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This Man Is Missing a Chunk of His Brain. The Missouri Supreme Court Says It's Okay to Execute Him.

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 2:26 PM EDT

Update: Cecil Clayton was executed at 9:21 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, March 17.

Cecil Clayton, a mentally ill Missouri man facing execution on Tuesday, was denied a crucial avenue to clemency this weekend: The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Clayton is competent to be executed. But he's missing one-fifth of his frontal lobe.

Clayton, 74, was sentenced to death in 1997 for murdering a police officer. Twenty-five years before that, he suffered a horrific accident that caused the removal of significant parts of his brain, transforming his brain chemistry and personality. His lawyers are aiming to secure him a stay of execution and a hearing to evaluate his competency to be executed, but Missouri law makes it highly difficult to do so after the trial.

In a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court found that Clayton's lawyers had not presented a sufficiently compelling case for the state to delay his execution and hold a hearing to evaluate his competency. The majority argued that though Clayton suffers from debilitating dementia, paranoia, schizophrenia, and a host of other conditions, "there is no evidence that he is not capable of understanding 'matters in extenuation, arguments for executive clemency, or reasons why the sentence should not be carried out.'"

In their dissent, the three judges in the minority wrote that Clayton's lawyers presented reasonable grounds that his "mental condition has deteriorated and he is intellectually disabled." They noted that he is "incompetent to be executed and…is entitled to a hearing at which his competence will be determined." And they contended that the "majority's decision to proceed with the execution at this time and in these circumstances violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment." 

A few options remain for Clayton. On Monday, Clayton's lawyers filed a petition to the US Supreme Court to stay the execution. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) also can stay the execution and order a competency hearing. Clayton is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection—a method his attorneys claim could cause him a "prolonged and excruciating" death—at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

 

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My Day

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

Heart test. Check. EKG. Check. Chest X-ray. Check. Complete spinal X-ray. Check. 20 vials of blood drawn. Check. All that's left is a lung test tomorrow and dropping off a stool sample. Then I get a week off before I visit City of Hope for an orientation and further instructions in preparation for the stem cell transplant in April. Progress!

Republicans Are Making Obama Popular Again

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

This isn't exactly Oprah levels of adulation or anything, but President Obama's Gallup approval ratings have been rising steadily ever since Republicans won the midterm elections last year. He's been bouncing around positive territory ever since the start of 2015, and today he clocks in at 48-47 percent approval.

Is this because the economy is picking up and people are just generally happier? Is it because his executive actions have made a favorable impression on the public? Is it because Republican incompetence makes him look good by comparison? Hard to say, but it certainly suggests that Democrats are pretty happy with him. As Ed Kilgore says:

Among Democrats, who are supposedly on the brink of a "struggle for the soul of the party," and ideologically riven between Elizabeth Warren "populists" and Obama/Clinton "centrists," Obama's approval rating stands at 81%. And looking deeper, he's at 86% among self-identified "liberal Democrats," 78% among "moderate Democrats," and yes, 67% among "conservative Democrats," such as they are....This is another example of isolated data being somewhat limited in value, but worth a couple of dozen Politico columns.

Yep. And I'll bet that once things get going, Hillary Clinton will poll about the same way.

Watch John Oliver Explain Why the NCAA Should Stop Exploiting Student Athletes and Pay Up

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 9:15 AM EDT

The National Collegiate Athletic Association reaps in nearly $1 billion a year in revenue, thanks to an annual onslaught of glitzy advertising campaigns and television deals. Coaches and top executives are paid in the millions, but student athletes return to their dorm rooms with nothing but an education for compensation, "the only currency more difficult to spent than Bitcoin," John Oliver noted last night.

With the start of March Madness on Tuesday, "Last Week Tonight" takes on this very issue, slamming the "illegal sweatshop" nature of the NCAA's non-pay scale. "There is nothing inherently wrong with a sporting tournament making huge amounts of money," Oliver said. "But there is something slightly troubling about a billion-dollar sports enterprise where the athletes are not paid a penny, because they aren't."

Nutritionist Group: Feed Your Kid Kraft "Cheese Product"

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Kraft can't call its individually wrapped, orange-colored slices "cheese," at least not precisely. Hell, it can't even use the phrase "pasteurized process cheese food," because the Food and Drug Administration requires products with that designation be made up of at least 51 percent real cheese. Instead, Kraft's American singles bear the appetizing appellation "pasteurized process cheese product," because in addition to cheese, they contain stuff like milk protein concentrate and whey protein concentrate.

Kraft Singles are the first product to earn the Kids Eat Right endorsement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

But the processed-food giant can proudly display the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' "Kids Eat Right" seal on the label of its iconic American Singles, reports the New York Times' Stephanie Strom. In fact, the plastic-wrapped slices are the first product to earn the Kids Eat Right endorsement, Strom adds.

That a bunch of professional nutritionists would hail imitation cheese as ideal kid food might seem weird—but not if you read this 2014 piece by my colleague Kiera Butler, who attended the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' California chapter. McDonald's catered the lunch, and the Corn Refiners Association—trade group of high-fructose corn syrup manufactures—ran a panel on the benefits of "Sweeteners in Schools," Butler reported. 

Then there's this 2013 report from the food industry lawyer and researcher Michele Simon, which documented the strong and ever-growing financial ties between the Academy and Big Food companies, including Kraft.

