TIME justice

Execution Gone Awry Prompts Concern Over Dubious Lethal-Injection Drugs

Arizona Execution Drugs
With the state prison in the background, about a dozen death-penalty opponents pray as they await the execution of Joseph Wood in Florence, Ariz., on July 23, 2014 Associated Press

Many states won't disclose how they obtain the chemicals used in lethal injections, bringing into question the constitutionality of recent executions

There are just over 3,000 prisoners on death row in the U.S., and 32 states where their execution remains a legal course of action. The decision to implement capital punishment in these states is generally accepted as constitutional, so long as its procedure is in line with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel-and-unusual punishment.

The execution of Arizona inmate Joseph R. Wood III on Wednesday took nearly two hours to complete, over much of which Wood “gasped and struggled to breathe,” according to a statement released by his defense team. Of the 26 state-sponsored executions committed in the U.S. so far this year, Wood’s was the third to seemingly go awry due to the use of largely experimental lethal chemicals, prompting outrage from those who cite these incidents as evidence that capital punishment is not constitutionally viable given the apparent suffering of its recipients.

“His two-hour struggle to death goes beyond cruel and unusual. It’s torment. It’s something you’d see in third-world and uncivilized societies,” Arizona state senator Ed Ableser told TIME on Wednesday night. “It’s embarrassing to see that our state once again is in the news for everything that is wrong that happens in our government.”

The execution should have lasted no more than 15 minutes; when it became clear to witnesses that Wood’s death would be prolonged, his attorneys unsuccessfully filed an emergency appeal to end the proceedings, the final of several attempts to save his life. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court had approved the execution after a lower court ruled that Arizona, in refusing to declare how it had obtained the lethal chemicals to be used in the injection, may have violated Wood’s First Amendment rights.

In Woods’ execution, the state used a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone — the same cocktail used by the state of Ohio in the execution of Dennis McGuire in January, in which the inmate floundered and wheezed on a gurney for nearly half an hour before the state pronounced him dead.

In a statement released after Wood’s death, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time” it took for the injection to kill him, and that she has instructed the state’s Department of Corrections to investigate the matter thoroughly.

It’s still not certain whether Woods indeed suffered pain — state officials have insisted that he was comatose throughout the process — but in any case, his prolonged death draws further attention to the efficacy of the lethal chemicals used for capital punishment in the U.S., one of the world’s last developed nations to still punish its worst criminals with death.

States have been struggling to devise new lethal chemicals to be used in capital punishment since 2011, when U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies ceased to manufacture and sell sodium thiopental, an anesthetic compound that has traditionally been essential to America’s execution cocktails. It has been a process of trial and error, of learning from mistakes. The mistakes are those execution attempts that do not transpire according to plan — typically marked by a death that comes more slowly and viscerally than anticipated.

In recent months, the hesitation of certain states to disclose information about the new chemicals has fueled a public skepticism over the exact physiological effects of these drugs on those to whom they’re administered.

“It’s time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement released after Wood’s death. “Instead of hiding lethal injection under layers of foolish secrecy, these states need to show us where the drugs are coming from. Until they can give assurances that the drugs will work as intended, they must stop future executions.”

Nearly a third of all executions involving the sedative used to kill Wood “have had extremely troubling problems,” according to a report released last month by the Death Penalty Information Center.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” defense attorney Dale Baich told the press. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

TIME Civil Rights

Cop in ‘Chokehold’ Death Had Civil Suits Filed Against Him

Vigil Held For Staten Island Man Who Died After Illegal Police Chokehold
Richard Watkins (5) attends a vigil for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The City of New York has already doled out a $30,000 settlement on Officer Daniel Pantaleo's behalf

New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, who allegedly used what has been termed a chokehold on the now deceased 43-year-old Eric Garner in Staten Island last week, previously had civil rights lawsuits brought against him over two separate incidents, the Staten Island Advance reports.

In the first suit, two men, Darren Collins and Tommy Rice — both in their forties and African-American — claim to have been publicly strip-searched by Pantaleo and a cadre of other officers two years ago, after Pantaleo said he saw crack cocaine and heroin on the backseat of their car. In the second, Rylawn Walker charged Pantaleo and another cop with falsely arresting him, then incarcerating him for a period of 24 hours.

The City of New York doled out a $30,000 settlement to the two plaintiffs in the first lawsuit. Walker’s remains open.

With video of Officer Pantaleo grappling with Garner going viral over the last week, the NYPD’s decision to strip the officer of his gun and assign him to desk duty for the time being has failed to quell public concern. While it remains unclear what role the hold may have played in Garner’s death, many New Yorkers, including activist-pastor Rev. Al Sharpton, are calling for greater accountability.

