Tommy Christopher of Mediaite tells of how the guy who heard voices from a microwave and killed a dozen people could buy any firearms he wanted but would have been stopped in Virginia from obtaining Ninja throwing stars.
Mad Mike's America is there as a Republican Congressman bemoans being stuck in his low salary position in Congress. Only 172 thousand a year. There is an explanation that involves more than the headline.
The Heathen Republican proves that you can make a good point by emphasizing the words of others. He quotes Peggy Noonan on American exceptionalism. Very good as far as it goes. What it misses is the next level beyond self-congratulation. Exceptionalism is best defined as a struggle toward an ideal.
Lots of racist reaction to an American of Indian descent being chosen as Miss America. News Corpse notices a Fox personality complaining that a real American from Kansas should have been chosen instead.
- Those who have never been owned by a pet cannot know. Conservative James Wigderson and his family mourn the loss of a wonderful dog.
[Capitol Hill aides] may be 33 years old now and not making a lot of money. But in a few years they can just go to K Street and make $500,000 a year. Meanwhile I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.
- Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA), September 18, 2013
The quote is making its way around the internet. It is one of those too-perfect-to-pass-by illustrations of wealthy bubble encapsulated hopelessly out-of-touch Republican members of Congress. The quote was reported in the conservative National Review.
The context of the discussion was as revealing. In fact, Phil Gingrey was encouraging a bit of self-sacrifice from Republican members of Congress.
A provision in the healthcare law, put in as a way to get Republican votes, allowed members of Congress and staff members to get health subsidies. A few Senators and Representatives have been making a populist appeal to constituents: look what government gives to legislators but denies to you.
So a proposal was put forward to repeal that subsidy. Members of both houses of Congress would still have to purchase their insurance from exchanges, just like everyone else. And, because they earn a lot more, they would have to pay more. So taking away those subsidies would mean no help from government for them.
Making members of Congress give up a health care benefit didn't go over really well with Republican members.
National Review quotes Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK). "Before you support this, go home and talk to your wife." They report how Joe Barton (R-TX) complained about the high cost of health care. "That’s a burden. And it’s a burden on our staff, too."
Actually, Phil Gingrey (R-GA), the one who talked about how his staffers have it easy and he was stuck in a dead end $172,000 a year elective job, was not joining in. He was arguing against all the poor mouthing. His point was that he would be sacrificing as much as they were and you didn't hear him complaining.
I wasn't there, stuck as I am earning considerably less than $172,000 a year out here in Missouri. So I don't know for sure. It's a mere suspicion that Representative Gingrey may not have mentioned his own net worth of more than 3 million dollars.
The next day Republicans passed a bill to slash food stamps to little kids and the working poor.
Phil Gingrey (R-GA), who is stuck in Washington making $172,000 a year, voted to take food from those little kids.
Joe Barton (R-TX) who feels he needs federal help with the high personal burden of health care costs, voted to take food away from the working poor.
Frank Lucas (R-OK), who urged fellow Republicans to "go home and talk to your wife" before depriving themselves of health care subsidies, was the one who sponsored the bill to take food from working families. It is not documented whether he asked his spouse first.
Among Republicans - those Republicans who heatedly responded to proposals to take away the subsidies they get for their own health coverage - 217 voted to slash food subsidies for little kids and the working poor. 15 voted against. All Democrats in the House voted against the slashes.
The cuts against those struggling to get out of poverty passed.
The subsidies for House members and their staffs stayed in place.
It isn't hard to get irritated at experts. They forget, they actually do, that those outside their specialty will often find their words devoid of meaning.
When Elizabeth Warren pushed for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it was to protect consumers from unfair financial practices. Anyone who has ever been ripped off, or misled by fine print, or told they could not fight city hall can see the benefit to having someone big on your side.
One of the first things the new agency did was to hold hearings around the country. They wanted to explain what they were about, and they wanted to hear from ordinary citizens. I went to the presentation in St. Louis a year ago.
It was frustrating.
I wrote to a pastor, a friend, about the experience.
To some extent they are the victims of their own knowledge. All of them will have difficulty understanding those who are not on their level of expertise. Even less understanding for those with low tolerance for wonkiness. A half hour discussion of "REO lending" as if everyone outside their narrow universe would derive anything but glazed eyes. The best investment for banks remains the MEGO derivative. My Eyes Glaze Over.
That's one reason Bill Clinton has become the popular "explainer in chief." He puts technical concepts into ordinary language without becoming simplistic or misleading.
You wouldn't normally think of James Carville as a specialist unmindful of ordinary vocabulary. You might get irritated with him, but he seldom is incomprehensible.
The recent output by his consulting firm, Democracy Corps, which is a partnership between Carville and Stan Greenberg, is a partial exception. Everything was fine until I took a look at the charts.
The basic summary was enlightening, and it was mostly in standard English. The Republican Party is unpopular and is getting less popular each day. Although they didn't put it this way, a lot of Americans are getting to the point where chewing on tin foil is preferable to voting for Republicans. And that number is growing.
Democrats are not wildly popular, but more folks approve of the Democratic Party than disapprove. They are above water by about 12 percent. 40% like Democrats, and 28 don't.
