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Getting Even in Alabama

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 3:25 PM EDT

Daniel Siebert, who was convicted of capital murder in 1987, was scheduled to be executed yesterday at Holman State Prison in Atmore, Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld his execution even though Siebert's lawyers argued that it should be postponed until the U.S. Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of lethal injection next year.

Alabama's determination to execute Siebert comes despite the fact that he is suffering from terminal cancer and only has a few months to live anyway. Locking up criminals is supposed to serve four aims—rehabilitation, retribution, deterrence, and societal protection. But Siebert's case surely proves that Alabama seeks only one of those ends when it comes to capital punishment: retribution.

The southern state claims it shouldn't have to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether lethal injection is cruel or unusual because it has already changed its procedure in order to ensure that the condemned is not experiencing pain while he is being put to death. But the new safeguards are hardly adequate and they really don't address the problem. The Birmingham News reports that the adjustments consist of calling out the inmate's name, pinching his arm, and brushing a finger against his eyelash in order to see if he's conscious enough to feel pain. But the inmate cannot respond to such stimulation because one of the three chemicals used during lethal injection paralyzes him and makes it impossible for him to flinch when he's pinched, let alone cry out when the third deadly chemical pumps through his blood.

Thankfully the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the absurdity of all of this in the nick of time. On Wednesday it found that the changes to Alabama's procedure were insufficient, and delayed Siebert's execution until the U.S. Supreme Court makes its ruling. Maybe by then Siebert will have died from natural causes, rather than state-inflicted vengeance.

—Celia Perry

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Jon Stewart Uses the Bully Pulpit for Gay Rights

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 3:14 PM EDT

Jon Stewart has been a consistent supporter of gay rights on the Daily Show. From a website called afterelton.com, here's a collection of his "greatest gay moments." Worth checking out; includes video.

Good Works for Fun and Profit: Socially Responsible Businesspeople Invade San Francisco

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 3:03 PM EDT

bsr_logo_white.pngYesterday I swung by the 2007 Business for Social Responsibility's annual conference. A BSR coordinator told me that more than 1,300 people had registered, and when I arrived, it looked as if most of them were milling around the imposing lobby of San Francisco's Grand Hyatt Regency hotel.

Why were they there? Cynics will always say that where business is concerned, social responsibility is useful only for PR purposes. In some cases, that still might be true, but these days, this idea is (thankfully) quickly becoming outmoded. At one session I attended, "Women's Health: The Key to Development?," the overall message was a no-brainer: When young female factory employees have access to medical care and information about workers' rights, absenteeism declines and overall morale improves. The logistics of such initiatives, though, can get hairy. In China, for example, factories typically won't allow any programs that could prompt workers to organize, so educators have to sneak lessons about labor rights into their health classes. Clever.

Friday? Drop By for Music News Day

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 1:00 PM EDT

Music News

  • OiNK founder Alan Ellis posted bail after his arrest on Tuesday and gave a defiant interview to the Daily Telegraph, saying "I haven't done anything wrong... there is no music sold on the site," adding, ominously, that the music download directory was "no different [than] something like Google." Really, so I'm a moron for not buying OiNK stock too?

  • The B-52's are inspired enough by my collecting of a few of their videos here on the Riff that they've decided to record a new album, their first in 15 years. "Hey," they said to each other, "if the Riff likes us, I bet we still got it!" Well, actually, no, that's not how it happened, they say was a vacation in Maui or something that inspired them, but still, maybe we helped.
  • 1,730 guitarists strummed in unison at a stadium in Guwahati, India today in an attempt to break the world record for most guitarists playing together at a stadium in India. Or just "biggest guitar ensemble." Their song of choice? "Knocking on Heaven's Door." An organizer told Reuters, "Though we set a new world record, we are sad as we were expecting more than 2,000 guitarists." Talk about a negative Nelly.
  • San Francisco officials have withdrawn a planned honor for Snoop Dogg. What? No! Apparently a representative from mayor Gavin Newsom's office was supposed to present a proclamation for the rapper and a party promoter at the Exotic Erotic Ball, an annual Halloween- and sex-themed event this weekend, but the Newsom administration is a little jumpy after all the bad publicity they received for "Colt Studio Day." So this probably nixes my idea of an official "Fuck with Dre Day?" That settles it, I'm voting for Quintin.
  • Willie Horton Redux?

    | Fri Oct. 26, 2007 12:28 PM EDT

    Spotted in an American Spectator article (via Andrew Sullivan):

    Gov. [Mike] Huckabee [of Arkansas] had a propensity to be almost as prodigal with pardons as was his famous predecessor by the name of Clinton. Indeed, Hillary Clinton's campaign team is probably licking their chops at the prospect of Huck as the nominee, because one of his pardons, in particular, was so outlandish as to make Willie Horton's case in Massachusetts seem almost child's play by comparison. After Huckabee helped secure the release of already-well-known rapist Wayne Dumond, the released convict sexually assaulted and murdered a woman in Missouri.