TIME Israel

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Flies to Israel, Dismissing Safety Fears

Israeli rescue and military personnel at the wreckage of a home in the town of Yehud, outside Tel Aviv, and near the Ben Gurion Airport, that was hit by a missile fired by Palestinian militants from inside the Gaza Strip, July 22, 2014.
Israeli rescue and military personnel at the wreckage of a home in the town of Yehud, outside Tel Aviv, and near the Ben Gurion Airport, that was hit by a missile fired by Palestinian militants from inside the Gaza Strip, July 22, 2014. Gideon Markowicz—EPA

Hamas rockets may be falling from the skies, but Israel, Bloomberg says, is "safe" and "a great place to visit”

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has flown to the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, CBS reports, thumbing his nose at the safety concerns that grounded most Israel-bound flights from the U.S. earlier in the day.

Bloomberg said he was not trying “to prove anything,” but wanted to show that Israel was “safe, and a great place to visit.” The trip is also a gesture of support for the Jewish state during its current offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Speaking before boarding a flight at New York City’s JFK airport, Bloomberg said, “Israel has a right to defend its people, and they’re doing exactly what they should be doing.”

Earlier Tuesday, a Palestinian rocket landed just a mile from Ben Gurion Airport, situated 20 km (12 miles) from Tel Aviv’s city center, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to place a 24-hour moratorium on flights by U.S. carriers to and from Israel. By that point, however, it was a mere formality: Delta Airlines United Airlines, and U.S. Airways, which collectively operate four flights from JFK and Newark Liberty International Airport each day, had already suspended their trips for the foreseeable future. Shortly before it was to touch down in Tel Aviv, a Delta flight from JFK carrying nearly 400 Israel-bound immigrants diverted to Paris, where it landed Tuesday evening.

The avowedly pro-Israel Bloomberg will fly El Al, the country’s flagship carrier, which also operates four routes to and from the U.S. and has no plans to cancel these trips. The carrier has not commented on either the supposed safety risks or the U.S. response to them, but considering its close relationship with the Israeli government — it was state-owned until 2003, and owes much of its success to some subtle protectionism — one assumes it would echo the sentiments emphatically stressed on Tuesday by the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: flying to Israel is safe; not flying to Israel is to concede victory to the enemy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Netanyahu on Tuesday evening regarding the intensifying turmoil in Gaza; Netanyahu, the U.S. State Department said, raised the issue of the flight ban, which the FAA will re-evaluate on Wednesday afternoon.

“The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said. “The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens.”

In a statement released by his office earlier in the day, Bloomberg called upon the FAA to lift its ban, describing Ben Gurion Airport as “the best protected … in the world” — a sentiment he’s not the first to share. Still, for many, the proven efficacy of Israel’s intricate missile protection system may not be enough to mitigate the still-raw memories of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, whose nearly 300 passengers and crew members died after a surface-to-air rocket, likely fired by pro-Moscow separatists in the Ukraine, struck the aircraft last week.

TIME NBA

Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer Meet for the First Time, Unproductively

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 29, 2014. Mario Anzuoni— Reuters

No progress was made on Ballmer's bid to buy the L.A. Clippers, but ESPN reports it was otherwise a "friendly conversation."

It was a private meeting between two men very recently and very publicly ushered from power: one the erstwhile leader of a once iconic tech company whose stock prices swiftly rebounded upon news of his resignation, the other the former owner of a basketball team whose departure from it only parenthetically had anything to do with basketball (in that his apparently racist vitriol was targeted at, well, people the color of some of his basketball players).

The latter, Donald Sterling, was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the remainder of his life after TMZ leaked a recording of some comments he made to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, concerning her friendship with black people. He’s consequently in the throes of selling the Los Angeles Clippers to the former, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from the company last year after thirteen tumultuous years at the helm, marked by the surge of the Apple Empire and the ultimate marking of his once-eminent firm as a brand that just wasn’t cool anymore. When all else fails, one supposes, buy a basketball team; Ballmer successfully made a bid of $2 billion to buy the Clippers within a month of the Sterling controversy.

The two men met at Sterling’s Beverly Hills home to negotiate the sale of the Clippers franchise together with Sterling’s wife Shelly. And while the crew reached no definitive settlement, ESPN reports that it was otherwise a perfectly pleasant conversation, considering Sterling’s notorious obstinacy on the matter.

It’s a trickier deal than just writing a check. Two years after Sterling bought the team in 1979, he granted co-ownership rights to Shelly, from whom he has been estranged since December 2012. Donald is banned from the NBA; Shelly is not. The NBA briefly considered snatching all license of ownership from the entire Sterling clan — their son-in-law, Eric Miller, has served as the Clippers’ “director of basketball administration” — but not before Shelly arranged the sale to Ballmer in late May. Donald condemned her actions, and a day later sued the NBA for $1 billion.