The period during the Syrian controversy might not be the best time to conduct a poll. You'd expect a bit of an uptick for Republicans when the President's proposed military action was so bitterly opposed by most people, and Republicans were leading the criticism. But distaste for Republicans actually went up. 44 Percent were in the negative column.
The Carville and Stanberg firm did extensive polling, weighted toward Republicans, and broke down the issues that seem to inflame the base.
- Lots of Republicans hate President Obama. Even more thundering, they go thermonuclear over Nancy Pelosi.
- A substantial number of Republicans hate homosexuality. Gay marriage really sets them off.
- Republicans tend to have warm fuzzy feelings toward the Republican Congress, the Tea Party and anti-abortion groups.
- Many Republicans hate immigrants and anything foreign, including free trade.
- Some Republicans hate labor unions, they kind of like corporations, and they oppose regulation. They like immigration. All traditional positions. Just not as many as in the past.
- Some Republicans don't much care for Wall Street and they are opposed the TARP bailout. Some of these Republicans might be open to some regulation. Gasp.
That's all kind of interesting. Lots of Republicans are moon howlers. Then come the charts and the numbers.
The I-hate-Obama-and-loath-Pelosi crowd have 23.5 next to the category, with a semi-plain explanation: explains 23.5 percent of responses. Okay. Does that mean they were asked about the intensity of their responses? Did they overlap with other groups? What does that 23.5 percent mean?
The I-hate-gays group has a big bold 8.2 percent. Maybe that means "explains percent of responses". Probably. The other groups have smaller numbers in bold. I-Love-Congress is 6.6 percent. I-love-Corporations is 6.2. The rest are around 5%.
The 23.5 percent is pretty serious. That's the hate-the-Kenyon bunch. The rest seem pretty much like mishmash. Does 5% or 8% indicate much?
The variances are the worst. What are variances? If you know, you get to stay and clean the erasers. But they must be important. They are listed in the dimension charts.
There are a bunch of them. They kind of look like cross references. Like maybe how many of the Obama haters also hate immigrants or like global warming. And each of these has a variance next to it, along with an unexplained number in bold.
And the charts are color coded with no explanation of what the colors mean. It is undeniable that some Republicans color code people, but not in rainbow style.
"Oppose health care reform law" folks are orange. The "Oppose Tea Party" people are red. At least in the "The Obama-Pelosi-Democratic Congress-government activism dimension" which has a variance of 23.5, which might be coincidence or might be the percent of Republicans who hate Obama and Pelosi.
There are six charts in all. They are all subdivided, it looks like, unless they are cross referenced. They are all mysteriously color coded. They have percentages that must mean something, and they all have variances. Every last chart has a variance.
So what have we learned?
This is not a party filled with adherents of National Brotherhood Week. More people than ever hate Republicans. Republicans hate pretty much everybody, except those few who don't hate everybody, all of whom are in some shrinking variance within a shrinking cross referenced color coded party.
That's good news, unless it isn't.
I'm in the MEGO variance - My Eyes Glaze Over.
I was in my early twenties, I guess, when I began keeping track of my dreams. My dad and I hypothesized that dreams were an expression of the subconscious. It is a mainstream theory of psychology dating back at least to Freud.
I did notice a pattern of sorts. I would dream about trips in reverse. My folks were moving to Missouri from the area of the country where I was born, upstate New York between Syracuse and Rochester. When I drove from the Syracuse area to Missouri, I would sometimes dream about traveling from Missouri to Syracuse. Going back, I would dream the opposite.
It was one of several patterns.
As I read about Davuluri Koteshwara Choudhary and his wife, Sheila Ranjani, it brought back memories of that pattern. They were immigrants from India, coming to America to start a new life. They came to Missouri over 30 years ago, where he became a gynecologist. They were in upstate New York, in Syracuse when they became parents. Their daughter was born in 1981.
They named her Nina Davuluri.
They lived in Oklahoma for a while before moving back to Fayetteville, very near to where I grew up.
The coincidences pretty much fall apart beyond that. There is no mystical connection. I don't recall ever being in Oklahoma. I lived in near Baltimore for a while, and had not yet moved to Missouri by the time they had left.
But I happen to know some of the area where young Nina Davuluri's parents lived and where she grew up. Missouri is, pretty much by definition, mid-America. Upper New York State is the Midwest transplanted: agricultural, mostly rural. I was not a farm boy. I just knew a lot of them. Worked on a farm during summer months.
I imagine a sort of familial empathy of sorts. My own mama was born in Seneca Falls, New York, to immigrant parents. They had come separately from the Ukraine and met in Waterloo, NY. My mom spoke only Ukrainian until she began going to school. After her own mom died, she forgot her first language, eventually knowing only English.
If anyone had ever suggested that my mother was not an American, I don't believe I would have been offended. Just mystified. Possibly I would have thought it kind of humorous.
This year Nina Davuluri, born in Syracuse New York, raised in Oklahoma, then Fayetteville, New York, won a beauty contest. In fact it is considered the beauty contest in the United States. Older folks will remember Bert Parks singing "There she is, Miss America."
The US is a very big country. We have a lot of people. Some of them are bigots. Not conservative. Not paleo-conservative. Not libertarian conservative.
