08.20.14

Yes, Perry’s In Trouble, And Here’s Why

Posted in Around The State, Corruption at 10:11 am by wcnews

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Kuff hightlihgts the pertinent parts from the TT spotlight of Texans for Public Justice, Possibly the last thing I’m going to say about the Perry indictment for now.

Did we all catch that? The complaint was filed before the veto was made. Let me repeat that, with formatting and an active voice construction: TPJ filed their complaint before Rick Perry vetoed the Public Integrity Unit funds. It wasn’t about the veto, it was about the threat, the coercion, of a duly elected public official that did not answer to Rick Perry. Anyone who opines about this in any fashion and doesn’t grasp that fact has no frigging idea what they’re talking about and should be ignored.Another test for ignorance by those who bloviate about this case, in particular those who go on about Rosemary Lehmberg’s DUI arrest and of course it was sensible for Rick Perry to want a drunk DA to step down: Rosemary Lehmberg was the third District Attorney in Texas to be arrested for drunk driving during Rick Perry’s time as Governor. She was the first such DA to come under any pressure from Rick Perry about it. She was also the first such DA to be a Democrat. And yet it’s Rick Perry who’s the victim of a partisan vendetta, by a non-partisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge who was appointed to hear the case by another Republican judge.

And as Wayne Slater goes on to point out, the case is not about the veto, Why the conventional wisdom in the Rick Perry indictment story might be incomplete.

As Perry and his lawyers have said, governors have the right to issue a veto for virtually any reason they want. The indictment is about an alleged abuse of power. It contends Perry threatened to veto funds in an unsuccessful effort to muscle a duly elected county officials from office.

One way to think about the prosecution: It’s perfectly legal to veto something. And it’s perfectly legal to demand that an elected official you don’t like should resign. But it might be illegal to link the two.

For example, it’s legal to make a campaign contribution. And it’s legal to ask somebody to do something. But it’s illegal to tie one to the other. One area apparently explored by the grand jury was whether there were post-veto discussions in which the issue was no longer a veto but whether Perry’s side considered paying state money to restore funding if Lehmberg would leave or take another job.

Now that he’s been processed by the system and entered a plea this issue is likely to die down for a while. Hopefully those in the national media will try harder to understand how much trouble Perry is actually in.

Texas Is A Wasteland For Public Support

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, Health Care at 9:28 am by wcnews

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This extraordinarily naive article got me thinking, Lawmakers Ready To Again Back A ‘Texas Solution’ To Obamacare.

Two key state lawmakers from opposing parties say they haven’t given up on creating a plan that would allow Texas to collect billions of federal Medicaid dollars tied to the Affordable Care Act.

They believe that with Rick Perry leaving the governor’s office there may be another opportunity to adopt a so-called “Texas Solution.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, and Rep. John Zerwas, a Republican from Richmond, are both health policy experts. Zerwas is a physician.

So last session — after Perry said “no” to being part of Obamacare — Zerwas and Coleman set aside party affiliations and crafted an alternative.

[...]

“Even the conservatives understood their communities would benefit from the boost financially. From the jobs that would be created,” Coleman said. “[But] there was no reason for members to go out and vote for something they thought would beat them in the Republican primary. And frankly I don’t blame them.”

The Zerwas-Coleman legislation, HB 1391, called for Texas to do what other states have done to collect their share of federal money: Approach the Obama administration with an alternative that provides insurance coverage for more low-income people.

Their plan focused on the estimated 1.5 million Texas adults who earn 138 percent of what the federal government considers poverty level and therefore have no access to affordable coverage. That’s approximately $16,000 or less annually for an individual.

Zerwas says those Texans currently rely on emergency care that often comes too late.

“It doesn’t provide that access when you have early stage breast cancer versus later stage breast cancer,” he said. “It doesn’t provide you that … access to healthcare when you’ve got diabetes and early in your disease you’re trying to get control of your diabetes so you don’t end up with the serious qualities such as blindness and heart failure.”

The Zerwas-Coleman plan said the newly covered should share some of their insurance cost through co-pays or deductibles, which currently isn’t allowed under Medicaid. Private insurers would be involved. Taxes collected from premiums on healthcare plans would pay the state’s costs.

