In a 1972 opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the death penalty should not "be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed." Thirty five years later his words still resonate.

Take lethal injection.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates how haphazardly the deadly cocktail is administered than yesterday's revelation in Tennessee. Turns out that the state, which has 102 prisoners on death row, doesn't have written guidelines listing the appropriate dosage amounts of the three chemicals used during executions. Instead, such details have been passed from prison guard to prison guard, through "oral tradition." Oral tradition? Are we suddenly talking about handing down the secret family recipe for apple pie? This is insane.

Tennessee's governor, Phil Bresdesen (a Dem) says he remains a steadfast "supporter of the death penalty", but admits that this is a "huge failing." And with four men scheduled to die within the next 90 days he has issued a moratorium on capital punishment, at least until May.

Tennessee's moratorium comes after similar developments in Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, California, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota and North Carolina.

Which state will be next?

-- Celia Perry

As Molly Ivins might write, Well, dang! Guv'ner Rick "Goodhair" Perry defied religious conservatives in the Texas legislature by signing an order requiring Texas schoolgirls to be vaccinated against HPV (that's warts, y'all—and the virus linked to cervical cancer). The Guv'ner is a card-carrying member of the religious right, so how can this be? Did he have a moment of reasonableness, plain and simple? Perhaps. Governor Goodhair compared the HPV vaccine to the polio vaccine, and called it "an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer."

But this is Texas, folks! They do not trust long words like "reasonableness."* They do trust big multinational corporations. In this case, that would be Merck, the maker of the new vaccine. Merck recently upped its spending on lobbying in Texas, partly through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country. Now let's play Connect the Dots: One of Merck's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff. Perry's current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government. Goodhair also pocketed $6,000 in campaign contributions from Merck's political action committee last cycle.

But who cares? Perry, unlike other state officials, put his money where his mouth is. He is requiring state health authorities to make the vaccine available free to girls 9 to 18 who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover vaccines. His order also requires Medicaid to offer the vaccine to women ages 19 to 21.

Yee-haw!


*Before you accuse your blogger of destructive stereotyping, you should know that I lived in Texas for 6 years.

Largest Student Protest of Global Warming Yet

About 75,000 students watched An Inconvenient Truth and protested global warming this week across North America, from the University of Saskatchewan, to Coral Reef Senior High in Miami, to Collin County Community College in Plano, Texas.

"It's the largest youth mobilization on climate, and one of the biggest coordinated youth actions of any kind in a long time," said Billy Parish, a Yale dropout whom we recently named "Student Activist of the Year."

Some highlights of Climate Week of Action on 500-something campuses:

  • Elementary school students in West Virginia delivered letters to Governor Joe Manchin, asking him to build them a new school because their current school sits right next to a coal power plant.
  • About 900 people showed up to see An Inconvenient Truth at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Billionaires for Coal, dressed in suits and top hats, handed out lumps of coal outside the Merrill Lynch headquarters to protest its investment in 11 coal power plants proposed in Texas.
  • Educational forums brought together students, professors, and professional activists, and students urged administrators to enact clean energy policies.
  • The week culminates in Northwest Climate Justice Summit in Seattle, attended by hundreds of students. See updates at itsgettinghotinhere.org.

For MoJo coverage of Exxon's suppression of An Inconvenient Truth see here, here, here, and here.

We've written in the past about the bizarre saga of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" and the National Science Teacher's Association. In late November of last year, the NSTA turned down 50,000 free copies of the movie, saying that it didn't accept materials from "special interests." In truth, the issue was too much special interest: the NSTA is supported big-time by Exxon, who does more than anyone to stifle action on global warming, and potentially irritating a sponsor was enough to scare the NSTA off.

