The Watering Hole, Saturday, May 31, 2014: How Fine Is The Line Between OK To Kill And Not OK To Kill?

This post was previously posted on Pick Wayne’s Brain.

When the Supreme Court ruled in Ford v. Wainwright (1986) that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” to execute the insane, it was because it was felt a person who does not understand right from wrong, and would not understand their punishment or the purpose of it, should be exempt from execution. In the case of Atkins v. Virginia (2001) the SCOTUS ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute a mentally retarded person. From the link, “Moreover, the Court concluded that there was serious concern whether either justification underpinning the death penalty – retribution and deterrence of capital crimes – applies to mentally retarded offenders, due to their lessened culpability.”

I am an avowed opponent of the use of capital punishment. I do not believe it to be the proper retribution for any crime, even treason. If your justification is Genesis 9:6, you’re going to have to come up with a different one. Remember, we’re a secular nation, so what right do we have to use your religious texts to set our laws? No matter how many times I read it, I do not see the words “Judeo-Christian” in the First Amendment. You need another excuse to kill people. And make no mistake about it – if you support the use of capital punishment, then you want to see people killed. I don’t. I’m not saying there’s never a justification to take another person’s life. Self-defense where an actual danger of death or serious injury to yourself or to someone for whose protection you are responsible is one such justification. But the danger must be real, not imaginary. You can’t use deadly force because you thought the guy had a gun. Otherwise anybody could make up a story about a gun after the fact. The danger has to be real, not imaginary, and not theoretical. You can’t just imagine, or assume, that the guy has a gun and then use the fact that you observe nothing to the contrary as proof that you were right about him having a gun. If that is how you came to “believe” the guy had a gun, and the law allows that as an excuse, then the law needs to be re-written. Deductive reasoning, not inductive reasoning, must be the basis for your belief. There has to be evidence it’s true, not simply a lack of evidence that it’s false.

Unfortunately, the SCOTUS left it up the states to determine, for themselves, and as applied only to persons facing trial in those states, just who qualifies for being called “mentally retarded.” So Florida decided that you qualify for being mentally retarded if your IQ is 70 or below. No other standard required. If your IQ is 71, then you’re going to be executed. One point lower, and it would be cruel and unusual punishment to execute you. Fortunately, with Justice Anthony Kennedy batting from the left side of the plate, the SCOTUS ruled that Florida’s line was unconstitutional.

“Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the divided court. “Courts must recognize, as does the medical community, that the IQ test is imprecise.”

In other words, you’re going to have to come up with another excuse to kill people. Tell me something. Have we advanced no further than the days of the Book of Genesis to tell us right from wrong? If you read Genesis 9 carefully, you won’t find any exemptions for the insane or mentally impaired. It took a secular Constitutional Government to decide that some people should be shown more mercy than even God demanded. Does that make our Founding Fathers bad people? [Answer: No, not that. Plenty of other reasons they weren’t the saintliest of men.] And I agree that they didn’t specify which types of punishment, or which types of people to whom it was applied, would be considered cruel or unusual. Being tarred and feathered and made to walk around in public was cruel, but certainly not all that unusual. Did it have to be both cruel and unusual to be unconstitutional? Yes, otherwise any kind of punishment could be considered cruel. That’s kind of the point of punishment, to do something at least a little cruel, like depriving them of daily contact with Society or their family members who aren’t in prison with them, in response to them breaking certain laws. But here’s the sick part. You can’t execute someone who’s insane or mentally retarded, but if they’re simply mentally impaired and that impairment can be overcome with medication so that the prisoner understands what’s happening, then it’s okay to kill him. As long as he knows you’re doing it and why, the state has no problem with executing him.

