KEYSTONE XL REDUX: Following a summer of protests and civil disobedience, the Obama administration announced in November that it was delaying a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for at least a year, until a less disruptive route around a key aquifer in Nebraska could be studied and proposed. But Republicans revived the project during the end-of-year negotiations on the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. Democrats desperately wanted these measures, and the final bill included a provision that would force the State Department to issue a decision on Keystone within two months. But on January 18, less than a month after the payroll tax cut bill passed, the State Department announced that it would deny the permit. President Obama endorsed the move, blaming “the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans.”
This is a crucially important point for understanding the politics of this pipeline fiasco. Republicans—or at the very least, the leadership—knew full well that this rushed, two-month review would not lead to a sudden approval of the project. So why did they insist on its inclusion in the payroll/unemployment debate? Aside from a need to round up votes for the payroll extensions—the Keystone provision was added as a sweetener to bring recalcitrant Republicans on board—GOP legislators clearly believe that the Keystone issue is good politics for them. They are happy to make Obama kill it, not once but twice, because it allows them to paint him as quashing (allegedly) shovel-ready job-creating projects just “to protect left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco,” in the typically restrained words of Newt Gingrich. Obama’s rejection of the pipeline is a vehicle to paint him as a job killer, at a time when private sector job growth actually continues to be positive. GEORGE ZORNICK
HUMAN ERROR: A “perfect storm of misfortune.” That’s how Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito described the plight of Alabama death row prisoner Cory Maples, who faced the prospect of execution after a “mailroom mix-up,” as many called it, caused him to miss the deadline for a critical appeal. In fact, it was worse than that. Represented pro bono by two New York City lawyers with the firm Sullivan and Cromwell, Maples was “abandoned,” in the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, after the attorneys left the firm without bothering to tell him—or to find someone to take over his case. When the Alabama trial court sent word denying an earlier appeal, the envelope was mailed back from the firm, and the court clerk did nothing to follow up. Ultimately, it was Maples’s mother who took charge of the situation, but by then Alabama was determined to wave his case through.
On January 18 the Supreme Court restored Maples’s right to appeal, 7 to 2 (Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented). “What occurred here was not a predictable consequence of the Alabama system,” Alito insisted, appearing willfully ignorant of the reality of capital cases on the ground. As Ginsberg wrote, “Nearly alone among the States, Alabama does not guarantee representation to indigent capital defendants in postconviction proceedings…. On occasion, some prisoners sentenced to death receive no postconviction representation at all.” LILIANA SEGURA
PENNSYLVANIA TO GAS LOBBY: PAY UP As New York continues to debate whether to drill in the enormous Marcellus Shale formation, in Pennsylvania, the gas industry has already transformed vast swaths of countryside and state forestland. It’s the only natural gas–producing state with no “extraction tax” on the booming industry. While some Pennsylvanians support the gas industry, and others fear that “fracking”— the drilling process where loads of water and chemicals are shot into the ground—will contaminate their drinking water, an over whelming majority (72 percent) agree that the embattled state should tax the industry.
“They talk about not wanting to harm job creation in the Marcellus Shale industry with a tax, but their decision to slash education funding from pre-kindergarten through college is the biggest job killer I have seen in my twenty-seven years in Harrisburg,” says State Representative Babette Josephs, a Democrat. “They” include Republican Governor Tom Corbett, who received nearly $1 million from the gas lobby during the 2010 campaign and signed the “no new taxes ever” pledge circulated by Grover Norquist. (He now cautiously supports an “impact fee” that would send little money to state coffers.) This capitulation to industry is bipartisan: former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell presided over the leasing of state forestland, and he opposed a tax on the industry until his final year in office.
Meanwhile, parts of northeastern Pennsylvania have so far been spared from fracking. In November the Delaware River Basin Commission postponed a vote on drilling in the Delaware River watershed, which provides drinking water to Philadelphia and New York City, after Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced his opposition to proposed rules. Iris Bloom of the Pennsylvania-based group Protecting Our Waters called it “a huge victory for the 15 million people who live in the Delaware River Basin.” DANIEL DENVIR
A LEGEND AT 70: Muhammad Ali turned 70 in January, and the three-time heavyweight champion remains larger than life, despite being ravaged by Parkinson’s disease. His refusal to fight in Vietnam was front-page news all over the world. Convicted of draft evasion by an all-white jury in Houston in 1967—a typical sentence then was eighteen months—he was sentenced to five years and the confiscation of his passport. His sentence was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, but by then he’d been stripped of his title, beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile from the ring.
In 1968 Ali, out on bail, had no boxing ring to call home. But he was never more active. A young generation of blacks and whites wanted to hear what he had to say. And he obliged. In 1968 he spoke on about 200 campuses. The significance of his resistance, for people around the globe, cannot be overstated. Word of Ali’s courage even penetrated the extreme isolation of an island prison to reach a former boxer turned political prisoner named Nelson Mandela.
“Ali’s struggle made him an international hero,” Mandela said after his release. “His stand against racism and war could not be kept outside the prison walls.” DAVE ZIRIN