Monthly Archives: November, 2009

What’s Wrong With Granting Pardon?

It feels weird to blog against ‘pardon’.  We liberals are supposed to be bleeding hearts. Furthermore, forgiveness is woven into the Christian faith, whose central concept is ‘redemption’. We all know that law isn’t  justice. There needs to be some room for pardon in an imperfect world. How should a governor use the power of clemency?

Former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, pardoned Maurice Clemmons in 2000. Clemmons is alleged to have committed many violent crimes since his release.

Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas. He was also recently charged in Washington state with assaulting a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child. Using a bail bondsman, he posted $150,000 — only $15,000 of his own money — and was released from jail last week.

Documents related to the pending charges in Washington state indicate a volatile personality. In one instance, he is accused of punching a sheriff’s deputy in the face, The Seattle Times reported. In another, he is accused of gathering his wife and young relatives and forcing them to undress, according to a Pierce County sheriff’s report.

“The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus,” the report said.

Clemmons in now a suspect in the murder of four police officers  who were ambushed as they sat in a coffee shop.

What was Governor Huckabee’s criteria in deciding who to pardon? That was a subject of controversy even before his run for President…

If you’re wondering how Gov. Huckabee’s hundreds of clemencies compare with neighboring states, get ready for a shocker.
Huckabee leads the pack.
He has issued more commutations and pardons than all of the six neighboring states combined.
From 1996 through July 2004, Arkansas had more clemencies than all neighboring states combined. One-third of Texas clemencies were for people convicted with planted evidence.
Governors seldom reduce sentences in other states – and almost never for murderers serving life without parole or for rapists or for habitual drunk drivers, while in Arkansas it’s a regular habit with Huckabee.

Is it coincidence that Maurice Clemmons is alleged to have terrorized women while using religious language? Did the Christian narrative of redemption make Governor Huckabee susceptible to Christian inmates who claimed to have shed their former selves? Did Clemmons talk up his conversion?

I remember how the televangelists rallied for Karla Faye Tucker. Her execution was no triumph of justice and we would be no less safe if she were given life in prison. Still, I could not help noticing that many of the ministers who called for forgiveness supported capital punishment. They said that Tucker was ‘saved’ and an exception should be made. When God has forgiven, who are we to hold a grudge?

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing in the abstract, but it reality it can be tough and cost dearly. One of the most astounding acts of forgiveness this century was granted by an Amish community in 2006 to the gunman who killed five of their little girls and badly injured five others. Only they, who were so wronged,  had the right to make that call.

The office of governor gave Mike Huckabee the power to grant clemency. Did he use it, or abuse it? It would be a very cold world without mercy, but was that the motivation? Or did Governor Huckabee take it on faith that ‘saved’ meant safe and he need look no further? It would be interesting to review all the pardons he issued, and see if religion was a factor. How did he decide who to grant and who to refuse?

This is important, because religion is an unacknowledged force in politics. As a former fundy, I hear dog-whistles everywhere. I’m suspicious that Mike Huckabee let religious favoritism influence him, and that he released prisoners without due concern for the safety of the public.

If it turns out that Clemmons is guilty of this awful crime, Huckabee won’t be the first politician whose reputation suffers because of a pardon or parole gone wrong. But I fear that many of our leaders are influenced by religion, applying one standard to ordinary citizens and another to their brethren.

Don’t Buy Books by Crooks

Anyone remember that slogan from after Watergate? When such as G.Gordon Liddy were shopping around for publishers?

Crime shouldn’t pay, but the White House party crashers are reported to be holding out for a half-million to tell their story. They probably owe that much, too, to other people they’ve scammed over the years.

What kind of example is this to set for the children? It makes me wish I had a TV so I could not watch them.

Consider also, how convenient it is to be white, WASPY looking and well-dressed. The Secret Service needs to wake up, before something worse than tabloid stars get through the gate.

Happy Holidays

Merchants, who are in the business of selling things, like to extend a general expression of goodwill and Season’s Greetings, hoping to get people into a good and buying mood. There are several religious holidays that fall around the Winter Solstice. You’d think it would be safe to wish your customers a happy one, but a Best Buy store is catching heat for acknowledging its Muslim customers …

Oh my Allah. Now right-wingers are up in vociferously-defended arms because Best Buy’s vast and stuff-packed Thanksgiving flyer included a little-bitty ad wishing Muslims “Happy Eid al-Adha,” a holiday that 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide mark by giving to charity.

