Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nichols Gets Life not Death

CNN reports on what could be viewed as a victory for the anti-capital punishment movement. The jury in Atlanta could not agree unanimously on the death penalty for Brian Nichols. We discussed this case before plus on Daisy's site there's a post with some fascinating background.

Nichols, 37, was convicted last month of 54 counts for a deadly shooting rampage that began in the same courthouse where he is standing trial. Nichols shot three people at the downtown courthouse and a federal agent in neighboring Gwinnett County.

Defense lawyers said Nichols, who confessed to the killings, suffers from a mental disorder.

I don't think anyone could argue with the need to keep a guy like Nichols off the street, I certainly wouldn't. He was on trial for rape when he made the daring and bloody escape. He's cool enough under fire to shoot people dead, one after the other. Yet, somehow the jury contained three members who would not agree to the death penalty. I mark that as a hopeful sign that we can move away from the vengeance and convenience factors inherent in capital punishment.

What do you think? Do you think the other nine jurors were right? If so, why? One thing missing in this case, at least in the reports I read, is the vengeance-seeking family member of the victims. Do you think they got a bad deal with this decision?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Joan Armatrading

I got turned onto Joan Armatrading in 1984 while living in Santa Monica. I've never been the same since.

The Novaks

I usually like my rock and roll from an earlier generation, but The Novaks are, well, just listen.

Teah Wimberly, 15-year-old Shooter Charged as an Adult

The Miami Herald reports on the Dillard High School shooting which we discussed before.

Teah Wimberly, the teen accused of shooting and killing her best friend at Dillard High School last month, will face second-degree murder charges as an adult, prosecutors announced Thursday.

Wimberly, 15, will also face one count of felony possession of a firearm on school grounds.

In our previous discussions I tried to point out that, as I see it, by the time a teenager picks up a gun to do something like this, it's way too late. The time to address this problem was 10 or 14 years earlier. It's the parents who more than anyone else teach kids how to deal with conflict, how to respond to frustration, how to accept disappointment. Once a kid is this age and so damaged she's capable of this, it's too late.

Collette, 15, had recently ended the two teens' long-standing friendship and the shooting may have been retaliation, friends of the two said afterward.

Wimberly confessed to the shooting and told police she wanted Collette to ``feel my pain.''

Where did a 15-year-old ever learn to respond to rejection like that? Is she fully responsible for her actions? Did we ever decide on that line when discussing the 8-year-old killer in Arizona? At 8, he's an abused boy but at 15 she's fully responsible? I don't think so.

I say any and all mitigating circumstances need to be considered in a case like this. Trying a teenager in adult court, ensuring the probability of doing time in the adult penitentiary cannot be the answer, in my opinion. What's yours? What do you think about this case?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Assisted Suicide on the Air

A British TV channel aired a documentary showing a terminally ill man committing assisted suicide.

The film follows retired university professor Craig Ewert during the last four days of his life in 2006, when he visited a Swiss clinic with his wife, Mary, in order to die.

The 59-year-old suffered from motor neurone disease (MND), which deprived him of the use of his arms and legs and caused him to be on a ventilator, Mary Ewert told The Independent.

Naturally the film was controversial. Some felt it was a macabre attempt on the part of the television network to boost ratings, others felt it was a great opportunity to take "death" out of the closet, to make the subject less taboo. What's your opinion?

The man himself was quoted as having said:

"I truly expect that death is the end, that there is no everlasting soul, no afterlife," Ewert says. "This is a journey that we all must make at some time. I would hope that this is not a cause of major distress to those who love me and I expect that my dear sweet wife will have the greatest loss, as we have been together for 37 years in the deepest intimacy."

Does that mean it's easier for an atheist to commit suicide? But, if death is the end, what "journey" is he talking about? He said, "This is a journey that we all must make at some time." This statement makes me wonder about his mental state.

I would think the deeply religious person who is sure of going to his or her everlasting reward would be able to do it easier than the atheist convinced that this is the end. What do you think?

Another consideration is that the Ewerts must be wealthy people to be able to afford this whole thing. What about the poor folks? Is it like abortion in places where it's illegal? Do the poor people have to make due with homemade solutions or clandestine operations? What do you think? Is the need or desire for euthanasia wide spread enough to even worry about?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guns for Food in Los Angeles

Yahoo News reports on an annual event in Southern California.

The annual Gifts for Guns program ended Sunday in Compton, a working class city south of Los Angeles that has long struggled with gun and gang violence. In a program similar to ones in New York and San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department allows residents to anonymously relinquish firearms in return for $100 gift cards for Ralphs supermarkets, Target department stores or Best Buy electronics stores.

