Political MoJo

Will Rick Perry Execute A Mentally Disabled Man Tonight?

| Tue May 13, 2014 10:47 AM EDT
Texas Governor Rick Perry

Update (5:24 pm): The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed Robert Campbell's execution on the grounds that the new evidence of his intellectual disability was "more than sufficient" to warrant a closer look by the courts. His lawyer, Robert C. Owen, said in a statement, "Given the state’s own role in creating the regrettable circumstances that led to the Fifth Circuit’s decision today, the time is right for the State of Texas to let go of its efforts to execute Mr. Campbell, and resolve this case by reducing his sentence to life imprisonment. State officials should choose the path of resolution rather than pursuing months or years of further proceedings."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has presided over more executions than any other governor in American history. He's ignored pleas for clemency for people who committed crimes as juveniles, who were mentally disabled, or who were obvious victims of systemic racism. He even signed off on the execution of a likely innocent man. So the odds don't seem good for Robert Campbell, a man set to be executed in Texas tonight. This is despite the fact that new evidence has surfaced showing that the state withheld information documenting an intellectual disability that should make him ineligible for the death penalty.

Unlike Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma murderer whose botched execution last month has become a rallying cry for abolishing the death penalty, Campbell is actually something of a poster child for all that's wrong with capital punishment in this country. 

Four months after his 18th birthday, Campbell commit three armed car jackings. In one of those, a 20-year-old bank employee, Alexandra Rendon, was kidnapped at a gas station, sexually assaulted and shot to death. Campbell was quickly arrested, largely because he drove Rendon's car around his neighborhood, gave her coat to his mother and her jewelry to his girlfriend as gifts, and basically blabbed to everyone that he'd been involved in the crime. He wasn't alone during the commission of the crime. But his co-defendant, Leroy Lewis, was allowed to plead guilty and is already out on parole.

But Campbell, who is black, went to trial in 1992 in Houston during a time when prosecutors there were three times more likely to pursue a capital case against African-American men than against white men. He had an incompetent lawyer whose many missteps included failing to either investigate his case or to present evidence that would have mitigated his sentence, notably the fact that Campbell was mentally retarded. (This term generally isn't used anymore to describe people with intellectual disabilities—except with regard to the death penalty, where it has a specific definition in the law.)

More bad lawyering over the years, along with hostile Texas courts, left Campbell without many avenues to appeal, even though in 2002, the US Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally disabled. What's more, Campbell's lawyers only recently discovered that prosecutors and other state officials long had substantial evidence of his limited cognitive functioning—including school records and test results placing his IQ at 68—that should have spared him from the death penalty. Yet they failed to turn it over to defense counsel until just days before his scheduled execution. Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals nonetheless denied Campbell's request to stay the execution, despite clear concerns from several judges on the court that his claims of mental retardation were compelling and justified further review.

“It is an outrage that the State of Texas itself has worked to frustrate Mr. Campbell’s attempts to obtain any fair consideration of evidence of his intellectual disability,” said Robert C. Owen, an attorney for Mr. Campbell. “State officials affirmatively misled Mr. Campbell’s lawyers when they said they had no records of IQ testing of Mr. Campbell from his time on death row. That was a lie. They had such test results, and those results placed Mr. Campbell squarely in the range for a diagnosis of mental retardation. Mr. Campbell now faces execution as a direct result of such shameful gamesmanship.”

Campbell's attorneys have filed an emergency request for relief with the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where his odds also seem relatively slim. The Fifth Circuit is notoriously hostile to death penalty appeals. One of its judges, Edith Jones, is famous for reinstating a death sentence for a man whose lawyer slept through his trial. She has said publicly that the death penalty provides criminals with a "positive service" because it gives them an opportunity to get right with God right before the state kills them. She's also facing an unusual ethics complaint over allegedly racist remarks she made at a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania last year, where she reportedly claimed that blacks and Hispanics were predisposed to crime and "prone" to violence. Notably, too, she insisted that defendants who raise claims of mental retardation "abuse the system" and she criticized the Supreme Court's decision prohibiting the execution of the mentally disabled. (She's said that anyone who can plan a crime can't be mentally retarded.)

