aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, March 20, 2008
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.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Public corruption in Georgia
BULLETIN: Corruption investigation wider than thought. InsiderAdvantageGeorgia has learned from a highly placed source in the legal community that at least one state legislator has"been wearing a wire for the past year” in an on-going and potentially widespread investigation of public corruption in Georgia. This suggests that the federal government may have been involved in an investigation of corruption under the Gold Dome prior to the December, 2007 date suggested in stories related to the resignation and guilty plea by Rep. Ron Sailor. The investigation may reach across both aisles of the House and potentially the Senate according to the source. Updates to come.
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.
The politics of attendance in the GA legislature
Well today Blogs for Democracy’s Mel helpfully follows-up with a letter Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield sent to her constituents:
If you woke up Monday, March 10, morning and saw the front page of the local newspaper (as I did), with my photo among ten state representatives who were described as missing the most votes in the Georgia House of Representatives, you would have been treated to about half of the real story.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to fill you in on the details that the newspaper story failed to mention.
Vote Tally Misleading. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s method of tallying voters is misleading because it failed to count the actual number of total votes missed, choosing instead to count only “unexcused absences.” Given that excused absences are automatically given upon the request of a legislator without any explanation, there is no meaningful distinction between excused and non-excused absences. The reality is that I missed a couple of mornings at the Legislature this session to take my children to the doctor during the cold and flu season. I made the technical mistake of not calling in for an excused absence. Had I done so, I would not have been included in the AJC’s ranking.
Vote Tally Reality.
It is also not particularly meaningful to have a quantitative voting ranking without a qualitative examination of what was actually being voted on. Of my 53 missed votes, almost 70% (36) of the measures passed unanimously, including twelve local calendar votes, two motions to adjourn and two privileged resolutions honoring special Georgians.
Read on. She makes some remarkably good points.
I started out wanting to chew out the AJC reporters for not making the excused/non-excused distinction clearer. But those reporters, Ben Smith and John Perry, apparently went to our good government watchdogs and this is what they got:
A leading advocate for open and responsible government said he found the statistics troubling.
“A fundamental responsibility of being in the General Assembly is to be there, casting votes,” said Bill Bozarth, executive director Common Cause Georgia. “If not for every vote, at least a large majority of the time.”
Excused absences were not included in the totals, although some lawmakers had high numbers of excused absences from voting. Lawmakers don’t have to state the reason why they’ll be absent.
“Ordinarily they tell us,” said Robbie Rivers, clerk of the Georgia House. “We don’t question why â€”- we just take their word for it.”
A fundamental responsibility of being the director of Common Cause Georgia is to provide something more than wrote fodder for a boiler-plate story that obfuscates more than informs.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Decision in Troy Anthony Davis case expected tomorrow
Condemned cop killer Troy Anthony Davis, whose case has gained international attention because of his claims of innocence, will learn Monday whether he will get another chance to win a new trial or remain on death row.
The Georgia Supreme Court posted on its Web site Friday that it will publish its opinion on the case Monday.
Davis was sentenced to death in Chatham County for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. But since Davis’ trial, seven prosecution witnesses have recanted their trial testimony in sworn affidavits and signed statements.
In November, during arguments before the state Supreme Court, Davis’ lawyers argued that he should either be granted a new trial or be given a court hearing in which a judge weighs the recantation evidence.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
$100 million for rural GA ethanol plant
The promised plant is, relatively speaking, in my neck of the woods.
It’s March Money Madness in clean tech these days.
Range Fuels, which says it can produce cellulosic ethanol out of wood scraps, has raised $100 million to build a 100-million-gallon-a-year plant in Georgia, according to VentureWire, which posted the news first. Investors in the round include Khosla Ventures (a previous investor) and an unnamed energy company.
Earlier, the company received grants from the U.S. Department of Energy worth up to $76 million, as well as other venture funds.
CEO Mitch Mandich, a former Apple guy, told us last year that the plant would cost around $150 million. Unlike Web 2.0 start-ups, energy companies require a lot of capital to get off the ground. The company is trying to get the plant running this year to the point where it can produce 20 million gallons a year.
Range Fuels uses thermochemical processes to convert forestry wastes into ethanol. The alcohol can be mixed into gas, or be turned into E85, which is 85 percent ethanol. There are only a few cars on the road that can run on E85 and only about 1,400 stations in the U.S. that sell it, but both numbers are expected to climb.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Jones introduces ‘offensive materials’ legislation
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, has followed up with legislation.
