United States News Digest
California Execution Indefinitely Postponed; Death Penalty Challenged
In another blow to the barbaric practice of capital punishment, a California execution was indefinitely postponed Feb. 21, when two anesthesiologists refused to participate in the administration of the lethal injection used to kill death-row inmates.
In a decision that has broad implications, far beyond California, the killing of death-row inmate Michael Morales was postponed at least until May, and probably much longer, while a Federal court in San Jose conducts a formal evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of the state's execution procedures. At issue is the Fourth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment"; California is one of 38 states which employ a lethal three-stage "cocktail"a sedative, paralytic drug, and heart-stopping chemicalto kill.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel found that this combination could mask, rather than eliminate, an inmate's pain during execution. Following Fogel's decision, prison officials decided to bring in two doctors to ensure that the inmate was sufficiently anesthetized. However, the anesthesiologists decided at the last minute that their participation raised ethical concerns. Their decision to withdraw was strongly supported by the American Medical Association, the California Medical Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and its California affiliate.
Lethal injection was adopted in many states as being more "humane" than the gas chamber, electric chair, hanging, or other methods of killing.
Now, before too long, capital punishment itself may be condemned to die.
Thousands of Declassified Documents Being Reclassified
U.S. intelligence agencies are madly reclassifying documents already in the public domain, sometimes for years, the New York Times reported in a front-page story on Feb. 21. More than 55,000 once-declassified documents have been reclassified as secret since 1999, but at an increasing rate under Bush-Cheney, and even more so since September 2001. The grounds for the reclassification program itself are classified (!), but agencies which argued that "sensitive information" had been declassified hastily in the wake of a declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, had a special room at the National Archives built in which they are carrying out their review. Historians sent examples of decades-old documents which had even already been published by the State Department, yet have now been reclassified, to J. William Leonard, head of the National Archives Information Security Oversight Office, who told the Times that he's ordered an audit of the whole program, because some of the decisions "boggle the mind" as ludicrous.
Landrieu: Washington Was Rebuilt After British Burned It
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on Feb. 15 in support of the bill to set up the Louisiana Recovery Corporation (H.R. 4100/S. 2172), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) took on the Bush-Cheney "don't rebuild" fanatics, arguing: "One hundred ninety-eight years ago, every public building in Washington, D.C. was razed to the ground by invading soldiers of Great Britain. Imagine the very pertinent questions that must have occurred to ... Congress at that time:... We have placed our capital in a very difficult physical environment [and one] at the mercy of the British Navy. Should we rebuild? Should we relocate to the interior?"
She answered the questions: "Of course, we would rebuild Washington. President Madison returned to this city, amid the ruins and devastation, and did the only thing he could: he followed the American spirit of optimism and hope. We always rebuild, bigger, better and smarter. New Orleans will be rebuilt...." The Bush-Cheney regime opposes the legislation.
Leading Democrats Working for an Iraq Withdrawal Plan
According to the Feb. 20 Boston Globe, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), is reportedly in charge of developing a Democratic strategy on the Iraq war, and other Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), are studying a plan for "strategic redeployment" of U.S. troops in Iraq which was authored last September by Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. Korb is a former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration.
In summary, the Korb Plan has three major features:
1. Draw down 80,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2006, with near total drawdown [the remaining 60,000] completed by the end of 2007, and no permanent bases left behind.
2. Bring the National Guard and Reserve troops [46,000] home immediately, and send critical forces [about 20,000] to Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa, with quick-strike forces in Kuwait.
3. Refocus our diplomatic, communications, and reconstruction efforts. Our rhetoric on democracy-building must be matched by equally compelling diplomatic and financial commitments to make the transition to democracy a reality.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson reiterated that the California Democrat supports the Murtha initiative, which has 98 other co-sponsors in the House. Sen. Jack Reed, and others, according to the Globe's Rick Klein, are opposed to setting a timetable for withdrawal, as both the Murtha and Korb plans do. However, according to Klein, there is a desire to have a definite plan on Iraq withdrawal going into the elections.
Lawsuit Filed Against GOP Budget Maneuver
"Once again, Republican leaders have burned the book on how our laws are made," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), referring to the budget reconciliation bill signed last week by the President, even though the identical versions of the bill had not been signed by both houses of Congress, The Hill reported Feb. 20.
"Every elementary school student knows that the exact same bill must pass the House and the Senate first, before it can be signed into law by the President," Pelosi said. She has introduced a privileged resolution in the House to put the Republicans on the record defending their leadership's decision not to bring the bill back to the House, to have it amended to read the same as the bill passed by the Senate.
Also, a private citizen, Jim Zeigler, a Mobile, Ala. attorney and delegate to the 2000 and 2004 Republican National Conventions, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama to invalidate the bill.
The House Republican leadership says it will not take up the disputed bill again, nor will it answer questions about whether the signed legislation is now actually law.
The difference in the two bills regards Federal subsidies to Medicare recipients who lease "durable medical equipment," such as wheelchairs, walkers, etc. The section of the bill in question was part of a late-night deal between the House leadership and Ohio Republicans, The Hill reports.
But the particular nature of the differences is not the point. If the Executive can get away with signing whatever version of a bill it chooses, it will have moved another step closer to eliminating the remaining Constitutional powers of the Legislative branch.
Davis Calls for FEMA To Be Pulled from DHS
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), appearing on ABC's This Week Feb. 19, called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be pulled out of the Department of Homeland Security, and made into a Cabinet-level agency. Davis, head of the Republican committee whose report blamed the White House for the failure to respond to the Katrina disaster, insisted: "I think FEMA has to be reorganized. I'm not sure it should stay in the Department of Homeland Security for this reason. They are competing for dollars," with terrorist-prevention programs, he said. FEMA should "absolutely" be made into a Cabinet-level agency, "at the right arm of the White House during any crisis," he continued. A bureaucratic layer reporting up through the Secretary, he noted, didn't work out at all.