Spare the Innocent, Slay the Guilty

The long case of death row inmate Troy Davis is coming to a close.  His case now stands before the Supreme Court as they deliberate on whether or not he deserves to die for a crime he most likely did not commit.  The outcry has been vocal and people are refreshing news sites and checking their Twitter feed to see if Davis is free or if he is dead.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a man named  Lawrence Brewer is being executed for the murder of James Byrd Jr.*

There is no outcry for Mr. Brewer because he is most likely guilty whereas Davis’ case hits to the heart of our deepest fears about the death penalty: what if we killed an innocent person?

We already have.  In 1976, the death penalty was reinstated.  1,276 men and women have been executed as of September 13, 2011.  The odds are slim that every single person executed was guilty of their crime.

But that’s beside the point.  Mr. Brewer should not have been executed just as Mr. Davis should not be executed.  However, we rally around Mr. Davis because it makes the case that if even one innocent person is executed, then the death penalty should be abolished.  But really it just makes the argument, “Please be really, really, really sure someone is guilty before you kill him.”

The death penalty is wrong.  Period.  The innocence or guilt of the condemned is irrelevant.  The death penalty is not a deterrent and it is not how a modern society should behave.  A murderer is either too enraged to think about the death penalty or he/she doesn’t care.  And if it doesn’t reduce homicides, then it is simply the implementation of an antiquated system of moral  justice.  The Code of Hammurabi was over 3,700 years ago.  Surely, we must have made some progress since then.  But clearly, at least in America and any other place that still executes its citizens, we haven’t.

The case of Troy Davis isn’t special unless you believe that some people deserve to die and others don’t and it is up to us to make that call.  But if you believe, as I do, that the death penalty is always wrong no matter the guilt or innocence of the condemned, then the case of Troy Davis isn’t horrifying because an innocent man may be put to death.  It’s horrifying because whether Troy Davis is executed tonight or not, Lawrence Brewer was and he won’t be the last.

*I feel it’s important to note that Brewer was a white supremacist convicted of dragging Mr. Byrd to death from the back of his pick-up truck.  Despite the ugliness of the crime, I feel that Mr. Brewer should have been left to rot in prison for the rest of his days.  Executing Brewer doesn’t bring back Mr. Byrd, it won’t stop future hate crimes, and if the only benefit is that we as a society feel justified by Mr. Brewer’s execution, let me remind you that Mr. Brewer felt justified in his slaying of Mr. Byrd.  Brewer’s execution may bring comfort to the friends and family of Mr. Byrd but if the purpose of “justice” is only to bring comfort, then our definition of justice is on par with a tub of Häagen-Dazs and a warm bath.  The purpose of justice isn’t to serve individuals but to serve society as a whole.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 politics, stupid No Comments

We The Entertained

Obama had to move his big jobs speech up to 7pm (EST) so as not to interfere with the first football game of the season.  This speaks to two points:

1.) How far Obama has fallen in the public’s eyes.  The President’s approval rating has reached a new low and it’s not tough to see why.  The economy isn’t growing new jobs, unemployment remains stuck at over 9%, and people see banks returning to normal while their own lives have fallen apart.  Beyond that, it says something that a gifted orator like Obama can no longer command an audience.  Part of that speaks to the public’s weariness with politicians in general and the continued disenchantment with Obama and his pro-big business policies with only lip service to small businesses.

2.) We care more about entertainment than we do about our country.  Will Obama’s speech be full of big ideas, empty promises, and a vague road map sure to be thwarted at every turn by Republicans?  Probably.  But this is a Presidential Address.  Our country’s leader is speaking.  You may not agree with what he has to say but this isn’t Sunday’s weekly, “Hey, how ya doin’ America?  Really wish the Republicans would shape up.  Oh well.”  He wants prime time and the country says, “Sorry, but we’re ready for some football.”  So Obama has to move his speech up to 7pm (4pm PST when most people will be in front of a TV), and it sends the message that the speech is less important than a sporting event.  The speech is about jobs, it’s about the economy, it’s about putting our country back to work, but unfortunately there are two championship teams squaring off and we don’t want people to miss the first quarter.

And that speaks to the greater character of our country: our entertainment is more important than our nation’s welfare.  We are amusing ourselves to death.  Even how we perceive our politics is cast in the mold of entertainment.  We don’t want to hear policy.  We want to hear who’s up, who’s down, who looks good, who looks bad, the latest flub, the soaring rhetoric, and enjoy the horserace.

