Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, will be published in August 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has written extensively about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian, and he is a frequent guest and commentator on MSNBC and NPR. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Photo by Ports Bishop)
Guest post by Liliana Segura. Liliana is a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and has written on the death penalty for The Nation and other publications.
UPDATE: This evening the Georgia pardon board granted Troy Davis a 90-day stay, just a night before the state was set to execute him for a crime witnesses say he didn't commit. His tragic story is recounted below.
The case of Troy Anthony Davis is a textbook example of blind prosecutorial zeal--and the legal blockades that can leave the innocent condemned to death.
Written and Reported by Matthew Blake
Gulf Coast residents who've witnessed the incompetence of FEMA might find dark humor in the federal agency's unifying effect. Democratic and Republican Senators, Louisiana and New Orleans government leaders, and even former FEMA officials say the agency remains a major obstacle to Hurricane Katrina disaster recovery.
Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska upped the ante at a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Tuesday, decrying FEMA as fundamentally incapable of correctly spending and allocating the $110 billion dollars it was given by Congress to assist the Gulf. (In reality, only $26 billion was appropriated to rebuild Louisiana.) The Republican Senator compared the damage from Katrina to France and Germany after World War Two concluding, "You need a new Marshall Plan for this area, not just FEMA."
The news was that there was no news.
She showed up and testified--but in the end former White House political director Sara Taylor didn't--or couldn't--say much.
Again and again at a hearing of the Senator Judiciary Committee, the underling of Karl Rove invoked the order of executive privilege President Bush mandated on Monday to prevent his aides from testifying about the dismissal of nine US Attorneys. But in between her frequent bouts of non-answer, Taylor did manage to include a plug for her boss.
So much for the DC madam's client list not being newsworthy. Tell that to Senator David Vitter, the conservative Louisiana Republican and first major politico linked to Madam Deborah Jane Palfrey.
After the AP reported that his phone number appeared in Palfrey's phone records, Vitter apologized for "a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible." He continued: "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling." It was unclear if that was before or after a prominent Louisiana Republican accused Vitter of repeatedly shaking up with a prostitute in New Orleans' French Quarter.
Vitter, in yet another delicious slice of religious right hypocrisy, is one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Senate. He co-sponsored legislation to federally finance abstinence-only education and called a ban on gay marriage the most important issue in the country today. He also told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families."
The newest GOP buzzword: anguished. That's the phrase most often used these days to describe how Republicans feel about the war in Iraq. Three prominent GOP Senators have rhetorically broken with the Bush Administration in the past two weeks. More are sure to follow.
According to the New York Times, "White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush's Iraq strategy are collapsing around them." Maine Senator Olympia Snowe says enough is enough. She invokes another Iraq buzzword: benchmarks. The Iraqi government must meet the targets requested by Congress by much-vaunted September. Or else.
Yet another dissident Senator, Indiana's Richard Lugar, says "there's no conceivable way that" the benchmarks will be met. And the White House may be preparing to scrap those goals altogether in search of "alternative evidence of progress."
When news of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program became public, Senator Hillary Clinton called the eavesdropping "strange" and "far-fetched." In a fundraising email she went on to blast "a secret program that spies on Americans!"
Now her chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, may have a spying problem of his own.
A lawsuit filed in New York by a former employee of Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, alleges that when the employee left the firm and started a rival consulting business, workers at PSB hacked into his BlackBerry and illegally monitored his email. The lawsuit, filed in mid-June and reported by the AP on Wednesday, claims that Penn approved of the surveillance.
Barack Obama hit another one out of the park. By now you've heard all about the $32.5 million the Illinois Senator's campaign raised in the second quarter of this year. That's five million more than the big kahuna, Hillary Clinton, who was easily supposed to win the money chase. And well more than three times the amount of John Edwards.
Obama tapped over a quarter million donors en route to smashing all primary fundraising records. That's a very impressive number. But let's not lose sight of what it all means.
Obama's first quarter take was powered by a lot of small donors. And to his credit Obama doesn't accept money from lobbyists. But that didn't stop him from cozying up to powerful sectors such as Wall Street and raising a boatload from places like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. We'll know the details of the second quarter take soon enough.
It was not so long ago that Republicans threatened to "nuke" the Senate if Democrats employed the filibuster to block President Bush's judicial nominees, particularly those to the Supreme Court (which in light of recent decisions, they clearly should have).
Fast forward two years later, with Democrats narrowly in control, and the Senate is in a state of permanent filibuster. It takes 60 votes to get "cloture" and pass just about anything.
As a result, pieces of legislation that won a majority but failed to garner 60 votes, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a minimum wage increase without tax breaks for business, major investments in renewable energy and mandates for clean-energy sources, the importation of cheap prescription drugs from Canada, allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices under Medicare, countless amendments to the immigration bill and on and on.
Written and reported by Matthew Blake:
The death penalty is finally beginning to remerge as an issue inside the halls of Congress--and it only took the second Congressional power shift in 50 years and the unprecedented Department of Justice dismissal of 8 or 9 US attorneys to make it happen.
Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold on Wednesday held a hearing of the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution that drew attention to the lack of information available about when the Justice Department seeks capital punishment and the financial and social costs involved when it does. Fired US Attorney Paul Charlton testified that even he did not know death penalty protocol under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and told the committee that he was fired after refusing to authorize the death penalty for a case with no corroborating forensic evidence.
You've heard all the stereotypes. Students are apathetic, complacent and unaware of the world around them.
There's a grain of truth to that statement. But a whole lot of falsity. Just ask the 1,000 student journalists and activists who converged on Washington early this week from every single state for the third annual Campus Progress conference.
On Monday The Nation co-sponsored a journalism training day at the Center for American Progress with over 150 student journalists, featuring speeches by Katrina vanden Heuvel and two of America's best muckraking journalists, Barbara Ehrenreich and Eric Schlosser, panels on covering corruption and the courts, featuring the likes of Helen Thomas, Dahlia Lithwick, David Corn, John Nichols and yours truly, and workshops on culture, blogging, investigative journalism and reporting beyond the Beltway.