15. April 2019 · Categories: Analysis, Law, Politics

In 1991, William Lynn a minister in Alabama was murdered in his home. His wife was badly injured but survived. One of the two people convicted of murdering William Lynn was Christopher Price who is now on death row, scheduled for execution and the subject of a controversial decision by the Supreme Court. The controversy started when Price asked for an alternative method of execution.

The State of Alabama is claiming that Price missed the deadline for choosing to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia instead of the state’s default, three-chemical injection which can subject the inmate to excruciating pain.

A federal district court in Alabama halted the execution on Thursday, citing “new evidence”. Of course we don’t know what that evidence is yet but it seems at this point I can’t seen any other reason other than possible discrepancies in Alabama’s claim. It doesn’t help that on that same day at 9:00 PM, Alabama officials asked the Supreme Court to overrule the district court order so they could proceed with the execution anyway. That’s when Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Beyers issued a request to stay the execution until after the court has a chance to meet in the morning and discuss the lower court decision before overruling it.

The New York Times reported today on that decision by the 5-member, conservative, Supreme Court majority to deny that request and green light the execution.

Maybe this all seems like a big fuss over something as trivial as whether or not a convicted murderer gets to choose the method in which he is executed. Or maybe this story is more about the deliberate choice the state is making to execute someone in the most painful way they can. If that’s case, this is a huge deal because we are talking about the line that separates civilized people from barbarians.

Here’s what the New York Times reported…

Justice Breyer’s dissent reflects that things have quickly gotten ugly at the court since the replacement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who was a moderating force in capital cases, with the more conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The divide between the two sides has hardened in recent weeks, with conservative justices growing increasingly frustrated over what they considered excessive delays in carrying out executions. The liberal justices have in turn accused the majority of reckless haste that could give rise to executions so painful as to amount to torture.

So, the conservative judges are basically saying they’re getting tired of these delays… Well… Is it not their JOB to deal with these things? If they can’t handle it or simply can’t be bothered then shouldn’t that mean it’s time for them to retire?

Or is this actually about vengeance? It turns out that the contention within the court itself was already enough to expire the Alabama death warrant, necessitating a re-issue and a new execution date, possibly delaying the execution by another 30 days. The reaction by some clearly exposes a vindictive streak in the community that I hope isn’t affecting the bench.

The article quotes Attorney General Steven T. Marshall following the event.

“Tonight, in the middle of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the family of Pastor Bill Lynn was deprived of justice,” Attorney General Steven T. Marshall said. “They were, in effect, revictimized by a killer trying to evade his just punishment.”

I realize that many people are inclined to focus on the crime but the perpetrator in this case HAS been removed from society and is in prison waiting to be executed. Does it really matter if the execution is delayed for a few hours, or days or even weeks? Do these delays really amount to a “revictimization”? I don’t think so and I find it disturbing that people are so ready to call a frustrated demand for vengeance a “revictimization”.

Of course this could all be solved very easily, Execute Price with nitrogen hypoxia. Done. The execution would not have been delayed and the courts would not have even been involved. But Alabama doesn’t want to execute him that way – Alabama wants to execute him the more painful way. That is the ONLY reason why it ever got to the courts.

Indeed, the concern the conservatives apparently don’t want to hear is nothing less than a founding principal of our western culture. Institutionalized in Common Law, adapted into the English Bill of Rights and again into the U.S. Constitution as part of the 8th Amendment, the idea that for centuries has been held as the line between barbarians and civil society… that a justice system not be allowed to inflict cruel and unusual punishment. There’s literally no valid reason to rush the execution if this civil right is still in question.

Yes, the court could have delayed the execution – (the inmate isn’t going anywhere). Yes, the court could have met in person to discuss the matter in a constitutional context. Yes, Alabama could have found another, less painful method of execution. None of these things would have reversed the conviction or cancelled the punishment, neither would they have been difficult to do or costly to afford. So exactly what excuse does that leave? Clearly, if the state is willing to take this to the Supreme Court *something* is functioning as a driving motivation. It’s sad to realize that the closest thing to a logical excuse for such haste is the type of vengeance so overtly pronounced in Attorney General Steven T. Marshall’s quote.