Even outside this “Football Beats the President” story, we can’t afford to not be plugged into something.  I went to the pharmacy today and people waiting for their prescription to be filled were immersed in their mobile device, myself included.  I was handling e-mail but there was nothing urgent in my inbox.  Our phones are filled with games, music, movies, the Internet and everything to help us dodge the awkward silence and interactions with the people sitting next to us.  A guy who looks down and doesn’t talk to anyone at a party is awkward and shy.  A guy who looks down and doesn’t talk to anyone but is typing into his iPhone might be awkward and shy, but he looks busy and perhaps even important as he can’t be bothered by the people around him due to his intense game of Angry Birds.

Entertainment is important.  It’s our cultural touchstone.  It’s how we’ve come to communicate with each other and define our identity through our interests.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  But when entertainment is deemed more important than a Presidential Address, then our citizenship no longer really matters.  We don’t belong to America because we’re now part of the Packers nation or Team Edward or the Browncoats.  I was never a big believer in pledging allegiance to the flag, but now we pledge our allegiance to our entertainment.  We pledge allegiance, to the entertainment, of the United States of Distraction, and to the Episode, Sequel, or Game for which it stands, one Nation, under fandom, with liberty and justice for all who are on my side.

**Please note that when I say “we”, I’m not using it in the accusatory sense that really means “Everybody but me.”  I’m as guilty of these distractions as anyone if not more so since my job is to cover movies, TV, and video games plus I’m a big football fan.**

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 politics, sports, stupid No Comments

Special Comment: The Four Hypocrisies

Keith Olbermann issued a withering Special Comment last night aimed at the debt deal.  It’s a good comment in so far as it uses Olbermann’s eloquence to effectively voice the anger many of us are feeling at Obama and the Democrats’ latest capitulation (or as Matt Taibbi put it, they took a dive).  But Olbermann the makes a half-assed rallying cry that progressives and the middle and working class take back the government.  Olbermann makes vague appeals to the powers of social networking and calling back the attitudes of the late 60s and early 70s (remind me, who won the 1968 and 1972 elections?  His name was Richard-something-or-other).

But ultimately such cries for change are in vein.  Obama was the last time most of us will be fooled.  So much was riding on his rhetoric and we hoped and prayed we were getting a once-in-a-generation figure.  But it was actually image politics at its finest and so many were glad to be getting a guy who spoke in complete sentences because that’s where George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were setting the bar.  We made a big deal about Obama being the first black President but he’s shown himself to be as yellow as any other.

And truly, there are no replacements.  We won’t change campaign finance laws because people, no matter how well-intentioned, will almost always find their way to the money.  They’ll do a stint in congress and then find their way to a high-priced lobbying firm and trade access for fat cash.  And since there’s no profit in helping an ill-defined group of middle-class voters (we’ve already seen this year how unions can be destroyed), no organization on the behalf of the middle-class can ever raise enough money to compete with the Goldman Sachs and Koch Brothers of the world.  Even if they could, there’s more money to be made helping the richer organizations.

We live in an oligarchy and who we choose as our leaders is about as important as who we choose as the next American Idol.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 politics, television No Comments

The Bachmann Nightmare

What does it say about how Barack Obama has run the country that Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota congressman who was fighting for her seat in 2008 after implying we should institute McCarthyism, is now a serious candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination?  Only under his weak-willed governance, half-measures, and consistence ignorance about how to beat Republicans in national politics, could a horrific figure like Michelle Bachmann find a base like the Tea Party and start making a play at the White House.

If you think Michelle Bachmann is just a figure of fun because her belief are so beyond the pale that no one could possibly take her seriously, take a step back and apprise the country of the last four years.  People took to town halls and angrily wrote their representative that the gov’ment wuz gonna take away their terrible fucking health care scam.  There’s no national anger at the banks anymore but morons keep thinking that if only taxes went down then everything would be okay because who wants to pay for roads and schools and sanitation.

I encourage you to read Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone article where he voices the same warning about Bachmann.  Since he’s done such a terrific job of cataloging just some of her many hypocrisies and hatreds, I’ll add one more that went public today.  Michelle Bachmann signed “The Marriage Vow” which is yet another piece of conservative Christian bullshit designed to demonize gay people and pretend like they want to go into your house, split up your marriage, and tell you that you’re going to fuck people of the same sex from now on.

