Political MoJo

Arizona Executioners Had To Use 15 Doses of Lethal Drugs Before Inmate Finally Died

| Sat Aug. 2, 2014 6:30 AM EDT

Documents released Friday afternoon in the case of Arizona's  botched execution of Joseph Wood—who gasped for air and struggled, according to witnesses, repeatedly during the two-hour process—show that  executioners used 15 separate doses of a new drug cocktail before Wood finally died. Lawyers had warned that the combination of 50 milligrams hydromorphone (a pain killer) and 50 milligrams of midazolam (a sedative) was rife with potential problems. (The state also has a long history of failing to follow its own protocol.) The documents suggest they were right.

"Instead of the one dose as required under the protocol, ADC injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, resulting in the most prolonged execution in recent memory," said Dale Baich, Wood's lawyer. "This is why an independent investigation by a non-governmental authority is necessary.”

Ohio  used a similar drug cocktail in January to execute Dennis McGuire, who gasped and snorted for 25 minutes before finally succumbing, the longest execution in Ohio history. Arizona apparently increased the dosage of midazolam from what Ohio had used, but it doesn't seem to have gotten any better results.

When officials in Ohio and elsewhere first expressed their intent to experiment with the midazolam/hydromorphone combination, experts predicted, as Mother Jones' Molly Redden reported, that little was known about how the new drug combinations would work in executions. She wrote:

Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who has written extensively on the death penalty, says effects of a hydromorphone overdose include an extreme burning sensation, seizures, hallucination, panic attacks, vomiting, and muscle pain or spasms. [David Waisel, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School], who has testified extensively on capital-punishment methods, adds that a hydromorphone overdose could result in soft tissue collapse—the same phenomenon that causes sleep apnea patients to jerk awake—that an inmate who had been paralyzed would be unable to clear by jerking or coughing. Instead, he could feel as though he were choking to death.

Because hydromorphone is not designed to kill a person, Groner says, there are no clinical guidelines for how to give a lethal overdose. "You're basically relying on the toxic side effects to kill people while guessing at what levels that occurs," he explains.

The new Arizona documents suggest that these assessments were dead on.

State officials are using new drug combinations because pharmaceutical companies have been refusing to sell or export the drugs traditionally used in executions. The US has seen a shortage of those drugs for several years now, and death penalty states have gone to increasingly desperate measures to kill their condemned, everything from illegally importing the old drugs to buying them from dubious compounding pharmacies. Arizona illustrated the latest gambit—using new combinations of other available drugs, something critics have called an unethical human experiment.

States have also gone to great lengths to hide information about the drugs they're using in executions and how they're getting them. In Arizona, Wood was just the latest of many death row inmates who have tried and failed to force states to be more transparent. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Wood in late July and agreed that he had a right to know how he was going to die. But the US Supreme Court overruled that decision and allowed the execution to go forward.

 

 

 

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Obama: "We Tortured Some Folks"

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 4:58 PM EDT

On Friday, President Obama said that some of the things the United States did after 9/11 were indeed acts of torture. National Journal has the full quote:

Obama also addressed post-9/11 America in remarks about the Central Intelligence Agency. "We tortured some folks," he said. "We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this."

This isn't the first time Obama has said that the US tortured people but the usage of "folks" immediately set tongues wagging. Presumably it's because "folks" is far more humanizing than "detainees" or "enemy combatants".  The US did torture people (real flesh-and-blood human people) after 9/11, and it's good that Obama says so—even if he was just trying to get off the topic of his CIA admitting to spying on Congress.

For a long time it was incredibly controversial to call "enhanced interrogation" torture. It's a sign of progress that no one batted an eye at the "torture" bit and instead focused on the "folks" part. To their credit, even conservatives have come around to using the dreaded T word. Just kidding. Conservatives are freaking out:

Barack Obama is an inexperienced "celebrity" community organizer/campaigner-in-chief who won't stop apologizing for America and was only elected president because of The Decemberists.

Feds Say Big Banks Are Still Too Big to Fail

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 8:06 PM EDT

Six years after the financial crisis, the largest US banks are likely still too-big-to-fail, according to a study released Thursday afternoon by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). That means that these massive financial institutions are still so important to the wider financial system that they can expect the government to bail them out again if they are close to collapse.

Even though the GAO study found that this advantage banks enjoy dropped off significantly in 2013, "this is a continuing issue," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has introduced legislation aimed at ending bank bailouts, told Bloomberg Thursday. "Too-big-to-fail is not dead and gone at all. It exists."

During the financial crisis, the government forked out $700 billion to bail out the nation's biggest banks. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act imposed new requirements on Wall Street designed to prevent this from happening again. The law gave federal Wall Street regulators more authority to dismantle failing financial institutions, mandated that banks hold more emergency funds on hand, and required banks to submit to yearly stress tests to ensure that they can withstand another crisis.

