly Dowler. What do they have to do with the 2012 U.S. general election? This year’s election will undoubtedly be the most expensive in U.S. history, with some projections topping $5 billion. Not only has the amount of spending increased, but its nature has as well, following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which allows unlimited spending by corporations, unions and so-called super PACs, all under the banner of “free speech.” This campaign season will unfold amidst a resurgent Occupy Wall Street movement launched globally on May 1, the same day the British Parliament released a report on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire charging that he is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” Now more than ever, people should heed the advice of the famous Watergate source, Deep Throat: “Follow the money.”

Most money in our elections goes to TV stations to run political advertisements. According to writers Robert McChesney and John Nichols in the Monthly Review, the amount of political ad spending is skyrocketing, such that “factoring for inflation, the 1972 election spent less than 3 percent of what will be spent on TV political ads in the 2012 election cycle.”

For just one relatively small race, a recent Pennsylvania congressional primary between Democrats, journalist Ken Knelly provided a comprehensive analysis of the local TV news coverage compared with the ...

Published: Friday 27 April 2012
“Suspicionless” searches of people who are not individually suspected of committed a crime are rarely acceptable under the Constitution.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is obsessed with drugs. Since coming into office, he signed a law requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug tests — a law that was subsequently halted by a federal court — and he issued an executive order mandating random drug tests for state employees. This executive order has now been declared unconstitutional by a George H.W. Bush-appointed judge:

Miami U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro Thursday morning ruling that random, suspicionless testing of some 85,000 workers violates the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures also raises doubts about a new state law quietly signed by Scott this spring allowing the governor’s agency heads to require urine tests of new and existing workers.

To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing,” Ungaro wrote in her order issued this morning, citing previous U.S. Supreme Court orders which decided that urine tests are considered government searches.

Judge Ungaro’s decision should not be controversial. As she correctly notes, “suspicionless” searches of people who are not individually suspected of committed a crime are rarely acceptable under the Constitution. Nevertheless, these kinds of unconstitutional bills ...

Published: Friday 27 April 2012
What the Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling have done is make household names out of a bunch of relatively unknown, very wealthy conservatives.

Contrary to expectations, the much-criticized court decisions that gave us “super PACs” have not led to a tsunami of contributions flowing from the treasuries of Fortune 500 corporations — at least not yet anyway.

What the Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling have done is make household names out of a bunch of relatively unknown, very wealthy conservatives. Of the top 10 donors to super PACs so far in the 2012 election cycle, seven are individuals — not corporations — and four of those individuals are billionaires.

The top 10 contributors gave more than a third, or $68 million of the nearly $202 million reported by the outside spending groups this election, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

Rounding out the top 10 are two labor unions and a physicians’ medical malpractice insurance group.

The top donor list is mostly Republican, which is not surprising given the competitive GOP presidential primary season. Even so, Democrats have had less success in raising money for super PACs so far.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court and a lower court set the stage for the new super PACs.

Such organizations can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals to spend on advertising supporting or opposing a candidate, but are not permitted to coordinate their spending with campaigns, though many employ former campaign operatives.

Top donors

No. 1 on the donor list by far is billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and family, who gave $26.5 million. Nearly all of it was spent in a fruitless effort to elevate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the GOP presidential nomination through donations to the pro-Gingrich super PAC “

Published: Thursday 26 April 2012
While citizens concerned about the impacts from fracking and reckless gas industry practices are being labeled “eco-terrorists” and “an insurgengy,” those responsible, directly or indirectly for having them labeled as such, are shilling on behalf of a State Department-designated terrorist organization.

A new chapter has been added to the shale gas industry's eco-terrorism, counterinsurgency and psychological operations saga.

In March, NBC News investigative reporter Michael Isikoff revealed that many prominent U.S. public officials are on the payroll of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a group labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. These U.S. officials are lobbying hard to remove the MEK from the list.

Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, after the recent Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision — a controversial decision itself — it is a federal crime to provide "material ...

Published: Thursday 26 April 2012
Based on their line of questioning, justices across the ideological spectrum appeared reluctant to strike down the provision of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law known as S.B. 1070.

