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Troy Davis, the death penalty and the toll executions take

Photo: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Regardless of how one feels about the death penalty, or about the particular case of Troy Davis, there’s something worth remembering amid a frenzy such as this: There are real people involved, not least of all the man who was put to death amid doubts about his guilt.

About once a year or so, a case comes along that jars us from our complacency, reminds us that, as a society, we put people to death. Without making judgments about the efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent against crime, or about its moral legitimacy as a form of justice, its worth noting that putting someone to death is a weighty thing, and it inevitably takes a profound toll on those involved.

The Troy Davis case was no different. As new evidence emerged over the years that cast doubt on the veracity of the witnesses’ claims — and as seven of the nine witnesses ultimately recanted their testimonies implicating Davis in the 1989 shooting of Officer Mark MacPhail — the jurors who had convicted Davis began to express their regrets.

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From ‘treasonous’ to ‘banana republic,’ Republicans continue to deride the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve offered a grim assessment of the American economy Wednesday, declaring flatly that recovery was still years off and that even more aggressive measures were necessary to help stimulate growth. Those measures, the Fed announced, would include the purchase of more than $400 billion in long-term government bonds, to dry up the supply of safe investments and bring interest rates down on riskier lending.

The move is aimed at easing the credit crunch and encouraging banks to lend more, so that businesses can re-invest in equipment and workers and consumers can take on loans like mortgages to buy homes and spur construction. The Fed said it would raise the money for the program not by printing more currency and expanding its balance sheet, but by selling off short-term Treasury bonds whose interest rates have hit historic lows.

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Photo: Release and relief

American hikers Josh Fattal (center in blue shirt) and Shane Bauer were released from an Iranian jail on Wednesday after bail of $500,000 each was paid by the government of Oman. For the last two years, they were imprisoned in Iran on charges of spying for the U.S. Photo: AP Photo/Sultan Al-Hasani

Student loan defaults on the rise

Student loan defaults are on the rise, according to data released last week by the Department of Education.  In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, 8.8 percent of borrowers defaulted on their student loans within two years, up from 7 percent the year before. This marks the highest default rate for student loan borrowers in more than a decade, although The New York Times notes that the rate spiked to 20 percent in 1990.

The Department of Education’s report reveals that the trend is particularly troublesome for those graduating from for-profit colleges, where the default rate rose from 11.6 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2009. In contrast, the default rate was 7.2 percent for graduates from public colleges and 4.6 for not-for-profit colleges.   

Some of the problems underlying the spike in student loan defaults are obvious.  The troubles facing the U.S. economy have been particularly hard on recent college graduates, who face fierce competition for entry-level jobs and few options outside of low-skill and low-wage work that can depress their incomes for years. The rising default rates also add to growing concern over for-profit colleges, whose students comprise nearly half of all the defaults. Critics say that for-profit college recruiters target low-income and minority students that bring in money from federal financial aid, but face high debt and low job prospects upon graduating. New federal guidelines restrict federal aid to for-profit schools where less than 35 percent of former students are making their loan payments each month.

But another lesser-known problem with rising defaults is that many students simply aren’t aware of loan repayment options that exist. A repayment program started in 2009 caps monthly payments at 15 percent of borrowers’ incomes, giving low-wage earners a bit more breathing room in paying back their debt than standard monthly payments normally allow. Borrowers who make monthly payments over a period of 25 years can have the rest of their loans forgiven. Those making less than 150 percent of the poverty line – $22,314 for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual as of 2010 – would be able to make monthly payments of zero dollars. The program’s low enrollment rate suggests that schools and the Department of Education are not advising students about loan repayment options as effectively as they could, particularly to low-income students who need the most assistance. The Department, however, has stated that it is taking steps to expand their outreach efforts for the program.

Photo: Troy Davis faces execution

An Amnesty International activist demonstrates outside the U.S. Embassy in support of death row inmate Troy Davis, Rome, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. Davis has drawn a considerable amount of worldwide support, from the Vatican to the European Union, from President Jimmy Carter to Pope Benedict XVI. Photo: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

Update, Sept. 22, 10:29 a.m.: After a last-minute delay of Troy Davis’s execution, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his request for a stay. Troy Davis was executed Wednesday night, shortly after 11 p.m. EDT. His official time of death was 11:08 p.m.

