Tag Archives: gov-

Arkansas Just Executed Its 4th Man in 8 Days—His Lawyers Said His Death Was “Horrifying”

Mother Jones

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Last night, Arkansas conducted the last of a series of executions in its rushed attempt to execute eight men in 11 days before its supply of midazolam, a controversial sedative that’s been behind several botched executions, expires at the end of the month. Kenneth Williams, a convicted murderer, was reportedly convulsing, jerking, lurching, and coughing for about 10 to 20 seconds after the officials administered the midazolam.

Kelly Kissel, a media witness, said he could hear Williams in the next room even after the microphone was turned off. J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, denied that the inmate had suffered and claimed that his movements were due to “involuntary muscular reaction.”

“There was no testimony that he was in pain,” he added. Davis was not in the execution chamber. Williams’ lawyers, however, are demanding an investigation; they described the execution as “horrifying.”

A series of legal setbacks halted four of the planned executions, but in the midst of public outcry, the state put four men to death in the span of eight days—three others have received stays, and one inmate received a stay after the parole board recommended clemency. Many of the men suffered from mental illnesses, were physically abused, and received substandard lawyering during their trials. Williams, who suffered physical abuse at the hands of his father was intellectually disabled and had an IQ of 70. At some point, doctors said he may have suffered brain damage. One expert noted, “His brain is not working the way it should.”

Williams escaped from prison in 1998, where he was serving time for the murder of Dominique Hurd. He first killed Cecil Boren and, during a police chase, he killed Michael Greenwood in a car crash. The family of Michael Greenwood, asked Gov. Hutchinson to spare his life. “I believe justice has already been served,” said Greenwood’s wife, Stacey Yaw. “He hasn’t been able to kill anyone else. Executing him is more of revenge.”

For his last meal, Williams asked to be served Holy Communion, and in his final statement, he apologized to the families of his victims he “senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones.”


Arkansas Just Executed Its 4th Man in 8 Days—His Lawyers Said His Death Was “Horrifying”

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The State of Reproductive Health Legislation in 2017 Is Not Exactly What You Would Expect

Mother Jones

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At the beginning of 2017, reproductive rights advocates feared that the election of President Donald Trump and the Republican sweep in many statehouses would embolden anti-abortion legislators at the state level. By mid-January, four states had already introduced late-term abortion bans, while others—Missouri, for instance—had filed a significant number of anti-abortion-related legislation ahead of this year’s legislative session. As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, a new report released this week by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy think tank, finds that the policies introduced so far this year paint a more complicated picture.

The institute’s report finds that state legislatures across the country have introduced some 1,053 reproductive-health-related provisions since January, and that of those proposed measures, 431 would restrict access to abortion services, while 405 would expand access to reproductive health services—the report does not categorize the remaining measures.

Five states—Kentucky, Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah—have already passed at least one abortion restriction this year—with a total of 10 new restrictions becoming laws. In Kentucky, a ban on abortions 20 weeks post-fertilization was signed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin after a sprint through the state Legislature. Utah now requires doctors to tell women that medication abortions can be “reversed” after the first dose in the two-dose protocol, a claim that, as with many abortion counseling requirements in other states, is not supported by evidence. Arizona became one of the first states in the country to detail specific requirements for how doctors must work to preserve the life of the fetus after an abortion procedure, a law that some critics have challenged for possibly prolonging the pain of nonviable fetuses.

“There is this competition to the bottom that has been happening with state legislatures and abortion over the past six years,” says Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute and the lead author on the report. But in 2017, she adds “the scale has changed.” She explained that compared with the same period from 2011 to 2016, “we haven’t been seeing as much activity on abortion as we have seen.” Rather than suggesting a diminished interest in abortion restrictions, Nash explains that given the onslaught of new abortion restrictions in the past six years, some states might simply be running out of measures to introduce. But beyond that, health care reform, state budgets, and the opioid crisis might have caused conservative state legislatures to focus their attention elsewhere at the beginning of their legislative sessions, suggesting that anti-abortion activity might pick up later in the year.

