Political MoJo

News Organizations Sue Missouri to Reveal the Contents of Its Execution Drugs

| Thu May 15, 2014 1:49 PM EDT
A gurney in the death chamber in Huntsville, Texas.

The Guardian, AP, and three local newspapers are wading into the death penalty fray with a lawsuit challenging the secrecy surrounding lethal injections in Missouri—one of more than a dozen states that have begun hiding information about their execution drugs. In a complaint filed Thursday morning with the Cole County circuit court, the news organizations argue that the secrecy violates the public's First Amendment right to know how the condemned are being killed. The document specifically references the case of Clayton Lockett, the death row inmate who writhed and moaned in apparent agony after being injected with a secretly acquired drug combinations last month.

Prior to the execution, Lockett—who took a record 43 minutes to die—had argued that withholding the source and contents of execution drugs was unconstitutional because the untested combination could create a level of suffering that violates the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Other death row prisoners have sued to block their executions on similar grounds, but the new lawsuit appears to be the first to challenge the lack of transparency based on the First Amendment right of access. Below is a snippet from the Guardian's story on the case:

A Guardian survey has identified at least 13 states that have changed their rules to withhold from the public all information relating to how they get hold of lethal drugs. They include several of the most active death penalty states including Texas, which has executed seven prisoners so far this year, Florida (five), Missouri (four) and Oklahoma (three).

Attention has been drawn to the secrecy issue by the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on 29 April....Lockett’s lawyers had argued in advance that he might be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the lack of information surrounding the drugs, but the state supreme court allowed the procedure to go ahead having come under intense pressure from local politicians, some of whom threatened to impeach judges.

In the wake of the events in Oklahoma, in which the prisoner writhed and groaned over a prolonged period, the state has agreed to pause for six months before carrying out any further judicial killings to give time for an internal investigation to be completed. President Obama described the Lockett execution "deeply troubling" and has asked US attorney general Eric Holder to review the way the death penalty is conducted.

Until last year, Missouri which is now executing prisoners at a rate of one a month, was open about where it obtained its lethal injection chemicals. But like many death penalty states, its drug supplies have dwindled as a result of a European-led pharmaceutical boycott, and in a desperate move to try to find new suppliers it has shrouded their identity in secrecy.

In October, the state changed its so-called "black hood law" that had historically been used to guard the identity of those directly involved in the death process. The department of corrections expanded the definition of its execution team to include pharmacies and "individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure."

Since the law was changed, Missouri has put six prisoners to death using what the suit calls "a secret drug formulation obtained from secret sources." Deborah Denno, an expert in executions at Fordham University law school, told the Guardian that the secrecy seems designed to cover up shortcomings in the system. "If states were doing things properly they wouldn't have a problem releasing information," she said. "They are imposing a veil of secrecy to hide incompetence."

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The Idaho GOP Gubernatorial Debate Was Total Chaos

| Thu May 15, 2014 11:38 AM EDT
What is even going on here?

Idaho Republican Gov. Butch Otter (no relation) is facing a primary challenge this year from Russ Fulcher, a conservative state senator. Idaho is a really conservative place and Otter has angered his party's base by supporting the Common Core math and English standards, so the incumbent isn't taking any chances. When it came time for Otter and Fulcher to debate, the governor insisted on opening up the floor. He argued that all candidates should be allowed on stage, which sounds nice and democratic in theory, but in practice meant that Fulcher had to split time with two people who will never be governor—also-rans Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

Even before Wednesday's debate started, Idaho Public Television announced that it would broadcast the event on a 30-second delay in anticipation of rampant cussin'. Brown—who wore his customary leather vest and leather hat, has the presidential seal tattooed on his shoulder, two cigars in his right breast pocket, and is missing several prominent teeth—used his closing argument to wave a signed certificate from a "Masai prophet" that confirmed that he would one day be president of the United States. Brown revealed that he supports gay marriage because as a cab driver in Boise he discovered that gay people "love each other more than I love my motorcycle." His closing argument was blunt: "You have your choice, folks: A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy. Take your pick… We're leaving it up to you."

