On Troy Davis And The Death Penalty

Many who live deserve death, and some that die deserve life – can you give it to them? Do not be so quick to deal out death and judgement.

Gandalf – Lord of the Rings

 

Troy Davis is dead. The fact the death penalty is itself alive and well after this and many, many other dreadful injustices, is not a hopeful sign for the abolitionists. For Troy Davis isn’t close to being the first, nor will he be the last innocent person to die by state mandate.

The whole Death Row system puts me in mind of the Roman emperors, deciding the fate of prisoners with a signal: thumbs up or thumbs down. At least the Romans were honest in using executions as entertainment, whereas America, supposedly a civilised Western nation, tries to cloak the savage nature of executions with the trappings of a long and drawn out judicial system, in which ultimately a mere handful of people decide the fate of a convicted criminal, while still allowing the public to witness them.

You need only look at the attitudes of the governors who condemn people to death to see how utterly morally unfit we are to decide whether our fellows should live or die. Who can forget George W Bush’s mocking of the terrified Karla Faye Tucker’s pleas for clemency? And now we have Rick Perry, who has overseen more executions as Texas governor than any American governor in history, and takes perverse pride in this while claiming he loses no sleep that an innocent person may have been killed (the case of Cameron Todd Willingham proves that this is a certainty). What is frighteningly clear is that neither treats the act of ending a person’s existence seriously.

How is it that those with power to condemn can do so with such callousness and lack of awareness of the gravity of the act? I don’t suggest they think that killing a person isn’t a serious step to take, but that they do not appreciate the full awfulness of what killing involves: destroying a person forever. Why is America alone of all Western countries, such a proud and eager enforcer of this terrible and barbaric punishment? Christopher Hitchens pretty much nails it here, I think:

Nobody had been bothering to argue that the rope or the firing squad, or the gas chamber, or “Old Sparky” the bristle-making chair, or the deadly catheter were a deterrent. The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout! The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)

And this is the crux of the matter. The overwhelming majority of death penalty supporters in America are Christians. It’s tempting to claim that as usual, these Christians aren’t following their own faith, but in fact they are. The Bible declares the wages of sin to be death, and the fact we all have to die someday is deemed punishment for our inherent sinfulness. So it is entirely natural for an intensely religious country to see death as an appropriate punishment for particularly evil crimes. And it also explains the lack of comprehension as to exactly what executing a person is doing. When you firmly believe that there is an afterlife, you cannot grasp the fact that by killing a person, you may have destroyed them for all time, and you cannot grasp the incredible awfulness of that fact. Add to that the fact that we just don’t know what happens when we die. There may be indeed a heaven and hell, but it is just as likely that death is literally the end for us. It’s all very well for religious people to claim that the guilty executed will go to hell, and the innocents executed will be well compensated for their suffering in Heaven (providing they accept Jesus as their saviour of course!), while being just as ignorant as the rest of us as to what comes next. It is precisely because we don’t know that no human being should have the power of life and death over another.

There’s a strange kind of moral blindness in those who support capital punishment. They claim that murder is such a heinous crime that only death is a punishment sufficiently severe enough for it, while completely failing to see the inherent paradox of the deliberate taking of a human life necessitating the deliberate taking of another human life to balance the books, as it were. It is supposed to deter people from murdering, yet no statistics have ever backed that claim up. On the contrary, instead of acting as a force for good, as its supporters insist, the death penalty is a great force for evil in that it is the result of our very worst instincts, and brings out the very worst side of us. The cries of ‘Fry him!’, the savage braying for blood, the demand for vengeance, and worst of all, the sickening gloating satisfaction after the execution betrays what America’s ultra-civilised system tries to conceal: that capital punishment is primitive, barbaric, and completely uncivilised.

For those of us who naturally oppose the death penalty, there are still traps and temptations that we risk falling into. The most obvious is to make exceptions: clearly, innocent people shouldn’t die, but when we read about a child rapist and killer, it becomes very tempting to say, “Well, this person deserves it, because what he did was so terrible.” In fact, the very same day Troy Davis was executed, this man was too:

White supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed Wednesday evening for the infamous dragging death slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas.

