Whether you are for or against the death penalty, there's something about the lack of transparency in Tennessee's process that stinks.
Quite simply, if the state is going to be entrusted with the power to end a human life, it should do so in a way that doesn't inspire more questions than answers.
For example, where are the drugs that Tennessee executioners use coming from? In recent years, drugs in six states (including this one) were seized when it was found that they had been illegally imported from other countries.
States have sought to keep their new suppliers secret, reasoning that the companies might be harassed or otherwise influenced to shut off supplies if the public became aware of them.
Tennessee added an exemption in the Tennessee Open Records Act eight months ago in April to exempt from disclosure “an entity” directly involved in an execution.
Previously, the law allowed only for the names of people directly involved — such as those on the execution team — to be kept confidential.
The updated law explains that the entity could be one “involved in the procurement or provision of chemicals, equipment, supplies and other items for use in carrying out a sentence of death…”
The Tennessean reported in October that the Department of Correction had been waiting, in part, to get the confidentiality law in place before establishing its new lethal injection protocol that uses pentobarbital, common in animal euthanasia.
If the new one-drug protocol had been announced before the law change, it’s conceivable that a citizen might have requested information under the state’s open records act to successfully discover the drug supplier.
There is currently litigation over state secrecy laws in Arizona and Missouri working through the federal court system now.
If you are a death penalty supporter, laws like the one Tennessee enacted have the potential to introduce further delays into an already lengthy execution process. If you are a death penalty opponent, the state's statute raises the specter that drugs never intended for human application — or are expressly forbidden from being used in executions by their manufacturer — will be used to end lives, but we will never know because Tennessee is keeping it secret.
And as citizens, any time the state government mandates something be kept secret, we should be skeptical, if not alarmed.
(Full disclosure: I sit on the TCOG board)
If you guys didn't read Jim Ridley's awesome piece on the United States' first serial killers — the Harpe Brothers — go rectify that now.
This is as good a pinning down of the facts of the Harpes as we're likely to get until some historian with time and access to old archives spends a decade or so looking into it. But it's what happens when the elder brother/possible cousin dies and moves into legend that is the weirdest part of a really strange story.
Here's what happened to him when he died:
Once safely confined to the past tense, the severed head of Micajah Harpe was placed in a saddlebag (ruining the corn dinner that later shared the space) and nailed to a tree at the crossroads where the road from Henderson forks off toward Morganfield and Madisonville. "[The] rain-whitened skull grinned down at travelers for years," Jonathan Daniels writes. The body was left as carrion some 35 miles away in Muhlenberg County, two miles west of the Unity Baptist Church, near what is now known as Harpe's Hill.
And Barry Craig, in the Hidden History of Kentucky, tells us what happened to him after that.
There are enough Harp tales to last a hundred Halloweens. But no story is eerier than the one about a purported Webster County witch who supposedly swiped Harp's noggin to make a potion.
Yes, the story goes that the woman's nephew was sick, so she ground down Big Harpe's skull and gave it to the boy. Why this was supposed to cure him is unclear. Big Harpe wasn't a great friend to children, so there's no reason to think his spirit would work in favor of the boy. And Harpe wasn't, at least in what's come down to us, particularly known for being some great doctorer of people in life, which might make him good medicine in death.
But it seems fitting that a man who was a nightmare in life ended up with a nightmarish afterlife.
Well, Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) was supposed to talk to them as well. But then he found out — from some groups that called him out — that the SNC is on a list of "neo-confederates" and decided that he would not attend. “I found out they were the wrong kind of freedom group and cancelled when I researched them further,” Matheny said in an email.
Who is the Southern National Congress?
Our favorite blogging state senator, Stacey Campfield, lashed out at Pith's Jeff Woods over the weekend.
Woods posted last week on Pith that a local pizza place had canceled a Campfield-sponsored fundraiser, which the state senator evidently announced before asking if the place would host it. "After years of cruel jackassery in the legislature, tormenting gays and lesbians and children and women — just to mention a few population segments — state Sen. Stacey Campfield is having trouble finding a public place willing to host a fundraiser for his reelection campaign," Woods wrote.
Campfield took the criticism with the dignity you'd expect. Which is to say, he equated those who complained about the event with Nazis, compared Woods to Joseph Goebbels, and likened his failed pizza party to the horrors of Kristallnacht:
Not because it has something to do with me or my event, but because I see the parallels to what the NAZIs did to the stores frequented by Jews in the late 1930's. How the NAZI media leader, Goebbels cheered and called those who smashed windows "Heroes for the cause." Saying they were doing "Gods justice" to the Jews and those black listed businesses that support them. Thinking they were winning the day, changing minds through physical intimidation or by showing their willingness to use physical force and willingness to do destruction of any who dare oppose them.
