Saturday, March 6, 2010

Texas Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional; Appeal Likely

No one seems to think it will hold up on appeal, but yesterday a recently elected judge in Houston, Texas ruled that the Lone Star State’s death penalty is unconstitutional. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Judge, Kevin Fine, stated that:

“Based on the moratorium (on the death penalty) in Illinois, the Innocence Project and more than 200 people being exonerated nationwide, it can only be concluded that innocent people have been executed. It’s safe to assume we execute innocent people.”


“Are you willing to have your brother, your father, your mother be the sacrificial lamb, to be the innocent person executed so that we can have a death penalty so that we can execute those who are deserving of the death penalty? I don’t think society’s mindset is that way now.”

The ruling came in response to a pre-trial motion filed by attorneys for John Edward Green, who is charged with a June 2008 murder. Green has pleaded not guilty.

Reaction from the Texas pro-death penalty establishment was swift. Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos issued a statement proclaiming that: “Words are inadequate to describe the Office’s disappointment and dismay with this ruling.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott responded with familiar talking points. He condemned the ruling as “judicial activism,” and he lamented that the judge’s decision “delays justice and closure for the victim’s family,” as if an execution were right around the corner rather than at least 10 years away (assuming, of course, that Green is convicted).

Like other elected officials in the state, elected judges in Texas have traditionally been enthusiastic and active promoters of executions. Perhaps judge Fine’s ruling will encourage his fellow judges to take a more critical and independent look at the death penalty in Texas.

By Brian Evans

Obama looking to give new life to immigration reform

By Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles

Reporting from Washington – Despite steep odds, the White House has discussed prospects for reviving a major overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, a commitment that President Obama has postponed once already.

Obama took up the issue privately with his staff Monday in a bid to advance a bill through Congress before lawmakers become too distracted by approaching midterm elections.

In the session, Obama and members of his Domestic Policy Council outlined ways to resuscitate the effort in a White House meeting with two senators — Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — who have spent months trying to craft a bill.

According to a person familiar with the meeting, the White House may ask Schumer and Graham to at least produce a blueprint that could be turned into legislative language.

Read More:

Karl Rove's Memoir Reveals That Bush Presidency Was Actually Superfantastic

by Peteykins
Karl Rove's memoir doesn't "drop" (as all the cool kids say) until Tuesday, but unembargoed copies have already been secured and hastily read by several news outlets. The Washington Post got a copy, and they've already posted a hurried review in addition to a funny quick-scan by Dana Milbank. It looks like this one is going to keep the fact checkers busy for weeks:

Although he concedes that Congress would have balked if it knew that no Hussein stockpile existed, he still slams Democratic leaders for insisting that Bush lied about the weapons to lead America into war. The Democrats, he says, earlier were just as outspoken about the danger of secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq. "Those who accused Bush of sending America's military into harm's way on a bald-faced lie knew that their accusation was not true," he writes, adding that it was a "disgraceful game they were playing."

Nonetheless, Rove realizes that the accusation was corrosive to the administration's credibility and its prosecution of the war, and he regrets that he didn't swat back more determinedly. "Our weak response in defense of the president and in setting the record straight, is, I believe, one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush years," he writes.

Here, let me translate that into English for you: Rove says that Democrats were at fault for the Bush's mistaken launching of a disastrous war because they fell for the administration's lies, and his biggest regret is that they didn't sustain those lies more convincingly.

"As his loyal servant (and, not insignificantly, as his kingmaker)," the Post's Steven Levingston concludes, "Rove has fashioned a portrait of the Bush presidency that aims to shape history in his boss's favor."

I bet you never saw that coming.

'Precious' Dominated At The Independent Spirit Awards

"Precious" walked away with Best Feature, Best Director as well as statues for both Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'nique at last night's 25th annual Independent Spirit Awards. As the title implies, the awards exclusively celebrate independent filmmaking, and as per tradition, the ceremony falls right before the Oscars. So what bearing will this have on Sunday? Absolutely none, but it does mark the last hurrah before Sunday's nights festivities.

We weren't fans of "Precious," but both Sidibe and Mo'nique deserved their wins as their performances were spellbinding and kept the film anchored even as Lee Daniels flailed about with his direction. We're also pleased to see "A Serious Man" take away the Robert Altman Award and a cinematography win for Roger Deakins; it's a film that really deserved much more love (particularly for lead actor Michael Stuhlbarg) this awards season. It was also nice to see Sacha Gervasi's "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" get some love in the Best Documentary category as his film was tremendously deserving, but somehow was snubbed by the Oscars.