Zerwas told the Richardson crowd he thinks a similar plan could have a chance next session.

I would just like to know how Zerwas can possibly think this will have a chance in the next session. I would guess he thinks that Abbott and Patrick will win election in November. These two guys, mainly because of Patrick, will be exponentially further to the right then Perry and Dewhurst were. How in the world does he see a bill like that even getting to the Senate floor?  I’ll give Zerwas credit, nice attempt at trying to make his party seem reasonable.

Texas right now is a wasteland for any kind of public support for those in need.  There’s only one way Medicaid, or whatever someone wants to call it, get’s expanded in Texas.  It’s only going to happen if Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte get elected.

That’s the only way it, and so many other issues that have been neglected for so long in Texas, have a chance next session.

08.18.14

How Much Trouble Is Rick Perry In?

Posted in Around The State, Corruption at 8:12 pm by wcnews

It seems many don’t think Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s legal troubles are that serious.  Only time will tell on that but we should at least make sure we really know what this is all about.  To that end are a few links below to try and clear that up.  But the charges are serious.

Kuff has two great posts up on the Perry indictment.  First he puts forth a simple explanation of what the prosecution’s case could be, More on the Perry indictment.

…I think if it comes to a trial, the prosecution has a pretty straightforward story to tell. If I were in charge of this case – Lord help us if I were, but stay with me here – what I would present to the jury is a simple tale of coercion. One elected official does not have the right or the authority to force another elected official to resign, especially by making threats. The only authority Rick Perry has over Rosemary Lehmberg is what any other registered voter has over her. Let’s pretend for a moment that the DUI never happened and there is no CPRIT investigation to speak of. We all agree that if Rick Perry had just out of the blue told Rosemary Lehmberg in 2013 to resign or he’d veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit, that would be suspicious, right? Perry’s always been free to veto the PIU funding. It’s actually a little surprising that he hasn’t put pressure on the Lege to cut that function out of the Travis County DA office and give it to the Attorney General or something like that. But he hasn’t, maybe because it wasn’t worth the effort and the political fallout, or maybe he just had other fish to fry. Then Lehmberg goes and gets herself busted for drunk driving, and now maybe Perry has a wedge. That doesn’t give him any more right to threaten the duly elected Lehmberg than he’d had the day before she made the poor choice to get behind the wheel after downing too much vodka. One elected official cannot coerce another. I think a jury will have an easy time grasping that.

And in this one he helps explain who the special prosecutor Mike McCrum is and who appointed him special prosecutor, On Mike McCrum and Pa Ferguson.

We were briefly introduced to Mike McCrum when he was named special prosecutor for this case, but that was much more cursory. What this story reminds us is that McCrum isn’t just a prosecutor. He’s also been a very successful defense attorney. As we saw yesterday, there are a lot of quotable defense attorneys out there poking holes in the indictments. One would think – at least, I would think – that someone like Mike McCrum, who has been on that side of the courtroom, would have analyzed this case and the evidence from that perspective as well, to better prepare himself for the courtroom battles to come. It’s certainly possible McCrum has missed the mark or gotten caught up in the job and focused too much on an end result, but I wouldn’t count on that. If he’s as diligent and as smart as people say he is, he’s got to have considered all this.

[...]

A little history here. When the complaint was filed by Texans for Public Justice against Perry, Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg recused herself from investigating it. That sent the complaint to the district courts of Travis County, where it was assigned to Judge Julie Kocurekof the 390th District Court. Kocurekof, a Democrat, recused herself as well. That kicked the case to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, where presiding Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield got it. Stubblefield then assigned the case to Senior Judge Bert Richardson, who I presume will be the judge from here on out barring anything weird. Richardson named McCrum as special prosecutor, since the Travis County DA had taken itself out, and the rest you know.

Well, actually, there’s one more thing you might not know. Both Judge Stubblefield of the 3rd Court of Appeals, and Judge Richardson, who is a Senior Judge after losing election in 2008, were originally appointed to their positions. By Rick Perry. Quite the liberal conspiracy working against him there, no?