We get an update from Colorlines.com reporter Seth Freed Wessler about hearings Wednesday before the U.S. Supreme Court on Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law known as S.B. 1070. The case could have implications for a half-dozen other states that passed similar measures which are now on hold pending its outcome. “The question on the table in the Court yesterday was what the states are allowed to do, but the question that lots of people have on the ground is, what’s Obama going to do?” says Wessler. “The administration has deported more people than ever before — 400,000 people.” Based on their line of questioning, justices across the ideological spectrum appeared reluctant to strike down the provision. Should the court uphold any part of the law, civil rights groups plan to challenge it on grounds that it discriminates on the basis of race and ethnic background. “The bottom line: They don’t really understand the extent to which this law goes deeper and really impacts the lives of people who are living here, not just those who are undocumented, but those who have been here for three or four generations who are of Latino background who are being stopped and harassed and detained,” says activist Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona.

Published: Tuesday 17 April 2012
“Vermont joins cities and states across the country in passing the resolution.”

Good news from our friends in the north: the Vermont Senate has approved a resolution which would amend the U.S. Constitution and reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That decision helped pave the way for Big Money to have an even larger impact on U.S. elections, essentially by ruling that corporations have a constitutional right to free speech in spending unlimited amounts on campaigns.

Vermont joins cities and states across the country in passing the resolution. Earlier this year, in fact, 64 Vermont towns passed similar declarations in town halls calling on Congress to pass the constitutional amendment.

According to the Burlington Free Press, the resolution passed by the Senate (which heads next to the state House) asks Congress to consider an amendment “that provides that money is not speech and corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution and that also affirms the constitutional rights of natural persons.”

The resolution is a result of the hard work of good government groups including Public Citizen, Move to Amend, and local organizations. Public Citizen, in a press release last week, hailed the efforts of legislators including state Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Williston) who shepherded the resolution to the Senate.

Public Citizen:

“The passage of the resolution is just one step toward a U.S. constitutional amendment declaring that the rights of natural persons ...
Published: Monday 16 April 2012
“The richest of the rich” scooped up more than $20 million last year and paid a tax rate of just 13.9 percent.

Every morning at the start of the school day when I was a boy, we would stand next to our desks facing the flag with our hands over our hearts and say these words:
 

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."   

 

Of course, I never questioned whether the republic to which I was pledging allegiance did provide "liberty and justice for all".  As an adult with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I can clearly see now that it did not – certainly not then.  Not before the passage of the Civil Rights Acts in the 1960s, at a time when so-called Jim Crow laws in the South still deprived blacks of the right to vote.  When "working women" were teachers, nurses, or secretaries, full stop.

Then for one shining moment the ideal of "liberty and justice for all" appeared to take wing.  From voting rights to equal employment opportunity, the scent of social progress was in the air.  That was from mid-1960s to the late '70s and it was the stepchild of the Vietnam War, which traumatized and galvanized millions of hitherto apathetic Americans.  Think of it as a collective case of PTSD, a nation at once dazed, depressed, and outraged by the stupidity of fighting a war we couldn't win in a faraway place against a people who posed no threat to us.
 

Unfortunately, it was a fleeting moment.  The 1970s gave way to the Reagan era and ushered in the "greed is good" ethic that dominates our political culture, drives the supercharged K Street lobby machine, and stalks the halls of Congress. 

 

In his new book entitled Fairness and Freedom, David Hackett Fischer compares the history and political culture of New Zealand and the United States ...

Published: Saturday 7 April 2012
Tuesday night was the clincher, as the former Massachusetts governor won in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Mitt Romney will be the Republican to face President Obama in the fall. Tuesday night was the clincher, as the former Massachusetts governor won in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington D.C. He may stumble on, but the Catholic zealot Rick Santorum is finished, wiped out by Romney's vast financial resources.

Eight years ago, Romney began his bid to win the Republican nomination, only to be crushed by John McCain. In that campaign, he was tagged as a crypto-liberal former governor of Massachusetts and author of a health plan derided by Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Week after tedious week in his second bid, Romney has had to stab his own plan in the back, lashed by his Republican opponents as the true originator of "Obamacare," now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever tincture of liberalism he might once have exhibited has long since vanished. His conservatism is of a harshness way beyond the positions of the last Republican challenger to a Democratic president, Bob Dole, who was thrashed by Bill Clinton in 1996.

Romney's opportunism in junking previous positions when under conservative pressure has been unremitting. Take the single biggest issue in American politics today, the minimum wage.

If you adjust for inflation, median personal income in America hasn't moved for almost half a century. Nearly a quarter of U.S. households have zero to negative net worth. It just takes one unlucky turn of the cards — an illness, an accident, and a brush with the law — to put them under.

In 2005, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, since "our customers simply don't have the money to buy basic necessities between pay checks." The boss of the largest corporation on the planet, which employs 1.3 million Americans and has 850,000 customers in its stores at any given moment, was identifying what was then and is now America's No. 1 problem: A huge chunk ...