If Campbell can't make any headway with the Fifth Circuit, his next appeal goes to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who reviews emergency death penalty appeals for the Fifth Circuit and is on the record as opposing the ban on executing the mentally retarded. (He also objected to the ban on executing juveniles.) So Campbell's best hope, at least in the short run, is Perry, the three-term GOP governor with presidential aspirations. Perry has the authority to issue a 30-day stay of execution, and if the parole board recommends clemency, as Campbell's lawyers are requesting, he could commute Campbell's sentence to life in prison.

Execution politics aren't pretty. As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton left the campaign trail in 1992 to personally oversee the execution of a brain-damaged man, Ricky Ray Rector, and prove his tough-on-crime bona fides. Perry, though, has long and documented track record of executing hundreds of people already, and the politics of the death penalty have unexpectedly and quickly started to change. A vote for clemency isn't likely to affect Perry's future political prospects. In this case, it might even help them. He has a few hours more to decide.

 

 

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Tim Geithner on Why Obama Passed Over Elizabeth Warren to Head the Consumer Protection Bureau

| Mon May 12, 2014 5:13 PM EDT

There is no love lost between Tim Geithner, the former US treasury secretary, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Geithner and Warren memorably clashed during hearings over the $700 billion bank bailout (Warren at the time chaired Congress' bailout watchdog panel), and many progressives believed that Geithner denied Warren her rightful place as the full-time director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In his new book, Stress Test, Geithner denies blocking Warren and describes his relationship with the progressive favorite as "complicated." He praises her "smart and innovative" ideas about consumer protection, which, over dinner in Washington with Warren, he discovers are "more market-oriented, incentive-based, and practical than her detractors realized." In the same breath, though, Geithner jabs Warren for running her bailout oversight hearings "like made-for-YouTube inquisitions [rather] than serious inquiries." (Geithner's not the only one to point out Warren's embrace of the viral video clip: Listen to BuzzFeed reporter John Stanton's comments in this MSNBC roundtable.)

So why did the Obama administration pass over Warren to run the new bureau? Geithner writes, "There was a lot to be said for making Warren the first CFPB director, but one consideration trumped all others: The Senate leadership told the White House there was no chance she could be confirmed." Warren's eventual gig—a presidentially-appointed acting director charged with getting the new bureau up and running—was Geithner's idea, he says:

[Chief of staff] Mark Patterson and I thought about options, and after a few discussions with Rahm, I proposed that we make Warren the acting director, with responsibility for building the new bureau, while we continued to look for alternative candidates. This would give her a chance to be the public face of consumer protection, which she was exceptionally good at, and the ability to recruit a team of people to the new bureau right away, which she wouldn't have been allowed to do if she had been in confirmation limbo.

What stands out in Geithner's retelling is the depth of President Obama's admiration for Warren, and how much Obama agonized over what to do with Warren and the consumer bureau. The bureau was, after all, her idea. Here's what Geithner writes:

The President was torn. Progressives were turning Warren into another whose-side-are-you-on litmus test. The head of the National Organization for Women publicly accused me of blocking Warren, calling me a classic Wall Street sexist. Valerie Jarrett, the President's confidante from Chicago, was pushing hard for Warren, too, and she was worried I would stand in the way. At a meeting with Rahm and Valerie, I told the group that if the President wanted to appoint Warren to run the CFPB, I wouldn't try to talk him out of it, but everyone in the room knew she had no chance of being confirmed. The president, who almost never called me at home, made an exception on this issue. It was really eating away at him. He had a huge amount of respect for Warren, but he didn't want an endless confirmation fight, and he was hesitant to nominate someone so divisive that it would undermine the agency's ability to get up and running, as well as its ability to build broader legitimacy beyond the left.

