Life Without Parole

So, as noted below, Dzokhar Tsarnaev has been convicted on all thirty counts in the Boston Marathon Bombing and (closer still to home), the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier.


Now for sentencing, in which the grotesquely termed “Death Qualified Jury”™ will decide between execution and life without parole.

Like an overwhelming majority of my Boston neighbors, I am opposed to the death penalty for Tsarnaev, as I am in all cases.  Three reasons:

1.  Error or malice.  It is hardly news to anyone reading this that police and prosecutors f**k up.  Death at the hands of the state renders those errors permanently uncorrectable.  As a citizen in whose name the state kills, I can’t accept that moral burden.


That some cases, like Tsarnaev’s, are open and shut doesn’t alter the moral and practical force of the argument above, I think, basically because the moment you introduce discretion into death penalty jurisprudence, you re-open the possibility of error or malice.  If the standard is overwhelming obviousness, then who decides; who processes the evidence in support of that definition, and so on.  The only way to be certain you’re not killing innocents is not to kill anyone under the cover of state sanction.

If that makes me soft, so be it.

2.  Soft or not, I’m vengeful, too.   To my mind, LWOP is a fate worse than death.  Because I do not believe in an afterlife, the only punishments that matter, like the only rewards, are those we receive in this life.  Fifty years in a maximum or super-max prison is, to me, a much more thorough and exemplary penalty than oblivion.

3.  I’m practical.  See reason one.  Cops and government lawyers f**k up.  We kill their errors and the urgency of addressing particular patterns of incompetence, indifference, and outright viciousness diminishes.  Patterns of bad behavior and unjust outcomes become much harder to discern.  Any hope, slim as it may be, of creating a better, more justice-driven law-enforcement system, evaporates when the living reasons to address current injustices disappear.  If we want to make things better, we need not to kill the people whom the system failed.  Simple as that.

That’s a pretty good short-version of how I see it, probably in the order I’d weight them.  I’m sure I could come up with more, and FSM knows, seeing as it’s me, I could go on a lot more on the three planks above.  But that’s the gist.

ETA:   One more thing:  Just to be clear.  I’m no Gandhi.  I’m not non-violent.  But I’m anti-violence.  The fact that we (in theory) surrender to the state a monopoly on violence means that we need to hedge that power around with a mighty wall.  Not killing those in our power, even the most evil, is part of that wall.  Whether the more pragmatic arguments above carry greater weight some days than others, at bottom there is a moral imperative that I can’t find a way to avoid:  when we, or I, don’t need to kill, choosing to do so anyway is wrong.


What do y’all think?

Image:  Caravaggio, Salome with the head of John the Baptist, before 1610.

Have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Rev. Barber

Ari Berman has a great piece on the voting rights hearing yesterday in North Carolina:

Nearly fifty years after marching for voting rights in Alabama, Coleman testified in federal court today in Winston-Salem against North Carolina’s new voting restrictions, which have been described as the most onerous in the nation. The law mandates strict voter ID, cuts early voting by a week and eliminates same-day registration, among many other things. After the bill’s passage, “I was devastated,” Coleman testified. “I felt like I was living life over again. Everything that I worked for for the last fifty years was being lost.”
The federal government and civil rights groups, including the ACLU and the North Carolina NAACP, asked Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee for the Middle District of North Carolina, to enjoin key provisions of the law before the 2014 midterms under Section 2 of the VRA.

After the hearing, eight hundred North Carolinians gathered in downtown Winston-Salem for a “Moral March to the Polls” event protesting the law. “I know it’s hot out here,” Barber told the crowd. “But it’s going to be hotter if you let them take our vote away.”

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, was among the first at the court house this morning.

In other news, True the Vote had to dismiss their Mississippi lawsuit. Despite this headline:

Tea Party surrogates True the Vote have voluntarily given up a lawsuit in North MS Federal District Court after Judge Michael Mills read them the riot act on Monday.

I don’t think the judge “read them the riot act”. He thinks they’re in the wrong court so ordered them to “show cause” why they filed where they did and they then dismissed. It’s not like he told them to STFU.