Stubblefield is a Williamson County GOP judge, and he’s definitely not a liberal.

And Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer, not only makes fun of the national bloviators ignorance of what’s going on but points out that Perry may be in serious legal trouble, What the Pundits Don’t Get About the Rick Perry Indictment.

There is a Lot We Don’t Know…Yet

It is quite possible that the case against Rick Perry will fizzle. Perhaps it is “flimsy” and “thin” and all the rest. Credible legal experts have said they think the prosecution will have a difficult time securing a conviction. However, none of us is privy to the evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury. According to Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News, McCrum said he “interviewed more than 40 people, reviewed hundreds of documents and read many dozens of cases.” Fikac and other reporters who staked out the courthouse long before the national press spent five minutes reading the indictment watched “current and former Perry staffers, Travis County employees and state lawmakers” entering the grand jury room over the summer.

It is possible that McCrum has gathered more information on Perry’s motives that will come to light later. Although the indictment doesn’t mention it, the Public Integrity Unit is investigating a scandal involving the $3 billion Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, a fund close to the governor’s office that suffered from cronyism and lax oversight. The Public Integrity Unit indicted one CPRIT official in December for deceiving his colleagues and awarding an $11 million grant to a Dallas biotech firm without a proper vetting.

What else, if anything, did McCrum turn up in his interviews and document search? At this point, we just don’t know.

This doesn’t make for explosive headlines but the fact is, we’re just going to have to wait and see how the case unfolds.

Perry’s PR push so far is to make this about a veto, and to make Lehmberg’s DWI conviction the issue.  But neither of those is what he was indicted for.  He was indicted because he tried to coerce a elected official from office.  Again from Wilder.

The criminal case against Perry centers on his “coercion” of a local elected official using threats and promises. It is not premised—as has been repeatedly misreported—on the veto itself. Craig McDonald, the head of Texans for Public Justice and the original complainant, has said as much. As McDonald told CNN:

“The governor is doing a pretty good job to try to make this about [Lehmberg] and her DWI conviction. But this has never been about his veto of her budget and about her. This is about his abuse of power and his coercion trying to get another public citizen to give up their job.”

He may not get convicted, but the charges are serious and they’re not about him vetoing a bill. If it was about just that he never would have been indicted.

[UPDATE]:  Jim Moore weighs in, Why Rick Perry Will Be Convicted.

TPA Blog Round Up (August 18, 2014)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 7:49 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands with the people of Ferguson in their quest for peace and justice as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff reminds us that there’s one more special Senate election to go this year, and this one features a Democrat that’s worth supporting.

Harold Cook warns us to keep a sense of perspective on the Rick Perry indictment.

Texas Leftist keeps wondering when the national media is going figure out that Texas could be a swing state today if enough people were actually voting. Plus clarifying Wendy Davis’ stance on LGBT equality issues, and what we can expect if she’s elected.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. Unfortunately in Texas we have the government that we voted for, or didn’t vote for, as the case may be, Avoiding Medicaid, Non-Voting, And Ferguson.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos finds it amusing how Greg Abbott promotes himself as a small government fiscal conservative while he squanders taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits. Greg Abbott?s Frivolous Fights with the Feds Cost Taxpayers Millions.

After the late Friday afternoon news broke about Rick Perry’s felony indictments, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs consumed more adult beverages than he planned. All weekend long.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that audit of Hidalgo voting machines shows no tampering. Of course, without a paper audit trail, you can’t really be sure. Kudos to Travis County for their efforts to provide auditable elections.

Neil at Blog About Our Failing Money-Owned American Political System bought a Texas cake to mark the indictment of Rick Perry. NeilAquino.com has many pages and is well worth your time to consider.

=======================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Nonsequiteuse would like Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to invest in Texas the way they invest in themselves.

Juanita disagrees with the calls for Rick Perry to resign.

Lone Star Q decries Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s attack on transgender inmates.

The Texas Election Law Blog games out the state’s strategy in the redistricting litigation.

Lone Star Ma celebrates National Breastfeeding Month.

Scott Braddock shows how Rick Perry’s border posturing is bad for the people that actually live and work there.