[A] Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would make it a crime to distribute offensive material introduced as evidence in a court proceeding.
When a Douglas County jury convicted then 17-year old Genarlow Wilson of child molestation in 2005, a video tape of that act was shown as evidence in court.
Afterwards, the prosecuting district attorney gave copies of the tape to lawmakers at the same time they were considering a bill that would have reduced Wilson’s sentence.
The US Attorney for Georgia described the tape as child pornography, the possession and distribution of which is a federal offense.
Senator Emanuel Jones (R-Decauter), from Atlanta authored the measure, which he says would protect minors from having video evidence distributed outside of a trial or court proceeding.
“In today’s video age, with YouTube and MySpace, and all these other sites around that cater to our kids, that their privacy, in the event that something happens, their identity is going to be protected from the media.”
The measure now goes to the Senate Rules Committee for review, while similar legislation is being considered by the House of Representatives.
If passed, violation of the proposed law could result in a prison term of up to twenty years.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Jack is Back - with no flag
You may remember that last weekend Jack quoted an internet email hoax that Barack Obama refused to say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.
Clearly he thinks this schtick is working for him. I don’t understand why. The guy’s got to be living in some safely Republican past. The way I read the numbers, I’d lay off of the gratuitous attacks.
Our reddest of the red red states cast a total of only 963,541 Republican votes on February 5. Democrats cast 1,060,851 with the lion’s share, 704,247, going to Obama. Jack’s District, Georgia’s 1st, is still Republican but if the primary is any indication, only barely so. It cast a measly 787 more Republican votes.
If I were Jack I wouldn’t go questioning Obama’s patriotism now. Barack’s shown an ability to push back and he’s got him some big mo’ on his side!
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tougher than marching in Selma
I just wrote a friend that I believe Hillary will pull out after Tuesday. That friend, like many of my New York friends, tries to be kind and gentle and humor me but he thinks I’m nuts for supporting Hillary in the first place and can’t hardly hide his scornful skepticism.
He shot back his doubt. I protested that the results are obvious. She needs a knock-out Tuesday. She will not get it. If she keeps on after that she’s being as bad (well, not quite) as Ralph Nader. If she keeps on after that she will lose my admiration.
I say she gets out. It may not be on Tuesday, but waiting past the 11th is just embarrassing. I said last night that I would follow John Lewis as he moved today to endorse Obama. It’s with the greatest of empathy and sincere admiration that I do that now.
When I see this video I see something honest and rare and highly estimable, admirable and desirable in an elected official. I will be very, very interested to see how history looks back on this election…
LATER: Of course it was used by Lewis’ priary opponent against him.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Lowery: Lewis will back Obama
I was so moved by a conversation I had with young woman at lunch that if he does it I may soon have to follow suit:
The Rev. Joseph Lowery said Tuesday he expects John Lewis to formally declare his support for Barack Obama, perhaps today.
Lowery, like Lewis a veteran of the civil rights movement, said he spoke with Lewis in the past few days and said the Georgia congressman was set to make an announcement today. Lowery said he “assumes” Lewis will announce his support of Obama.
Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones did not respond to an email message early Tuesday.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Georgia, the laughing stock, wants to go an extra mile
I went to a Student Government Association meeting on campus yesterday. Aside from the dearth of women representation, I was very, very impressed with the way they conduct their business. I only hope they can carry that skill—that earnest idealism—off into their adult lives. And that maybe they will run for office one day.
LATER: In This land is WHOSE land? Facing south has some Tennessee reaction.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Evidence of malice?
Thanks for the link, Maggie. And the tip.
I’ve been posting a lot about kids today and here it turns out we’ve got an Atlanta teen, Michael Murphy, who even the veteran prosecutor handling the murder case he’s in jail for isn’t convinced is guilty. So why’s the kid in jail nine months after the crime?
The prosecutor’s DA boss, Paul Howard, told him to try the kid as an adult on murder charges that carry an automatic life sentence if convicted:
Howard declined to comment other than to say, “The indictment speaks for itself.”
Defense attorney Rusty Mayer insists his client isn’t the one to blame for the June 17, 2007 shooting of Byron Watson, 18, who died a couple of days later.
Instead, Mayer claims that Watson was with a group of 15-20 teens who had surrounded Murphy’s Mills Street apartment near the Georgia Aquarium. They were angry with Michael Murphy’s mom, Teresa Murphy, who then worked as a security guard at the complex, Mayer said.