You can find some of them voting against Republican Governor Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley of South Carolina, or Republican Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal of Louisiana.
You can find pretty much all of them opposing President Barack Obama, spreading the untruth that he is alien, not one of us.
While some folks, even some conservatives, conflate bigotry with conservatism, such folks are bigots.
Because the United States of America has so many people, even a tiny proportion will have a lot of members. And bigotry holds a bigger proportion than we like to think.
Of course, this bigotry asserted itself as Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America. Newspapers carry accounts of thousands of internet messages, twitter responses, email messages, and the like.
Some folks figure that, since she doesn't look like them, she must not be American. Some, maybe because of her name, think she must be Muslim, and therefore not American. That group manages a bit of a double somersault of prejudice - bigotry against Muslims and non-whites at the same time. Some are offended that this young woman has been chosen so soon after the anniversary of the 9/11 attack.
It was a short time ago that a young American youth born in San Antonio was the target of similar ethnic bigotry after singing America's National Anthem.
We react with some anger and shame at the volume of racist reaction to Americans who look Hispanic or Indian or Muslim. And we are mindful of the cheers, the screams and whistles of support, that outweigh those expressions of hate.
There are obvious signs, some real, some symbolic, that our country has come a long way since politicians won by advocating segregation. I'm thinking Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.
We have come a long way in my lifetime.
But man oh man, we have got such a long way to go.
Not everyone was surprised at his penchant for getting into trouble.
After the killing, he became a cause célèbre, achieving some sponsorship from famous folks. But a law enforcement official warned that he was a dangerous individual. That was the term he used: "dangerous individual." He elaborated, "His attitude, his demeanor indicated psychosis."
Being unprepared for sudden fame, or notoriety, is not entirely uncommon, but some folks do become dangerous. And when Jack Abbott killed again the natural reaction was to call out his sponsors.
George Zimmerman is being compared to O.J. Simpson, who got into unrelated trouble with unlawful violence. The image of Zimmerman on his knees, a frightened wife and battered father-in-law taking refuge in a house, does have a parallel with the out-of-control Simpson.
Both were charged with killing unarmed victims. Both were found innocent by doting juries in spite of a surface appearance of guilt. Both were defended by prominent people.
O.J., like George, revealed himself to be violence-prone when he thought himself to be wronged. And his inner definition of offenses against himself seemed to have a low threshold.
Zimmerman is also being compared, in a bit of hyperbole, to Al Capone. Capone got away with lots of murders, but got tripped up on unrelated charges. He didn't pay taxes on all his illegal income.
But I think the potential comparison to Abbott, and others, is more fearfully apt. We hope it doesn't turn out to be a more exact parallel.
Jack Abbott was in prison in Utah for forgery in 1965 when he got into a fight with another inmate. The other fellow ended up dead, stabbed to death, and Abbott got 23 years added to his sentence. He escaped, robbed a bank in Colorado, and was captured again. 19 more years.
But he got a sponsor, of sorts. He wrote over a thousand letters to Norman Mailer, and eventually got his attention. Together, they wrote an expose of prison conditions. You can still buy it online.
With Mailer's help, he got released on parole in 1981.
Jack Abbott was not the only prisoner to be sponsored by a public figure.
William F. Buckley got interested in the case of Edgar Smith, who had been convicted of kidnapping and killing a 15 year old girl in 1957. Buckley became convinced that Smith might have been framed by over-zealous police. He helped Smith get a new trial, although the second trial never actually happened. Smith pleaded to a lessor offense and was released in 1971.
A month and a half after getting out of prison, Norman Mailer's friend, Jack Abbott, got mad at a restaurant employee who told him it was against the rules to let patrons use an employee restroom. He killed the waiter and went back to prison, where he eventually killed himself.
Bill Buckley's friend was out for almost five years before he tried to kidnap a woman at knifepoint in 1976. She escaped with a severe wound and he is still in prison.
Bill Buckley later wrote a mea culpa, regretting his involvement.
Norman Mailer described his role as "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in."
We can hope that Sean Hannity is never called upon to write about similar regrets.
I suggest that, regardless of Zimmerman's future actions, Hannity should resist the temptation. If Hannity was wrong, and I think he was, his responsibility ends with Zimmerman's trial.
Buckley was wrong for concluding that Edgar Smith had been framed. We know now that he was not. The woman Smith later attacked would justified if she is angry at the now departed Buckley for that misjudgment. But later the attack on her was Smith's responsibility, and only his.
Norman Mailer is also gone. The case of Abbott is murkier. There was never any doubt as to his guilt in stabbing to death his fellow inmate. Although the family of the young man Abbott killed would doubtlessly find it of no comfort, the later killing was on Smith, not on Mailer.
After George Zimmerman's latest run in with law enforcement, and his victory lap through the plant that manufactured the gun he used to kill an unarmed teenager, the police chief of his Florida hometown agrees with a local resident's description of "a ticking time bomb" and "a Sandy Hook, Aurora waiting to happen."
Sean Hannity, like many conservatives, more or less adopted the Zimmerman defense, that he acted in self-defense, not out of rage at one more of those many intruders, "punks" who "always get away." Hannity, and others, should be criticized for that absurdity.