Authorities said Sunday that a record 965 firearms and two hand grenades were handed in during the two weekends the program was in operation. That's more than in any other year and easily eclipses last year's total of 387 guns collected over both weekends.

The Gun Guys have a comment or two about this. I couldn't have said it any better.

SAY WHAT? Two hand grenades? And the gun lobby thinks we don't need stronger gun laws?

Perhaps this is the gun lobby's new strategy: start pushing the wacky notion that we now have a Second Amendment right to possess hand grenades. And, of course, gun owners should be able to exercise that "right" by carrying concealed hand grenades into child daycare centers, hospitals, and schools for "protection."

Now, I realize the Gun Guys are talking to legitimate gun owners about the misdeeds of criminals, but questions arise. Do we draw a line somewhere? Can citizens own hand grenades, surface to air missiles, how about artillery-type weapons? Does the same argument of self-protection extend to these weapons as well?

What's your opinion? And while we're at it, what percentage of the 965 weapons turned in during the Compton Gifts for Guns program started out legal? My contention is there must be a continual flow of guns from the good guys to the bad guys. What do you think?

Murders in Mexico Double in 2008

The New York Times reports that the murder rate in Mexico during 2008 has doubled since the previous year. We recently talked about Tijuana.

Killings linked to Mexico’s drug war have more than doubled this year compared with 2007 and are likely to grow even further before they begin to fall, Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said Monday.

The prosecutor tied the sharp increase in deaths to a battle for control among cartels and a power vacuum created by a series of high-profile arrests and seizures.

The number of gangland killings reached 5,376 from the beginning of the year until Dec. 2, a 117 percent increase over the 2,477 killings in the same period in 2007, Mr. Medina-Mora said in a luncheon meeting with foreign correspondents.

I was especially interested to see the statistics of "Mexico’s overall homicide rate last year, 11 deaths per 100,000 people, was a small fraction of the rates in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil, he said." That makes the U.S. with 5.5 seem like Disneyland by comparison. Of course, you know how I feel about statistics.

It's not easy for poor Mexico, living in the shadow of its giant neighbor to the north.

Taking on the cartels that supply most of the illegal drugs consumed in the United States has been a frustrating exercise for Mexico. Officials complain that the guns the criminals use are coming from the United States and that the billions of dollars in drug profits have corrupted many institutions in Mexico.

So what does that mean? Not only are the guns in the U.S. flowing into the U.S. black market, they also supply Mexico? This does come as a bit of a shock because I've been told that the illegal guns in America come from countries like Mexico in shipments of drugs. But, suddenly we have a different theory. The incredible abundance and availability of guns in America flows out, in a type of cross-commuting. Drugs come in, guns and money go out.

Something must be done. Do you agree?

School Shooting Thwarted

In Pottsville PA, a 15-year-old student has been arrested for planning to shoot his enemies at school. CNN reports that Richard Yanis had planned the massacre for right after New Years.

A Pennsylvania teen has been charged as an adult for allegedly planning to kill classmates he did not like before turning the gun on himself in a high school shooting spree, a Pennsylvania prosecutor said Tuesday.

Richard Yanis allegedly stole three handguns from his father and told police he planned to "shoot students in the school and then himself" at Pottstown High School, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said in a press release.

Yanis, 15, was charged with attempted murder in adult court because juvenile law in Montgomery County excludes crimes committed with a deadly weapon, Ferman said.

Now, I don't know about you, but that attempted murder for a future event sure reminds me of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. I thought that was science fiction. And not only is the kid being charged with attempted murder, but it'll be as an adult. Why? For the simple reason that the "juvenile law in Montgomery County excludes crimes committed with a deadly weapon."

On the Fooqu site there's not much opinion, but they have posted a lovely picture of Richard. He looks like just the kind of kid they should send to the State Penitentiary. I say shame on those prosecutors who what to try him as an adult. Shame on all the law and order guys who think accountability for one's actions is paramount.

And what do you think about the "secured" guns that were stolen from the father? What kind of security is that supposed to be? In all the reports I read it was always stressed that the guns were "secure," I guess to say that the gun-loving father has no responsibility.

I say the gun-loving father has plenty of responsibility. Not only were the guns NOT secured properly, but he raised a boy so damaged that at the tender age of fifteen he wanted to kill his classmates and himself. Shame on you too, dad.