“She had run several of the kids off or had them arrested for selling weed or trespassing,” Mayer said.
Teresa Murphy, who legally carried a gun, also made enemies in her other jobs â€”tracking down fleeing suspected felons as a bounty hunter and snitching on lawbreakers as a criminal informant to Atlanta police.
So she was frightened when she spotted the group of teens walking up to her apartment. She yelled for her son, who also had a gun, to come to her aid.
Someone from the crowd yelled: “Pull the tool!” which Michael Murphy feared meant he or his mother was about to be shot.
Some serious self-defense. Adds Maggie:
[T]he autopsy shows the victim was hit from the back, meaning it’s more likely the shot came from the crowd, who was also firing. A good DA looks at that information and sees that trying this case is probably not worth their time. And a Assistant DA in Fulton County did just that. He was going to send the case to Juvenile Court to be dealt with on lesser charges. ...given the situation, you’d think the least they could do is let this kid out. But no bond has been granted. Instead the Judge berated the kid for having a gun. (And this is in Georgia! Where we’re regularly expanding the gun rights of our citizens! In fact, it seems like given the political climate, we’d be leaning in the kid’s favor instead of against him.)
Now Prosecutors can often be kept in check by defense attorneys and Judges. But the more serious the charge, the more leeway that prosecutor is going to get. All Murphy has going for him right now is time, but it looks like that’s time he’ll be spending in jail. I’m hopeful the case will turn out now, but how much is being lost in the mean time?
Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of willful malicious prosecution (and I tell you, I really have to wonder) it reeks at the very least of prosecution for the sake of re-election—as opposed to prosecution for what I, the common man, understand to be the legitimate reason: to make a safer city.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Baptist Day not so fertile at the Capitol
Hundreds and hundreds of Southern Baptists descended on the state Capitol today. Political Insider explains why:
The top priority of Southern Baptist Day was to free a specific piece of legislation trapped in the House â€” H.R. 536, a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish the state’s interest in a human embryo at the moment of fertilization.
House Republican leadership has been hesitant to move the bill, which would require two-thirds approval for passage, because it would expose moderate GOP members in an election year.
Objections to the measure, intended to challenge Roe. v. Wade, include worries that it might threaten commonly used forms of contraception. And suburban women are a key ‘08 voting demographic.
The state’s largest Christian denomination got behind the proposed amendment last November - DVDs and literature were sent to every member church - and have quickly learned that campaign blandishments don’t always translate into results at the Capitol.
“You can’t treat us as a voting bloc during the campaign and ignore us when you get into office,” said a frustrated Bucky Kennedy, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vidalia and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. “We’ve been used. We’d just like to see a little action.”
Yes and the kind of action they want could just bring about the kind of Democratic resurgence we want in Georgia.
The Today Show at the Georgia Aquarium
Pricey hype. I still haven’t been there. I wonder if they’ve figured out what happened to those sharks?
Meredith Vieira is yacking about the stats, but don’t mistake this for some educational institution. The Georgia Aquarium - “not created by a municipality, or a society of subscribers like those that founded the earliest public zoos. It is almost completely the creation of a single man, Bernard Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot” - as metaphor for our times:
[E]very gallery (and a 3-D theater) bears the label of a corporate sponsor: AirTran, BellSouth, Georgia-Pacific, Home Depot, the Southern Company, SunTrust Bank. If old-fashioned princely patronage was meant to reflect glory on royal powers, a similar goal is apparent here.
But the aquarium does not woo or court its visitors. It means to overwhelm them the moment they pass through a narrow entrance walled by swimming fish and enter the cavernous central space, where public dining areas are surrounded by entrances to thematic galleries—“Ocean Voyager,” “River Scout,” “Cold Water Quest” “Tropical Diver” and “Georgia Explorer”—that almost seem like entrances to amusement park rides. [...]
In Atlanta, too, river fish are glimpsed in an atmospheric, jungle-like path with rippling light and water - a latter-day variation on aquariums’ once-standard grottos. And perhaps most dramatically, there is the sight of a small school of golden trevallies, swimming in perfect formation, inches from the grim mouth of a 17-foot whale shark.
