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.

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.

 

Today I found a link from facebook to a petition issued by Common Cause to “fight corporate ownership of elections”. I read the petition, read a little about Common Cause and and it’s president and CEO, Bob Edgars and signed the petition. What little I read was enough to determine the basic position the organization takes as a whole but the reason for my signature stems from a deep concern that I’ve been developing since the Supreme Court ruled against a provision in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that effectively gives corporations the right to spend unlimited money on election campaigns. The argument, as insane as this sounds, was that the right for a corporation to spend unlimited money on an election campaign is protected under the 1st Amendment as a freedom of expression.

Actually, I can stretch a little bit and see how the funding of a campaign might be construed as a freedom of expression, although I think it would be better to qualify such expressions as a direct effort to communicate an idea and to qualify the funding of such communication as indirect. In other words, if you pay me $5 to assemble a sign and post it in a public space, then my efforts to use a sign to communicate directly should be protected but your efforts to fund my action with $5 should not. You can test the qualification by isolating the actions and determining the nature of those actions on their own merits. Passing a $5 bill by itself does not constitute an expression. If that were the case, then buying pornography, street drugs or weapons for terrorists would fall under the protection of the 1st Amendment too. Our entire legal system determines the status of a monetary transaction, not on the transaction itself but on what service or product is being purchased.

Aside from what should be an obvious difference between paying money to have something done and actually doing something, there is also my concern about the amount of power that money controls and the residual nature of that money. Since the rise of banking from the Renaissance to the industrial revolution, money has gradually replaced heritage as the conduit of the ruling classes, while various forms of socialism and democracy have provided a counter-balance that gives the working classes some degree of self-determination. In recent generations advocates of plutocracy have leveraged the horror stories of socialism gone bad in the 20th century to cultivate a negative perspective on any counter-balance to financial power while presenting finance itself as a new form of democracy, inviting everyone in the working classes into the world of money markets. But the gravitational nature of money, where big sums attract more money, makes that a deceiving invitation. The fact remains that it doesn’t matter if you have $500,000 you will still loose the argument against someone with $500,000,000 and we are fast approaching a point where all other considerations are dismissed and every decision regarding the complexities of humanity will be based on the simple arithmetic of accounting.

Protecting the unlimited funding of a political campaign under the 1st Amendment is a significant battle in this war between humanity and Mammon and in no other culture is this as dangerous as it is right here in America, where we find a culture of obsessive consumerism under the relentless influence of marketing campaigns. From the time we’re children influenced by TV commercials to ask Mom, Dad and even Santa to buy specific products we are developed into compulsive followers of marketing campaigns and it matters little whether such campaigns are commercial or electoral, the brainwashing process is the same. Simply put, anyone with enough money can command a marketing campaign capable of brainwashing people even into acting against their own benefit, whether it’s smoking cigarettes or voting for Republicans. This was the reason why limits were set on the amount of money a corporation could spend on an election campaign and this safeguard is precisely what the Supreme Court struck from the law books. Perhaps it’s already too late to prevent the tyranny of money.

Certainly, there is also no time as dangerous for this to happen as now, given the recent advances in the globalization of commerce. The fact that money now flows across a global economy as easily as it does across a national economy means that the natural path of the “trickle-down” an economic construct still championed by conservatives as the best answer to economic distribution, would be to fill all the depressions of emerging markets all around the world before the water level reaches the American workers and if influence becomes a commodity then you can rest assured that through our own concessions, we will become the last in line for whatever drops of hope are left from an exhausted trickle.

So I can’t see how this bench decision to protect the right of a corporation to spend unlimited money on election campaigns has any merit other than to secure the power that the ruling classes already have over the cultivated submission of the American people.

So… taking a closer look at this law, the first thing an apologist might point out is that the law itself is an effort to reform bipartisan campaigns…

I think it’s almost pointless to call it bipartisan.

Ever since I can remember there has always been a strong anti-socialist sentiment amongst certain Americans, especially those of conservative sway but from what I can tell most of that sentiment is based on political fallacy rather than a critical understanding of what socialism actually is.

Samuel Wurzelbacher (Joe the Plumber) provided a perfect example of this misled sentiment when he said that Obama’s tax plan “sounds like socialism” and the point of the fallacy itself became evident when Govenor Palin succesfully got a rise out of the conservative base by quoting the nescient plumber. So what makes Sam, or Joe, or whatever his name is (I’ll just call him Joe) think that Obama’s tax plan sounds like socialism and why do I think he’s wrong?

Well, if Joe is anything like the “anti-socialist” conservatives that I’ve had conversations with, he thinks that anytime the government takes money from someone who earned it and and gives it to someone else who hasn’t earned it, that’s socialism.

