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An undated file photo from the Arizona Department of Corrections shows inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was executed Wednesday. After the lethal injection process began, Wood reportedly remained alive for nearly two hours. (AP)

Arizona Execution Of Inmate Takes Nearly Two Hours

Jul 23, 2014

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Another U.S. execution has gone awry, as Arizona officials who were attempting to put inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood to death today instead watched him gasp and snort for more than an hour after the mix of lethal injection drugs was administered, Wood's attorney says.

Nearly two hours after the execution began at 1:52 p.m. local time Wednesday, Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m.

"Joe Wood is dead, but it took him two hours to die," said Troy Hayden of KSAZ-TV in Phoenix, who served as a witness. "And to watch a man lay there for an hour and 40 minutes gulping air, I can liken it to, if you catch a fish and throw it on the shore, the way the fish opens and closes its mouth."

The problems led Wood's federal public defender, Jon Sands, to file an emergency motion to stay the execution on the grounds that it violated his client's constitutional rights. Sands' motion called for reviving Woods, but the inmate died within an hour of the papers being filed.

The defense attorney's motion describes the execution:

"The Arizona Department of Corrections began the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III at 1:52 p.m. At 1:57 p.m ADC reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe. At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. At that time, staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive. This execution has violated Mr. Wood's Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment."

As we've reported in the past, executions in Ohio and Oklahoma have been widely criticized for using a new mixture of drugs that are being blamed for being less effective than the traditional drug that is now under a shortage in the U.S. In the Oklahoma case, an inmate died more than half an hour after the first of the drugs were administered.

Last month, death row inmates in Arizona and Oklahoma sued to stop those states from using combinations of lethal injection drugs that have been blamed for recent problems. They've also sought to require officials to disclose the "cocktail" mixture of the drugs they plan to use.

Controversies over execution methods have erupted as states struggle to find suitable alternatives to drugs that are now in short supply.

As the Two-Way has reported, "Legal pressures and concerns from European manufacturers have made traditional execution drugs unavailable to states. That has caused states to scramble — some say experiment — and try out new drug combinations."

As The Los Angeles Times reports, "Wood, 55, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the August 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend, Debra Dietz, and her father, Eugene Dietz, in Tucson."

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition reception in Washington in June. On Wednesday, he appeared at a Senate rules committee hearing to oppose a campaign finance bill proposed by Democrats. (Reuters/Landov)

Democrats Make New Bid To Require Donor Transparency

Jul 23, 2014

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Senate Democrats have rolled out this year's model of the DISCLOSE Act. Or, if you want to be more formal: the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act.

It's the third version of DISCLOSE since 2010. Broadly speaking, it would force donor disclosure on the big-money, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that are flourishing in post-Citizens United politics. Unlike almost all other players in an election campaign, 501(c)(4)s are not covered by the disclosure laws. Their donors are never publicly named.

A Senate rules committee hearing on DISCLOSE on Wednesday made one thing clear: Republicans despise the bill. Previous versions of DISCLOSE all failed due to united opposition by GOP lawmakers.

Chairing the hearing was Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats. He said political transparency is good for democracy, and compared the ads run by social welfare groups with debate at a New England town meeting.

"No one's allowed to speak in a Maine town meeting with a bag over their head," King said, calling the town meeting "the purest form of political speech in our country today."

"Who the speaker is, is part of the information" that voters and citizens use to evaluate political messages, he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't a member of the rules committee, but he came to bury the bill.

"Let me be blunt," he said. "This proposal is little more than a crude intimidation tactic masquerading as good government."

And that's the essential conflict. Liberals say the anti-corruption benefits of disclosure outweigh the free speech issues. They point out that the Supreme Court has agreed with that proposition, including a passage in the 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations to explicitly support and oppose candidates.

Conservatives argue that the anti-corruption argument doesn't apply because the money is raised by outside groups, not candidates. They say that disclosure can lead to reprisals against donors, but it's acceptable for contributions to candidate campaigns. The Citizens United decision only endorses disclosure rules already in effect, they argue.

On Wednesday, they also said too much disclosure would cause double-reporting of some activity and lead to less accurate data.

And, of course, each side accuses the other of playing partisan angles. Democrats say Republicans, who used to support disclosure over restrictions on political money, are simply protecting their wealthy benefactors. Republicans say Democrats are using the DISCLOSE Act to agitate liberal voters for November.

The 2014 version of DISCLOSE would apply to 501(c)(4) social welfare groups, 501(c)(6) business associations, corporations and labor unions. If one of those entities spent more than $50,000 a cycle on campaign politics, it would have to publicly identify donors who gave $10,000 or more.

In this election cycle, here's one practical, dollars-and-more-dollars example:

The social welfare group Americans for Prosperity, the most prominent element of the Koch brothers' political network, has been running attack ads all year against Democratic senators and Senate candidates. That costs AFP about $44 million.

