Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hillary's Replacement Challenged

Yahoo News reports on the controversy surrounding the choice to replace Hillary Clinton in the New York Senate.
"I don't think someone with a 100 percent NRA rating should be the next senator from New York," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who ran for Congress after her husband was killed and son wounded in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting massacre. "The majority of New Yorkers believe in trying to reduce gun violence."

Even I find this kind of rhetoric difficult to take. When Gov. David Paterson announced the appointment of little-known upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Hillary, I don't believe for a second he wanted someone who does not "believe in trying to reduce gun violence." I find McCarthy's comments quite exaggerated, I suppose to make the point that I'm always trying to make: pro gun people are unintentionally part of the problem not part of the solution.

According to the Yahoo article, Mayor Bloomberg, who is a very strong proponent of gun control, agreed with McCarthy. They say that Gillibrand co-sponsored legislation to deny information to the police that would enable them to track illegal gun criminals. The legislation passed in the House but was never considered by the Senate. I suppose they're talking about blocking some kind of registration laws, but I get the feeling these anti-gun folks are twisting and spinning a good bit. Denying information to the police sounds crazy to me.
A group called New Yorkers Against Gun Violence also criticized Gillibrand. "In fact some of her gun control stances are detrimental to law enforcement and their efforts to prevent crime by going after illegal guns," the group said in a statement.

I suppose my only problem with this is the attempt to paint Gillibrand as someone who is not interested in the same things as everyone else. We all want safer streets, less crime, increased security. What's wrong with simply arguing about the differing ways of achieving these goals? To me, personal attacks aimed at the new pro-gun Senator seem useless. It would be better to question her policies regarding gun control.

What's your opinion? Do you think Ms. Gillibrand would agree with Bob S. when he says that more guns in the hands of the good guys would result in less crime on the streets? Is that what the controversy is all about? Or could it be something else, maybe some gun registration laws? What's a 100% NRA rating, anyway?

What do you think? Please let us know.

Murder Confession - 41 Years Later

CNN reports on the story of a lady in Virginia who confessed to killing two women nearly 42 years ago. She explained that she'd shot the women because they had taunted her for being a lesbian.
Sharron Diane Crawford Smith, 60, confessed in a November 28 interview to shooting the women at a Staunton ice cream store in 1967, authorities said.

Smith was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Constance Smootz Hevener, 19, and Hevener's 20-year-old sister-in-law, Carolyn Hevener Perry, according to CNN affiliate WVIR.

But health problems forced a postponement of a December court date, WVIR said, and Smith, who had heart and kidney problems, died January 19.

I couldn't help notice the similarity between this story and the one we recently discussed that took place in Florida. In that case I had thought there might have been an element of gay romance between shooter and victim, but amazingly a fellow student who was personally acquainted with the actors commented that that was not the case.

The story of Sharron Smith though, is not that of a spurned lover, but rather one of a bully-victim lashing out.

In keeping with my long-standing tradition of blaming the inanimate object instead of the person, I couldn't help but notice this:

In a transcript of the police interview, Smith told police she and the women worked at High's Ice Cream. The night of the shooting, she went to the store to tell the women she could not work the next day and took her .25-caliber pistol with her.

"I was just going to tell them that I couldn't work and one thing led to another."

I blame THE AVAILIBILITY OF GUNS, can everyone hear me? I don't blame the gun, nor do I fully blame her. I also blame the society which teaches a young girl to carry a gun to a confrontation; that is an extremely poor education.

The story contains some questions about what exactly happened to the murder weapon. It seems she turned it over to someone on the police force shortly after the crime, who may have covered up for her. The gun was then turned over to another policeman in 1981, but they're all dead, so it may never be known what really happened.

What's your opinion? Is it possible for someone to commit murder once and go on to lead a crime free life ever after? How common is that? Usually we justify the harsh sentences handed out to the killers, even the death penalty, based upon the theory that once a killer always a killer. But does a case like this argue for a Statute of Limitations on murder?

What do you think could have motivated her to confess all these years later? Does something like this stay on a person's conscience? Don't we find ways to bury these things and never look at them again?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Statesboro Blues

I love Wikipedia, don't you?

Roe vs. Wade

Digby has a wonderful post up at Hullabaloo regarding President Obama's comments on Roe vs. Wade. She cautions that although the new President made a clear and supportive statement in favor of women's right to choose, the current situation in many places makes that choice unavailable.
But the practical ability to get an abortion is so restricted that it's a right without practical application for many of the women who need them the most. And our new emphasis on contraception and adoption counseling isn't going to solve that problem. An unwanted pregnancy can't always be made a wanted pregnancy with good counseling or financial help, and giving birth for adoption isn't always as emotionally uncomplicated as in the movie Juno. There are times and circumstances which make abortion a necessity for the individual for reasons that cannot and should not be judged by the state.