So if it isn’t an IQ point, where is the line between OK To Kill and Not OK To Kill? Why do some people deserve to be exempt from execution, while other people, barely any better in any meaningful way mentally, deserve to die? Where is that line? And why are we doing it? Is it suppose to deter others from doing that same crime? Is it working? The state of Texas not only sentences more people to die than any other, it actually carries those executions out. And it’s not a recent phenomenon, it’s been happening as long as capital punishment was constitutional. So it should not occur to anyone who wants to commit a capital crime in Texas that it’s unlikely they’ll ever actually be executed. They can count on it happening, sooner or later. So does the very fact that they could be executed for doing whatever they’re doing deter them from doing it anyway? Obviously not, as Texas continues to lead the nation in executions carried out. Even if you’re mentally retarded. Even if you’re innocent. So it’s not surprising that out of all the executions that have taken place since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on them, Texas has done about a third of them. It sounds to me like executing people has no deterrent effect at all. So why do it?

Retribution? Retaliation? A repayment for deeds done? If that’s so, then why execute a person just for passing state secrets to another nation? If no actual lives were lost because of the passage of that information, then why the death penalty? And if lives were lost as a result of the disclosure, I still ask why the death penalty? I do not condone what they did, and I probably don’t have a position on it one way or the other, no matter who it is. My point is that there are other, less costly ways to punish someone. I’ve had conservative friends say they supported the death penalty because they didn’t want their tax money to go to paying for them to spend their life in prison. Well, guess what? What with all the automatic appeals they’re entitled to, at our expense (both you and me), it often costs WAY more for the government to seek the death penalty than to seek life without parole. And it’s still going to take 15-20 years for that process to play out sometimes, which we’re both paying for anyway. So why bother with the added expense, which I know you hate, to the “overhead” costs anyway? How’s that helping the bottom line? If it’s money you’re looking to save, and you really don’t give a crap one way or the other if the guy’s innocent, then don’t bother with the death penalty and ask for life without parole. That way, if it turns out by some weird fluke that the guy really didn’t do it, then you won’t have the blood of an innocent man on your hands. That would bother you, wouldn’t it? I really hope so, because if the execution of a totally innocent person doesn’t make you hesitate even a little to execute the next one, then there is no hope for you. You are lost to the Dark Side, where Dick Cheney is your master.

So the threat of being killed for killing someone doesn’t deter people. And why should it? Do you think that killing people to make the point that killing people is wrong is really going to make people who want to kill people not kill people? What some of them (more than you might think) hope for is Suicide By Cop. Then they don’t have to face the rest of their life in prison. So what do you think would scare them more? Facing the death penalty, thus ending their “lifetime” in prison, or an actual lifetime in prison?

Given what you’re doing to people when you sentence them to death, given the costs both financial and spiritual, do you need to be so blood thirsty for revenge, or whatever, that you have to draw a thin distinction between someone who’s too mentally retarded to constitutionally execute, and someone who’s observably mentally retarded to some degree, but not mentally retarded enough to be exempt from execution? What about stupid people? Is stupidity an intellectual disability? Should it be a capital crime to be stupid? I’m not talking about doing stupid things, because we all do stupid things. I’m talking about committing horrible crimes because you’re just plain stupid? Do stupid people deserve to be executed more than smarter people? (I remember reading something in Reader’s Digest a long, long time ago in a bathroom far, far away. Two men were on trial for robbing a bank. The prosecutor asked an eyewitness on the stand, “Are the two men who robbed the bank in this courtroom today?” The two defendants raised their hands. Does their stupidity exempt them from execution?) Who deserves to be executed by a government willing to execute innocent people if it helps make their point? (Which, in that case, would be to keep quiet and you can get away with it.) Who are we to decide who lives and who dies? Who am I? Who are you? And if you think you have the moral right to decide who lives and who dies, where do you draw your line between those exempt from execution and those not? The answer to that, and the fact that you would allow anyone to be executed on behalf of the people at all, says more about you than you’ll ever know.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss capital punishment or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, May 4, 2013: Can We Execute the Death Penalty By Not Using it?

