Ben Buchwalter

Alan ‘Die Quickly’ Grayson Seeks 55-Vote Supermajority
February 1, 2010, 10:57 pm
Filed under: General Politics, Mother Jones | Tags: , ,

Alan Grayson continually cracks me up. His basic strategy is to serve as the liberal antidote to firebrand Republicans like Michele Bachmann and Steve King, who never fail to say crazy things. Grayson doesn’t disappoint. But the freshman congressman from Florida has also introduced his fair share of smart, important legislative suggestions. Back in November, for example, he circulated a petition to reduce the Senate super majority to overcome a filibuster from 60 votes to 55 votes. As I wrote in MoJo:

Whether you agree with Grayson’s proposal or not, it is clear that something needs to change. Kevin Drum writes today that “full-blown unanimous obstruction is something new under the sun…Dems, for better or worse, never tried to make every single bill a destruction test of the opposing party’s governance.”  The filibuster was not consistently abused until the Dems reclaimed control of Congress in 2007.  During the Reagan administration, for example, there were as few as 20 cloture votes per congressional term, compared to more than 100 in the 2007-2008 term, twice what was necessary in the preceding six years.

As the debate about the filibuster continues, it’s increasingly likely that congress will come up with some sort of reform. But I wouldn’t expect that reform to garner broad bipartisan support if it’s introduced by Alan Grayson.


Commission to Review Racially Tinged Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum laws apply to an array of crimes, the most controversial of which is drug sentencing. Essentially, thanks to mandatory minimum laws, which were implemented in 1986 after basketball star Len Bias overdosed on crack cocaine, require judges to determine a defendant’s sentence without considering outside mitigating factors. In the most controversial example, crack cocaine users (who are predominantly black) receive a punishment 100 times more harsh than powder cocaine users (typically white). Back in October, the Obama administration asked the US Sentencing Commission to review the minimums. I called the leadership of Families Against Mandatory Minimums about the story:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) argues that the requirements have not achieved their intended purpose of reducing crime and scaring minor criminals into giving information about the most flagrant offenders in return for lighter sentences. As any self-respecting fan of The Wire knows, those at the bottom of the drug pyramid don’t get details about what goes on up top. So while the drug kingpins have an avenue through which to reduce their sentences, says Jennifer Seltzer-Stitt, FAMM’s federal legislative affairs director, “[minor users] who don’t have anyone to trade get longer sentences.”

Video: 350 Gets Rowdy
January 30, 2010, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Environment, Mother Jones | Tags: , , ,

I’m all for saving the world. In fact, I think we need to do more of it. But the San Francisco 350 Day of Action, a worldwide event meant to influence the global debate on climate change, focused more on novelty than substantive change. I checked it out with some MoJoers and we put together this video to sum it up:

Gov. Rick Perry’s Death Penalty Dilemma

For Texas, the nation’s leader in legal killing, abolishing the death penalty would be an economic slam dunk. Perry, who once suggested that his state should secede from the Union, showed he was a fiscal conservative when he refused to take bailout funds for unemployment benefits. Of course, barely a month later,  he had to ask the government for a $170 million loan to cover (you guessed it) unemployment. The Death Penalty Information Center released a report in October that found that Texas could save a bundle by scaling back its execution program. Perry missed the memo:

But the swashbuckling politician—who in April suggested that Texas could secede from the Union—has only reaffirmed his embrace of the death penalty. “Our process works, and I don’t see anything out there that would merit calling for a moratorium on the Texas death penalty,” he said on Tuesday. As Zack Roth notes, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry’s top challenger for governor in 2010 and a strong supporter of the death penalty, has criticized Perry on the issue. Still, she hasn’t commented on the death penalty’s economic or ethical dimensions, instead charging that Perry’s handling of the Willingham case is “giving liberals an argument to discredit the death penalty.”

Is Joe Arpaio the New George Wallace?
January 30, 2010, 2:16 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Crime and Justice, Mother Jones | Tags: , , , ,

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to show the US government who’s boss. In October, the justice department tried, however ineffectively, to rein in the controversial law enforcer by barring his office from making immigration arrests in the field. Of course, Arpaio vowed to disobey. This reminds me of another American hooligan George Wallace, the governor who famously blocked African American students from entering a school in Alabama. Arpaio certainly seems to fit that mold:

The statute currently in question is section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which enables local officials to enforce immigration laws with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security. Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network explains that either party can opt out of the agreement, as DHS did partially earlier this week. So, she said, it is now illegal for Arpaio to continue his immigration raids without the approval of DHS. “There are no state-level laws that say you can set up a check point in a predominantly low-income Latino neighborhood and start pulling people over left and right for insignificant pretenses.”

Fixing Lethal Injections Leads to ‘Hippocratic Paradox’
January 10, 2010, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Crime and Justice, Mother Jones | Tags: , , ,

October 6, 2009

October saw a set of botched state execution that drew the institution of lethal injection into serious question. The most famous victim was Romell Broom, who was punctured 18 times over two hours as guards struggled to find a suitable vein for the poison. Finally, a judge intervened to stop the execution. Critics have said that such cases amount to cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of guards who are not qualified to perform medical procedures. But involving doctors brings up what one expert calls a “hippocratic paradox.” Instead of “do no harm” doctors are reportedly being asked to help end lives. Ohio State University professor of surgery Jonathan I. Groner broke it down for me:

Citing the “Hippocratic paradox” of state-sponsored executions, Groner notes that the guards administering Broom’s lethal injection were picked because they serve as volunteer emergency medical technicians. However, they do not have nearly as much experience with IVs as fully-trained medical personnel, he says. “Part of the Hippocratic paradox problem is matching the least experienced people with the most difficult patients,” he told Mother Jones. “You risk torturing the patient.”

This adds to the troubling shift toward the “medicalization of killing,” says Groner. And he worries that Strickland’s decision to determine alternative modes of lethal injection could blur the lines between medicine and execution even further. “The trap is that to get it done right, you need more expertise. And that means more medical involvement,” he said.

“Pink Panties” Sheriff Joe Arpaio Targets ACORN
January 10, 2010, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Mother Jones, Scandals | Tags: , , , ,

September 22, 2009

There are a number of loons in the news that I just can’t get enough of. One of those loons is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is one of the country’s leading crusaders against immigration. Arpaio is loved by some (and hated by others) for his controversial crime sweeps in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods and immigration arrests in the field, which the USDOJ has continuously opposed. One of Arpaio’s most trusted deflection techniques is blaming third parties. In September, he targetted ACORN for allegedly using federal funds to launch a PR campaign against the sheriff’s tactics. I contacted ACORN to get their reaction. Here’s what they said:

ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson says that there is no basis for these claims and welcomes Arpaio’s opposition. “Sheriff Arpaio has long been the poster child of racist and prejudiced behavior around law enforcement,” he told me. “I’m confident that Sheriff Arpaio attacking Acorn is proof that we’re heading in the right direction.”