What rage the out-of-control Zimmerman acts out in the future is his own.
Locking people up in anticipation of future crimes is a legitimate motivation. Danger to the public is often a factor in determining bail before trial and sentencing after.
It is not a legitimate cause in itself. George Zimmerman was on trial for what he did, not what he might do.
Tragic as future actions might be, the cases of Abbott, Smith, and Zimmerman were about the past. We are simply not that much into preventive imprisonment.
Perhaps we should be reminded of that when we see another Willie Horton ad.
Stephen Fincher Lectures Poor Folks
about Christian Values (4:21) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
9:00 AM, September 15, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church
314 Graham Rd
Florissant, MO 63031
|Blessings are not earned.|
|We are blessed with what we do not deserve.|
|We live in freedom. We live in peace.|
|We live in opportunity.|
|We have the gift of life.|
|We do not own prosperity or peace.|
|We do not own our nation, or even our lives.|
|These gifts are not owned. They are entrusted.|
|We are not masters. We are stewards.|
|Stewardship is not marked|
|by how much we have,|
|but by how much we care.|
|It is not measured by what we are given,|
|but by what we give.|
|The God of all the nations|
|rules in the human heart.|
|On this earth, God's work must truly be our own.|
Found on Line:
"Finlandia Hymn / This Is My Song"
A World Wide Medley of
Interpretations of a Familiar Hymn
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot goes briefly biblical in introduction as he examines the history of horrible weapons turned toward peaceful application.
Cory Booker once related how a victim of violence died in his arms. National Review thinks evidence shows he is lying. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite reviews that evidence. Seems Booker may only have worked to try to keep the victim alive until emergency crews got there. It's ambiguous on whether the guy was dead when they arrived. Seems like the bigger story, the one Booker didn't mention, is his all out efforts to save the victim. National Review's efforts to expose Booker continue. Good job there, National Review.
At News Corpse we learn about the noble campaign by Fox News to educate America how lazy poor folks are exploiting hard working wealthy people.
Michelle Obama wants kids to consume less soft drink and more straight water. Scientists say the case for more water is demonstrated by observation, but has not yet met the rigorous requirements of scientific study. Conservative James Wigderson, who often let's opportunities for overstatement go by, connects on this one. He begins by asserting that "science says that’s just quackery." Yeah, that's what he says. He goes on to slam bottled water because of all the plastic used to make the bottles. Don't worry. James is an excellent writer. He'll come up with something better next week.
- PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, has a few pointed remarks about a poll to decide which candidate should become an astronaut.
I don't often read the Wall Street Journal. Aside from the editorial pages, it's not a bad publication. When I do read it, it compares well to Fox News. The comparison is natural for me, since both are own by Rupert Murdoch, officially declared unfit by a special committee of the British Parliament.
Okay, okay, that is slightly snarky. Mr. Murdoch was not declared to be unfit in every respect. The official findings of the Special Committee of the British Parliament only said Rupert Murdoch is "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company."
I don't avoid the Wall Street Journal, but I don't have the time I used to have. I barely scan our local daily, and often I don't do that, except on line.
But this time, Slate Magazine's Justin Peters mandated that I follow a link and I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal that got me good and angry at Missouri's Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
The article didn't mention Chris Koster, or Missouri, or any Attorney General, actually. It just dealt with false confessions. And it made me furious at the guy I voted for last year.
Research was done into cases of people who were convicted of various crimes, who were put into prison for long sentences, and then were proven to be innocent of the crimes for which they had been convicted.
It turned out that a substantial proportion of those wrongly convicted had actually confessed to the crimes they had not committed. These were not cases in which they were later found to be not guilty because some key aspect of the case was ruled out of order. These were not people who were released on a technicality.
These were people who were actually proven to be innocent. It was shown to be impossible for them to have been guilty. In some cases, they were photographed at locations miles away at the moment a crime was in progress. In one case, a kid was in police custody at the time of the crime, held on a minor charge after some public drunkenness. Yet he was convicted of the crime he could not have committed.
The research also showed something else. Young people are more than three times as likely to confess to something they didn't do as are older people. In the last 25 years, more than a third of young people convicted of crimes it later turned out to be impossible for them to have committed actually confessed to those crimes. The figure was 38%.
The reasons given by experts seemed to be to be speculative. They were guesses. Educated guesses. Plausible guesses.
Young people are more cowed by authority, they are more easily tricked, more easily intimidated, more likely to think their ordeal will end and they can go home if they cooperate in self-incrimination. They are more likely to believe someone else is about to testify against them. If they had been drinking, they are less likely to feel sure they are innocent.
What can't be challenged is that young people can often be gotten to confess to something with which they had nothing to do. 38 percent is a startling fact.
Which brings us to Missouri's Attorney General.
A young man named Ryan Ferguson was wrongfully convicted a few years ago. He did not falsely confess. He consistently maintained his innocence.
But, while in high school, he had befriended an otherwise friendless classmate, an outcast with a reputation for being constantly stoned out of his mind.
