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29 April 2008

the mathematical expertise of America's chief philosopher of conservative Morality

"William J. Bennett, the former Republican secretary of education, said that the nation's crime rate could potentially be reduced through aborting blacks." (From a 2005 caption in The New York Times.) (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Sometimes you get your first petite collision with Probability in high school math, but if you don't run fleeing and shrieking from math at the first legal opportunity, you get a more thorough car wreck with it in undergrad college.

You may remember it because nearly all the introductory examples are about gambling games -- playing cards, dice, etc. -- figuring out the odds for drawing a certain poker hand, or the odds of rolling a certain dice number, or four 7s in a row.

This is because the whole branch of Probability originated in 16th century Europe with some questions posed by addicted gamblers. They wanted to know more details about why they were losing so much money all the time, and if there just might be some possibility that they could actually win money for a change.

The addicted gamblers asked the questions to Europe's most brilliant mathematicians -- people like Blaise Pascal -- and the mathematicians quickly realized that although the gamblers were total morons who shouldn't be allowed out unsupervised, their questions raised very deep and profound issues about Reality. Because Reality seems to love to do whatever it is that Reality does in ways that astonishingly resemble gambling games. The math's the same.

Expressing his deep suspicion of the new quantum physics, Albert Einstein famously said

"God does not play dice."
"Gott würfelt nicht."

... but he seems to have been wrong. Whoever/whatever created the Universe apparently constructed much of it along the lines of a large Native-American or Monte Carlo casino, and it is only ours to wonder why the Creator of the Universe thought that was a good idea. But that's why we get taught some introductory Probability in math class. It's no longer about the Craps or the Chemin-de-Fer or the Baccarat or the Roulette. It's about describing what we can perceive most intimately about the behavior of matter and energy.

My last calculus professor had a doctorate in Probability, and was an addicted gambler; the buzz was he had flushed several family fortunes down the toilets of many casinos around the world. Mathematicians tend to be the most vulnerable to this addiction; they succumb to a hallucination that, unlike ordinary addicted gamblers, they know so much about the mathematics of what is going on that they can devise a foolproof "system" to beat the odds and win a fortune at the casino. His favorite game was Blackjack, and he had concluded that its house-to-player odds were so favorable that a brilliant Probability Doctor like him could push it from the Loss column to a fortune in Profits. Two divorces later, and he was still not Rich Beyond His Wildest Dreams.

Now we come to an esteemed and famous American philosopher and moralist, William J. Bennett, who was U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, and then was named America's Drug Czar under President George H.W. Bush (Bush Daddy), tasked with the easy chore of making everybody in America completely stop using illegal drugs -- marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc. He was supposed to develop a national strategy which would reflect Nancy Reagan's solution to the problem of young people using illegal drugs: "Just say no."

Since eradicating illegal drugs from the USA, Bennett has gone on to become a lecture-circuit and Fox News Channel star espousing his conservative philosophies of Personal Responsibility, and has authored a series of books telling Americans what they've been doing that's wicked, sinful and naughty, and why they should stop immediately, and Act Right.

A few years ago, this Paragon of Moral Virtue was outed with a Naughty Little Secret: Not only is he an addicted gambler, but he is addicted to Slot Machines, the most notorious Toilet in the casino, and has flushed away millions of dollars (that perhaps his wife and children thought were safely tucked away in sound investments and banks for their benefit) sitting alone in a dark corner of the casino pulling the lever of the One-Armed Bandit over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and ...

After this article in The Washington Monthly magazine, and a New York Times article about Bennett's belief that the solution to crime in America is to provide abortions for African-American fetuses, Agence-Vleeptron Presse could not resist the temptation of another profile of Saint William J. Bennett, from the World Socialist Web Site. Essentially it's just a rewrite of the Washington Monthly article, but it's a very tasty job by the Far Left of stomping a Big Famous Cheese of the Far Right in the head endlessly with heavy boots.

Well, he asked for it.

Speaking strictly from a Mathematical Viewpoint -- this guy is dumber than a box of sterilized rocks. But you can find his syndicated radio show and listen to him explain Morality to you. Or you can buy his series of best-selling books about Personal Responsibility.

===========

The Washington Monthly
(magazine, Washington DC)
June 2003


The Bookie of Virtue

William J. Bennett has made millions lecturing people on morality -- and blown it on gambling.

by Joshua Green

"We should know that too much of anything, even a good thing, may prove to be our undoing...[We] need ... to set definite boundaries on our appetites."

-- "The Book of Virtues," by William J. Bennett

No person can be more rightly credited with making morality and personal responsibility an integral part of the political debate than William J. Bennett. For more than 20 years, as a writer, speaker, government official, and political operative, Bennett has been a commanding general in the culture wars. As Ronald Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, he was the scourge of academic permissiveness. Later, as Reagan's secretary of education, he excoriated schools and students for failing to set and meet high standards. As drug czar under George H.W. Bush, he applied a get-tough approach to drug use, arguing that individuals have a moral responsibility to own up to their addiction. Upon leaving public office, Bennett wrote The Book of Virtues, a compendium of parables snatched up by millions of parents and teachers across the political spectrum. Bennett's crusading ideals have been adopted by politicians of both parties, and implemented in such programs as character education classes in public schools--a testament to his impact.

But Bennett, a devout Catholic, has always been more Old Testament than New. Even many who sympathize with his concerns find his combative style haughty and unforgiving. Democrats in particular object to his partisan sermonizing, which portrays liberals as inherently less moral than conservatives, more given to excusing personal weaknesses, and unwilling to confront the vices that destroy families. During the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Bennett was among the president's most unrelenting detractors. His book, The Death of Outrage, decried, among other things, the public's failure to take Clinton's sins more seriously.

His relentless effort to push Americans to do good has enabled Bennett to do extremely well. His best-selling The Book of Virtues spawned an entire cottage industry, from children's books to merchandizing tie-ins to a PBS cartoon series. Bennett commands $50,000 per appearance on the lecture circuit and has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from such conservative benefactors as the Scaife and John M. Olin foundations.

Few vices have escaped Bennett's withering scorn. He has opined on everything from drinking to "homosexual unions" to "The Ricki Lake Show" to wife-swapping. There is one, however, that has largely escaped Bennett's wrath: gambling. This is a notable omission, since on this issue morality and public policy are deeply intertwined. During Bennett's years as a public figure, casinos, once restricted to Nevada and New Jersey, have expanded to 28 states, and the number continues to grow. In Maryland, where Bennett lives, the newly elected Republican governor Robert Ehrlich is trying to introduce slot machines to fill revenue shortfalls. As gambling spreads, so do its associated problems. Heavy gambling, like drug use, can lead to divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and bankruptcy. According to a 1998 study commissioned by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, residents within 50 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be classified as "problem" or "pathological" gamblers than those who live further away.

If Bennett hasn't spoken out more forcefully on an issue that would seem tailor-made for him, perhaps it's because he is himself a heavy gambler. Indeed, in recent weeks word has circulated among Washington conservatives that his wagering could be a real problem. They have reason for concern. The Washington Monthly and Newsweek have learned that over the last decade Bennett has made dozens of trips to casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where he is a "preferred customer" at several of them, and sources and documents provided to The Washington Monthly put his total losses at more than $8 million.

"I don't play the 'milk money.'"

Bennett has been a high-roller since at least the early 1990s. A review of one 18-month stretch of gambling showed him visiting casinos, often for two or three days at a time (and enjoying a line of credit of at least $200,000 at several of them). Bennett likes to be discreet. "He'll usually call a host and let us know when he's coming," says one source. "We can limo him in. He prefers the high-limit room, where he's less likely to be seen and where he can play the $500-a-pull slots. He usually plays very late at night or early in the morning -- usually between midnight and 6 a.m." The documents show that in one two-month period, Bennett wired more than $1,400,000 to cover losses. His desire for privacy is evident in his customer profile at one casino, which lists as his residence the address for Empower.org (the Web site of Empower America, the non-profit group Bennett co-chairs). Typed across the form are the words: "NO CONTACT AT RES OR BIZ!!!"

Bennett's gambling has not totally escaped public notice. In 1998, The Washington Times reported in a light-hearted front-page feature story that he plays low-stakes poker with a group of prominent conservatives, including Robert Bork, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. A year later, the same paper reported that Bennett had been spotted at the new Mirage Resorts Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, where he was reputed to have won a $200,000 jackpot. Bennett admitted to the Times that he had visited the casino, but denied winning $200,000. Documents show that, in fact, he won a $25,000 jackpot on that visit -- but left the casino down $625,000.

Bennett -- who gambled throughout Clinton's impeachment -- has continued this pattern in subsequent years. On July 12 of last year, for instance, Bennett lost $340,000 at Caesar's Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City. And just three weeks ago, on March 29 and 30, he lost more than $500,000 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

"There's a term in the trade for this kind of gambler," says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours.
"We call them losers."

Asked by Newsweek columnist and Washington Monthly contributing editor Jonathan Alter to comment on the reports, Bennett admitted that he gambles but not that he has ended up behind. "I play fairly high stakes. I adhere to the law. I don't play the 'milk money.' I don't put my family at risk, and I don't owe anyone anything." The documents offer no reason to contradict Bennett on these points. Bennett claims he's beaten the odds: "Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even."