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

Has a sitting governor ever taken it upon herself to absolve her constituents of murder most foul? Maybe, but I don’t recall it.

Here’s a remarkable statement by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R-Edrum) in a column published yesterday that addressed the recent botched execution:

“Justice was served. The people of Oklahoma do not have blood on their hands.”

If you say so, Lady MacBeth. Fucking sociopath. I wish I thought the horror and absurdity of this would make a damn bit of difference.

[X-posted at Rumproast]

They tell me I was born there, but I really don’t remember

Give these people tax cuts tout suite (via via):

It’s all very cordial: In the fall, Mr. Mellon and Ms. Hanley Mellon, 36, plan to introduce Hanley Mellon, their own clothing line.

They are not exactly starting from the gutter. Mr. Mellon, who comes from the Mellon and Drexel families of Bank of New York Mellon and Drexel Burnham Lambert, grew up in New York City, Palm Beach and Northeast Harbor, Me., and went to the University of Pennsylvania. The walls of the pad he and Ms. Hanley Mellon share at the Pierre are lined with paintings by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Peter Beard and, Mr. Mellon said, “Taylor Swift.”


Mr. Mellon’s initial foray into fashion was as the creative director of Jimmy Choo’s collection of men’s shoes. After Tamara Mellon, whom he met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1997, decided she no longer wanted a men’s line…


“I’ve never been to Africa, but I feel like I have this deep affinity for it,” Ms. Hanley Mellon said. “I’ve read every Hemingway, we collect Peter Beard, I’ve watched ‘Out of Africa.’ It touches your soul to visit and smell the smells, and you can’t recreate the experience without immersing yourself.”

What are the chances that a 99 percenter goes from AA to a high-end fashion venture (covered by the Times)?

A specter is haunting the United States — the specter of oligarchy

There has been a lot of discussion of Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the 21st Century, which argues that:

  • The ratio of wealth to income is rising in all developed countries.
  • Absent extraordinary interventions, we should expect that trend to continue.
  • If it continues, the future will look like the 19th century, where economic elites have predominantly inherited their wealth rather than working for it.
  • The best solution would be a globally coordinated effort to tax wealth.

The United States is now an outlier among western countries in terms of income inequality and you can bet your car elevator that the rich are going to be able buy off much of our government, especially with the current SCOTUS in place:

Wealthy people will be even better poised to influence the 2014 and 2016 elections than they were to influence the 2010 and 2012 elections. Now, wealthy people are not a single voting bloc, but most wealthy people would like to continue being wealthy. And so you see bipartisan movement towards policies that protect their wealth, most recently with the Democratic legislature in Maryland voting to eliminate the state’s estate tax.

Over time, a political system that gives the wealthy more power is a political system that is going to do more to protect the interests of the wealthy. It’s the Doom Loop of Oligarchy, and we’re seeing it daily.

Of course you know who else who thought that capitalism would go into a death spiral. And now writers as different as The Wire’s David Simon and National Review’s Jimmy P are wondering if that bearded Satanist was right after all, or at least many people will soon believe that he was.

I like capitalism (though I don’t like money or people bragging about how much they make or how cheaply then live), but if I wanted to hasten its demise, I’d be cheering Paul Ryan on. Maybe the neocons never really stopped being Trotskyites.

The best advertisement for legalized pot EVER

In 2003,  Lamb and Lynx Gaede, 11-year-old twins were the white nationalist pop duo “Prussian Blue,” named after their blue eyes and the infamous chemical poison used to kill Jews and other enemies of the Nazi regime during World War II.

Today, the twins, aged 20, have renounced their lifelong teaching and according to Lamb, “My sister and I are pretty liberal now.”  The primary reason?  Pot. Mary Jane. Blunts. Spliffs. Wacky Weed.

One of the sisters, Lynx, contracted cancer at age 14, and after lots of different pain medications for her treatment, started using pot medicinally after getting a medical marijuana card.  Lamb, who had scoliosis and chronic back pain aquired a card as well, and it led to the dawning of the age of Aquarius.

