Death Penalty Is Cruel But Not Unusual in the U.S.

On September 21, 2011 the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, despite serious doubts about his guilt.  It is quite possible that Georgia put an innocent man to death.  And Troy Davis is not the only person convicted and executed on shaky evidence.  There are at least 10 men put to death, 6 in Texas, the most recent in 2004, who more likely than not, did not commit the crime in question.  130 prisoners have been exonerated of charges and taken off death row.  Currently, 3261 have been sentenced to die; 27 executions have been scheduled for the next two years – 13 in Texas, the state with the most  executions overall.  Since Rick Perry has been Governor of Texas, 236 executions have taken place in the Lone Star State, 40% of all executions in the U.S. in the last 10 years.

Troy Davis was not the only man put to death on September 21, 2011. In Texas, Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist convicted of murdering a black man in a racially motivated hate crime, died by lethal injection.  The following day, Alabama executed Derrick Mason.  In the last two years, 82 people have been executed in the U.S.   Worldwide, only China, Iran and Yemen have executed more.   Since the death penalty became a legal form of punishment in 1976, states have put to death 1,258  men and 12 women.

Though permitted by law, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.  And unusual it is.  Of the 196 countries in existence today, only 29% carry out executions.

Given the probability of a wrongful execution, the death penalty should never be carried out.  DNA evidence has exonerated a number of death row inmates in recent years.  And there have been convictions and executions based on sketchy evidence.  That black men have been executed in much larger proportion to their numbers in the general population is another concern raising questions of inadequate council, and unfair trials plagued by discriminatory views and racism.

There is also an economic argument against the death penalty.  Statistics show that it costs nearly three times as much to try a death penalty case with all the appeals procedures involved than it would cost to keep the inmate incarcerated.  Cost estimates are as high as 3 million for each execution.  From a purely economic standpoint, the 34 states with death penalty laws on the books should reconsider.

And there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty deters crime.  If anything, it promotes violence, revenge and Old Testament vigilante justice.  Americans are armed to the teeth and know how to shoot.

From a Christian standpoint, the killing of Jesus would seem to provide the ultimate example of a wrongful execution.  However, the Christian community and perhaps even all world religions are split on the question with arguments both for and against the application of the death penalty.  If you were to ask Jesus what he thinks of the death penalty, based on his teachings, I would say he would be against it.  “Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”.  “Judge not, that ye be not judged”. “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”

Statistics cited come from the following sources:

Death Penalty Information Center

Huff Post World

Amnesty International

Hurdy Gurdy Man

Can you take a picture of us?  Get one the long way. Whatever. Excellent. I’m sorry that it’s low, it must be no but really don’t like fighting anymore, but they do sometimes.  That’s too bad I’m on the bridge where the angel is.  It’s a  famous children’s book that takes place in Boston.  Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow.

And the Hurdy Gurdy man with the sad dog startles passerby with his music and awkward attempts at small talk in Hindi.

Something About Idaho

Idaho.  What about it?  Well, I’ve never been there.  I don’t know too much about the place except that it produces a lot of spuds, maybe more than any other state.  And I know that it’s a white state and a red one too.  It was one of 16 states carried by the Republicans in the last 4 Presidential elections.  A little research revealed that Idaho was the birthplace of the poet Ezra Pound and home to Harmon Killebrew, the baseball Hall of Famer and skier Picabo Street.  Ketchum, Idaho was where Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961.

Idaho.  Well, I do know a little about Boise State football.  Practically the entire athletic department was put on some kind of severe NCAA probation for all kinds of recruiting violations.  I was wondering how it was possible for a relatively obscure program to become a powerhouse.  Idaho.  Who’d want to go there?  That is to say, which big time athlete would want to go to Idaho when they could go to a tropical paradise like Miami, or Southern California or to a school with a big time football league. What scholar athlete would chose a school in Idaho over one of the elite liberal arts schools known for academics and sports? Not that Idaho doesn’t have good schools.  And I have absolutely nothing against state universities being a product of one myself, not one in  Idaho but in another relatively obscure state.  I think it’d take a little more to entice a recruit than fresh air, a school t-shirt or that it was the place where Ernest Hemingway chose to end his life.

I rarely think about Idaho, except when I think of the B52’s Private Idaho or when Idaho happens to make the national news, something that does not happen everyday but did  the other day.  Turns out that Idaho has the slowest download speeds in the country.  If I were a prospective student, that’d be a definite downer.  I was wondering how this could be?  I was thinking there must be something about the state other than it’s rural nature, and all the mountains and the fact that it is sparsely populated that accounts for this.  Something other than the fact that it would cost tons of money to lay all the cable necessary to provide a high speed network.  You know what I think?  I think it has to do with the very nature of the place.  Potatoes.  It must be…that, and rainbow trout.  There has to be a connection.  Is it possible that in combination, trout and spuds generate a negative magnetic reverse polarity that slows data down backing things up,  kind of like a septic tank in need of RID-X? It must be this!  Maybe, just maybe, RID-X is the solution.

A 9/11 10 year Anniversary Reflection

In 1984, I went to NYC for the first time with some buddies from college.  It was during Spring Break.  I had traveled from a warm climate and I packed as if going to the beach.  When I got to NYC, it was freezing cold out, and all the buildings blocked out most of the sunlight.  I nearly froze to death.  I only had a couple pair of jeans, some short sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt and a jeans jacket.

