Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The common sense solution for the death penalty

There is only one solution to the death penalty on which we can all agree: ABOLISH IT.

I believe this result is commanded not by morality, but practicality. Look, let's group everyone into two categories: Those who believe the death penalty is never justified and those who believe it is sometimes appropriate. The first group, of course, wants to abolish the death penalty.

Turning to the second group, taken any average person who believes the death penalty is an appropriate penalty for certain crimes -- like myself -- and tell that person that each time a person is executed, the taxpayers pay more than DOUBLE what they would have paid if the person were simply jailed for life (because of all the appeals they get, the legal fees, the special in-prison procedures, etc.). Now I see no problem with the death penalty from a moral standpoint, but I don't know anyone who is SO adamant that a prisoner MUST die rather than spend life in prison without chance of parole, that they want to spent a lot more money to make that happen.

I am certain if you take all the people who morally oppose the death penalty, and add in all those who agree as a practical matter that if it will cost a lot more to impose the death penalty than a life sentence (without parole), they could live without the death penalty, and I think that includes pretty much every sane person in America.

I imagine those who are left are people who have had a loved one die at the hands of a criminal and feel a desperate longing to have that criminal lose their life. I sympathize with that. However, I do believe there is some consolation that life in prison without chance of parole is not exactly a slap on the wrist. One could even argue the better justice is to give the person as much time as possible to reflect on their wrongdoing, thus increasing the likelihood they will reach a turning point where they recognize the error of their ways and feel true remorse for what they have done.

There is even some gravy to this position -- I use gravy to refer to any added extra benefit. One rarely discussed argument against the death penalty is that it requires we, as a society, to have a legal job of executioner. What must having that job do to a person's psyche? What about those who indirectly participate in the execution? The governors who fail to grant a stay of execution? The guards who walk the person to the death chamber? I think participating in such a thing may be a heavy burden for them, and I think there is something noble -- if not morally required -- in a society saying, "No, we will not legalize the killing of any human being in cold blood." (Note that the "cold blood" qualification means we can still kill in the hot blood of self defense and defense of others, whether we are talking about a police shoot out, a battlefield, or a private citizen defending his family.)

Lastly, I expect there will be those who say that my common sense solution assumes that death penalty cases cost more than imprisoning a man for the rest of his life. I expect there will be those who say that, even if that is true, a better solution would be simply reducing the cost of death penalty cases. Get rid of all those appeals and special procedures. Hell, take them out back and hang them as soon as the verdict is read! To those people, I say that, right or wrong, that is simply NOT how our criminal justice system works, nor is there a snowball's chance in hell that will ever become how our criminal justice system works barring a cataclysmic descent of our society into total anarchy. I would point out another possible "solution" is to raise everyone nice so no one hurts anyone else-- again, not gonna happen. Impractical and impossible solutions are no solution at all.

Ken Myers

Thursday, June 25, 2009

America's Hypocricy Concerning Iranian Elections

I'm so sick and tired of hearing American politicians and news media expressing how outraged Americans are by the post-election violence in Iran.

Fact: We do not know there was any voter fraud in Iran. Just because we are historically geo-political enemies with Iran does not mean every accusation of wrongdoing levelled at Iran must be true. WE DO NOT KNOW! Maybe there was, maybe there wasn't. Maybe there was, but even without it the same guy would have won. WE DO NOT KNOW.

Fact: Hundreds of thousasnds of protestors marching in the streets does NOT prove there was voter fraud. Iran has over 70 MILLION PEOPLE!! It is utterly fallacious reasoning to assume that if hundreds of thousands of people are marching in the streets, there must have been fraud. Apparently, it is less than 1% of Iranians who feel so incensed by the election results that they are taking to the streets. In fact, allowing those protestors to dictate post-election events would itself be to give power to a small minority of the population -- the antithesis of a democracy.

Fact: American riot police have maimed and killed protestors in circumstances far less volatile and provocative than what is happening in Iran right now. It is hypocritical of Americans to act as if a few dead protestors signifies an evil totalitarian regime.