As soon as Warren got to the CFPB, she began trying to lure away Geithner's own staffers. "She was unapologetic when my team finally confronted her about it," he writes, "and you had to respect her determination to get things done."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 12, 2014

Mon May 12, 2014 10:01 AM EDT

Cpl. Justin R. Wiemer, a motor vehicle mechanic with I Marine Headquarters Group, climbs a hill during a regimental hike aboard Camp Pendleton, California, April 17, 2014. The Marines wore their flak jackets and carried weighted assault packs on the eight-mile conditioning hike. This hike was the second of a series in a series of conditioning events that aim to improve the Marines operational readiness and camaraderie. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray/Released)

Watch This Amazing Sesame Street Video About Having a Parent in Prison

| Sat May 10, 2014 1:42 PM EDT

More than three percent of children in the United States have a parent behind bars. These kids must travel hundreds of miles to visit their parents, and one in ten will end up incarcerated themselves before adulthood. But despite this reality, only six states have child welfare policies to address the needs of kids with incarcerated parents. Thank goodness for Sesame Street. Last year, the show shed some light on the challenges these kids face through a new initiative: "Little Children, Big Issues: Incarceration." Watch as Sesame Street characters discuss the difficulties of growing up with a mom or dad in prison:
 

The Next Cliven Bundy Showdown

| Fri May 9, 2014 12:59 PM EDT
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

It looks like a new front has opened up in Cliven Bundy's war against the US government.

This Saturday, angry residents of San Juan County, Utah, plan to illegally ride their ATVs through Utah's Recapture Canyon—an 11 mile-long stretch of federal land that is home to Native American archeological sites—because they don't think that the federal Bureau of Land Management should have designated that land off-limits to motor vehicles. The protest was meant to be a local affair. But on Thursday, Bundy, the rancher who wouldn't pay the feds grazing fees and sparked a gun-drenched showdown in Nevada, called on his supporters to join the anti-government off-roading event, E&E Publishing's Phil Taylor reported. Bundy, whose crusade against the federal government became tainted by his racist comments, is looking to spread the cause from cattle to cross-country cruising.

"We don't expect any violence," San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge told the Denver Post last week.  Others aren't so sure, especially since the out-of-staters in attendance could help rile things up—which is what happened during the Bundy stand-off. "This may blow up to be significantly more than they thought," Bill Boyle, a resident of San Juan and publisher of the San Juan Record newspaper told the Post. "I think there are those who would like everyone with an AK-47 to be here."

San Juan County residents who plan to attend Saturday's event are Bundy supporters and Ted Nugent fans, according to an analysis of their Facebook pages by the Denver Post. They also hate President Barack Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, according to the newspaper, which reports that "BLM employees in San Juan County have had windows shot out of their homes and their yards torn up by ATVs in the middle of the night."

The BLM made the Recapture Canyon land off limits in 2007 because ATVs were damaging the land and folks were vandalizing Native American sites. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who is organizing Saturday's protest, does not believe the feds have the authority to protect cultural resources. He says the goal of the ride is to reassert county jurisdiction in the face of federal "overreach," according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Federal overreach was the theme that Bundy's champions in the national conservative media repeatedly pressed—until Bundy's racist comments became news.

Local officials do not have a good estimate of how many mad-as-hell ATV riders will show up to zoom through sacred Native American land on Saturday. But the BLM has decided to stand back and avoid a conflict for now, as it did several weeks ago on the Bundy ranch in Nevada. Utah's BLM director Juan Palma, however, said there will nonetheless be consequences for the anti-government activists. "The BLM-Utah has not and will not authorize the proposed ride and will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who uses a motorized vehicle within the closed area," he said in a statement.