Let’s not beat around the bush. Let’s just admit it right up front before we continue. I am adamantly, totally, unequivocally 100% against the use of capital punishment. If I were the victim of a horrible murder, no matter how gruesome, nor matter how sickening, no matter how inhuman my murder may be (and let’s not get any ideas out there, okay?), I do NOT want my government to execute my killer in my name. I’d want that bastard to spend the rest of his natural life in prison (especially if he were young at the time he killed me) rather than face execution. And if you’re the type who says, “I don’t want my tax dollars to be spent on keeping this kind of scum alive,” then you should be thanking me, because I will personally be saving you a fortune from the great beyond. You see, when someone is sentenced to death, they’re automatically eligible for appeals. Appeals which we tax payers pay for, often from both sides – we pay for the prosecution (the State) to request the defendant stayed sentenced to death, and we pay for the defendant’s counsel to fight against that. If you sentence the guy to life without parole, he doesn’t get a lifetime of appeals that keep him alive ten or fifteen years after he should have been dead. And how much longer is he likely to live in prison after that? This way, you’ve still paid for those first fifteen years in prison, but without having to pay for all those appeals that only delayed the inevitable. And you’re highly unlikely to spend as much money keeping him alive after that than you did for those futile appeals. So you still save money in the long run. And if the guy happens to be a monster like Jeffrey Dahmer, the other prisoners will make sure he gets the kind of punishment the bloodthirsty would like. Money spent on appeals for guys like that is definitely money wasted. Not that I want to see anybody get killed, even in prison. But there are some for whom I would never weep.

There are some who say that the death penalty is a deterrent, but I say it really isn’t. For one thing, take your average person like me, who has no wish to spend any length of time inside a prison cell for anything, let alone murder. The fact that I could go to jail for even a little while for killing someone is more than enough to stop me from actually going through with it one evening rush hour on the highway. I certainly don’t need the threat of having my own life cruelly taken away thrown into the mix. I think that’s true of most people. But there are those who find some kind of justification for killing someone, and it’s hard to believe they don’t know it’s illegal to do so. I mean, are you one of those who thinks it’s unnecessary to read someone their Miranda rights since “everyone knows” they have the right to remain silent from watching TV? Then you should also believe that “everyone knows” you could get the death penalty for killing someone (if you do it in a state that has the death penalty, or do it in connection to the federal government.) But does that stop them? No. Take the state of Texas. (I mean it. Please. Take it.) It’s no secret that they have the death penalty in Texas. It’s no secret either that they use it, a lot. Of all the executions in the United States, about a third of them are in the state of Texas alone. So you’d think that the threat of being executed for killing someone, coupled with the higher probability that they’ll actually do it to you, would stop people in Texas from killing each other. And yet it doesn’t. So apart from being an excessively unnecessary deterrent against most people, the threat of being put to death for killing another person is not a deterrent to the rest of them.

So why do it? Revenge? Really? You want your tax money used to satisfy his need for revenge? What kind of enlightened society is that? In what way is it civilized? Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) famously said, “Capital punishment is society’s way of demonstrating the sanctity of human life.” In other words. “We feel that Life is so sacred that we will kill you to make the point that killing is wrong.” Seriously, that is twisted.

On Thursday, Maryland Gov Martin O’Malley signed into law legislation that would abolish the death penalty in his state. The next day, supporters of killing people to prove that killing people is wrong announced they would launch a petition drive for a ballot initiative on capital punishment to be decided by the people. I can only hope the people of Maryland have the sense not to overturn the new law. Capital punishment does nothing to protect Society. It only brings out the worst in Humanity.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss any topic you wish.

Sunday Roast: Do we deserve to kill?


Earlier this week, The Rachel Maddow Show played a portion of the above TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson.  The Maddow Blog introduces Mr Stevenson:

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and part of his Big Idea is about kids in prison, and the country that keeps them there until they die (that’s us).  America is the only country in the world with kids serving life in prison without parole (LWOP) sentences for crimes they committed as children.  And that, Stevenson says, changes our identity as a country.  It changes us.

Rachel’s interview so moved me, that I had to hear him speak more fully, hence the above TED Talk, which was provided on Rachel’s blog.  Please watch the whole video, you won’t be sorry.