Fact: Protestors and riot police are a dangerous combination and create a serious risk that innocent -- or at least relatively innocent -- people will die. I'm sure the woman being referred to as "Neda" committed no crime for which death was an appropriate punishment. However, until Americans can answer for every "Neda" killed by American authorities on American soil during American protests, I do not think we are in any position to talk.

Fact: News media have reported that protestors were throwing rocks. I'll be the first to say it seems overkill to respond to a thrown rock with bullets. But, in fact, that is often the same way American police respond to rocks being thrown at them by protestors or rioters! A rock can maim or even kill a police officer, and they are not expected to stand there and be stoned to death. Nor are they expected to bend down and pick up stones to throw back. They have guns and, if provoked, are expected to use them.

Fact: There are many volatile third world nations where post-election protests and cries of fraud are relatively common. It does not necessarily mean it occurred, only that those in charge of the losing party are unwilling to give up WHETHER OR NOT there was any real fraud.

I'm not pro-Iran, or pro the current Iranian regime. I'm not even saying there was no fraud, or there was no unjustified violence against protestors. All I'm saying is, from what our news media is reporting, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL. Nothing the news media has broadcasts indicates, in any clear manner, that there WAS voter fraud, or that the violence at protests was disproportionate to what American authorities might do -- or have done in the past -- when faced with protestors exhibiting a similar level of provocation.

Because I DO NOT and CANNOT know there is any justification for condemning Iran, I choose not to do so. Anyone who does condemn them is, to me, a hypocrite and is speaking out of their arse because they do not and cannot know there is any such justification either.

My cynical side believes European and American political leaders understand this, but are publicly condemning Iran in the hope of bolstering the spirits of the rebellious Iranians, as a means of soliciting further rebellion. The reasoning being that the current Iranian government being toppled, or at least shaken up a good deal, can only improve matters.

My other side -- also cynical -- believes our leaders condemn the Iranian government to curry favor with losing candidate in the event he does come to power. We can go to him and say, "Hey, we were in your corner all along. How about making us a preferred buyer of some of that oil you control?"

My third side -- still cynical -- believes our news media is inherently biased, not in any particular political manner, but biased in favor of presenting a good story. To them, that means having villains and heroes and inciting passion in the reader. It is the news media that began reporting the post-election unrest in Iran in a manner that seemed to assume the unrest was justified and the government's response was unjustified. It is the news media that, purporting to speak for Americans, projected a sense that we are all outraged by this. It is politicians out of touch with real Americans, but relying on the news media to guage public sentiment, who then thought, "Oh, crap, I better condemn Iran to placate my constituency!"

I bet without the news media's spin and politicians jumping on the bandwagon, you could have asked the average American what they thought about cries of voter fraud in Iran, and of protestors dying, and they would have said something like, "wouldn't surprise me if it's true, though of course I have no way of knowing; shame about the violence. Of course, it's none of our business. Now, getting back to our present economic crisis . . . " I'm pretty sure that would be an average, unbiased American's reasonable response to the Iranian situation, absent a whole lot of media and political attention and spin.

This sort of plays into my theory that politicians are inherently "answer men" (and women). They claim to have answers to all problems, which is how they got elected. No one ever got elected saying, "I'm not sure" or "I don't know" even if that is the most intelligent and reasonable response. So, our politicians are fundamentally incapable of saying something as simple, reasonable and true as, "I just don't know if there was voter fraud, or if the Iranian government's response was so disproportionate as to call for universal condemnation -- we've had our own share of unfortunate casualties at protests on American soil, and we aren't even a third world country. The bottom line is, Iran is its own country and, if the people of Iran do not like their government, they are the ones who must take charge of modifying it to suit the will of the people. I will say that if those in charge of Iran did steal the past election by fraud, and are now seeking to hold onto that stolen election by force against those who are righteously outraged and protesting, then they do warrant sound condemnation. But, again, I simply do not have the information needed to know that is the case, so I must reserve judgment or condemnation. It is neither required, nor even easonable, for us as Americans to pass judgment on every political dispute happening on other nations, particularly where our knowledge of events is limited."