A few of the ads actually ran late in 2013, so they wouldn't be affected by the DISCLOSE Act. But for all the other AFP ads, big donors would have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition reception in Washington in June. On Wednesday, he appeared at a Senate rules committee hearing to oppose a campaign finance bill proposed by Democrats. (Reuters/Landov)

Campaign Finance Transparency Bill Gets Chilly Reception In Senate

Jul 23, 2014

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A bill that would require transparency by nonprofit groups related to federal elections met with united opposition from Republicans Wednesday, at the first Senate hearing on what its supporters call the Disclose Act.

The legislation would require any politically active group that spends more than $10,000 to list its donors. It was introduced last month, with 52 senators listed as its sponsors or co-sponsors (including the chamber's two independents).

NPR's Peter Overby reports:

"Non-profit groups are now powerful players in elections. But the usual disclosure laws don't cover them.

"Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said political transparency is good for democracy.

"'No one's allowed to speak in a Maine town meeting with a bag over their head,' he said. 'Who the speaker is is part of the information, and that's the purest form of political speech in our country today.'"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said disclosure would chill donors' free speech.

"'Let me be blunt,' he said. 'This proposal is little more than a crude intimidation tactic masquerading as good government.'"

Since 2010, two other versions of the Disclose Act have failed."

In addition to the $10,000 threshold for disclosure, the legislation also seeks to widen the "election window" that affects when transparency rules apply. It would also add a rule targeting the use of third-party corporations to funnel money anonymously.

That's according to The Hill, which adds, "Since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, outside spending in federal elections has skyrocketed."

As Roll Call reports, Senate Democrats who are unhappy with recent Supreme Court rulings that have lifted many restrictions on political money are also considering a possible constitutional amendment on campaign spending.

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Investigators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have discovered cases of organic fraud abroad as well as in the U.S. In 2013, 19 farmers or food companies were fined a total of $87 million for misusing the organic label. (Rubberball/Corbi)

Can You Trust That Organic Label On Imported Food?

Jul 23, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Maybe you've wondered, while looking at the price tag on some organic produce, whether that label is telling the truth.

Peter Laufer, a writer and professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, doesn't just wonder. He's an outright skeptic, especially because the organic label seems to him like a license to raise prices. And also because those products are arriving through supply chains that stretch to far corners of the world.

The U.S. imports organic soybeans from China, spices from India, and dried fruits from Turkey. "It just screams to my perhaps prejudiced, cynical, journalist's mind: Is there anything wrong with this?" Laufer says. "This needs some checking."

Two products recently caught Laufer's attention when they showed up in his kitchen: a can of organic black beans from Bolivia and a bag of organic walnuts, which turned out to be rancid, labeled "Product of Kazakhstan."

Laufer's mental fraud alarm went off. "I've done a lot of work in the former Soviet bloc, and when you look at the 'corrupt-o-meter,' it doesn't get much worse than Kazakhstan," he says. Bolivia, he says, isn't much better.

So Laufer tried to find out exactly where those products came from. As he recounts in his new book, Organic: A Journalist's Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling, he interrogated store managers, distributors and the company that certified the beans as organic. He had a hard time getting answers, which made him even more suspicious. "It seems to me if everything is clean as a whistle, then you'd be proud to say where the food came from."

Laufer says that's the first reason to distrust organic food. The second is a conflict of interest that's built into the system, at least in the U.S.

The companies that inspect organic farmers and processors, and certify their products as organic "are paid by those that they certify," he says. "And there is competition among the 'certifiers.' So you can imagine, if the inspection is a little harsh, the company or the farm could say, 'Hey, there are other places I can do business with that wouldn't put me through this kind of rigor.' "

Laufer is convinced that organic fraud is common — but his book doesn't actually uncover much evidence of it.

The beans checked out. Laufer flew to Bolivia, had a nice conversation with the farmer who probably grew them, and came away convinced that those beans were organic.

The walnuts from Kazakhstan, on the other hand, remain a mystery. After that first rancid batch, Laufer never spied any more Kazakh walnuts in the store. The U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated and found no evidence of organic walnut production in Kazakhstan.

A Trader Joe's customer service representative told Laufer that the company buys walnuts from Kazakhstan when it runs out of organic walnuts from California. But a spokesman for the company tells NPR that Trader Joe's never got organic walnuts from Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan, yes. But not Kazakhstan.

In their response to Laufer, organic industry executives say that the word "organic" is far more trustworthy than most labels you see on groceries. Unlike "natural," for instance, it really means something.

Organic farmers have rules to follow, and third-party certifiers inspect their operations to make sure they're following the rules. Those certifiers also test a certain percentage of the product each year for illicit use of pesticides. Although certifiers are paid by the companies that they certify, their work is audited by the USDA.

