“Nothing will ever be the same again.”

This is a tautology, of course, since nothing is ever the same, but when spoken by a Socialist politician who admires Marshal Tito (Yugoslavian dictator under the Soviet Union), it sends chills down the spine, does it not?

In the United States the media generally ignore what’s going on in the rest of the world. If an American wants to know what’s happening outside this country, she has to watch BBC World News, and then most of what she learns is how stupid the EU is, not what’s happening around the world. But, of course, I understand why this is: Americans don’t think the rest of the world matters, even Americans who would like to see “One World.”

Sidebar: Have you ever noticed how TV weather maps show storm boundaries sliced off at the Canadian and Mexican borders?

Remember the Bosnian War?

Under President Bill Clinton, NATO intervened in the genocidal war among Balkan nations that resulted from the breakup of Yugoslavia after the fall of the Soviet Union. At the time, American media was awash in the bloodshed and horror. It inspired me to write a short story, “At the Foot” (now in my historical-mystery short-story collection THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (Light Pages, 2009). When I finally published the story in 2009, I figured it counted as historical, because nobody in America would remember the war.

American memories are very short (and getting shorter, as far as I can determine because high schools don’t teach any history after World War I).

Since the beginning of this century I hadn’t heard a word about Bosnia or Kosovo or Serbia until this weekend when I picked up a copy of The International Herald Tribune as I boarded a plane at Heathrow and found an article by Dan Bilefesky, “Bearing West, Serbia his a bump,” which ends with the chilling quote above from Ivica Dacic, interior minister of Serbia, now running for president. Dacic is a populist and nationalist, which is another way of saying he’s anti-democratic and believes in Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat;” as the lyrics of his theme song says, “All you heroes, get ready for battle.” (In addition to Tito, the article claims that Dacic’s other heroes include Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama!)

A few days ago, in a completely un-American media moment, The Miami Herald published an article by Jonathan S. Landay , “20 Years After War Bosnia Grows More Divided.” Please read it.

Why Should You Care?

Because Serbia is a member of the United Nations, which now seems to dominate American foreign policy. Because Serbia has applied for EU membership. Because the EU is bankrupt. Because the EU is begging us to bail it out. Because American law and government must not adopt the EU or the UN as our model.

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls

It tolls for thee.

Last week an ordinary circuit court judge in Texas heard the bell toll and did something simple and good for us all. He refused to permit a prosecutor to try a defendant for capital murder. He said the obvious: Capital punishment denies a defendant the right of due process under the law.

Houston Judge Kevin Fine accepted a pro-forma pretrial defense motion in a murder case, which argued that the death penalty violated the Constitution. Texas Governor Rick Perry claimed Judge Fine was simply legislating from the bench, and now everyone is saying the judge’s ruling will be overturned on appeal.

In my opinion, and I am not a lawyer—just a mere citizen of the U. S.—it was neither legislation from the bench nor is it a slam-dunk to be overturned.

The Constitution makes the judiciary independent of both the executive and the legislative branches of government, in the states as well as the federal government. If a judge finds that any legislation violates fundamental principles of state or federal constitutions, then he is required to throw it out.

Judges constantly find fault with laws and make law through their decisions. Politicians seem to think they alone are entitled to make law; they never want anyone—including the people—to make law (witness the way Illinois politicians blocked the constitutionally mandated opportunity for a constitutional convention in this state or the way they complain about California’s “initiatives”).

If the Texas appeals courts understand the wisdom of Judge Fine’s decision, they will uphold it. After all, last year in Texas an executed convict was exonerated for all intents and purposes. Why should the courts enable future wrongful executions like that? The citizens and taxpayers of Texas ought to be worried about how horribly this distorts their justice system (and, besides, it’s time they took a look at the exorbitant cost of trying capital cases).

Let This Be the Last Toll

Like most obvious truths, apparently no one saw it until one person had an insight. I certainly didn’t. I was fixated on the issue of “cruel and unusual punishment,” a concept I believe is misunderstood by speakers of Modern Standard American English.

Obviously, as Judge Fine said, an irreversible punishment denies an innocent defendant of due process under the law. And every defendant is presumed innocent until convicted. But even if the presumption of innocence ceases when a person is wrongfully convicted, due process rights are not discontinued. Every convict is entitled to appeal, to beg for mercy, to be pardoned, or to have his punishment commuted.

