aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Lethal Injection Set for tonight
A Georgia man is set to be executed by lethal injection tonight. William Earl Lynd is to be the first inmate in the nation to be put to death since the Supreme Court held that the method is constitutional. Lynd’s clemency bid was denied yesterday by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Friday, April 25, 2008
It is time for us to take back our profession!
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study a couple weeks ago claiming that doctors often put their name on studies published in medical journals when those studies were actually written by pharmaceutical companies. JAMA’s editor-in-chief Dr. Catherine DeAngelis published what steps medical journals should take to prevent this practice.
She was interviewed for On The Media last week. A key point:
BOB GARFIELD: What do you suppose the chances are that your recommendations will be embraced?
DR. CATHERINE D. DEANGELIS: I don’t know. All I know is that if we don’t do something, patients are going to continue to get harmed. We are all going to continue to be manipulated. It is time for us to take back our profession.
We gave it away, or we allowed it to be taken from us. Now let’s take it back. None of this stuff could happen if we didn’t cooperate. It’s as simple as that.
I’m struck by how true that statement is. And it’s true not just about the pharmaceutical industry, but media, and food, and law, and politics, and government. It’s our world. Let’s take it back and make it our own.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Toobin on Thomas on Hill
In his book, My Grandfather’s Son, Clarence Thomas weighs in on his former accuser, Anita Hill, saying “my worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony.”
Throughout much of the book, especially the first half, Thomas paints an unsparing portrait of the way he conducted his personal life. Well into adulthood, he was incapable of managing his financial affairs. In one excruciating scene, which takes place when he was the director of the E.E.O.C., he stands at a rent-a-car counter at Logan Airport, in Boston, while the clerk, after running a check on Thomas’s credit card, is directed to cut it into pieces on the spot. Nor does Thomas make many claims for himself as a husband to his first wife, whom he met at Holy Cross and had separated from before he started at the Department of Education. Most notably, Thomas portrays himself as something close to an alcoholic. From the Ripple wine he drank in his youth to the Scotch and Drambuie he abused as an adult, Thomas frankly admits to using alcohol to deaden the pain and anger that dominated his life. (He writes that he stopped drinking cold turkey during his tenure at the E.E.O.C.) In a brief aside, he admits to discussing pornography while he was a law student.
This candor is in striking contrast to his discussion of Anita Hill. Thomas’s portrait of the woman he calls his “most traitorous adversary” is venomous and implausible. When she became a public figure, Hill was widely portrayed as demure, God-fearing, and politically moderate. According to Thomas, she was none of those things. In his initial interview of her, at the Department of Education, in 1981, he claims, Hill said that she “detested” Ronald Reagan, but Thomas hired her anyway, as a favor to a friend. She followed Thomas to the E.E.O.C., and left in 1983. It was during this period, she later alleged, that Thomas made his unwelcome remarks to her. ("Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?” and the like.) Thomas denies these claims, and dismisses the extensive corroborating evidence for them-including the fact that three friends of Hill’s recalled her complaints about him at the time, and that another subordinate of Thomas’s at the E.E.O.C. described similar behavior. But it’s worth noting that many of the incidents took place at a time when Thomas was, by his own admission, drinking heavily, single and dating, and generally in despair about his personal life. By the time Thomas met his second wife, Virginia, in 1986, with whom he has clearly been very happy, Hill had left the agency to teach law at Oral Roberts University (an unlikely destination for someone who was, as Thomas has it, a godless, partisan Democrat). Even on the evidence presented in his own book, Thomas engages in characteristic overstatement when he writes of Hill’s accusations, “I was one of the least likely candidates imaginable for such a charge.”
Friday, April 18, 2008
Richard Thompson Ford for Obama Attorney General
Carlin Romano had a terrific review of Richard Thompson Ford’s THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse in The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday:
Ford’s overarching argument rides on his firm belief that there are fewer racists today, leaving a society of “racism without racists” - a legacy more than a subgroup.
That leads him to reject Kanye West’s “race card” attack on Bush. Katrina produced disproportionate black victims not because of racism, Ford argues, but because racist history left New Orleans’ blacks in lower-lying areas, with many too poor to afford cars.
Ford brings a similar independent angle to Cornel West’s complaint that racist cab drivers discriminate against black Americans. Ford largely attributes the decision to fear of putatively high-crime areas, a fear he suggests West shared by parking what West called his “rather elegant” car in a “safe parking lot” on the East Side, before cabbing to Harlem.