And finally, The Bloggess wants us to know that help is always available if you need it.

08.15.14

Oops! Perry Indicted

Posted in Around The State, Corruption at 8:36 pm by wcnews

Oh come on, someone had to do it.

Rick Perry indicted on two felonies.

Gov. Rick Perry was indicted on two felony counts for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant late Friday by a Travis County grand jury.

The case stems from Perry’s vetoing the $7.5 million biennial funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit last year. He threatened to withhold the money unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.

In announcing the indictment, special prosecutor Michael McCrum of San Antonio said he felt confident of the charges brought against the governor and was “ready to go forward.”

Mary Anne Wiley, general counsel for the governor, said that Perry is being charged for exercising his rights and power as governor.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail,” Wiley said.

Abuse of official capacity is a first-degree felony with punishment ranging from five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant is a third-degree felony with a penalty of two to 10 years.

The indictment immediately fueled partisan fighting. Perry is a conservative Republican indicted by a grand jury in a Democratic county. Regardless, the charges could cripple any chance of a second presidential campaign, which had been gathering some momentum in recent months.

In announcing the indictment, McCrum said that he weighed the duty he had in looking at a sitting governor.

“I took into account the fact that we’re talking about the governor of a state and the governor of the state of Texas, which we all love,” he said.

“Obviously, that carries a level of importance. But when it gets down to it, the law is the law,” McCrum said.

In the words of Vice President Joe Biden “This is a bid f&#cking deal”!

Avoiding Medicaid, Non-Voting, And Ferguson

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Elections at 9:20 am by wcnews

There’s a simple way to extend health insurance coverage to over 1 million Texans.  Many other states have done so.  It’s called expanding Medicaid, Avoiding Medicaid expansion, lawmakers seek a ‘Texas way’.

Ahead of the 2015 legislative session, clues are emerging as to what Texas’ far more subdued brand of Medicaid expansion might look like — and whatever it is, it’s going to be complicated.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday gathered the state’s top health and insurance officials to discuss alternatives to broad Medicaid expansion. That expansion — rejected by Texas leaders — was designed to funnel billions in federal money to insure those people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, yet not enough to qualify for federal subsidies on the health insurance marketplace.

This is putting an undue burden on local governments throughout Texas.

This concern was echoed in a letter sent to the committee Wednesday by county judges of the state’s six largest counties — Travis, Harris, Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant and El Paso counties — four Democrats and two Republicans.

“We write not to complain about this fiscal burden or duty, but to urge your committee to use this interim to find a Texas way forward to fund and increase access to health care coverage for low-wage working Texans,” the letter read. It cited billions of dollars in uncompensated care provided to Texans by public and private providers.

I’d be willing to be that this is burdening Williamson County too.  But of course the extremists in Texas GOP cannot have anything to do with expanding Medicaid, no matter how much sense it makes.

As lawmakers look to move forward, the bitter political battle surrounding health care reform remains, as Sonia Troche was reminded Thursday, when she urged the committee to consider accepting federal money that could provide health care to those in the coverage gap.

“Federal aid would bring more than $76 billion,” said Troche, speaking on behalf of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights advocacy group. “While costing Texas only $5.8 billion.”

“Where does that money come from?” interrupted state Sen. Larry Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood.

“Where does it come from?” he repeated.

“The federal government,” Troche replied.

“But where does it come from?” he asked again.

“From taxpayer dollars,” she said.

“Ok,” he said. “So it’s not just money from heaven.”

And despite the rantings of state Sen. Larry Taylor, it’s a very good deal.  Because the money is there and if Texas doesn’t take it then it will do to another state. The GOP extremists see no value in extending health care unless they can find a way for insurance corporations, (aka their campaign donors), to make money.  There are many other simple solutions for education, roads, and water that are being neglected as well.

The main reason we have a government that is twisting itself in knots to avoid the simple and obvious solution is because so many in Texas don’t vote.  It’s also why, in so many instances in our country, that what the people want almost never gets done.  Here’s PDiddie, Calm in Ferguson, and why their government is so white.