The stoner friend read about a late night murder of a popular sports editor, killed on a parking lot in 2001 as he left his office after a long day. The kid remembered being with his buddy Ryan Ferguson that night. He was hazy about what they had done and where they had gone. As usual, he had been drugged out. But he had a couple of dreams about the murder. His confused musings got to police and they brought him in for questioning.
Like the youngsters in the study now quoted by the Wall Street Journal, he was tricked and bullied. That's a fact. He was told his friend Ryan had already confessed and had agreed to testify against him. He was led to think he would be executed if he did not confess. This went on for hours. He was spoon fed details of the crime. Video shows him surprised by some of those details.
But he confessed and testified that his friend was the actual killer.
Another witness was found. A janitor in the building the victim had left that night testified to seeing both young men that night on the same parking lot where the murder had just occurred.
Their combined testimony clinched the conviction of young Ryan Ferguson. He began serving a long sentence in 2004. The dreamer, the stoner, got a lighter sentence. He had cooperated.
Over time, the confession kind of fell apart. Details were wrong. At least one wrong detail, a way off inaccurate description of an unwitting passerby who barely missed seeing the killing, precisely matched each erroneous detail of a hasty police report filed during the initial investigation. Quite a coincidence. A nighttime bar the confession mentioned as the place the two young men fled to right after the murder turned out to be closed and locked up. Hair found in the fist of the victim did not match either of the boys.
Years after the conviction, the young friend of Ryan Ferguson finally sent a letter that got to a volunteering attorney. The confession dreamer knew Ryan had not done it. He believed he himself had committed the crime alone.
The witness, the janitor, was more dramatic. He wept in public at an appeals hearing. He pointed at Ryan Ferguson and asked for forgiveness. He had lied. He had been in legal trouble on a sex charge. The prosecutor did not, he said, actually promise lenient treatment. But the prosecutor had been emphatic that it would be very helpful if the janitor would remember seeing the two boys.
So he remembered. And he testified falsely.
The prosecutor also testified at the appeal. He insisted he never told the confessing youngster that he would be executed. And he never actually promised the janitor special treatment on the sex charge. He would never do such a thing, he said, because he would not want to damage his own reputation.
Actually, the young man who confessed had never accused anyone of directly telling him he would face the death penalty. The janitor never accused the prosecutor of anything beyond the assurance that specific testimony would be very helpful.
By the time of the appeal, the prosecutor was no longer a prosecutor. He is a judge, first elected largely on the strength of convicting the two young men of a terrible murder. The presiding judge at the appeal was a colleague. That judge ruled that the testimony at the hearings were not enough. He would respect the finding of the jury.
That ruling was itself appealed.
And that is where Attorney General Chris Koster comes in. His brief may not be convincing to a layperson. But it is a good example of why so many people are skeptical of lawyers in general and hate politicians specifically.
He held that confessions should be believed over recantations. There is no reason for someone to confess to a crime he did not commit.
He argued that 1) the janitor was so obviously lying that he was not believed by the jury in the original trial and that 2) the janitor was telling the truth in that original trial.
He cited a legal standard that seems strange and unjust to a non-lawyer, but which apparently is quite familiar to graduates of law school. He said that innocence had no bearing on the case. Only procedures should be considered and procedures had been followed.
In short, he was prepared to defend the legal system, particularly when it is threatened by ... you know ... truth.
It makes me want to run right out and do something I would normally never consider. Like vote for a Republican next time this Attorney General comes up for reelection.
Even if the Republican has gotten a law degree by sending in box tops. After reading the Koster brief, perhaps especially if the Republican knows nothing about law, and something about justice.
There are many reasons to be really careful about the death penalty.
In Florida, there turns out to be one more than anyone would have expected.
You might say I have evolved on the issue. I don't think I was ever enthusiastic about capital punishment. I did think it was, in some cases, life affirming.
I remember reading about the family of one murder victim. The aggressor got a harsh sentence but, with good behavior and an overcrowded system, got out in a few years. The mother of the victim told an interviewer that the rest of her son's life turned out to be worth a few years of time for the murderer. That didn't seem right.
Still, I was uneasy about it.
The Old Testament seems to endorse capital punishment. You don't have to look far into Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to find one example after another for offenses the penalty for which is death. Murder and kidnapping are pretty horrible. Acting as a false prophet in a hyper-religious age seems predictable. Homosexuality is brought up all the time by literalists. But the stoning to death of kids who wise off to their parents seems to me like taking corporal punishment way too far.
But a cursory reading of scripture does make it seem like the death penalty is pretty much okay with God. And why not? Occasionally we even sing in worship about the vengeance of God being satisfied by the blood of Jesus.
But even by the time of Jesus, Jewish law put so many obstacles in the way, it would have been almost as hard to execute someone as it would be for a wealthy person to get to the Kingdom of God. And Jesus said a rich man getting there would be harder than squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.
- Death had to be imposed by 23 judges.
- The crime had to have been witnessed by at least two people.
- The accused had to have been warned beforehand that the penalty was death.
- Even that was not enough. Before committing the crime, the accused had to affirmatively state to both witnesses that the penalty was understood, and that the act about to be committed would be intentional and would be done in complete understanding of the consequence.
- A confession by the accused would not be valid as evidence. So a criminal could not just say to the 23 judges that, yeah, he knew all along about the death penalty.