At this point, you may wonder: Is Ford simply another aggressive black conservative? He’s not - he considers himself an old-fashioned liberal, favoring integration and affirmative action, though less friendly to diversity quotas. He skewers figures from both the right and left.
Ford seeks, it seems, a sensible middle. He fears that a “national patois” of racism rhetoric blinds us to the real thing, stoking counterproductive results. Even worse, it stirs advocates of other allegedly oppressed interest groups, such as obese people, to model their complaints on laws forged to fight racism, a “racism by analogy” strategy.
You can surmise Ford’s attitude toward it from his tart phrase that “Fat is not the new black.” He questions, albeit fair-mindedly, the animal rights movement’s invocation of slavery and the Holocaust in its attacks on the meat industry, the gay rights movement’s analogies to laws against miscegenation, and the smokers rights movement’s allusions to Jim Crow.
Does Ford believe racism no longer exists in American society? Not at all. Accusations of racism should be kept to such cases. But social problems that stem from multiple factors call for an eye on the big picture, not single-cause reductionism.
Romano notes that Ford and Obama are both Harvard Law Class of ‘91 graduates and proposed that “on the evidence of this book, Ford would make an incisive attorney general.” What a nifty notion!
He goes on to conclude by wondering, “is there any academic out there ready to take on the ‘elitism’ or ‘bitterness’ cards? It might be nice to weed them from the deck before they catch on.” Hear! Hear!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Gay marriage: a tie that binds
You’ve got to love this. In those states where we can get married, if we move out of state, we can’t get divorced. Or something like that…
Try following this, from MSNBC:
Gay couples had to struggle mightily to win the right to marry or form civil unions in certain states. Now, some are finding that breaking up is hard to do, too.
In Rhode Island, for example, the state’s top court ruled in December that gays married in neighboring Massachusetts - the only state to allow the practice - cannot get divorced because state lawmakers have never defined marriage as anything but a union between a man and woman.
In Missouri, a judge is deciding whether a lesbian married in Massachusetts can get an annulment. [...]
Over the past four years, Massachusetts has been the only state where gay marriage is legal, while nine other states allow gay couples to enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships that offer many of the rights and privileges of marriage. The vast majority of these unions require court action to dissolve.
Gay couples who still live in the state where they partnered can split up with little difficulty; the laws in those states include divorce or dissolution procedures for same-sex couples. But gay couples who have moved to another state are running into trouble.
Massachusetts, at least early on, let out-of-state gay couples get married there practically for the asking. But the rules governing divorce are stricter. Out-of-state couples could go back to Massachusetts to get divorced, but they would have to live there for a year to establish residency first. [...]
Getting a divorce could prove toughest in some of the 40 states that have explicitly banned or limited same-sex unions, lawyers say.
In Missouri, which banned gay marriage in 2001, a conservative lawmaker has urged a judge not to grant an annulment to a lesbian married in Massachusetts.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Georgia Supreme Court denies Troy Davis appeal
The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday again rejected a death row inmate’s request for a new trial, even though several witnesses who testified against the condemned man have recanted.
Troy Davis was convicted of gunning down a Savannah police officer in 1989.
In March, the state’s top court denied Davis a new trial by a 4-3 vote. On Monday, the justices rejected Davis’ appeal for them to reconsider that decision. The vote was again 4-3.
Writing for the majority, Justice Harold Melton said the new evidence was not enough to force a new trial. The court cannot disregard the jury’s original verdict, he wrote. [...]
Davis’ lawyers say several witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony that they saw Davis shoot 27-year-old Mark MacPhail or heard him confess to the shooting.
Three people who did not testify at trial have said in affidavits that another man confessed to killing the officer after Davis was convicted.
For more on the case visit TroyAnthonyDavis.org.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The 6 year-old sex offender threat
Ok, the other day I was all riled up about NBC hyping the sex offender threat in nursing homes.
Now today comes word of the six year-old sex offender:
Randy Castro is in the first grade. But, at the ripe old age of 6, he’s been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He’s guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his school days - and maybe beyond.
Maybe it’ll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year-old Randy Castro will apply for a job, and at his prospective employer’s computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he’ll be able to keep it hushed up until he’s 57 and runs for governor of Virginia, and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed.
