There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice – Pt. 2

It appears a measure banning the death penalty may be on the ballot in California this November.  The 800,000 signatures gathered are currently being validated so we shall see.

I posted in a previous blog about the systematic racism inherent in the application of capital punishment, but in doing so I may have missed the greater point:

Innocent people are very likely being executed–in which case race or any other group identifiers are a secondary concern.  There is no way to be sure about how many wrongful executions have taken place because courts do not review the potential innocence of a convict after execution.  Resources are allocated to those whose lives can still be saved.

The execution of Claude Jones is a prime example.  Jones was executed in 2000 after George W. Bush’s clemency advisers failed to inform the Texas governor of  a request for a DNA test.   A hair allegedly coming from Claude Jones was the only evidence linking him to the crime scene.  The DNA technology was not available at the time of Jones’ conviction and Gov. Bush had stayed previous executions to allow for DNA testing.  In 2007, a judge ordered for a DNA test of the hair sample.  The results were not definitive, but suggested that the hair sample did not come from Jones.  (You can read more about Claude Jones and others who may have been wrongfully executed here.)

DNA evidence has played a key role in exonerating several death penalty convicts.  Unfortunately, DNA testing is impossible in a great majority of cases.  However, there are other evidential and procedural mistakes that lead to convictions of innocent people.

  • Confessions have been obtained by police through coercive interrogation tactics.
  • Faulty line up techniques and witness leading has strengthened inaccurate witness testimony.
  • Other characteristics, such as gang affiliation, drastically affect conviction rates, irrespective of the evidence.
Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley

There is also the political angle.  District attorneys, often elected to office, don’t want to look weak on crime.  Convictions rates sell better than satisfying justice.  An example of this is the injunction filed against Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley for retaliating against prosecutors who unionized  because they were being pressured to convict people they believed to be innocent.

Perhaps the best argument against continuing with the death penalty is the staggering (even prohibitive) cost of capital cases.  Simply put, it is far more expensive to execute a convict than to imprison that convict for life without parole.  In fact, several states have repealed or discontinued capital punishment solely because of the expense.

The exorbitant cost (roughly US$30 million per execution)  lies in the additional requirements imbued in death penalty cases.  There are typically twice as many attorneys involved; there are more pre-trial motions; jury selection is more in -depth and jurors are usually sequestered; two trials are required, one for guilt and one for sentencing; the actual trial tends to take 3-5 times longer; then comes the series of Constitutionally-mandated appeals, during which time, inmates are held in maximum security on death row at an additional cost of roughly US$90,000 per year, per inmate for a duration generally lasting between 10-15 years.  The appeals system is so backlogged it takes roughly 5 years just to get an attorney assigned (imagine if you’re innocent :().

This long, drawn out system full of multiple appeals is the source of much consternation for death penalty supporters.  Unfortunately for them, there’s not much that can be done in this regard.  The Fifth Amendment plainly states:

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

So until the convicted have availed themselves of every legal process they are due, the state does not have the right to kill them.  It might seem like a hassle but it’s for good reason.  A Columbia Law School study showed that 68% of death penalty convictions are overturned on appeal and 82% of re-tried death penalty cases resulted in life sentences. In fact, only 1 in 10 death penalty convictions actually leads to an execution.

Death penalty cases are often motivated by the emotional response to the crime rather than a reasoned evaluation of the evidence.  Once reason is applied, juries find that most of these cases do not meet the death penalty standard–because you don’t just want to be sure, you want to be absolutely-fucking-positive of guilt.  That’s almost never the case, as the stats show.

We must also consider the toll death penalty convictions take on prosecutors and jurors.  These people are responsible for answering for the murder of one person (or more) with the murder of another.  We have to remember that in reality, capital punishment tests people’s conscience and moral compass.  It’s one thing to pontificate in the abstract and quite another to make the decision about a person you can look in the eye and live with it.

I am sympathetic to seeing violent, merciless killers pay the ultimate price for what they’ve done.  I would certainly want anyone who kills someone I care about to face execution.  But I am not so thirsty for revenge that I’d risk murdering an innocent person.

The death penalty does not deter crime.  It is extremely costly.   It’s rife with mistakes, politics, and abuse.  It’s bogged down with mandatory procedures.  It takes an emotional toll on everyone involved.  It has and will continue to kill innocent people.  It is a revenge tool primarily used by third world nations and despotic regimes–most of the modern world has abandoned it.  And in the end it does not bring the victims back.