They said the drug has reignited their creativity, which they now channel in other ways, such as painting.

‘We just want to come from a place of love and light,’ Lamb said, adding, ‘I think we’re meant to do something more – we’re healers. We just want to exert the most love and positivity we can.’

I can’t think of a better reason to legalize pot than that it would have the effect of reversing years of radical indoctrination for some users, and while we’re at it, we can tax the shit out of it.  Even Oklahoma has bills in the legislature to legalize the sale, possession, and use of pot that stand a fair chance of passing due to the potential tax revenue.  We’ll go down fighting on gay rights, but we’ll do it with red eyes and a case of the munchies.

Can we retire “zero tolerance”, finally, now? Horrible idea.

I disagree with nearly all of the Obama Administration’s policy and practice regarding public schools, but the role the Obama Administration had in this should be celebrated:

Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.
In the past two decades, schools around the country have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools. The policy, called zero tolerance, first grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and became more aggressive in the wake of school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado.

When I talk to adults about what’s going on in schools I have noticed that because the vast majority of people once attended a public school, adults who don’t follow this closely for one reason or another tend to compare any current policy with their own experience. That’s probably natural and it’s understandable and all, but it may not be sufficient, because many of the policies and practices I object to are somewhat like what adults may have experienced in 1970 or 1980 or 1990, but they are different, worse, because of degree. So, for example, if I say I object to the nutty proliferation and single-minded focus on standardized testing, today, right now, I’m not talking about when you aced the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in 1987. I’m talking about an obsessive focus on standardized testing. I’m talking about out-of-control testing obsession like this.

Similarly, “zero tolerance” is not ordinary discipline and it’s not removing disruptive students from a single class session or keeping them after school or calling their parents. Zero tolerance is extreme, unsurprisingly perhaps, given that it’s called ZERO tolerance.

It’s turning kids over to law enforcement or the courts for relatively minor infractions. It’s taking them out of school and putting them into the juvenile justice system when they shouldn’t be there, and once they’re in that system they start to believe they belong there and once the big court machine starts rolling it’s hard to get them OUT of it and back to school even if we in the system know they don’t belong in a court.

Beginning in 2009, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education aggressively began to encourage schools to think twice before arresting and pushing children out of school. In some cases, as in Meridian, Miss., the federal government has sued to force change in schools.

In the most extreme cases, this is what “zero tolerance” looks like. This is from the Meridian, Mississippi DOJ complaint (pdf):

Defendants’ concerted actions punish children in Meridian, Mississippi so arbitrarily and severely as to shock the conscience, and deprive these children of liberty and educational opportunities on an ongoing basis.

The repercussions of the constitutional violations perpetrated by Defendants are
severe and far-reaching. Children are regularly and repeatedly handcuffed and arrested in school and incarcerated for days at a time without a probable cause hearing, regardless of the severity-or lack thereof-of the alleged offense or probation violation.

Research suggests that arrest, detention, and juvenile court appearances have profound negative short-term and long-term consequences for children’s mental and physical health, educational success, and future employment opportunities. One study of national data suggests that arrest doubles the probability of dropout. Even one court appearance during high school increases a child’s likelihood of dropping out of school, and court appearances are especially detrimental to children with no or minimal previous history of delinquency. Detention disrupts children’s engagement with families, school, and work, and may slow or interrupt the natural process of “aging out” of delinquency. Moreover, children detained pending adjudication are more likely to be committed to a juvenile facility than children who are not detained, regardless of the charges against them. Research links incarceration of juveniles to significantly higher school dropout rates, which translate to higher unemployment, poorer health, shorter lifespan, lower earnings, and increased future contacts with the criminal justice system.

The “probation violation” process explained in the complaint is crucial to understanding this, because that’s how kids who never belonged there in the first place remain in the juvenile justice system once they enter it. When kids are charged and adjudicated within the court system for relatively minor incidents at school the terms of their probation or ongoing court supervision often include a provision where any future incident at school is not just breaking a school rule but also a probation violation, which then lands them right back in court. This can go on for months and sometimes years.