Overlawyered provides a wealth of fannyswatter links:
“Attack of the preschool perverts”, syndicated/Orange County Register, Apr. 12; Brigid Schulte, “For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers”, Washington Post, Apr. 3). A contrary view (letter to the editor from Cynthia Terrell of Takoma Park, Md., WaPo, Apr. 5): “The Post showed appalling insensitivity to the inappropriate nature of Randy Castro’s act. ...our culture remains largely indifferent to privacy and harassment issues involving gender.”
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Innocence Project Files Complaint to Revoke Dr. Hayne’s Medical License
I’ll have more on Mississippi’s wacky medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne over the next few days. But today, the national and Mississippi Innocence Projects have filed a whopping 1,000-page complaint to the Mississippi Board of State Medical Licensure calling for the revocation of Hayne’s medical license.
The report "outlines several violations – spanning two decades – of the Mississippi state law that regulates medical practice," including the Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks cases, as well as several of the cases I first reported for reason last October.
From the press release:
“Steven Hayne’s long history of misconduct, incompetence and fraud has sent truly innocent people to death row or to prison for life. This is precisely why regulations are in place to revoke medical licenses. Steven Hayne should never practice medicine in Mississippi again, and the complaint we filed today is an important step toward restoring integrity in forensic science statewide – and restoring confidence in the state’s criminal justice system,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. [...]
“We have only presented the tip of the iceberg to the State Board of Medical Licensure, but this evidence shows Steven Hayne’s unprofessional, dishonorable and unethical conduct that has deceived, defrauded and harmed the public,” said W. Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project.
The complaint filed today says, “We believe the conduct in this complaint alone is sufficient to justify immediate revocation of Dr. Hayne’s license … His work compromises the accuracy and integrity of medicine and criminal justice throughout the state. We urge you to put an end to his misconduct through an expeditious, thorough investigation of his work and revocation of his license."
LATER: Hayne Responds.
License plates shield CA officials from tickets & tolls
With all the fuss recently over red light cameras, Boing Boing points us to a fascinating story about how somewhere around one million Californians have special license plate that basically shield them from toll booth transponders and red light cameras. Basically, the system was originally designed for police, putting their license plate info in a special secret database to shield home addresses from criminals who might want to hurt them. That system is no longer needed because DMV records are all now private. But one of the unintended consequences of the system was that it became nearly impossible to send a remotely recorded ticket (such as via a toll booth reader or a red light camera) to the guilty party—since you couldn’t get their address. It even works in some cases when people are pulled over by police, because once the plate is looked up the record indicates that the plate is in this protected category, so officers often let the driver off for being “protected.”
Monday, April 07, 2008
Republican Offenders dot com
An internet agitprop artist publishing the website “Republican Offenders dot com” has produced a list of 272 Republicans charged with criminal activity, 60 of which are pedophiles. Each name is linked to a group heading of the type of crime alleged or convicted. (Among the categories are rape, bribery and “assorted felonies”.)
I live in a town with six state prisons. Recently I joined the advisory board of one of them, the YDC (Youth Development Center). Their Internet access is strictly limited and, I learned, the large majority of inmates receive no visitors.
For the families and friends of those who do receive visitors, Prison Talk is a community website that sounds like it may be an invaluable resource.
Yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine:
Prison Talk, a big board with nearly 150,000 members and 2,500 regular readers a day ...caters to what turns out to be an underserved consumer niche: family and friends of the incarcerated. Prison inmates, whose Internet access is extremely limited, also turn up periodically, usually seeking pen pals through a third party. The site, which costs nothing to join, was founded seven years ago and has drawn around 3.5 million messages, including poetry, small talk, business deals, memoirs, sermons, laments, photo albums and ideological screeds. Like the sprawling American prison system itself, the board has come to constitute a robust social reality - albeit one whose contents can’t be searched with Google or other engines, since Prison Talk is closed to the unregistered.
The board’s activity is propelled by the frustration and enterprise of lonelyhearts who crave contact while fighting boredom and despair. The postings, including those from former inmates, dramatize the widespread effects of imprisonment as vividly as any book since the 2000 exposÃ© “Newjack,” Ted Conover’s chronicle of his year working as a corrections officer in Sing Sing, the maximum-security state prison in New York. And even Conover couldn’t offer the sheer volume of fine-grain logistical detail and jaw-dropping incongruities that surface on Prison Talk: topics on the site include marrying someone in prison; raising children whose parents are imprisoned; loving lifers; curing dry winter skin; preparing for executions; and having fun (jokey guards, nightly dance-offs) behind bars.