How effective these measures have been in ending too-big-to-fail is still an open question, and subject to heated debate in the halls of Congress. Other reports have found that even after Dodd-Frank, big banks still enjoy a huge advantage over smaller, community banks in terms of lower borrowing rates, thanks largely to the perception that they can't fail. Many investors believe the government will still bail out large, systemically important banks if they are again faced with collapse, whereas the economy can afford to lose a local bank or two. As a result, the biggest US banks benefited from a $70 billion too-big-to-fail subsidy in 2012, according to a March report by the International Monetary Fund.

Sen. Vitter, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and John McCain (D-Ariz.) have introduced legislation that attempts to truly end big bank bailouts by forcing banks to hold larger emergency reserves and shrinking the size of massive Wall Street firms.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 31, 2014

Thu Jul. 31, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

US Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division participate in a training mission in Florida. (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway.)

The Feds Are Demanding That Twitter Turn Over More User Info Than Ever

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 11:54 AM EDT

US law enforcement and intelligence agencies are hitting Twitter with more information requests about its users than ever before, and in most cases the social network is handing over some data, according to a new report released by the company on Thursday. Twitter notes that many of the government demands, which are typically related to criminal investigations, are originating from California, New York, and Virginia. They're coming from federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence officials, a Twitter spokesman says.

Like several other tech companies, Twitter releases transparency reports disclosing information about the government requests for user data it has received. According to the latest report, between January 1 and June 30, Twitter received just over 2,000 requests for information covering about 3,100 Twitter accounts from authorities in 54 countries, with about 1,250 of those requests coming from US agencies. That's a sharp increase from the previous six months, when there were about 1,400 requests, around 830 of those from the US. According to the Twitter spokesman, US authorities have placed more information requests over the last six months than the company has ever received in a similar timeframe.

While Twitter granted zero requests to some countries that requested information recently, such as Turkey, Venezuela, and Pakistan, the social network handed over at least some information in 72 percent of the cases when US authorities requested it.

While the social network can report a tally of law enforcement-related requests, the social network is barred by the US government from publishing the specific number of national security-related requests—such as national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders—it has received. Twitter notes that it met with the FBI and the Justice Department earlier this year to push for more transparency.

Gaza Conflict Divides Congressional Progressives

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 9:22 AM EDT
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), left, and Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) survey the rubble of the American International School in Gaza in 2009.

With the war in Gaza continuing without an end in sight, congressional leaders are rallying to condemn Hamas rocket attacks and support Israel. But members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have been divided over the conflict, with some commending Israel's military for its use of precision weapons and others outraged by the conflict’s mounting Palestinian civilian causalities. 

The division was clear on July 29 when caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who has visited Gaza three times since 2009 and previously condemned the Israeli blockade of Gaza, published an op-ed in the Washington Post that highlighted recent Palestinian civilian casualties—including four children who were "blown up on a beach" by an Israeli attack. He noted that most Gaza residents "aren't rocket shooters or combatants. For the past several years they have lived in dreadful isolation. The status quo for ordinary Gazans is a continuation of no jobs and no freedom." Ellison again called for an end to Israel's blockade and urged Hamas to give up its rockets: "There is no military solution to this conflict. The status quo brings only continued pain, suffering and war."  

Yet this is not the consensus view within the 65-member Progressive Caucus that Ellison co-leads. In recent weeks, other caucus members have focused on the rocket attacks launched against Israel and lent their support to its aggressive military reaction.

Toward the start of Israel's air campaign in Gaza, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a stalwart liberal representing Manhattan's Upper West Side, issued a statement condemning Gaza's rocket attacks and calling for the public to support Israel "to take whatever measure she deems necessary to defend the population against the attempted murder by these terrorists." Nadler attended a rally in front of New York's city hall with other prominent New York Democrats to express support for Israel's actions in Gaza. Two days later, on July 16, caucus member Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) issued a statement with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) calling for solidarity with Israel.

"Israel has gone far beyond what we have seen any other country do trying to protect the civilian population of its enemy," Nadler said. Frankel and Deutch similarly praised the Israeli military for using "pinpoint technology to minimize any collateral damage." So far more than 800 Palestinian civilians, including 232 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza as of July 30.

Last week, Progressive Caucus member Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a psychiatrist by training, condemned Israel’s attacks on hospitals. "The proximity of military targets or the suspicion of hidden weapons and militants is an invalid excuse in the targeting of a hospital or ambulance," he said in a statement.

"You should not be put in danger in a medical situation by someone alleging that there's some reason they should attack a hospital or doctor," he tells Mother Jones

On July 18, Ellison and five other representatives—all progressive caucus members—signed a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry calling for the White House and the State Department to "redouble your efforts" to press for a cease fire in Gaza. Contrast that to 2009, when 54 House Democrats signed a letter drafted by Ellison and McDermott urging the president "to work for tangible improvements to the humanitarian concerns" in Gaza. 