Now about that Ferguson government: we already knew that part of the underlying problem was a 94% white police force in a 67% black suburb of St. Louis — which is, shockingly, average for the US –  but what about the elected officials?  Why is it that five out of six city council members, and mayor, are Caucasian?

Is it gerrymandering?  Voter suppression, perhaps?

Why no.  It’s abysmally low voter turnout, of course.

Ferguson, Missouri, is 67 percent black, but only one of six council members is black and the mayor is white. So is the chief of police. This demographic discrepancy is one of the reasons the black community in the St. Louis suburb has felt misrepresented by its local government.

But how is that disparity possible? If two-thirds of the city is black, shouldn’t there at least be more black council members?

The problem, MSNBC reports, is low voter turnout. “No one collects data on turnout by race in municipal elections. But the overall turnout numbers for Ferguson’s mayoral and city council election are discouraging,” writes MSNBC’s Zachary Roth. “This year, just 12.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to numbers provided by the county. In 2013 and 2012, those figures were even lower: 11.7 percent and 8.9 percent respectively. As a rule, the lower the turnout, the more the electorate skews white and conservative.”

This is your wakeup call for November 2014, people.  And by ‘people’, I mean every single person in Houston, in all of Texas, in Ferguson and Missouri, and the thousands of towns and cities in the remaining 48 states who typically vote in presidential years and — for reasons understood only by them — do not in midterm elections.

Also known as Democrats, but other assumed names include ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’.  A whole lot of shit in this state and nation — not all of it certainly, but a lot — could be fixed if just a small percentage of the vast number of MIAs would simply show up at the polls.  Why, we might even avoid having to watch Barack Obama endure an impeachment proceeding.  Could possibly still have a Democratic US Senate.  Hope beyond that, a statewide official elected in Texas who is not an extremist Republican.  One would be a blessing, more than one would be cause for rejoicing.

If you’re already planning on voting, then it’s your neighbors who need to be reminded.

There’s still time to fix things.  But everybody has to pitch in.

In Texas we have the government that we vote for, or don’t voter for, as the case may be. One big reason why the government is disliked and unresponsive to the people’s needs, is because it’s not representative of the people. And until many more of us decide to show up on election day(s) little, if anything, is likely to change.

The HChron has more, Advocates, judges urge lawmakers to revive ‘Texas solution’ to expanding health insurance.

08.13.14

Kelley’s Attorney Files Request For New Trial

Posted in Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 2:49 pm by wcnews

Via KXAN.

The new attorney for Greg Kelley, the Leander man found guilty of super aggravated sexual assault of a child, has filed the necessary paperwork to request a new trial.

Attorney Keith Hampton filed the motion arguing the state did not conduct a competent investigation and that one of the jurors was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

“This case is a perfect blueprint for mishandling child accusations and producing wrongful convictions of innocent people,” Hampton writes in the motion, ” Only this court can set things right by ordering a new trial.”

The document goes on to say the child’s accusations were not thoroughly investigated to establish whether or not they are reliable. And, whether or not Greg Kelley was a likely suspect.

The motion calls the investigation into question saying the system got it wrong in the case of Michael Morton. Morton was wrongfully convicted in Williamson County for his wife’s murder and spent 25 years in prison before DNA tests freed him.

“Can we tolerate another Michael Morton?” Kelley’s attorney asks.

Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty disputed the Morton argument in a news conference Wednesday.

I”‘m very familiar with the Michael Morton case, as it was a big part of my campaign. I cannot help but find irony in the fact that that one of the key pieces of evidence – other than the bandana – that freed Michael Morton was the testimony of his 3-and-a-half-year-old son,” Duty said.

“All of the testimony of that 3 1/2 year old boy was credible and helped free his father. So now, the irony to say that these two four-year-old little boys shouldn’t be trusted because they’re four is absurd. We tell our children to tell us when something’s happening to them. They did. And now we say – well, we can’t trust that,” she continued.

At this point there’s really no parallel to the Morton case.  But because of that case Williamson County has a reputation.  In the end we need justice and fairness to prevail.

What’s Happening

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State at 2:16 pm by wcnews

Must see TV as John Oliver destroys the payday loan sharks and the Texas politicians that profit from them (tip to Perry, Payday loansharks again).