As a result of this reduced activity, Nash says, “we have been seeing less in the way of trends” when looking at the types of abortion restrictions introduced in 2017. There are still some commonalities among the various restrictions introduced in the states, particularly concerning “abortion bans” that prohibit abortions being sought for certain reasons—such as a genetic anomaly or the sex of the fetus—or after a specific point in the pregnancy.

In 28 states, legislators have introduced some 88 measures that would either ban abortion completely or prohibit it in specific circumstances. In Arkansas, for example, a law was recently passed that bars doctors from using a common second trimester abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.” Similar restrictions have passed at least one chamber in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. The “20-week abortion ban” was passed in Kentucky and has cleared at least one legislative chamber in Iowa, Montana, and Pennsylvania. Six-week abortion bans, also known as “heartbeat bills,” are also being introduced in several states, possibly in response to Ohio legislators successfully presenting a version to Gov. John Kasich last year; he vetoed the bill but signed a 20-week abortion ban into law.

Nash notes that some of the legislative support of abortion bans may be motivated by an interest in getting a case before the Supreme Court in the next few years. “They are thinking about being the state that overturns Roe v. Wade and the way to do that is to adopt something like a 6-week abortion ban or a 20-week abortion ban and then send that up through the courts,” she says.

The Guttmacher report notes that abortion restrictions continue to be introduced at a relatively steady, if somewhat lessened, rate, but proactive reproductive health legislation has seen an increase, with 21 states and the District of Columbia considering measures that would expand reproductive health services. “The number of proactive measures grew from 221 in 2015 and 353 in 2016” to 405 in 2017, the report notes. The report suggests that this development is likely “in anticipation of the possible dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and loss of its contraceptive coverage guarantee.” So far Virginia is the only state to enact a proactive measure; the state will now require that insurance plans covering contraceptives allow enrollees to receive a year’s supply at once.

Proactive legislation on the state level is likely to become increasingly important as the Republican-controlled Congress and other conservative-led legislatures continue to use funding to target reproductive services providers such as Planned Parenthood. Last week, Trump signed into law a measure allowing states to withhold public funds used for family planning—also known as Title X funding—marked for contraception and other nonabortion services from groups that also provide abortions. The move nullifies an Obama-era rule protecting Planned Parenthood and other groups from losing federal family-planning funds.


The State of Reproductive Health Legislation in 2017 Is Not Exactly What You Would Expect

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California Is About to Ask Its Liberals to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

Mother Jones

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California legislators will vote Thursday on a gas tax and other vehicle fees proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would raise $52 billion over ten years to fund repairs to the state’s crumbling roads, bridges, and public transit systems. Though the vote once seemed like a slam-dunk in the this deeply blue state, Brown is facing likely defections from moderate members of his own party who are concerned about the tax’s effects on farmers and suburban commuters.

“Don’t blow it guys,” Brown said at a Tuesday press conference in the Inland Empire district of Democratic state Sen. Richard Roth, one of the last holdouts on the bill. “You’re going to be driving on these damn roads. Fix them now, or we may never get them fixed. I don’t know what opponents expect—the tooth fairy to fix the roads?”

The bill is shaping up to be a key test of Democratic unity. It must overcome a California requirement for a two-thirds supermajority to enact tax increases. Though Democrats hold a narrow supermajority in both houses of the legislature, Republicans are unanimously opposed to the bill, which means that a single Democratic defection can kill the proposal.

The defeat of the bill would be a major blow to Brown, 78, who has positioned his state as a bulwark against right-wing policies and bureaucratic incompetence of the Trump administration. Brown’s proposal to fund infrastructure though increases in the state’s gas tax resembles the approach proposed by Democrats in Congress, where Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is pushing a similar plan known as the “Penny For Progress Act.”

Raising taxes to fund infrastructure isn’t necessarily a partisan issue. If the California bill passes the state would join 17 others—half of them controlled by Republicans—that have increased gas taxes since 2013. “I have a fair amount of rank-and-file Republicans in Congress who like the proposals that I’ve put out there,” DeFazio told Mother Jones. Yet in California, many moderate Republicans have lost their seats to Democrats, leaving behind a more conservative and united GOP opposition.

