Two Austin filmmakers examine how the Texas governor and bad science abetted the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.
Tim MurphySep. 30, 2011 6:00 AM
Texas Gov. Rick Perry
When MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Rick Perry during a recent GOP debate if he ever worried that his state had executed an innocent man on Perry's watch, the three-term Texas governor didn't hesitate: "No sir, I've never struggled with that at all." Maybe he should have: As Steve Mims and Joe Bailey detail in their new documentary, Incendiary, the state's 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder of his two children was based in large part on arson science that had been thoroughly rejected by the scientific community—something that Perry had been informed of before the "ultimate justice" was served.
Inspired by David Grann's masterful 2009 New Yorker story about the case, the Austin filmmakers set out to chronicle the flawed forensics behind the execution. They soon found themselves in the middle of a pitched political battle involving Perry's apparent maneuvering to put a thumb on the scales with the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Mims and Bailey spoke recently with Mother Jones about the Willingham case, arson science, and how they navigated the politics of capital punishment.
Rep. Michele Bachmann has plunged in the polls since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the GOP presidential race in July. Prior to that, polls had consistently shown the Minnesota congresswoman in the lead in the critical early primary state of Iowa. More recently she received just 40 votes in the Florida straw poll, earning her dead last. All of which made her fundraising pitch this morning all the more off-key:
Our campaign's rising poll numbers have not gone unnoticed. The latest Iowa poll has our campaign in second place, just behind Mitt Romney and ahead of Rick Perry.
As you saw yesterday in our campaign's strategy video- Iowa is what it all comes down to. Iowa is where our campaign began, and it is where we will win next year. We have our boots on the ground in Iowa, and I know we are in a position to win, but Tim, we cannot do so without your support.
OK, so it's not as big a deal as repeating dangerous and debunked claims about vaccines, but it's worth noting that this is sort of the opposite of the current state of play. Bachmann is in second place in Iowa according to one poll released this week. But the overall trend lines are pretty bad. For instance, here's a (somewhat difficult to read) chart from Real Clear Politics averaging the national tracking polls. The black line is Michele Bachmann, and, as you can see, it's plummeting faster than [insert Red Sox joke here]. Rick Perry is in blue; Mitt Romney's purple:
Pew Research has a good report up this week on child poverty during the great recession, based on data from the 2010 Census we wrote about previously. The takeaway is that, as you'd expect, poverty rates are increasing among all ethnic groups—but no group's numbers are moving in the wrong direction at a greater clip than Latinos'. Here's a chart:
Latino child poverty has skyrocketed during the recession: Courtesy of Pew ResearchThere are a couple things going on here. One is that Latinos are making up an ever-increasing share of the population, especially among younger generations, so these numbers are bound to rise in the short-term. Another is that the Latino unemployment rate is significantly higher than the natonal average (it's 11.3 percent as of August), and that number correlates to less income.
It's worth noting that poverty rates are still higher overall among black children, at 39.1 percent (compared to 35 percent for Latinos and 12.4 percent for whites). That's about on par with the poverty rate for Latino children with immigrant parents (39 percent). The full report is here.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will speak at the Values Voters Summit in October.
When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney takes the stage at next week's annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, a gathering of religious-right leaders and activists, he will have interesting company: the GOP presidential candidate will be followed immediately by Bryan Fischer, issues director for the American Family Association.
Fischer has called President Obama a "fascist dictator" and asserted that Native American societies were a "slop bucket" that got what they deserved. Even America's veterans aren't immune to Fischer's criticism: Last November, he warned that the Congressional Medal of Honor had been "feminized."
Making things even more awkward, Fischer has had some pretty icy words for Romney in the past. As he tweeted recently: "All you need to know about Mitt Romney: makes headlines when he DOESN'T pander to somebody." He's also called Romney a "phony" and mocked him for expanding his California home. Perhaps more important, in April, Fischer stated that Romney's Mormon faith "should be an issue" in the 2012 election. Might Fischer raise this "issue" at the Value Voters summit.
Republican candidates have consistently played political footsie with Fischer, despite his extremism. Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain have all appeared on Fischer's radio program, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry co-hosted a prayer rally in Houston in August with Fischer's organization, the American Family Assocation. Romney's appearance at the Values Voters Summit might help him court social conservative voters who play an outsized role in Republican primaries. But the appearance is a reminder that even a prominent Republican who has tried to stay clear of fringe right-wing conspiracy theories like those peddled by Fischer cannot succeed within the GOP without hobnobbing with extremists.
Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will also be speaking at the event.
Update: Right Wing Watch digs up audio in which Fischer states that Mormons aren't guaranteed First Amendment rights, because they're not real Christians.
When we last heard from Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming Senator and GOP co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission was railing against today's disrespectful youths, "walking on their pants with their caps on backwards listening to the Enema Man and Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dog." All of which make the calls for him to run for president as inevitable as they are inexplicable.
It began over the summer, when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said at the Aspen Ideas Festival that "If Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles want to run as president and vice president, I will vote for them." Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer reprised the idea in an interview with Simpson on CNN a few days later. For folks like Friedman, who pride themselves on the boldness of their ideas in the face of a crippling status quo (accurate or not), Simpson is a tantalizing choice.
And now, with Republicans still freaking out about their choices for President and Friedman still pining for some sort of third-party savior capable of making tough choices and magically transcending checks and balances, the calls for a Simpson candidacy have picked up again (even though he's not running). It's not a Chris Christie-sized surge, but it’s loud enough that, for instance, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto is hosting a segment on Simpson’s presidential prospects tonight. Then there's this website, which produced the following mix tape:
Simpson is a pro-choice Republican who opposed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and doesn't actually seem to understand how Social Security works—despite making it a signature issue. He is also, reportedly, old. But maybe this is his year.