He’d drop the suit all of three days later, though he has since called his wife of 59 years a “pig.”

The warring couple met on Sunday to finally discuss business, two days before Shelly was to testify in the civil case between them over whether or not she was justified in her negotiations with Ballmer (she’ll be in court on Tuesday in Los Angeles). After a three hour conversation concerning all the tumult of the last few months — oh, to be a fly on that wall — the two invited Ballmer to come over the next day to further address the matter of the Clippers’ sale, which was supposed to have been finalized a week ago. It’s the first time the two men met in person to talk about the deal.

The NBA, meanwhile, twiddles its thumbs and waits. It’s widely assumed Ballmer will ultimately take the reins from the Sterlings, but if nothing’s certain by September 15, the league has the option to take matters into its own hands and sell the team itself, since the 2014-15 season will begin just six weeks later.

TIME movies

Over a Tepid Weekend at the Box Office, Room for Mediocrity to Thrive

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes led the box office for the second consecutive weekend. Twentieth Century Fox

Of the four highest-grossing films this weekend, two were about societal collapse, three were sequels, and only one earned respectable reviews

“Art,” Roger Ebert said in a speech on human empathy on a Colorado Public Television feature in 1994, “is the closest we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels.”

If that’s the case, then maybe it’s grimly logical that with Gaza on fire, and hundreds of families in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur mourning a wreck that still smoulders, the most popular films in American theaters this past weekend are stories of apocalyptic or near-apocalyptic crisis. Also, sequels.

The first is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the story of humankind felled by a manufactured virus and an army of chimps rendered sentient by the same virus seeking to fill the power void. For the second consecutive weekend, Dawn has seized the top position at the U.S. box office, having grossed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in international ticket sales since opening ten days ago. It’s a follow-up to the 2011 20th Century Fox film that revived the decades-old franchise; both movies have enjoyed a surprisingly warm embrace from critics.

Not drastically far behind in the numbers was The Purge: Anarchy, whose title is perhaps more fitting, or at least to the point, than that of the first film in the franchise. The plots of both deal with a utilitarian sort of lawlessness sometime in the nearish future, in which anyone can pretty much do anything — murder is popular — over a twelve hour period once a year in order to keep crime rates otherwise low. Tepid reviews of the sequel apparently notwithstanding, the film made just under $30 million in ticket sales after opening in U.S. theaters on Friday.

After that, things are more incongruous with the Ebert-empathy thesis: a Pixar movie — another sequel — and a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy about a leaked sex tape came in at third and fourth, respectively. Both have received mixed-to-plainly-negative feedback (Planes: Fire and Rescue holds a 44% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes; Sex Tape’s is twenty points lower).

It was, on the whole, a shoddy weekend for Hollywood, the New York Times reports, though of course the summer blockbuster season is still relatively young. We’ll get the fifth — fifth — installment in the predictably stalwart Step Up franchise in a few weeks. There’s a redux of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming out; given that (a) it’s a Michael Bay number and (b) Megan Fox is in it, we can rely on every adolescent male in the U.S. to help it at least break even.

TIME China

In China, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut Probe Expired-Meat Supply

Controversies over food safety are a fact of life in China

+ READ ARTICLE

Health officials have temporarily closed a Shanghai-based meat supplier after it was learned that the firm, which supplies products to major American fast-food restaurants throughout China, may have been selling expired chicken and beef.

Both McDonald’s and Yum! Brands — owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, with over 6,200 Chinese stores collectively — asked their restaurants on Sunday to abstain from selling meat provided by Shanghai Husi Food Co. after Dragon Television, a local news outfit, reported that the meat company’s employees were repackaging meat and extending its shelf life by a year. McDonald’s and Yum! have launched their own investigations.

Yum!’s sales have rebounded in recent months after a fit of bad publicity early last year, when a state television agency alleged that KFC — the largest restaurant chain in China — was selling chicken containing excessive amounts of antibiotics. Yum! insisted on the safety of its food and said it was working to improve its supply chain.

TIME Singapore

Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding

In an installment of Life With Archie first published in 2012, the franchise tackled the issue of gay marriage head on — by putting it on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter

A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.

The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)

As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.

Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.

“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”

In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).

Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.

Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.

TIME Syria

The Vast Majority of Syrians Are Opposed to an Islamic Caliphate

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

The data affirms the sentiments of some prominent Muslim leaders and academics in the region

The Islamist insurgents who have seized towns and cities across Iraq and Syria in recent weeks have not received the warmest of welcomes from their new charges. A survey conducted by a British polling group reveals that only 4% of Syrians support the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) group’s crusade for a pan-Arab Islamic caliphate — with one in three Syrians still backing the government of President Bashar Assad.