California already has some of the highest gas taxes in the country, but the falling price of gas, increases in fuel efficiency, and the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles has crimped revenues in recent years, contributing to an estimated $135 billion backlog in road and bridge repairs. According to the Department of Transportation, California’s roads are among the worst in the country, with 68 percent in “poor to mediocre” condition—costing state motorists $13.9 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs and repairs. Brown’s bill would move to plug the funding gap with a 12-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, new taxes on diesel, a $100 annual fee on electric vehicles, and higher vehicle registration fees.

To win support for the bill’s diesel tax among rural and moderate Democrats, Brown included a provision that would give the trucking industry more time to comply with antipollution regulations—angering environmental and health advocates. One Democrat, Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, has withheld her support for the bill due to concerns over how it will affect air pollution.

Brown, who previously served two terms as governor starting in the late 1970s, has a reputation as both a fiscal moderate and an infrastructure hawk. His father, California Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Sr., oversaw the construction of massive post-war infrastructure projects such canals, aqueducts, and university campuses. Brown has continued that legacy with projects such as a pair of $15.7-billion water tunnels under the Sacramento Delta and a $64-billion high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. Both projects are being financed with bonds and user fees rather than new taxes.

Californians have often shown a willingness to tax themselves in exchange for better services, though the issue tends to cleave along geographic lines. In November, 70 percent of Los Angeles voters approved a permanent sales tax increase to fund a major expansion of the county’s public transit service. Yet voters in the less affluent, more rural Central Valley are more fiscally conservative. A Survey USA poll released last week found that overall only 37 percent of Californians support raising the gas tax to pay for transportation projects, 44 percent oppose the idea, and 19 percent are undecided.

In Washington, where Trump has promised $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending, many Republicans are pushing an alternative approach that would eschew tax increases for “public-private partnerships.” House Speaker Paul Ryan and a faction within the Trump administration led by billionaire leverage buyout specialist Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, want almost all of the spending to come from tax credits given to private investors who underwrite infrastructure projects such as toll roads. Ross argues that $137 billion in tax credits over ten years could spur $1 trillion in investment, meeting Trump’s campaign pledge. But even many conservative economists say the approach doesn’t hold water.

“I don’t think that is a model that is going to be viewed as successful or that you can use it for all of the infrastructure needs that the US has,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum think tank, told the Associated Press. It would only work for projects that generate tolls or user fees, he said, and even then, might just reward investors for projects that would have been built anyway.

Brown continued to push hard for the bill on Wednesday. “I know there are a couple of people who are worried about voting for taxes,” he said during a rally on the Capitol steps. “This is a fee, a fee for the privilege of driving on our roads that the people pay for, and we’ve got to keep paying for them. Otherwise, they are not going to work for us. It’s just that simple.”

Originally posted here: 

California Is About to Ask Its Liberals to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

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The North Pole is 50 degrees warmer than usual and, um, a little damp.

No, it isn’t ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, named to serve as ambassador to China, is in favor of wind energy and policies that promote it. Like, really in favor.

“Our leadership in green energy not only makes us a leader in renewables but also powers job growth,” the Republican said in his 2016 Condition of the State address in Iowa. “Every wind turbine you see while driving across our state means income for farmers, revenue for local governments, and jobs for Iowa families.” As governor of the No. 2 wind state, he’s also in favor of federal incentives for wind energy like the production tax credit.

Branstad may experience some whiplash as he represents an administration that is particularly antagonistic to wind energy to a country that has invested billions of dollars in wind and solar.

On climate change, Branstad is not a denier but he buys into his party’s reasoning for not acting. “We need to recognize this climate change issue is a global issue,” he said in 2011. That’s the excuse many Republicans use to argue that the U.S. shouldn’t clean up its act until developing economies like China and India do.

But if he doesn’t know it already, Branstad will soon learn that China is doing plenty to fight climate change right now.

More here:  

The North Pole is 50 degrees warmer than usual and, um, a little damp.

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After a Month of Claiming Voter Fraud, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory Finally Concedes

Mother Jones

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On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded to Attorney General Roy Cooper in the state’s governor’s race. The concession arrives after nearly a month of contesting the ballot results, which consistently indicated his Democratic challenger was leading by a thin margin.

“Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken and we should now do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper,” McCrory said in a video message.