Published: Sunday 1 April 2012
“Rule, targeting new power plants, could move nation away from coal”

In a rule that could discourage reliance on coal for energy, the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

The proposal would “move our nation into an era of American energy that is cleaner and cheaper,” EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said in a conference call with reporters.

Opponents say the rule would make it almost impossible to build new coal-fired power plants and could cause some plants to close. “Unfortunately, the EPA continues to ignore the real impact their rules will have on American families and businesses by driving up energy prices and destroying jobs,” the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said in a statement.

The rule is the result of a long process that wound through the U.S. Supreme Court. Five years ago, the court decreed that the EPA had authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Two years later, the agency formally found that emissions of such gases contributed to climate change and threatened public health.

Currently there are no national limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and the proposal would affect only new power plants, exempting those already in existence.

This January, the EPA for the first time released data on emissions of greenhouse gases at specific facilities. Power plants were by far the largest source.

Jackson said the proposal is in line with what the industry is already doing — shifting toward cheap natural gas being produced domestically. A boom has driven down natural gas prices, but Jackson said the agency had taken into account what might happen if those prices eventually rise.  “The price of natural gas has to rise dramatically … for the economics of this rule — which are very, very good — to ...

Published: Wednesday 28 March 2012
Published: Wednesday 28 March 2012
“Obamacare is head and shoulders above what we have today.”

Small wonder President Obama chose not to delay the U.S. Supreme Court case on his health care reforms until long after the election. His advisors are clearly in the lab transforming the president's signature legislation into a potent election issue — whether the justices leave it intact or rip it apart.

For starters, ignore the new CBS News poll showing that 47 percent of Americans give the Affordable Care Act a thumb down, while only 36 percent approve.  Older surveys suggest that many of the unhappy respondents actually wanted a larger role for government in health care (the public option, for example), not the smaller one conservatives demand.  The bottom-line question for discontented liberals is, do they want a flawed federal health care plan or no plan?  They can want the reform to happen without loving the final product.

Obamacare is head and shoulders above what we have today.  That is the worst of most worlds — growing health care insecurity paired with soaring health care costs.  The better course for reform would have been folding everyone into Medicare.  Under the health care plan for the elderly, government picks up most of the hospital bills, and enrollees may buy subsidized private coverage for doctor visits and such.  It's simple and cheap to administer.  Oh, but let's not go over this burnt ground again.

The key issue before the Supreme Court is whether the federal government can force the uninsured to buy health coverage.  Those seeking to strike down the law see it as an abuse of federal power.  Its backers counter that the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause says otherwise.

This much is obvious: If the ...

Published: Tuesday 20 March 2012
“The initiative is arguing that life without the possibility of parole for minors amounts to the sort of “cruel and unusual” punishment outlawed by the Constitution.”

Tuesday is a big day for juvenile justice in this country. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments both challenging and defending the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for cases of homicide.

The high court will examine the cases of two men convicted of homicide for two separate killings, in Arkansas and Alabama. Both men were 14 years old at the time of the incidents, and they are represented by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. The group represents indigent defendants, including juveniles, and defendants its lawyers feel have faced unjust treatment or racial bias.

The initiative is arguing that life without the possibility of parole for minors — or “death in prison” — amounts to the sort of “cruel and unusual” punishment outlawed by the Constitution.

Arguments challenging the constitutionality of such sentences will touch on questions of child development and brain science, and the ability of youths to transform and succeed in efforts at rehabilitation.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, based in Georgia, has posted an in-depth story that includes details about the killings the two youths committed with other youths, the arguments put forth by the Equal Justice Initiative and the various directions the court’s ruling could eventually take. Currently, the story notes, there are about 2,570 convicts serving life without parole sentences they received as minors. Seven states bar such sentences.

The story also notes that the National District Attorneys Association and the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers are filing briefs ...

Published: Tuesday 21 February 2012
“Where the infamous Citizens United decision came from and how to overturn it.”

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Americans cannot prevent corporations from spending unlimited money to control elections, politicians, and policy. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court ignored the fact that corporations are creations of state law with government-derived advantages and labeled them, in the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, “voices,” “speakers,” and yes, a “disadvantaged person or class.” In this Wonderland, corporations are people, corporate money is “speech,” and laws restricting corporate political spending violate the First Amendment.

Nearly 80 percent of the public opposes the holding in Citizens United and supports a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision, according to multiple polls. If Americans so clearly oppose the fabrication of “corporate people” who can use the Constitution to strike down the real people’s laws, how did the folly of Citizens United ever happen?