What's your opinion? Is it so difficult to properly secure guns in the home? Does a father bear some responsibility for the mental outcome of his children? What do you think about the friend who threw the guns in the creek? Even I cringed at that one.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Military Execution Stayed

CNN reports that the first military execution in 47 years has been stayed.

A federal judge has stayed what would be the nation's first military execution since 1961, saying the U.S. soldier -- who was convicted of rape and murder two decades ago -- should have more time to pursue a federal appeal.

Pvt. Ronald Gray has been on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since 1988. A court-martial panel sitting at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, unanimously convicted him of committing two murders and other crimes in the Fayetteville, North Carolina, area and sentenced him to death.

Gray was scheduled to die by lethal injection on December 10th, but has received a stay by U.S. District Judge Richard Rogers of Kansas so that Gray can pursue his federal appeal. The last time we discussed this case, our friend Bob S. made the following observation:

So, despite the fact that in civilian prisons beatings are common, male on male rape is common, that prisoners are occasionally abused by guards; all this cruelty combined with caging a man up for his lifetime is okay with you....because you are upset over the death penalty.
Well, my answer is simple: for me abolishing the death penalty is non-negotiable. As far as the conditions prisoners are faced with, something should be done about that, no question, something other than killing them.

What's your opinion?

Miguel Roman Wrongly Convicted of Murder

I was alerted to this story by reading Sarah's wonderful blog called Preaching to the Choir. Miguel Roman has been behind bars since 1988 for killing 17-year-old Carmen Lopez. The only problem is, recent DNA testing pointed to another man. The Innocence Project reports the following:

Prosecutors in Connecticut arrested a 51-year-old man on Friday in connection with the 1988 murder of a 17-year-old girl after DNA testing of evidence from the crime scene pointed to his involvement.

One of the points Sarah makes, about which I agree totally is that further delays in releasing Mr. Roman are unacceptable. The Innocence Project is working on the case, but supposedly additional DNA testing is to be done prior to any decisions about his release.

This would then bring up the question we discussed before of proper compensation. Not only monetary assistance would be required, but all the other kinds of help one would need to re-enter society after languishing in prison for decades. To right that wrong is not a simple matter.

The man arrested for the crime is Pedro Miranda. He is also accused of killing Mayra Cruz, a 13-year-old who went missing 21 years ago while walking to school. According to the story in the Hartford Courant, the girl's mother has waited all these years for this arrest.

"I prayed all the time that something would happen before I die. I never gave up hope," Cruz said Sunday night.

Last week her prayers were answered when detectives from Connecticut knocked on the door of her Springfield home and told her they were about to arrest Pedro Miranda, 51, a man who had lived in the same Collins Street apartment building as the Cruz family, in the death of her daughter.

"Mayra was a nice, quiet girl and that's why God did this for her because she couldn't rest in peace," Norma Cruz said.
Here's that fascinating vengeance factor again, that "rest in peace" idea. I realize I have no idea what it must feel like to lose a child to violence, but I always find this attitude amazing. What do you think? If the mother is convinced that the deceased daughter can only "rest in peace" if the killer is brought to justice, then perhaps the mother benefits from it. Perhaps she, the mother really gets some kind of closure and peace. What do you think?

And what do you think about Pedro? It sounds like he did rapes and kidnappings and murders his entire life long; often young teens were his victims. What's to be done with him? Do you think he's more of a sex offender or a murderer? I know he's accused of both, but do you think there's a difference between the two? Should the sex offender who murders be treated differently than the violent murderer who isn't driven by lust?

What do you think? Please leave us your opinion.

NYC Officer Accused of Assault

The New York Times reports on the case which was initially described as sodomy with an antenna. Michael Mineo claimed that he was rousted in the subway by several of New York's Finest and among other things sodomized with an object he thought was an antenna. At the time it sounded like a most unlikely story, but brutal things like that have happened before. Now it seems the charge is a simple assault in which the nightstick of Officer Richard Kern came in contact with the rectum of Mr. Mineo.

Mr. Mineo, whom the police suspected of smoking marijuana, told investigators he was sodomized with an object while the officers grappled with him. A transit officer who took part in the arrest testified that Officer Kern touched Mr. Mineo’s buttocks with his baton.

Colleagues and supervisors of Officer Kern's have come out in support of him. They say he is a good officer with a clean record, definitely not someone who would do something like this. Yet...

Twice previously, Officer Kern was accused of using excessive force. but his lawyer said he was cleared in both cases by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. One of the incidents, in 2007, prompted two lawsuits that the city agreed to settle for a total of $50,000.