Bayes, who has a beard that extends halfway down his ribcage and resembles a 19th-century gold prospector, also wanted to talk about Biblical prophecy, but mostly just abortion. His credentials for governor are that he once went to jail for homeschooling his 16 children, five of whom went on to become rodeo cowboys. "Everybody, thanks everybody, okay?," he said during his closing statements.

Most of all, he wanted to thank Gov. Otter: "Butch, I want to thank you for making it possible for me to be here tonight. He kind of insisted that me and this other un-normal person could be here tonight."

This exactly the kind of circus the United States tried to break away from:

 

Correction: This post misstated the components of the Common Core State Standards.

Fast-Food Strikes Go Global

| Thu May 15, 2014 10:58 AM EDT
A protester in Seoul, South Korea at a rally Thursday to demand higher wages for fast-food workers.

On Thursday, the fast-food strikes that have been spreading around the country are going global.

Workers at restaurants like Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, and KFC are walking off their jobs in 230 cities around the world to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Strikers will protest in 150 US cities, from New York to Los Angeles, and in 80 foreign cities, from Casablanca to Seoul to Brussels to Buenos Aires.

In Zurich, some protesters are wearing "sad hamburger costumes." In the Philippines, protestors staged a flash-mob at a Manila McDonald's during morning rush hour.

The wave of strikes—which began in November 2012, when hundreds of workers walked out of restaurants in New York City—has grown quickly over the past year and a half. The idea behind this coordinated international protest was not just to further raise the profile of the fast-food workers' movement. With labor unions declining in clout at home, organizers hope that the powerful international unions can help pressure US-based companies into making changes. Last week, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations—a labor federation composed of 396 trade unions that represent 12 million workers in 126 countries—held a summit in New York City where fast-food workers and union leaders finalized plans for the global strike.

The massive fast-food protests come a few weeks after a recent report on the industry by the left-leaning think tank Demos found that fast-food CEOs are paid a thousand times more than the average franchise worker, who makes about $8.69 an hour. Fast-food wages have dropped by 36 cents an hour since 2010. More than half of the families of fast-food workers rely on public programs like food stamps and Medicaid. (Check out our calculator to see if you could live on a fast-food wage.)

Though the industry has not yet raised wages by any significant amount, the strikes are having an effect. In a March filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force the company to raise wages this year. And as Salon's Josh Eidelson reported earlier this month, the National Restaurant Association, the industry trade group, is growing increasingly worried about the fast-food protests, closely monitoring social media for plans of future actions.

And while Congress is unlikely to raise the federal minimum wage any time soon to the $10.10 an hour wage President Obama proposed in his 2013 State of the Union speech, states are taking up the fight. Over the past year, seven states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wages, and 34 states are considering bumping up pay for their lowest-paid workers. In late April, the mayor of Seattle proposed a $15 minimum wage.

Scott DeFife, an executive vice president for the National Restaurant Association, dismisses the movement's potential. As he told the New York Times on Wednesday, "These are made-for-TV media moments—that’s pretty much it."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 15, 2014

Thu May 15, 2014 10:24 AM EDT

A team of Soldiers belonging to the 450th Engineer Company, the 350th Eng. Co., and the 374th Eng. Co., moves through concealing smoke to enter and clears a building as one of the evaluated exercises for Sapper Stakes at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 6. Sapper Stakes is a combined competition hosted by the 416th Theater Engineer Command and the 412th TEC to determine the best combat engineer team in the Army Reserve. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

12 Things Obama Used To Distract From Benghazi, According to Conservatives

| Wed May 14, 2014 3:29 PM EDT

Earlier this week, former tea party congressman Allen West contributed to the chorus of right-wingers accusing the Obama administration of using wily tricks to distract us from Benghazi. "Consider all the scandals facing the Obama administration, especially Benghazi and the Select Committee, which Rep. Nancy Pelosi referred to as a 'political stunt,'" West wrote in a blog post. "So what better time than right now, to create the straw man of Boko Haram, another distraction for which no real action will take place."

Cool story.

Here are all the things Obama has used, or deployed, to distract America from his #Benghazi cover-up, according to conservatives:

Even Big Bird was in on it. Just when you think you know someone...

John Oliver Explains Why He Attacked Mitch McConnell With an Old, Wrinkly Penis

| Tue May 13, 2014 6:02 PM EDT

On Sunday's episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver and his crew got... graphic.