So this is where I really want to make some clear distinctions. A justice system can serve one of two purposes. It can enforce the law or it can satisfy the vindictive. Granted, some law-enforcing decisions can also be vengeance for some, but should vengeance ever be the primary motive, much less to the point of breaking the law?

It makes logical sense to execute those who have committed heinous crimes, especially if it’s been a pattern for them because of the risk they pose to society. But I think a civil society really needs to understand the magnitude of taking a human life. One such society might insure that every alternative be considered first, execution last. One such society might also understand the sobriety of the task and not to celebrate it, exploit it or be impetuous with it because you’re to old and tired to do your job as a Supreme Court Justice for a constitutional republic.

21. March 2019 · Categories: Analysis · Tags:
Recently, USAToday produced a webpage titled Trump Nation that presents the opinions of 103 Trump supporters. It’s a rather well-done multi-media exhibition complete with photographs and , audio recordings
I decided to read through some of these opinions because I find the support for a candidate who I think is so obviously wrong for working-class America nothing less than fascinating. It didn’t take long for me to realize how subjective the opinions were and I decided to make a little project out of it.
I wrote a short program to extract the data and compile it into a spreadsheet for easier analysis and this is what I found. None of the 103 Americans interviewed mentioned any specific law, policy or problem and none of them mentioned any specific actions taken by their chosen candidate in the past to suggest his qualification either. All the respondents remained vague, hopeful and incredibly subjective.
Out of these vague, “touchy-feely” arguments a small number of generalized themes and assumptions appear as the basis for their support.
  • 26 of the respondents suggested that Trump is a straight talker and cited that as a reason for supporting him.
  • 24 cited his career as a businessman as a clear reason to support him.
  • 21 indicated their support was in part due to his position as an outsider.
  • 20 mentioned their utter distaste for Hillary Clinton as a good enough reason to vote for Trump.
These are the most common themes across all the respondents in this particular study. There were a few other themes that I was surprised to see so few people mention such as putting America first, a major theme in Trump’s campaign and yet only 14 out of 103 respondents mentioned that. Another one is bringing back jobs, another major theme in the Trump campaign and yet only ten respondents mentioned it. Even more surprisingly, border-security was only mentioned by ten of the 103 respondents and making America great again was only mentioned eight times. That’s not much more than the seven respondents that had negative things to say about immigrants or the six that had negative things to say about Muslims.
 
So from the opinions of these 103 Americans we can see that although racist issues and the promise of a “greater America” ARE indeed factors they are nevertheless outweighed by a prevailing sentiment that people are just sick and tired of politicians. While I can understand that sentiment I am appalled by the inability of these 103 Americans to improve the situation by learning how to elect better politicians.
To demonstrate what I mean I’m going to respond to the most common points made by these 103 Americans.

