28 October 2011

Poll: Hillary Clinton would have a better chance than Obama of winning in 2012

According to TIME, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have a better chance than Obama of beating the leading Republican presidential hopefuls in 2012:
A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.
This speaks well of the new image that Clinton has created for herself after her years as First Lady, when she was seen as a polarizing figure.

Not so much for Obama.

But, of course, I've heard Clinton say multiple times in interviews that she is not interested in running for any political office once this term is up.

And I certainly cannot see her challenging Obama for the 2012 Dem ticket. (She's too classy for that.)

But is there a lesson that Obama can learn from this?

27 October 2011

SCOTUS to review health care cases in November

Per Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog:
"The Supreme Court will take its first look at the challenges to the new federal health care law at its Conference on Thursday, November 10. Five of the six pending petitions (the sixth is not ready yet) were distributed to the Justices' chambers on Wednesday, for consideration at that private session. Although a grant of review is not assured, that is highly likely, since all sides agree that the Court should take on the controversy, and the constitutionality of a key provision of the new law has been decided differently by federal appeals courts."
Given the current makeup of the Court, anything could happen.

Meanwhile, for more information:

>> An overview of the various petitions that have been filed, and the specific issues involved, can be found on the SCOTUSblog site here.

>> The actual filings in these cases can be found on the Supreme Court's website here.

24 October 2011

Urgent petition: Call for DNA testing for Hank Skinner

As I wrote in a recent column, Texas death row prisoner Hank Skinner faces a November 9 execution date for a triple murder, despite the existence of untested DNA evidence that Skinner says could prove his innocence.

Instead of testing the DNA to ensure they've got the right guy, Texas just wants to go ahead and kill him.

There's no way that this can be called justice.

A hearing was conducted today in federal court in an attempt to force the prosecution to hand over the evidence for testing. But we must do more than just sit idly by as we await the results of this last chance at justice. We must leave no stone unturned. This is literally a matter of life and death.

What you can do:

>> Please click here to sign an online petition from change.org. The petition calls on Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer to turn over the DNA for testing before it is too late.

Please hurry. The petition will close on November 1.

Thank you!

23 October 2011

Will Rick Perry kill another innocent man?

Texas governor and Republican presidential contender Rick Perry has faced criticism from the left (and applause from the right) for his heavy-handed use of the death penalty. And Perry has said that he loses no sleep over the possibility that he may have executed an innocent man.

This is despite the fact that it appears that Perry has done just that - and could very likely do it again very soon.

In 2004, Texas death row prisoner Cameron Todd Willingham was executed for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters in 1991. However, a later forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

Instead of acknowledging that an innocent man may have been executed, and working to correct the system that allowed such a grievous error, Governor Perry appears to have taken steps to impede the investigation into the Willingham fiasco.

And now we have another Texas death row prisoner, Henry Watkins "Hank" Skinner, facing a November 9 execution date for a triple murder, despite the existence of untested DNA evidence that Skinner says could prove his innocence.

Skinner had been convicted and sentenced to death for the New Year's Eve murder in 1993 of his girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult sons. The DNA in question went untested during the original trial because Skinner's attorney was afraid that it could incriminate his client - a decision that Skinner contends he never agreed with.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Skinner may pursue a civil rights claim to obtain the DNA testing. In the meantime, however, Texas has jumped the gun. Instead of waiting for the civil rights suit to unfold, and for the DNA to be tested to ensure they've got the right guy, the state went ahead and scheduled the November execution.

What are they afraid of - the possibility that Skinner's conviction, like Willingham's, might be proven wrong?

Governor Perry, as noted above, has bragged that he really does not care. Neither, apparently, does anyone else in charge of the busiest death chamber in the country.

Killing a prisoner, apparently, is more important to them than killing the right prisoner.

Killing a prisoner, apparently, is more important to them than true justice.

21 October 2011

Amnesty International's remarks on Gaddafi's death

Yesterday, Libyan dictator Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi was killed by rebel forces. The Libyan people celebrated in the streets. He was, after all, a brutal tyrant.

But human rights group Amnesty International (AI) noted in a press release that "[al-Gaddafi's death] brings to a close a chapter of Libya's history marked by repression and abuse, but does not end the story."

"The legacy of repression and abuse from Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi's rule will not end until there is a full accounting for the past and human rights are embedded in Libya's new institutions," said AI Senior Director Claudio Cordone. "Colonel al-Gaddafi’s death must not stop his victims in Libya from seeing justice being done. The many Libyan officials suspected of serious human rights violations committed during and before this year's uprising, including the infamous Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996, must answer for their crimes."

"The new authorities must make a complete break from the culture of abuse that Colonel al-Gaddafi’s regime perpetuated and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed in the country," he added.

AI also called on Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) to "make public information about how Colonel al-Gaddafi died, making the full facts available to the Libyan people."

In addition, AI called on the NTC to "ensure that all those suspected of human rights abuses and war crimes, including Colonel al-Gaddafi's inner circle and family members, are treated humanely and, if captured, given fair trials."