The posts themselves are by turns rueful, salacious, puzzled and pleading.... Prison Talk promises support without judgment, and in accordance with the site’s bylaws, uncooperative members are banned. (The site also counsels members to be circumspect with information that might be used against inmates or jeopardize their appeals.)
David Frisk, an aerial photographer and home-automation expert, started Prison Talk in 2001 to helped convicts’ loved ones navigate the prison system. Frisk hatched his idea in a jail cell: he served time in the early ‘90s in a medium-security federal prison for pawning a rifle while on probation for auto theft. Like anyone working online, he has since developed theories about revenue streams. Small but constant banner ads, targeted for his audience, run along the top of Prison Talk.... Frisk, who is known on the site by his screen name, Fed-X, has been accused by detractors of exploiting a vulnerable and largely female membership by encouraging dependence; soliciting contributions as if the site were a charitable cause and not an ad-sponsored business; and promoting dodgy ventures like a print magazine that some subscribers say they never received…
Most Prison Talk members, however, seem fiercely loyal to him, and say they feel deeply beholden to Prison Talk itself. Many of them virtually live on the site, concluding their posts with tickers - countdown widgets, like the ones used on pregnancy and weight-loss boards - showing how much time is left in their chosen inmate’s sentence....
A small band of board activists, led in part by a Prison Talk member named Judy Wickliff, has recently used the site to plan a latter-day Boston Tea Party to protest the disenfranchisement of American prisoners. “No incarceration without representation” is their slogan. In July they plan to bombard legislators with mailed tea bags and a list of proposed reforms to the criminal-justice system. It could be said that Prison Talk is steadily documenting and even galvanizing a subculture, if it weren’t for the February report from the Pew Center on the States that one in 99 people in America is now in prison. Let’s call it a culture, then.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Another KBR rape in Iraq
The other day we learned from Jane Harmon in this LATimes OpEd that “Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”
Today we read in The Nation of another KBR contractor who alleges she was gang-raped in Iraq. The story is graphic and disturbing. Perhaps most disturbing:
Most of these complaints never see the light of day, thanks to the fine print in employee contracts that compels employees into binding arbitration instead of allowing their complaints to be tried in a public courtroom. Criminal prosecutions are practically nonexistent, as the US Justice Department has turned a blind eye to these cases.
Via Crooks and Liars.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
GA Senate restricts release of sex tapes involving minors
State Senator Emanuel Jones, who very correctly complained and called for an investigation of the political release and distribution of the Genarlow Wilson sex video in that controversial case, followed up with legislation last month.
The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to place new restrictions on the copying and inspection of sexually explicit material involving minors used as courtroom evidence.
The bill comes after a Georgia prosecutor came under fire last year for releasing copies of a videotape showing Genarlow Wilson engaging in sex acts with two underage girls. District Attorney David McDade said the state’s open records law required him to release the footage to anyone who requested it. U.S. Attorney David Nahmias labeled it child pornography and ordered him to stop.
The Wilson tape was released to members of the media. Several state lawmakers watched the tape at the Capitol as they considered legislation that would help Wilson.
Wilson was serving a mandatory 10-year sentence for having oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17. The Georgia Supreme Court freed him last year, saying the steep sentence amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
Under the bill that passed the Senate Wednesday, a judge could allow for public inspection of sexually explicit materials for inspection under open records law, but they couldn’t be copied. A version of the bill has already passed the House.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Grits trashes Wilson’s Pew criticism
Well yesterday Grits for Breakfast gave Wilson’s piece a thorough thrashing that was too good to pass up:
For starters, his comment about incarceration vs. safety results in states ["states that sent a higher fraction of convicts to prison had lower rates of crime"] cannot survive a comparison between Texas and New York, for example, so I’d like to see the research backing up that statement. By relying on Mr. Levitt’s often controversial work, he’s identified a scholar whose estimates of the effectiveness of imprisonment fall on the high end of those produced in the last decade. Levitt thinks that imprisonment accounted for as much as 32% of the reduction in crime in the 1990s (See ”Understanding why crime fell in the 1990s”).
Other econometric estimates - including one by UT-Austin’s Bill Spelman - found that expanding the prison population accounted for about a quarter of the crime reduction in the ‘90s. (Bill and I have enjoyed a friendly dispute about this in the past, because I think some of his assumptions overstate incarceration’s effectiveness and understate its harms). Overall, according to a recent paper by the Vera Institute, Levitt and Spelman “produced a fairly consistent finding, associating a 10 percent higher incarceration rate with a 2 to 4 percent lower crime rate.”