In fact, the case is the result of a well-funded and organized 30-year campaign to establish corporate constitutional rights as a means to trump democratic laws. Indeed, Citizens United is more like a victory parade for this campaign than a stumble or simple mistake of the Court.

The Effect of Citizens United

The Citizens United decision killed the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as the McCain-Feingold law). The Court reversed a century of law and overruled one of its own decisions from just six years earlier, which had affirmed our right to keep ...

Published: Saturday 11 February 2012
Conservative lawyers dismiss threat of foreign money, anonymous political spending at CPAC.

Anonymous political speech. Foreign money in U.S. elections. The proliferation of super PACs. How grave a threat do any of things pose to American democracy? Not much, according to a panel of conservative attorneys, who gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

The high-profile legal minds on the CPAC panel largely agreed that the changes to the campaign finance landscape are grounds for celebration.

Thanks to the Citizens United decision, we’ve seen “more voices, more competition, and more accountability,” said panelist Benjamin Barr, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.

“Without SpeechNow.org, the Republican nomination would have been sewed up ...

Published: Tuesday 7 February 2012
“A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced Monday that it would release its long-awaited decision by 10 a.m. PST.”

A federal appeals court is expected to decide Tuesday whether California's ban on same-sex marriage violates the federal Constitution, a ruling that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced Monday that it would release its long-awaited decision by 10 a.m. PST.

The panel, which includes two Democratic appointees and one Republican, will decide whether Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban passed by voters in 2008, violates equal protection and due process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.

Two same-sex couples challenged Proposition 8 just days before the California Supreme Court upheld it as a valid state constitutional amendment. The suit led to an historic federal trial that examined the nature of sexual orientation, the history of marriage, and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker presided over the trial and ruled against Proposition 8 in 2010, but the 9th Circuit issued a stay to put his ruling on hold pending appeals.

The stay could remain in place even if the panel rules against Proposition 8. If the panel lifts the stay, backers of Proposition 8 could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate it.

The losing party can appeal the ruling to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit, which would delay U.S. Supreme Court review for many months or longer, or go directly to the high court. The sponsors of Proposition 8, ProtectMarriage, have said they were eager to get to the high court as soon as possible.

"Either side that loses would want to read the opinion and look at the vote count before making an en banc decision," said University of California, Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

During oral arguments more than a year ago, the panel appeared to be leaning toward ruling against Proposition 8 but expressed concern about procedural matters.

The panel since ...

Published: Saturday 21 January 2012
January 22 marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which has been called the most significant of the 20th century.

January 22 marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. That ruling has been called the most significant of the 20th century. Certainly it was the most significant for women.

The case was argued by a 27-year old female lawyer from Texas — Sarah Weddington, in her first appearance before the Court. Female lawyers were so rare in those days that the Supreme Court lawyers lounge didn't even have a ladies room. There were no female Supreme Court justices. Weddington faced a wall of older white men.

Almost 40 years later, Sarah Weddington is still a tireless advocate for women. She now teaches leadership at the University of Texas at Austin, writes and speaks nationwide, and continues to educate young women and men on rights and responsibilities, and the fragile nature of progress without vigilance. I took a look back (and a look forward) with her last week on my radio show, Equal Time with Martha Burk. Here are some highlights:

 

READ FULL POST 6 COMMENTS

Published: Saturday 21 January 2012
An interview with Bret Grote of Human Rights Coalition.

On December 7, following the US Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the Philadelphia District Attorney’s final avenue of appeal, current DA Seth Williams announced that he would no longer be seeking a death sentence for the world-renowned death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal--on death row following his conviction at a 1982 trial deemed unfair by Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the Japanese Diet, Nelson Mandela, and many others. Abu-Jamal’s sentence of execution was first “overturned” by a federal court in December, 2001, and during the next ten years, he was never transferred from death row at the level five supermax prison, SCI Greene, in rural western Pennsylvania.

 

Shortly after the DA’s announcement in early December, Mumia Abu-Jamal, now 57 years old, was transferred to SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, PA, 100 miles from Philadelphia. Once there, it was expected that he would be released from solitary confinement and transferred into general population where he would finally have contact visits and generally less onerous conditions. However, he was immediately placed in “Administrative Custody,” in SCI Mahanoy’s “Restrictive Housing Unit” where his conditions of isolation and repression are now in many ways more extreme than they were on death row.

 

Presently at SCI Mahanoy, Mumia Abu-Jamal is shackled around his ankles and wrists whenever he is outside his cell, even to the shower and during already restricted visits--where he is already behind Plexiglas; Before going to the yard he is subject to strip searches before and after ...