"You can roll up and down a lot in one day, as we have on many occasions," Bennett explains. "You may cycle several hundred thousand dollars in an evening and net out only a few thousand."

"I've made a lot of money [in book sales, speaking fees and other business ventures] and I've won a lot of money," adds Bennett. "When I win, I usually give at least a chunk of it away [to charity]. I report everything to the IRS."

But the documents show only a few occasions when he turns in chips worth $30,000 or $40,000 at the end of an evening. Most of the time, he draws down his line of credit, often substantially. A casino source, hearing of Bennett's claim to breaking even on slots over 10 years, just laughed.

"You don't see what I walk away with," Bennett says. "They [casinos] don't want you to see it."

Explaining his approach, Bennett says: "I've been a 'machine person' [slot machines and video poker]. When I go to the tables, people talk -- and they want to talk about politics. I don't want that. I do this for three hours to relax." He says he was in Las Vegas in April for dinner with the former governor of Nevada and gambled while he was there.

Bennett says he has made no secret of his gambling. "I've gambled all my life and it's never been a moral issue with me. I liked church bingo when I was growing up. I've been a poker player."

But while Bennett's poker playing and occasional Vegas jaunt are known to some Washington conservatives, his high-stakes habit comes as a surprise to many friends. "We knew he went out there [to Las Vegas] sometimes, but at that level? Wow!" said one longtime associate of Bennett.

Despite his personal appetites, Bennett and his organization, Empower America, oppose the extension of casino gambling in the states. In a recent editorial, his Empower America co-chair Jack Kemp inveighed against lawmakers who "pollute our society with a slot machine on every corner." The group recently published an Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, with an introduction written by Bennett, that reports 5,500,000 American adults as "problem" or "pathological" gamblers. Bennett says he is neither because his habit does not disrupt his family life.

[Agence-Vleeptron Presse has been unable to reach Bennett's wife or children for their opinions on Dad's hobby. Maybe one of them will read this and Leave A Comment.]

When reminded of studies that link heavy gambling to divorce, bankruptcy, domestic abuse, and other family problems he has widely decried, Bennett compared the situation to alcohol.

"I view it as drinking," Bennett says. "If you can't handle it, don't do it."

Bennett is a wealthy man and may be able to handle losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Of course, as the nation's leading spokesman on virtue and personal responsibility, Bennett's gambling complicates his public role. Moreover, it has already exacted a cost. Like him or hate him, William Bennett is one of the few public figures with a proven ability to influence public policy by speaking out. By furtively indulging in a costly vice that destroys millions of lives and families across the nation, Bennett has profoundly undermined the credibility of his word on this moral issue.

Reporting assistance provided by Robert W. J. Fisk, Soyoung Ho, and Brent Kendall.

- 30 -

=========

The New York Times
30 September 2005


White House Criticizes
Bennett for Remarks

by David D. Kirkpatrick and Marek Fuchs

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 -- The White House distanced itself today from the comments of a prominent Republican who said on a recent radio program that the nation's crime rate could potentially be reduced through aborting blacks.

William J. Bennett,
the former Republican secretary of education, said that the nation's crime rate could potentially be reduced through aborting blacks.

The White House called the comments, made by William J. Bennett, the former Republican secretary of education, off base. The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that President George W. Bush "believes the comments were not appropriate."

Mr. Bennett has said the remarks were taken out of context, noting that he immediately said such abortions would be "reprehensible."

Mr. Bennett, who served as drug czar for the president's father, came under fire from Democratic Congressional leaders on Thursday for the comments, which were made on a his radio show, "Bill Bennett's Morning in America," earlier this week.

"I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," Mr. Bennett said in the broadcast. "That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

In a radio broadcast on Thursday, Mr. Bennett called the criticism of him "ridiculous, stupid, totally without merit."

"I was pointing out that abortion should not be opposed for economic reasons, any more than racism or for that matter slavery or segregation should be supported or opposed for economic reasons," he said. "Immoral policies are wrong because they are wrong, not because of an economic calculation. One could just as easily have said you could abort all children and prevent all crime, to show the absurdity of the proposition."

Mr. Bennett, who was the secretary of education in the Reagan administration and is the author of a best-selling book on morality, said he was referring to a debate in the online magazine Slate that had discussed race in the context of an argument about whether abortions contributed to lowering the crime rate. That debate, involving Steven D. Levitt, an author of the best-seller "Freakonomics," apparently appeared in Slate six years ago.

In an interview with Fox News, Mr. Bennett said critics had distorted his comments by omitting his statement that aborting all black babies would be "morally reprehensible."

"When that is included in the quote, it makes it perfectly clear what my position is," Mr. Bennett said, "They make it seem as if I am supporting such a monstrous idea, which I don't."

The Democratic Congressional leaders, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, both sought to put the remarks in the context of a Republican effort to court African-American voters. Mr. Reid said Mr. Bennett's comments would "feed the fires of racism," and Ms. Pelosi called them "shameful words."

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Washington for this article and Marek Fuchs from New York.

- 30 -

==================

World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org
9 May 2003


William Bennett:
the secret high-stakes gambling life of a former drug “czar”

by Kate Randall

William Bennett, secretary of education under Reagan and drug “czar” in the first Bush administration, has engaged in high-stakes gambling to the tune of as much as $8 million in losses in recent years. This revelation was greeted with revulsion -- but not surprise -- by anyone who has followed the moral preachings of this reactionary zealot. It is a further exposure of the rank hypocrisy of the group of extreme-right ideologues who have justified the accumulation of unprecedented wealth through the assault on the social conditions of working people and the poor in the United States over the past two decades.

The gambling habits of Bennett -- who has made his millions peddling books such as The Book of Virtues and The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family — were detailed in an article by Joshua Green in the Washington Monthly Online this past weekend. Bennett has apparently been a high-roller on the gambling scene since at least the early 1990s. Green reports that Bennett would often visit casinos for two or three days at a time, and enjoyed lines of credit of at least $200,000 at several of them.

Bennett was no small-time, recreational gambler. The Washington Monthly reports a source saying, “He’ll usually call a host and let us know when he’s coming. We can limo him in. He prefers the high-limit room, where he’s less likely to be seen and where he can play the $500-a-pull slots. He usually plays very late at night or early in the morning—usually between midnight and 6 a.m.”

Although Bennett claims that “Over ten years, I’d say I’ve come out pretty close to even,” documents obtained by the Washington Monthly show Bennett wired more than $1,400,000 to cover his losses in one two-month period. On July 12, 2002, he reportedly lost $340,000 at Caesar’s Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City, and on April 5 and 6 of this year he lost more than $500,000 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

After the story broke, Bennett defended his behavior, saying, “I adhere to the law. I don’t play the ‘milk money.’ I don’t put my family at risk, and I don’t owe anyone anything.” All true — and revealing — statements.

Bennett is a multimillionaire. In addition to profits from his moralizing books, he pulls in $50,000 an appearance to spew out his reactionary drivel on moral virtues and traditional family values to select audiences. The fact that $8 million in losses has had no impact on his family budget shows just how privileged and distant his lifestyle is from that of the majority of people who frequent casinos. For Bennett to tap into the “milk money” he would have to lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

The situation is different for the millions of lower-stakes gamblers who lose money at US casinos every day. While only a few decades ago gambling was restricted to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, New Jersey, in recent years casinos have sprung up in many metropolitan as well as rural areas across the country plagued by economic decline. Politicians have embraced casinos to make up for the fall in revenues resulting from shutdown industries and cuts in taxes on the wealthy. In Michigan, for example, where gambling was once a relatively rare activity, state residents spent over $5 billion last year on legal forms of gambling.

While the casinos Bennett has frequented are surely happy to profit from his losses, the gambling houses in general target their business to the higher volume of lower-stakes customers. Gambling is big business. In Detroit, huge tax breaks have been granted to the three casinos that have set up business in the city. These gambling houses mainly target their business to workers and the poor in the city as well as working people from the surrounding suburbs. While many come for entertainment, a large number come with the unrealistic hope that they will “make it big,” take home large winnings and solve their economic problems. A far more frequent outcome is indebtedness and gambling addiction.

The Michigan Department of Community Health writes on its web site: “For those who become addicted, gambling leads to serious family and financial strain. Approximately 5 percent of people who gamble ultimately become addicted. In Michigan, that translates to about 350,000 compulsive gamblers.”

On January 26, 2000, 38-year-old Solomon Bell, an off-duty cop from suburban Detroit, shot himself in the head after losing between $15,000 and $20,000 at two Detroit casinos. But according to William Bennett, such problem gamblers —and sufferers of other addictions — are morally weak and derelict and their addictions have nothing to do with the economic conditions under which they live.

Spending entire nights in the solitary activity of pulling the arm of a slot machine or playing video poker — both games that involve no thought or skill and which the house is strongly favored to win — would certainly be a symptom of gambling addiction and undoubtedly deeper psychological problems. For Bennett, however, the loss of millions — not to mention a mere $20,000—was not grounds for contemplating suicide.

In The Broken Hearth, Bennett chastises “some on the American Left” who say that the breakdown of the family and America’s other social ills can be traced to “economic deprivation and social inequality, including a decline in job prospects and real income, wage stagnation, and an unraveling social safety net.”