Ted Cruz Is Attacking Obama for Relocating a Shrubbery

| Fri May 9, 2014 11:30 AM EDT

On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz released "The Legal Limit Report No. 4," a comprehensive report on the Obama administration's "persistent power of lawlessness" and abuses of power. "In the more than two centuries of our nation's history," Cruz wrote—outlining a period in which American citizens were rounded up and put in camps, deprived of habeas corpus, and routinely denied basic rights on the basis of race—"there is simply no precedent for the White House wantonly ignoring federal law and asking others to do the same."

Given those stakes, much of what's on Cruz's list is pretty trivial. Not only are many of the abuses several dozen bureaucratic rungs beneath the president's purview, but there's no real explanation of how they might be remotely classified as lawless abuses. Here are the eight silliest items on the list:

  1. "Spent $205,075 in "stimulus" funds to relocate a shrub that sells for $16." An American Recovery and Reinvestment Project in San Francisco spent big bucks to remove a patch of Arctostaphylos franciscana that was blocking a construction project in the Presidio. On the other hand, Arctostaphylos franciscana is an endangered species and the specimen in San Francisco was the very last remaining plant in the wild. Besides, people have gone to much greater lengths in pursuit of shrubberies:
  2. "Spent $7 million per household in 'stimulus funds' to connect a few Montana households to the Internet." Wow that is expensive. But fully enabled by the law.
  3. "Cancelled all White House tours after sequestration—purportedly saving $18,000 per week—even though President Obama had spent more than $1 million in tax money to golf with Tiger Woods one weekend a few weeks before." Cruz is right that some things are more expensive than other things, but the Woods golf outing occurred before sequestration was even in effect.
  4. "Actively, aided in George Zimmerman protests." Right-wingers alleged that a "little-known" Department of Justice office was helping to organize protests after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. That was false. The Community Relations Service, a program created by the Civil Rights Act, set up shop in Sanford, Fla. to ensure that the protests, which had been happening for weeks, remained peaceful.
  5. "Former 'safe schools czar' has written about his past drug abuse and advocated promoting homosexuality in schools." Although conservatives like Sean Hannity accused him (without basis) of supporting the North American Man Boy Love Association, in reality, Kevin Jenning, head of the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, "advocated promoting homosexuality" by organizing an anti-bullying program for bus drivers.
  6. "President Obama told NASA administrator to 'find a way to reach out to the Muslim world.'" This listed as an abuse of power, although Cruz, who can recite the Enumerated Powers of the Constitution from memory, doesn't specify which powers are being violated by a call for scientific collaboration.
  7. "Argued for expansive federal powers in the Supreme Court, which has rejected the Administration's arguments unanimously 9 times since January 2012." Pleading your case to the Supreme Court is the exact opposite of a lawless activity. (Ted Cruz himself did it nine times as solicitor general of Texas.)
  8. "Shut down an Amish farm for selling fresh unpasteurized milk across state lines." In 2012, a federal judge ruled that Kinzer, Penn., farmer Daniel Allgyer was acting in deliberate violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Public Health Services Act, by continuing to illegally sell raw milk after a warning from the Food and Drug Administration. Maybe Cruz thinks we should be drinking more raw milk. (We shouldn't be.) But he appears to be arguing for deliberate non-enforcement of the law, putting Cruz at odds with the author of the "Legal Limit Report No. 4," one Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who argued that "when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president." Ergo, Ted Cruz is a dictator.

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Corn on Hardball: At This Point the Benghazi Attack Is Basically Just a GOP Fundraising Tactic

Thu May 8, 2014 5:29 PM EDT

Washington bureau chief David Corn spoke to Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" about recent GOP fundraising emails that use the Benghazi Select Committee's investigation of the "truth" about the attack to solicit donations. Unlike previous house investigations, including the investigations into the bombings of the US embassy and barracks in Beirut during the Reagan administration, the Benghazi attack has become a political vehicle for Republicans.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 8, 2014

Thu May 8, 2014 10:41 AM EDT

Spc. Brandon Bordner, infantryman, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division sweats in the Kuwaiti sun as he assembles a radio during the brigade's Soldier and NCO of the Year competition at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, April 24, 2014. The competition consisted of three days of events and will culminate with an awards ceremony on May 1. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl, 2nd ABCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div.)