In other words, the death penalty was allowed. But authorities, as a practical matter, made it pretty much impossible.
My own opinion was turned around by a crook and a thief who I kind of regard as a hero. Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois spent some well deserved years in Federal prison. He got out in July.
But, before he was convicted and carted off, he appointed a panel to investigate the death penalty in Illinois. The findings shook me up. I was not alone. They found one instance after another of innocent people waiting on death row. The fact that innocent people had been executed went from a theoretical possibility to a flat out certainty. Executing an innocent person was horrible enough to turn me against the practice. It convinced Governor Ryan to put a moratorium on executions.
No executions happened after that. And it seems they won't anymore. The death penalty was abolished in Illinois in 2011.
Faced with the executions of innocent defendants, it was not a tough call to be opposed to the death penalty. I couldn't see any way to execute obviously guilty people without creating a way to kill someone who was not guilty.
I have moved forward since then. I don't think the state should be in the business of executions. Period.
I still respect opposing opinions. It's kind of hard not to, having held them myself. I'm not talking about the sort of cheering by Republican audience members at the idea of executions. Some blood thirst is truly reprehensible. But there are thoughtful people who still see the death penalty as a necessity in a few extreme cases in which guilt is not at issue.
In Florida, they do things a little differently.
Governor Rick Scott and his Attorney General, Pam Bondi, both Republicans, have overseen eight executions so far. But there is one case that they saw as an exception.
Marshall Lee Gore killed two women in separate incidents in 1988. Both murders were motivated by robbery. There isn't much doubt that he is guilty. His execution was set for September 10.
But Attorney General Bondi prevailed upon Governor Scott to grant Marshall Lee Gore a temporary stay of execution. The delay would be for about three weeks.
The mother of one of the victims was angry. "What's going on down there?" demanded Phyllis Novick, whose daughter was killed for her purse. "It's ridiculous."
Most people would see that sort of anger as a natural reaction to such and official act of mercy. I believe it would have been my reaction had a member of my family been brutally murdered and the execution of the perpetrator was delayed.
But this was not because of new evidence or new doubt. It wasn't because of some newly discovered mitigating circumstance. It wasn't because additional investigation was needed just to be sure there was no more evidence.
The Attorney General's office issued an explanation. It seems the execution needed to be postponed because the Attorney General takes her job seriously, and her motivation was the extreme gravity of the death penalty:
In light of the seriousness of any execution, it was very important to Attorney General Bondi that she be available personally to carry out her office's duties in the execution process.
- Molly McFarland, office of the Attorney General, August 20, 2013
The execution was delayed until next month because the very serious Attorney General, who regards her official duties with personal importance, wanted to hold a fundraising dinner for Republican donors at her home the same night as the scheduled "execution process."
Attorney General Pam Bondi later allowed as how she probably ought not to have arranged for the postponement of the execution for a fundraiser.
Well, yeah, I guess you could look at it that way.
The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country...
...The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.
What does Vladimir Lenin, the 1936 Constitution of the USSR, the Apostle Paul writing to the congregation in Thessalonia, and the Republican Party have in common?
They all have used pretty much the same phrase in relation to work. "He who does not work, neither shall he eat."
It was a natural outgrowth of any philosophy of society in which members depended on everyone putting forth effort for the common good. The settlers at Jamestown in the early days were confronted by the unwillingness of some self-styled aristocrats to do the work of lower classes. So were early Christians.
The first Christian communities were organized as communes, something some conservatives seem uncomfortable acknowledging. The practice went on for centuries. It may have been one of the reasons the early Church survived. The phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is said by scholars to have originated with early Christianity.
But those who saw their natural role as takers were not to be indulged.
Karl Marx explicitly attacked Christianity for the "To each according to his need" part of the famous saying. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx said the Christian phrase should be discarded. "To each according to his contribution" should be substituted. Lenin agreed.
Back in Representative Stephen Fincher's home state, a wide range of clergy were asked for their reaction to the Honorable Representative's quoting of Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians. Their responses were gathered and published in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, TN.
Pretty much all of the responses expressed disagreement, some verging on horror, others merely sad at Representative Fincher. They noted that the cuts he advocated in food subsidies affected mostly little kids and the working poor. The working poor, for the most part, are adults who not only work, but work much harder than most of those who lecture them about working hard. Yet they, along with those children, do go hungry.
A few of the clergy made pointed remarks that seemed, well, maybe a little impolite, about Representative Fincher.
It seems Representative Stephen Fincher (R-TN), on the same day he voted to cut away nutrition programs for hungry kids, voted in favor of dramatically increasing generous cash subsidies for owners of large agricultural operations. These mega-farming complexes have pretty much replaced the family farmer.
Representative Fincher declined to support a proposed amendment that would have kept those members of Congress who own some of those farming businesses from pocketing the millions of dollars in subsidies. That amendment was defeated.
It turns out Stephen Fincher owns some of those properties.
By a stroke of good fortune, he was able to deposit into his own bank account some of those subsidies he had just voted to increase.
Stephen Fincher's share of those farm subsidies, the part he stuffed into his own pockets, is 3.5 million dollars.
Three and a half million.
