Blogs

Dying for a Lawyer: Life on Alabama's Death Row

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 4:08 PM EST

The nation's de facto death penalty moratorium continued last night when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened one hour before Alabama death row inmate James Callahan was scheduled to die. Since the high court decided to review lethal injection—the southern state's primary capital punishment method—in September, every scheduled execution has been stayed.

Along with Callahan, 194 people currently live on Alabama's death row—more than any other state per capita. But what makes the situation in Alabama most dire isn't the lethal injection protocol being weighed by the Court; it's the lack of adequate legal representation available to the condemned. More than half of Alabama's death row inmates had trial attorneys whose compensation for out-of-court hours was capped at $1000, giving lawyers a financial disincentive to prepare a zealous defense. Even worse, Alabama is one of only two states in the country that don't provide legal representation for capital post-conviction appeals. Death row inmates who are indigent (and most are), don't stand a chance for relief unless they're lucky enough to get pro bono representation from groups like Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Center for Human Rights. (Full disclosure: I worked at SCHR as an investigator.) So far five innocent people have been freed from Alabama's death row. Who knows how many remain because they lack a lawyer.

—Celia Perry

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama's Cool Artwork Doesn't Seem Like a Good Sign

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 3:30 PM EST

mojo-photo-obamaposter3.jpgI've already mentioned how Obama's got the best font of all the presidential contenders (and, thanks to an unusually lucid commenter, we now know it's called Gotham, a typeface featured in the great little documentary Helvetica), and now he's got some of the best posters of all time. First of all, anybody watching the Los Angeles debate between Obama and Clinton might have seen these, seemingly-homemade orange-and-black posters out front:

(photo at left from the LA Times, photo below from the NY Times)

Cindy for Speaker?

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 2:15 PM EST

A new, quasi-political party is aiming to form a "national coalition of peace candidates for U.S. House of Representatives" who will boot out Democrats and Republicans and then elect anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan as Speaker. Sound implausible? It is. But with Ralph Nader unveiling an exploratory website for yet another presidential bid this week, it's clear that third parties on the left see an opening: popular discontent with the inability of the Democratic Congress to end the war in Iraq. Don't expect many of these candidates to pull down more than a percent or two. Still, you have to wonder whether Nader or his acolytes would fare slightly better at the polls if Hillary Clinton--the Democratic bete noir of the radical anti-war movement--is the party's nominee for President. For more on this year's third party dynamic, check out my story on Sheehan's congressional race against Speaker Pelosi.

Ann Coulter Is Insane Over McCain, Supporting Hillary

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:39 PM EST

Conservative elites are having their world turned upside down. They hate John McCain with a passion and yet he's their best chance to keep the White House. What do they do?

The clip below is illustrative. Sean Hannity appears ready to swallow his long-time criticisms of McCain and vote for him in order to keep a Democrat out of the White House. Ann Coulter (I know, I know, we're not supposed to pay attention to Ann Coulter) appears ready to... vote for Hillary?

So Clinton is more conservative than McCain, lies less than McCain, and is smarter than McCain? Is this some calculated Coulterian plot to undercut Clinton's support? Whatever. I'm just interested in Ann Coulter's head exploding on national television. Give it a month and it may actually happen.

Update: Dennis Hastert is joining the chorus of conservative voices against McCain.

Who Is the Real Most Liberal Senator?

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:17 PM EST

So the National Journal's contention that Obama is most liberal member of the Senate has been pretty widely discredited across the internet. So who is the most liberal? A much more trustworthy rating system provides some answers here.

Something Strange Happened When Manila Banned Publicly Funded Contraception

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:59 PM EST

From Salon:

...choosing between contraception and food for their children, multiple pregnancies after being told it would be dangerous for them to have more children, unwanted pregnancies forcing families into extreme poverty, abstinence leading to troubled marriages and divorces, backroom abortions, maternal deaths from multiple pregnancies, abortion deaths... you name it.

And, by the way, a violation of the Philippine constitution and a coupla international treaties, since Manila's ultra-religious mayor has right to issue such a decree. While the lawsuit aimed to end the ban winds its way through the legal system, poor women, poor families, will just go paying the price for other's opinions and religious beliefs.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Blogging While Brown

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:43 PM EST

Someone forwarded me a link to a blog called Electronic Village which is tabulating rankings for black blogs. Somehow I qualify, even though it's the MoJo Blog (a 'problematic' they address). I offer this not because I'm on it but because it's a convenient way to figure out where to go looking for black blogs/topics of interest (there's a looong list of black blog links).