Bennett has made an industry out of moral proselytizing as a crude cover for maintaining this social inequality, and defending capitalist society and its class rule. This includes support for reactionary domestic policies — including draconian sentencing laws for drug offenders, prosecuting children as adults, legal barriers to divorce and abortion — as well as the promotion of US imperialist aggression.

Bennett was one of the signatories of an October 1, 2001 open letter in the Weekly Standard which called for retaliating against Iraq for the September 11, 2001 suicide hijackings, regardless of whether the Hussein regime was in any way responsible. The letter read in part: “Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

Bennett was also in the audience of the Conservative Political Action Conference, January 30 - February 2 in Arlington, Virginia, when right-wing columnist and television commentator Ann Coulter advocated execution for John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too,” Coulter told the cheering gathering of ultra-right Republicans.

He also devoted an entire volume — The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals — devoted to moralizing against Bill Clinton in connection with the Monica Lewinsky affair. According to Joshua Green, Bennett continued to gamble throughout the campaign to drive Clinton from office.

In the wake the gambling revelations, Bennett’s supporters have attempted to defend him by saying that he never personally condemned gambling, so he had not compromised his convictions. While this may be technically true, Bennett’s organization, Empower America, opposes legalized gambling and includes “problem” gambling as a so-called negative indicator of cultural health.

In the end, Bennett has been forced by all the publicity to give it up. “I have done too much gambling,” he said, “and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over.” The conservative Concerned Women for America commented that it hoped Bennett would “remain firm in his resolve to eliminate gambling from his life and will not hesitate to seek any help he may need in keeping his resolve.”

The entire sordid affair is, in the end, not a moral issue but illustrative of the hypocrisy of those like William Bennett who are motivated in their personal and political lives not by principles, but by a right-wing and reactionary political agenda and an appetite for wealth and the luxuries that come with it.

With the profits gleaned from preaching to Americans about their moral deficiencies, Bennett entertained himself by dropping millions of dollars into slot machines and video poker. But he asks that he be forgiven his transgressions, because, after all, he didn’t “play the ‘milk money.’”

- 30 -

Copyright 1998-2008
World Socialist Web Site
All rights reserved


28 April 2008

Dad was wearing a very Odd Shirt at the Whately Diner (where you can also buy a shower)

Okay, 24 potatoes are baking in the oven, and I have been dying to post this Oddity, and have spent the morning creating a little graphic for it.

Last weekend we had lunch at one of my favorite eateries, The Whately Diner, a Retro Monument of Stainless Steel, Plate Glass, Neon, and twirly counter seats. It's also a small-ish truck stop, and while you're there to gas up and chow down, you can also buy a clean shower, I think for $1.

It was crowded, and also waiting for a table to be readied was a family consisting of Dad, Mom & Junior (about 10). On visual inspection, they all seemed to have functioning nervous systems sufficient at least to get through lunch at an Interstate Highway diner.

Dad was wearing a shirt very much like this.

Nothing whatever flashy or lurid or naughty or kinky about the shirt. He could have worn it to an informal church function and nobody would have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

I noticed something out of the ordinary.

Apparently Dad doesn't just go to casinos (Foxwoods is a Native-American tribal enterprise in Connecticut USA). Inside the casino he doesn't just play the slot machines.

Apparently Dad gets mailings or e-mails from Foxwoods that announce

HEY SLOT MACHINE LOVERS!
COME TO FOXWOODS' BIG
SLOT MACHINE CHAMPIONSHIP!
COMPETE WITH HUNDREDS
OF SLOTS PLAYERS
TO BE FOXWOODS'
CHAMPION SLOT MACHINE PLAYER!

and he goes to this Event, tries to became the casino's BEST SLOT MACHINE PLAYER EVER, and as recognition, got the nifty t-shirt, which he merrily wears around in broad daylight in public.

Can you figure this out for yourself? Or do you need some guidance?

Every casino game is designed to obey this Rule:

On average, but 100% Guaranteed,
the Gamblers will lose money
and the Casino will earn money.

But the Loss/Earn ratio differs with each game -- Roulette, Blackjack, Craps, Chemin-de-Fer (uh-huh, where you can find that), Baccarat ...

Blackjack offers the best od
ds in the casinos, 49.5 to the Sucker, and 50.5 to the Casino.

This absolutely does not mean you have your best chance to win by playing Blackjack.

Rather, it means: You will lose your money at the slowest rate. So while some games will bankrupt you in a matter of an hour and a half, Blackjack will take all your money from you in hours, maybe even a day or more!

(Don't worry, casinos have plenty of Automated Teller Machines which will give you a Cash Advance on your Credit Card after you run out of the $300 you swore on your Grandmother's Bible not to gamble one cent more than.)

The worst game in the casino -- also by far the most popular and beloved -- are the Slot Machines (One-Armed Bandits).

The odds that you might win money by playing slot machines are mathematically equivalent to standing in front of a toilet and throwing cash into it and repeatedly flushing, and waiting for the toilet to suddenly fling back a giant bunch of cash at you.

So Dad takes a special trip of maybe 200 miles each way to stand in front of hundreds of toilets and toss his family's life savings down the toilets and flush them all weekend, until he gets a Repetitive Motion Syndrome ailment in his elbows. So he can maybe become The Champion Slot Machine Player of Foxwoods Casino.

And he wore this shirt in public. Wow. I was impressed.

And he had a wife. And they had a child. And they were allowed to operate a motor vehicle on the Interstate Highway.

EARTHQUAKE!!!??? / One-Man Bob bakes potatoes, promises more posts

Unemployed American men during The Great Depression waiting in line for charity bread. Part of the monument to Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington DC. "Breadline" by sculptor George Segal. Click for larger.

Publicke Notices

1. Amy & Mike -- uhhh ... did you just have an earthquake? You guys okay? It wasn't as big as The Big One in Southern Illinois last week, but did you get shaked, rattled and rolled? Should I phone FEMA? Details please.

2. In case nobody has figured this out, Vleeptron is your basic One-Man Band. It may SEEM that Vleeptron is produced by a staff of hundreds of dedicated professional journalists and world-class graphic artists, but such is not the case. It's pretty much all just Bob.

(This of course does not include our dozens of Human-On-The-Ground correspondents all around the Solar System who report on local news and cultural and sporting events for Agence-Vleeptron Presse, and whom A-VP pays in Pizza.)

So anyway, considering this whole Thing is furped out by 1 Single Solitary Human Being named Bob, this may explain why Vleeptron has been slowing down and producing fewer posts lately.

One-Man-Bob and S.W.M.B.O. are emerging from The Winter From Hell. Details on request, but suffice it to say that none of it was Health-Related or Life-Threatening. More like being attacked by 600 ducks pecking constantly at our ankles. After months of Alarums & Diversions at all hours which have driven us totally nuts, we are seriously considering an experiment to see if it is possible to Live Without A Telephone.

Bob is also way behind in a variety of promises, sworn oaths, vows, etc. We haven't forgotten any of these and will attend to them as promptly as possible. Most of the ducks have flown away and things are calming down a bit.

3. The Brilliant Occidental Mystic Mathematician RamanuJohn (who solved the 7-Node Travelling Santa Problem) rang our doorbell this morning and paid us a visit in Real Physical Space! What a treat! What an honor!

4. In a few minutes I'll go into our wonderful thrilling new kitchen (#**%&&#*%&#*&$~!!) and bake 24 Idaho potatoes for The Last Supper -- our volunteer team's last meal for my town's emergency winter homeless shelter. Until next Halloween, our homeless guests are invited to sleep al fresco under the stars and solve their nutritional needs in more ingenious ways, which will almost certainly include the dependable trick of Eating Less Food.

At this moment, all I can ask Vleeptron's readers to do is to think well of our guests and wish them good luck for the next 7 months. I have many more thoughts about my neighbors who have fallen on Hard Times and who depend on our church alliance shelter to get through and survive our ferocious winter. I shall try to assemble these thoughts and fling them at you soon.

I can only add that all this is happening in what's probably the most materially prosperous and well-fed nation which ever existed on Planet Earth.


See all of you later tonight after I bake the potatoes and my neighbors eat them (with big tubs of sour cream and soft butter).

23 April 2008

Another reason to cancel your trip to the Beijing Olympics

Images calling for boycott of Beijing Olympics.

Rather than even hint that the USA has some kind of moral superiority that makes it the World Spokesman for Human Rights -- that illusion dissipated like morning fog during the last 7 years -- maybe we can just take it Episode by Episode. Who's doing what that sucks this week? And who wants to complain about it and try to stop it.

Here's an Episode to make you think twice about taking your Gold MasterCard or your Platinum Visa to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Don't wait for a government minister to declare a boycott. Don't wait for athletes to choose to decline to compete.

Just go somewhere else for your summer vacation, and spend your money in a place where you feel comfortable about human rights and decent treatment of the people.