During one of the segments, Oliver discussed the state of the American political attack ad, and argued that as more money floods into the system, the quality of the ads declines. He said that the only way attack ads could get any worse would be if they were shown on cable TV, which doesn't have to abide by network content standards. To demonstrate the point, the LWT crew made a pair of fake attack ads for the Kentucky Senate race between Alison Lundergan Grimes and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"For too long, politics in Washington have been dominated by old, white, wrinkled dicks," the narrator says in the fake anti-McConnell ad. "And no dick is older, whiter, or wrinklier than Mitch McConnell's."

And then viewers are treated to a shot of an old, wrinkled penis that is supposed to represent Mitch McConnell.

Watch:

Try unseeing that. You can't.

Anyway, I talked to Oliver on Tuesday to get the inside scoop on the humor and the horror that is his show's old, wrinkly attack ad. Here's an excerpt of our conversation:

MJ: Whose idea was it, if you recall, and whose penis did you use?

JO: Okay, those are two excellent questions. The first one, I'm not sure, and it might help to just [go with] collective responsibility. I don't want to go with a sort of "I am Spartacus" moment but I think plausible deniability might be useful at that point. The second is the much more interesting question. And that is that, of course, you do need to cast a penis. And to do that you have to be presented with a selection of penii—I don't know if that's the collective term. And so then what you're looking for—it's amazing—when you look at then you start judging them for the purpose, because you want something that is funny but not sad. Because, you know, a sad penis does not help the comedy. No, it makes you think about the person the penis is attached to. So really, you just want a representative old man penis. And I'm not sure that sentence...has ever been said out loud before...We got to one that we liked, and the owner of that penis was generous enough to model it for us.

MJ: How did you get to one you liked? Like, what is the process of "getting" penii?

JO: We went through photos. It was basically the penis version of a headshot.

MJ: So this was like models?

JO: Models, basically. And you go through and say, "This one's good, this one's good, let's get down to a short-list. Okay, it's between these three. Um. I like this one." And then what you do is you make a decision, you walk out of a room, and you stare out a window and question what the fuck you're doing with your life...That's basically how it goes.

MJ: I'm assuming you weren't in the room when they shot it?

JO: I actually wasn't because we were having to write...But apparently the man was very happy...I just came back and our editor, she had to live with that footage for a few days, but she did a fantastic job.

MJ: Has she recovered, psychologically?

JO: Yeah, she was very good. She's called Cori [McKenna], and she actually edited both the commercials...The other commercial was basically a chainsaw massacre in a mine involving a kitten, and I think she found that slightly less alarming to cut together than a sequence of beautiful tracking shots of an old man's junk.

So there you have it.

My full interview with Oliver with be featured on Friday's episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, so stay tuned.

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Nevada's GOP Stopped Opposing Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage. Here's What Happened Next.

| Tue May 13, 2014 4:27 PM EDT

Last month, the Nevada GOP voted to strip opposition to abortion and marriage equality out of its official party platform. This really shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone who'd been paying attention: Brian Sandoval, the state's Republican governor, is pro-choice and doesn't want the state to defend its same-sex marriage ban in federal court. And even Bob Cashell, the 74-year-old, Texas-born, former truck driver who serves as the mayor of staunchly conservative Reno now backs marriage equality.

Even so, a lot of Republicans in other states are freaking out.

"The Nevada GOP action to remove marriage and life from their platform is a disgrace," wrote Oklahoma Republican National Committee member Carolyn McLarty in a recent email to some 100 Republican National Committee delegates. "Both are direct attacks on God and family."

But so far, Nevada's GOP delegation stands by its decision. "Nevada is home to many diverse people, including a large LGBT population," Nevada Republican National Committeewoman Diana Orrock wrote in a letter released on Friday at the RNC's spring meeting in Memphis. "The GOP is by definition a party of inclusion not exclusion.… Excluding an entire group of American citizens based solely on their sexual preference towards the same gender is not only divisive but in the 21st century it is unacceptable."

Anyway, so much for the idea of hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention in Las Vegas. It sure would have been fun.