That should be enough to build himself a fine pulpit from which he can lecture hungry families and their kids about the nature of Christianity and his own spiritual success.
We do have a lot of debate going on about the nature of representative democracy. Issues are not usually framed that way, but such is the real nature of debates going back a long long way.
In court, one legal debate has to do with who has the right to vote. Republicans talk about the sanctity of the ballot, arguing against voter fraud, or voter fraud sometime in the future, or the potential of voter fraud sometime down the road.
But occasional public statements, leaked memos, and a clear pattern of behavior make the real objective quite clear. Republicans want to keep certain groups, groups mostly unsympathetic to conservatism, from voting regardless of eligibility. That is why certain forms of government identification are excluded as invalid. That is why a missing document can keep an otherwise well documented life-long voter from voting. That is why polling places are changed to almost inaccessible locations and hours unreasonably restricted.
The popular perception is that gerrymandering is okay. In some circumstances it is not. Legal rules have to be maintained. Compactness, community, and common interests are usually key factors. Courts frequently overrule redistricting maps because such rules are ignored. In recent times, voter isolation for ethnic or racial reasons has made a comeback.
Such maneuverings ultimately end up in court.
The other side of the debate has to do with the ethics of representation. Bribery, indirect or otherwise, is dealt with in another legal forum from voter suppression or voting dilution.
But, at its most basic, the democratic ideal deals less with suppression of rights than the nature of representation. At what point must a lawmaker reflect the wishes of constituency? At what point must individual judgment become the primary guide?
In practice, the usual breakdown has to do with social and cultural issues versus technical issues. The more complex the issue, the more we delegate our judgment to those we trust to represent us.
Some with an inclination toward policy get pretty involved with the general level of regulation. How much is too much?
Others concerned with consumer or environmental protection are concerned with enforced rules of the road. How little is too little?
Most of voters become glassy eyed at the intricacies of the four sections of the Glass–Steagall Act. We vote on values, and leave complexity to those we trust. Or those we distrust the least.
What concerned me in the early days of the Great Recession was the nervousness of legislators about public opinion. A stimulus package was whittled down as a sort of compromise because politicians were afraid of the huge numbers. How would they explain it all to the folks back home?
Such concerns were more common among Democrats, of course. With some exceptions, Republican representatives were quite eager to sabotage economic recovery. I am aware that others may disagree on this. It is not an immutable truth. But it seems clear to me.
The constant concern about public opinion seemed like a constant source of quiet anxiety to some moderate Democrats. They became more concerned with how it would play than how it would work.
That struck me as contemptibly timid, a lack of responsibility going less to self-interest than to foolishness. It seemed clear that, while voters had opinions about what would work, their primary concern was the result. If a gigantic stimulus produced fast economic recovery, those voters who thought government should tighten its belt like the rest of us would not be a bit concerned about deficits. Not when jobs, promotions, and raises came about.
Voters are not exclusively concerned with good results. In 1968, the economy was healthy and growing. Candidate Nixon still became President Nixon on the strength of other issues. But voters do become extraordinarily focused on bad results.
That has been the argument presented to Democrats by the Obama administration on the issue of what to do about Syria. If missiles are launched, military infrastructure is severely damaged, and chemical attacks end, the issue will be forgotten quickly. If nothing is done and more rounds of videos are circulated showing little kids in agonizing death throes, the tide will turn back.
The counter consideration is what happens if missiles are launched and the results go out of control. If Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad falls and Syria becomes a base for the heirs of al Qaeda, if other terrorist groups become energized and terrorist attacks become an epidemic.
But I believe I see something more calculated at work.
It seems to me that deterrence, at least as it concerns Assad and his neo-Ba'athist government, is stronger now than it will be after a one-time military strike.
There is some controversy about what motivated the Empire of Japan to surrender at the end of the Second World War. A good case can be made that the prospect of Soviet domination played a large part.
But, to the extent that a new nuclear age was decisive, it was not Hiroshima that provided that motivation. It was not Nagasaki. The incentive was the likelihood of the next Hiroshima, the next Nagasaki.
If Assad abandons the tactic of using the children of Damascus as part of his own private chemistry experiment, it will not be because a military strike has occurred. It will be because of the imminent possibility of a military strike.
President Obama is undecided, he says, about whether to launch a sudden strike on Syrian airfields apart from Congress. It is possible that the sequence of Obama meeting Putin for a private chat, the Kerry Gaffe, the Russian sudden move to exploit the gaffe, all coming as an extended debate in Congress is postponed, all have a commonality of purpose.
The missiles will likely not be launched twice. As soon as they are launched, the incentive for Assad to back off disappears. The longer the threat remains imminent without actually coming true, the stronger that incentive will become.
If it works, it is the representative government imagined by Edmund Burke, mixed with accountability that comes from results.
In the end, the American people get what most of us want.
That is if the independent judgment of the one we have chosen to lead is sound and luck stays with us.
For years, its regime has aided the terrorist operations of Hezbollah and Hamas, supported Iran's destabilizing policies, and helped terrorists kill Americans in Iraq. The regime has not only destabilized the region but also directly acted against the national security interests of the United States...