A sufficient disaster of big spenders who don't show up in Beijing because they're disgusted, or just feel creeped out by the government's actions in China itself, in Tibet, in Darfur, and now in Zimbawe -- empty Olympic stadiums -- and the International Olympic Commitee will get the message pretty quickly: Don't award the Olympics to any more creepy totalitarian one-party militaristic police states. It's a losing business proposition. TV sponsors don't want their fancy new cars or their soft drinks linked to police murder of Tibetan Buddhist monks. They don't want their product linked to shipments of weapons to shore up the last moments of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

There are plenty of countries that don't have these nasty habits who'd love to host future Olympics.

But if you're packing and getting all excited about your wonderful time watching the athletes go for the gold in Beijing, here's what you're paying for. It's filling the hold of a Chinese freighter that's having trouble finding a port willing to let it offload its shipment of police weapons and ammunition.

==============

The New York Times
Wednesday 23 April 2008


China May Give Up Attempt
to Send Arms to Zimbabwe


by Celia W. Dugger and David Barboza

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As protests intensified across southern Africa against the shipment of Chinese-made arms intended for Zimbabwe, the government in Beijing said Tuesday that the ship carrying the arms — owned by a large Chinese state-owned company, Cosco — may return to China because of the difficulties in delivering the goods.

South Africa’s High Court on Friday barred transport of the ammunition, rockets and mortar bombs across South Africa from the port of Durban to landlocked Zimbabwe, after an Anglican archbishop argued that the arms were likely to be used to crush the Zimbabwean opposition after last month’s disputed election.

South Africa’s dock workers also said they would refuse to unload the shipment, a call backed up by the country’s powerful coalition of trade unions. On Friday, the ship, An Yue Jiang, left Durban for the open seas, and on Tuesday South Africa’s Defense Ministry said it was somewhere off Africa’s west coast.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a press briefing in Beijing that the shipment was part of “normal military trade” between Zimbabwe and China, and called on other nations not to politicize the issue. But acknowledging the resistance to the shipment, she said China was considering shipping the arms back to China.

According to documents provided to South African authorities and leaked to journalists here, Poly Technologies, Inc., a Chinese state-owned arms company, made the arms, weighing 77 tons and worth $1,245,000.

The impromptu coalition of trade unions, church leaders and organizations trying to stop the delivery gained an important ally on Monday when Levy Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, who heads a bloc of 14 southern African nations, called on other countries in the region not to let the ship dock in their ports.

“He actually said that it would be good for China to play a more useful role in the Zimbabwe crisis than supplying arms,” said a spokesman for the Zambian government, who asked not to be identified. “We don’t want a situation which will escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

Mr. Mwanawasa’s statements, made to reporters as he returned from a regional conference in Mauritius, were remarkable because few African heads of state have been openly critical of Zimbabwe. The bloc he heads, the Southern African Development Community, has come under especially sharp criticism for failing to censure the Zimbabwean government for refusing to publish the results of the presidential election.

The United States has also pressed countries in the region — including Namibia and Angola, both allies of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe — not to accept the arms shipment. At a press briefing on Tuesday in Washington, Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said American officials had taken up the issue with China as well.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate at this point, given the political upheaval that’s occurring in Zimbabwe, for anyone to be adding extra tinder to that situation by providing additional weapons to Zimbabwe security forces,” Mr. Casey said.

More than three weeks after an election in which the opposition is said by independent monitors to have defeated the party of Mr. Mugabe, the autocrat who has led the country for 28 years, election officials have yet to release results.

Deep in a long editorial on its Web site on Wednesday, The Herald, Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper, floated a proposal for a transitional national unity government led by Mr. Mugabe.

Human rights groups and the opposition have reported that the government was coordinating a violent crackdown on the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Church leaders in Zimbabwe said Tuesday that organized violence had been unleashed throughout the country, including abductions and torture of opposition supporters, and called on the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations to intervene.

“We warn the world that if nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere,” the church leaders said in a statement, Agence France-Presse reported. The statement was signed by the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.

Shipping arms to Zimbabwe could further complicate China’s efforts to avoid harsh international criticism before it hosts the Olympics this summer. At the same time China is trying to win allies in Africa, a source of natural resources it needs to fuel its economic boom.

The South African government, which was helping the Chinese ship clear customs in Durban last week before the ship left the port, has been criticized by trade unions and other organizations here for being complicit in getting weapons to Zimbabwe’s military when senior Army officers were being accused of helping lead and coordinate suppression of the opposition.

But South African officials said last week that they could not interfere with the shipment because there was no trade embargo against Zimbabwe.

A South African government spokesman said Tuesday that the ship remained somewhere off the west coast of Africa.

Celia W. Dugger reported from Johannesburg, and David Barboza from Shanghai.

- 30 -

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


22 April 2008

Shh! Each year, 12,000 veterans try to kill themselves while under Department of Veterans Affairs care.

The federal agency tasked with the medical care and well-being of U.S. military veterans is the cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs, formerly the Veterans Administration.

Veterans may sue the VA/DVA. But by law dating to the agency's founding after the Civil War (1861-1865), lawyers representing veterans against the VA/DVA may receive a maximum compensation of One Dollar. So there have almost never been substantive lawsuits on behalf of veterans against the VA/DVA.

Although the VA has had its high moments of discharging its responsibilities, these have been rare. Usually the VA is led and staffed by political hacks -- typically whichever jerk heads the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars and is willing to kiss White House ass -- who have subjected veterans to substandard, inadequate medical care.

The U.S. government's treatment of veterans has, after most wars, been roughly comparable to its treatment of Native Americans. Sometimes, as in the administration of President Warren Harding shortly after World War One, the VA has descended into abominable and notorious criminal fraud and scandal.

This New York Times article speaks for itself, there's not much I can add to this grotesque national shame.

But it describes a historically remarkable effort to force the DVA to do its job decently and responsively. Specifically, veterans are asking a federal judge to appoint a Master, independent of the federal bureaucracy, to supervise the DVA's services and medical care to veterans.

My military service was safe and uneventful, and I have been remarkably lucky in never having had to depend on the Veterans Administration for much.

Other veterans who have really needed important medical and psychiatric care for their service-caused troubles haven't been nearly as lucky as I've been.

After the article, a quick e-mail I sent off to the lead lawyer for the veteran plaintiffs, Gordon P. Erspamer. His biography on his law firm's website says he received his J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree from the University of Michigan.

Go Blue! I didn't go there, but I've finally visited it, and it's every bit the great school I always heard it was, regularly spewing out great people who do great things.

================

The New York Times
Tuesday 22 April 2008


In Federal Suit, 2 Views
of Veterans’ Health Care


by Neil MacFarquhar

SAN FRANCISCO, California -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling to meet the skyrocketing demand for medical services as an unanticipated flood of former soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan seek help along with a parallel surge of claims from aging Vietnam veterans, according to both sides in a trial that opened Monday in federal court here.

The lawsuit was brought by two groups, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, seeking to force the government to streamline its procedures for treating former soldiers, particularly those suffering from combat trauma and other mental health problems.

Opening arguments painted sharply different pictures of the department’s success. The veterans groups said the department was ignoring a mental health crisis and was so swamped that former soldiers were dying needlessly. The defense countered that the country’s largest medical care system was adding the personnel needed to cope.

“Our ultimate goal is guaranteed health care, timely health care, timely decisions on disability payments,” Gordon P. Erspamer, the lead lawyer representing the two veterans groups, said in an interview.

“The system is choking on the claims; the delays are unconscionable,” Mr. Erspamer said.

The trial, before Judge Samuel Conti, an Army veteran of World War II, does not seek monetary damages but asks the court to appoint a special master or otherwise intervene to make the department run more efficiently.

Claims for help from the department jumped 25 percent in recent years, hitting 838,000, Richard G. Lepley said in his opening statement for the government.

The defense said the jump was generated by a combination of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, where head injuries that can lead to stress problems are a signature issue, as well as an upswing of Vietnam veterans seeking help for medical conditions associated with aging. News coverage from the current wars has also led to new mental health problems among Vietnam veterans, said Kerri J. Childress, a spokeswoman for the veterans department in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I don’t think anybody had any idea how long the war was going to go on,” Ms. Childress said, referring to Iraq. She added that there was no way to fully anticipate the demand for medical care from Vietnam veterans.

The department is falling short of its goal of addressing claims within 125 days, saying that it was now closer to 180 to 185 days, Mr. Lepley said. But he said the department had added 3,700 mental health care professionals in the last two years, bringing the total to 17,000, and started a program where anyone feeling suicidal could get attention within 24 hours and a follow-up appointment within two weeks, he said. The program started last summer, he said, so it is too new to measure its effectiveness.

Over all, there are 6,600 suicides per year among the 25 million veterans of all wars, representing about one in five suicides in the country, Ms. Childress said. There are an estimated 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the 7,800,000 veterans treated by Veterans Affairs, she said. The suicides tend to be more frequent among older veterans, she said, citing statistics from data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number — 126 suicides a week, higher than the 120 published in previous studies — was in a December e-mail message from Dr. Ira Katz, the head of mental health services for Veterans Affairs, to Dr. Michael J. Kussman, the under secretary for the Veterans Health Administration in the department. Mr. Erspamer displayed the message in his opening argument.

The department has long been reluctant to release specific numbers regarding suicides or suicide attempts, lawyers for the veterans groups said. “We certainly think there was a cover-up in some sense,” said Heather Moser, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

A second department e-mail message from Dr. Katz shown at the trial starts with “Shh!” and refers to the 12,000 veterans per year who attempt suicide while under department treatment. “Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?” it asks.