Campfield's ability to go from zero to Nazi this quickly is breathtaking — this has got be a new Godwin's law record.
Since El Jefe is out hiking for the week and not able to respond, we feel obliged to point out that we have never seen Woods in a brown shirt, it's not "NAZI" it's "Nazi," and you really should go read the senator's hissy fit on his blog. It's special, even by Campfield standards.
Look, I'd really like to make fun of this, but in 1:30, I just memorized the Franklin police department's non-emergency number. I mean, it's no Empire jingle, but it's effective.
Just watch ...
Bonus points if you can name Jeff Carson's big pre-police force hit without looking. Answer is here.
The joint fundraiser at DeSano Pizza Bakery co-hosted by state Sen. Stacey Campfield and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey we told you about earlier this week?
DeSano Pizza Bakery doesn't know anything about it.
A manager at the midtown pizzeria, who says he personally deals with everyone who makes a reservation to use the restaurant, says no one from Campfield's office — or Ramsey's office, or anyone anywhere — has been in touch about the fundraiser.
"We're not hosting the event," he says, adding that the restaurant is completely "apolitical."
He also says he fielded several calls this morning about the event — which he hadn't heard anything about — and got online to find media reports about it.
Owner Scott DeSano gave this statement to Pith:
"We had no knowledge nor were we ever contacted about this event. We would never host any political event for either side, ever. All we want to do is try to make great pizza."
The real tragedy of a federal government shutdown is not that 800,000 people are out of a job. Or that Congress can't get its act together and pass a budget (YOU HAD ONE JOB). No, it's that there might be a holdup on getting a gun.
The Tennessee Firearms Association is, well, up in arms over Gov. Haslam's statement that permits could be held up if the federal government is shut down for any length of time.
But don't worry, the TFA says we don't even need to wait on federal background checks. The real problem here is the cancer that is the federal government.
The whole memo, after the jump ...
Yes, in the 21st century they still ban books. As a matter of fact, they ban pretty good ones, too, as the chuckleheads at the Randolph County (N.C.) School Board proved last week when they voted 5-2 to pull Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man from the shelves. (After much national uproar, they're reconsidering the ban.)
Invisible Man, Pith would remind you, won the National Book Award in 1953 and was named by the Library of Congress as one of the books that shaped America.
It's almost like they were trying to set up the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, which we are smack dab in the middle of.
In 2012, these were the 10 most challenged books:
The NRA chief was on Meet the Press yesterday and if you haven't watched, pull up a monitor and hit play. It's a corker.
Now, on the one hand, this is the position LaPierre has to take. His organization is funded by gun manufacturers and he absolutely cannot be in favor of fewer guns out there.
On the flip side, it takes brass balls to go on national television before all of the bodies are cold and say that the solution is "more good guys with guns." Yes, because we know how well that always turns out.
For more than a year, there has been a buzz around town about some analysis work that the U.K.-based Tribal Group had done in the course of a consulting contract with Metro Nashville Public Schools. From Andrea Zelinski's cover story:
What Tribal researchers heard from school administrators was that the centralized MNPS management was more an impediment to progress than an accelerant. Principals complained of "too many initiatives coming from the District" and said they "do not feel confident to abandon things that are not working well," according to a December 2011 Tribal Group report.
Based on these findings, Tribal recommended that MNPS grant more control to principals, giving them greater command and hence a larger stake in their schools' success. Principals "need to be left alone to focus on the improvement journey for their own particular schools," the report stated.
The district took the recommendations in stride, then asked Tribal to go deeper into the Central Office's role at the behest of Director of Schools Jesse Register. Of Tribal Group's four findings a year later, two pointed to the culture of the district office suffocating schools. The Central Office is too bureaucratic and doesn't effectively support continuous improvement, it found, while principals lack autonomy and there's no clearly defined accountability.
Getting to read those reports, which were funded with taxpayer dollars and subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act, however, proved hard to do. Informally and formally in 2012, The City Paper requested Tribal's reports assessing the central office. We weren't the only ones. As detailed in the story, requests by elected officials and others never produced all of the records from MNPS. A limited number of people saw only a few documents.
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