The Texas GOP is now worried about how to pay for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s political stunt, Senators Discuss Funding of National Guard Deployment.

A panel of state senators on Tuesday debated the merits and tactical strategies of Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to send Texas National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and the senators also discussed how the deployment would be funded in future months.

Republicans at the Senate Finance Committee hearing decried the federal government for abandoning its responsibility to secure the border, saying the Texas government should petition Washington for reimbursement over the next few months. But several Democrats pointed the finger at Perry, criticizing him for what they called an unnecessary deployment, undertaken for political reasons, that they said would be difficult to fund.

“The border has got to be secured. We’ve got to stop this,” said Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. But the federal government would have to step in to make the effort sustainable, she added. “Month by month, we’re draining state resources that should go to education, should go to highways, should go to water, and we can’t do it forever.”

Democratic Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo emerged as the strongest critics of the deployment. Hinojosa said giving more funding to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which ramped up its border presence in June, would have been more effective than sending in the National Guard. Hinojosa voiced concerns that the National Guard’s concentration in the Rio Grande Valley would simply encourage smugglers and traffickers to move to Laredo and other points north.

“Those are issues that I think were not really thought out and planned out,” he said.

Obviously nothing about this was planned out. And Nelson’s crocodile tears about education, highways, and water are laughable. She certainly hasn’t cared about those for several budget cycles now.

Once again I’m reminded of how bad our media has become, even the SCLM, NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting.

Worse, Temple-Raston knows all of this. Back in 2012, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast her profile of Recorded Future and its claimed ability to predict the future by gathering internet data. At the end of her report, she noted that the firm has “at least two very important financial backers: the CIA’s investment arm, called In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures. They have reportedly poured millions into the company.”

That is the company she’s now featuring as some sort of independent source that can credibly vindicate the claims of U.S. officials about how Snowden reporting helps terrorists.

Not What The Founders Intended

Posted in Around The Nation, Elections, Money In Politics at 12:19 pm by wcnews

There’s just no other way to say it.  This is not what our founders intended.  Via The Hill, Who rules America?

A shattering new study by two political science professors has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country. The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government. To reclaim the promise of American democracy, ordinary citizens must act positively to change the relationship between the people and our government

The new study, with the jaw-clenching title of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” is forthcoming in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. Its authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.

The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, “the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater” than their findings indicate.

Ultimately, Gilens and Page conclude from their work, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Rich individuals and business interests have the capacity to hire the lobbyists that shadow legislators in Washington and to fill the campaign coffers of political candidates. Ordinary citizens are themselves partly to blame, however, because they do not choose to vote.

This is not news for those of us not in the economic elite. MayDay PAC is working to fix this.

08.12.14

The Death Penalty, Unfortunately, Is Not An Issue

Posted in Criminal Justice, Election 2014 at 10:30 am by wcnews

Yesterday the Texas GOP’s Greg Abbott tried to change the subject by making an “out of the blue” attack on Democrat Wendy Davis.  Almost 15 years ago she voted for a resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty.  Here’s the gist of the “attack”.

According to Fort Worth City Council minutes, the moratorium was proposed to “support a study of executions under the death penalty. It in no way means to suggest that a person’s philosophy on capital punishment had to change or shift, only that the system needed to be looked at or reviewed.”

The resolution called upon then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and President Clinton and national and congressional leaders “to enact and adopt legislation which ensures that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially in accordance with basic due process and eliminate the risk that innocent persons may be executed.” Preventing the execution of the mentally disabled, of convicts who were minors at the time of their crime and of foreign citizens also was sought, according to news coverage at the time.

The resolution failed 5-4, with Davis voting for it. Davis then made a motion to get the resolution brought up for another vote after the November 2000 election, but it failed by the same margin.

The death penalty at the time was the focus of intense scrutiny nationally, and was the subject of some controversy in Texas, after DNA tests had proved the innocence of condemned convicts in other states.

In Illinois, then-Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, had ordered a moratorium on executions until the process could be reviewed to ensure that innocent people would not be executed.