McCrory is nationally recognized for his outspoken advocacy of North Carolina’s “bathroom bills”, which required transgender people to use the bathroom of their birth gender. Watch his statement below:

Shortly after the concession was announced, Cooper tweeted the following:


After a Month of Claiming Voter Fraud, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory Finally Concedes

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New Hampshire Just Gave Us Another Win for Women in the Senate

Mother Jones

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan has won the highly contentious battle for the state’s Senate seat, unseating Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte by a razor-thin margin. With Republicans having secured control of the chamber early Wednesday morning, Hassan’s election will not affect the balance of power in the Senate.

The New Hampshire race was too close to call for most of Tuesday night, with the gap between the candidates narrowing to less than 1,500 votes. Hassan declared victory Wednesday morning, but the results were not made official until later in the afternoon. Ayotte conceded the race shortly after the official results were announced.

With two of the state’s most prominent political figures on the ballot, the New Hampshire contest was one of the closest Senate contests of the year. Both candidates entered Election Day in a virtual dead heat. Their debates were often fierce and Hassan and Ayotte both moved to the center in an effort to gather votes from the other party. The race was the second-most expensive Senate contest this cycle, with more than $120 million dollars pouring into the state.

Ayotte’s fight to protect her seat was complicated by the rise of Donald Trump. Hassan frequently took aim at Ayotte’s support of the Republican presidential nominee. During a debate last month between the two candidates, Ayotte awkwardly said the Republican presidential nominee “absolutely” would be a good role model for children. Hassan lost no time in attacking her opponent, and Ayotte quickly walked back her comments, saying she misspoke during the debate. Ayotte completely withdrew her support for the nominee after video surfaced of Trump bragging about touching women without their consent, a move that opened the senator up to criticism from her fellow conservatives. The tight contest in New Hampshire extended to the presidential race, with Clinton leading by a slim one-point margin after all precincts had reported.

Hassan has touted her ability to work across the aisle during her time in the governor’s mansion, noting that she engaged Republicans to negotiate the state’s budget, ending up with a $62 million surplus. But Hassan’s call for the United States to temporarily halt accepting Syrian refugees—she’s the only Democratic governor to do so—has put her in hot water with Democrats. (Hassan has not clarified whether she still supports a temporary ban.) In the campaign’s final weeks, Hassan played up her ties with Hillary Clinton in an effort to shore up her support among left-leaning voters.

In a recent interview with Mother Jones, Hassan said she hopes to secure emergency funding to address the state’s opioid crisis and reduce the influence of special interests on Capitol Hill.

“Washington has been captured by corporate special interests like the Koch brothers who stack the deck for themselves and against the middle class,” she said. “I’m running for Senate to change that.”

Hassan will join three other Democratic women—Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto—as first-term senators in 2017.

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New Hampshire Just Gave Us Another Win for Women in the Senate

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A big earthquake hit Oklahoma’s oil hub, and the oil industry likely has itself to blame.

Responding to the mass arrests of protesters last week, Greenpeace called on President Obama to “revoke all permits and halt construction of the pipeline,” send Justice Department observers to protect the civil rights of protesters, and order North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple to remove the National Guard from protest encampments along the pipeline’s planned route.

The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest green group, made the same demands in slightly more cautious terms.

The issue is now resonating beyond the environmental movement. CREDO Action, a progressive advocacy network, has gathered 386,000 signatures for a petition telling Obama to stop the project and 184,000 signatures on their petition asking Obama to prevent Gov. Dalrymple’s suppression of Native American pipeline opponents.

The push to stop the pipeline is likely to intensify after the election. On Nov. 15, CREDO will join with anti-fossil fuel and environmental justice organizations such as 350.org and the Indigenous Environmental Network for a day of action at Army Corps of Engineers offices around the country.

Protesters from Standing Rock have recently begun taking their demands directly to Hillary Clinton, who has avoided taking a position for or against the pipeline.

Read Grist’s previous coverage of the fight over the proposed pipeline.

Read this article: 

A big earthquake hit Oklahoma’s oil hub, and the oil industry likely has itself to blame.

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Now you can use Google to organize your neighbors around solar.

Following an exceptionally dry winter in 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown mandated that cities cut back on water use by 25 percent. Californians responded by letting their grass turn brown, or replacing it with artificial turf and less thirsty plants.