But here’s where it gets really fucked up:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.

This atrocious statement is on page one.  You can click over to Mediaite for their breakdown of the hatefulness and ignorance of this statement. We can laugh at stupidity all we like, but this is where it gets scary.  Not only would anyone who paid attention in 6th grade American history know this statement is false, but let’s just break down the statement to what it is: “Hey black people, you know that black guy you elected President?  Guess what!  He’s made your life worse than when you were slaves.  IRONY.”

A person who the mainstream media loves because she’s going to say something batshit insane every time she opens her crazy fucking mouth is considered someone who could sit in the Oval Office and make decisions.  It’s tempting to laugh off Bachmann because then we won’t have to face the fact that such a grotesque figure actually has more power than us.

Friday, July 8th, 2011 politics No Comments

Low Road to the High Ground

Congressman Anthony Weiner did a gross thing.  He did a stupid thing.  He should be publicly chastised on both counts.  However, in the range of gross, stupid sexual things that members of higher office have done when it comes to their members, his crime is at the low end.  To the best of our knowledge, he never engaged in personal sexual relations outside his marriage.  That’s not to say that he didn’t hurt and embarrass his wife with his actions, but it’s the line between thinking about doing something and actually doing it.  If Weiner actually wanted to cheat on his wife, he could have gone ahead with it.

But there is no reason he should resign.  You can argue that he’ll be less effective now that he has a scandal hanging over his head, but people forget scandals unless you run for higher office.  He’ll probably be stuck as a congressman for the rest of his political career, but people will forget and move on to the next scandal.  And when the next inevitible scandal comes along, if it’s more salacious, Weiner’s sexual improperity will seem small by comparison.  And liberals should not forget that he’s been a loud voice for their causes and that matters in a congress that keeps moving to the right because the extreme right is pulling all of congress to radical conservative values to the point where Obama thinks he’s a centrist when actually his values coincide with 1980s Republicans.

So naturally, Democrats, in their infinite stupidity, are throwing Weiner under the bus.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee  has joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the call for Weiner to resign.  Keep in mind, Democrats aren’t the party that tries to legislate morality.  There is no “moral majority” for Democrats, they don’t align with the religious right, and they don’t argue that the founders made intended America as  Christian nation.

Republicans do that, and when they have a sexual scandal, they aren’t in a rush to kick out the adulterers (except for Larry Craig, whose adultery wasn’t a problem but his homosexuality was).  Louisiana senator David Vitter fucked prostitutes, and he not only kept his job, but was re-elected last year.  South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford disappeared to Argentina so he could fuck his mistress, and all he got was censure, the equivalent to a slap on the wrist.

But Democrats, a party without values beyond what the latest focus group thinks, is willing to throw out a liberal voice because he sexted.  They want to throw him out because it tells voters “Hey!  Look!  We’re moral!  We share your values!”  It’s a short-term gain at the expense of an accomplished legislator who fights for worthwhile policy matters.  The same thing happened with Eliot Spitzer.  Yes, his sexual deviance was more extreme, but personal actions should have personal consequences, not professional retribution.  Spitzer was one of the toughest regulators modern Wall Street has ever seen and our country once again showed that it was happier to engage in moral superiority and schadenfreude than to defend someone who was trying to protect their interests.

Democrats aren’t saying “Let’s focus on more important matters.”  They’re saying, “Yes, let’s engage in this distraction.  Let’s acknowledge it as a real thing that’s worthy of the American people’s attention instead of why the price of gas is so damn high.”  But none of it surprises me anymore.  The media goes for the sensational instead of the substantive, Democrats suck at politics, and Republicans laugh all the way to the hotel where they cheat on their spouses.

I don’t feel bad for Anthony Weiner, but I feel bad for the political and cultural system he and I have to inhabit.

Saturday, June 11th, 2011 politics, stupid No Comments


As I was flipping through some midday news, I saw a report that the average gas price is expected to reach $4.50/gal before finally coming down in October.  Sadly, this price has nothing to do with supply and demand.  Environmentalists will use it as a call-to-arms that everyone should buy fuel efficient cars with money they don’t have while conservatives will say that it’s time to drill off shore as quickly as possible.  However, both these calls assume that the price of gas is so high because we’re running out or because of the current turmoil in the Middle East.