But if we are to be honest about the state of empirical research on the topic, one cannot declare emphatically, as Wilson does, that “deterrence works” or that expanded incarceration “reduces crime.” According to the Vera Institute, “One could use available research to argue that a 10 percent increase in incarceration is associated with no difference in crime rates, a 22 percent lower index crime rate, or a decrease only in the rate of property crime.”
What’s more, even the highest estimates, like Mr. Levitt’s, still contend that 2/3 of the crime 0reduction had nothing to do with incarceration. So the decline in crime, according to these sources, mostly wasn’t because of putting more people in prison.
Remember, that’s just for starters… READ ON!
Women in military more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire
Jane Harman has an OpEd in the LATimes today:
Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.
The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken.
Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported—73% more than in 2004. [...]
At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through “nonjudicial punishment,” which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of “insufficient evidence.”
Via Think Progress.
Jessica at Feministing points to more information and resources on sexual assault in the military —the Veterans for America and their list of rape crisis centers near military bases; the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence also has a long list of resources for military women; and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center has statistics. For those who are looking for more theory-based info, check out just about anything by Cynthia Enloe.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Prison rape is not funny. And it is NOT gay sex.
Ezra Klein has an OpEd in the LATimes today that starts out by looking at the dropped soap joke in the ”Let’s Go To Prison” DVD preview and the “Don’t Drop the Soap” board game created by the son of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas before going on to make the point that there’s nothing funny about prison rape.
Prison rape occupies a fairly odd space in our culture. It is, all at once, a cherished source of humor, a tacitly accepted form of punishment and a broadly understood human rights abuse. We pass legislation called the Prison Rape Elimination Act at the same time that we produce films meant to explore the funny side of inmate sexual brutality.
Occasionally, we even admit that prison rape is a quietly honored part of the punishment structure for criminals. When Enron’s Ken Lay was sentenced to jail, for instance, Bill Lockyer, then the attorney general of California, spoke dreamily of his desire “to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’ “
The culture is rife with similar comments. Although it would be unthinkable for the government today to institute corporal punishment in prisons, there is little or no outrage when the government interns prisoners in institutions where their fellow inmates will brutally violate them. We won’t touch you, but we can’t be held accountable for the behavior of Spike, now can we?
As our jokes and cultural products show, we can claim no ignorance. We know of the abuses, and we know of the rapes. Research by the University of South Dakota’s Cindy Struckman-Johnson found that 20% of prisoners reported being coerced or pressured into sex, and 10% said they were violently raped. In a 2007 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 60,000 inmates claimed to have been sexually victimized by other inmates during the previous 12 months. Given the stigma around admitting such harms, the true numbers are probably substantially higher.
But by and large, we seem to find more humor than outrage in these crimes. In part, this simply reflects the nature of our criminal justice system, which has become decreasingly rehabilitative and increasingly retributive.
In the 1970s, as economist Glenn Loury has written, “the corrections system was commonly seen as a way to prepare offenders to rejoin society. Since then, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to punishment and stayed there.”
Today, though, I will recall instead that in the late 1970s in LA there was a separate prison for those prisoners who were or were perceived to be gay. Thing was, if you were gay you were advised by those in the know not to go there. Guards, it was said, assumed that because you were gay you deserved what you were bound to get when you got there.
Gay prisoners in LA then had the worst of all possible worlds—they got it either way. I have no reason to believe things have gotten any better.
And just as we have hopefully come to understand that rape is a crime of violence, it must also be understood that while predatory sex as practiced in prisons may technically include some homosexual acts as practiced between gay men, they share nothing at all in common with gay men.
While it seems this should be obvious to anyone and everyone, I doubt it is obvious to Bill Lockyer or the folks who laugh at “Let’s Go To Prison” or those who find the Sebelius’ board game funny.
Klein closes with both the moral and the money argument for addressing prison violence. I find the moral argument persuasive—that “our tacit acceptance of violence within prisons is grotesque [and] counterproductive”—and wish that it would win.