Byrd, 49, was chained to the back of a pickup truck and pulled whip-like to his death along a bumpy asphalt road in one of the most grisly hate crime murders in recent Texas history.

There was no doubt about his guilt. He committed a hate crime and murder as evil as any ever committed. This crime makes it easy to see why the death penalty has so many supporters. Yet Brewer did not deserve to die either, because nobody deserves to be put to death. We must always remember that.

 

 

 

Quote Of The Day

Chez Pazienza:

The idea that it’s easier for everyone else to get naked so that it isn’t quite so obvious that the empress has no clothes on than it is for her to, you know, get some fucking clothes is the definition of mindless conformity, cult of personality and regression as a group. In this particular case, forcing everyone else to be dumber by revising written history so that Sarah Palin looks smarter — that’s the definition of an Idiocracy.

Unreasonable Doubt

Rape victims already find it horrendously difficult to report the crime that was committed against them. We have a culture that seems to go out of its way to find ways to blame the victim for what happened to her – “If she hadn’t been drunk/worn that short skirt/acted like a flirt it wouldn’t have happened.” – while telling women ‘Don’t get raped’ instead of telling men ‘Don’t rape’. They face the knowledge that they will almost certainly have to confront the person who violated them and stole so much from them in court, have their character mercilessly assaulted by a defence lawyer, and that there’s a good chance that they could be forced to relive the horror and the perpetrator for nothing as he could be acquitted. Those women who come forward display an immense level of courage.

So the news that the jurors in the trial of two NYPD officers for the rape of an intoxicated woman in her own home chose to acquit them, even though they were convinced they were guilty, because there was no DNA evidence, has just struck another blow against the effort to get more women to try to bring their attackers to justice. For one thing – it is extremely common for women who have been raped to shower immediately, to scrub and wash the horrible feeling of their rapist off of them as soon as they can. This case shows that now this could well mean the chances of their rapists being brought to justice have plummeted. And furthermore, the fact that the defendants in this case were police officers is likely to damage a lot of people’s faith in the justice system. People will ask: would they have been acquitted if they hadn’t been cops? How can you seek justice from those who are seemingly above it?

Here are snippets of what the jurors said. If their comments don’t enrage you, nothing will:

“[Kenneth Moreno] raped her,” the unidentified female juror tells DNAinfo. “There is no doubt in my mind.”But never mind that whole “beyond a reasonable doubt” business, today’s modern jury demands DNA. As juror John Finck, 57, explains, “We were strictly bound by the judge’s instruction that there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendants of the major charges of the case.”

That does NOT mean there needs to be DNA evidence, but as one legal expert told the Post after the verdict was announced, “CSI has made things difficult, there’s no law saying that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ means we show you DNA. It means ‘evidence that points to a moral certainty that is beyond dispute.’” “My heart breaks for her. I think the system failed her terribly,” says Hernandez, the juror who played a crucial role in the system that acquitted the cops.

“I think the system failed her terribly.” You’ve got to love that ‘system’, a convenient way for individuals like Hernandez to avoid responsibility for their own decisions that have an enormous impact on the lives of other human beings. It pops up all the time – when people die, when injustice happens, it’s the impersonal, ambiguous monolith of The System that’s to blame, not human error, not human failure, not human ignorance. This is why miscarriages of justice on both sides of the court and in other walks of life will continue to happen, because as long as we can all comfortably blame injustice on an abstract thing that doesn’t really exist, people can avoid accountability, the buck can be passed, and no effort need be made to educate people about crucial things like the definition of ‘reasonable doubt’.

But that’s not to say there aren’t problems with juries. The key is in that first word, ‘reasonable’. As we see here in this appalling case, juries are now seeing not just any doubt in their minds, but anything that could cause doubt as enough to vote in favour of the accused. This has always been one of the major flaws of trial by jury, and why I have long believed professional jurors would vastly improve justice systems. By throwing 12 random people together who likely as not know nothing about law, are not trained to think logically or weigh evidence, the result is that you are inevitably going to get ridiculous verdicts like this, because the jury is ignorant of what reasonable doubt actually is – and thus so frightened of sending an innocent person to jail that the tiniest of discrepancies get blown up into reasons not to convict.