If and when you cast your vote on this measure in November, it’s important to remember that it’s not about the morality of executing brutal murderers, it’s about whether or not you want to continue this terribly flawed, biased, and ineffective system.

You have to ask yourself if a little blood from the guilty is worth a little innocent blood and a lot of taxpayer money.

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The REAL Healthcare Debate In A Nutshell

I’m just going to come right out and say it:  We need to socialize our health care system in the United States.

Call it single-payer, call it a public option, call it a Medicare buy-in, call it whatever you want, just socialize it so we can move on.  (Yes, I hear the political heads exploding.) 

I understand.  I’ve used the dreaded S-word.  Fortunately, I just finished a blog about the dogmatic shroud surrounding socialism and I believe you’ll find it less scary (and less un-American) than you think.

We already know detractors will slather the idea in terrifying imagery.   They’ll try to make it seem like you’ll have to go to some kind of DMV for your chemotherapy.  This is the United States of America.  I have no doubt that if we make it a priority to have the most effective and efficient socialized healthcare system the world has ever seen we could get it done.  We did it with our socialized military.  You can’t argue with success.

I look at it like this: human life is more important than profit.  If it is impossible to treat every sick person and still make money then the private sector should not be tasked with providing care.

The naysayers will nevertheless complain about all of the medical advancements our private healthcare system has made.  They tend to leave out the fact that the majority of those advancements were actually made with public, taxpayer-funded grants, and many of those to public, taxpayer-funded universities.

They’ll lament that we’re turning into France or some other socialist state.  (I’d counter that with the story of my French expatriate friend Annie who had her first child in France.  The child was premature and there was a complication with the birth.  Annie was hospitalized for three days.  Her daughter for a week.  There was no bill.)  The fact is, medical costs are one of the main factors behind most bankruptcy filings in  America.  According to a 2007 study by The American Journal of Medicine, getting sick was a factor in 62% of personal bankruptcies.  Even worse, 75% of all those filing for personal bankruptcy actually had some kind of medical insurance.  If it looks like failure and smells like failure…

The critics will say it’s unconstitutional and that the Founding Fathers never intended for us to have universal healthcare.  I would begin by doubting their clairvoyance, then follow up with the argument that in the days of the Founding Fathers a doctor engaged in practices like applying leeches, bloodletting, and having the patient hold boiled stones.  Modern medicine can be the difference between life, death, and the quality of both.  It has become a foundational element of the human experience.  The Founding Fathers could no more predict its advent than they could the internet.

Constitutionally, I consider a socialized healthcare system both a promotion of the general welfare and a Fifth Amendment right.  Anyone who denies a person access to healthcare is denying them their Right to Life without due process.  It is a somewhat broad interpretation, but it doesn’t go against the spirit of the Constitution any more than it does to interpret the inclusion of an Air Force into our military.  Who knew there would be airplanes?

If that’s not enough for the bellyachers, then I say let’s convene a Constitutional convention and decide–once and for all–whether or not there should be a Constitutionally protected right to see a doctor.  If almost 3/4 of the population at least want a social health care option–and according to multiple polls they do–our representative government should have a clear mandate.  At the very least, all sides will have a chance to be heard.  A Constitutional amendment could have the added bonus of disincentivizing the rampant profiteering that drives up medical costs (America has the highest prescription drug prices in the world).

So I say again, socialize healthcare.  Do it and be done with the entire argument. In a nutshell.

(Exploding head image from  http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2010/02/24/videos-of-heads-exploding-in-movies/  Founding Fathers image from: http://www.foundersofamerica.com/Founders_of_America_Posters.htm  Bankruptcy image from: http://katzlawflorida.com/bankruptcy-law/  Doctors support public option image from: http://crooksandliars.com/john-amato/us-doctors-support-public-option)

Capitalism and Socialism Making Sweet Love For Over 200 St. Valentine’s Days

(That's Capitalism on the right)

I’m starting to realize that the reason I started blogging is to define things.  Terms get thrown around in the media as if we’re all in agreement on their definition.  But these terms are interpretive.  Instead of real understanding we’re left with presumption, oversimplification, and gross generalization.  It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the rhetoric.  Next thing you know you’re wasting your time battling propaganda and false arguments and the point gets lost.

