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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Georgia Death Penalty Shame

The following editorial appeared this morning in the New York Times.:

"Robert Wayne Holsey, on death row in Georgia for killing a police officer, is seeking a new sentencing hearing because he received ineffective counsel. He should get one. His own lawyer told a Georgia trial court reviewing the case that he “probably shouldn’t have been allowed to represent anybody” while he was ostensibly providing a defense.

"The lawyer said that he drank a quart of vodka every night during the trial and that he was also preparing to defend himself against possible disbarment for stealing client funds. Not surprisingly, the trial court ordered a new sentencing hearing, saying that “no one can seriously believe that the petitioner received the constitutional guarantees of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.”

"Astonishingly, two other courts have since disagreed in rulings that seem equally contemptuous of defendants’ rights to effective counsel. The State Supreme Court said that Mr. Holsey failed to show that the trial would have come out differently if his lawyer had done his job properly. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that Mr. Holsey failed to prove the State Supreme Court’s decision was “unreasonable.”

"The dissent from that decision explains why both rulings are wrong. At Mr. Holsey’s trial, the defense made only cursory mention of the beatings he suffered as a child and the fact that he had been judged mentally retarded — mitigating circumstances that could have changed the outcome. Georgia requires a unanimous vote to impose the death penalty; given the evidence, one or more jurors might have voted otherwise.

"At the review hearing in the Georgia trial court, a new defense team presented evidence that neighbors called Mr. Holsey’s home the “Torture Chamber” and that his mother beat him as a boy so badly with belts, extension cords and broom handles that he sometimes slept outside to avoid her. His mental retardation (his I.Q. has been measured around 70) was “a catastrophic disability” and his “social adaptation” as an adult was judged to be equivalent to that of an 8-year-old.

"To the state and federal judges who ruled against Mr. Holsey, this powerful additional evidence was simply redundant: It would not have changed the case’s outcome even if his lawyer had been competent enough to present it at the initial trial. The dissent rightly disagreed; Mr. Holsey must be allowed a new hearing so a jury with all of the evidence can decide as the law and justice require."

Saturday, September 01, 2012


You do not have to be a member to take advantage of AARP's expertise about heath care. They have published many docs explaining the Affordable Health Care Act and how it affects or does not affect virtually every American. 

Here is what I found out. 
First, for current seniors, Medicare benefits are the same.  Second, you can keep your current doctor if you wish. Third, many preventive screenings, like colonoscopies and mammograms are FREE.  Fourth, prescription drugs costs will be gradually reduced as the gap known as the "doughnut hole" of Part D is closed by 2020. 

Taken together, the cumulative measures of the law will SAVE the average Medicare beneficiary $4,181 over 10 years, those with high drug costs even more, up to $16,000.

There will be more FOLLOW UP CARE post hospitalization. Hospitals will be monitored for excessive re-admissions which indicate incompetence or "churning" for profits. Post op follow ups with home nursing care will be increased.  (This is the provision that stirred the scare talk about "death panels" that decide to kill your grannie.) 

The costly  Medicare Advantage plan will be more costly and doctors and hospitals will have adjustments to their payments under that plan. Higher income beneficiaries will continue to have higher premiums. 

EMPLOYER COVERAGE PLANS stay the same. But consumers will have a choice to go to a different plan provided through an EXCHANGE set up in each state where companies will compete for participants, reducing costs. 

Low and middle income ($44, 680) people can receive SUBSIDIES as refundable tax credits to join an exchange. 

For people not covered by medicare, medicaid or other insurance plan, Failure to buy insurance by Jan. 1, 2014 means a tax imposed on tax return. EXEMPT are people with low income. The penalty in 2014 is $95 or 1% of income. It will increase over time, affecting tax refunds BUT NOT A CRIME. 

MEDICAID which is for low income people will depend on the states which defines eligibility rules. The intent was to add 16 million to the rolls but the Supreme Court ruled that states may opt out and at least 12 Republican governors have refused to join. 

State health insurance exchanges set up to provide cheaper plans plus refundable tax credits will help some low and middle income people get covered. 

If a state fails to set up an EXCHANGE the federal government may do so.

Insurance companies will no longer be permitted to deny coverage or charge more or reduce benefits for people with PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS. This will affect an estimated 129 million people.  They cannot any longer charge women with higher premiums than men. Premiums charged by  Insurance companies will be closely monitored and rebates will be required for excessive charges. 

