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CHICAGO (Jan. 11) - Denouncing the death penalty system as broken, the governor of Illinois commuted the sentences of all the state's death row inmates on Saturday, granting clemency to more than 150 people in a dramatic move likely to fuel the national debate about capital punishment.
Gov. George Ryan -- a Republican who leaves office Monday after one term -- reduced the prisoners' sentences to a maximum of life in prison without parole. Three will receive shorter sentences, meaning they could some day be released.
"How many more cases of wrongful convictions have to occur before we can all agree that this system in Illinois is broken?" Ryan told a cheering audience at Northwestern University Law School that included several wrongfully convicted former death row inmates.
"I realize that my decision will draw ridicule, scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision," he said, acknowledging the feelings of relatives of crime victims, many of whom fought clemency. "I'm going to sleep well tonight, knowing that I made the right decision," he said.
The move follows an examination of the state's capital punishment system ordered nearly three years ago after investigations found 13 prisoners on death row were innocent.
There are 156 inmates on death row, and another person has been sentenced to death but is not yet in state custody.
Ryan said he was a staunch supporter of the death penalty when he took office four years ago, but began to change his mind after watching a wrongfully convicted man walk free -- only 48 hours before he was scheduled to be executed.
In a speech quoting Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi, Ryan called fixing the death penalty "one of the great civil rights struggles of our time" and lashed out at the state legislature for failing to pass reforms.
Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who takes over as governor on Monday, criticized Ryan's decision. "A blanket anything is usually wrong," he said. "There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We're talking about people who committed murder."
On Friday Ryan pardoned four men convicted of murder, saying confessions were tortured out of them by Chicago police. One of the four used a paper clip to scratch professions of innocence on a bench in an interrogation room even as he was being forced to admit to a crime he did not commit, Ryan said.
Leroy Orange, one of the four men pardoned, told CNN he was very grateful to Ryan, and looked forward to "having a positive influence" on his children and grandchildren after 19 years in prison. He was convicted of fatal stabbings in 1984.
Ryan's review prompted new questions about capital punishment in other states, but none has gone as far as Illinois in reexamining the issue.
Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, called for a national review of the death penalty and a moratorium on executions.
Illinois is one of 38 states with death penalty laws. The federal government also has reinstated the death penalty.
Human rights group Amnesty International USA said Ryan's actions may empower other states to end capital punishment.
"Gov. Ryan has set an important precedent for elected officials who question the fairness of the death penalty but fear political repercussions," executive director William Schulz said in a statement.
A commission Ryan created to review the Illinois system found the poor were at a disadvantage, too many crimes drew the death penalty and police abuse and jailhouse informants too often played a role in capital convictions.
While opinion polls indicate most Americans still favor capital punishment, support has been eroding and the American Bar Association has called for a national moratorium.
The United States is the only Western democracy in which the death penalty is still used. The punishment has been abolished by its closest neighbors and allies, who routinely denounce the practice in the United States.
From 1976 when capital punishment was reinstated through the end of 2002 there have been 820 U.S. executions, 71 of them last year. There are nearly 3,700 men and women under death sentence in the United States currently.
01/11/03: Man Arrested In Gits' Mia Zapata's Death
Saturday, January 11, 2003 - 04:33 p.m. Pacific
Florida man arrested in 1993 murder of Seattle punk-rock singer
Police late last night arrested a 48-year-old Florida man in the 1993 rape and murder of local punk-rock singer Mia Zapata.
The man, identified by Seattle police as Jesus C. Mezquia, was linked to the killing by DNA evidence. Investigators from four jurisdictions converged on Mezquiaís house in the Florida Keys at 11:15 p.m. Mezquia, who lived in Seattle at the time of the murder, was arrested without incident. He will be held in the Miami-Dade County Jail until he's extradited to Seattle.
The arrest could mark the end of a 10-year investigation that yielded few clues and no real suspects. Traces of the killerís DNA were submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in early 2002, but no matches were found. Police finally found a match last month from a new entry in the Florida felon database. Mezquia had been recently convicted of a felony. Police say he has a history of assaults and sexual attacks on women.
Zapata and her band, The Gits, were considered an up-and-coming punk-rock band in the early 1990s when Seattle was the focus of the pop-music world. Her body was found dumped on a dead-end street in Seattle's Central Area on July 7, 1993.
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
01/10/03: SUV Drivers Help Terrorists?
By Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A new front opened in the U.S. "War on Terror" on Wednesday as newspaper columnist Arianna Huffington and three Hollywood pals launched a TV ad campaign to stop Americans from driving SUVs because the gas-guzzling cars inadvertently aid the country's enemies.
In two spots scheduled to begin running on Sunday, Huffington and friends, collectively known as The Detroit Project, plant the idea that driving the mammoth and hot-selling vehicles is unpatriotic.