Marketing the singles directly to parents through the Kids Eat Right label may be part of the company's effort to revive the fortunes of its legacy brands. Last month, the company's new CEO, John Cahill, declared that 2014 was a "difficult and disappointing year," and announced the departure of the company's top execs for finance, marketing, and R&D.

In the end, though, slapping a kid's health label on such a highly processed food may do more to damage the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' brand than bolster Kraft's.

Seriously Exciting New Sounds From Brit Band Evans the Death

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Evans the Death
Expect Delays
Slumberland

If she'd been around four decades ago, Katherine Whitaker might have become a tender chanteuse in the tradition of Brit-folk greats Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) or Maddy Prior (Pentangle). But the other three members of London's Evans the Death have different ideas, matching her sweetly melancholy voice to rougher, unlikely textures, producing seriously exciting sounds.

"Terrified" and "Enabler" are grubby, rumbling rock and roll that turns profound unease into an exhilarating raveup, while "Don't Laugh at My Angry Face" captures the tortured howl of grunge without succumbing to tired '90s nostalgia. Even the jangly, more traditional title track boasts enough offbeat touches to feel fresh. While the band may take its name from the gravedigger in Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood," this stellar sophomore album is bursting with noisy vitality.

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Factlet of the Day: Mutual Funds Suck

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Jeff Sommer summarizes the results of actively managed mutual funds over the past five years:

If all of the managers of the 2,862 funds hadn’t bothered to try to pick stocks at all — if they had merely flipped coins — they would, as a group, probably have produced better numbers.

I am not an investment advisor, so do whatever you want to do. But if you're smart, you'll invest in a few low-fee index funds and then just leave them alone. That is the path of wisdom.

Ides of March Catblogging - 15 March 2015

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

Et tu, Hopper? A few days ago I featured Hilbert draped over my sister, so I figured that turnabout is fair play: here's Hopper draped over me to make up for the lack of normal Friday catblogging. Hopper is a Daddy's girl, and will sit on no one's lap but mine. Nor will she even do that very often. But once or twice a day she suddenly gets in the mood and plonks herself into the crook of my arm for an hour or so, purring loudly the whole time. Unlike the tubby Hilbert, Hopper weighs a svelte 11 pounds (up from nine when we first got her), so she's no trouble at all to handle. A relaxing time is had by all.

Chart of the Day: Even the Rich Think the Middle Class Is Getting Screwed

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 11:56 AM EDT

A couple of weeks ago Pew did a poll about government policies during the recession, but I've been too sick to blog about it. However, it's stayed safely in my Saved Stuff folder awaiting my recovery, so here it is today. It's really two charts. Here's the first one:

Nothing too surprising about this. Generally speaking, people think the government did a lot to help out banks (bingo!), large corporations, and the wealthy. The poor and the middle class pretty much got nada. Since any poll like this is going to be dominated by the sheer number of poor and middle class respondents compared to wealthy respondents, this is about what you'd expect.

But now take a look at this table:

That's amazing. Even those with high incomes agree that wealthy people benefited the most from government policies and that the poor and middle class got bupkis. Even Republicans largely agree that this has been the case.

This is Stockholm Syndrome writ large. Everyone—rich, poor, Republican, Democrat—agrees that in the wake of the greatest financial disaster since the Great Depression, the government mostly turned its largesse on banks, big corporations and the wealthy. Nonetheless, Republicans—the longtime party of banks, big corporations and the wealthy—have done increasingly well over the past six years. For an explanation, take your pick:

  • Most voters don't understand Republican economic priorities.
  • Most voters don't think Democrats would do any better.
  • Most voters think this is just the way the world works and there's no point voting based on economic promises in the first place.

Whatever the reason, only about 20 percent of middle-class voters think government policies benefit the middle class. The first party to figure this out and embrace it wholeheartedly has a huge electoral opportunity ahead of it. But first, they're going to have to ditch the rich. Can either of them ever do that?

Pi Day Health News

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

Well, a miracle happened. Last Monday, the 2nd, I fell off a deep cliff. For no apparent reason, I was sleeping very poorly and I spent entire days in a miasma of lethargy so great I was nearly debilitated. Twice things got so bad that I went to the ER.

Then, yesterday, suddenly I climbed back on the cliff. I woke up feeling perfectly normal. A little tired, perhaps, but that's normal for post-chemo recovery. In all other respects, I'm human again.

So what happened? Theory 1: We'll never know. Stuff happens for mysterious reasons. Theory 2: It was depression, and it eventually worked its way out of my system. Theory 3: My physician prescribed a different set of sleep meds on Thursday, and I slept better that night.

It's all very weird, and hopefully it will last. In another week or two the Effexor should kick in, and hopefully that will boost my mood (and improve my sleep) as well. The timing is welcome, since I have a busy few weeks of tests and procedures ahead of me.

So that's that. I'm still not in tip-top condition or anything, but I'm basically OK for the first time in two weeks. It's amazing.

POSTSCRIPT/BLEG: My new sleep meds work better than the old ones, but they still aren't ideal. My doctor mentioned the possibility of trying a med like Lunesta, which I gather is a time-release formulation. Does anyone with moderate-to-severe insomnia have any experience with this? Does it really keep you asleep for a full night? Any personal experiences welcome.