I am disappointed to learn that Barack Obama is pro death penalty

Nader_2 While I am currently favoring the candidacy of Ralph Nader, in the actual Presidential election, I am thinking that Barack Obama will be elected our next president. So I am disappointed to learn that Barack Obama is pro-death penalty. Bill Clinton executed a mentally retarded man during his run for President, Billy Ray Rector, and Hillary supported the death penalty during her campaign for U.S. Senator from New York. This support came after Republican Governor George Pataki re-instituted the death penalty in New York State after Democrat Governors Mario Cuomo and before him Hugh Carey had consistently vetoed the death penalty bills passed by the New York State legislature for the death penalty for almost two decades.

The death penalty is no deterent and since 1989 there have been over 200 post conviction DNA exonerations in the United States according to the Innocence Project.

Ralph Nader is the only honest and just candidate in this Presidential campaign who has a reasonable policy on the death penalty. He is against it as all other first world industrialized nations are.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has had a position against the death penalty since 1961.

Link: Abolish the Death Penalty: Barack Obama and the death penalty.

Brain imaging and the criminal justice system

Brain_scans Justice Talking Radio program released an excellent program on 01/14/08 entitled "Neurolaw, The New Frontier" in which various experts discuss the latest brain imaging techniques and how it is being used and could be used in the future.

Some lawyers are using brain scans showing defects to argue that their clients aren’t responsible for criminal behavior. In recent years, this neuroscientific evidence has been increasingly used in our courtrooms. But some scientists argue that the imaging is still new and unreliable, while others question whether juries should be ruling on what counts as a "defective" brain. As neurolaw grows in influence, it could potentially revolutionize our notions of guilt and punishment as criminals say "my brain made me do it." Might we be, one day, just a brain scan away from a form of lie detection and prediction of criminal behavior? Tune in as we examine this new frontier of law on this edition of Justice Talking

The show lasts about 50 minutes and can be listened to on line or downloaded in MP3 format. It is well worth listening to if you are interested in the topic.

Link: Justice Talking.

Youth are sentenced to life without parole in California

Youth_in_prison As I get older I am amazed at the distorted view that most Americans have of themselves and their country. Our constitution says that we should not engage in cruel and inhumane punishment and yet California sentences kids to life in prison without parole. California's State Senate is predicted to pass a law this month outlawing this practice.

To read a report from Human Rights Watch on this topic click on the link below.

Link: "When I Die, They'll Send Me Home": Youth sentenced to Life without Parole in California.

N.J. bans death penalty

Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes us both blind." The state killing people to teach them that killing other people is wrong never made any sense to me. Finally, the great people from the state of New Jersey are leading the way of sanity and reason in the United States abolishing the death penalty.

Yahoo News reported on 12/17/07 an article distributed by the Associated Press. Here's what it says in part.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed into law Monday a measure that abolishes the death penalty, making New Jersey the first state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment.

The bill, approved last week by the state's Assembly and Senate, replaces the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

"This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder," Corzine said.

The measure spares eight men on the state's death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole.

The article reports that some family members of people killed are angry that justice isn't being done. While my heart goes out to them for their loss and suffering, furthering the killing of human beings does nothing to bring about long term justice. I can say this having had two children killed by a  3 time drunk driver in 1993. Seeing my children's killer killed does not honor the memory of my children.

I salute the people of New Jersey and I hope that my state, New York, follows suit. This should be a campaign issue for 2008 at the state level and the Federal level. Where do the presidential candidates stand on capital punishment? The United States is the only first world country that has retained it. We like to think of ourselves as progressive, fighting for freedom and democracy around the world, and the moral leader of the free world, but if you are knowledgable about our social policies and practices, the United States is a pretty backward nation as compared to other first world countries. Our view of ourselves is actually often inaccurate and when it comes to the death penalty we are out of step with the more civilized world.

Link: N.J. bans death penalty - Yahoo! News.

An Honorable Exit from Iraq - An ethical plan based on justice

In the Fall, 2007 issue of YES magazine, Poka Laenui describes the most rational, ethical, and probably effective exit strategy from Iraq. Basically, his plan says that the U.S. must apologize for its illegal and immoral war. The United States should not attempt "to win" in its war against Iraq because there is no victory to be had. It should change its strategy to being just.

Poka writes in part:

The United States should not win in its war against Iraq. It should change its strategy to being just.

The United States was wrong to attack Iraq. Possession of weapons of mass destruction is not a justification, moreover Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Toppling Saddam Hussein is no justification; the imposition by a stronger nation of its political preference for the running of another nation’s government has never been a legitimate basis for attack.

Every justification for the attack by the United States against Iraq leads to the same conclusion: the United States acted as an international delinquent, a violator of Iraqi sovereignty, and an international threat to peace.

So how could one even entertain the notion of winning a war for which there is no justification?

He then lays out a 7 point plan which is worth reading. Click on the link below to go to his article.

Link: Commentary: An Honorable Exit from Iraq by Poka Laenui.