I guess Best Buy didn’t get the memo from War on Christmas, Inc. that we are a Judeo-Christian nation. Although no one is crusading for Hanukkah, because Christians aren’t sure how to spell it, or when it starts or ends. It’s Christmas that brings out the belligerence in the red-blooded real American. If that cashier dares to wish them a Happy Holiday they are in for a tongue-lashing, if not a boycott.

And the nerve of people expecting to be wished a happy Eid al-Adha. That’s not on the list of state-approved religious holidays.

If you get kind of cranky when the days are short, and you want to yell at some store clerks, the Christmas Legion is recruiting now.

Or you can use the season as an excuse to drink eggnog (good thing we only do that once a year) and ask yourself, What Would Miss Manners Do?

She’d wish everyone comfort and joy. That works.

Unravelling a Crime Network

This isn’t a game of ‘ain’t it awful’ because we all know that people do awful things. What we don’t understand well enough is the paralysis that afflicts people who have a responsibility to protect the powerless, and the network of complicity that arises around centers of power…

Ireland’s police colluded with the Catholic church in covering up clerical child abuse in Dublin on a huge scale, according to a damning report on decades of sex crimes committed by priests.

The devastating report on the sexual and physical abuse of children by the clergy in Ireland’s capital from 1975 to 2004 accuses four former archbishops, a host of clergy and senior members of the Garda Síochána of a cover-up.

The three-volume report found that the “maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets” was more important than justice for the victims.

Read the rest, here.

Feministe links to an article by French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi on the Polanski case that is so one-sided you’d never know that Polanski plead guilty to a crime. I think there are parallels here. Power is attractive. Power can bestow favors. Standing with the people who are injured in the rush to power is costly. Social disapproval is a powerful weapon. You could end up dis-invited to a lot of parties, or denied Communion.

Some belated justice is necessary, but it’s not enough. Understanding the social protection that lets abusers get away with their crimes is crucial, because prevention is the best cure.

November Roses

Hope St. November 29

Brook St. November 28

We’re less than a month away from the start of Winter and it’s been mild so far. I don’t know if we always had November roses or I’m just noticing them now. It was a good year for leaves, a bit cooler than average in temperature according to the weather charts but we got off easy this month.

I love you, Canada, but you can keep those Arctic cold fronts to yourself.

UPDATE: The Arctic is showing the effects of climate change in thinning sea ice.

Black Friday

I spent it not shopping. That felt good. Most days I spend not shopping, but knowing I was supposed to be lining up in a mall somewhere on the day after Thanksgiving and resisting the pressure gave me a delightful sense of transgression. I don’t get much of that these days.

Maybe I’ll not shop tomorrow too.

Family Values

You know, I have a superstition that any couple who enjoys a successful marriage and decides to cash in on that by becoming celebrity marriage counselors is cruising for a flaming public divorce. But the Man from Mars is still married to the Woman from Venus, so maybe I’m wrong.

I haven’t read ‘Going Rough’, I mean ‘Going Rouge’, I mean… whatever. It’s not on the shelf at the Rochambeau Library yet, but when it is I’ll check it out. Does that make me a socialist freeloading off the communal space? Let’s cut out the middleman, Sarah. Tell me what your percentage is and I’ll mail it to you.

There’s a gothic novel, or maybe a long-running soap opera like Dark Shadows, in the drama of the Palin in-laws. That is, her sister’s ex-husband, a State Trooper, who is deeply hurt by how he is portrayed in the book.

The Palin out-law will be found baring his soul in Playgirl. They never have that magazine at Rochambeau, and the kid’s got nothing I ain’t seen before so I’m not wasting five bucks. I’m more interested in what he says, but you can read that for free on the net.

Cattle Mutilations Back in Style?

Angry Cosmic Jellyfish

I remember this kind of thing from the 70′s…

Four calves have been found dead in a pasture just north of the New Mexico state line in recent weeks.

The dead calves had their skins peeled back and organs cleared from the rib cage. One calf had its tongue removed.