Will Rick Perry Execute A Mentally Disabled Man Tonight?

| Tue May 13, 2014 10:47 AM EDT
Texas Governor Rick Perry

Update (5:24 pm): The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed Robert Campbell's execution on the grounds that the new evidence of his intellectual disability was "more than sufficient" to warrant a closer look by the courts. His lawyer, Robert C. Owen, said in a statement, "Given the state’s own role in creating the regrettable circumstances that led to the Fifth Circuit’s decision today, the time is right for the State of Texas to let go of its efforts to execute Mr. Campbell, and resolve this case by reducing his sentence to life imprisonment. State officials should choose the path of resolution rather than pursuing months or years of further proceedings."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has presided over more executions than any other governor in American history. He's ignored pleas for clemency for people who committed crimes as juveniles, who were mentally disabled, or who were obvious victims of systemic racism. He even signed off on the execution of a likely innocent man. So the odds don't seem good for Robert Campbell, a man set to be executed in Texas tonight. This is despite the fact that new evidence has surfaced showing that the state withheld information documenting an intellectual disability that should make him ineligible for the death penalty.

Unlike Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma murderer whose botched execution last month has become a rallying cry for abolishing the death penalty, Campbell is actually something of a poster child for all that's wrong with capital punishment in this country. 

Four months after his 18th birthday, Campbell commit three armed car jackings. In one of those, a 20-year-old bank employee, Alexandra Rendon, was kidnapped at a gas station, sexually assaulted and shot to death. Campbell was quickly arrested, largely because he drove Rendon's car around his neighborhood, gave her coat to his mother and her jewelry to his girlfriend as gifts, and basically blabbed to everyone that he'd been involved in the crime. He wasn't alone during the commission of the crime. But his co-defendant, Leroy Lewis, was allowed to plead guilty and is already out on parole.

But Campbell, who is black, went to trial in 1992 in Houston during a time when prosecutors there were three times more likely to pursue a capital case against African-American men than against white men. He had an incompetent lawyer whose many missteps included failing to either investigate his case or to present evidence that would have mitigated his sentence, notably the fact that Campbell was mentally retarded. (This term generally isn't used anymore to describe people with intellectual disabilities—except with regard to the death penalty, where it has a specific definition in the law.)

More bad lawyering over the years, along with hostile Texas courts, left Campbell without many avenues to appeal, even though in 2002, the US Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally disabled. What's more, Campbell's lawyers only recently discovered that prosecutors and other state officials long had substantial evidence of his limited cognitive functioning—including school records and test results placing his IQ at 68—that should have spared him from the death penalty. Yet they failed to turn it over to defense counsel until just days before his scheduled execution. Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals nonetheless denied Campbell's request to stay the execution, despite clear concerns from several judges on the court that his claims of mental retardation were compelling and justified further review.

“It is an outrage that the State of Texas itself has worked to frustrate Mr. Campbell’s attempts to obtain any fair consideration of evidence of his intellectual disability,” said Robert C. Owen, an attorney for Mr. Campbell. “State officials affirmatively misled Mr. Campbell’s lawyers when they said they had no records of IQ testing of Mr. Campbell from his time on death row. That was a lie. They had such test results, and those results placed Mr. Campbell squarely in the range for a diagnosis of mental retardation. Mr. Campbell now faces execution as a direct result of such shameful gamesmanship.”

Campbell's attorneys have filed an emergency request for relief with the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where his odds also seem relatively slim. The Fifth Circuit is notoriously hostile to death penalty appeals. One of its judges, Edith Jones, is famous for reinstating a death sentence for a man whose lawyer slept through his trial. She has said publicly that the death penalty provides criminals with a "positive service" because it gives them an opportunity to get right with God right before the state kills them. She's also facing an unusual ethics complaint over allegedly racist remarks she made at a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania last year, where she reportedly claimed that blacks and Hispanics were predisposed to crime and "prone" to violence. Notably, too, she insisted that defendants who raise claims of mental retardation "abuse the system" and she criticized the Supreme Court's decision prohibiting the execution of the mentally disabled. (She's said that anyone who can plan a crime can't be mentally retarded.)