Part of this country’s identity is that we have the fifth highest rate of incarceration in the world, behind such countries as China and Iran, and the incarceration rate is abnormally high in this country among people of color.  We lock up children as young as 13 years old for life, for things they did before their brains are finished developing.  And please, to anyone reading this who thinks that because my bleeding liberal heart doesn’t believe in locking children up for life, then that means I believe no punishment should be given at all — get a friggin’ grip on reality, okay?

In this country, we are “treated better if we’re rich and guilty, than if we’re poor and innocent.”  He who can hire the best lawyer (or team thereof) has the best chances of getting that “not guilty” verdict, or at least a lighter sentence.  Wealth shapes outcome, that’s true, but it could also be said that social class and the color of one’s skin shapes outcome as well.

But we don’t like to think about those kinds of things in this country.  Hey, if it’s not happening to me or my family, why should I care?  America, love it or leave it!  We’re number one!!  American exceptionalism rules!!

Except when it doesn’t.  As long as there is inequality, suffering, discrimination, poverty, and hate in this country, none of us are free — let alone exceptional.

We are, above all, human.  Our humanity is the only thing we bring into the world, and our humanity (or the shreds thereof) are all we take out of this world.  Our humanity is all we have and all we are, and if we want to find a solution to the terrible social ills afflicting this country and the world, we should start there.

This is our daily open thread — Discuss amongst yourselves.

U.N. panel calls for U.S. death penalty moratorium

By Laura MacInnis, Reuters

The United Nations panel has called for a moratorium on the death penalty in this country, and for a stop to sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison, until the U.S. can rid itself of racial bias in the judicial system.

This seems like a perfectly reasonable request — which will be immediately “round filed” by our current administration.

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States should impose a death penalty moratorium and stop sentencing young offenders to life in prison until it can root out racial bias from its justice system, a United Nations panel said on Friday.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also called on Washington to end the racial profiling of Americans of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent, and to ensure immigrants and non-nationals in the country are not mistreated.

The 18 independent experts expressed concern that racial minorities in the United States were more likely to be sentenced to death, or to life without parole as juveniles, than whites.

They recommended that the United States “discontinue the use of life sentence without parole against persons under the age of 18 at the time the offence was committed, and review the situation of persons already serving such sentences.”

Their report also urged Washington to “adopt all necessary measures, including a moratorium, to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed as a result of racial bias on the part of prosecutors, judges, juries and lawyers.”

The U.S. response indicating the impending “round file” designation…

The U.S. delegation said that big strides have been made to tackle disparities in housing, education, jobs, and health care in the country where African-Americans were kept as slaves until the mid-19th century. Laws have also been enacted to fight hate crimes in America, the delegation said.

I like that.  “Big” strides….”laws have been enacted,” too.  Sheesh…

Read the rest of the article here.

New Jersey Legislature Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

From BBC:

In a 44-36 vote, New Jersey became the first state to abolish the death penalty, since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.  Governor Corzine is expected to sign the bill into law.

Campaigners say they hope the vote in the New Jersey Assembly will encourage opponents of the death penalty elsewhere in the US.

The death penalty is on the statute books in 36 other states, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, although several are re-examining the use of capital punishment.

New Jersey had not executed anyone since 1963.  A New Jersey state commission reported that putting an inmate on death row was more expensive than imprisoning them for life, without the possibility of parole.  The commission also found that the death penalty was not a deterrent, and there was the possibility of executing an innocent person.

Read the whole article here.

The Bible according to Huckabee

From ThinkProgress:

[I]n 1997, Huckabee claimed that Jesus would have agreed with him on supporting the death penaltyShortly before a triple execution in Arkansas in Jan. 1997, a caller called into Huckabee’s show on Arkansas Educational Television Network and asking how he squared his Christian teachings with his support for the death penalty. As the Arkansas Times reported on Jan. 22, 1997:

“Interestingly enough,” Huckabee allowed, “if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency’.”