The reason why I think that’s wrong is because every definition I’ve seen, and there are many variations, all base socialism on the public ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods and Obama’s tax plan isn’t calling for the public ownership of anything. All Obama is suggesting is that the government starts getting more of its revenue from a different bracket. That’s not socialism, that’s just taxes.

If Joe the Plumber wants to talk about socialism he needs to find an example of where the government actually controls production or distribution of goods such as the Pentagon, a tax-funded agency that controls the distribution of defense-related products… that’s socialism.

Now I realize that the so-called anti-socialist conservatives are liable to take offense to such a claim, but that’s another example of the fallacy, where despite certain features of socialism being strongly supported by conservatives, the word “socialism” itself is simultaneously promoted by conservative rhetoric as a derogatory term, frequently used to describe liberal opponents. This leads many people to the false conclusion that the very socialist features that conservatives actually support can’t possibly be socialist for the simple reason that conservatives hate socialism. It amazes me how that social conditioning actually works.

08. September 2005 · Categories: Politics · Tags: ,

Once again, Americans roll up their sleeves to help those in need and to punch out those on the other side of the party line. You can almost determine without error what someone’s politics are based on who they blame for allowing the aftermath of a category 5 hurricane to escalate into a disaster far greater than it should have ever been.

With Bush in office, the sides are obvious. Those who oppose Bush, blame his administration for the negligence and those that support him blame the local authorities while swearing that Bush simply cannot be blamed. It would seem that both sides are being rather short-sighted about this since there is clear evidence that bad decisions were made on all levels of the government and across several decades. For some this is obvious enough to where they abandon the argument and focus instead on the relief efforts, but others (as silly as it seems) roll out the “which-is-more-to-blame” rating system and continue the slugging.

Then you have those that revert to more passive-aggressive forms of political dispute. In particular, it seems popular for Bush supporters to point out how horrid the opponents are for capitalizing on a natural disaster to “score” political points. Not only does this imply that the opponents are somehow “beneath” them, it also takes the heat off the Bush administration’s negligence. Now who’s playing politics?

The truth is, the Bush administration needs to be blamed right along with any other level of authority. The suggestion that we forget about the negligence of the administration and just concentrate on relief efforts is no different than dropping charges against a violent rapist and just focusing on the recovery of the victim. Certainly, the victims in both cases require our immediate attention, but in the end, the relief efforts are never going to make up for the negligence. Not even Barbara Bush’s assurance to the refugees that their lives will be better than ever in Houston is going to make any difference to those who lost their loved ones in the floods.

We can only do our best to relieve as much pain for the victims as possible, but no less important is critical assignment of prosecuting the offenders so as to reduce the risk of creating more victims in the future. This doesn’t mean we have to put our political boxing gloves on it just means we have to understand what needs to change and for most of us the local authorities in New Orleans is not an issue.

The reason why it doesn’t make much sense for me to focus too much on what Mayor Nagin did or didn’t do is because local authorities at that level are tasked with dealing with potential problems for the specific areas they are responsible for. I live in Southern California about 20 miles from the ocean and about 3,000 feet above sea level, so I really don’t think I need to worry about levees for category 5 hurricanes, but I really should be paying attention to my local government’s plans for earthquakes and fires.

At the federal level however, the negligence of the Bush administration affects me directly. Unlike Nagin, who is only responsible for the people of New Orleans, Bush is responsible for the people of the United States. The Bush administration is in fact the common point between the hurricane battered Gulf coast and the earthquake prone Pacific coast where I live. So it makes all the sense in the world for me to take the negligence of the Bush administration very seriously.

I can almost hear in the back of my mind what any Bush supporter would be saying right now if reading this, while searching for anything else that I haven’t ruled out that can still take the blame off of Bush. Here it is… “But the problem of Federal negligence in this area has been going on for decades, it’s not just Bush.” Yes, that’s right, but neither Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. nor Clinton are in a position to change the pattern anymore. They are the Jacob Marley’s of the past. Bush Dubya is in office now. He is the one the spirits need to visit in order to secure hope that the government of the richest nation on earth will understand that just maybe people are worth a higher priority.

Hannity was interviewing (or should I say cross examining) Robert Kennedy Jr on the show the other day and Kennedy mentioned that according to estimates by the National Academy of Science, over 30,000 people will die each year from increases in pollution as a result of Bush’s so-called Clean Air Act.

Let’s see, 3,000 people died in the biggest terrorist attack in US history and Bush takes the country to war “to make the world safe”, yet he has no problem signing a bill with the potential to kill 30,000 people each year…? I’m not trying to downplay the 9/11 attacks, that was a horrible thing, but I just can’t get past the numbers. I mean if the objective is to make the world safe for American citizens then wouldn’t a threat to 30,000 American lives be a concern? Would those 30,000 deaths be more significant if they exploded in balls of fire instead of dying quietly in a hospital bed?

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that our president is on our side.