Sod suppliers, landscapers, and conservation activists now say that lawns are coming back into fashion, the Guardian reports. California did away with mandatory water restrictions in June, which may have sent the wrong message to residents. In August, urban water consumption had risen nearly 10 percent from the previous year.

Before it dropped these restrictions, the state spent $350 million on rebates for those who tore out their water-sucking grass. Anti-lawn campaigns emerged, such as “Brown is the new green,” and the media drought shamed those who maintained lush, grassy expanses.

It seemed like these efforts were working: One major lawn supplier saw orders plunge from 500 per day to 80 during the height of drought shaming.

The orders have now crept into the hundreds — despite the severe drought conditions that persist. Another dusty winter would send California into its sixth straight year of drought.

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Now you can use Google to organize your neighbors around solar.

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Two Former Chris Christie Aides Found Guilty of All Charges in Bridgegate Scandal

Mother Jones

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Two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were found guilty of all charges in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial.

Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni were charged with organizing a plan that included shutting down the highly trafficked lanes as an act of political revenge against a Democratic mayor who did not endorse Christie during his re-election bid.

The verdict on Friday comes as Christie prepares to make a public appearance this weekend in New Hampshire in support of Donald Trump. In September, federal prosecutors accused the embattled governor of knowing about the lane closings—an allegation Christie has vehemently denied.

“Let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior or during these lane realignments, and had no role authorizing them,” he said in a statement reacting to Friday’s verdict. “No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue.”

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Two Former Chris Christie Aides Found Guilty of All Charges in Bridgegate Scandal

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Almonds Are Still Sucking Up Lots of California’s Water

Mother Jones

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Two new data points on the ongoing California drought and its impact on the state’s booming and thirsty farms:

• In California’s agriculture-rich, water-poor San Joaquin Valley, H2O from the state’s big irrigation projects has been especially scarce in recent years. As a result, farmers have had to rely heavily on water pumped from underground aquifers—and they’ve extracted so much of it that since 2013, land has been sinking in large swaths of the region, fouling up canals, bridges, roads, and other vital infrastructure and racking up billions of dollars in damage.

This year? Here’s an eye-popping report from the Sacramento Bee:

New wells are going in faster and deeper than ever. Farmers dug about 2,500 wells in the San Joaquin Valley last year alone, the highest number on record. That was five times the annual average for the previous 30 years, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state and local data

Back in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown reversed a long tradition of Wild West groundwater management in California by signing a new law requiring the state’s most stressed watersheds to stop drawing down aquifers faster than they’re naturally replenished. The catch: The guidelines don’t kick in until 2040. In the meantime, San Joaquin Valley growers are embroiled in a “kind of groundwater arms race,” the Bee reports.

Aquifers don’t respect property lines, and in many cases, farmers with older, shallower wells are afraid of losing water to neighbors who are digging deeper wells and lowering the groundwater table. So they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to drill new wells of their own. All told, farmers are expected to spend $303 million this year alone to pump groundwater, according to UC Davis researchers.

• In a new study presented last Wednesday at the Geological Society of America, Eastern Kentucky University’s Kelly Watson drills down into one of the destinations of all that water extraction: the state’s massive and growing base of almond groves.

Using satellite imagery, Watson looked at land conversions in California’s Central Valley (made up of two valleys, the San Joaquin and the Sacramento) between 2007 and 2014. She found that land devoted to the delicious (but water-intensive) nut had expanded 14 percent over that period—not surprising, given the ongoing almond boom.

The interesting finding, though, is that a huge chunk of the new almond territory was converted from fallow, completely un-irrigated land, including grasslands, wetlands, and forests. As for the rest, some of it switched over from less water-intensive crops like corn, cotton, wheat, and tomatoes; and some had been used for even thirstier crops like sugar beets, alfalfa, and clover. The bottom line: Watson calculates the net impact of the expansion was a 27 percent increase in annual irrigation needs for the converted land, putting massive new pressure on those struggling aquifers.

Over on Forbes, science writer Mallory Pickett notes that the study has yet to be published—it’s currently in peer review—and that “aerial images can only paint broad brush pictures” of the situation on the ground. But it’s not a pretty picture.

More here – 

Almonds Are Still Sucking Up Lots of California’s Water

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