But rancher Manuel Sanchez has found no signs of human attackers, such as footprints or ATV tracks. And there are no signs of an animal attack by a coyote or mountain lion. Usually predators leave pools of blood or drag marks from carrying away the livestock.

Two officers from the Costilla County Sheriff’s Office have investigated the mutilations but say they don’t know what’s killing the calves.

I wonder if the Phantom Hitchhikers are back. I’m not a vegetarian, so I’m not going to get all PETA about this. I hope that no one tortured the animals. It’s a sure thing that something from this planet took them out. Any other planet an alien might have traveled from is very far away. So the unfortunate calves were probably done in by something mundane.

ALTERNATE EXPLANATION: They went out for a cup of coffee, and given the relativistic time-dilation effect their coffee break brought them back thirty years later, Earth time.

Conscience Clause Part II

I grew up on tales of civil disobedience, I absorbed the belief that we answer to a higher standard than man’s law. I admired the Freedom Riders and Conscientious Objectors. They put their comfort, and sometimes their lives on the line.

Everything that goes around comes around. While there are many people who will follow their principles no matter what the cost, there are those who use conscience as a justification for pushing their standards on others. They feel pure, the people they are trusted to serve are subject to their judgment and bear the consequences.

The Bush administration, with its fondness for vague piety, gave cover to any pharmacist or health care provider who decided to refuse service, as long as they claimed religion. Oh, excuse me–I meant Faith. Religion is too specific, let’s not be clear when we can be evasive.

I’ve been watching this court case move slowly through the system. A nurse is being sued because she pulled out a patient’s intrauterine device without permission, and then lectured her. An IUD prevents fertilization and alters the uterine lining to make it less receptive to sperm and implantation. This is what some define as abortion. In fact, some believe that the birth control pill is abortion, and there are legal strategies in progress to separate contraception from other health care and remove it from insurance coverage.

The Freedom Riders faced dogs and fire hoses, the Conscientious Objectors went to prison or served in the hardest unwanted jobs. They stood up to power and faced the consequences. This new definition of conscience is all about the person in power exercising their conscience at the expense of the person who trusts them to provide a skilled service. Unlike the Freedom Riders and the C.O.’s, the providers are well protected by the law. But this nurse may have pushed it too far.

She could have told her employer at hire that she had a list of birth control methods she personally found unacceptable, and would not cooperate in providing care that violated her standards. She could have refused to see the patient with the IUD, and claimed conscience and let another nurse or doctor see her. She’ll have a chance now to say whether she was acting on principle, or was just clumsy. Here’s some testimony…

“[Nurse] Olona then stated, ‘having the IUD come out was a good thing.’ She asked (the plaintiff) if she wanted to hear her ‘take’ on the situation. Without receiving a response, Defendant Olona stated, ‘I personally do not like IUDs. I feel they are a type of abortion. I don’t know how you feel about abortion, but I am against them. What the IUD does is take the fertilized egg and pushes it out of the uterus.’
“Defendant Olona stated, ‘Everyone in the office always laughs and tells me I pull these out on purpose because I am against them, but it’s not true, they accidentally come out when I tug.’

The thing about conscience is that good people can disagree in important matters. I do think that medical people have a right and necessity to follow their conscience, but they have an obligation to be truthful to their patients. They do not have a right to impose their beliefs on people who are trusting them to provide care. If they need to opt out, they should make sure the patient has an alternative. Because she has a conscience too. And it’s her life and body on the line. Doctors and nurses have no right to sabotage medical procedures from some notion that they know better than the patient.

UPDATE: Apparently the case was settled out of court. Darn. I was wondering what Nurse Olona, (or Physician’s Assistant Olona in some news accounts) would have said with her hand on the Bible.

Coat Exchange

The Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange was doing a brisk business when I walked by about 11:00, despite the change of location to the church on the corner of Smith and N.Main St. The coats and the people were nice and dry in the church basement, it runs until 1pm today.

I went to the State House lawn first, and people were gathering there for a rally against homelessness. Downtown was much less crowded than I expected, with lots of parking spaces open around Providence Place.

Some of my family might be shopping the Black Friday sales, but I’m staying warm indoors and catching up on the day job, or jobs actually.

How was your Thanksgiving?


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