Yet to discover that those fish are trevallies, I had to search. Labels are either nonexistent or uninformative. One is often meant to browse through touch screens of images that offer minimal enlightenment for maximal effort. The galleries are organized around habitats, but they provide no information about what effects these habitats have on marine life or how animals function within it. Without enough context, it is astonishing how often these carefully planned routes devolve into miscellany. [...]
The lack of information and the inconsistency of imagination are strange, given the ambitions and accomplishments of this institution - including an educational program that draws schoolchildren with an apparently detailed curriculum. It is as if once the big effects were created, the creators relaxed into routine. Why though, is there a reluctance - here as in so many other museums - to provide real information for those who want it? Or to design exhibits that don’t just create atmosphere but spur understanding? The now requisite messages about conservation are pumped into a 3-D cartoon, but even they have no real import. ...[T]his aquarium’s risks are not of tanks fracturing or sea water growing stale, but of isolated spectacles and too little information.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Coulter, Limbaugh, Republicans and their young
Ann Coulter’s on The Today Show right now; Doug screamed that she drinks the blood of innocents and fled the room. Georgia’s Young Republicans share his antipathy:
Whereas: Political Pundits like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, along with other talk show hosts in national and local markets, have viciously attacked Republican candidates running in the primary election; and
Whereas: Many of these same pundits have used their shows and their vast audiences to spread disunity among Republicans when we need to be uniting to face the greater threat to our national security and well being that is embodied in the Democrat candidates for President; and
Whereas: Despite all of these pundits invoking the greatness of Ronald Reagan, none of them have paused for a second to remember Reagan’s 11th Commandment; and
Whereas: Each of the above named have, through their actions and words, lost the confidence of millions of their fans and Republican voters; and
Whereas: The members of the Georgia Federation of Young Republican Clubs are prepared to support our nominee, whether he is Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul or Mitt Romney, against the real threat, the Democrat nominee; now
Therefore, be it resolved, this 5th Day of February, 2008, that the Georgia Federation of Young Republican Clubs strongly condemns and denounces the actions and speech over the past several weeks by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and others for breeding contempt, disunity and hatred among the Republican Party in order to bolster their own careers...
Truly inconceivable: life begins at fertilization in Georgia
On Super Tuesday a young woman student said to me that she was “ardently pro-life” and that would determine her vote. When I asked about contraception she answered that, in fact, she wondered how much of a role the state should have in reproductive choice.
That’s the kind of response I’ve had from many pro-life young people here. It makes me wonder if perhaps young conservatives are more truly conservative than their elders.
On that same Super Tuesday the AJC had this opinion piece by Maureen Dowd on Bobby Franklin and Martin Scott, two Georgia legislators targeting the reproductive choices of women in Georgia:
A Republican House member from Rossville, Scott wants a constitutional amendment that would define human life as beginning at the point that egg and sperm meet. According personhood at the moment of fertilization means more than the end of legal abortion. It also jeopardizes the legality of many forms of birth control—from the pill to the IUD—because they block the fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.
Scott’s amendment is silent on abortion, although the legislator admits that his intent is to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as what he calls its “culture of death.”
Franklin dispenses with any such subterfuge in his wild-eyed anti-abortion legislation. House Bill 1 outlaws all abortions and calls for the death penalty for doctors who perform them. The Marietta Republican has urged this extreme policy for years, but the House leadership has ignored him. However, this year Franklin has won a hearing in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee, suggesting that the climate at the Capitol has warmed to him and chilled toward women.
Both bills confer on the single cell created when a sperm penetrates an egg the same moral status and legal rights as a living, breathing human being made of trillions of cells. Such a change would have dramatic impact on many areas of law and life.
They don’t stand a chance in hell in passing. And such bills might even make the young students here think twice and move them away from their elders.
RELATED: The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in the 1970s calling for the legalization of abortion that was reaffirmed in 1974, again in 1976. So how did abortion become the signature issue of the religious right?
According to one of the architects of the religious right, who told me this directly, after they had organized on the issue of Bob Jones University and more broadly the issue of government interference in these schools, as they understood it, there was a conference call among these various evangelical leaders and the political consultants who were trying to organize them into a political movement, and several people mentioned several issues. Finally the voice on the end of one of the lines said, `How about abortion?’ And that’s how abortion was cobbled into the agenda of the religious right, late in the 1970s in preparation for the 1980 presidential election.
Bias in the university
I’m realizing that it’s going to be a very big job to recover from my outage. And that the time it takes to restore the site is time taken away from blogging. All of which has me in a funk. As does news like this....