    Yikes. The 30-second spot writes itself.

    FEMA's Fake Press Conference

    | Fri Oct. 26, 2007 10:50 AM EDT

    harveyjohnson.gifYesterday, in response to the wildfires that have displaced more than a million people in California, FEMA's deputy administrator, Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson, called a last minute press conference. As Al Kamen recounts in today's Washington Post, it soon became clear that there was something very odd about the briefing. It seemed that the reporters in attendance were teeing up softball questions for Johnson to hit out of the park. One reporter asked, for instance, "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration." As Kamen put it, "the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness." That's because the "reporters" Johnson called on weren't reporters at all, but members of FEMA's PR shop, including the agency's deputy director of external affairs, Cindy Taylor, and its deputy director of public affairs Mike Widomski. Shameless.

    Update: Johnson has officially apologized for yesterday's PR stunt, saying "We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment. Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received." Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has called the episode "inexcusable and offensive to the secretary." Are heads going to roll?

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    People Are Crazy, Mike Huckabee-Edition

    | Fri Oct. 26, 2007 10:39 AM EDT

    In the middle of a long and mostly sane Q&A with Slate, man-of-the-moment Mike Huckabee has this insane moment.

    Slate: Why is it unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon?
    Huckabee: They've already announced their intention to destroy Israel. They've already announced that they would love to invade Iraq and take its oil... This is not a nation building up nuclear arms to defend against somebody, because there is no one threatening them.

    I guess Mike Huckabee isn't aware who our vice president is. Or who our president is. Or who Rudy Giuliani, a man vying to be the next president, is. Nobody here is saying Iran should have a nuke, but pretending that Iran isn't threatened by the rhetoric of the United States, when that rhetoric is expressly designed to threaten Iran, is an act of willful denial.

    And there's also a moment where Huckabee, as a Christian evangelical, demonstrates the illogical reasoning people of his ilk use to justify discrimination against gays while professing to oppose discrimination against racial minorities.

    People Are Crazy, Halloween-Edition

    | Fri Oct. 26, 2007 10:28 AM EDT

    Fun facts for your Friday:

    - 23 percent of Americans believe they have seen a ghost. 34 percent believe they exist.

    - 48 percent believe in ESP, or Extra-Sensory Perception.

    - 14 percent believe they have seen a UFO.

    - 5 percent say they have literally seen a monster in their closet.

    Update: To steal (and paraphrase) a line from Dana Milbank, this means as many people believe in ghosts as believe in George W. Bush's leadership.

    Greenhouse Gas Sensors Tap California Air

    | Thu Oct. 25, 2007 7:27 PM EDT

    315428461_54649b3aa7_m.jpg Sutro Tower in San Francisco now hosts the first of California's regional greenhouse-gas detectors. Nature reports that another sensor is in place atop Richland Tower near Sacramento, part of the California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Project, a collaboration between state and federal agencies and universities. The sensors are the first of 10 that will take measurements twice daily. The project, born at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, hopes to establish whether California is reaching its goal of reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases—at present, running about 550 million tons a year—by cutting state emissions. The data will also be used to improve estimates of GHG emissions at the national scale in support of the North American Carbon Program.

    The gears are grinding. Slowly. Let's hope momentum develops faster than disaster.

    Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

    French Clay Kills Superbugs

    | Thu Oct. 25, 2007 6:23 PM EDT

    This is how they did it in the olden days. Slap on the clay. Watch wounds heal. Some animals still do (foxes that dig themselves into clay banks to heal wounds and/or broken limbs). Anyway, new research out of Arizona State University, reported by the Geological Society of America finds that one kind of French clay kills several kinds of disease-causing bacteria. Including Mycobacterium ulcerans, a germ related to leprosy and tuberculosis, which causes the flesh-eating disease Buruli ulcer. Currently, advanced cases of Buruli ulcer can only be cured by surgical excision or amputation. In lab tests, the French clay also killed bacteria responsible for many human illnesses, including: Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), penicillin-resistant S. aureus (PRSA), and pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli). In other words, the really bad stuff we've bred through egregious overuse of antibiotics.

    Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.