As for Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-chairs the caucus with Ellison, he has not said much publicly about the current war in Gaza. Although he signed the 2009 letter, he did not lend his name to the July 18 call for a cease fire. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

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Watch: UN Agency Spokesman Breaks Down In Tears While Talking About Gaza School Bombing

| Wed Jul. 30, 2014 9:07 PM EDT
Women mourn after an attack on a UN-run school in Gaza July 24.

United Nations Relief Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness has been talking to media outlets around the world about the situation in Gaza, "advocating passionately," as he puts it, "for Palestine refugees to enjoy all their rights to the full, including the right to a just and durable solution." Gunness' agency runs schools in Gaza that are being used as shelters by Palestinian families and have been attacked six times in the current conflict (the Israeli military says it has found rockets in the schools on occasion). On Wednesday he was talking to an Al Jazeera interviewer about the most recent school bombing, which reportedly left 15 dead. "The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied, and it's appalling," he said before breaking into tears. Watch:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 30, 2014

Wed Jul. 30, 2014 1:17 PM EDT

The USS George Washington conducts flight operations east of Okinawa. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Beverly J. Lesonik.)

Fast-Food Workers Just Took McDonald’s Down a Notch

| Wed Jul. 30, 2014 12:55 PM EDT

On Tuesday evening, the federal government dealt a huge blow to McDonald’s, which has for over a year and a half been the target of worker protests and lawsuits over its low wages and questionable labor practices.

McDonald’s has long maintained that as a parent company, it cannot be held liable for the decisions individual franchises make about pay and working conditions. On Tuesday, the general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that this is nonsense, saying that the $5.6 billion company is indeed responsible for employment practices at its local franchises. That means that the company is no longer shielded from dozes of charges pending at regional NLRB offices around the country alleging illegal employment practices.

"McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there's no two ways about it," Micah Wissinger, an attorney who brought a case on behalf of New York City McDonald's workers said in a statement Tuesday. "The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple."

The Fast-Food Workers Committee along with the Service Employees International Union has filed numerous complaints against the company with the NLRB since November 2012. Most recently, workers filed seven class action lawsuits against McDonald’s corporate and its franchises in three states alleging wage theft. The NLRB consolidated all these complaints into the case it decided on Tuesday, which focused on whether McDonald's corporate can be considered as a "joint employer" along with the owner of the franchise.

Since the fall of 2012, fast-food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC franchises around the country have been striking to demand a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The strikes recently went global. Organizers say Tuesday's ruling will lend workers new momentum in their ongoing battle against the fast-food mega-chain.

Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open—For Now

| Tue Jul. 29, 2014 3:47 PM EDT

The last abortion clinic in Mississippi has been on the brink of closure for nearly two years. But the fight to shutter the Jackson Women's Health Organization may have ended Tuesday, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the strict anti-abortion measure that would have closed its doors forever.

The court fight to save the clinic began in 2012, after state lawmakers passed a bill requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—or else face criminal charges. Restrictive anti-abortion bills had already closed several clinics in the state, and, had the Fifth Circuit not ruled against the state, Mississippi was poised to become the first state since Roe v. Wade without a single abortion provider.

Attorneys for the Jackson Women's Health Organization argued that admitting privileges were unconstitutional and not medically necessary for the safety of its clients. (The clinic, after all, already had a patient-transfer agreement with a local hospital for rare cases in which a patient required hospitalization.) A federal judge was receptive to this argument and blocked the law from going into effect; in response, the state of Mississippi appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

Take a look inside Mississippi's last abortion clinic.

Amid the legal wrangling, the Jackson Women's Health Organization attempted to obtain admitting privileges to comply with the law. As Mother Jones has reported, all seven hospitals where the Jackson Women's Health Organization was eligible for admitting privileges turned the clinic down. This was partly because its providers travel to Mississippi from out of state, and partly because hospitals refused to be associated with abortion.

As Mother Jones reported in 2012:

The doctors' applications have been rejected by every hospital they've approached. Two hospitals wouldn't let them apply at all. Five others denied the applications for "administrative" reasons, before even completely reviewing the doctors' qualifications. Their rejection letters cited their policies regarding abortion and "concern about disruption to the hospital's business within the community." The clinic wrote follow-up letters to make sure the hospitals understood that the doctors were only seeking privileges to comply with the new law and wouldn't actually be providing abortions at the hospital, but no dice.

Abortion rights advocates feared that the Fifth Circuit would be hostile to such claims. A three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit upheld a very similar Texas law in March. Appeals courts in the Fourth and Eighth Circuits have also upheld admitting privilege laws.

But on Tuesday, the appeals court ruled, "Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state." It is not yet clear if the state will appeal to the US Supreme Court. But the decision—short of intervention from high court—means the clinic will remain open for the foreseeable future.