Facing South on Bills targeting “left-wing indoctrination” at Southern universities:
Based on the concern that academics are overwhelmingly left-leaning, the legislation mandates that professors remain ideologically neutral in the classroom and creates state councils to monitor views being presented. [...]
Interestingly, at least one state that’s looked into whether there are problems with the free exchange of ideas in the academy due to left-wing bias have found none. Several years ago, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state House created a special legislative committee to investigate whether students who hold unpopular views need protection. In November 2006, the committee issued a report that said it found no evidence of widespread problems.
The “Intellectual Diversity” legislation is based on the controversial ideas of left-wing radical-turned-right-wing radical David Horowitz, author of The Professors: The 100 Most Dangerous Academics in America, which targets professors from Southern schools including Baylor, Duke, Emory, North Carolina State, Texas A&M, University of Kentucky, University of South Florida, and the University of Texas. One of the academics Horowitz has singled out, UT-Austin Communication Studies Professor Dana Cloud, has written of the hate mail, physical threats and other harassment she’s experienced as a result of being targeted by Horowitz, whose tactics she’s likened to McCarthyism. She also reports how students in the Horowitz-founded Students for Academic Freedom keep a watch list and encourage the reporting of professors who exhibit “bias”:… which could mean anything from telling a Bush joke to encouraging students to think critically about gender; but NEVER means talking about capitalism in the business school or celebrating corporate culture in the advertising department ...
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Jim Crow’s Last Stand: racism North & South
Matt Bai had a piece in the NYTimes Magazine Sunday taking issue with what has become the received wisdom on the South:
It has been in vogue throughout the Bush years for Democrats to assert that the South is unredeemable and politically unnecessary. I remember seeing Kerry speak at Dartmouth College in the days before the 2004 New Hampshire primary, when he flatly told the audience that a Democratic nominee could win the presidency without worrying about the South. (He went on to test the formula; it didn’t work out so well.) Two years later, Thomas F. Schaller, a political scientist and liberal blogger, won over a lot of his fellow progressives with an entire book devoted to the premise that Democrats should ignore the South and instead focus their finite resources on the growing and more diverse states in the West and Southwest. In “Whistling Past Dixie,” Schaller marshaled a pile of statistics to argue, essentially, that the region’s long legacy of prejudice left it hopelessly blind to the nobility of the Democratic cause.
Nobility of the Democratic cause. Kind of smug, no? I’ve argued before that they should get down here and do something, not follow Schaller’s advice and tactically write off one of their main constituencies, African Americans.
Another book I’m looking forward to is coming from Thomas J. Sugrue, Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. From the podcast of his lecture, Jim Crow`s Last Stand: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Suburban North, he discusses the book, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Unfinished Struggle for Racial Equality in the North, a history of civil rights in the united States from the Great Depression to the present.
Sugrue says that fifty years after Brown v Board of Ed, forty since the Voting Rights Act, and thirty since metropolitan school desegregation, we have to confront a paradox:
That paradox is that patterns of racial inequality in the United States remain deeply entrenched, especially in housing and education. And those patterns of racial inequality are most deeply entrenched not in the region of the country that has attracted most of our scholarly and media attention, the South, but instead up in the North.
Consider a few factsâ€¦ that point to this pattern of persistent racial inequality in the North. Today 23 of the 25 most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States are in the Northeast and the Midwest. Here are the top 10:
8. New York City
10. St. Louis
The states with the highest degree of educational segregation by race are also disproportionately in the Northeast and the Midwest.
Sugrue argues that our focus on race in the South comes at the great detriment of racial understanding in modern American.
According to Bai, this election isn’t playing out the way Schaller had strategized.
Other Democrats, like Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor, short-lived presidential hopeful and now Senate candidate, have argued that if the party aspires to build a real governing majority like the one it enjoyed for much of the 20th century, it will have to at least compete seriously in the South. (After all, recent history would suggest that while it is “possible” for Democrats to win without making any inroads in the South, it’s possible only in the same way that it’s possible to shoot 10 straight free throws with your eyes closed.) These Democrats insist that the party’s problem isn’t Southern voters but the way Northern and coastal Democrats tend to relate to them or don’t. In other words, if you condescend to Southerners or simply don’t show up, then it’s all but impossible to erase the legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation.
