Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being Texas Governor Rick Perry Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry.

As I was driving home from work this evening, I was listening to my local Public Radio Station, KDLL (91.9 FM), and a story on National Public Radio's “All Things Considered” caught my attention.

Host Robert Siegel spoke about the February 2004 execution in Texas of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was found guilty of intentionally setting the 1991 house fire that killed his three children.

Siegel's guest, Dave Mann, is a journalist with the Texas Observer, and he has written a series of articles about Willingham's (and other) arson cases. Mann's knowledgeable discussion of this case with Siegel is what made me come home and do some investigation... and the more I did, the more appalled and outraged I became (yeah, somehow this case never popped up on my radar until now).

Unfortunately, so the reader grasps all this, I have to give you some background, so bear with me, I'm going to get wordy.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission is responsible for investigating claims of botched forensics.

As part of their duty, they've been examining arson two cases, Willingham and Willis (another case in which the conclusions reached by the investigators has been questioned).

Now, since the Willingham fire in 1991, forensic arson science has come a long way. A number of long-time accepted "proofs" of intentionally set fires are now recognized as little more than urban legends, and controlled experiments have proved commonly-held "folklore" assumptions (used by investigators in Willingham's case) to be flat-out wrong.

To make sure they got this review right, the Commission engaged the services of Craig Beyler, PhD, Chair of the International Association for Fire Safety Science, and an internationally recognized arson expert.

Beyler reviewed all the evidence in both cases - the forensic evidence, the arson investigators' knowledge, expertise and methods, the testimony given by the investigators and other witnesses, and on August 17, 2009, issued his 62-page report to the Commission.

Here is his conclusion:
The investigations of the Willis and Willingham fires did not comport with either the modern standard of care expressed by NFPA 921, or the standard of care expressed by fire investigation texts and papers in the period 1980–1992. The investigators had poor understandings of fire science and failed to acknowledge or apply the contemporaneous understanding of the limitations of fire indicators. Their methodologies did not comport with the scientific method or the process of elimination. A finding of arson could not be sustained based upon the standard of care expressed by NFPA 921, or the standard of care expressed by fire investigation texts and papers in the period 1980–1992. (emphasis mine)
Pretty damning.

But that wasn't the thrust of the NPR story.

The thrust of the story was that Governor Rick Perry (and there's no other way to describe it) abused his power to make sure that the Forensic Science Commisson would not hold a hearing on the report...

-- because it's become obvious that in 2004 (under Perry's "leadership"), the State of Texas executed an innocent man.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission was scheduled to meet tomorrow, October 2, to discuss the report and the Willingham case.

But that ain't gonna happen.

Today, Governor Perry fired three members of the Forensic Science Commission, including Chairman Sam Basset, an Austin based defense attorney.

Perry replaced Chairman Bassett with John Bradley, a district attorney who is famous for being "tough-on-crime"... and whose first official act was to immediately cancel tomorrow's hearing.

I used to think that Rick Perry was just a self-serving asshat... but that's really too kind a term to use to describe him.

David Mann writes more about this travesty, and the possible ramifications here.

Jon Stewart Explains How The Senate "Democratic Super Majority Ruthlessly Wields Their Power!"

I'm still mystified why it is that a late night comic is one of the few media voices calling bullshit on the spineless Democrats in the US Senate:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Democratic Super Majority
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Why would the Democratics want to appease the GOP, who will never give anything in return?

Perhaps someone out there can explain it to me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Former Governor Walter Hickel Gives Us Some Fatherly Advice

Former Governor Walter J. Hickel penned an OpEd piece which appears in today's Anchorage Daily News, entitled "Alaskans can rise above petty politics, hateful acts."

Bravo, Mr. Hickel.

During his long career, no matter what his stance on issues, and no matter what less-than-complimentary things one might say about him, even his detractors (and as a life-long Democrat, I fall into that category) have to grudgingly agree on this point:

Walter Hickel has always followed his conscience.

Just as Pinocchio had his Jiminy Cricket, Walter Hickel has always had his "Little Man."

When appointed in 1968 by President Richard Nixon to serve as Secretary of Interior (an appointment Mr. Hickel agonized about accepting, for it required him to step down as Alaska Governor), Wally didn't turn out to be quite the "plunder and pillage" pro-development voice many environmentalists expected him to be.

Listening to his "little man," Hickel supported strong liability laws concerning oil companies drilling offshore, and supported environmental standards on Alaska's rapidly developing oil industry.

As a populist (and perhaps because he was a populist with a conscience), Mr. Hickel confused and confounded the people in the White House at the time.

He saw his role as Secretary of the Interior as doing the best job he could do for the American people. By doing his best, Hickel surmised, he would help the Republican Party as well.

When that style conflicted with the political agenda of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew or the cadre of Republican henchman in the White House, they saw his actions as "disloyal."

It didn't take long. More and more, Wally Hickel was being frozen out of the Nixon White House, his access to the president that hired him cut off. The president was isolating himself more and more from those who might disagree with him, because any thing viewed as internal dissent would not be accepted, nevermind encouraged.

After the shooting death of four student demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in 1970, Mr. Hickel's "little man" took charge again.

Hickel wrote a letter critical of Nixon's Vietnam war policy, urging the president to listen to the voices of young people opposing the war. The contents of letter was leaked before the president saw it, and it didn't sit well with the White House.

The president subsequently created the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration within the Commerce Department, and created an independent Environmental Protection Administration. The creation of these agencies intentionally removed their mission from the purview of the Interior Secretary. The handwriting was on the wall.

Eventually, Hickel was called to the White House. After a half-hour or so conversation between Wally and the president, Mr. Hickel was shown the door.

True to what he told 60 Minutes: "If I go away, I'm going away with an arrow in my heart and not a bullet in my back," Mr. Hickel returned to Alaska, and eventually (like it or not) served a second term as governor.

(Side note to ex-governor Sarah Palin: Wally Hickel was a "maverick" when you were barely out of diapers. His willingness to take responsibility for his actions is a concept that's alien to you, I'm sure.)

Some of my liberal friends will criticize me for lauding Mr. Hickel.

Too bad.

In retrospect, Walter Hickel emerges as a progressive. Hell, compared to today's current crop of Republicans, he sounds like a "liberal."

Besides, when you're right, you're right.

In a time when the GOP is controlled by the right-wing fringe, hate speech is running rampant, and crazy people like Sarah Palin claim to speak for Alaskans (and the "real" America), 90-year old Governor Walter Hickel's is a voice that should be heeded.

By all of us.

h/t to Progressive Alaska for the photo.