High income people ($200,000 for one or $250,000for couple) will pay higher Medicare hospital insurance on income and earnings. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Giving America The Business

President Obama recently noted:

"Gov. Romney's main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying, 'I'm a business guy. I know how to fix it.' And this is his business.

And when you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is simply not to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.  If your main argument for how to grow the economy is 'I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,' then you're missing what this job is about."
I have been reading "Freedom From Fear", historian David M. Kennedy' volume about the era between 1929 and 1945. He begins with the almost tragic figure of Herbert Hoover, who by his résumé as miner, engineer, millionaire, philanthropist, administrator of post WW I relief that was credited with saving many thousands of Europeans from starvation, as well as respected tenure as Secretary of Commerce, should have been a lock to deal with the economic crisis that eventually cost him his reelection in 1932. Hoover's failure was due in no small measure to his stubborn faith that the "free market" would self-correct. Businessmen knew best. As his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, confidently said, the business of America is business. But by November, 1932 the country was nearly out of business. And so was the Republican party. 

For the next eight years, FDR fought to reignite the economy, reduce the disastrous unemployment which ran higher than 25% at the beginning and remained high despite the increasing optimism that caused his sturdy popularity. 

In 1940, FDR sought an unprecedented third term. He was thought to be politically vulnerable, not just for arrogantly challenging George Washington's two term limit precedent, but also because the New Deal had lost much of its glamour. The unemployment rate, though almost cut in half from its disastrous high in March, 1933, was still a horrible 14.5% having risen again midway through FDR's second term during the double dip known as the Roosevelt Recession. 

In foreign affairs, things were, if possible, even worse for FDR's prospects. Public opinion was still solidly isolationist, most Americans  reacting to the rise of Fascist Dictators in Europe with studied indifference. (Polls showed apathy or actual opposition to proposals to allow increased immigration from Europe - especially German Jews who were in grave danger from the Nazis). 

For years as Germany became overtly aggressive, FDR had made feeble attempts to educate the public to the threat, but had failed miserably. The issue tore apart his famous coalition that had carried him to his great wins. Progressives had turned so far inward after the disillusionment of WW I that they allied with the nationalistic Right to tie FDR's hands and prevent any attempts to join with other democracies to challenge Germany or Italy. A series of Neutrality Acts prevented the Government or private businesses from selling arms to any warring party.

But by the summer of 1940, The public was shifting. Poland had fallen, blitzkrieg in the west had lost Norway, Holland, Belgium, then France, and it looked like Britain would be next. The Atlantic suddenly didn't look wide enough after all. And the Pacific, too, was shrinking. Japan controlled most of China, and the newsreels vividly showed "the rape of Nanking" which was not a metaphor, but literally, reports of widespread vicious rapes and slaughter of civilians by Japanese troops. 

The leading Republican candidates, Robert Taft and Arthur Vandenberg, were rigid isolationists. The powerful king makers of the party, who in those days were mostly eastern establishment types, worried that the times had passed them by. Sensing a real chance to finally get rid of FDR and to halt the New Deal, they turned to Wendell Willkie. 

Willkie, educated as a corporate lawyer, had been president of Commonwealth & Southern, a holding company that controlled electric power utilities around the country. He had fought the TVA, the government power project that directly affected his investors, arguing strenuously, and to many, convincingly that private enterprise was preferable to government involvement. He was pushed by powerful publishers, including Henry Luce, whose Time magazine was influential. In those days, the national and local media was definitely not "liberal". Hearst, McCormick, and other media moguls (they owned radio stations too) were ardent anti-New Dealers, isolationist, Republican in editorials and biased reporting. The movie moguls, led by the most powerful, Louis B. Meyer of MGM, were also conservative Republicans. 

Willkie had his own problems that may sound familiar in 2012. In his past he had supported many New Deal programs, had been a vocal "internationalist" and was therefore viewed skeptically by the right wing of his party. 

In the campaign, Willkie moved to the right, accepting an isolationist stance forced by radicals of his party  FDR also denied any desire for involvement in the European war, promising never to send American boys overseas (neglecting to add the reasonable condition: "unless we are attacked"). Willkie did not oppose the conscription law that instituted a draft, for "preparedness". 

Both candidates suffered from an enthusiasm gap from traditional supporters. FDR pulled out the victory, but by a much smaller margin  than his wins in '32 and '36.  Political observers ascribed the vote to Willkie's weakness as a candidate and the tendency of voters to stick with the experienced avuncular leader with a probable world war looming. 