“This [research] is a unique insight into public opinion in Syria,” Johnny Heald, managing director of the polling firm, told Reuters. “They don’t believe the extremist groups best represent their views.”

The poll, conducted by local interviewing teams, spanned 12 of Syria’s 14 provinces.

The data affirms the sentiments of some prominent Muslim leaders and academics in the region, many of whom have recently spoken out against the struggle for an Islamist state spanning the Middle East as socially reckless and scripturally ill-informed.

“The Baghdadi caliphate is rejected by most mainstream Islamists because they feel it damages their cause to establish an Islamic system through peaceful means,” Farid Senzai, a professor of Middle East politics at Santa Clara University, told al-Jazeera on Monday.

[Reuters]

TIME South Korea

South Korean Ferry Was Operating Illicitly, State Report Says

Relatives of a missing passenger onboard the capsized Sewol ferry, looks at the sea while a Buddhist monk prays for the victims at a port in the rain in Jindo
Relatives of a missing passenger onboard the capsized Sewol ferry look at the sea while a Buddhist monk prays for the victims at a port in the rain, where family members wait for news from the search and rescue team on April 27, 2014. Kim Kyung Hoon—Reuters

The Sewol had earned an operating license by means of fraudulent documents, and carried twice the legal limit of cargo

The MV Sewol was operating under a license earned by fraudulent safety documents when it capsized off the South Korean coast in April, an incident that left 300 people — mostly high school students on a class trip — dead.

An interim report on the tragedy filed by South Korean state investigators failed to specify exactly how the Sewol deceived licensing officials, CNN reported, but the Audit and Inspection Board plans to penalize those agencies that failed to perform proper safety inspections aboard the ferry.

On its final voyage, the ferry’s cargo exceeded twice the legal limit and had not been properly secured onboard, contributing to the boat’s capsizing en route from the city of Incheon, near Seoul, to the island of Jeju.

The findings of this latest report do not bode well for the Sewol’s crew and owners, who face legal charges for negligent actions that prosecutors say both facilitated the sinking of the ferry and failed to prevent the death of most of those onboard.

Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the Sewol with four decades of maritime experience, has been charged with murder for fleeing the sinking vessel. The seafaring tradition of “going down with one’s ship” is, many legal experts have argued, in fact enshrined in South Korean and international law.

TIME China

How Transformers 4 Became the No. 1 Film in Chinese History

A 21-foot tall model of the Transformers character Optimus Prime is displayed on the red carpet before the world premiere of the film "Transformers: Age of Extinction" in Hong Kong
A model of the character Optimus Prime is displayed on the red carpet before the world premiere of Transformers: Age of Extinction in Hong Kong on June 19, 2014 Siu Chiu—Reuters

It's not as simple as a national appreciation for universally scorned movies

The latest film in Michael Bay’s Transformers series was largely set in China, had its premiere in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong and is now the highest-grossing film in the country’s history, having earned $222.74 million in ticket sales in less than two weeks.

It dethrones James Cameron’s Avatar, which made slightly less when it premiered in early 2010.

Given that critical reaction to Transformers: Age of Extinction has been almost conspiratorially negative across the board — Richard Roeper called it “relentless,” and not as a compliment; Peter Travers at Rolling Stone refused to give it even one star — much of the coverage of its success in China has been, well, pretty darn condescending: “Chinese people are dazzled by anything Hollywood, etc.”

The reality is more complex. If the bar of cinematic quality is indeed set lower in China, the tastes of its 1.3 billion people aren’t necessarily to blame. The Chinese Communist Party is exceedingly picky about the films screened in the country, especially in the case of foreign cinema; so if a movie does well, one can ultimately thank the government.

The long and the short of it: Bay made a movie set and filmed in China, starring Chinese actors, using Chinese resources and pushing Chinese products, and in exchange, the movie gets a timely premiere across the country’s 18,000-plus movie screens.

And timely is the operative word here. According to a diligently researched report from Quartz, Transformers: Age of Extinction is one of the few Western blockbusters to arrive in China contemporaneously with its premiere in the U.S. and elsewhere — thereby minimizing the market opportunity typically seized by bootleggers hawking pirated copies and so boosting box-office sales.

Some critics have scoffed at the outcome of the necessary negotiations, though, calling it at best clumsy — one overt product placement features a man in the middle of Texas withdrawing cash from a China Construction Bank ATM — and at worst just plain shameless — as car robots terrorize semiautonomous Hong Kong, one policeman insists on “[calling] the central government for help.” But as China’s box-office market is the largest outside of North America, and expected to usurp the U.S. as the biggest in the world by the end of the decade, Mr. Bay, we can assume, is laughing all the way to the bank.

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