Here is the full list of winners:

Ben Roethlisberger Accused of Assault Again

As far as I know, Peyton Manning has never been accused of sexual assault. Same for Tom Brady. Same for Brett Favre. Same for Drew Brees.

Now, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault for a second time. The first accusation was brushed off as a woman looking for some money (her claim did seem suspicious). But, after another accusation, does Big Ben have a big problem?

Before I start accusing him myself (I wasn’t there), let’s take a look at the latest report.

Roethlisberger, who just turned 28 this past week, was out with a couple friends watching a University of Pittsburgh basketball game at a Georgia bar. Patrons at the bar noticed nothing out of the ordinary, and the QB “was very polite with everybody,” according to 24-year-old Paul Kurcikevicus.

Big Ben then moved onto a nightclub to “celebrate” and was escorted to a VIP area with a group of close friends and a group of women. Ben, to my knowledge, isn’t married, so this is a perfectly normal activity for a single professional athlete (Tiger, the key word is “single”).

The victim, a 20-year-old female college student, and her party contacted police after the alleged sexual assault.

“(Roethlisberger is) been identified as being at the scene and there are allegations naming him as the perpetrator,” Deputy Police Chief Richard Malone said.

The nature of the sexual assault is unknown, but Malone was quick to note that Roethlisberger is not being accused of rape.

Roethlisberger and the victim were interviewed by police, and the woman was taken to the hospital. She was later treated and released.

Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner seemed skeptical that his client had done anything wrong. He question’s the alleged victim’s motives, especially considering the QB’s past allegations.

“Last night, Ben and his friends met a group of women and everyone mingled together throughout the evening,” the agent’s statement said. “We have spoken to law enforcement. Based on information currently available, an allegation was made against Ben, which appeared to be dismissed after a preliminary investigation last night. Obviously, given the prior accusation against Ben, we are skeptical of motive, but we will continue to cooperate with everyone involved.”

Roethlisberger and his friends left Georgia on Friday, but police will be speaking with the QB again as the case begins to take shape.

In the world of sports and news, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. It’s true there are isolated cases that may be a mirage (like we all thought that Ben’s first allegation was), but when similar stories keep popping up with the same athlete, questions have to be asked.

I know it’s in my nature to be skeptical of anything and everyone, but I will give Roethlisberger the benefit of the doubt here. Unless he comes out and admits guilt, is found guilty in court, or decides to settle the case outside of the court room, then I believe that all people, including athletes, are innocent until proven guilty.

I understand, though, that it’s pretty hard to ignore a story when it keeps popping up. We’ll see how this case gets settled, and if any more pop up in the future.

Obama vows to reduce number, role of nuclear weapons

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama pledged on Friday to reduce both the number and the role of nuclear weapons as he recommitted himself to the abolition of the ultra-destructive arms.

Obama was marking the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which he said remained the cornerstone of international efforts to stop the spread of the weapons.

"Our forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review will move beyond outdated Cold War thinking and reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, even as we maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent," Obama said in a statement.

A senior US official earlier this week said that the Obama administration planned "dramatic reductions" in the country's nuclear arsenal as part of the review, due to be completed by late March.

Obama laid out a vision for a nuclear-free world in a major speech last year in Prague, while acknowledging he may never see the goal achieved.

"The United States reaffirms our resolve to strengthen the nonproliferation regime to meet the challenges of the 21st century as we pursue our ultimate vision of a world without nuclear weapons," he said in the statement.

Obama has called a major summit in Washington in April on nuclear security. His administration is also involved in talks with Russia on a new treaty, which Obama said Friday would "significantly reduce our nuclear arsenals."

The United States -- the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in combat -- maintains a vast nuclear arsenal including around 2,200 operational warheads and an additional 2,500 warheads that can be activated if necessary.

Obama called the NPT the "cornerstone of the world's efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons."

His administration is involved in slow-moving diplomacy with both Iran and North Korea in attempts to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons.

Iran, which is a signatory to the NPT, contends its contested nuclear program is for peaceful means.

North Korea pulled out of the treaty in 2003 in a standoff with the United States and has since tested two nuclear bombs.