One of the first things we did after we checked into our hotel was go up to the top of the Empire State building, where I took a couple of photos of the Twin Towers.  I could not have imagined then that terrorists would one day bring them both down.

I was teaching on 9/11.  We were on a short break between periods when  one of my students ran up to me and said, “teacher, the twin towers are on fire”.  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought maybe there had been some electrical fire or something.  She then said that they were going to fall down. I went to the computer lab, and watched as other students were reading about the attack.  I was absolutely stunned; in complete shock.  We let school out early.

I was worried about my daughters – one living in NYC, and the other, who was just 9.  Our eldest daughter also a teacher and teaching at the time in NYC contacted us shortly after the attack to say that she was fine.  She was in the South Bronx and far enough away from Ground Zero not to be in immediate danger but my wife and I were still worried about the possibility of another attack.  When I got back to the house, our 9 year old asked me what had happened and I think I said that there had been a bad accident.  She seemed concerned, but I didn’t want to tell her everything I knew.

I remember feeling shell shocked by it all.  And there were two other attacks that day, one slated for the Capital that was thwarted by brave passengers who tried to storm the cockpit which led  the terrorist pilot to abort the mission and down the plane in a field in PA, killing all aboard.  And then another plane crashed into the Pentagon, killing nearly 200 aboard. I still find it all hard to accept and difficult to process.

Immediately following the attacks, NYC and the country came together.  However, the subsequent war on terrorism quickly spiraled out of control and it cost thousands of American, coalition forces and innocent civilian lives over the course of a decade.  While America may be safer, or at least more prepared to prevent an attack, I don’t know that anyone feels any safer.  I don’t feel like the war on terrorism has made the world safer.  Extremist movements are as active now as they were pre 9/11.  Afghanistan is as unstable as ever.  Iraq’s security situation is fragile and may collapse once Americans forces are completely withdrawn, creating a opening for extremist groups and Iran to operate freely.

Today we honor the victims of 9/11 and recognize the many courageous people who either gave or risked their lives responding to the tragedy.  It is a day of mourning, of tribute and reflection.  I will never forget 9/11.

Congress Can’t Pass On Obama’s Jobs Bill

Congress has no other option than to pass most of Obama’s Jobs bill.  As CNN reports, there are some mutually acceptable ideas  in Obama’s Plan.  There are clearly disagreements, with respect to the rich and big corporations paying their fair share of taxes; many Republicans have signed a pledge to never raise taxes; and the plan to rebuild schools, which to me is the least controversial idea of them all.  Republicans, of course, would prefer that public education be privatized, like social security.  In addition, as one might expect, there are concerns about how the entire package will be paid for, and this becomes a particularly important point as Republicans continue to block revenue raising initiatives. However, there are some very Republican ideas involving tax cuts that they will support.

Since President Obama was elected, the Republicans have been the Obstructionist Party of No, and in some cases, the Obstructionist Party of Hell No, to appease the feisty and vocal Tea Party block. But now that Congress’ approval rating is lower than the President’s,  they have to get something done,  or they’ll be voted right out of office in the next election.

Mitt and the Mittle Class

Mitt has created a new social class, the mittle class, one that would benefit from the elimination of the capital gains tax, taxes on savings and dividends and as an aside, the lowering of corporate taxes – corporations are people you know.  I know he’s not talking about the middle class, because the middle class has no savings, and in many cases, no jobs.  And the last I heard the real middle class never plays the stock market which is another good reason not to privatize social security.  The middle class may, however, gamble out of desperation on a scratch ticket or the penny slots, spending money it cannot afford.  Some of Mitt’s remarks are posted in the Boston Herald along with a video clip.

Alabama Tough on Immigrants, Too Tough

Can you imagine politics without feuds?  Can you envision a life without enemies, where all humans live in peace and perfect harmony, where everyone respects and embraces differences;  a place where people keep the channels of dialogue open;  a place devoted to building bridges and not barriers, free of propaganda? The thing is, sadly, I cannot.

Alabama has announced a new enemy: immigrants.  The Republican led state legislature is following in the footsteps of Georgia and Arizona in proclaiming the  undocumented enemy number one.  This comes as no surprise.  Apparently, Alabama prefers to invent an enemy to divert attention away from its abysmal economic performance rather than create a recovery plan to help the state and its people prosper.  For the record, I am not an Alabama basher and have nothing whatever to gain by criticizing the state legislature.  Nor am I looking to stir up a North – South culture war.  I am originally from the South, but have spent most of my adult life in the Northeast.  I grew up in a neighboring state that rivals Alabama in a bad way on issues of poverty, unemployment, and spending on education. And while my home state may be more immigrant friendly than Alabama, it was once a place where neither immigrants nor blacks felt welcomed.

“Illegal” immigrants in Alabama are toiling in mainly agricultural jobs with poor working conditions, the kind of jobs the 10% unemployed of the state don’t want.  Farming concerns depend on cheap migrant labor and were  they all to be deported, I’d hate to think what would happen to the fruit, vegetable and cotton harvest. But even worse is the thought of what would happen to the undocumented immigrant whose family depends on the money sent home. The dollars sent home help support the fragile economies of many a country south of our borders.

Interestingly, Alabama, in the heart of the Christian Bible belt, has tried for years to institute prayer in the public schools blurring the lines between church and state.  To reject a vulnerable immigrant class of hard working, resourceful people who contribute to the economy and their communities in positive ways, is to forget that we are a nation of immigrants.  This anti-immigrant law in Alabama is decidedly unchristian and unconstitutional.