...Now in Syria, we are faced with a challenge requiring the United States to find its voice in defense of the Syrian people and to implement meaningful actions in the immediate term. The administration must stop dithering as innocent Syrians die at the hands of a merciless regime.
- Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), April 28, 2011
This has not been a good year for Senator Marco Rubio. First, he leaped into the fray, winning the race to stake out a position on Immigration Reform. It seemed like the smart move. Republican Chairman Reince Priebus and others had urged the party to adopt new, more tolerant attitudes toward immigrants.
Initial polls showed Republicans in front of their television sets to be stunned at the election results. They wanted answers. Marco Rubio had them.
But Marco Rubio's answer on immigration reform, a moderately more relaxed policy toward those who had entered without papers - with a hard path toward citizenship, was not the answer they wanted. Rubio's high polling numbers dropped like a stone.
Marco Rubio had hit a new truth about conservative Republican attitudes toward immigrants. Many conservatives regard immigrants the way they regard black people.
A substantial proportion of conservatives don't hate black people. They only hate black people whom they suspect of liking black people. Similarly, they don't hate immigrants. They just hate immigrants whom they suspect of liking immigrants. They live in perpetual suspicion that somewhere, somehow, some immigrant or some black person, might be getting away with something.
These are people who recently reacted to a small child's plea not to deport her father. The child had been born in the United States. Her father had not. The town hall audience applauded as the little girl was told that rules were rules and her father would be taken away.
So the initial post-election calculation had turned out to be wrong. Marco Rubio has since backtracked on his earlier clever position on immigration, but the suspicion has been planted. he will never get his popularity back.
And now Syria has come to haunt him.
Like other conservatives, Senator Rubio had staked out a position on Syria that, by some strange coincidence, happened to be in opposition to that of President Obama. The general theme has been that Obama is weak.
Obama as a weakling was an easier sell at first. But the bold taking out of bin Laden and the annihilation of the original al Qaeda has made that harder. Syria was thought to be a possible nose of an attack camel under the tent.
Marco Rubio is a pretty smart guy. He wrote an article for Foreign Policy Magazine and other scholarly publications. He outlined why direct intervention in Syria was not only humanitarian, but was in America's interest.
For years, its regime has aided the terrorist operations of Hezbollah and Hamas, supported Iran's destabilizing policies, and helped terrorists kill Americans in Iraq. The regime has not only destabilized the region but also directly acted against the national security interests of the United States.
- Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), April 28, 2011
This got to be very popular among conservatives. Republican garden parties and fundraising gatherings could be counted on to cheer. Marco Rubio's attacks on the weakness of the Obama administration became a series of conservative applause lines.
There was always the suspicion that these folks would have applauded attacks on Obama for asserting that the sky is blue. After all, he was a foreign fraudulent Kenyan interloper socialist who had tricked his way into the Presidency.
A few Republicans will deny that this sort of talk is a fig leaf. The idea that a black President is in office really is okay with them. Some even voted for black candidates before. But this is a black President who occasionally acts to make life a little easier for African-American citizens. And that means we're back to someone, somewhere, maybe getting away with something.
But the anti-Obama attacks about Syria were more plausibly non-racial. Republicans, through thick and thin, had always favored a harsher foreign policy. Mitt Romney had been applauded for promising a more severely conservative policy against Russia, which he described as the greatest danger faced by America. One of his expert national security advisors actually told a national publication that the USSR, nonexistent for more than two decades, was America's greatest danger.
So the Rubio scholarship attacking Obama was welcomed in Republican circles.
But when President Obama got fed up with chemical weapons, and talked about destroying some Syrian airfields and fuel depots, a degree of clarity hit Marco Rubio in the face with concussive force.
Rush Limbaugh now strikes a popular Republican chord with a conspiracy theory involving Obama framing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He borrows the theory from Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. It's a strange, strange world we live in.
So what's a scholarly fellow like Marco Rubio to do? He is not about to flirt as closely to overtly racist attacks as our constant companion Rush. But he finds himself competing for a base of support with no intellectual moorings except an emotional hatred for America's first black President. The President who likes black people. The President who is willing to allow some of those people to maybe get away with something.
Senator Rubio now explains that firm action was a good idea before, but there are no good options now. Before and now.
There was a time early on when Assad was literally on the ropes and the U.S. should’ve engaged in identifying moderate rebels and helping the Syrian people get rid of him themselves, but he led from behind. Now Islamists have poured into Syria, and we really have very few good options available to us at this point.
- Senator Marco Rubio, on Fox News, September 3, 2013
And while action still would be wise, he is against the President's specific plan. It's too much and too little. Action, but not this precise action.
Besides, even before Obama announced his proposals, Marco Rubio was against the action he was for. He is not just skeptical of military action, that was always his position. You see, he remains skeptical.
But I remain very skeptical that the kind of attack they’re contemplating, this limited attack, is going to actually achieve that goal of preventing Assad from using chemical weapons in the future.
And that is how an intelligent fellow, a scholarly Senator with presidential ambitions, adjusts to a conservative world as it becomes increasingly unhinged.
He unhinges with it.
Listen As You Go -
Anti-Gay Shop Closes - Conservatives React to Market Theory (5:51) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Pearls and Shells on the Future of the Republican Party (6:25) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text