Klein points out that California spends $8.8 billion a year on its prisons, up 216% in 20 years. Georgia’s in that same boat. The fact is we are hardly willing to fund our schools, so James Q. Wilson not withstanding (and Loury has convincingly refuted his argument long ago as far as I’m concerned) I don’t believe we are going to be willing to keep this up for long.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Justices back Texas in dispute with Bush
A friend wonders, is it April fools day?
President Bush overstepped his authority when he ordered a Texas court to grant a new hearing to a Mexican on death row for rape and murder, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.
In a case that mixes presidential power, international relations and the death penalty, the court sided with Texas 6-3.
Bush was in the unusual position of siding with death row prisoner Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican citizen whom police prevented from consulting with Mexican diplomats, as provided by international treaty.
An international court ruled in 2004 that the convictions of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death row around the United States violated the 1963 Vienna Convention, which provides that people arrested abroad should have access to their home country’s consular officials. The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, said the Mexican prisoners should have new court hearings to determine whether the violation affected their cases.
Bush, who oversaw 152 executions as Texas governor, disagreed with the decision. But he said it must be carried out by state courts because the United States had agreed to abide by the world court’s rulings in such cases. The administration argued that the president’s declaration is reason enough for Texas to grant Medellin a new hearing.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, disagreed. Roberts said the international court decision cannot be forced upon the states.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Not everyone in Georgia loves Wal-Mart
A federal judge today upheld a Georgia man’s First Amendment right to criticize Wal-Mart’s business practices by using satire to compare its destructive effects on communities to both the Holocaust and al-Qaeda terrorists.In rejecting the company’s claim of trademark infringement, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta found that Charles Smith’s parody Web sites (www.walocaust.com and www.walqaeda.com) and related novelty merchandise were protected speech and that a reasonable person would not confuse their use with Wal-Mart’s legitimate trademarks. The court also rejected Wal-Mart’s claim that it has trademark rights in the “smiley-face” that Smith used in one of his parodies.
Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Foundation defended Smith after Wal-Mart sued the Conyers, Ga. man in 2006, claiming he infringed on its trademark by creating parody logos and Web sites built around the “Walocaust” and “Wal-Qaeda” concepts, including the image of an eagle clutching a yellow smiley face, similar to the one Wal-Mart uses in advertising. Smith also put the design on T-shirts, bumper stickers and other items that he sold on CafePress.com.
Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr.’s decision reaffirms an important point of trademark law â€“ that even though a parody is placed on a T-shirt and sold, it nevertheless represents non-commercial speech that is fully protected by the First Amendment and, thus, is not a proper basis for a trademark action, said Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney, who represented Smith along with Gerald Weber of Atlanta.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Three-strike laws make criminals more violent
Ray Fisman, a professor at the Columbia Business School, says it’s tempting to invoke the law of unintended consequences in thinking about what was a well-intentioned but flawed piece of legislation:
“Three-strikes" laws have now been enacted in 26 states, often with the stated purpose of keeping society safe from violent criminals like Richard Davis. But a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that three-strikes laws like California’s, while discouraging criminals from doing things like smoking pot or shoplifting, may push those who do continue in a life of crime to commit more violent offenses. The study’s author, Radha Iyengar, argues that this is because under such laws, felons with a pair of strikes against them have little to lose (and often much to gain) by committing serious crimes rather than minor offenses.
Why would stiffer penalties increase violent crime? To understand this seeming paradox, you first need to understand the nature of California’s three-strikes law. Not just any offense gets you a first strike. It must be a so-called “record-aggravating” offense, which includes violent crimes like assault and rape as well as serious nonviolent crimes such as burglary or drug sales to minors. But after strike one, strikes two and three can come from any felony, including minor offenses like possession of marijuana or even stealing golf clubs or videotapes. A third strike carries with it a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years in prison.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of a two-strike criminal. The prospect of 25 years behind bars for a third offense is likely to give even a hardened criminal pause before he or she crosses the street against the lights. So we’d expect two-strike felons to commit fewer crimes. But suppose you’ve already decided to break the law-maybe you need to make a quick buck. Are you going to lift a few golf clubs from the local pro shop? Or are you going to hold up a bank? The potential haul from a bank robbery is obviously much greater, and the penalty is the same: Bank robbery will get you decades in the slammer, but if it’s your third offense, so will shoplifting.
