I write often about the inequities of the American capital punishment system, including the arbitrary nature of the decision to pursue the death penalty, the whims or malevolence of the prosecuting side and juries, and the fundamental inhumanity of the execution itself.
A few days ago, I wrote about the nature of those who wind up being executed. This year 11 of 25 executions were of people who had displayed “significant evidence of mental illness,” nine of the condemned showed “evidence of brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range,” and at least 11 were abused as children.
What did they have in common? They also tend to wind up with bad lawyers, a function of their relative poverty. Where a wealthy individual charged with murder can afford to hire higher-caliber lawyers, the poor tend to get assigned counsel that the government pays for who historically have included a high percentage of the incompetent.
The president reportedly was irritated by the resignation letter Mattis submitted Thursday, which some in the punditocracy characterized as a “stinging rebuke” because it lays out a case for multinationalism. Or rather, he was irritated by the way the media, analysts and other politicians reacted to it, because (according to the New York Times) he had accepted the letter without reading it.
When President Trump decreed that all asylum seekers must present themselves at a port of entry to have their application considered, he broke clear language in U.S. law that says people may present themselves anywhere along the border and request asylum.
Trump predictably got sued, and predictably tried to enforce that rule while the court cases proceed. And just as predictably, the courts told him no. And predictably again, rather than go through the regular appeals process, the president ran straight to the Supreme Court, which shot him down Friday without comment — though by a narrowly divided 5-4 vote.
Meanwhile, President Shutdown is on the verge of furloughing a large portion of the federal government because Democrats in the Senate (wisely) refuse to vote for an omnibus spending bill that would include $5 billion to extend the wall and fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Since virtually the day he was appointed (May 17, 2017), special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been investigating on what many fear is borrowed time. The concern that President Trump would enact his own version of Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre by firing Mueller is constantly fed by Trump’s unhinged tweets about a “witch hunt.”
And don’t forget that, according to the New York Times, Trump actually asked then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to dismiss Mueller soon after Mueller was named to investigate possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
But Mueller is still here, and he has notched an impressive series of indictments and guilty pleas. But the Mueller Massacre Watch is on alert today because of two new developments.
Having proudly claimed responsibility for any government shutdown that should occur this month, President Trump now seems determined to force one. That’s some Christmas gift to more than 300,000 federal workers who may be temporarily furloughed (or forced to work without a timely paycheck, if their jobs are deemed “essential”).
According to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Trump informed top House Republicans on Thursday that he would not sign the short-term funding bill that the Senate passed Wednesday. That’s because the measure does not include the $5 billion Trump has sought for building a higher, more extensive wall along the southern border.
Funny, but the White House announced Tuesday that Trump did not want to shut down the government and would instead find other ways to fund the wall. Evidently, the blowback from far-right members of Congress and the pundit class persuaded Trump to make his stand on the end-of-year spending measure after all.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan performed a public service Tuesday when he got former national security advisor Michael Flynn to acknowledge that he knew he was committing a crime when he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential transition.
In recent days, Flynn’s lawyers and some conservative commentators have pushed the idea that the FBI had taken advantage of Flynn by not warning him in advance that lying to agents would be a crime. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial with the over-the-top title “The Flynn Entrapment.”
Sullivan took a lot of air out of that theory at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for the retired general.
Who knew that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was a feminist?
For today, at least, he is. By appointing outgoing Republican Rep. Martha McSally to the U.S. Senate to replace retiring Republican Jon Kyl (who had been appointed in September to fill the seat vacated when John McCain died), Ducey has increased the female representation from Arizona in the Senate by 100%.
Good for him! McSally’s appointment also means that in a few short weeks, she will join Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate (which might be a tad uncomfortable, given that Sinema beat McSally on Nov. 6 after a brutal campaign for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake).
New York Atty. Gen. Barbara D. Underwood announced Tuesday that President Trump and his family had agreed to dissolve his charitable foundation, which the state alleges served as a piggy bank for Trump’s personal and campaign needs.
Naturally, this prompted a slate of stories rehashing the juiciest allegations in the state’s lawsuit, which will move forward. A personal favorite: The foundation gave $7 to the Boy Scouts of America in 1989, which the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold observed “matched the amount required to enroll a boy in the Scouts the year that [Trump’s] son Donald Trump Jr. was 11.”
Underwood summarized the allegations this way: “Our petition detailed a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation – including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.” Ouch.
The recent death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl in Border Patrol custody was tragic, and I hope the inspector general’s investigation into what happened is both comprehensive and fast. Especially since the father of Jakelin Caal Maquin disputes some basic elements of the Border Patrol’s version of events.
But the death also spotlights the broader issue of the U.S. government making prisoners of migrant children in astonishing numbers. As of last week, the government was holding 15,000 minors – mostly teenage boys – in various detention centers around the country.
Let that sink in: The U.S. government is jailing children who, in most cases, arrived at the southwest border seeking asylum. Do they all qualify for sanctuary? Probably not, but we have a system for making such decisions, and at the moment, that system is imprisoning an entire village’s worth of minors.
The announced departure of Ryan Zinke as Interior secretary was both expected and overdue – even in this scandal-plagued administration, Zinke stood out as the object of at least 17 investigations (several of which closed without finding fault), and whose involvement in a real estate project in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., has been referred to federal prosecutors. And with Democrats taking over the House next month, Zinke was sure to face some serious grilling time in committee hearings.
Then there are Zinke’s atrocious environmental policies, in which he has happily done President Trump’s bidding in trying to open as much federal land to oil and gas drilling and other extractive industries as quickly as the administration can. He also led the charge in shrinking the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, among others — actions that environmental groups have challenged in court.
So good riddance, for the sake of both ethics and the environment.