The ads, which will appear through Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington D.C., parody the government's public service campaign against drug-sponsored terrorism, and aim to kindle public demand for tougher fuel efficiency.
"The goal of the campaign is not to demonize people who drive SUVs," Huffington said. "We want to point out how our driving habits at home are fueling oil money to Saudi Arabia."
One spot features a hapless SUV driver named "George" pumping gas into his vehicle while an oil company executive steps into a limousine and a group of turban-wearing soldiers fire automatic rifles into the air.
"This is George," a child says in a sing-song voice. "This is the gas that George bought for his SUV. This is the oil company executive that sold the gas that George bought for his SUV. These are the countries where the executive bought the oil, that made the gas that George bought for his SUV. And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his SUV."
"Oil money supports some terrible things. What kind of mileage does your SUV get?" the ad concludes.
In a series of close-ups, the second ad explores the purported consequences of buying foreign oil, juxtaposed with excuses people make for buying SUVs: "I helped hijack an airplane." "I like to sit up high." "I helped blow up a nightclub." "It makes me feel safe." "I sent our soldiers off to war."
"What is your SUV doing to national security?" it asks. "Detroit, America needs hybrid cars now."
Disney-owned ABC-TV affiliates in New York and Los Angeles have refused to air the ads because they are too controversial, Huffington said. The spots appear Sunday on network stations and for the rest of the week on cable TV news channels.
Huffington planted the seeds for The Detroit Project in her column in October by fantasizing about a people's ad campaign taking the government to task for failing to pass tougher fuel efficiency standards while waging war to protect cheap oil.
Readers flooded her "in" basket with more than 5,000 letters by the next morning, asking where to send money for the mythical campaign. Within three weeks she had raised $200,000 to paid for a week of airtime and production of the ads. Huffington recruited her hiking pal Laurie David, who had convinced her to swap her 13 mpg Lincoln Navigator for a 50 mpg Toyota Prius, and film producer Lawrence Bender and talent agent Ari Emanuel to guide the spots through production.
Although they had budgeted $50,000 to produce the spots, written by "Got Milk?" creator Scott Burns, most of the costs were waived when people learned about the project, Burns said.
The Detroit Project founders said plans to expand the campaign to more cities or to make new ads must wait on the public's response -- and their money.
"Some people will thing we went too far. I personally wanted to be very confrontational," Bender said. "September 11 was very confrontational."
For more information and to see the ad spots, visit the Detroit Project site.
01/10/03: Army SmarTruck II Ready for Action
Story Filed:1/7/03 05:00 pm
A modified Chevrolet Silverado platform fitted with modules of counterterrorism equipment just might be the next big thing for homeland security.
"SmarTruck II is engineered to meet the nontraditional challenges of today's military," said Dennis Wend, executive director of the Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command's National Automotive Center (NAC). "It provides built-in flexibility and offensive capability [for a variety of situations]."
The jet black prototype SmarTruck II unveiled at the North American International Auto Show didn't much look like a Silverado pickup truck.
Rather than the usual two axles, the SmarTruck II has three, and all six wheels drive the vehicle all the time.
This is key to the SmarTruck II's appeal, Wend said. The modification gives the SmarTruck II a 5-ton payload, so it can carry a bevy of counterterrorism equipment, much of it packaged in armored, self-contained stainless steel modules. The modules can be swapped out for other non-terrorism-related modules when needed.
For example, the SmarTruck II could carry water purification systems on disaster relief missions and communication systems for surveillance missions.
The flexibility could allow many government agencies-from FEMA to the FBI to the military-to share the vehicle, Wend said. "You won't need to have unique trucks with installed equipment; you can just have the modules [stationed] around the United States [ready for use when needed]."
The SmarTruck II on the show floor was clearly armed for military duty. The vehicle was fitted with a guided missile launcher that has a two-mile range and a launcher for a remote-controlled Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV).
Other features: A night vision system, a high-power (50X) zoom video system with thermal imaging and surveillance radar, 360-degree cameras including one under the vehicle to help the driver prevent undercarriage damage when driving off road, and a 12,000-pound, straight-line hydraulic towing winch.
Tires are run-flats, and the grille is covered by a large metal brush guard that's bullet-resistant to keep small armaments from puncturing the engine block.
Wend said the SmarTruck II evolved out of SmarTruck I, which was unveiled at the auto show a year ago. Testing on the SmarTruck II will begin shortly, and NAC officials hope to find interested customers wanting to buy.
But there's a hefty price premium for this kind of Silverado. Wend said it would cost $75,000 to $100,000 just for the modified chassis with six-wheel-drive system and some kind of on-board communications system.