This argument seems especially relevant now. The nationwide dismay over the Bush years may be opening a door for Democrats in Southern states. What’s more, as some of the sharper Democratic strategists have realized, reaching voters down South isn’t only about the South. Culturally and ideologically, there isn’t much that separates most Southern, independent white voters from those who live in exurban Ohio or in rural Missouri. (It was the native Southerner James Carville who famously observed that Pennsylvania was, for all practical purposes, just Alabama sandwiched in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.) If Democrats want to win those perennial swing states by anything other than the tiniest of margins, then they will probably have to put forth the kind of candidate and argument that will also resonate in much of the South, whether they care about the region or not.
We’ve got real racial problems in America. Schaller-style pointing South does nothing to fix them.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Grady illustrates safety-net crisis
To generations of Georgians, this city is unimaginable without Grady. Yet that has been the prospect facing the region for the last year, the result of a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the cost of providing charity and emergency care that no one - not the counties, the state nor the federal government - has been willing to cover, though Grady provides vital services to the entire region.
Once admired for its skill in treating a population afflicted by both social and physical ills, Grady, a teaching hospital, now faces the prospect of losing its accreditation. Only short-term financial transfusions have kept it from closing its doors, as Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles County did last year. That scenario would flood the region’s other hospitals with uninsured patients and eliminate the training ground for one of every four Georgia doctors. [...]
Although the hospital is unique in many ways, the code red at Grady is emblematic of the crippling effect America’s health care crisis has had on public hospitals around the nation. Though Grady is among the most distressed of the country’s 1,300 public hospitals, others have faced similar challenges in recent years, including those in Miami, Memphis and Chicago, said Larry S. Gage, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. There are 300 fewer public hospitals today than 15 years ago, with hospitals having closed in Los Angeles, Washington, St. Louis and Milwaukee, Mr. Gage said.
Monday, January 07, 2008
In Georgia, it looks like property rights may trump gun rights:
Calling it “a core fundamental issue” for his group this year, the head of the National Rifle Association lobbied hard Monday for a bill that would allow employees to keep handguns in their cars at work.
NRA Executive President Wayne LaPierre made a rare appearance under the Gold Dome Monday, a week before the Legislature convenes, to push the bill with key lawmakers.
A frustrated LaPierre said the bill, which was effectively quashed last year by the efforts of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, has made it through other state legislatures unopposed, including Oklahoma and Missouri. [...]
Bob Thorton, a Georgia NRA member who sported a t-shirt with the words, “Wayne Never Asked Me,” said House Bill 89 puts the second and fourth amendments of the Constitution squarely at odds.
“You’ve got the right to bear arms and the right to bear property,” he said. “One is trying to step on the other.”
Political Insider says The Georgia Chemistry Council has declared defeat of the bill a matter of national security:
“The nature of some materials produced in the chemical industry make our workplaces higher-risk targets for potential terrorist attacks,” said council executive vice president Rudy Underwood. “A mandate by state government to force our member companies to relax the necessary security measures adopted by the chemical industry would be counterproductive to ensuring safety and security for our employees, neighbors and essential products.”
Sunday, December 23, 2007
An animal lover, in the last couple weeks I’ve hit a deer and a squirrel. I’m hardly alone:
Wildlife-related crashes are a growing problem on rural roads around the country. The accidents increased 50 percent from 1990 to 2004, based on the most recent federal data, according to the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University here.
The basic problem is that rural roads are being traveled by more and more people, many of them living in far-flung subdivisions… Ninety percent of the accidents occur on rural two-lane roads, and the most common animal involved is a deer.
It’s deadly - “the human death toll has risen from 111 in 1995 to around 200 in 2005” - and it’s costly:
The average cost of a deer collision is $8,000, including repair, towing and cleaning up the carcass, while hitting an elk averages $18,000. If the driver strikes a much larger moose, expenses average about $30,000.
The total cost of the accidents to insurance companies exceeds $1 billion a year, the institute estimates. Pennsylvania has the most vehicle-wildlife crashes. Drivers there struck nearly 97,000 deer in the last half of 2005 and first half of 2006, according to estimates by State Farm, the insurance company.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Genarlow Wilson (epilogue)
The Daily Record publishing a must read piece naming B.J. Berenstein “Newsmaker of the Year” is an opportune moment to take a look at some of what’s happened since the October 26 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that freed Genarlow Wilson.
