Monday, April 23, 2012

The Death Penalty Box

Did you know that if you kill a man in St. Louis you could be executed for the crime, but if you kill the same man across the river in East St. Louis, you will only go to prison? States with capital punishment are very pro-choice. Among 37 states, there are 5 different methods of execution in use, allowing the condemned to choose between the chair, the rope, the needle, the gas chamber, or a firing squad. The Death Penalty stirs strong emotional feelings on both sides. Abolitionists claim that since man did not create life, it's therefore not his to take, without exception. Advocates say that is a deterrent to violent crime and the ultimate justice for its victims. George Carlin said that death was more than just a penalty. A penalty is something that happens in hockey. Death is a bit more permanent. I have given this issue a great deal of thought. I have looked at it from Judaeo-Christian-Zen-Hindu points of view, including the consideration of both karmic laws and state laws. I have contemplated its inhumanity and whatever is the philosophical opposite when it comes to putting a person to death. I have examined the costs and the morality. I have perused the holy texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, and I have come to agree with the wisdom of my Texas cousins: "Some people just need killin'."

I know that admission may shock some of my progressive friends, but I'm conflicted here. I realize that the Christian point of view ought to be no executions, no exceptions, because Jesus Himself stopped one. I guess stoning was a particularly cruel manner of capital punishment, depending on the size of the rocks, but Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Then again, the Old Testament calls for "an eye for an eye." So many conservatives cheered for Texas Governor Rick Perry's heavyweight championship of execution during the Republican debates, it's an ongoing spiritual mystery how so many Rock of Ages absolutists can be both pro-life yet also favor the death penalty. Irrespective of the fervor of the faithful, if karma works in the same way as the laws of cause and effect, and someone has committed a crime so horrible that he will return to this life with some type of deformity, we'd be doing him a favor to give him a little nudge along the path of his spiritual journey.

Everyday, I see someone walk out of prison that was on death row. Advances in forensics and other technologies have freed men held captive for decades while others have surely been wrongly put to death. In Texas, they do it for a hobby, like hot dog eaters trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. On the other hand, Charles Manson may well have reached cult-like status anyway if the death penalty were not eliminated in California in 1972, but he wouldn't have stayed alive long enough to record new CDs and become this country's convict with the most correspondence. I doubt that John Wayne Gacey's paintings would still be on the market if he hadn't spent that much time in prison in order to paint them all. The most egregious example is Richard Speck, the mass murderer. Speck's was the first particularly horrifying mass slaying to be made public during the media age. In 1966, Speck raped, tortured and murdered eight student nurses in their beds at their Chicago apartment. He was quickly captured and sentenced to death, but a Supreme Court decision created a four year moratorium on state execution, under which Speck's life was spared. He later claimed he never really had a reason to kill those girls and that it was so messy, if he could go back, it would just be a simple house burglary.

If there were ever a candidate for capital punishment, it would be Richard Speck. But the evidence was not necessarily in the trial so much as in the prison video Speck made before he died of natural causes at age 50. The footage is still so gag-inducing, it makes me ill to conjure the memory, but without being expansive, Speck is featured snorting coke with his jail lover and showing off new surgically enlarged man-breasts. He says to the "videographer," "If the public only knew how much fun we're having." At that point, I stopped caring about deterrence, or cost, or philosophy, or ethics; I just wished that guy was dead. But, "Vengeance is Mine," sayeth the Lord. Fair enough. But it's also said, "The Lord helps those who help themselves." Face it, there are some people that are just dying to meet their maker, and doing it in so gruesome a way that we, as a society, need to accommodate them. These times in which we live, (the Kali Yuga in Hindi), are so dark that violent crimes have become increasingly brutal, depraved and committed with such savagery, that the perpetrators have forfeited their right to live on this planet and breathe the same air as other humans. Game over. Thanks for playing. Better luck next time.

The 1972 case that stopped all executions for a time was called Furman v. Georgia. It wasn't because of a rigged trial or planted evidence, the court merely ruled that a more uniform system about what did and did not qualify for the death penalty needed to be put in place. So, let's merely follow the court's ruling and narrow the criteria for the ultimate punishment. This would, of necessity, have to be a federal law, just to overrule the "try 'em and fry 'em" regimen of some of our more trigger happy states. To my mother's regret, I am not an attorney, but I'll bet that some legal statutes could be written on a national level, like the voting age, that regulate the conditions necessary for and the method of execution. Leaving a matter of this magnitude to the states has created the chaos we are currently witnessing. I once believed that the correct solution was not to kill the murderers, just lock them in a cage like mad dogs. Forget about rehabilitation or exercise, just slide their food under a crack in the door and let nature do its work. But in recent decades, a category of soulless criminal has emerged that just doesn't deserve any more food and water. For example- anyone committing a mass slaying or spree killing is good to go; anybody that tortures and murders for kicks is hot to trot; serial child predators win a free ticket to the afterlife, including the clergy. Now that might serve as a deterrent.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Female Problems

What would you call someone whose actions intentionally harm their own best interests? 
"Misguided" is the most charitable word I can think of. What about, say, a union organizer in Wisconsin working to keep Governor Scott Walker in office? Or, a group of Mexican-Americans supporting the re-election of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio because they approve of Arizona's "Your papers, please" law? Would they be masochists or just damned fools? Then how about any woman who would vote for a Republican in the coming election? I don't mean just the presidential contest, I mean any Republican for any public office. After the GOP's party-wide fatwah on womens' contraceptive rights was declared and an agressive campaign to restrict legal abortion swept through statehouses around the country, I can only think of a few possible reasons that women would stick with the Republicans: either they are indoctrinated, propagandized, misinformed, or motivated by a simmering hatred for our mixed-race president with the foreign sounding name. Or else they're Marsha Blackburn.