AlterNet on Troy Anthony Davis
In a 4-3 decision, the court decided that not even the seven recanted testimonies were enough to merit a new trial. “We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case,” wrote Justice Harold Melton. Never mind that the jury was working with hopelessly tainted evidence—and that two of the jurors have declared that if they knew then what they know now, they would never have voted to convict Troy Davis. As Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote in her dissent: “If recantation testimony â€¦ shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically.” But logic and morality have little say in a system that straps people to a gurney, outfits them with intravenous lines and murders them with a lethal cocktail. Once again, Troy Davis confronts this fate.
Even the most hardbitten death penalty lawyers and activists were stunned by the court ruling. Georgia defense attorney Chris Adams, a member of Davis’ defense team, called it “a heartbreaking day.” “I was very surprised by the decision on Monday,” he said over the phone on Tuesday morning. “We felt that the proper course was to hear all the witnesses â€¦ and then to make a judgment call.” Instead, the ruling means that new evidence that could clear Davis will likely never make it into the courtroom. To Adams, this is a travesty. This case, an “actual innocence case,” is “the kind of case you go to law school for,” he said. “You would hope all your cases would have this kind of significance—or that none of them would.” [...]
Barring a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Davis will once again find himself at the mercy of the state parole board. Asked if there is reason to be optimistic given the board’s past attention to the revelations in his case, Adams said, “Boy, you know, it’s really hard to feel optimistic about it today.” But when it comes to fighting for the life of an innocent man, there’s not much choice. “You’ve got to be optimistic.”
I look at our criminal justice system in this country and I ache. When I see that 1 in 100 Americans are in prison I ache. And that ache is related to the ache I felt as I watched Obama’s speech on race. But with Obama’s speech it was an aching hope. With this, it’s an aching hopelessness. Along with Obama, I see the need to bridge the two.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Yet another reason newspapers are dying: the courts!
Friday’s decision in the Craigslist case in the Seventh Circuit offers yet another reason why newspapers are losing ground-and quickly-to their online competitors: newspapers face tougher laws than the online firms. As (our) Judge Easterbrook’s opinion makes clear, publish a “No Minorities Welcome” ad in the Chicago Tribune and the Trib violates the Fair Housing Act. But put the same ad on Craigslist and, after Friday at least in the Seventh Circuit, Craigslist faces no liability under the FHA given the protection given to it under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. We often talk about media neutrality-the idea that a particular set of rules should apply independent of the medium via which the content is delivered. This is just the opposite-media bias-but not the usual version; this is bias against one medium-classified ads in newspapers-in favor of another-the Internet. [...]
Section 230(c) says that it is intended to protect “Good Samaritan” online providers who jump in to screen offensive content, but it starts with a safe harbor: “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” If a newspaper publishing a discriminatory ad is liable under the Fair Housing Act-the triggering language there is “[t]o make, print, or publish"-we should think that an online service provider would face the same liability. Media neutrality. Section 230(c) seems to say otherwise, and so the Seventh Circuit concludes. Section 230(c) seems to call off the usual rules that cause us to treat the Chicago Tribune as printing and publishing.
I read this case in preparation for a panel tomorrow morning that I am doing at the Internet Video Policy Symposium. One of the key issues there is the extent to which we think media platforms like YouTube should be in the business of filtering content: screen for copyright violations and yet allow user-generated content to flourish. The Craigslist case is another filtering situation. Newspapers typically run with a built-in choke point, but Craigslist doesn’t. But these designs aren’t necessary. Newspapers could just take all ads without filtering classifieds; indeed, they seem to be set up to do that if they can do so legally. I’m not sure that it is meaningful just to use labels like newspapers-filtering presumed-and common carriers-the telephone system-where we assume no filtering.
Instead, we need to focus on what is at stake. The situation in Chicago Lawyers’ offers two separate reasons for looking to push more liability on service providers like Craigslist. The first is to more fully implement the ideas of the Fair Housing Act: if discriminatory ads are offensive in newspapers, they should be offensive on Craigslist. Second, newspapers are in enough trouble without facing legal disabilities compared to the competitors who are leaving them in the dust. So either free the newspapers and further gut the Fair Housing Act or take the FHA seriously and apply it to Craigslist. Doing that would mean rewriting Section 230(c). (This isn’t a universally-held view; see, for example, this post by Eric Goldman.)
DC v Heller argument afterward
A majority of the Supreme Court appeared ready on to embrace an interpretation of the Second Amendment that protects the right to own a gun for personal use.