Jesus, though, did not ask for clemency. Therefore, according to Huckabee’s logic, Jesus must have been in favor of capital punishment.

I beg to disagree with the Honorable Gov. Huckabee. If anything, Jesus on the cross supported assisted suicide. He had the power to prevent his own death and did nothing. His death on the cross could be viewed as a martyr’s wish using the Romans as unwitting accomplises in his own suicide.

On the other hand, when presented with a woman whose crime subjected her to the death penalty, He let her off with a mere warning. He permitted the crowd to kill her, if there be anyone without sin to cast the first stone. Presumably, He was without sin, therefore the only one qualified to cast the first stone, and He chose not to. He just told her to go, and sin no more. He let her off from a capital offense with the admonishion to be good from now on.

Huckabee, on the other hand, has no problem with casting the first stone. Maybe he missed the day in Sunday School when that lesson was taught.

Hello From Europe – 430 Days to Go

Castelluccio – Italy 

The Guantanamo Bay Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures have been leaked to the press. The link leads you to the complete manual (pdf-document). The procedures are chillingly specific down to such details as to who is getting a small soap bar, who is entitled to a standard soap bar, or how a muslim burial site is structured. The volume of the guards’ tv sets and the phrasing of themes to cover media interest. Of course access of the icrc is restricted or even impossible for some detainees.

Southern company, which has helped George W. Bush to become sworn in as President and contributed $ 217’047 to his campaign and $ 6.2m for Republican campaigns since 1990 is named one of the world’s greatest polluters.

A single Southern Company plant in Juliette, Georgia already emits more carbon dioxide annually that Brazil’s entire power sector. The company is in the top two of America’s dirtiest utility polluters and sixth worst in the world.

The IAEA report on Iran is in. While Iran asks the West to apologize, some take it as proof that Iran will be able to build the bomb within a year. However, China will not participate in stepping up sanctions, The US, France, Britain and possibly Germany will have to go it alone.

 Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator of The Times, said that the cancellation would make it more likely that a group of Western nations, likely to be the US, Britain, France and possibly Germany, would push ahead to develop unilateral sanctions against President Ahmadinejad’s regime, and give up on the UN route.

This makes it improbable for the US to reach any UN legitimation for a possible attack on Iran.

When it comes to hold on to the death penalty, the United States are in full agreement with rogue states like Syria and Iran. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

And finally: First class passengers on the new Airbus 380 are provided with all luxury, even a double bed. Applicants for the Mile-High-Club are asked to restrain from their inauguration rites, however. In smaller airplanes such activities may lead to an unscheduled stopover, and in an interview with Stephen Colbert the topic is best avoided or will lead to certain embarassment.

 This is “Europeanview’s” take of the world today. You all stay safe and take care!

‘Redacted’ at the Sitges Film Festival

Sitges is a small beach town, some miles from Barcelona:

But it has some other lures for the internationally curious. It has a thriving gay community, and the subject of this post, its Film Festival, mostly of fantasy and terror themes, but other genres aren’t dismissed. It has seen premieres of Blade Runner, Robocop and many, many other titles later considered classics. This year, the schedule
includes a film of Brian de Palma, ‘Redacted’, based in the rape of the 14 years girl, and the subsequent killing of her and her family. Made with real footing of amateur filmations done by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. De Palma tries to give another point of view of what is going really “out there”, aside from the Main Media ‘Usual Suspects’.

Here, you have the original article, in what this post is based, in Spanish, but with footing of Bill O’Reilly, calling villain to De Palma.

New Supreme Court Term Begins Today

From BBC News:

As the US Supreme Court begins a new term, it promises once again to become the stage where America’s ideological battles are played out.

The cases the nine justices have picked to consider range from the use of lethal injection to voter ID laws and the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The right of Americans to bear arms could also be examined for the first time in decades, if the court decides to hear two cases relating to gun control laws in Washington DC.

With close votes expected on all these issues, observers will be watching keenly to see if the court maintains the shift to the right seen in the last term.

Read the rest of the story here.

Let’s see how the Constitution fares, shall we?