But that’s simply not the case.  It’s oil speculation now and it was oil speculation in 2008.  As Matt Taibbi explains in his must-read (albeit wholly depressing) book Griftopia, the price of oil is being driven up by greedy speculators (e.g. Goldman Sachs, Barack Obama’s single largest campaign contributor in 2008).  How does this work?  By screwing with the commodities market.  Here’s a helpful analogy of how it’s gone horribly wrong:

To use an example frequently offered by [Mike Masters of Masters Capital Management], imagine if someone continually showed up at car dealerships and asked to buy $500,000 worth of cars.  This mystery person doesn’t care how many cars, mind you, he just wants a half million bucks’ worth.  Eventually, someone is going to sell that guy one car for $500,000. Put enough of those people out there visiting car dealerships, your car market is going to get very weird very quickly.  Soon enough, the people who are coming into the dealership looking to buy cars they actually plan on driving are going to find they’ve been priced out of the market. [p. 143]

Also keep in mind that the price of oil drives up the price of food.  If companies have to pay more to put fuel in their trucks, they’re going to pass the loss onto the consumer.

So what does our fearful leader do in the face of obvious and well-documented fraud?  He pulls a classic Obama and hedges with the appearance of doing something without actually doing anything.  The website Transport Topics reports:

The U.S. Justice Department is “putting together a team whose job it is to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, and that includes the role of traders and speculators,” President Barack Obama said Thursday in Reno, Nevada.

Oh good.  Another commission to look into something that we already know.  Obama’s defenders will argue that this is the same “prudence” he’s always exercised, but it’s really a stalling tactic.  Obama didn’t say “We’re going to prosecute speculators” or anything that would give the hint that he’s an active rather than a re-active president.  Instead, they’ll “root out any cases of fraud or manipulation”, whatever the hell that means.  And while the Justice Department continues its stellar record of not prosecuting serious corporate criminals in any meaningful way, the administration will hope that the price of oil will decline and our collective amnesia will take over.

I write all this so that every time you go to fill up your car, you’ll look at the price and know that it’s not real.  That it has nothing to do with our lack of energy alternatives or worldwide demand or that we’re not drilling enough in our own backyard.  It’s a scam and it’s a scam we may as well get to used to because Obama has shown he has no real interest in holding anyone responsible for anything.

On a related note, we just passed the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill that destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.  Here’s a visual reminder of that enduring catastrophe.  We have passed ZERO new laws to handle such a spill in the future (although deepwater drilling permits have been issued despite “not fabulous” safety standards).  Sad fact: Reuters reports that “During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.”

Friday, April 22nd, 2011 politics, stupid No Comments

The Conflictinator at Work

Would you like to combine your dismay with our national news media with our nation’s outdated and alarmist approach to gender roles?  Then you’ll love the misery provided by last night’s opening segment of The Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Toemageddon 2011 – This Little Piggy Went to Hell
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 criticism, politics, stupid, television No Comments

The Piñata of Benevolence

While I usually find Bill Maher too obnoxious, his “New Rule” on shows like Secret Millionaire and Undercover Boss is worth watching:

Sunday, March 13th, 2011 humor, politics, television No Comments

Obama Goes to the Bank

I had the foolish hope that when Rahm Emmanuel and Larry Summers announced they were exiting the Obama administration, that the tenor might change and Obama might hire some outsiders who would be willing to say “Wow.  This is really fucked up.  Banks are running this place and you’re losing the goodwill of the American people by being their butt-boy.”

Of course, Obama is a weak man who lacks confidence in actually changing the system.  So who is his new chief of staff?  William Daley, whose current job is a bank executive at JP Morgan Chase.  So why does Daley get the job?  Because he’s seen as a guy who can get Obama a second term.  Good luck with that.

And who is Obama’s new head of the White House Economic Council?  Gene Sperling, who previously worked as a consultant for Goldman Sachs.  But hey, he held this post during the Clinton years, and as we all know, it’s 1996.

It’s clear that Obama’s real agenda isn’t changing the way Washington works.  He’s hiring Clinton guys (also in the mix is Jacob Lew, who was the old director of the OMB and now is the new director of the OMB) who jerk off to the same idiotic philosophy that the free market is always right except when it’s wrong and then government has a responsibility to save it.  Did Clinton preside over an era of economic growth?  Kind of.  It was a bubble economy spurred by equity scams followed by the dot-com scams.  It was artificial growth and Clinton let Glass-Steagal, a law that prevented too-big-to-fail banks from existing, be repealed.  And all of these “new” councilors Obama has are the same kind of morally-corrupt nitwits who will ask the banks to pretty-please let the nation kind of survive.