Digby pointed out that the pro-life folks may have a hard time finding the common ground Obama called for in his talk. For them abortion is murder and that's the end of the discussion. It seems like it's always like that between liberals and conservatives. Why is that?

How do you feel about this? Has there been a sort-of underground movement on the part of the Religious Right to make abortion unavailable even though it's legal? Are they the same characters who have slipped Creationism into school curricula, with surprising success? Do you think the Obama administration will be able to correct some of these abuses? (I know, they're only abuses if you think like I do, but don't forget this is my blog).

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Gay Sex Scandal in Portland Oregon

The New York Times reports on an unusual sex scandal going on in Portland Oregon.
A confession by Portland's first openly gay mayor that he lied about having sex with a teenager is dividing this famously progressive city, as well as its gay community.

Just three weeks after Sam Adams was sworn in, many gays are questioning whether he is the man they want as their trailblazer.

I would imagine if many gays are questioning it, the straights are too. I guess Mr. Adams' days as the first openly gay mayor of a major American city are numbered.

It started earlier this week when the 45-year-old Adams admitted to an alternative newspaper, Willamette Week, that he lied during his election campaign when he denied having sex in 2005 with a teenage male who was a legislative intern.

So, when he was about 41, he'd had sex with a 17 year-old. That's against the law. But is it really that bad? I mean, there's a big difference between what he did and some of the child sex abuse we hear about.

For me, his being gay has nothing to do with it. The questions are simply how bad were his actions and how bad is it that he lied about them.
''Sam has been our guy forever, which makes this even harder,'' said Marty Davis, publisher of the newspaper Just Out, which has called for his resignation. ''It's completely dividing and tearing our community right down the middle.''

Davis of Just Out said she is not as concerned about Adams' relationship with the young man as she is about the lying. She said his actions have eroded the public's trust in her publication.

Sometimes it seems we're as hung up about lying as we are about sex. Is the idea supposed to be that politicians generally do not lie, so when we catch one at it, we're outraged? Or, is it a case of excessively punishing the ones who get caught lying because we know the rest of them are doing it too? Either way it doesn't seem right to me.

What's your opinion? Does the fact that he'd had sex with the intern and lied about it impact upon his ability to govern the city? Are we expecting too much from our politicians, complete chastity and total honesty? Do we demand that of ourselves?

Please leave a comment.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Texas Home Invader Shot Dead

I saw this story on Jay's blog, which is a site I like very much. I figured it's exactly the kind I need in my tireless attempt to combat personal bias and present a fair and balanced picture of American gun culture on my blog. Defensive gun stories, just like the others, always offer good discussion points.

MArooned: Don't Mess with Texans, Either...

Jay said, "There's not a lot of sympathy for the poor unfortunate who got the dirt nap." I guess that says it all.

From the original story in the Houston Chronicle's web site:

The two men who live in the ground-floor apartment told officers they were preparing to watch a movie when they heard a loud noise. Their front door was suddenly kicked open and two men burst into the apartment, one of them holding a revolver, police were told.

Both residents grabbed shotguns and one of them fired, killing one of the intruders while the other ran away.

Police said the residents did not know the attackers. It was not immediately clear why the men targeted that apartment.

Now I really have no problem with this story, but I did wonder about two guys preparing to watch a movie who can so quickly BOTH grab shotguns. Is that normal in Texas? It reminds me of other discussions in which I questioned what's the use of having a gun at home for protection if it's locked in a gun safe? It's a bit of a trap, I realize, because if you don't have your guns safely secured, somebody like me is liable to accuse you of feeding the "flow" the next time your house gets broken into. The "flow" is that mystical, unprovable theory of mine which says legitimate guns keep moving into the criminal world despite our best efforts at preventing it. But, what do you think, these two guys both had loaded shotguns leaning on the sofa within arm's reach? At the risk of "blaming the victim," I wonder what kind of business they were in. I know it doesn't change anything.

Another question I have is about the nearly unanimous approval. Isn't the instant death penalty a little heavy for breaking in, even if you do so armed with a pistol? I know it may be difficult to ascertain the criminal's intent and that blowing his head off might be the only option, and I see that he asked for it and has no one to blame but himself, but it still seems a bit severe to me. What do you think? Is that Texas Justice?

Please leave a comment.

Frank Moore Executed in Texas

"Self defense is not capital murder," were his last words before the lethal injection took his life. CNN reports on the case of Frank Moore, who never denied having shot and killed two young men outside a San Antonio bar exactly fifteen years ago.

Samuel Boyd and Patrick Clark were shot multiple times in the head and chest early in the morning of January 21, 1994, outside the Wheels of Joy bar.

"They came with intentions to kill me," Moore said in the interview. "It was a do-or-die situation."