"We have a covenant with our consumers that we have certification that can trace any product from the store shelf back to the field where it was grown," says George Kalogridis, an organic certification officer with Ecocert ICO, an organic certifier that's based in France and operates globally.

According to Kalogridis, many people are suspicious of organic imports because they don't realize how widely the ideas of organic farming have spread — and that those ideas didn't originate in the U.S. in the first place.

Kalogridis has firsthand experience with global organic production. About 30 years ago, he set up an organic produce business in Florida. When sales really took off, in the 1990s, he needed to find more suppliers. "We were, quite literally, running out of product," he says.

So he embarked on a search for more organic farmers, and found some in Mexico and Argentina. Organic missionaries, many of them from Europe — the birthplace of organic farming — had already been traveling the world, spreading the gospel of pesticide-free agriculture. Organic certifiers also were expanding internationally. Together, they provided the foundation for a global boom in international organic trade.

Kalogridis ended up supplying a hungry American market with organic imports of all kinds. "I went from handling half a dozen ingredients to almost 300 ingredients," he says. "People would say, 'Thank you for finding this; can you go find that?' "

USDA investigators have found cases of organic fraud, but they've discovered it here in the U.S., as well as abroad. There's little evidence that fraud is widespread, but USDA, which oversees the organic program, is now putting more resources into preventing it. The budget for the USDA's organic program was boosted by 40 percent this year, and a big chunk of that increase will be devoted to "compliance and enforcement."

In recent years, the USDA has been getting about 200 complaints each year about organic products that somebody suspects really aren't organic. Last year, 19 farmers or food companies were fined a total of $87 million for misusing the organic label.

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Squatters living at the Tower of David, an abandoned, unfinished skyscraper in Caracas, began to be evicted and relocated Tuesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Fall Of The Tower Of David: Squatters Leave Venezuela's Vertical Slum

by Camila Domonoske
Jul 23, 2014

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The half-finished structure nicknamed The Tower of David -- after its financier, David Brillembourg --  was home to thousands of illegal residents.The squatters had started business and built homes inside the building. Residents are packing up their belongings (and pets) and leaving voluntarily, although the AP notes that police in riot gear and soldiers with Kalashnikovs were standing nearby as the first of the residents left Tuesday.

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Venezuela's government began to evacuate a famous "vertical slum" in Caracas Tuesday, bringing an end to a self-made community that became famous for its apocalyptic image, symbolic overtones and appearance in the Showtime series Homeland.

The half-finished skyscraper, called the "Tower of David" for its financier, David Brillembourg, was abandoned during a banking crisis in the '90s, according to The Associated Press. Years later, with the encouragement of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, poor residents took over the building.

"By 2007, squatters had claimed everything from the parking garages to the rooftop helipad," the AP reports. "They rigged up electricity, opened up stores and barbershops, and created an internal management system."

The Tower is a complex symbol — of failed capitalism, anarchic dysfunction and self-built community, the wire service says. Twenty-eight floors of the 45-story structure are illegally occupied, complete with beauty parlors and day-care centers, says Reuters photographer Jorge Silva. "One could live here without ever having to go outside," Silva writes.

The building played a role in season three of Showtime's Homeland, in episodes where problem-plagued former Marine Nicholas Brody recovers from injuries — and develops an addiction to heroin — inside the tower. (The episode "The Tower of David" was actually filmed in Puerto Rico, and Venezuela called it a "distortion" of the nation, according to Foreign Policy.)

The New Yorker, which published a lengthy piece on the slum in 2013, wrote that Homeland's depiction was accurate on some points: The tower is indeed run by an ex-convict who keeps guards on duty, and in years past some of his rivals were thrown off the building.

But the real-life Tower of David is also seen as a refuge for its residents — not merely a den of violence. Reuters describes the building as "something of a model commune," saying corridors were polished, apartments were well-kept, and "work schedules, rules and admonitions plastered the walls."

Now Venezuela's government is saying the building is unsafe, reports the AP; children have fallen to their deaths from the structure. The residents of the tower are being relocated to the town of Cua, about 23 miles south of Caracas, where the government is providing them with apartments.

Residents will miss their easy access to public transportation, supermarkets and jobs, according to the AP. Reuters reported on some more sentimental regrets:

" 'Necessity brought me here, and the tower gave me a good home,' said Yuraima Parra, 27, cradling her baby daughter as soldiers loaded her possessions into a truck before dawn.

'I was here for seven years. I'm going to miss it, but it's time to move on.' ...

'The view was so beautiful,' mused caterer Robinson Alarcon, 34, who spent five years on the ninth floor and was leaving with his wife and three children on Tuesday."

The evacuation has gone peacefully so far, reports Reuters. It's not yet clear what will happen to the building.

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