Amen. Only then can Libya's new government truly progress beyond the brutality and lawlessness of the Gaddafi era.

20 October 2011

10 days' pay for two faces full of pepper spray

NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna (aka "Tony Baloney") rose to fame (or, rather, infamy) when he was caught on video pepper spraying two peaceful female Occupy Wall Street protesters without provocation.

On October 18, the NYPD meted out its "punishment" for that particular act of police misconduct. The New York Daily News reports:
"The NYPD found that Bologna violated departmental guidelines and docked him 10 vacation days, or the equivalent amount of pay, police sources said."
By the way, the article goes on to mention that Bologna makes $154,300 a year.

So this is a high-ranking and highly paid police officer who should be setting a proper example for the force. Yet he pepper sprays two innocent people for no discernable reason, and he's given what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

I'm hoping that his victims will sue - and win. That would be true justice.

19 October 2011

Wear purple tomorrow to fight bullying

It started last year, and is happening again this week.

Thursday, October 20, is Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe of the rainbow flag representing "spirit".

On Spirit Day, please wear purple to show your support for ending the plague of bullying aimed at LGBT persons. I certainly will. (The photo is from last year's Spirit Day.)

12 October 2011

New SCOTUS decision in Abu-Jamal case is good, but not enough

The drama continues in the case of America's most famous living death row prisoner.

On October 11, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the Philadelphia District Attorney to overturn a federal appeals court decision declaring Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence unconstitutional. Abu-Jamal had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Now, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), "Mr. Abu-Jamal will be automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole unless the District Attorney elects to seek another death sentence from a new jury."

This development is good, but it's not enough.

For years, rights groups have been speaking out against Abu-Jamal's death sentence. A 2000 report by Amnesty International noted that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings." Amnesty expressed concerns about judicial bias and hostility, police misconduct, and the apparent withholding of evidence from the jury. Amnesty called for a new trial "in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia."

Abu-Jamal's supporters insist that he is innocent, that he was set up, and that racial bias and witness coercion had played a big part in an unfair trial. They also point out that Faulkner was killed with a .44 caliber gun, while the gun found on Abu-Jamal was a .38 caliber.

This most recent court decision, however, concerns only the penalty, not the question of guilt or innocence. At this stage, the death penalty was challenged because of flawed jury instructions in the sentencing phase of Abu-Jamal's original trial. The issue involves how jurors were to weigh various mitigating factors that may have resulted in a sentence other than the death penalty.

Professor Judith Ritter of Widener Law School, who, along with the LDF, represented Abu-Jamal in this phase of his case, weighed in on the new decision: "Like all Americans, Mr. Abu-Jamal was entitled to a proper proceeding that takes into account the many substantial reasons why death was an inappropriate sentence. Our system should never condone an execution that stems from a trial in which the jury was improperly instructed on the law."


Again, this latest development is good, but it's not enough.

Unless Abu-Jamal is granted a new - and fair - trial to address his guilt or innocence, I will not believe that justice has truly been served.

I shall not hold my breath.

10 October 2011

Why I won't celebrate Columbus Day

Today, the second Monday of October, is Columbus Day in the USA -- a federal holiday recognizing Christopher Columbus' arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492.

But I will not be celebrating.

What we learned about Columbus in school was not the whole truth. In some cases, it wasn't the truth at all.

First of all, Columbus did not originate the theory that the earth is round. Such had been known since ancient times.

Columbus also did not discover America. Leif Ericson and his Norsemen had built a settlement in what is now the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador some 500 years before Columbus wandered into the West Indies.

And, once Columbus got here, he enslaved the Native Americans and forced them to convert to Christianity, while helping himself to the new world's gold and other precious resources.

In other words, it seems that he paved the way for the better-known genocide and subjugation of Native Americans that took place on the North American mainland in later centuries.

Is this the kind of thing we should be celebrating?

Not me.

05 October 2011

Oral arguments tomorrow in appeal of Gitmo death case

Tomorrow, oral arguments will be heard in the case of Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld. This is a civil case filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the families of two Guantanamo detainees who died in June 2006 under "questionable circumstances". Plaintiffs include the United States and 24 federal officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "for their role in the arbitrary detention, torture, and ultimate deaths of Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen."

The case had been dismissed in February of 2010. However, CCR has since filed a motion for reconsideration in light of new evidence: Four brave soldiers who were stationed at Guantanamo at the time of the deaths have come forward "with eye-witness accounts strongly suggesting a cover-up of the cause and circumstances of the deaths and that the men may have been killed at an off-site location."

So will justice be served this time around? I am not optimistic, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Stay tuned.

>> Learn more about this case at ccrjustice.org.

04 October 2011

Christie not running - this time

Today, despite calls from some key members of the GOP for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, he announced that he will definitely not run.

In a way, I'm relieved, because I was concerned that Christie might be harder for Obama to beat than any of the other current GOP contenders. On the other hand, I'm guessing that Christie will reconsider for 2016.

With Rick Perry apparently having jumped the shark, it now appears that Romney may be the one to beat in 2012.

Can Obama do it?