- 30 -
==============

Mr. Gordon P. Erspamer, Esq.
Senior Counsel
Morrison Foerster

Dear Mr. Erspamer,

Thank you for representing veterans seeking responsive and responsible health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In August 1945, at the end of World War Two, President Truman appointed General Omar Bradley to lead the Veterans Administration. It was the clearest message that the nation's priority was its best efforts to heal our veterans and to re-integrate them fully and successfully into civilian society, and that the nation acknowledged that those who had served deserved nothing less.

Your willingness to represent veterans against the DVA with zeal and excellence is an event of historic significance. I wish you and your colleagues the best success in this case. I cannot adequately express how important it is to our veterans, to the nation, and personally to me.

Go Blue.

Yours sincerely,

Bob Merkin

SP5 US Army 1969-1971
Army Commendation Medal


20 April 2008

pee in the cup, make Drug War predators rich / a celebration of Junk Science translated into national policy

The Amador Ledger Dispatch
Amador County, California USA
Friday 11 April 2008


High school students
may face
drug testing policy


High school students in Amador County may get drug testing added to their curricula if they want to continue participating in school sports and other extracurricular activities.

The Amador County Unified School District Board of Trustees is considering a policy on student drug testing, based on coach and community surveys and students interviews, that would require a random testing program for students participating in extracurricular activities.

Mike Carey, superintendent of schools in Amador County, addressed board members at the district's bi-monthly meeting Wednesday night at the County Administration center in Jackson regarding the issue. After observing meetings between board members and high school students last week as they discussed the drug testing issue, Carey said he "found it interesting to see what the students had to say."

"Many of them were open to drug testing," he said, adding that he got a "clear message" that a policy requiring such should be looked into.

According to data from 2007, 13 percent of high schools in the U.S. have a drug testing program in place, Carey told the board. Cost per test was thought to be $20 to $50, he said, noting that after further research, he found that tests could cost as low as $4 each.

"It's not a real expensive program."

The board has reviewed seven current testing policies, according to an Amador County Public Schools document available at the meeting. District attorneys will review the proposed policy.

Students who participate in extracurricular activities such as athletics, drama and other activities may be affected if the policy is enacted, Carey said. Students in band would, most likely, not have to participate in testing, he said. "I'd want to run it by our legal council ( though )."

Board Clerk Karl Knobelauch asked Carey what would be done in the case of drug tests that may result in "false positives"; for example, he said, poppy seeds may test positive for Opiates.

In that case, a second testing would be done, Carey said.

Parents would also have the option of nominating their children to take a drug test, he added.

Board members will discuss the issue at the next district meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 23 at the Amador County Administration Building.

- 30 -

=============

Letter to the Editor
The Amador Ledger Dispatch
Amador County, California USA
Friday 18 April 2008


False positives

A major concern about drug testing is the fact that 65 prescription and over the counter medications produce false positive results. If someone takes Advil, Nuprin, Motrin, Excedrin IB ( Ibuprofen ), Aleve ( Naproxen ) , has a Kidney infection, Diabetes or Liver Disease there could be a false positive for marijuana. Nyquil, Contact, Sudafed, Allerest, Tavist-D, Dimetapp, Phenegan-D, Robitussin Cold and Flu, Vicks Nyquil ( Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, propylephedrine, phenylephrine, or desoxyephedrine ) create erroneous indications for amphetamines. Poppy Seeds, Tylenol with codeine, Cough suppressants with Dextromethorphan ( DXM ), and most prescription pain medications produce a false positive for Heroin use.

Random drug testing has not been proven to deter drug use. In 2003, the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the largest study ever conducted on the topic. Researchers found no differences in illegal drug use among students in schools that tested and those that did not.

Incidentally, using a $4 drug test is about as effective as using a peashooter to hunt elephants, the false positive rate will be enormous. But what do the Board of Trustees care about how many kids they wreck so long as they can posture as drug crusaders. A few expensive law suits because of false positives will give Amador County Trustees some new financial problems to wrestle with.

While they held office, Peter Bensinger ( former DEA head ), Robert L Dupont ( former drug czar ) and Carlton Turner ( former drug czar ) shamelessly promoted drug testing as the solution to drug problems. Later, they joined together to form Bensinger, Dupont & Associates, the world's largest drug testing company, to cash in the drug testing laws they wrote. Bensinger, Dupont & Associates reaps a fortune for their useless drug testing schemes.

The only beneficiaries of drug testing are the makers of the tests.

Redford Givens, webmaster
DRCNet Online Library of Drug Policy

================

[sent, not yet published]

Letters to the Editor
The Amador Ledger Dispatch

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing Redford Givens' letter "False positives" (18 April). A generation of parents has been taught to place its "drug-free America" faith and hope on the junk science of drug testing, but rarely learns that our national policy of drug testing has built an empire of wealth for former Drug War "public servants." They are more accurately private predators, and we are their prey.

Givens' long and well-documented list of medications and medical conditions which regularly spew back false positives isn't the junkiest junk that plagues and invalidates this strange and questionable "science."

Bayes' Theorem has been a proven keystone of statistics and probability since the 18th century. Long before drug testing even existed, it flatly states that there will always be a built-in, unavoidable, high percentage of unreliable results in any such test, no matter how accurate the test is.

Wikipedia's example of Bayes' application to drug testing uses a test that "will correctly identify a drug user as testing positive 99% of the time, and will correctly identify a non-user as testing negative 99% of the time."

But Bayes' Theorem concludes: "Despite the high accuracy of the test, the probability that an employee who tested positive actually did use drugs is only about 33%, so it is actually more likely that the employee is not a drug user."

The mathematics departments of the nation's finest universities have dozens of similar explanations of the fundamental unreliability of drug testing, easily Googled by the keywords "Bayes" and "drug testing."

Math hurts. But putting our schoolkids' reputations and futures in the hands of greedy junk scientists will hurt our kids far more than math class ever did.

Robert Merkin

Northampton MA

19 April 2008

holy festivals coincide, light up a phatty, eat matzoh ball soup / Next year may we be in Amsterdam

Oh yes, certainly, please click.

By an astonishing astronomical coincidence that occurs only once or twice every 100,000 years, two of the world's holiest and most beloved festivals coincide this year:

* Passover, which celebrates the Jews' exodus from slavery in Egypt, and

* 4/20, the world celebration of smoking marijuana (not for its amazing medical and health properties, but for the most forbidden of all things: Fun)

Though Passover / Pesach began at Sundown last night, it's celebrated as a dinner feast in the home, with tons of delicious traditional food. So when these two marvelous holidays coincide, the Great Rabbis of the Talmud recommend that first you light up a gigantic phatty, and as soon as The Munchies kick in bigtime, park your tuchas at the table and dig in. Passover is NOT a celebration for Supermodels who daintily gnaw on a stalk of celery.

In searching for images appropriate for 4/20 I came across the travel blog of this Hungarian young woman, and her photo sitting at The Grasshopper in the center of Amsterdam's tourist district. I filched her smile, and left a poem behind on her blog. I hope she likes it.

The girl at the Grasshopper
(a poem for 4/20)

How wide her smile

How I wish I was
across the table from her
in the Land of Spinoza

in the city with 28 Mosques
and a Mayor named Cohen

Where pleasure and joy
are not crimes

where beauty in tile
in piano hooks
leaps into the eyes
in every doorway
over every bridge
over every gracht

their fortunes
in tulips
and cooking spices

where dreaming
is a respected profession

Look for the old American tourist
with the other wide smile
next 4/20
at your table
at the Grasshopper


18 April 2008

Old Sparky -- how the US killed human beings

Click for larger.

TOP: An African-American prisoner is prepared for execution in "Old Sparky," Sing-Sing [about 20 miles north of New York City] Prison's infamous electric chair.

Photograph circa 1900 by William M. Van der Weyde. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

BOTTOM: The electrocution of Jessie Joseph Tafero in Florida's electric chair, 4 May 1990.

This survey of the electric chair written by Tom Head.

The electric chair is a quintessentially American invention. No less a figure than Thomas Edison petitioned for its first use, though his motives for doing so were less than pure. The world's first execution by electrocution took place in 1890, and it remained the most common form of execution until the 1980s. Death row inmates in ten states may still choose the electric chair (and in recent years, two prisoners have -- in 2004 and 2006, respectively).

How It Works: The prisoner is shaved, strapped to a chair, and fitted with electrodes attached to conductive sponges -- one on the head, one on the leg -- creating a direct current. The prisoner is then hooded. The executioner pulls a switch, and 2,000 volts race through the prisoner's body as the internal body temperature approaches 140 degrees. If performed correctly, the procedure is supposed to cause immediate unconsciousness followed by near-instantaneous death.

Complications: The procedure is extremely gruesome to contemplate, and can burn conscious prisoners alive if performed incorrectly. Horrific accounts of botched electrocutions have essentially made the electric chair a relic of the past, an option selected by prisoners who fear lethal injection or simply want a more distinctive exit.