A religious backed effort to strangle women's access to abortion has been spreading through Republican controlled state legislatures like the whooping cough. Georgia passed the "Women as Livestock" bill, so named when a GOP Representative compared pregnant women to "cows and pigs on (his) farm," sparking fist-fights between lobbyists and a walk-out by Democratic women who wrapped themselves in crime scene tape. Commonly called the "Fetal Pain Bill," Georgia  criminalized abortion after 20 weeks, down from the current 26 weeks, without exceptions. Similar "Fetal Pain Restrictions" have passed in seven additional states, placing roadblocks toward a womans' right to a legal, and safe, abortion. In Mississippi, the legislature passed a bill mandating that physicians have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals before performing abortions. Since Mississippi's sole abortion clinic is the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the new law would effectively shut it down, fulfilling Gov. Phil Bryant's pledge to "make Mississippi abortion free." The obvious consequences would force the state's women seeking reproductive rights into Tennessee. However, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood has co-sponsored a bill in Congress prohibiting "bringing minors across state lines for the purpose of abortion."

Behind the scenes is the anti-choice group, Operation Save America, which has targeted states with only one abortion clinic, including North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arkansas, virtually making them also "abortion free." If all this sounds eerily like the 1800s, when states were divided into "slave states" and "free states," that is the purpose of the stealth campaign to criminalize abortion through local, rather than federal law. After Virginia passed the mandatory ultra-sound bill, nine states followed suit, including Oklahoma, whose state Supreme Court just struck down the law as unconstitutional. Of all the states attempting to bypass the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, perhaps the most zealous jihadists are right here in the Republican controlled Tennessee Statehouse. They adopted the Mississippi bill concerning physicians' "admitting privileges," 93-0 in the House, and are currently being sued by Planned Parenthood to re-instate grant funding stripped by the wing-nut legislature. The most frightening thing is that Republicans are poised to dominate the state's legislative bodies well into the foreseeable future, emboldening the anti-abortion crusaders.

Tennessee State Rep. Matthew Hill, a religious broadcaster from Jonesborough, a town of 5,220 near Johnson City, introduced legislation that would require the Tennessee Department of Health to publish detailed information about every woman in the state who has an abortion, including "age, race, county, marital status, education, number of children, location of the procedure, and how many times the woman has been pregnant." In addition, Hill called for the online publication of the names of doctors performing the procedure. After a citizens' uproar, Hill withdrew the proposal, accusing his opponents of "spreading lies about the bill, slandering his reputation, and inciting threats of violence against him." Not to be dissuaded, Hill then proposed a law authorizing Tennessee counties to "erect monuments of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and on their grounds as parts of displays of other historical documents." To paraphrase the late, great Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement, "How long, O Lord, must we be held hostage by these rural legislative rubes?" Along with the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill, the legislature has passed an "abstinence first" sex education law with legal penalties for instructors who stray from the curriculum. Nashville Democrat Mike Turner said, "They've got a real thing with sex. We're about ready to...put the women in burqas here if we keep going at this rate."

Barack Obama is going to beat Mitt Romney like a conga drum in 2012, and that's not just because he has natural rhythm. The Republicans richly deserve the pounding they are about to receive at the polls, and the Tea Party cultural warriors who were voted in in 2010 will just as vigorously be voted out; and the difference will be women. Polls already show that women see right through the transparent attempt by Republicans to pander to the evangelical, Christian right with new laws restricting reproductive freedom. The self-proclaimed, anti-big government activists are attempting the biggest experiment in religious zealotry since Prohibition; and all this at a time when the major concerns of the electorate are jobs and the economy. As soon as uber-patriot Rush Limbaugh said, "I hope he (Obama) fails," the Republicans had their marching orders. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell publicly stated that, "Our main priority is to ensure that this president is a one-term president." From that day on, the Republicans have stonewalled, filibustered, blocked, or opposed every initiative put forward by the Obama administration, even those first proposed by the GOP. Cap and Trade? John McCain's idea. Individual mandate? Bob Dole's idea. The EPA? Richard Nixon's creation. Their grand design is to bring down this president regardless of the damage done to the country. Consequently, the only way to put this nation back on the path to progress is to crush them utterly and make these right-wing reactionaries rue the day they chose partisan politics over principle. Only, where is Gloria Steinem now that we need her?