Will American Pot Farmers Put the Cartels out of Business?

| Wed May 7, 2014 2:56 PM EDT

For the first time ever, many of the farmers who supply Mexican drug cartels have stopped planting marijuana, reports the Washington Post. "It's not worth it anymore," said Rodrigo Silla, a lifelong cannabis farmer from central Mexico. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization."

Facing stiff competition from pot grown legally and illegally north of the border, the price for a kilogram of Mexican schwag has plummeted by 75 percent, from $100 to $25, the Post reports:

Farmers in the storied "Golden Triangle" region of Mexico's Sinaloa state, which has produced the country's most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop…increasingly, they're unable to compete with US marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 US states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses—some licensed, others not.

As notes David Downs of the East Bay Express, this is a really big deal. In the past decade, Mexican drug cartels have murdered an estimated 60,000 people. The DEA annually spends more than $2 billion to deter the transport of illicit drugs across the border. "So now we have both the DEA and cartel farmers screaming bloody murder about legalization," Downs points out. "Sounds like we're on the right track."

Of course, the American pot boom is also creating problems of its own, with some Mexican traffickers moving north to California and other states to set up vast "trespass grows" on remote public lands. To be sure, the illicit market for weed will prop up criminal syndicates for as long as pot remains illegal, yet this week's news is some of strongest evidence to date that legalizing and decriminalizing pot will ultimately make everyone safer.

CHART: The Bulk of Federal Welfare Spending Is Not Going to the People Who Need It Most

| Wed May 7, 2014 2:00 PM EDT
Johns Hopkins University

In his past several budget proposals, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has called for big cuts to the federal safety net, especially to the food stamps program. He'd like to see the food assistance program, which helps 46 million people, turned over to the states and reformed the way welfare was in the 1990s, with the imposition of stiff time limits on benefits and work requirements for recipients. But according to a new study, that focus on tying benefits to work has contributed to a major shift in federal welfare spending away from the people who need it most.

Robert Moffitt, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University, has found that over the past 30 years federal safety net spending has increased dramatically, as Republicans often allege. But that spending hasn't gone to help the people who need it most. Instead, the additional funding has shifted to help people who aren't exactly wealthy, but who aren't doing quite as badly as those at the bottom, largely because they work for some part of the year. The resulting policy shift means that in 2014, a family of four earning $11,925 a year—50 percent of the official poverty line—likely receives less aid than a similar family earning $47,700.

That's a big change from 1983, when 56 percent of all safety net payments (all major social insurance programs except Medicaid and Medicare) went to families living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. By 2004, that figure had dropped to 32 percent. Moffitt says the data indicates that even among the poor, inequality is increasing as federal funds have been redistributed from the worst-off families to those doing somewhat better. Federal safety net benefits to single parents living below 50 percent of the poverty line have plummeted 35 percent since 1983.

Some demographic groups have fared better than others, namely the elderly and the disabled. Moffitt notes that families headed by someone over the age of 62 have seen their benefits rise by 19 percent over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, those taking the biggest hit are single mothers, who have been disproportionately affected by changes to the welfare system in 1996 that cut off most cash aid to anyone who wasn't working. Moffitt says the disparity is also the result of large increases in programs that benefit specific groups of low-income people, as the Earned Income Tax Credit does. While the credit lifted more than 3 million children out of poverty in 2012, it's largest impact is on people who earn at least $10,000 a year or more.

While he doesn't say it in his presentation, all of these trends are one reason why the number of Americans living on less than $2 a day has doubled since 1996. American politicians' obsession with helping the "deserving poor" has meant that the people who aren't so deserving or who are trying and not making it are getting more screwed than ever. "You would think that the government would offer the most support to those who have the lowest incomes and provide less help to those with higher incomes," Moffitt observed. "But that is not the case."