In Washington, five high-profile Democratic senators were pushing for hearings on the issue, as a bill was filed to abolish the death penalty. Clinton postponed the first federal execution since 1963 and ordered a review of all cases of 25 condemned federal prisoners.

At one point, even Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson endorsed a moratorium until the issues were resolved.

In Texas, the cases of two condemned convicts were the focus of public controversy: Convicted Houston murderer Gary Graham, who was executed despite his claims of innocence, and convicted Polk County killer-rapist Johnny Penry, whose claims of an intellectual disability helped push mental retardation into the national debate over capital punishment and eventually won him a life term.

Davis was, and still is (unfortunately), in favor of the death penalty. The resolution was to try and make sure no one was given the death penalty that didn’t deserve it.  The death penalty is not an issue in this race.

This seems to be a lame attempt by Abbott’s campaign to change the subject. Maybe that Davis TV ad is working?

But there may be something else to him bringing up the death penalty.  The case of Cameron Todd Willingham is back in the news.  Via Kuff, Is there any valid evidence of Todd Willingham’s guilt left? Last week the WaPo wrote a long article on the potential issues with the “purported” jailhouse confession by Willingham.

For more than 20 years, the prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham of murdering his three young daughters has insisted that the authorities made no deals to secure the testimony of the jailhouse informer who told jurors that Willingham confessed the crime to him.

About this project: The investigation was reported and written by Maurice Possley for The Marshall Project, a new nonprofit news organization focused on the criminal justice system. Sign up for updates on their launch.

Since Willingham was executed in 2004, officials have continued to defend the account of the informer, Johnny E. Webb, even as a series of scientific experts have discredited the forensic evidence that Willingham might have deliberately set the house fire in which his toddlers were killed.

But now new evidence has revived questions about Willingham’s guilt: In taped interviews, Webb, who has previously both recanted and affirmed his testimony, gives his first detailed account of how he lied on the witness stand in return for efforts by the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, to reduce Webb’s prison sentence for robbery and to arrange thousands of dollars in support from a wealthy Corsicana rancher. Newly uncovered letters and court files show that Jackson worked diligently to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the mercurial informer in line.

“Mr. Pierce and I visit on a regular basis concerning your problems,” Jackson wrote to Webb in August 2000, eight years after the trial, when his former witness was threatening to recant. (Jackson misspelled the rancher’s last name.) “We worked for a long time on a number of different levels, including the Governor’s Office, to get you released early in the robbery case. . . . Please understand that I am not indifferent or insensitive to your difficulties.”

Along with Webb’s account, the letters and documents expose a determined, years-long effort by the prosecutor to alter Webb’s conviction, speed his parole, get him clemency and move him from a tough state prison back to his hometown jail. Had such favorable treatment been revealed prior to his execution, Willingham might have had grounds to seek a new trial.

Opponents of the death penalty have long focused on questionable evidence used against Willingham, believing that his case could be the first to show conclusively that an innocent man was put to death in the modern era of capital punishment. As the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in Kansas in 2006, Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the opposition could not cite “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”

[...]

Webb’s latest allegations and the other new evidence in the matter could also have implications for the Texas governor, Rick Perry, a strong supporter of the death penalty and a possible Republican presidential candidate.

In 2004, Perry refused to temporarily stay Willingham’s execution despite the report of a leading forensic expert that sharply disputed the finding of arson by a Texas deputy fire marshal. Perry’s administration has also repeatedly undercut the authority of a state Forensic Science Commission, which agreed that the arson finding relied on flawed analysis. Defending his handling of the case in 2009, the governor declared that Willingham “was a monster.”

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, the members of which were all appointed by Perry, voted in March to deny Willingham a posthumous full pardon.

The Willingham case has long been a thorn in the side of those in favor of the death penalty. The death penalty is immoral, except in very few extreme cases. So few that it might as well be abolished.  It may be an attempt to keep the issue of killing innocent people out of the conversation.

I always go back to what Michael Morton said when his conviction was overturned – “This is new to me, so bear with me,” he said, his voice slowly picking up speed. “I thank God this wasn’t a capital case. I only had life.”

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