Phone calls are still pouring in, and people are still rallying in protest, but most signs still indicate that tonight, Troy Davis will be executed by the state of Georgia.

Davis, a 42-year-old man from Savannah, Ga., has been on death row for 20 years for the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer killed while off duty. Amnesty International has defended Davis’s case for several years, arguing that a wealth of evidence casts significant doubt on the verdict. Since Davis’s trial, all but two of the witnesses in the case have recanted or changed their testimonies, and nine people have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester “Red” Coles, one of the two witnesses who did not recant his testimony, as the one who committed the murder. Moreover, no DNA matches, murder weapons or other physical evidence was ever found implicating Davis in the shooting.

Amnesty International and several other groups have led a mass movement to convince Georgia authorities to spare Davis from execution. Davis’s case has further focused national attention on the death penalty in the U.S., after recent Republican presidential debates highlighted Texas Governor Rick Perry’s death penalty record and the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of Texas death row inmate Duane Edward Buck just last week.

Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Davis’s appeal for clemency Wednesday, and Davis’s last-minute request for a polygraph test was denied. Davis is scheduled to undergo a lethal injection at 7 p.m. EDT.

Photo: Don’t ask, say ‘I do’

After the stroke of midnight last night, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed. To celebrate, long time partners Navy Lt. Gary Ross (right) and Dan Swezy exchanged wedding vows in Duxbury, Vt. Photo: AP Photo/Toby Talbot

After Solyndra, the future of green jobs

The FBI executing search warrants at the headquarters of California solar firm, Solyndra on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. The now bankrupt company received a $535 million loan from the federal government. Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

The Obama administration is still struggling to recover from political fallout surrounding the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar power manufacturer long heralded by the president as the future of green jobs in America. Before declaring bankruptcy, Solyndra had received $535 million in federal loan guarantees from the Department of Energy under a program launched by the Bush administration and expanded under President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan. Two days after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy on September 6, the FBI launched an investigation into the company, uncovering evidence that White House officials rushed due diligence on the loan. Also of concern to investigators is the fact that the company was also heavily financed by the family foundation of George Kaiser, a major Obama campaign fundraiser.

As the investigation has continued to unravel, Republicans have painted Solyndra as an example of the failings of President Obama’s push for “green jobs” as the core of the new American economy and government involvement in future green projects. Solyndra was the third green energy company to declare bankruptcy in a month, which has prompted concern nationwide about the country’s ability to sustain the renewable energy industry. But is this really a sign that the future of green jobs in the U.S. is growing dimmer? We collected some posts from around the Web to tackle the question.
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Should the deficit reduction ‘super-committee’ focus on jobs instead?

In a new and more confrontational tone, President Obama unveiled his proposals for roughly $3 trillion in federal savings over the next 10 years, insisting that the so-called Congressional “super-committee” tasked with cutting the deficit include tax hikes in its final package. Some policymakers, however, are proposing an even more inflammatory notion: Focus on jobs instead.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon first floated the notion in an interview with The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent last week. Merkley told Sargent he was afraid the deficit reduction committee would actually make unemployment worse, by withdrawing demand from the economy and taking even more money out of the pockets of business owners and consumers.

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Welcome to the new Need to Know website

Welcome to the new Need to Know website. We’re changing the focus of the show, as you can probably tell from our new look.

Need to Know will spend the next 15 months covering the campaign for president, but we’re going to do it differently. Here on the website, as well as on the broadcast, we’ll be covering the campaign from the voters’ perspective, not the candidates’. In cities and towns all across the country, we citizens are already dealing with the consequences of decisions our political leaders have made, or declined to make, in Washington.  The issues the candidates are debating are not abstract or theoretical to average Americans; they are what we are struggling to live with every day.

You’ll be hearing from citizens like you, as we continue to do the kind of reporting Need to Know has featured since its debut in May of 2010.  We will cover the issues of our day through the stories of our lives.

We’ll continue to bring you stories from the Watch List, in which we investigate what happens when industries are largely left to regulate themselves. We’ll meet Change Agents, private citizens who innovate, inspire and lead.  We’ll gather some of the brightest minds and ask what simple suggestion they have to Fix America.

We’ll have personal essays and op ed columns from fresh voices. We hope those voices will include yours. Post comments, offer us story ideas in our pitch room, follow us on twitter.  We’ll have fresh news and analysis every day.

Thanks for visiting and viewing Need to Know.