Genarlow is set to begin classes at Morehouse College next month. And three of his co-defendants were released from prison this week by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles:
The Board voted to release Adrian Willis, Ryan Barnwell and Cornell Robinson… Their release comes more than a month after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Wilson’s sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. The news also comes as lawmakers prepare to revisit a tough sex offender law during the legislative session starting next month. [For more on that, see here.]
B.J. Bernstein, Wilson’s lawyer, hopes lawmakers take the case into consideration.
BERNSTEIN: Listen, it’s one thing when you’re dealing with sexual offenders but restrictions that don’t help children don’t need to be there.
With those releases only one of the original “Douglasville Six” remains behind bars.
The case of Joshua Widner, a Hampton, GA high school dropout who had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18, who also received 10 years for non-forcible oral sex but lost before the GA Supreme Court a year before Genarlow got there, was considered to be an “insurmountable” challenge for Wilson and Berenstein. But the court set Wilson free.
A month later the Henry County District Attorney agreed to an unusual deal that let Widner out of prison after serving less than five years. My take: What choice did he have?
Given that the high court seemed to go out of its way to show how Widner could not benefit from Wilson’s case, the DA was under no legal pressure:
Widner still will need to register as a sex offender, McGarity explained to him. That was a primary complaint by Wilson’s supporters about his sentence.
Asked about the sex offender registry, Widner’s lawyers said they didn’t think they should look a gift horse in the mouth.
And what of Wilson prosecutor David McDade?
The Daily Record tried to talk to him for the Beresntein story but found he “has been in a death penalty trial for weeks.”
Apparently, McDade won:
“I’m mighty proud of Douglas County jurors,” McDade said. “It’s the 15th time in a row they’ve returned a death verdict when we’ve sought one. We’ve got the death penalty every time we sought it.”
The defense attorney wonders about that braggadocio:
Part of the record in the case, developed before the trial, shows “that David McDade is completely out of step with the rest of this state and has sought the death penalty five times more often than the average prosecutor in Georgia,” Moore said.
“I personally believe we have seen signs that the Georgia Supreme Court may be growing weary of Mr. McDade’s over zealousness,” Moore said.
That last via Maggie, who’s weary of McDade and his ilk too.
B.J. Bernstein: Daily Report’s Newsmaker of the Year
What the Daily Report calls B.J. Bernstein’s Impossible Victory was winning freedom for Genarlow Wilson, the young Georgia man found not guilty of raping a 17-year-old girl but convicted of molesting a 15-year-old girl when he was just 17.
For that crime, later called by the state Supreme Court’s majority “consensual” oral sex, he was sent to prison to serve a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. For that victory, the Record has named Berenstein “Newsmaker of the Year.”
The 7,000 word piece backing up the accolade published today by the Record is the most thorough telling of the Wilson saga I’ve seen since the October 26 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that the 10 year sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment:
Perhaps the key to Bernstein’s success was in never wavering in her conviction that her client’s situation was unjust-and that she could set things right. “People read into it what they want-that you’re either crazy, or that you’re wanting publicity at that point, and that it’s pride.” But, she asks, “At what point are you crazy when you believe the law can change?”
Berenstein has often been called a savvy manipulator of the press.* Her game plan was to change the law and so, she says, that’s what she set out to be:
She knew that she would need to raise awareness about her client’s troubles in order to change the relevant statutes. And so she began a public opinion campaign.
“Definitely, it was a conscious decision to reach out to the media to get the statute changed.” That seemed both logical and appropriate, she explains. “You can argue whether a court is influenced by the media or not,” she says. “But the Legislature? Public opinion matters greatly, period.”
The legislature thwarted that first plan.
Prosecutor David McDade was legislative chair of the Georgia District Attorneys’ Association and a regular presence at the state Capitol. He passed around a video of the crime that convinced Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson that Wilson was guilty of rape despite what the jurors ("screaming and crying when they learned their decision meant a 10-year mandatory jail term") ruled.
They also accused Berenstein of putting on a show with the pro bono case in order to promote herself:
Perhaps the best rebuttal of the suggestion that Bernstein was mainly seeking fame for herself is the relatively modest, anonymous setting in which she practices law now.
A visitor to Bernstein’s second-floor offices at Colony Square in Midtown is greeted by a friendly receptionist-who’s answering the phones for Bernstein, as well as other nearby professional offices. There’s no marquee in the waiting area announcing you’ve entered the offices of The Bernstein Firm, where Bernstein and her colleague Sherry Boston have offices similar to those housing first-year associates at corporate firms.