12/29/02: WWW.FUCKTHEWAR.COM WEBSITE LAUNCHED
December 21, 2002
WWW.FUCKTHEWAR.COM WEBSITE LAUNCHED, OFFERING FREE EMAIL TO ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS
A new website offering free email addresses ending in "fuckthewar.com" has been officially launched, its organizers say.
According to the site's creators, the intent of www.fuckthewar.com is to offer a rallying point for people opposed to the United States' likely offensive against Iraq, and a highly visible means for individuals opposed to the war to communicate their discontent.
"We feel that the United States is about to embark on a foolish, costly campaign against a paper-tiger dictator," says fuckthewar.com spokesman David Livingstone. "In our opinion, this war amounts to nothing more than a neo-colonialist gambit by George W. Bush. There seems to be no length he will not go to in order to distract people from the disastrous social effects of his domestic policy and to secure the free flow of petroleum dollars into the pockets of his energy industry pals.
"We believe that a great many Americans oppose this unilateral action against Iraq, not to mention people the world over. To this point, the media have largely gone along with the administration, but if enough of us are visible, both the media and the government will have to take notice."
The site is created by OrwellMedia, Livingstone's public relations and communications firm.
Media representatives desiring further information are invited to contact the site's organizers at (313) 320 2820, or via email at www.orwellmedia.com.
12/28/02: Air Force to pay up for dummy bomb drop on home
Source: CNN.com Saturday, December 28, 2002 Posted: 9:55 AM EST (1455 GMT)
EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- The Air Force said it will pay about $12,000 in
damages to a woman whose house was hit by a dummy bomb.
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police said on Monday they had
confiscated a T-shirt showing President Bush (news - web sites) and
al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) engaged in a
sexual act and were investigating whether it broke a 1931 obscenity
12/23/02: R.I.P. Joe Strummer
We just learned that Joe Strummer has died at the age of 50 of an apparent heart attack. Our condolences go out to all who loved him.
12/17/02: WESLEY WILLIS UNDERGOING TREATMENT FOR LEUKEMIA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
We are deeply saddened to report that one of our artists, Wesley Willis has recently been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). This form of Leukemia is treatable. Wesley is currently undergoing care, and his doctors are very hopeful that the treatment will be successful.
For more information on this type of Leukemia, you can visit http://leukemia-lymphoma.org and we will have updates of his condition on our website: http://www.alternativetentacles.com.
Rock over London!!
12/14/02: Jello on NPR/PRI's "Fair Game"
National Public Radio/Public Radio International's new show Fair Game will air a piece featuring an interview with Jello and his take on current events. The episode will debut tonight, but will run through the weekend on various NPR stations. It will also be available online. For more information on the show and to hear the mp3 (available starting 11/15), please visit the Fair Game website. To find out what stations air the show, go here.
12/13/02: Secret Service Agents Question Student About Anti-Bush Shirt
(from) WHIO-TV, NEWSCENTER 7
Secret Service Agents question a Bellbrook High School student for wearing a controversial t-shirt.
The shirt has a picture of President Bush on it and the words, "not my president." The picture also showed cross-hairs on the Bush's forehead.
Because this issue is so sensitive, even we don't know the students name.
But we can tell you this whole thing was brought to the attention of school administrators after two students came forward and complained.
According to the Assistant Principal, the student had worn it before and the shirt didn't cause any problems until cross hairs appeared on the President's forehead.
The Assistant Principal confiscated the shirt, called the FBI and agents then called the secret service.
From that point, the Secret Service took over the investigation and met with the student and essentially treated the situation as a potential threat on the president.
There are more than 800 students at Bellbrook High School and the Assistant Principal says they're all good kids, but he's especially proud of two of them.
The Assistant Principal states that he is proud of the two students who brought the issue to the attention of the school administration.
12/12/02: FACEPULLER release Habanero Hot Sauce
In a move that has puzzled music fans and food freaks alike, Canada's noise rock band Facepuller have released their own brand of Hot Sauce. "Facepuller Habanero Hot Sauce - Sauce Piquante" is supposedly now available. We have been promised a few free "promo" bottles.
As you may recall, we released an LP and CD by them in 1996 :
To see their nifty taco sauce label, check out:
11/27/02: German Brewery Invents Beer Bath, Gulp!
BERLIN (Reuters) - There are days when you feel like a bath full of beer, not just a glass.
Now you can have both -- thanks to a German brewery which has developed a beer you can wash down your food with or wash down your body.
Jad Fair's project Strobe Talbot will be featured in a story on Public Radio International show "The World" today. The segment includes an interview with the band as well as the real Strobe Talbott, the diplomat.
If you miss the actual broadcast of the show, worry not! It will be archived on "The World" website in the Global Hits section.