Trump the Straight-Talker

First thing I want to ask is why is there so much evidence to the contrary? Why is he being investigated for so many things that would suggest he isn’t so honest, such as issuing hush money and obstructing justice? Is that not fair because the investigation is still in progress and nothing has been proven yet? OK fine, what about the fact that he still refuses to reveal his tax returns? Saying that he’s not legally obligated to disclose his personal taxes does nothing to change the fact that he is obviously hiding something. The excuse he came up with during his campaign was that his taxes are being audited. Well that was two years ago, which I’m sure is long enough to wrap up an audit or at least identify the case or get some kind of confirmation from ANYONE that his taxes really are being audited, but we got nothing, which really leaves no other option but to assume he was lying about that. Not enough? OK, what about his campaign promise that he would never cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Don’t remember that? See if this jogs your memory… Trump promising no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid
And yet… in his latest budget proposal he is cutting $200 billion from Medicare. There is no legal loopholes for Trumpian excuses here. This is empirical evidence which couldn’t possibly be any more direct or obvious. He is very clearly breaking his campaign promise. Now sometimes this happens when a president promises something, tries to make it happen but fails. But Trump’s promise not to cut Medicare should not have been a challenge; the program is overwhelmingly supported by the American people and their representatives. Slashing the budget for Medicare was not a failure to preserve it, it was a conscientious decision to attack it and in so doing he did in fact break his promise. This is not the hallmark of a honest man.
One might say, well, ALL politicians lie, but remember, two of the most common reasons these 103 Americans came up with for supporting Trump is that he is NOT a politician and that he IS an honest man. Could have fooled me. In fact he’s breaking records by amassing a collection of more proven lies than any politician so far ever recorded. It’s because of this unprecedented disregard for the truth that the New York Times has been maintaining a record of his lies since his inauguration. NYT: List of Trump’s Lies.
Another aspect of this straight-talker illusion is based on the recently increased intolerance for being politically-correct. Five of the respondents mentioned this directly. Honestly, I don’t know what the problem is here. We used to call it being civil or just having good manners, but now there seems to be this impression that being civil somehow interferes with getting things done or with being honest. There IS a way to be honest and civil at the same time… It’s called tact… which is something Trump obviously doesn’t have.
Gary Johnson, 26 said “we need to be less politically correct and get to the source of problems without beating around the bush as much.” Well Gary, maybe you could provide an real example instead of a baseless generalization.
Joshua Grad, 27 takes it even further by calling political correctness a “disease” that “has caused a lot of arguments, fights, disagreements, and a lot of destruction and decay throughout the entire country.” Again, no examples but that doesn’t stop Joshua from going even further by stating how he loves “the fact that, of all the candidates, Republican and Democrat, [Trump] came on and he was rude, he was vulgar, he got his point right across, but he did not do it in a nice friendly way. I’ve had too many politicians that are nice and fluffy, I want someone who will say ‘Naah, you take that and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.’
Josh, this sounds to me like what you want is a rude nasty tyrant. Your one chance to make your opinion known to the entire USA Today audience and you waste it on praising the president for being rude and vulgar and expressing a desire to see a president shove his own agenda in the face of the American people whether they want it or not. Yes, that’s called a tyrant.
Overall, I think the of lack of substance to support these opinions about Trump being a straight-talker, paired with the prevalence of that theme among supporters provides a very strong indication that what we are seeing here are people that are either brain-washed or they have other reasons for supporting Trump that they don’t feel they can justify so they reach for “cover” reasons which don’t always make sense. As for the honesty they insist comes from Trump, I’m pretty dang certain it’s more about the fact that Trump is just saying things they like to hear and calling it the truth is more about endorsing the statement for what they say and much less about whether they’re true or not.

Trump the Businessman

Yes, Trump is a businessman but… does that really qualify him to be a president? There are two parts to this question. First, what kind of businessman is he and second, is experience in business really that important to the job of a president?

There are so many types of businessmen out there that qualifying a candidate on that basis alone is like qualifying him on the basis that he has two hands and two feet. While some businessmen are innovators like Henry Ford and Bill Gates who built large companies and created lots of jobs, other businessmen are back alley drug dealers, crime bosses, dog walkers and baby sitters. It’s ALL business. In fact every American with a job, a budget and a checking account is in a sense a businessman. Every kid who ever sat at a lemonade stand is in effect a businessman. So just calling yourself a businessman really doesn’t say much.

So, what kind of businessman is Donald J. Trump? Well, all wisecracks about his ethics aside, he is what I would call an investor. This is arguably the easiest kind of business. It doesn’t require any significant skill or talent, but it does require money and luck. Of course it helps to know what you’re doing when you invest because you increase your odds of success. This is why they say it’s always better to invest in what you know. But it’s not 100% necessary because it’s always possible to invest in a lottery ticket and win. By contrast no amount of money or luck will help an idiot invent a better mousetrap and build a successful company around it. This is why there are relatively few founders like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs compared to people who leverage their success in one thing, such as rap music, to become successful investors like Snoop Dog and Kayne West or like the second-generation Kardashians, Hiltons and Trumps (including Donny J. himself) who got their seed money through inheritance.

So while I’m not saying Trump lacks sufficient skill and talent I am saying that we really can’t rule that out based entirely on his status as a businessman, especially when it comes to the challenges of government. This of course leads to the second consideration; Is business experience even relevant to the job? My simple answer is no and this is based on the simple premise that our government is not a business – it’s a republic. It’s a shame that more Americans don’t realize that. Even worse, there’s a tendency for people to mentally disconnect the democracy that underlies the republic, leaving what they see as an aloof government. 