Bernstein says she had to leave her more distinctive offices near City Hall East in August because she had been working on Wilson’s case pro bono for so long. With her focus on Wilson, she says, she wasn’t bringing in enough paying business to keep busy the three other lawyers in her firm, who have since departed.
But Bernstein isn’t complaining, easily talking about her relationships with her young clients. She says she bonds with her young clients more than others. “I joke Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ I don’t have any kids, but I have lots of kids,” says Bernstein.
The article is a must read. It shows Berenstein to be everything a good lawyer should be. Congratulations B.J.!
* One press victory, a New York Times editorial, Free Genarlow Wilson Now, was published one year ago today.
A national failure to treat and rehabilitate troubled youth
Mark Sorkin looks at 19-year-old high school dropout Robert Hawkins who had a history of depression, family troubles, drug use and criminal activity and spent time in the Nebraska’s foster care, juvenile justice and behavioral health systems before shooting thirteen people in the Omaha Westroads Mall on December 5.
What he sees in Hawkins’s life and violent death is a broad failure of the state’s juvenile justice and mental health systems. And, he says, Nebraska’s failures mirror those of many states:
Since 1974, the year a landmark study on the state’s juvenile justice system was published, the population of children under 17 in Nevada has decreased by 30,000, yet the number of juveniles arrested each year has remained constant and the number of youth in treatment centers has spiked. In 2004 more than 10,000 children were housed in state institutions, a higher per capita rate than any other state in the country. Most wards of the state are status, or nonviolent, offenders, yet they are punished as criminals rather than receiving the necessary treatment for their addictions and behavioral disorders. The state’s juvenile justice system houses a disproportionately high number of minority youth (in 2006 nearly 40 percent of all juvenile arrests in Nebraska were minorities, even though they account for about 10 percent of the youth population), and from 2003 to 2006 the number of juveniles serving in adult prisons increased by nearly 20 percent.
This information is lifted from “Spare Some Change: An Account of the Nebraska Juvenile Justice and Children’s Behavioral Health Systems,” a report released [Tuesday] by the advocacy group Voices for Children in Nebraska. According to executive director Kathy Bigsby Moore’s introductory remarks, the report “presents a synthesis of the many Nebraska studies, reports and plans that have been put forth for more than thirty years, and provides exemplary models and practices that can be implemented if Nebraska policy makers will simply ‘Spare Some Change’ within the state legislative and budget setting process.” [...]
A report of this scope was, of course, well under way before Hawkins unleashed his deadly rampage in Omaha. But the timing of its release, as Moore acknowledged at a press conference [Tuesday], may bring heightened attention to its findings. “I think the recent set of events reinforces everything that this report is saying,” she said.
On that point, consider Hawkins’s interaction with the Nevada juvenile justice system in August 2006. That month Hawkins, who had recently turned 18, failed another in a series of drug tests and was sent back to jail on a disorderly conduct charge. On August 21 he met with his caseworker, who, according to the Omaha World-Herald, “recommended getting outpatient counseling and ending the court’s jurisdiction rather than the residential treatment discussed at the previous hearing.”
“I think that the department has offered many services to this young man, and he has received a lot of help along the way,” the caseworker said. “I’m not quite sure that we’re benefiting him anymore with requiring certain services for him. I think he needs to find some fulfillment from within.”
It is clear to me that the problem of youth violence is a problem of adult failings - failings as parents, failings as voters and failings as policy makers. It may be easier to criminalize kids’ behaviors, blame schools, and vote for tougher criminal penalties than it is to act in the interest of our kids, but we will all pay the price in the end.
There is a group working here in Georgia, JUST Georgia, to rewrite the state’s Juvenile Justice Code. If you live in Georgia, get to know them. If you live elsewhere, find out who’s doing something in your state. The Nebraska report is a resource:
At forty-eight pages, the report is impressively thorough. It includes, among other things, a discussion on the history and intricacies of juvenile justice and behavioral health services, particularly in Nebraska but also at the national level; a brief analysis of current scientific research on adolescent brain development; and an overview of some of the nation’s most successful strategies for handling youthful offenders, such as the famous “Missouri model,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change program. Any of these programs, the report suggests, would bring significant improvement to the status quo in Nebraska. (The report also includes a two-page bullet-point summary of recommendations for policy-makers.)
Our kids are our future and our hope. They need us. NOW!