From a juror’s perspective, capital punishment is grotesque. No one should be asked to decide whether someone else—who has done nothing to her—should live or die.

Worse yet, the law in this country requires a jury to decide the sentence in a capital punishment case, and those juries must first be “death qualified.” In other words, before the trial even begins, the jury has to swear to support the idea of capital punishment, which is a sure and certain sign the jury is inclined to convict defendants charged with murder. This is also a violation of a defendant’s right to due process. At most, there should be two separate trials—one for guilt and one for the sentence—with two different juries.

I pray that this decision will be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court on a fast track and that the Supremes will acknowledge the wisdom of declaring capital punishment unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

The justice system will be infinitely more just without capital punishment. While innocent people may still be convicted and sentenced severely, though wrongfully, at least they will have the opportunity to continue to pursue the due processes of the law from behind bars.

 

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DOA Justice—Death Penalty

Michael King—sentenced to death.

A few issues slice through “party lines.” The death penalty is one of these.

It doesn’t matter whether politicians profess a liberal or a conservative philosophy, they often support the death penalty, either because their constituents do or because the Constitution permits it. Yet when it comes to other issues involving life and death these politicians manage to have it both ways: most politicians can figure out how to argue for the death penalty but oppose abortion or vice versa.

When confronted with this inconsistency they usually retreat behind a misquote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Emerson—of all philosophers—would recoil. He knew that consistency in certain things is integrity, not foolishness or evidence of small intellect. What Emerson really said was: “A foolish consistency is he hobgoblin of little minds. . . .”

Not an Expression of Community Outrage

Some politicians have supported the death penalty as an issue of society’s right to express moral outrage at certain crimes. This is clearly no justification for a state to execute its citizens. It is an expression of the rule of men, not of law. The proper response to crime is not emotionalism but the application of justice.

Community outrage was once used as the justification for lynching black men accused of raping white women. Community outrage was once used as the justification for burning insane women at the stake.

Not a Constitutional Issue

Some politicians have supported the death penalty because it is not expressly forbidden by the U. S. Constitution. But the Constitution once permitted slavery and did not permit women to vote. We amended the Constitution.

An Issue of Tyranny

In the 21st century, the death penalty represents the worst vestige of ancient state tyranny over individuals.

A government that has the right to determine who among its citizens deserve to die has the right to do whatever it wants to the whole citizenry.

You may think that murder is the only crime that results in the death penalty in the U. S. But several federal crimes other than murder are subject to the death penalty:

  • treason,
  • espionage,
  • kidnapping related to bank robbery,
  • and certain drug-smuggling-related crimes.

It’s even possible to be sentenced to death for causing the death of a fetus in the commission of a separate crime. And there’s nothing in the Constitution to prohibit Congress from expanding the list of capital crimes even further.

Take a look at the definition of “treason” at LectLaw:

The Constitution of the United States, Art. III, defines treason against the United States to consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid or  comfort. This offence is punished with death. By the same article of the Constitution, no person shall be convicted of treason, unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Who defines “enemies” of this country? The government does.

Let’s Change This

I’ve decided there is a small thing I can do to further the cause of abolishing the death penalty: I can seek out politicians who wish to abolish it and help them get the word out in the coming 2010 elections. I can also help expose the financial costs of the death penalty in states such as Illinois and the toll on the idea of justice the death penalty takes.

So, I’m starting a blog category for politicians of all parties who wish to abolish the death penalty in their states: “Politicians against Death”:

  • The first such politician I wish to acknowledge is an IL Republican running for Governor: Dan Proft.

His stand against the death penalty came to my attention after I learned that two other Republican candidates (Jim Ryan and Bob Schillerstrom) were strong supporters of the death penalty.

Both Ryan and Schillerstrom are former state’s attorneys from DuPage County and were involved in one of the most notorious, egregious miscarriages of justice of all time: the false prosecution of Rolando Cruz, Alex Hernandez, and Stephen Buckley for the murder of little Jeanine Nicacico in the early 1980s. Please read more about this injustice in Scott Turow’s discussion of his book: Ultimate Punishment.

I think I’ll also add a category for “Politicians of Death” and begin with Ryan and Schillerstrom.

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