Today, a study in contrast. The UK's Independent is reporting that under new curriculum rules set to be released Monday "education for sustainable development -- covering issues such as energy saving and recycling -- will be a compulsory part of the curriculum" for British schoolchildren. According to the Independent, starting next year 11- to 14-year-olds will learn about:


  • Climate change - the impact on pupils, the UK and the rest of world.
  • Children's responsibilities - whether to travel by aeroplane or buy food from the other side of the world, and the impact of purchasing a gas-guzzling car or buying new clothes or trainers.
  • The impact of the south Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
  • Sustainable development - the importance of recycling waste products and saving energy.
  • Global warming - impact of rising sea temperatures and melting ice caps.
  • Fieldwork projects - such as studying ways to regenerate east London during preparations for the 2012 Olympics.
  • Learning to examine individuals' carbon footprints, and what they can contribute in the fight to preserve the planet's resources.
  • Looks like the 13th tipping point is beginning.

    NIE Cliff Notes

    If you visited our News and Politics page today -- or just about any news outlet on the web -- you know that the latest National Intelligence Estimate is out. The NIE represents the best work and most solid info from the intelligence community, and is supposed to be created in a timely fashion whenever Congress or the White House asks. This NIE took about six months to create, fueling speculation -- well-founded, considering the hijinks that were involved in the production of the pre-war NIE -- that the delay was intended to give Bush time to make his decision on what to do with Iraq and then make his case to the American public.

    Taking a look at the declassified key judgments [PDF], it's impossible to miss how grim the thing is:

    Hollywood B Team in D.C.

    In the past week, Hollywood celebs have been spotted in Washington, D.C. discussing politics, the state of broadcast television, and the American constitution. No, they are not scientologists, but a group called the Creative Coalition, in town to meet with Congress to address issues of importance to the "creative community."

    Members include Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Wendie Malick (remember the show "Just Shoot Me"?), and Joe Pantoliano of "The Sopranos" (currently serving as co-president). The group's main advocacy issues are the protection of First Amendment rights, funding and support for arts in education, and the prevention of "runaway productions," films made for cheaper outside of the United States.

    Free speech and arts in schools are integral to building a strong culture, no doubt about it. But there is something about this coalition that reeks of that special designer brand of misplaced concern so easy to associate with Hollywood stars.

    This on the First Amendment from their website:

    In the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl 'wardrobe malfunction,' Congress has been considering the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 […] We believe the bill has potentially dangerous impacts on free speech—particularly for individuals.

    And just when you thought you would never see the words "wardrobe malfunction" in any serious context again. What about those "runaway productions"? If they were to prevent this getaway film making, I expect that many movie stars would revolt. This would mean missing out on parking their trailers at faraway beach paradises or enjoying the reputed free-love atmosphere of Vancouver, a.k.a. Hollywood North.

    --Caroline Dobuzinskis

    Which, ok if we mean: screwing a friend's/aide's/employee's wife (who is also your appointments secretary), fair enough, but...

    "The man code"?

    If you're late to this SF party—national implications here, baby, our fair (oh, so fair) Mayor Gavin Newsom was looking good as gov, even prez down the line—the deal is this:

    Fifteen months ago, Gavin Newsom, while getting a divorce from Court TV anchor wife Kimberly Guilfoyle (then) Newsom had an affair with the wife of his campaign manager, Alex Tourk. (Worth pointing out Kimberly was also cheating on Gavin at the time. Also worth noting Ruby Rippey-Tourk was his employee.) Tourk's wife recently told him as part of her 12-step mea culpa. Yesterday Tourk angrily confronts Gavin in what seems like was a fairly public place in City Hall, and resigns. Gavin gives ashen-faced press conference admitting Tourk's allegations are true. Which, evidently, everybody knew long before Tourk.

    My favorite moment in this thus far is the double whammy of:

    Tourk was architect and/or "make it happen" person behind Gavin's Care Not Cash (and its various iterations) homeless program. Which is a cornerstone of Gavin's play for higher office.