If Campbell can't make any headway with the Fifth Circuit, his next appeal goes to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who reviews emergency death penalty appeals for the Fifth Circuit and is on the record as opposing the ban on executing the mentally retarded. (He also objected to the ban on executing juveniles.) So Campbell's best hope, at least in the short run, is Perry, the three-term GOP governor with presidential aspirations. Perry has the authority to issue a 30-day stay of execution, and if the parole board recommends clemency, as Campbell's lawyers are requesting, he could commute Campbell's sentence to life in prison.

Execution politics aren't pretty. As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton left the campaign trail in 1992 to personally oversee the execution of a brain-damaged man, Ricky Ray Rector, and prove his tough-on-crime bona fides. Perry, though, has long and documented track record of executing hundreds of people already, and the politics of the death penalty have unexpectedly and quickly started to change. A vote for clemency isn't likely to affect Perry's future political prospects. In this case, it might even help them. He has a few hours more to decide.

 

 

Tim Geithner on Why Obama Passed Over Elizabeth Warren to Head the Consumer Protection Bureau

| Mon May 12, 2014 5:13 PM EDT

There is no love lost between Tim Geithner, the former US treasury secretary, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Geithner and Warren memorably clashed during hearings over the $700 billion bank bailout (Warren at the time chaired Congress' bailout watchdog panel), and many progressives believed that Geithner denied Warren her rightful place as the full-time director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In his new book, Stress Test, Geithner denies blocking Warren and describes his relationship with the progressive favorite as "complicated." He praises her "smart and innovative" ideas about consumer protection, which, over dinner in Washington with Warren, he discovers are "more market-oriented, incentive-based, and practical than her detractors realized." In the same breath, though, Geithner jabs Warren for running her bailout oversight hearings "like made-for-YouTube inquisitions [rather] than serious inquiries." (Geithner's not the only one to point out Warren's embrace of the viral video clip: Listen to BuzzFeed reporter John Stanton's comments in this MSNBC roundtable.)

So why did the Obama administration pass over Warren to run the new bureau? Geithner writes, "There was a lot to be said for making Warren the first CFPB director, but one consideration trumped all others: The Senate leadership told the White House there was no chance she could be confirmed." Warren's eventual gig—a presidentially-appointed acting director charged with getting the new bureau up and running—was Geithner's idea, he says:

[Chief of staff] Mark Patterson and I thought about options, and after a few discussions with Rahm, I proposed that we make Warren the acting director, with responsibility for building the new bureau, while we continued to look for alternative candidates. This would give her a chance to be the public face of consumer protection, which she was exceptionally good at, and the ability to recruit a team of people to the new bureau right away, which she wouldn't have been allowed to do if she had been in confirmation limbo.

What stands out in Geithner's retelling is the depth of President Obama's admiration for Warren, and how much Obama agonized over what to do with Warren and the consumer bureau. The bureau was, after all, her idea. Here's what Geithner writes:

The President was torn. Progressives were turning Warren into another whose-side-are-you-on litmus test. The head of the National Organization for Women publicly accused me of blocking Warren, calling me a classic Wall Street sexist. Valerie Jarrett, the President's confidante from Chicago, was pushing hard for Warren, too, and she was worried I would stand in the way. At a meeting with Rahm and Valerie, I told the group that if the President wanted to appoint Warren to run the CFPB, I wouldn't try to talk him out of it, but everyone in the room knew she had no chance of being confirmed. The president, who almost never called me at home, made an exception on this issue. It was really eating away at him. He had a huge amount of respect for Warren, but he didn't want an endless confirmation fight, and he was hesitant to nominate someone so divisive that it would undermine the agency's ability to get up and running, as well as its ability to build broader legitimacy beyond the left.

As soon as Warren got to the CFPB, she began trying to lure away Geithner's own staffers. "She was unapologetic when my team finally confronted her about it," he writes, "and you had to respect her determination to get things done."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 12, 2014

Mon May 12, 2014 10:01 AM EDT

Cpl. Justin R. Wiemer, a motor vehicle mechanic with I Marine Headquarters Group, climbs a hill during a regimental hike aboard Camp Pendleton, California, April 17, 2014. The Marines wore their flak jackets and carried weighted assault packs on the eight-mile conditioning hike. This hike was the second of a series in a series of conditioning events that aim to improve the Marines operational readiness and camaraderie. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray/Released)