Saturday, January 8th, 2011 politics, stupid No Comments

The Math

Last night was the final episode of The Daily Show for 2010 and host Jon Stewart made one more effort to call attention to the 9/11 First Responders bill that had stalled in the Senate.  The bill would provide $7 billion to cover the health care costs incurred by the first responders who rushed to Ground Zero on 9/11 and were rewarded for their heroism with diseases and the crippling financial burden that comes when you make the unforgivable mistake of getting sick in America.  It was a moving, heartbreaking piece and if I have one complaint, it would be that the Daily Show didn’t offer any way viewers could donate money directly to these 9/11 first responders.

Of course, direct donations wouldn’t be necessary if Congress, and namely Republican senators, acted responsibly.  I could shoot an e-mail to my senators, but the thing about the GOP is that they’re very good at not thinking for themselves.  They are a lockstep voting group and the Senators from Georgia, Mr. Chambliss and Mr. Isakson, have never made headlines because they don’t make waves.  They don’t introduce important legislation and they don’t question the party leadership.  And e-mails or letters or phone calls from me won’t make a difference because I’m not part of their calculus.  I’m one liberal voter.  I didn’t vote for either of them and most likely never will.  I don’t have huge sums of money to donate to their campaigns so a letter from me asking them to do right by 9/11 first responders isn’t going to change their minds.  A mind has to exist in order for it to be changed.

I know I go after President Obama a lot on this blog, but that’s because I have expectations of him.  I thought there was greatness in him but with each passing day, I suspect that greatness only extended to winning the 2008 election.  I don’t begrudge him his pragmatism, but I do begrudge him that pragmatism when it’s used in pursuit of upholding a broken status quo.  Being successful at keeping things rotten isn’t much reason to celebrate, and a President who thinks that one year of unemployment benefits in exchange for two years of tax cuts isn’t good at math and is even worse at politics.

But I don’t say much about Republicans on this blog because at this point it’s a given that they’re evil.  You can’t vote against a 9/11 First Responders bill in good conscience.  There are many issues where I’m willing to concede that an opposing viewpoint isn’t evil, but simply misguided or just really stupid.  This is not one of those issues.  Voting against 9/11 first responders is evil.  This is saying money, money that the GOP has no problem giving away to millionaires and billionaires, isn’t worth giving to people who risked their lives on 9/11 and are now dying slow and painful deaths as a result.  The fact that this bill hasn’t passed already doesn’t offend the GOP.  The thought of working on Christmas offends them, but letting heroes die when you have the power to help them?  Not keeping any Republicans up at night.  And if it sounds like I’m demonizing Republicans, it’s only because I find their actions demonic.

What’s disheartening is that if a bill such as this can’t pass the U.S. Senate, then what can?  Bills that help the wealthy and leave the rest of us with the scraps, apparently.  Republicans have chosen to do evil and media organizations that treat actions such as these as worthwhile positions allow evil to exist as a perfectly valid viewpoint.  News organizations are so scared of being labeled partisan, that they won’t say, “9/11 first responders are dying in agony because Republicans are blocking the bill on the basis of not wanting Democrats to win.”  And as long as people don’t know about it, then that’s wonderful because if they did, they would be fucking outraged.  If people can get upset about a non-mosque that’s not located next door to Ground Zero, imagine what they would do if they found out 9/11 first responders were being left to die in poverty?

I applaude Jon Stewart for calling attention to this bill.  I think this, far more than the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, is the best thing he’s done with his influence this year.  The Rally was a nice evolution of his satire and media critique, but this is a fight with a clear right and a clear wrong and I thank Mr. Stewart and everyone at The Daily Show for willing to set aside some laughs to pick up an important cause.

If you live in a state represented by a heartless Republican, but still want to help, you can donate to the FealGood Foundation.  You may not have corporate backers and a warchest filled with millions of dollars, but you’ll have actually made a positive difference in the world, which is more than I can say for anyone who voted against the 9/11 First Responders bill.

Saturday, December 18th, 2010 politics No Comments