Officer Kern was accused of making unlawful arrests and manhandling people washing their coats in the laundry room of a Brooklyn housing project.

Like the two earlier lawsuits, it alleges that Officer Kern struck Mr. Acuna with his gun, unnecessarily sprayed him with Mace and choked him.

What's it sound like to you? I'd be the first one to point out that cops who do wrong should be given the benefit of the doubt like anybody else. But, shouldn't they be held to a higher standard? Shouldn't the public trust placed upon them demand more than it does of a regular citizen? What do you think?

What I think is Officer Kern is just 25 years old, has been on the job only a couple years, and has already been involved in several questionable situations. This doesn't happen to straight cops who conduct themselves properly. He sounds like a violent, dangerous young man with a badge and a gun. I don't know who's more frightening: guys like him or the criminals he's supposed to protect us from.

And what do you think about that Blue Wall of Silence, the colleagues and supervisors who unequivocally stand behind him. Only one Transit Cop reported that he'd seen something untoward. Cops protecting each other even when wrongdoing occurs, is what, some kind of loyalty? What do you think?

The Palm Pistol

The New Scientist Blog reports that a new weapon has been developed to assist people with arthritis.

A US company claims to have received federal approval to market a 9-mm handgun as a medical device and hopes the US government will reimburse seniors who buy the $300 firearm. But the US Food and Drug Administration says there are currently no formal designations of the gun as a medical device.

Called the Palm Pistol, the weapon is designed for people who have trouble firing a normal handgun due to arthritis and other debilitating conditions.

It sounds like the only question is whether or not the folks who buy this gun will get reimbursed from Medicare. What do you think about that? Are there many older gun enthusiasts who have had to curtail or even give up their gun use due to arthritis in the index finger? What if the disease strikes the thumb joint? What then?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cleaning Up Amsterdam

CNN has been reporting over the last couple days that Amsterdam is undergoing some kind of clean-up.

Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including gambling parlors, and the "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.

"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals," said Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan.

I'm not sure if I understand how this initiative is going to make Amsterdam more in line with their "image as a tolerant and crazy place." Is the Councilman talking about keeping the tolerant and crazy places limited to certain areas of the city? Or is he just giving lip service to the tolerant and crazy idea while his real agenda is something else?

Besides, I thought closing businesses like these is what generated crime. Isn't that how it works in America?

What do you think? I've never been to Amsterdam, what's it like first hand? Does legalizing things like prostitution and drug use take some of the pleasure away? Isn't part of the thrill the fact that it's clandestine?

Over on the Kickin' and Screamin' site there's a post entitled THE PRICE OF MORALS-FREE LIBERALISM. I guess his opinion is right there in the title.

What's your opinion? Is Amsterdam an example of failed liberalism? Or is something else going wrong over there? Prohibition against alcohol in America failed, does that mean that other prohibitions fail in the same way? Are they all manifestations of liberalism?

Please let us know what you think.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Tom Waits has Tom Waits listed among those who celebrate birthdays today. He's 59. I posted about him once before including a few videos. Today, I'll leave you with this one and say Happy Birthday, Tom.

Robert Bisaccia Dies in Prison

The New York Times reports on the death of Robert Bisaccia the underworld figure who inspired the character played by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

Anthony Margotta Jr., a horse trainer in New Jersey was the nephew of Bisaccia.

“He was one of the most loving uncles in the world — funny, charming, one of a kind — and his advice was always to do the right thing. Always. Don’t do anything shady. Don’t do anything wrong.”

Alas, that’s not the way Mr. Bisaccia is remembered by law enforcement officials in New Jersey who had stalked him since the 1960s. They say he began as a minor figure in the Gambino family who rose to become John J. Gotti’s powerful capo in New Jersey, and was admired and feared for his toughness, ferocity and willingness to do whatever was asked of him.

The thing that interests me in the article is the reference to his being a "traditionalist," meaning that he "would have taken a bullet rather than rat out a friend.” The idea of "honor among thieves" has always fascinated me. I wonder if the ones who were able to hold on to that so called honor are only the ones who weren't offered a sweet enough deal by the government. Ratting out his friends worked pretty well for John Martorano.

Perhaps the key word is "friends." If one stops being your friend, he's fair game for testifying against. Maybe that's how it works. What do you think?

I appreciate, perhaps more than most, the mystique of the North Jersey or Brooklyn tough guy who spits in the eye of Johnny Law like James Cagney in Angles With Dirty Faces. But, I'm afraid it's a total myth. What's your opinion?