Published: Friday 20 January 2012
“Administering the death penalty is also far more expensive than imprisoning an ‘offender’ for life.”

(The following piece has been adapted from a talk given at Alcatraz in January, 2012.)

 

I find it more than a bit serendipitous that we gather here today in the immediate wake of FOX’s inauguration of Alcatraz, the TV drama. The program --whose rights are owned by Warner Brothers, a company that paid not a single cent in federal corporate income tax from 2001-2003—further mystifies an already mysterious and misunderstood place.

 

Alcatraz’s plot revolves around one detective’s incorrigible quest to find a barbarous flock of killers that were said to have escaped from the facility in the 1960’s. Amidst the pursuit of merciless serial murderers audiences also discover that the U.S. government has been surreptitiously renovating “the Rock” since its closure in 1963 with plans of revival imminent. I’m convinced that were the late German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche alive today he might wish to describe FOX’s fictionalized rendering of Alcatraz as ideological. Nietzsche once famously wrote that “ideology is the lie we call truth.”  That is, peppering a mythical TV drama with dispatches from history smudges the ink and blunts the link between fact and fiction. Tethering a counterfeit tale to an actually existing historical site renders credible a story that does little to transgress our taken-for-granted assumptions about the relationship between retribution and justice, crime and punishment, and social symptoms and diseases.

 

As curators, educators, and interpreters of the U.S. carceral system we’re obligated to challenge our most deeply held beliefs about justice and criminality by acknowledging that what we once assumed to be nothing more than a neutral form of entertainment is anything but impartial on questions of ...

Published: Thursday 5 January 2012
“The 2012 presidential election promises to be long, contentious, extremely expensive and perhaps more negative than any in history.”

The Republican caucuses in Iowa, with their cliffhanger ending, confirmed two key political points and left a third virtually ignored. First, the Republicans are not enthusiastic about any of their candidates. Second, we have entered a new era in political campaigning in the United States post-Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that unleashed a torrent of unreported corporate money into our electoral process. And third, because President Barack Obama is running in this primary season unchallenged, scant attention has been paid to the growing discontent among the very people who put him in office in 2008. As a result, the 2012 presidential election promises to be long, contentious, extremely expensive and perhaps more negative than any in history.

Mitt Romney technically prevailed in the Iowa caucuses, squeaking out an eight-vote margin over late-surging Rick Santorum. Libertarian Ron Paul garnered an impressive 21 percent of the vote in the crowded field. Note that the Republican Party does not allow a recount of the handwritten, hand-counted ballots, and that the final Romney edge was first reported on right-wing Fox News Channel by none other than its paid commentator Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s two controversial presidential election wins.

So, the prevailing wisdom is that while Willard Mitt Romney retains the veneer of “electability,” he cannot persuade more than 25 percent of Republicans to vote for him. Santorum’s surge was a late-breaking coalescence of ...

Published: Monday 19 December 2011
Making clear that corporations aren’t people takes people power.

In November's elections, the national media gave extensive coverage to a proposed "personhood amendment" to Mississippi's state constitution. This extremist, anti-choice ballot initiative declared that a person's life begins not at birth, but at the very instant that a sperm meets the egg.

However, extending full personhood to two-cell zygotes was too far out even for many of Mississippi's anti-choice voters, so the proposition was voted down.

Meanwhile, the national media paid no attention to another "personhood" vote that took place on that same day. This was a referendum in Missoula, Montana on a concept even more bizarre than declaring zygotes to be persons with full citizenship rights.

It was a vote on overturning last year's democracy-killing decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the now-infamous Citizens United case. A narrow, five-man majority had decreed that — abracadabra — lifeless, soulless corporations are henceforth persons with human political rights.

Moreover, said the five justices, these tongueless entities must be allowed to "speak" by dumping unlimited sums of their corporate cash into our election campaigns, thus giving them a far bigger voice than us real-life persons.

Missoulians, of course, cannot single-handedly overrule the Supremes, but they can be at the forefront of a grassroots movement demanding a constitutional amendment to reverse the high Court's perverse ruling.

And that's just what Missoulians did, with a whopping 75 percent of voters calling on Congress to send such an amendment to the states for prompt ratification.

We can all be Missoulians. People in California, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin, and elsewhere are pushing such resolutions. For information on how to get your city and state to join in this call, visit this website ...

Published: Saturday 17 December 2011
“The public bank concept is not new. It has been proposed before in San Francisco and has a successful 90-year track record in North Dakota.”