    Tourk—major fundraiser, deputy mayor, good friend, and guy whose wife is being schutpped—was only being paid $50,000 for the priviledge, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Ignore "the man factor." The thing that Gavin has to worry about is people like me, and all the other 30-40 something women in our office and around the city/state/country. We like Gavin. We think Gavin's cute. But we think Gavin has tacky-ass taste/judgement when it comes to women (and hair gel). Of late, before this latest scandal, there was the "dating the underage Sonoma County State Woman" (I might really get away with saying: Girl. Also catty of me, but: her name is Brittanie!). And before that there was the "dating the CSI spinoff Scientologist, I Didn't Know She Was a Scientologist, and Anyway There's Nothing Wrong With Their Position on Mental Health Care, and What Does that Have to Do With Homelessness, Anyway" blip.

    Gavin, baby, there are a whole bunch of relatively age-appropriate, french-tipped, strappy sandaled, overly streaked women in the Marina district. Who are single! I went to my first Marina party ever the other day, and honest to god, they were all talking about you. It shouldn't be that hard to steer clear of some obvious pitfalls.

    Because the thing is, deep down we, the less groomed women of this world, and other smart voters suspect this: You're probably just a frat boy. A frat boy whose progressive politics are an accident of geography. Such politics are what it takes to be popular in these parts. Hell, supporting gay marriage probably helped you get laid. Maybe a lot.

    And the more your actions indicate that this suspicion might be true, the less you play to us, your base, and others whom you claim not to be courting in a bid for statewide/national office but whom we all know that you are.

    So there. You want to go to DC, even 1600? You can be single. You can play the field. Just wise up. Just a little.

    And maybe get a dog.

    So, like all anniversary months or dates, Black History Month is, as a unit in time, fraught. A couple of years ago, Morgan Freeman made the all too apt criticism that the designation seemed petty, noting: "I don't want a Black history month. Black history is American history." I would argue the same is true for the even less well celebrated Women's History Month (March, didn't you know?) or Native American History Month (that'd be November), and on and on.

    I don't like the segmented approach to our history, of "celebrating" 12, 51, or what used to be 100 percent of the American population (and what will soon again be a majority--call them Hispanic if you like, or Native American, if you want to get into a real fight about genetics and identity). In part because I know, without a doubt, that I fall under most of these categories, and would assuredly fall into the others, were someone to run a DNA analysis. And so would you.

    That said, after a long court battle, Eyes on the Prize is being aired this week. I've seen it before, and most of the events covered happened before I was born. Still, it never fails to seize me up. Watch it. Rent it. To not know, really know, this part of our history smacks of the ignorance that has beset our country in whole new ways of late. To people under the age of 30, 20, or whatever, it might, if they just catch a glimpse of 30 seconds of B&W newreel seem really old, done, over. It isn't.

    On a related note: It kinda depresses me that smart youngish people seem to be largely ignorant of Terry Southern's work, including "Twirling at Ole Miss"—that'd be the school that James Meredith fought to integrate— a great, weird essay on segregation, and his screenwriting on "Dr. Strangelove" and so forth. Read up people. Here's a link to get you started.

    A new study shows that women who experience spouse or partner abuse have much higher health care costs and utilize more health care services than women who have no history of such violence. Years after abuse stops, these women continue to use the health care system more and to incur higher costs.

    The abuse discussed in the study includes not only overt physical abuse, but also threats, controlling behavior and verbal abuse. Of the 3,333 women, aged 18 to 64, those who had been abused had 19% higher annual health care costs than other women. This group also had17% more primary health care visits, 14% more specialist visits, and 27% more prescription refills.

    Who Can Be "One Less"?

    It's a little shocking to see television ads for the new vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. References to human sexuality have been frowned upon for so long that seeing young, healthy, all-American girls promoting a vaccine against an STD is a bit of a shocker. In a good way.

    The ads follow Merck's recent release of a vaccine against HPV. The virus is easy to catch, even with condom use, and is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. But the ads don't mention that the vaccine costs $360, and that low-income women face the greatest threat of cervical cancer because they don't get regular Pap smears. (Cervical cancer is very treatable if caught early.)

    As states debate making vaccination against HPV mandatory for public school students, former Mother Joneser Ann Friedman, now at the American Prospect, makes the point that funding should accompany any vaccine requirements.