 

 

 

The Ratfucking Begins in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Republicans get right down in the mud to thwart the will of the people, by planning to crowbar spoiler candidates into the Democratic primaries for the recall elections.

Yesterday, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel uncovered a new dirty trick that some Wisconsin Republican leaders are encouraging among their members. In a letter obtained by the paper, Dan Feyen, the chairman of the 6th Congressional District Republican Party, instructs his “fellow conservatives” to run spoiler candidates in the primaries for Democratic candidates. Referencing the recall election of Sen. Randy Hopper (R), Feyen argues that a primary would allow an extra month until the general election, which would give Republicans time to organize.

Short of waving a magic wand and wiping the public’s memories of the last few months, I’m struggling to see exactly what Republicans could do with that potential extra month to somehow convince voters that they deserve to represent them.

 

 

 

Catholic Charities Decide It’s Better For Kids Not To Get Adopted Than Be Adopted By Teh Ghey

ThinkProgress brings us the latest case of Christianity coming a poor second to Christianism*:

A week “after Catholic Charities of Rockford announced it would halt its state adoption and foster care services” rather than comply with Illinois’ new civil unions law, two more “Illinois Catholic Charities agencies have suspended licensing new foster care and adoptive parents,” the Advocate’s Andrew Harmon reports. According to diocese spokeswoman Penny Wiegert, “The state legislature failed to pass legislation or a written agreement that would exempt Catholic Charities from the application of the civil unions law. Even with the tireless efforts of the state’s Catholic Charities directors … the exemption failed.”

Suffer not the little children…unless it clashes with Church doctrine. The Pharisees would be proud.

*Christianity = doing what Jesus would actually have done. You know, the novel concept of looking out for the welfare of fellow human beings. Christianism = trying to force religion into and to supersede politics.

Cheryl Cole ‘Back’ In US Version Of X Factor

Only a cynical person would say Cheryl Cole was never actually kicked off the show at all.

Only a cynical person would think this was all a big publicity stunt orchestrated by Simon Cowell to drum up interest in the show.

And surely only a really jaded, misanthropic, bitter soul would say that Cheryl Cole isn’t the sweet, all-too-easily hurt, Britain’s Sweetheart the media’s portrayed her as since we first found out Ashley Cole cheated on her.

 

 

 

Mark Sanford: Because America MUST Hear From EVERY Adulterous Politician

America’s most famous hiker apparently got tired of Ensign and Gingrich hogging the headlines and decided to pipe up:

ThinkProgress recently spoke with former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford about what effect the Republican plan to end Medicare will have. Sanford singled out the upcoming New York 26th congressional district special election as one that Republicans may lose because of the Ryan budget, and conceded that his party would likely take “some losses” elsewhere as well. Still, the former governor argued that Ryan’s budget was “pioneering,” which necessarily “will involve losses”.

This would suggest to me that the American people really DO NOT WANT the Ryan plan, while Sanford and the other inhabitants of GOP Bizarro World see losing as winning. As the Republicans are hellbent on sticking with this extremist, deeply unpopular nonsense, so when they lose seats as a result…don’t cry for them, Argentina.

Interview With A Mental Patient

I’m not entirely sure what the Independent’s Robert Chalmers was hoping to achieve by sitting down with “racistislamophoberepublicantimuslimbigot” Pamela Geller (she forgot “starkravingmadlyinsanelunatic”). If he was doing a study on mental illness, I could have seen the point, because if we knew exactly what afflicts Geller’s mind we might be able to stop it spreading to normal human beings.

But treating this woman as a person to be seriously interviewed and to have her delusions held up to “is it x or y” scrutiny?

It kinda pisses me off that she gets an interview in a national newspaper while millions of sane, politically aware people willing to share their opinions are ignored because a freak show makes better copy than actual insightful analysis on any given topic.