The story is that initially no witnesses came forward to support Moore's claim. The prosecutors said he was a long-time gang member, with a lengthy criminal past who shot the two men in cold blood. The jury believed it and sentenced him to death.

A procedural error was found, specifically that the jury had not been given the option to convict him of a lesser charge. The conviction was overturned; he was retried properly, convicted again and sentenced to death again. Seven years later things started to happen.

But it was not until 2006 that a private investigator, who once worked against Moore and his fellow gangsters, came forward with information that Moore said corroborated his self-defense claims.

Warren Huel, a retired Navy Seal who was in charge of the private security firm that oversaw the projects, was the first peace officer on the scene, arriving about 45 minutes before the San Antonio Police Department, according to an affidavit.

During that time, Huel said he spoke with witnesses who reported that Boyd and Clark shot at Moore first from inside the car after trying to run him over, according to the affidavit.

Other witnesses began coming forward, reporting that weapons had been removed from the victims' car, which perfectly supported Moore's story. When Warren Huel tried to introduce this information to the proper authorities, he was met with a sadly typical response.
"I was told that did not matter, as they already had Frank Moore, the murder weapon and an eyewitness," Huel stated in his affidavit. "I was told Moore was a dope dealer and had to go to jail."

Is this another Bush legacy? Does this type of "Texas justice" date from the time when George W. Bush was governor of Texas and set execution records? Or does this mentality of harshly sentencing criminals, even violating their rights to do so, predate the Bush gubernatorial stint? Does it transcend even Texas? I've often seen films and novels attribute to cops a hardened attitude towards criminals which says, "If he didn't do this crime, we know he did others."

What's your opinion? Do you think that's what happened to Frank Moore? Is that OK with you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Legacy: Frivolous Terrorism Charges

The Los Angeles Times reports on the case of Tamera Jo Freeman who was arrested, charged with terrorism and spent three months in jail, all for spanking her kids on a flight and mouthing off to the flight attendant.

A flight attendant confronted Freeman, who responded by hurling a few profanities and throwing what remained of a can of tomato juice on the floor.

The incident aboard the Frontier flight ultimately led to Freeman's arrest and conviction for a federal felony defined as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act, the controversial federal law enacted after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

The LA Times article says that 200 people have been arrested in various situations and charged in this way.
In most of the cases, there was no evidence that the passengers had attempted to hijack the airplane or physically attack any of the flight crew. Many have simply involved raised voices, foul language and drunken behavior.

Some security experts say the use of the law by airlines and their employees has run amok, criminalizing incidents that did not start out as a threat to public safety, much less an act of terrorism.

Is this covered by what Obama said yesterday about the United States as a country: "nor does it entitle us to do as we please." Is it to be hoped that as President, Barack Obama will see to it that some of these abuses are corrected?

What's your opinion? Some may say that policies like the Patriot Act do more good than harm. Is that possible?

(H/T to Susie Madrak at Crooks & Liars)

The New Era Begins Today

The new era begins today. President Obama is said to be meeting with military leaders today on his first full day on the job. As I remember his campaign promises, one was to create a concrete withdrawal program for Iraq. That we should get out of there was said many times in many different ways. Now we'll see.

Other promises were about health care at home and the lessening of taxes for most Americans. But perhaps today's schedule at the White House is indicative of the priority. HuffPo writer Stephen Schlesinger wrote an interesting piece entitled, Obama and the Use of Force.

There were heartening echoes of the words and thoughts of several of our most distinguished presidents in President Obama's Inaugural address today. One I found most interesting was Obama's reference to "earlier generations" of Americans who faced down fascism and communism "not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." Obama added: "They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please."

What do you think about that? Does it indicate a new direction for the United States of America? Could this mark the beginning of a return to the standards that were once synonymous with America? Or, are you concerned that this could be a grave mistake, that military might and world-policing is what is needed in these difficult times?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Old Regime

Thanks to the One Utah Site, we have this.

Future Opinions of George W. Bush

Thanks to Break Room Live via Crooks and Liars.

Jose Ernesto Medellin Back in the News

CNN reports today on the decision handed down in the Hague concerning the case of Jose Ernesto Medellin.

A United Nations court has found that the United States violated an international treaty and the court's own order when a Mexican national was executed last year in a Texas prison.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling Monday in an unusual case that pitted President Bush against his home state in a dispute over federal authority, local sovereignty and foreign treaties. Mexico had filed a formal complaint against U.S. state and federal officials

"The United States of America has breached the obligation incumbent upon it" to stop the execution, the ICJ announced in a unanimous opinion.

The Medellin story was the most popular one over at the old Wordpress Blog. Unfortunately, my opinion of opposition to the death penalty was in the minority. With the International Court of Justice's decision, we're once again faced with big questions. Is the United States somehow above the law? Can we do what we want with respect to terrorists and murderers? Can we torture them, violating international treaties? Can we execute them in violation of other treaties?