In his third term, FDR was able to persuade the country to prepare for the war, to provide aid to the allies, to activate American industry.  It was the federal government that financed and regulated the greatest economy the world had ever seen, won the war, secured the peace with the Marshall Plan, and produced the longest period of sustained prosperity ever. 

This year the Republican Party wants to reverse history, to bring us back into the Dark Ages.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Stand Your Ground": Prevent Injustice in Florida

Guest Post by Bill Collins:                            I tried to ignore it but when I heard  Chief of Police Billy Lee of the Sanford Police Department explain why no arrest had been made of Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter of Trayvon Martin I could no longer resist.
So I called his office and spoke with a woman who claimed to be his assistant. She asked me if I had read the legislation involved, (Florida Statute Title XLVI chapter 776 et. al.)
I said I had,  and that it was more than the chief had apparently done, and that I had a question for the chief. She took my contact information, but I guess
he is busy with other matters.

It is unfortunate that the news media, including such liberal and progressive outlets like MSNBC that prides itself on accuracy has also presented so called experts , who have made matters worse. Their explanations make me wonder have they read the statute ? Their focus has been on what they call "stand your ground" provision of section 776.012 (which is not unique or unusual except for its reference to
section 776.013): 

"... However, a person is justified in using deadly force and has no duty to retreat if : (1.) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or another,or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or (2.)
Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to sec. 776.013 For clarification Chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes is entitled "Justifiable Use of Force".

The chapter contains 11 subsections. Two are pertinent here. The above referenced section and  776.013 entitled " Home Protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm."

This is where the Florida statute  deviates from traditional criminal law. When self defense is used, traditionally it is raised by the accused or defendant in a criminal proceeding. The question of whether the shooter, as in this case Mr. Zimmerman had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily injury would be raised by him in the trial, and ultimately would be a question for the jury to decide.

Section 776.013 requires that the prosecution negate the existence of  self defense  in his presentation of the case.

Section 776.013 Home Protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.

Unfortunately there is no short cut , you must read the statute to understand why there is so much confusion.

(1,) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm to himself ... when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if: (a.) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered a dwelling or residence ...

The irony here is that section 776.013 (Home Protection) has no application at all since the foundational elements are missing, to wit: the person against whom deadly force was used had to have been in the commission of a burglary. Not only is there no evidence that Trayvon Martin had committed any crime; there are no facts which support a reasonable belief that Trayvon was committing or had committed a burglary.

This case should be governed by the normal rules of self defense as contained in section 776.012 referenced above. Further, self-defense is not available to Zimmerman if he was the aggressor. By all accounts he does appear to be just that.

As for Billy Lee, his misapplication of the law to the facts of this case and his failure to arrest Mr. Zimmerman can only be attributed to massive incompetence or dishonesty. I was hoping for the former but I fear it is the latter.

William Collins

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Politics of Pogo Possum

Some news items gave me a nagging itch.

One, some segments of the "Occupy Movement" declared for Ron Paul, exposing the anti-government at all costs attitude that lies beneath much populist fuzzy thinking. They proudly quote the mad "Network" rant, "we're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it any more!".

A second article quoted some Hispanic leaders as warning that their voters were angry about the deportation policy of the the administration.

Another item noted that emails which had been exposed which fueled doubts about man made global warming were not put out by deniers, but rather by activists on the well meaning left who feared that third world economic progress would be stalled by climate change policies.

Remember Ralph Nader.

"I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Will Rogers

That accurately describe a problem for liberals in any political season and now poses obstacles for our candidate, the now and (hopefully) future president.

No one can be elected by hewing to strict ideologically pure liberal (or progressive, if you prefer) rhetoric or programs. Even FDR, who is seen by the right as the epitome of a dangerously liberal president, wasn't deemed radical enough for many on the left of his own party.

The Democratic Leadership Council was formed by the right wing of the party to correct the perceived failure of tired left ideas that led to losses by McGovern, Dukakis, and Mondale. Clinton and Gore rescued the so-called Reagan Democrats by triangulating, co-opting conservative talking points: welfare reform, balanced budgets, free trade, tough on crime, pro death penalty, strong defense.

Obama has done as well as he could with the tools at his disposal and given the obstacles thrown in his path. Like FDR, he had to salvage a corrupt capitalist system from itself. As in the 1930's rapid and complete recovery of the economy is not within his power to achieve.

His problem is that as a scruples moderate, he is dealing from a tepid ideology that doesn't fit with our angry and polarized public's notion of the "passion" they want, either from the left or right.

His solution may be that his opposition quotes Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Walt Kelly (Pogo).