Shirley Sherrod Returns to USDA, Andrew Breitbart To Cry Self To Sleep

Good news: Shirley Sherrod, the USDA employee who was smeared by Andrew Breitbart, causing them to wrongfully fire her, will be returning to the department albeit in a different capacity:

Shirley Sherrod, the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who was forced out after a portion of a videotape was misleadingly used to show her making a racially insensitive remark, will start working for the USDA again, the department told POLITICO Friday. But she’s not getting her old job back.

Instead, Sherrod will help the USDA improve its dismal civil rights record.

No one should ever have to go through what Sherrod did, and the tragedy of it all is that nothing was learned from it, just as Sherrod’s humiliation came about because nothing was learned from Breitbart’s false editing of the ACORN tapes. What would be a greater reward than any compensation won from the lawsuit she launched against Breitbart for slander and defamation, is if the media refused to take anything that passes through Breitbart’s slimy, lying hands seriously ever again. But that’s about as likely to happen as Breitbart showing any kind of remorse for his despicable and destructive actions.

The Real Jane Hamsher Isn’t A Pretty Sight

Mike Elk shines a light on the vicious, narcissistic, lying bully that is Firedoglake’s founder.  He reveals that Jane Hamsher, far from being a tireless defender of the little man, is actually anti-union. This kerfuffle began when Elk objected to Hamsher going to bat for Arianna Huffington against bloggers who organised a boycott against the Huffington Post after Huffington sold the HuffPo to AOL without them seeing a penny of the money.

Now, I’d like to make it clear that while I support the idea of a HuffPo boycott, it’s for their disgraceful journalistic standards – such as writing ‘health’ articles promoting the long-since debunked vaccine scares – and not for profiting from her tacky website while the bloggers received nothing.  Elk and the other bloggers willingly gave their services free of charge when asked, and so Huffington did not exploit their labour or cheat them out of money they were due, as they claim. But it nevertheless shows that Jane Hamsher isn’t the staunch supporter of the little man against privileged elites she likes to pretend she is.

As for the exchange Elk has with her, well, it’s classic Jane Hamsher: for starters, she is deliberately dishonest about what he writes and distorts it to cast herself as the victim:

On Thu, May 12, 2011 at 5:43 PM, Mike Elk wrote:

Wow Jane you’re the name caller and I’m the one with no ability to conduct analysis.

You just have no shame Jane and I defended you when people in the labor movement called you a Botox liberal

On May 12, 2011, at 6:22 PM, Jane Hamsher wrote:

So now you’re making mysoginistic [sic] slurs on top of it all:  “botox liberal.”

It’s embarrassing when people like you try to call yourself “liberals.”

Of course, anyone with a 5 year old’s level of literacy can see Elk did nothing of the sort, in fact talked about defending her from other people who called her that. She proceeds to attack him with slurs about mental illness, knowing full well Elk has Asperger’s syndrome, which he calls her out on. To which he gets this response:

On May 12, 2011, at 5:39 PM, Jane Hamsher wrote:

You don’t have “analysis,” you’re either a liar or you have no ability to discern the truth.

You can’t blame either on asperger’s syndrome.  That’s not a symptom.  Your reflexive crouch into tribalism and “poor me” to excuse reprehensible behavior is really feeble.

This may be due to the fact that you’re incredibly sick, and unable to discern reality.  In that case I wish you the best, and hope you’ll seek help.  Failing that, you’re just a liar and a bad faith artist.  But this list is not a place for you to be working through either of those issues.

Self-awareness is not Hamsher’s strong point. It’s she who ‘crouches into tribalism’ and self-pity to excuse her own appalling behaviour, as she is doing in the very same email that she accuses Elk of this. Elk attempts to be civil, and never actually insults her – he merely says he wouldn’t want her to be his shop steward, an opinion fully justified by Hamsher’s anti-union activities which are the subject of Elk’s post – and she reveals herself to be an extremely nasty human being.  Afterwards, Hamsher sends one of her cult members to send Elk a “You’ll Never Work In This Town Again” email. I have friends on Twitter who have reported receiving this threatening treatment from Hamsher subordinates after daring to call her out loudly and boldly, so this too can be chalked up to typical Hamsher behaviour.

It goes without saying that “it’s embarrassing when people like” this pathetic excuse for a human being “try to call themselves liberals”, not Elk.