More than 1 in 10 African American males between 25 - 34 in Prison in America

Prison_nation The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics made note of a distressing phenomenon in its press release last June, 27, 2007. They noted that 1/3 of all prison and jail inmates in the United States are African American which far outstrips the degree of their representation in the general population. More than one in 10 (11%)  African Americans between the ages of 25 - 34 are incarcerated in the United States.

What a waste of human energy and talent. What does this say about our society which finally ended slavery, and then ended segregation, and now incarcerates so many of its African American citizens? There is something significantly wrong. Obviously for significant numbers of Americans we are not the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Link: Bureau of Justice Statistics Press Release: Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006.

The Amish Of Nickel Mines, PA most inspiring person of 2006

The Amish of Nickel Mines, PA were choses the most inspiring person of 2006 by Beliefnet.com for their radical forgiveness of the man who killed 5 of the 10 children he shot in their school house.

With an act of radical forgiveness, a grieving community showed the world an alternative response to violence.

Would that our politicians and more of our fellow citizens could do the same, we would be living in quite a different country and world.

Link: beliefnet: Most Inspiring Person of 2006 Winners: The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa..

What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?

Amish Today, October 11, 2006, Diane Butler Bass has a wonderful article entitled, "What If The Amish Were In Charge Of The War On Terror?" Here is part of what she has to say:

Their practice of forgiveness unfolded in four public acts over the course of a week. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief monies intended for Amish families be shared with Roberts and her children. And, finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, more than 30 members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer.

Funny you didn't see this making of peace in the main stream news did you? Isn't this news worthy? Doesn't it point to another way of dealing with tragedy, suffering and grief?

Then an odd thought occurred to me: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, we had gone to Osama bin Laden’s house (metaphorically, of course, since we didn’t know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness? What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of The September 11th Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief?

What if, instead of seeking vengeance, we had stood together in human pain, looking honestly at the shared sin and sadness we suffered? What if we had tried to make peace?

This is probably what Jesus would have done. I don't see any of the right wing evangelicals or the President and his administration who claim to profess their Christian faith, doing anything remotely similar to this. As Jesus said, "Be aware of wolves who come in sheep's clothing."

Link: God's Politics - Jim Wallis blog, faith blog, religion, christian, christianity, politics, values.

What the Amish are Teaching America

Forgiveness Sally Kohn has a wonderful article posted on October 6, 2006 on the Common Dreams web site entitled "What the Amish are Teaching America". It is well worth a read.

According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay? But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’ family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.

Meanwhile, the United States culture from which the Amish are isolated is moving in the other direction — increasingly exacting revenge for crimes and punishing violence with more violence. In 26 states and at the federal level, there are “three strikes” laws in place. Conviction for three felonies in a row now warrants a life sentence, even for the most minor crimes. For instance, Leandro Andrade is serving a life sentence, his final crime involving the theft of nine children’s videos — including “Cinderella” and “Free Willy” — from a Kmart. Similarly, in many states and at the federal level, possession of even small amounts of drugs trigger mandatory minimum sentences of extreme duration. In New York, Elaine Bartlett was just released from prison, serving a 20-year sentence for possessing only four ounces of cocaine. This is in addition to the 60 people who were executed in the United States in 2005, among the more than a thousand killed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. And the President of the United States is still actively seeking authority to torture and abuse alleged terrorists, whom he consistently dehumanizes as rats to be “smoked from their holes”, even without evidence of their guilt.

Our patterns of punishment and revenge are fundamentally at odds with the deeper values of common humanity that the tragic experience of the Amish are helping to reveal. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done in life.

The world would be much better off if the rest of us copied their example. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Americans had visited the Iraqis or the Afgans? Can you imagine what would happen if the Palestinians forgave the Israelis and the Israelis the Palestinians?

Link: What the Amish are Teaching America.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, the film

3_burials When there is so much junk coming out of Holleywood these days it is a wonder why they puzzle over their box office dwindling. And just when it is easy to get cynical, another great film comes along for adults that actually is interesting and makes you think a little bit. Such a film is The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada. The title alone would put many people off, but it is a film well worth watching.

Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) is a cowboy forman in a Texas border town who hires an undocumented Mexican cowboy, Melquiades Estrada, (Julio Cedillo) who is killed by a gung - ho border patrolman, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper).

When the local sheriff is in cahoots with the Border Patrol and refuses to investigate the murder, Pete takes things into his own hands, and sees to it that justice is done.

This film is especially moving and timely with the demonization of undocumented Mexican workers in the United States by our congress and hate talk radio personalities like Michael Savage. This film depicts the close friendship which develops between Pete and Mel, so close that Mel makes Pete promise to return him to his hometown of Jimenez, Mexico if he should die so he can be buried there. Pete makes good on his promise forcing Mike Norton to exhume the body buried in a pauper's cemetery by the Border Patrol and to carry it to Mexico for re-burial.

The moral of the story? Perhaps that all human beings are worthy of dignity and respect and that intolerance is unacceptable for Americans who claim to value human rights and freedom. Having said this I want to add that this film is not at all preachy or moralistic but a simple story told with a rawness, honesty, and straightforwardness that is refreshing in our age of "spin" and duplicity.

This is a moving film which is Tommy Lee Jones directing debut. It is well worth watching. I recommend it.

Link: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005).