"What'chu talkin' 'bout, dog?"

Of course, obfuscation is the point more often than not.  Modern discourse in America isn’t about trying to solve the momentous problems we face.  It’s about playing politics.  We’ve been programmed to forswear actual debate and instead respond to sound bites.  Job Creators.  Pro Choice.  Family Values.  We hear the cues and infer the rest.

For example, the reason I started writing this particular blog was to rail against the privatization of our prison system (based on a story I saw on The Young Turks).  I feel strongly that our prison system should remain socialized.  But I kept feeling like I already lost the argument because I was talking about socialism, a word whose very mention opens me up to ad hominem attacks from the right and abandonment from everyone except the far left(many of whom are, in fact, socialists).  Never mind the fact that police, firefighters, teachers, and soldiers are all forms of it, the common argument is that socialism somehow destroys capitalism.  It failed in the Soviet Union; it’s failing in Europe; and it will fail here.  Socialism is un-American and by proxy, I am un-American for proposing it.

Being labeled a socialist might engender some mild criticism.

Socialism is automatically condemned as a hammock for the weak and lazy…as capitalism is worshiped as an almost biblical virtue.  In reality, neither is inherently good or bad.  They are simply economic systems.  Both have a variety of interpretations, manifestations, and specifics.  The good and bad is derived from their application.

So what do I mean when I say socialism and capitalism?

  • When I say capitalism, I mean an economic system where the means of production are primarily controlled by private enterprises.
  • When I say socialism, I mean an economic system where the means of production are primarily controlled by the government.

Capitalism is not morality.  However, it has proven to be the most effective way to cultivate resources and equitably distribute the goods and services needed to drive the economy and  meet the needs of the population.  It generates profits by rewarding ingenuity, invention, and hard work (and luck).  Markets are vicissitudinous.  Private enterprise can be very nimble.  Governments generally plod.  Capitalism is the most logical and natural economic system for the overwhelming majority of market needs.

Yay Products!

However, there are times when need for a good or service supersedes the profit that can be gained by providing it.  We can probably all agree that it’s better for our military to be controlled by our representative government than by private corporations.  It’s better not to need a credit card or account number when we call 9-1-1 to report a crime. And it is in the interests of our nation as a whole not to task Microsoft with educating our children.

Corporations aren’t necessarily malicious.  (Inherently, they are amoral, and free to decide how they will conduct themselves.)  But their main priority isn’t determining what’s in the best interests of the people they serve; it’s making money.

That’s where the argument lies.  It’s not a battle about whether or not capitalism or socialism can work as a philosophy.  Both have examples of success and failure.  Besides, I agree that capitalism is almost always the better choice.  Nor is it a battle for the country’s soul.  Capitalism and socialism have always been a part of America’s composition.

The U.S. Constitution establishes the government’s responsibility for raising and maintaining a military, building roads, and delivering post.  All are Constitutionally established socialized institutions.  So the un-American argument about socialism is fiction.  There are socialist institutions at our very core.  Socialism and capitalism can coexist in the same economy and have since our nation’s inception.  It’s a marriage that has lasted for two hundred and twenty-three years and looks highly likely to reach its tricentennial.

With the dogmas removed, the philosophical questions become simple.

  • Is it in America’s best interests that private corporations profit from imprisoning people?  Is it right that they lobby for more laws and stricter sentencing?
  • Is it in the interest of commerce to unburden private businesses of the responsibility of providing healthcare?
  • Does Social Security keep the elderly and disabled out of poverty?  Is America better off if the cost of their care is placed on individual families?

    Where do we go from here?

The devil is obviously in the details, but these are some of the real questions surrounding socialism and capitalism that can lead to real answers (and ultimately, real solutions) to our nation’s problems.

(Heart Hands image from http://www.fanpop.com/spots/love-stories/images/15142614/title/couples-love-photo  Confused baby image from: http://bellamysorganicnews.com.au/tag/babies-names/  Confusion fingers image from: http://vocalblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/capital-campaign-confusion-or-collusion.html  Obama joker image from: http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/category/culture/capitalism/  Weeping George Washington image from: http://www.politifake.org/793  logos image from: http://www.fullblownwebdesign.com/full_blown_logo_design.cfm)