The campaign to "move your money" has gotten a groundswell of support. Having greater impact would be to "move our money" -- move our local government revenues out of Wall Street banks into our own publicly-owned banks.

Occupy Wall Street has been both criticized and applauded for not endorsing any official platform. But there are unofficial platforms, including one titled the 99% Declaration which calls for a "National General Assembly" to convene on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia. The 99% Declaration seeks everything from reining in the corporate state to ending the Fed to eliminating censorship of the Internet. But none of these demands seems to go to the heart of what prompted Occupiers to camp out on Wall Street in the first place – a corrupt banking system that serves the 1% at the expense of the 99%. To redress that, we need a banking system that serves the 99%.

Occupy San Francisco has now endorsed a plan aimed at doing just that. In a December 1 Wall Street Journal article titled “Occupy Shocker: A Realistic, Actionable Idea,” David Weidner writes:

READ FULL POST 22 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 11 December 2011
“The clear sentiment in the crowded Constitution Center last night was that this alternative for Abu-Jamal would be absolutely unacceptable.”

The mood was both celebratory and angry among a 1000-plus overflow audience packed into the balcony space of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia on the evening of Dec. 9.

The crowd of supporters of Philadelphia journalist and black political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal had come to denounce the over 29 years that he has spent locked in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s grim death row since his conviction for the shooting of a white police officer, Daniel Faulkner. But they were also there to celebrate the surprise decision, announced two days earlier by Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, not to seek to reinstate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, which had been permanently vacated by a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Technically, the Supreme Court, last Oct. 11, had decided not to review a decision by a Third Circuit Court panel that had upheld a 2001 Federal Judge’s ruling declaring his 1982 death sentence to have been unconstitutional. The Federal Court and Appeals Court decisions had been appealed by the district attorney’s office for years, all the way to the Supreme Court.

The event at the Constitution Center had initially been planned to mark the 30th anniversary of the shooting incident that had led to Abu-Jamal’s arrest and to his trial and conviction. But only two days before, Williams, who had 180 days from the Supreme Court’s ...

Published: Wednesday 30 November 2011
“Congress is sensing these political tremblers — and beginning to move.”

In the Nov. 8 elections, the national media gave extensive coverage to a proposed "personhood amendment" to Mississippi's state constitution. This was an extremist anti-abortion ballot initiative to declare that a person's life begins not at birth, but at the very instant that a sperm meets the egg. However, extending full personhood to two-cell zygotes was too far out even for many of Mississippi's zealous antagonists against woman's right to control her own fertility, so the proposition was voted down.

Meanwhile, the national media paid practically zero attention to another "personhood" vote that took place on that same day over a thousand miles from Mississippi. This was a referendum in Missoula, Mont., on a concept even more bizarre than declaring zygotes to be persons with full citizenship rights.

It was a vote on overturning last year's democracy-killing decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the now-infamous Citizens United case. A narrow five-man majority had decreed that — abracadabra! — lifeless, soulless corporations are henceforth persons with human political rights. Moreover, said the five, these tongueless artificial entities must be allowed to "speak" by dumping unlimited sums of their corporate cash into our election campaigns, thus giving them a far bigger voice than us real-life persons.

Missoulians, of ...

Published: Sunday 13 November 2011
Riverside County officials have begun to justify their nascent pay-to-stay program by contending that new revenue from inmates could save low to mid-wage county jobs that would otherwise be on the chopping block.

At 3400 Market Street in Riverside, California rests the Riverside Marriott, a picturesque business-friendly hotel boasting an impressive list of amenities including a spa, state of the art exercise facilities, heated outdoor pools, and a mezzanine level four-star restaurant and lounge. The property offers 292 air-conditioned guestrooms each appointed with a refrigerator, coffee maker, an automated climate control system, high speed Wi-Fi, and a beverage service.  Rooms at the Riverside Marriott can be reserved for a rate of $109.00/day.

Less than one mile southeast at 4000 Orange Street stands the Robert Presley Detention Center, one of five jails in Riverside County operated by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Each cell comes fully equipped with running water, a mattress, and a circumambulating correctional officer. Beginning early next year rooms here and in other county facilities can be reserved for a rate of $142.42/day.

On October 8th the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a measure that authorizes the municipality to begin charging prisoners $142.42 per day of their prison stay in an effort to save the county up to $5 million dollars per annum.