The Latin Americanist posted a very thorough résumé of the Medellin case, but as usual the comments were predominantly pro-capital punishment, spearheaded by Dudley Sharp.

Mr. Sharp, who has written extensively in favor of capital punishment and claims to formerly have opposed the death penalty, as if that gives his present position more credibility, is a refreshing change from many of the furious ranting commenters who cry out for vengeance. I frankly have a hard time understanding both. Dudley has all the legal and historical information at his fingertips, but doesn't seem to understand my idea that if killing is wrong, then it's wrong. We can't tell the regular folks not to kill and then, as the State, do it ourselves. The ranting people are another story. They often remind me of the very ones they say should be put to death.

What's your opinion? Is capital punishment good for a society? Does it deter crime? Does it serve justice?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, January 19, 2009

More About the Beatles

I never liked them, not when I was growing up anyway. In the late 60s, when I had my musical awakening, the first groups I did like were the Stones, the Who and the Animals. Later I got into Black Sabbath. The Beatles always seemed too "goodie-goodie" or something.

About ten years ago, in my mid-40s, I started to notice something. Whenever I'd hear an old Beatles' tune, I'd have the most enjoyable nostalgic sensation. I guess I finally outgrew that childhood resistance to the "goodie-goodie" stuff. So, I bought some of their old albums for the first time in my life.

Amazingly, I was familiar with almost every song, actually familiar enough to sing along with the lyrics in the car, which I did plenty. I realized that the Beatles had always been there in the background of my life. It's as if my brain had been absorbing their music all those years. What a pleasure to discover.

Yellow Submarine

Does there exist a better representation of the psychedelic peace movement than this?

President Bush's Last Day

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

John Farmer wrote a piece
for the Star-Ledger Editorial page which I found both comprehensive and convincing. He pointed out, as have many others these days, that Bush is being blamed for a number of serious problems: the Katrina incompetence, reckless spending-and-borrowing, a politics-driven Justice Department, the Iraq war with its legacy of torture and global disapproval, the economic collapse. But according to Farmer, there is one issue which stands out above the others.

Bush's great event was the world-altering 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. But in the days and months that followed, Bush and his political consigliere, Karl Rove, employed it to divide the country along ideological and political lines rather than unify the nation as they might have done bringing Democrats into a war-time government of national unity.

It was the great missed opportunity of the Bush presidency.

My own opinion is a little stronger than that, not that I think I'm a political analyst or anything. I agree with those who have pointed out that after 9/11 there was a calculated and systematic program to raise the fears of Americans in order to elicit support for a war that we had no business engaging in. It worked extremely well, but turned into such an unwieldy debacle that public opinion gradually and consistently plummeted.

The outgoing president is extremely unpopular. Yet his supporters are not shy about commenting, just take a look at the remarks generated by John Farmer's article.

What's your opinion? Was Bush really that bad? Did he mean well at least? If suspicions about what his administration did after 9/11 are true, that they manipulated the American public in order to drum up support for the war, a natural question would be, "why?" Was it because they sincerely believed it was best for the country and the world, or was there a more sinister motive? Did they act to solidify personal power or to enrich themselves and their friends? Did they perhaps act out of some exaggerated American-centric ideology?

What do you think?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Flow of Guns

Here's how it happens, among other ways, of course.

Cass County prosecutors have charged a Kansas City man with stealing 30 guns, including six assault rifles, in the burglary of a Harrisonville gun shop.

Donald L. Bennett, 21, was arrested Friday after a brief standoff at a house in Greenwood in Cass County.

Prosecutors alleged that Bennett was one of three suspects seen on video surveillance who broke into Gunslinger Firearms on Jan. 12. A total of 24 semi-automatic handguns and six semi-automatic AR-15 rifles were taken in the burglary.

One handgun and one rifle were recovered from an apartment on Monroe, but the rest of the stolen firearms were believed to have already been sold, according to court documents.

What's to be done about this? Is this the price we pay to maintain our 2nd Amendment Rights? Do we just shrug and write this off as the cost of doing business?

What kind of security are gun stores supposed to have anyway? In this case three young delinquents drove up to the place, broke in, filled their car up with weapons and took off. It seems too easy. Then, of course, they sold most of the stuff before getting caught.

I say, just like the gun-loving father whose 15-year-old son stole his guns, the gun store owner in this case should be responsible. In the case of the 15-year-old, no harm was done with the stolen weapons. I'm afraid the final results in Kansas City won't be so innocuous.

What's your opinion? Is the gun store owner responsible for the improper security which allowed this to happen? Could this be one of those common-sense gun laws we keep calling for? What if the sanctions for allowing your guns to be stolen were so severe that all licensed gun sellers had to invest in proper safes? Wouldn't that make sense?

Please let us know what you think.