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 HäagenDazs 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

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 Passion of Charlie Sheen

When I tell people that I cover entertainment news, I feel compelled to add that Collider doesn’t cover celebrity gossip.  I’ve always found such coverage to be incredibly perverse.  Stardom breeds a familiarity that doesn’t actually exist.  I’ve seen plenty of movies starring Brad Pitt, but I don’t know Brad Pitt.  Brad Pitt doesn’t know me.  We are strangers, and yet because of his fame, his life is now a free-for-all.  There’s absolutely nothing about being a famous actors that automatically entails an invasion of privacy.  And yet paparazzo are paid stalkers and publications on the checkout line and worthless TV shows and websites feel the need to tell us that Jake Gyllenhaal was seen buying a smoothie and Katie Holmes  may have a tapeworm the size of Chile.  When there’s a plea to leave these people alone, the nonsensical response is that “They knew what they were getting into” and it’s a “double-edged sword”, which to me seems like resentment.  The greater questions is why anyone cares in the first place about a total stranger’s life.

To the best I can deduce, it comes down to schadenfreude, and we can see that clearly in the public meltdown of Charlie Sheen.  Charlie Sheen is an unimportant man and none of us know him personally.  And yet I have been guilty at laughing at his non-stop public implosion as he chose to speak to anyone with a microphone, a camera, and the willingness not to tell him “You sound psychotic.”  I was okay laughing at his outburst because no one had invaded his privacy.  No one forced him to sit down with The Today Show, refuse make-up so he would look as strung-out as humanly possible, and say things like “Don’t pick a fight with a warlock,” and “I have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”  To quote Sheen, he really thinks he’s “winning”, and as we all watch in fascination of this human train wreck hurtling towards organ failure, he actually is winning.

Sheen currently has almost 500,000 followers on Twitter on an account he started less than 6 hours ago.  His mad ramblings have been parodied with a random quote generator and Family Circus comics.  This man is crumbling before our eyes and we want to derive the maximum amount of comedy we can before…what?  How does this end for Charlie Sheen?  Does he just go away?  Do people tire of his antics?  What if madness becomes violent?

I don’t mean to be a spoil sport or pretend that I haven’t laughed at his antics.  We can all say that he brought this on himself.  He’s the son of a respected Hollywood actor, he’s gotten breaks that most people would kill for, his brother Emilio turned out fairly normal, so why should we pity this man?  We shouldn’t.  We shouldn’t pity him and we shouldn’t pay attention to him.  Like the most odious of celebrities, Charlie Sheen is using his fame to further his fame.  He’s not trying to call attention to a particular humanitarian cause and or even call attention to a particular entertainment project.  And every Twitter follower, every news item, every interview only furthers the perception that Sheen is a man who’s worth our attention.  Sure, he’s good for a cheap laugh, which is more than I can say for his sitcom.  But after what feels like an eternity of having one famous man’s madness shoved in my face at every turn, I’ve had enough.  There is so much more in this world that is worthy of our attention and our amusement.

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 culture, stupid 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

Time to Change the Rules

Raising taxes for only the wealthy and repealing Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell are both highly popular among the American people.  Both propositions passed the House of Representative.  They both received a majority of votes in the Senate.  Both were defeated because of parliamentary nonsense that have allowed the minority party to wield a disproportionate level of power.  This has been the way of the Senate for the last two years.  It will continue to be this way unless Obama makes it his cause to change the rules of this dysfunctional chamber.

Obama blathers on and on about needing to change the way Washington works.  Well, this is the way it currently works.  Change it.  He can’t succeed if the Senate stays the way it is.  And while lashing out at his progressive base might be a nice way to vent, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re not the ones setting up roadblocks in his agenda.  We’re not the ones who have sworn to defeat him and make him a one-term president.

Unfortunately, I’m sure he’ll fail this task just as he’s failed so many others.  John Boehner and the House of Representative will set the agenda for the next two years and Obama will make sure that their agenda passes with minor (if any) Democratic adjustments, because to this President it’s more important to do things rather than do good things.

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 politics, stupid No Comments

Obama Didn’t Ask, But I’ll Tell Him He Failed on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

So Obama was already 0 for 1 in this lame duck session by capitulating on the tax cuts (and according to Paul Krugman, he’s most likely created his own political defeat in 2012 because he doesn’t know how calendars work), and now it looks like he’s failed on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Obama hemmed and hawed about how he couldn’t let the courts make this decision.  It had to be done through Congress.  Well, this is what happens when you put it in the hands of your Congress–nothing.  Harry Reid’s leadership in the Senate has been about as effective as a wet fart and Obama has shown once again that he’s not willing to lead on tough issues.  What could have been a victory on a social issue and the closing of a sorry chapter from the Clinton administration has now become yet another of Obama’s many defeats.

So now that DADT repeal has failed to pass in Congress, what is Obama going to do about it?  I’m sure he’ll have plenty of lip service.  It’s a shame he doesn’t have a fraction of the dedication of the proud gay and lesbian Americans who want to openly go into military service.

Of course, I can’t lay all the blame at Obama’s feet.  Republicans are evil.  They just are.  It’s institutional bigotry and there’s no good reason why gays can’t openly serve.  We’ve done studies.  The leaders of the military say they can make it happen.  And yet we still can’t repeal an evil law that hurts our defensive capabilities.  Disgusting.

Once again, we see that it doesn’t matter if you vote Democrat because the Republicans always win.

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 politics, stupid No Comments

So Much for Obama

Well, Obama caved on tax cuts.  The Republicans saw that taking hostages worked and they’ll be sure to do it again.  At first, I was willing to let Obama’s capitulation slide because he did get unemployment benefits and strongly-needed economic stimulus out of the deal.  But Republicans got a two-year extension of benefits for the wealthy while the poor only got 13 months of benefits.  When that clock runs out in January 2012, do you think they’ll re-up?  And when the tax breaks run out at the end of 2012, will anyone believe Obama when he says that this time, he’ll make sure the wealthy don’t send us further into debt?

Earlier this year, my dad told me that he agreed with Christopher Hitchens’ assessment that Obama was a weak man.  I thought that was a strong insult.  Disappointing?  Sure.  But weak?  There’s no beating that character flaw.  Irritating naivety I can stomach, but weakness from a leader is unacceptable.  But as the year has gone on, I’ve come to agree with that assessment.  Where does Obama stand on the issues?  Wherever Republicans tell him to.  For a guy who ran such a smart campaign, he’s run an awfully stupid White House.

The line from Obama that really irked me was this:

“So, sympathetic as I am with those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Really?  What problem did you solve, you gigantic chump?  One problem resurfaces in 13 months, the other surfaces in two years.  You’ve made no explanation of how you plan to pay for either.  I don’t mind compromises.  I mind weak compromises like the one you just made.  This is a president who doesn’t understand that sometimes in order to solve a problem, you need to fight.

The other big issue I was looking at during this lame duck session is the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  However, since the Republicans have made clear that they don’t want to repeal it, it won’t happen.  Maybe Obama can get one of his “compromises” and the result will be that bisexuals will get to serve openly in ten years.

Obama’s a failed President.  The midterms should have been a wake-up call, but he’s made it clear he’ll never wake up.  I thought I was getting a real Democratic President who could forge a new path after the disastrous Bush administration.  I was wrong.

Monday, December 6th, 2010 politics, stupid No Comments