The Board’s decision comes amidst a budgetary crisis of unprecedented proportions as the state of California attempts to “privatize” its way out of last year’s $9.6 billion deficit. Although California has had ubiquitous budget difficulties since the passage of Proposition 13-- a 1978 ballot initiative establishing that property is to be assessed at its acquisition value and that taxes levied thereon will not exceed 1% --, the most recent crisis of capitalism emerging in 2007 has only exacerbated an already barbed problem. The global economic meltdown has engendered a series of high cost, unprecedented policy measures ...

Published: Saturday 5 November 2011
“Today’s protesters are asking for little: a chance to use their skills, the right to decent work at decent pay, a fairer economy and society.”

The protest movement that began in Tunisia in January, subsequently spreading to Egypt, and then to Spain, has now become global, with the protests engulfing Wall Street and cities across America. Globalization and modern technology now enables social movements to transcend borders as rapidly as ideas can. And social protest has found fertile ground everywhere: a sense that the “system” has failed, and the conviction that even in a democracy, the electoral process will not set things right – at least not without strong pressure from the street.

In May, I went to the site of the Tunisian protests; in July, I talked to Spain’s indignados; from there, I went to meet the young Egyptian revolutionaries in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; and, a few weeks ago, I talked with Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York. There is a common theme, expressed by the OWS movement in a simple phrase: “We are the 99%.”

READ FULL POST 19 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 13 October 2011
The deliberate judicial killing of a man who might have been innocent is deeply disturbing.

Three significant events relating to the death penalty occurred in the United States during September. The one that gained the most publicity was the execution in Georgia of Troy Davis, who had been convicted of the 1989 murder of Mark McPhail, an off-duty police officer.

Davis’s death sentence was carried out despite serious doubts about whether he was guilty of the crime for which he received it. Witnesses who had testified at his trial later said that prosecutors had coerced them. Even death-penalty supporters protested against his execution, saying that he should be given a new trial. But the courts denied his appeals. In his final words, he proclaimed his innocence.

The deliberate judicial killing of a man who might have been innocent is deeply disturbing. But the execution was consistent with something that happened just two weeks earlier, at one of the debates between Republican candidates for their party’s nomination to challenge President Barack Obama next year. Texas Governor Rick Perry was reminded that during his term of office, the death penalty has been carried out 234 times. No other governor in modern times has ...

Published: Friday 23 September 2011
The General Accounting Office has concluded that “in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.”

“I am innocent,” said Troy Davis, moments before the the state of Georgia put him to death.

The state-sanctioned slaying, which former President Jammy Carter characterized as “a grave miscarriage of justice,” was completed at 11:08 pm EST.

Before the execution, the man whose case inspired an international outcry against not just the death penalty but a dysfunctional “justice” system told the witnesses at the Georgia Diagnostic Prison facility: “The incident that night was not my fault. I did not have a gun.”

Addressing the family of, Mark MacPhail, the off-duty Savannah police officer he was accused of killing, Davis said he was sorry for their loss. Then, he said: “I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent.”

To those who battled to save his life, Davis urged continued investigation, inquiry and struggle for justice. "All I can ask... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth," he said moments before the execution.

The killing of Davis took place 

Published: Thursday 22 September 2011
At 10:04 p.m. the victim’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, got a call from the Georgia attorney general's office saying the stay was denied, paving the way for the execution.

One of the most controversial death penalty cases in Georgia's history ended Wednesday night as the state executed Troy Anthony Davis, a convicted cop killer who adamantly maintained his innocence.

Davis, found guilty of murder in the 1989 shooting of Columbus High graduate Mark A. MacPhail, was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m.

The waiting game played out from Columbus to the state prison in Jackson where police in riot gear stood guard as Davis supporters gathered.

Early in the day it appeared Davis' appeals had run out, but then the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case, delaying the execution that had been set for 7 p.m. Wednesday.

At 10:04 p.m., MacPhail's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, got a call from the Georgia attorney general's office saying the stay was denied, paving the way for the execution.

Twice during the delay, MacPhail was interviewed live by CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"I would like to close this book," she told Cooper. She said the ordeal has been "hell."

In Jackson, outside Georgia's death-row prison, crowds protesting Davis' execution cheered upon hearing the high court had agreed to review the case. But the upswell in enthusiasm followed tense moments during which at least three protesters across the street from the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison got arrested as the crowd there grew unruly.

After that, an army of corrections officers in riot gear deployed in front of the prison gate. The law enforcement presence later swelled as two convoys of Georgia state patrol cruisers, lights flashing and sirens blaring, pulled up on the north side of Georgia Highway 36 to seal off access to the prison. In the media area separated from the road by a fence, a prison representative told reporters they had five minutes to decide whether to stay in the secured area or leave. If they left, they would not be allowed back in.