Over recent years, there has indeed been an upswell of resentment toward this “aloof” government and its politicians and a businessman is a cultural icon that in many ways symbolizes the “outside” alternative. Some of this comes from the fact that so many Americans are businessmen, so there’s a sense of commonality. But also, in the ideological world, businessmen represent the leaders of the private sector, which is being hailed by many as being more capable of efficient solutions than the government. This perspective is largely based on the idea that in the business world, competition encourages efficiency and performance and in government there *is* no competition so logic dictates the government would be less efficient. But there’s a huge flaw in this logic. The assumption that there is no competition in government is flat wrong.

You wouldn’t think this would be so hard to see in an age where politics is so dominated by election races and partisan arguments. In fact it’s exactly the competition between political opponents that often make government proceedings more inefficient and this underlies the fundamental difference between business and government which is enough to change the effects of competition. This fundamental difference is that business is typically a homogenous enterprise driven by one thing above all else; profit. This makes business decisions relatively easy as the bottom-line practically makes the decisions for us. On the other hand, a representative republic like ours is heterogeneous, there is no bottom line and differences can’t be reconciled on the dollar with simple math.

There is however a field of expertise that deals directly with the challenges of government… it’s called law and there’s a reason why around the world the most common candidates for government office are experts in law, not experts in business.

For those who are still not convinced. Let me also point out that transparency only exists in the public sector. That means that in government we see all the ugliness and the competition between politicians will make sure of it. On the other hand, in the private sector, the ugliness is none of our business. So just because we see more ugliness in government doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also exist in the private sector. With the private sector being so… private, it’s hard to make meaningful comparisons but there are some clues out there, such as the debt statistics.

So it’s not surprising that these 103 Trump supporters would expose such misconceptions as a basis for their support. But it’s concerning because we are all sharing the same republic and until voters start wising up, they will continue to elect bad politicians and perpetuate their frustrations.

I for one am not as sick and tired of bad politicians as I am the people who keep voting for them

 

 

 

 

 

25. July 2018 · Categories: Analysis, Politics

Back in 2013 I posted a short opinion on the IRS scandal that was making headlines at the time, basically pointing out how ridiculous it is to call it a scandal at all. My basic argument then was that if political groups were trying to cheat on their taxes by applying for shelters that the law specifically states are not for political groups then the IRS is just doing it’s job. I was amazed at the fact that while everyone involved admitted this was happening, conservatives nevertheless tried to create the narrative that they were being unfairly victimized. The basis for this rhetoric was that more conservative groups were being cited than liberal groups, which sounds a lot like the kid who was caught stealing a bike coming up with the excuse that other kids do it too so why is HE being victimized and not them? It was fucking stupid and it didn’t stop there.

House Republicans actually wanted to press charges for unfair treatment. Nice precedence… while we’re at it, let’s give convicted felons the right to sue their prosecutors for catching them and not the others criminals that got away. And if that wasn’t enough, the rabid-right was already pushing for Obama’s impeachment, saying that he must have known about the “scandal”.

Anyway, since I posted that opinion several investigations into the IRS came up empty-handed. James Comey, who led the FBI investigation told Fox News in 2016 that no evidence so far warranting the filing of federal criminal charges in connection with the controversy, as it had not found any evidence of “enemy hunting. On October 23, 2015, the Justice Department declared that no criminal charges would be filed. This was later enforced by an exhaustive report from the Treasury Department in September 2017 that shows from 2004 to 2013 the IRS was scrutinizing groups on all sides of the political spectrum. It turns out that more conservative groups were being caught simply because more conservative groups were cheating. Go figure.

At the time, I thought this was finally put to bed, at least legally. I knew that socially, entrenched conservatives would continue to prop the illusion; something I’ve come to learn doesn’t depend on facts as much as it does manufactured outrage.

But then in October of 2017, the Trump Administration, in a show of unbelievable partisanship, actually agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 400 of those cheating conservative groups who claimed to be discriminated against for an undisclosed amount described by plaintiffs’ counsel as “very substantial”. That’s our tax money by the way, being awarded to tax-cheaters. Trump also settled a second lawsuit brought by 41 additional tax-cheating conservative groups with an apology and an admission that subjecting them to “heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays” was wrongful. I noticed there are no lawsuits from liberal groups.

Seriously, I can’t even imagine a more obvious capitulation to crime. First break the law, then sue the government for catching you, then get awarded by a corrupt president. Welcome to right-wing politics, I guess.