==================
from Wikipedia:
==================

Old Sparky is the nickname of the electric chairs of Texas, New York, Louisiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida. It was the nickname of the long-retired electric chair at the now-closed West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia; the electric chair is still at the prison, which is now a tourist attraction.[2] It was also the nickname of the electric chair in South Carolina that was housed at the Central Correctional Institution (CCI) [3] until the chair was relocated to the newly built Broad River Correctional Institution and removed from service in 1989.

"Old Sparky" is sometimes used to refer to electric chairs in general, and not one of a specific state.

Florida's

It was the sole means of execution in Florida from 1924 until 2000, when the Florida legislature under pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court replaced it with lethal injection. Florida death row inmates now may be executed in the electric chair only if they choose it. It was located in Florida State Prison in the north Florida town of Starke. It was notorious for malfunctioning in its final years, namely in the cases of Jesse Tafero (executed May 4, 1990), Pedro Medina (executed March 25, 1997), and Allen Lee Davis (executed July 7, 1999). Reportedly flames shot out of the convicts' heads during the execution of Tafero and Medina, raising the question whether use of the electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment. After the Medina execution, then Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth commented, "People who wish to commit murder, they'd better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with the electric chair." [4]

The malfunctions probably were due to practices of the prison staff and not because of the electric chair itself. There was evidence that the first two malfunctions occurred because of how sponges were used in the headpiece containing an electrode. To assure proper contact between the inmate's head and the electrode, a saline-soaked sponge stuffed between the two was necessary. In the Tafero incident, a natural sponge was replaced with a synthetic sponge that caught fire during the execution. For Medina, prison officials apparently did not properly soak the sponge in saline, and it caught fire also. Davis' execution photographs clearly showed that his nose had been severely compressed by a badly fitted headstrap.

Davis execution

The 1999 execution of Allen Lee Davis created international news after witnesses saw his white shirt rapidly turn red with blood during his execution. Prison officials later determined the blood came from an unusually profuse nosebleed most likely caused by an improperly fitted headstrap. The source of the blood was not evident to witnesses during execution, because Davis' head was covered with a traditional hood. A prison inspector general took photographs of Davis's body, still bloody and strapped in the chair, shortly after execution. These photographs later became key evidence in several cases mounting yet another challenge to the constitutionality of Old Sparky. These lawsuits ultimately came to the Florida Supreme Court in the fall of 1999, when a bare majority (4 of the 7 Justices) found that the electric chair was constitutional in a case brought by death row inmate Thomas Provenzano. One of the dissenting Justices, Leander J. Shaw, Jr., took the extraordinary step of attaching to his opinion three color photographs of Davis's bloody body in the chair. This publication marked the first time those photographs had appeared on the Internet or, for that matter, anywhere outside of court and prison files.

The effect was to create an immediate and sometimes macabre international debate over the death penalty in general and Florida's adherence to electrocution in particular. The Florida Supreme Court's web servers repeatedly crashed under the demand for access to the photographs, reputed to be the first actual photographs of an American state execution in decades. Many Europeans saw in these photographs evidence of American barbarism, and they were actually used during a protest demonstration in Madrid in support of a Spaniard on Florida's death row. Some death penalty supporters in the United States viewed the photographs as a deterrent, apparently believing they had been posted on the Website as a warning to all would-be murderers. A few parents even reported showing the photographs to their children to warn them against the ways of crime (Compare The Newgate Calendar).

Political response

Some Florida politicians vowed never to eliminate the electric chair despite the debate, but events rapidly changed after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the Florida Supreme Court's split decision upholding electrocution. This action stunned some in Florida's leadership. The nation's high court had declined to review appeals after the prior two malfunctions, so observers concluded that the nation's high court now had come to view Florida's death penalty problems more dimly. Partly on the advice of Attorney General Butterworth, Florida's Governor Jeb Bush [brother of President George W. Bush] summoned the legislature into special session, and in early 2000 it quickly approved lethal injection as the means of execution that must be used unless the inmate asks to be electrocuted. The Attorney General then notified the Federal court and it agreed to dismiss the case based on the change in law.

References to Old Sparky

* The Green Mile by Stephen King and its film adaptation use Old Sparky as the official method of execution.

* In an episode of King of the Hill, Dale Gribble, excited about being on the executioner list as a new employee of a local prison, asks the prison warden where Old Sparky is. The warden explains that Old Sparky is no longer, replaced by lethal injection. Dale then asks where Old Squirty is, a variation on the original title.

* In the Futurama episode "A Tale of Two Santas", Bender is to be executed by a powerful electromagnet, which New New York City Mayor Poopenmeyer refers to as Old Maggie.

See also

* Gruesome Gertie
* Yellow Mama

External links

* Florida Supreme Court decision in Provenzano v. Moore

* An article describing the Davis execution

* Florida Juice: The Sunshine State's love affair with the electric chair at Slate.com

* This page was last modified on 3 April 2008, at 06:57.


==========

Jessie Joseph Tafero (born October 12, 1946 — died May 4, 1990), was a convicted rapist and murderer executed via electric chair in the state of Florida for the murders of Florida Highway Patrol officer Phillip Black and Donald Irwin, a visiting Canadian constable and friend of Black.

The crime, trial, and execution

On the morning of February 20, 1976, Black and Irwin approached a car parked at a rest stop for a routine check. Tafero, his partner Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, her two children (ages 9 years and 10 months), and Walter Rhodes were found asleep inside. Tafero had previously been in prison and was on probation. Jacobs had previous convictions for prostitution and drug charges.

Black saw a gun lying on the floor inside the car. He woke the occupants and had first Rhodes then Tafero come out of the car. According to Rhodes, Tafero then shot both Black and Irwin with the gun, which was illegally registered to Jacobs, and led the others into the police car and fled the scene. They later disposed of the police car and kidnapped a man and stole his car. All three were arrested after being caught in a roadblock. When they were arrested, the gun was found in Tafero's waistband.

Prior to his conviction for murder, Tafero had been convicted of rape, robbery, burglary and drug charges while Jacobs had been convicted of prostitution and selling amphetamine. (See Northwestern University School of Law website.) Rhodes was on parole for assault with intent to commit robbery. Tafero and Jacobs were also wanted for drug and weapons charges in South Carolina. The prosecution would argue that Tafero and Jacobs had more motive to avoid arrest.

At their trial, Rhodes testified that Tafero and Jacobs were solely responsible for the murders. Tafero and Jacobs were convicted of capital murder and were sentenced to death while Rhodes was sentenced to 3 life sentences. He was released in 1994 following parole for good behavior. The children were placed in the care of Sunny Jacobs' parents until their deaths in a 1982 plane crash. The children were then separated and placed in the care of other relatives and close family friends.

Tafero and Jacobs continued their relationship through letters while serving time in the prison. Because there was no death row for women in Florida, Jacobs was put into solitary confinement for the first five years of her imprisonment, let out only once or twice a week for exercise. She learned yoga and used it to help her survive her ordeal; after being moved to the general prison population, Jacobs began teaching yoga to other prisoners.

Because the jury had recommended a life sentence for Jacobs, the court commuted Jacobs' sentence to life in prison, but not Tafero's.

Jessie Tafero was electrocuted. However, the machine, dubbed "Old Sparky", malfunctioned, causing six-inch flames to shoot out of Tafero's head. In all, three jolts of electricity were required to render Tafero dead, a process that took 6.5 minutes.

The Jesse Tafero case became the cause célèbre among death penalty opponents, who cited the brutal circumstances of his execution as reasons it should be abolished.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found reason to overturn the conviction of Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs. She was released after accepting a plea bargain in which she pled nolo contendere (technically an Alford plea of "guilty", but without admitting factual guilt) to all of the charges against her.

After her release, Jacobs was reunited with her children and became an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. She moved to Ireland, where she now lives with her new partner Peter Pringle (also a Death Row exoneree) and continues to teach yoga, offering it also to prison inmates in her new country. She wrote the 2007 book, "Stolen Time", about the events that changed her life, as well as a forthcoming book about yoga, "If you can breathe, you can do it". Jacobs also campaigns for human rights, working with Amnesty International and other organizations. Tafero and Jacobs' story, and the stories of five other exonerees, was told in a play called "The Exonerated" performed in London at The Riverside Studios. She was portrayed in a TV movie version by actress Susan Sarandon, as well as a documentary film created by her childhood friend Micki Dickoff.

"In 1990, for instance, a sponge used in the headpiece of Florida's electric chair wore out. There's no factory or parts catalog for execution devices, so the prison sent a guy to pick up a sponge at the store. Problem was, he bought a synthetic sponge instead of a genuine sea sponge, and when Jesse Tafero was strapped in, his head caught fire."

Unreliability of Rhodes's testimony

Prior to his release, Rhodes had admitted several times that he had lied about his involvement in the shooting. In Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs's version of events, she and Tafero had accepted a lift from casual acquaintance, Rhodes (who was in breach of his parole, although this was not known to the couple). Rhodes then carried out the shooting. He was the only person on which traces of gunpowder were found. He changed his story repeatedly over the years (Cite, St Petersburg Times). Sunny "Sonia" Jacobs has always maintained that she and Tafero were completely innocent of the crime, and that her plea was in response to advice from her lawyer. (Cite. Guardian Monday February 20, 2006).