I can't vouch for quality (see below for mention of anti-Toni Morrison misogyny), or the quality of the organization itself, but their top 10 rankings for February 2008 are as follows:

U.S. National Guard and Reserves Face "Appalling" Shortfalls, Study Finds

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:36 PM EST

CGItemp20515120188137368.239.83.80-68.jpeg

The war in Afghanistan was the subject of three independent reports, all released yesterday. Buried by the resulting coverage, a fourth report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, also published Thursday, warns that our non-professional soldiers—the ones shouldering much of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan—are stretched to the breaking point.

Until Iraq, the Guard and Reserves were long considered a "backup" force, a sort of safety valve that could be pulled in the event of an emergency. But the occupation of Iraq (not to mention the hot-cold Afghan conflict), have fundamentally challenged the nature of what is expected from America's citizen soldiers. It's no longer the one weekend a month sort of deal it used to be. Rather, Guard and Reserve units have quickly evolved into crucial operational components of how the U.S. military projects power around the world. Trouble is, investment of personnel and resources remains stuck in an earlier time, and it's a disconnect that threatens the viability of the current U.S. force structure.

What to Read This Winter

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:18 PM EST

A la yesterday's post on the literature of campaign endorsements, today Slate is running a wonderfully enticing compendium of books recommended for our winter reading pleasure. They cover all genres, but, being a non-fiction nerd, this one caught my eye:

Texas Death Row by Bill Crawford, ed. When I cracked open Texas Death Row, I thought, oooh, I see, it's a catalog of all the folks who've been put to death there, not the kind of book you sit down and read cover-to-cover. Then, I sat down and read it cover-to-cover. Not only because I knew a few of the unfortunates who wound up "riding the needle" from my long-ago stint covering Texas prisons, but because it's impossible to turn away from this inch-by-inch indictment of a culture that would feed a man with a 7th-grade education enough food to kill him right before actually doing so, and call that justice. (And how could anyone choke down a last meal of "fifteen enchiladas, onion rings or fries, eight pieces of fried chicken, eight pieces of barbecue chicken, eight whole peppers, ten hard-shell tacos with plenty of meat, cheese, onions and sauce, four double-meat, double-cheese, double-bacon burgers, T-bone steak with A-1 sauce, and a pan of peach cobbler?" No idea, but nobody dies hungry in Huntsville.)
Bill Crawford's book contains no commentary, just basic biographical information about the 391 men and women executed in Texas in the last 25 years. On page after page you see person after person who never made it past the seventh or eighth grade, and crime after crime connected with drugs—so tell me again why you still hear Texans boo-hoo about that awful Ann Richards, making them fund schools and treatment programs? This should be required reading for anyone even thinking about uttering the words fair or deterrent or closure in connection with the death penalty. As this compilation of loss makes clear, most of these people weren't thinking much of anything when they threw their own and others' lives away.
As if we readers didn't already have too many titles we're trying to get to. The same strategy that works with crackheads works all too well with us; we know we shouldn't read all those reviews but, dammit, we're just too addicted. Need more temptation?

Dem Debate: A Cordial Twosome in Hollywood

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:05 AM EST

obama-clinton-happy250.jpg Tonight in Hollywood, with celebrities packing the seats of the historic Kodak Theater, anyone expecting a blockbuster debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was sorely disappointed. Neither made a bold play for the other's supporters. Neither took any chances. In general, both were civil, composed, and very impressive. One could argue that Obama won as a result, because he showed a national audience of newly attentive February 5 voters that he could match Hillary Clinton point for point. One could also argue that the calmness of the debate favored Clinton, who, as the frontrunner, avoided any incidents that could jeopardize her supremacy.

One could also argue the campaigns decided that, because the delegate count will be relatively close after February 5, they had no reason to go for broke and were content to leave the night as a wash.

There were moments, however, that rewarded close attention. Early in the debate, the candidates were asked a question about whether illegal immigrants take African American jobs. Obama, responding first, argued that there are systemic problems in the American economy that steal opportunities from minorities and the poor. To point to illegal immigrants is to make them a scapegoat. Clinton responded by pandering to downscale voters.