Is that really so hard?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Making friends with a recession.

I'm annoyed by the seemingly universal assumption that a recession is a bad thing to be avoided. If my 39 years of life have taught me anything, it is that there is an ebb and flow to all things, and this is not a problem. It is not a problem that the tides come in and go out, or that plants wither then bloom then wither again with the seasons. Nor is it a problem that my lungs fill with air then empty, only to fill again (my belly, too, for that matter).

Those things that appear to grow constantly, without ebbing, tend to be short-lived and have violent ends. Like a firecracker. Okay, bad example. I can't think of a good example at the moment. Regardless, what goes up must come down and so on and such as.

The point is, it is an absolute fantasy to think an economy can continually expand without ever receding; to think that the stock market can continuously rise without falling. We have to accept recessions as a natural part of life and, doing that, it makes no sense to view recessions with hostility.

The better approach, in my view, is a Buddhist approach. Moderation in all things. Perhaps that is Confucian. Anyway, we do not try to grow too fast, too much, or to continuously. We allow periodic recessions. In so doing, we avoid (or at least minimize) the occurence of a very large corrective recession, which is where I think most turmoil is generated.

The big problem with recessions is fear. Fear of losing one's job. Of losing one's home. Of being unable to support one's family. Of being unable to afford heatlh care or to pay for some other emergency. Which is why I favor a better safety net for all people, so that no matter how some one's financial crisis becomes, no matter how poor they may be, they know they and their family will have decent food, shelter, education and health care.

I'll explain how to pay for it later.

Ken Myers

First lines.

Let's be honest. There's a real chance I won't keep this up. Work, family and recreational activities take up 120% of my free time, leaving me substantially in the red. Any time spent on this is deficit spending.

Speaking of deficit spending, isn't it kind of funny that the Republican commentators are so sure Obama's economic policies are wrong, and the Democratic commentators are so sure those same policies are right... Where are the people who say, "I just don't know." More importantly, how do we get them into office?

It seems to me that our democratic system is flawed by the fact that our elections are too problem-centric. When a major election roles around, the big problems of the day are trotted out and the politicians give their "platform" on how to solve them. Basically, you can't get elected unless you at least pretend to have all the answers. But no one has all the answers. So we always elect a phoney.

I'd like to try electing some one who admitted they did not have all the answers, but who explained why they didn't have all the answers in a clear and reasonable fashion -- some one who clearly "gets" the fact that some problems are too big or complex to be sure what the answer is.

I get the fact that, if consumer spending takes a nose-dive, that means less demand for products, which means a recession. To cure or minimize the recession until consumer confidence returns, the government can to some degree take up the slack through spending more, especially spending in ways that generates jobs.

However, deficit spending means living on borrowed money. If we do not think we will ever pay it back, then we are essentially counting on death, bankruptcy or other event to "rescue" us. What would it mean for the USA to die or go bankrupt? What magnitude of other event could so drastically alter global economics that the USA would be freed from its debts? A world war in which our crediors are conveniently nuked? Merging into a one-world governmental and economic body (and wouldn't that really screw over the Chinese!).

I just don't think it is sane to count on not having to repay whatever we borrow. But -- and here's the problem as I see it -- we as a nation have been engaged in deficit spending for decades, even when we were not in a recession. There seems to be no sense of urgency to actually live within our means as a nation, even in the best of times. So while we see an increase in deficit spending under Obama in an effort to spend our way out of a recession, I would be less concerned if I sensed any firm resolution to stop deficit spending as soon as the recession ends and begin paying down the national debt on an annual basis.

It's all about sustainability. An economy is not sustainable if it engages in deficit spending in the good years and higher deficit spending in the bad years. That's no way to handle finances for a person, a company or a nation.

I guess the bottom line is, we are a nation in desperate need of credit counseling.