See also

* List of individuals executed in Florida
* Capital punishment in the United States
* Capital punishment debate

References

* List of Florida executions
* List of all prisoners executed in Florida
* Myth of Innocence article
* Sunny Jacobs. Stolen Time. Doubleday. ISBN 0385611404
* Guardian article about the case

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Tafero"

* This page was last modified on 1 April 2008, at 21:31.

* All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.)

Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) tax-deductible nonprofit charity.

US Supreme Court Justice Stevens: Just Stop It.

Click if you have a strong stomach.

I am putting my left hand on my holy book (Euclid's "The Elements"), raising my right hand, and testifying truthfully:
I am not a lawyer.
I'm not even particularly fascinated or mesmerized by The Law. I don't want to make it my hobby. The most enthusiastic thing I can say about it is: You wouldn't want to live anywhere that doesn't have Laws and some reasonably fair way to administer them. Zimbabwe, for example, is one of those places that Just Makes Things Up As They Go Along, and black, white, or plaid, you wouldn't want to live under that way of doing things.
But sometimes The Law just demands your attention.
For example, in the United States, where, I am very sad to report, our federal and most of our state governments put human beings to death -- legally and lawfully. And permanently.
Still, why should that concern you? You've never done anything to merit being executed, right?
Doesn't matter. As if state execution weren't bad enough, in the USA it's always been haunted by the specter of executing innocent people. In lots of cases, we've learned later, beyond any doubt, that we executed the wrong person.
If a person gets sentenced to Life Imprisonment, there's a tiny chance that while he's waiting to die of Old Age, his wrongful conviction will be discovered, and he can be freed, and even pitifully compensated with a little money for wrongful imprisonment. Actually happens quite often.
But once you're dead, whether you were innocent or guilty ceases to matter.
Some states have a habit of executing retarded people, some are fond of executing totally insane people, and the statistics of white juries and judges executing blacks, particularly if the victim was white (compared to white murderers of black victims) are particularly disgusting.
States appoint defense lawyers for poor defendants, but many states have a slimy history of appointing the most incompetent and inexperienced defense attorneys for defendants in death penalty cases.
In one famous Texas case -- guilty and eventually executed -- the defense lawyer literally slept through long periods of the trial.
This week the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Baze v. Rees, in which two Kentucky death row inmates argued that their impending execution by lethal injection violated the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Court voted, 7 to 2 (Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissenting) , that lethal injection -- or Kentucky's particularly version of it -- did not violate the "cruel and unusual" clause, and Kentucky may proceed with its executions.
One associate justice, however, delivered an unusual opinion. The oldest and longest-serving Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, sided with the majority to uphold the constitutionality of lethal injection.
But he also called for an end to capital punishment in the United States of America.
I call for an end to capital punishment a lot, and, to nobody's surprise, few listen and few care.
The American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church also loudly and stridently call for an end to capital punishment. They're a lot more prestigious and newsworthy than Vleeptron Dude -- but the USA still keeps executing men and women all over the place.
But as far as I know, this is the first time in history a serving justice on the U.S. Supreme Court has said: Just Stop It.
One reason I am proud of not being a lawyer is that Justice Stevens' opinion was hard to find, confusing to read (not his own words, but the way these crazy legal documents are put together and published), and nearly impossible to edit so that an ordinary, literate non-lawyer can make sense of it. Legal documents (they're full of Latin) are essentially in a Secret Code to insure that ordinary citizens need to hire lawyers to comprehend them.
But here it is, this is the best I could do, and I think it's a pretty accurate and clean way of presenting Justice Stevens' call for an end to the death penalty in the United States of America.
The legal mumbo-jumbo endlessly imbedded footnotes and citations that interrupt the easy reading flow of his opinion -- well, I've just tossed them down at the bottom. If you're excited by legal footnotes and citations, you can find them down below. Maybe you should think of applying to law school.
Incidentally, my state, Massachusetts, and most New England states, have no death penalty. New Jersey's legislature just ended capital punishment.
We just might be surfing a surprising historical wave that will lead to a USA whose courts, laws, juries and judges stop, forever, killing their fellow human beings in the legal name of American citizens.
ADDENDUM
Human Names, Human Faces
The U.S. Supreme Court practically ignores the actual criminal defendants and their criminal actions when it agrees to consider a case. They hear cases based solely on claims involving the U.S. Constitution.
But I've always felt that news consumers have a right to know the actual background of these cases, not simply the dry and rarified legal and constitutional issues. These are, after all, Human Beings sitting on Death Row, they used to have names, faces, identities, circumstances. If they are indeed guilty of the crimes they were convicted for, their victims were also Human Beings, not a paragraph of legal Latin mumbo-jumbo.
Wikipedia:
Ralph Baze is a convicted murderer who was sentenced to death but who in 2004, sued the Kentucky State Department of Corrections along with fellow inmate Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. on the grounds that execution by lethal injection under the "cocktail" prescribed by Kentucky law constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment to the United States constitution. Baze's court case is Baze v. Rees.
Baze had been scheduled for execution on 25 September 2007 but, on 12 September, was issued a stay of execution by the Kentucky Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear his appeal.
On April 16, 2008 the Court affirmed the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision that the injection protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment.
Baze does not dispute that he shot and killed Powell County, Kentucky Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe in 1992 as they attempted to serve an arrest warrant on him, but claims that the shootings were self-defense.
Baze is imprisoned in Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky.
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Thomas Bowling, born 1948, was convicted and sentenced to death for the April 9, 1990, murders of Tina and Eddie Earley. Bowling shot the Earleys dead after ramming their car outside their small dry-cleaning business in the city of Lexington, Kentucky. Bowling also shot the couple's two-year old son, but the child survived.
Thomas Bowling was arrested on April 11, in neighboring Tennessee. His car and a .357 calibre handgun were found hidden at his family's home in rural Kentucky. Bowling's attorneys are currently pursuing appeals and clemency on the grounds of potential innocence and mental retardation.
Appeal
Bowling's lawyers have also raised evidence that he is innocent. His lawyers claim the evidence against him is purely circumstantial and there are other suspects for the murder which he has been convicted for.
Bowling was assessed at the age of 12 - 13 to have an IQ of 74, which given the margin of error, places him within the range for mental retardation. In addition, he has a documented history of adaptive deficits, being described as a "follower" and easily manipulated. Throughout school, his parents had to lay his clothes out for him and ensure that he bathed and maintained personal hygiene.
Bowling also was a slow learner throughout school. He spent 3 years in the ninth grade. Despite working hard, Bowling even failed health class three years in a row.
Bowling's lawyers also argue that there was no physical evidence placing him at the scene of the crime; an eye-witness failed to identify him; ballistics experts admitted the weapon linked to him was one of millions that could have been used in the crime; and while the car used in the crime was his, there was no proof that he was driving it at the time. Further, the state did not establish a motive for Thomas Bowling to kill the Earley couple, whom he did not know and had never met.
The lawyers assert that a local family murdered the Ealey's. According to the petition and accompanying police reports, Eddie Earley told police about a local Lexington family's alleged drug activity, which resulted in an arrest. The family then had a motive for a shooting.
Bowling's lawyers argue that the family apparently used Bowling's vehicle in the murder. On the day of the murders, Bowling was intoxicated and states that he can not remember anything of that day.
Apparently, however, he was told by members of the above family later that afternoon to take his car out of town.
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APPENDIX 1
Here's the "cruel and unusual punishment" part of the United States Constitution. The first 10 amendments to the original Constitution are called "The Bill of Rights." The Bill of Rights has been the Law of the Land since 1791.
Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
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Wikipedia's bio of Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. Note in particular his wartime work as a code-breaking Navy intelligence officer. The codes he helped break were in Japanese.
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John Paul Stevens (born April 20, 1920) is currently the most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He joined the Court in 1975 and is the oldest and longest serving incumbent member of the Court. He was appointed to the court by President Gerald R. Ford and is widely considered to be on the liberal side of the court. He is also the only current Associate Justice to have served under three Chief Justices.
Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, in Chicago, Illinois, to a wealthy family. [1] His paternal grandfather had formed an insurance company and held real estate in Chicago, while his great-uncle owned the Chas. A. Stevens department store. His father, Ernest James Stevens, was a lawyer who later became a hotelier, owning two hotels, the La Salle and the Stevens Hotel. He lost ownership of the hotels during the Great Depression and was convicted of embezzelment (the conviction was later overturned). [1] (The Stevens Hotel was subsequently bought by Hilton Hotels and is today the Chicago Hilton and Towers.) His mother, Elizabeth Maude Street Stevens, a native of Michigan City, Indiana, was a high school English teacher. Two of his three older brothers also became lawyers.
The family lived in Hyde Park, and John Paul Stevens attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School. He subsequently obtained an A.B. in English from the University of Chicago in 1941; while in college, Stevens also became a member of the Omega chapter of Psi Upsilon.
He began work on his master's degree in English at the university in 1941, but soon decided to join the United States Navy, serving as an intelligence officer in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945. Stevens was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in the codebreaking team whose work led to the downing of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's plane in 1943. [1]