Hundreds of ...

Published: Thursday 22 September 2011
The execution occurred shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the execution.

Troy Anthony Davis was killed by lethal injection by the state of Georgia at 11:08 p.m. EDT last night, despite widespread doubts about his guilt. The execution occurred shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the execution. Democracy Now! was the only news outlet to continuously broadcast live from the prison grounds last night, where hundreds of supporters Troy Davis held an all-day vigil in Jackson, Georgia. Today we hear the voices of Troy Davis’s sister Martina Correia, hip-hop artist Big Boi, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Ed DuBose of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, two members of the Troy Davis legal team, and more. We also hear from journalist Jon Lewis, a witness to the execution: "[Davis] said to the family [of slain police officer Mark MacPhail] that he was sorry for their loss, but also said that he did not take their son, father, brother. He said to them to dig deeper into this case, to find out the truth... And then he said to the prison staff, the ones he said 'who are going to take my life,' he said to them, 'May God have mercy on your souls.' And his last words were to them: 'May God bless your souls.'"

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from Atlanta, Georgia, just miles from the Georgia Diagnostic Prison in the town of Jackson, where the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis Wednesday night after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the execution. It was one of the most high-profile executions in years.

Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer, who was white. His name was Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene.

Democracy Now! was the only news ...

Published: Wednesday 21 September 2011
Former FBI director William Sessions: “It is for cases like this that executive clemency exists.”

The killing of Troy Davis would mark a devastating end to a case that inspired a global mobilization against the death penalty. Davis, 42, has faced execution four times in the past four years for a 1989 murder in Savannah, despite serious doubts about his guilt. His conviction hinged on nine witnesses—no physical evidence linked him to the crime—seven of whom later recanted their testimony. Some described being coerced by police. Others point to a different man—the eighth witness, who first implicated Davis—as the real killer. “If I knew then what I know now,” juror Brenda Forrest said in 2009, “Troy Davis would not be on death row.”

Forrest was one of several people who met with members of the pardons board on September 19 to plead for Davis’s life. Others included Davis’s nephew De’Juan, who grew up visiting his uncle on death row and whose mother, Davis’s sister Martina Correia, has been his most tireless defender, while also battling breast cancer. Davis’s more high-profile supporters range from the pope to former FBI director William Sessions, who wrote recently, “It is for cases like this that executive clemency exists.”

But Davis is a black man convicted of killing a white police officer—and in Southern and Northern states alike, this fact alone will trump all others. “Race is everything in this case,” Georgia Congressman John Lewis declared in September 2008, on a day when Davis came within two hours of lethal injection.

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Published: Friday 16 September 2011
“On Sept. 15, the scheduled execution day for Duane Edward Buck, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for Buck, who on Sept. 12 had his clemency request turned down by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, while it reviews the case.”

Simple rule for killers: If you are going to murder someone in the United States, don't try to get the job done in Texas. Keep the hostage alive in the car till New Mexico, which recently banned the death penalty, or press on to California, which retains the death penalty but makes available very large sums of state money — potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars — for a capable death penalty defense.

That's enough to hire good investigators, lawyers and expert witnesses who can spend many years on the case — first the  READ FULL POST 7 COMMENTS

Published: Monday 29 August 2011
“Economic development that alleviates poverty is a vital step in boosting happiness.”

We live in a time of high anxiety. Despite the world’s unprecedented total wealth, there is vast insecurity, unrest, and dissatisfaction. In the United States, a large majority of Americans believe that the country is “on the wrong track.” Pessimism has soared. The same is true in many other places.

Against this backdrop, the time has come to reconsider the basic sources of happiness in our economic life. The relentless pursuit of higher income is leading to unprecedented inequality and anxiety, rather than to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Economic progress is important and can greatly improve the quality of life, but only if it is pursued in line with other goals.

In this respect, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has been leading the way. Forty years ago, Bhutan’s fourth king, young and newly installed, made a remarkable choice: Bhutan should pursue “gross national happiness” rather than gross national product. Since then, the country has been experimenting with an alternative, holistic approach to development that emphasizes not only economic growth, but also culture, mental health, compassion, and community.

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Jeffrey D. Sachs, click here."

Dozens of experts recently gathered in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, to take stock of the country’s record. I was co-host with Bhutan’s prime minister, Jigme Thinley, a leader in sustainable development and a great champion of the concept of “GNH.” We assembled in the wake of a declaration in July by the United Nations General Assembly calling on countries to examine how national policies can promote happiness in their societies.

All who gathered in Thimphu ...

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