The Supreme Court’s historic argument Tuesday on the meaning of the Constitution’s Second Amendment sent out one quite clear signal: individuals may well wind up with a genuine right to have a gun for self-defense in their home. But what was not similarly clear...was what kind of gun that would entail, and thus what kind of limitations government could put on access or use of a weapon.
Sunstein’s 2nd Amendment primer
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments this morning in a case seeking to preserve the Washington DC ban on handguns. The court has not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment in the 216 years since its ratification. In the most closely watched case of the term, the court plans to release audio recordings of the arguments as soon as they conclude.
Last October Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Dist. Service Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, did a talk on What does the Second Amendment mean? as part of the Chicago’s Best Ideas Series. It is an excellent Second Amendment primer. The lecture also appeared as a piece in The New Republic.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Troy Anthony Davis: Stop the execution of an innocent man
I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. It all happened so fast. Even today, I know that I could not honestly identify with any certainty who shot the officer that night. [â€¦]
After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read. [...]
I nodded and repeated what they said, whether it was true or notâ€¦. I am not proud for lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail.
An email from Amnesty International:
Today’s stunning decision by the Georgia Supreme Court to let the death sentence stand in the Troy Anthony Davis case means that the state of Georgia might execute a man who well may be innocent.
With this decision, the Supreme Court is demonstrating a blatant disregard for justice and turning its back on the fundamental flaws that taint Mr. Davis’s case at every level.
Over 60,000 supporters signed petitions on Troy’s behalf, and letters of support continue to pour into his mailbox. “I want to thank all Amnesty supporters,” he said, “I want to thank everyone all over the world who have been praying for me, supporting me, writing letters and signing petitions on my behalf.” Troy needs your continued support today, now more than ever.
Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Since his conviction, seven out of nine original witnesses have either recanted or changed their testimony. Officer MacPhail’s life was cut tragically short, and his family and the people of Georgia also deserve true justice. However, this will not be accomplished by executing a man with such strong claims of innocence.
In light of today’s Supreme Court decision, we ask that you take action once again and call on the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles to commute Mr. Davis’ death sentence. Executing Troy Anthony Davis would be an irrevocable error that would haunt the conscience of the state of Georgia forever.
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA
GA Supreme Court denies new trial for Troy Anthony Davis
“We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case,” Justice Harold Melton wrote for the majority. He was joined by Justices George Carley, Harris Hines and Hugh Thompson.
“We conclude that Davis has failed to show that these alleged recantations support his extraordinary motion for new trial,” the ruling said.
Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, joined by Justices Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham, said she would have granted Davis a new hearing to allow a judge to weigh the new evidence.
“In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trail has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably,” Sears wrote.
“Perhaps these witnesses’ testimony would prove incredible if a hearing were held,” Sears said. “Perhaps the majority is correct that the allged eyewitnesses’ testimony will actually show Davis’ guilt rather than his innocence.”
But the collective effect of all of the new testimony, if it were to be found credible by a judge, Sears wrote, “would show the probability that a new jury would find reasonable doubt of Davis’ guilt or at least sufficient residual doubt to decline to impose the death penalty.”
In a telephone interview, Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, said she was stunned and disappointed by the court’s opinion.
“The claim that evidence in Davis’ favor was not sufficient to reopen his case is simply stunning,” said Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA. “In turning a blind eye to the realities of the case, the legal system has shrugged off the very notion of justice at every level, from Savannah to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Board of Pardons must recognize that a blind adherence to technicalities cannot trump a concerted search for the truth, especially when a human being’s life is at stake. [...]
Amnesty International maintains that the case has been tainted from the start, with a questionable police investigation, a lack of funding to ensure adequate defense, and an increasingly restrictive appeals process, which has thwarted attempts to present new evidence in the case. In the wake of the state Supreme Court decision, the human rights organization is once again calling for the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles to commute the death sentence for Davis due to the troubling facts of the conviction.
Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. Davis was convicted solely on the basis of witness testimony, and seven of the nine non-police witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Several cited police coercion, and others fear of one of the remaining two witnesses, whom they allege actually committed the crime.
“With this decision, the Supreme Court is ignoring the fundamental flaws that underlie the death penalty in Georgia and in Troy Davis’s case,” said Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director of AIUSA. “As a result, we will continue to advocate for a re-examination of his sentence and of Georgia’s use of capital punishment. Officer MacPhail’s life was cut tragically short, and his family and the people of Georgia deserve justice. This will not be accomplished by executing a man with a strong case of innocence.”
More on the case at TroyAnthonyDavis.org.