Stevens married Elizabeth Jane Sheeren in June 1942. Divorcing her in 1979, he married Maryan Mulholland Simon that December. He has four children: John Joseph (who died of cancer in 1996), Kathryn, Elizabeth and Susan.
With the end of World War II, Stevens returned to Illinois intending to return to his studies in English, but was persuaded by his brother Richard, who was a lawyer, to attend law school. Stevens enrolled in the Northwestern University School of Law in 1945 (the G.I. Bill mostly paying his way). He was a brilliant student, with the highest GPA [Grade Point Average] in the history of the law school. [1] He received his J.D. [Juris Doctor] in 1947.
* * *
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
BAZE ET AL. v. REES, COMMISSIONER,
KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL.
STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment
[Associate Justice John Paul Stevens]
“[A] penalty may be cruel and unusual because it is excessive and serves no valid legislative purpose.” Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 331 (1972) (Marshall, J., concurring); see also id., at 332 (“The entire thrust of the Eighth Amendment is, in short, against ‘that which is excessive’”).
Our cases holding that certain sanctions are “excessive,” and therefore prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, have relied heavily on “objective criteria,” such as legislative enactments. See, e.g., Solem v. Helm, 463 U. S. 277, 292 (1983); Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U. S. 957 (1991); United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U. S. 321 (1998).
In our recent decision in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304 (2002), holding that death is an excessive sanction for a mentally retarded defendant, we also relied heavily on opinions written by Justice White holding that the death penalty is an excessive punishment for the crime of raping a 16-year-old woman, Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584 (1977), and for a murderer who did not intend to kill, Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782 (1982).
In those opinions we acknowledged that “objective evidence, though of great importance, did not ‘wholly determine’ the controversy, ‘for the Constitution contemplates that in the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment.’ ” Atkins, 536 U. S., at 312 (quoting Coker, 433 U.S., at 597 (plurality opinion)).
Justice White was exercising his own judgment in 1972 when he provided the decisive vote in Furman, the case that led to a nationwide reexamination of the death penalty.
His conclusion that death amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment in the constitutional sense” as well as the “dictionary sense,” rested on both an uncontroversial legal premise and on a factual premise that he admittedly could not “prove” on the basis of objective criteria. 408 U. S., at 312, 313 (concurring opinion).
As a matter of law, he correctly stated that the “needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes ... would be patently excessive” and violative of the Eighth Amendment. Id., at 312.
As a matter of fact, he stated, “like my Brethren, I must arrive at judgment; and I can do no more than state a conclusion based on 10 years of almost daily exposure to the facts and circumstances of hundreds and hundreds of federal and state criminal cases involving crimes for which death is the authorized penalty.” Id., at 313.
I agree with Justice White that there are occasions when a Member of this Court has a duty to make judgments on the basis of data that falls short of absolute proof.
Our decisions in 1976 upholding the constitutionality of the death penalty relied heavily on our belief that adequate procedures were in place that would avoid the danger of discriminatory application identified by Justice Douglas’ opinion in Furman, id., at 240–257 (concurring opinion), of arbitrary application identified by Justice Stewart, id., at 306 (same), and of excessiveness identified by Justices Brennan and Marshall. In subsequent years a number of our decisions relied on the premise that “death is different” from every other form of punishment to justify rules minimizing the risk of error in capital cases. See, e.g., Gardner v. Florida, 430 U. S. 349, 357–358 (1977) (plurality opinion).
Ironically, however, more recent cases have endorsed procedures that provide less protections to capital defendants than to ordinary offenders.
Of special concern to me are rules that deprive the defendant of a trial by jurors representing a fair cross section of the community.
Litigation involving both challenges for cause and peremptory challenges has persuaded me that the process of obtaining a “death qualified jury” is really a procedure that has the purpose and effect of obtaining a jury that is biased in favor of conviction. The prosecutorial concern that death verdicts would rarely be returned by 12 randomly selected jurors should be viewed as objective evidence supporting the conclusion that the penalty is excessive. [18]
Another serious concern is that the risk of error in capital cases may be greater than in other cases because the facts are often so disturbing that the interest in making sure the crime does not go unpunished may overcome residual doubt concerning the identity of the offender. Our former emphasis on the importance of ensuring that decisions in death cases be adequately supported by reason rather than emotion, Gardner, 430 U. S. 349, has been undercut by more recent decisions placing a thumb on the prosecutor’s side of the scales.
Thus, in Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006), the Court upheld a state statute that requires imposition of the death penalty when the jury finds that the aggravating and mitigating factors are in equipoise. And in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991), the Court overruled earlier cases and held that “victim impact” evidence relating to the personal characteristics of the victim and the emotional impact of the crime on the victim’s family is admissible despite the fact that it sheds no light on the question of guilt or innocence or on the moral culpability of the defendant, and thus serves no purpose other than to encourage jurors to make life or death decisions on the basis of emotion rather than reason.
A third significant concern is the risk of discriminatory application of the death penalty. While that risk has been dramatically reduced, the Court has allowed it to continue to play an unacceptable role in capital cases. Thus, in McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U. S. 279 (1987), the Court upheld a death sentence despite the “strong probability that [the defendant’s] sentencing jury ... was influenced by the fact that [he was] black and his victim was white.” Id., at 366 (STEVENS, J., dissenting); see also Evans v. State, 396 Md. 256, 323, 914 A. 2d 25, 64 (2006), cert. denied, 552 U.S. (2007) (affirming a death sentence despite the existence of a study showing that “the death penalty is statistically more likely to be pursued against a black person who murders a white victim than against a defendant in any other racial combination”).
Finally, given the real risk of error in this class of cases, the irrevocable nature of the consequences is of decisive importance to me. Whether or not any innocent defendants have actually been executed, abundant evidence accumulated in recent years has resulted in the exoneration of an unacceptable number of defendants found guilty of capital offenses. See Garrett, Judging Innocence, 108 Colum. L. Rev. 55 (2008); Risinger, Innocents Convicted: An Empirically Justified Factual Wrongful Conviction Rate, 97 J. Crim. L. & C. 761 (2007).
The risk of executing innocent defendants can be entirely eliminated by treating any penalty more severe than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as constitutionally excessive.
In sum, just as Justice White ultimately based his conclusion in Furman on his extensive exposure to countless cases for which death is the authorized penalty, I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the State [is] patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment.” Furman, 408 U. S., at 312 (White, J., concurring). [19]
The conclusion that I have reached with regard to the constitutionality of the death penalty itself makes my decision in this case particularly difficult. It does not, however, justify a refusal to respect precedents that remain a part of our law. This Court has held that the death penalty is constitutional, and has established a framework for evaluating the constitutionality of particular methods of execution. Under those precedents, whether as interpreted by THE CHIEF JUSTICE or JUSTICE GINSBURG, I am persuaded that the evidence adduced by petitioners fails to prove that Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol violates the Eighth Amendment.
Accordingly, I join the Court’s judgment.
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IMBEDDED NOTES
CITATIONS
MUMBO-JUMBO IN LINGUA LATINA
SECRET CODE COMPREHENSIBLE ONLY TO LAWYERS:
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[18] See Uttecht v. Brown, 551 U. S. 1, ___ (2007) (slip op., at 1) (STEVENS, J., dissenting) explaining that “[m]illions of Americans oppose the death penalty,” and that “[a] cross section of virtually every community in the country includes citizens who firmly believe the death penalty is unjust but who nevertheless are qualified to serve as jurors in capital cases”).
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[19] Not a single Justice in Furman concluded that the mention of deprivation of “life” in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments insulated the death penalty from constitutional challenge. The five Justices who concurred in the judgment necessarily rejected this argument, and even
the four dissenters, who explicitly acknowledged that the death
penalty was not considered impermissibly cruel at the time of the framing, proceeded to evaluate whether anything had changed in the intervening 181 years that nevertheless rendered capital punishment
unconstitutional.
Furman, 408 U. S., at 380–384 (Burger, C.J., joined by Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, JJ., dissenting); see also id., at 420 (“Nor are ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ and ‘due process of law’ static concepts whose meaning and scope were sealed at the time of their writing”) (Powell, J., joined by Burger, C.J., and Blackmun and Rehnquist, JJ., dissenting). And indeed, the guarantees of procedural fairness contained in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments do not resolve the substantive questions relating to the separate limitations imposed by the Eighth Amendment.
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courts, [and] that visits repeated trauma on victims’ families ....”
Id., at 27–28; see also Block, A Slow Death, N. Y. Times, Mar. 15, 2007, p. A27 (discussing the “enormous costs and burdens to the judicial system” resulting from the death penalty).
Some argue that these costs are the consequence of judicial insistence on unnecessarily elaborate and lengthy appellate procedures. To the contrary, they result “in large part from the States’ failure to apply constitutionally sufficient procedures at the time of initial [conviction or] sentencing.” Knight v. Florida, 528 U. S. 990, 998 (1999) (BREYER, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari). They may also result from a general reluctance by States to put large numbers of defendants to death, even after a sentence of death is imposed. Cf. Tempest, Death Row Often Means a Long Life; California condemns many murderers, but few are ever executed, L. A. Times, Mar. 6, 2006, p. B1 (noting that California death row inmates account for about 20% of the Nation’s total death row population, but that the State accounts for only 1% of the Nation’s executions). In any event, they are most certainly not the fault of judges who do nothing more than ensure compliance with constitutional guarantees prior to imposing the irrevocable punishment of death.