Why I’ve change my mind on the death penalty

In honor of my good friend Mark, who, I’m pretty sure is the only person who checks my blog now and then, I write this, my first post in almost a year. He called me one day a few weeks back to let me know that my blog had been hacked. So, I finally got around to fixing it and in honor of this new, clean, web-log and a good friend noticing, I write this post.

I, like Mark, though we be on different sides of the political spectrum, care not what others think if we dare to think openly and change our mind on something. Believe it not, “changing one’s mind” is not a crime. I’m not running for office, though, even if I were, I’m not sure it should matter much. There’s such a false stigma associated with it as if it were actually important what I thought in the first place. This is, of course, why we think it matters if a candidate changes their mind, in that they, unlike you and me, actually could affect some changes in the law based on their changing their minds. This is true, no doubt, but I see no evidence that it is somehow dangerous or even prevalent. So, friends seem to somehow hold other friends accountable on the big issues. This is what I’m claiming just doesn’t matter much.

The topic is the death penalty; capital punishment.

I’ve change my mind on capital punishment. I used to support it, now I don’t. Here’s why:

It all started when the introduction of DNA evidence began uncovering innocent people being wrongly incarcerated, some on death row. I’m sure there are many other Christians such as myself who had managed to convince themselves that a small number of mistakes were inevitable and acceptable. But, they kept coming, more and more. I soon supported the calls for a moratorium on all executions. We were in uncharted territory with DNA evidence and it was time to just stop until society could catch up with the science.

Well, in the meantime, I continued to reflect on capital punishment. My Bible is full of ideas and concepts about punishment. I’m sure you’re aware that the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for all kinds of things that we would never accept in today’s society. But, it’s also full of ideas about the concept of punishment in general. We Christians use words like Grace and Mercy and have a little saying to help us keep it straight: Grace is receiving something you don’t deserve and Mercy is not receiving something that you do deserve. Our God is both full of Mercy and full of Grace.

That being said, we don’t believe in sin without consequences. In fact, we believe that consequences inexorably follow sin. (Look up Jonathan Haidt’s talks for a good secular explanation of this. Especially his Bill Moyer interview. He uses the word Karma, or “what goes around, comes around.”)

But, these consequences come along with the Mercy and Grace; so, one can be both guilty and forgiven. The Bible is full of these illustrations too: Jesus interfering with the capital punishment of the prostitute; he did not claim she was innocent, but forgiven, and she was shown mercy.

So, let us consider a person incarcerated in our country today and on death row. Let us also consider him guilty. The reason for this little thought experiment is to turn the corner from the above mentioned moratorium to the final abolishing of the death penalty. So, our hypothetical person is indeed, very, very guilty. He’s a monster. He’s confessed. The DNA evidence is in and convincing. Whatever you need to conclude that he’s guilty, there you go. Why shouldn’t he receive the death penalty?

The fact is, he should. Rather, he deserves it.

And, this is how I turned the corner on this issue. Since I actually believe in a loving and just God, I actually believe that his sin has consequences for him personally. So, I’m convinced that he really does deserve the death penalty. I no longer need to jump through moral hoops to says that. He really does deserve it.

If you’re a Christian, I’ve got some bad news for you: you deserve it too. Furthermore, you’re gonna get it. You’re going to die. Your Bible tells you why in Romans 6:23: “For the product of sin is death…..” And don’t act like your shocked by all this; the very earliest parts of the Bible tell us we’re gonna die because we disobeyed God; commonly referred to as “The Fall.”

A note to my secular friends who may be put off by all the religious-speak: if this is something you’re actually interested in, as in, why the Bible says things like this, you cannot dismiss it easily as outdated crazy-talk. Very learned and experienced people throughout all of history have contemplated and written on these subjects, and continue to do so today. If you start with the assumption that it can’t mean anything for you today, then I can’t help you understand it. A better starting place would be: that all sounds like crazy-talk, I wonder if it mean anything to me today? If you sat in on one of my Bible studies, we would acknowledge that it sounds like crazy-talk, but since we know it’s not….thus begins the study.

So, considering a death row inmate, they really do deserve the death penalty, if they’re guilty. For me, it’s no longer an issue if the guilty deserve to die or not; they do. But, the combination of doubt and the valid Christian debate as to whether or not the state has the right to justifiably murder a criminal has led me to change my mind on supporting the death penalty in my state.

If a truly guilty criminal is executed tomorrow, I will not shed a tear. But, we know that DNA evidence is resulting in more and more innocent people being let out of prison and the thought of a person being unfairly incarcerated for years is more than I can stand. The thought of the state executing an innocent person? That possibility has to stop.

 

Friday Evening with David Eisenhower

Dad, Annette and I went to hear David Eisenhower speak at the St. Louis County Library Friday night. It was very nice. Many more people than I expected. I’m guessing over three hundred. I already had a copy of his new book and was able to stay afterward to get it signed.

His book is entitled Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961 – 1969. It’s an intimate insider’s look at the last years if Ike’s life at his home in Gettysburg. Reading the book made be very thankful to David for writing it and it was nice to able to shake his hand and thank him in person.

I have read many books on Eisenhower, but none where his title is Granddad. “Nixon said that…” or “Kennedy said this…” and then “Granddad said…”

Aside from the intimacy, there’s the look inside at the political games going on after Ike’s out of the White House. Most notably: Nixon, Kennedy and Johnson calling on Ike for various reasons. Turns out, as we heard from David last night, that Ike and Johnson were pretty close. Not surprising considering Johnson was Senate Minority and then Majority Leader during Eisenhower’s years in the White House. After Johnson became president, he looked to Ike frequently for advice, especially concerning Vietnam.

One great thing about hearing someone like David Eisenhower speak is that you have an opportunity to hear history direct from an original source.

One myth that was, for me, finally confirmed last night was President Truman’s asking Ike to lead the Democratic Ticket in 1948. Truman suggested that Ike run from President and he, Truman would be his Vice President. “If we don’t,” suggested Truman, “MacArthur will win and we can’t have that.” While Ike, no doubt, agreed about MacArthur, he declined to run. Ike’s political affiliations were unknown yet, but he declared himself a Republican soon after.

I’m looking forward to finishing the book.

My prediction

Well, as you know, I was very wrong in my early prediction on who the candidates would be. I predicted Hillary and Giuliani. Crazy, huh? But, one must be bold in one’s thoughts, so here goes for tomorrow:

Obama: 338 electoral votes

McCain: 200 electoral vote

This election has been so very different in so many ways. If Obama wins even bigger, I won’t be shocked. If McCain were to somehow win Florida and Virginia, that would probably mean he wins some other battleground states and he could win. Very unlikely as we look at it tonight, but not impossible.
As my friend Ken always chides me, “what do actually think about this, Richard?”

Well, it’s actually quite simple: this was a race until Sept. 17th. You know what happened that week. the market meltdown. Panic set in, and most folks blamed the status quo, read “republicans,” and that was that. Obama is “not that” and we want “not that”. Now, could Obama have won without that boost? Absolutely; as I said, it was real race.  But, now, we have to blame somebody for the meltdown, so who better to blame than the Republicans. It’s an easy out. The pendulum swings back and it will swing back again some day in the future.

Tomorrow, I’ll comment on our new President-elect.

Have we been keeping up with our reading?

Camille Paglia’s latest: (read all three pages)

June 11, 2008 | Shuddering, lurching and stumbling, the 2008 general election has finally, mercifully begun. For a year and a half, U.S. voters have been flogged like a prison gang through the nine circles of media hell. The two dazed survivors of the primary process, John McCain and Barack Obama, are now warily circling each other, looking for an opening even as they try to shed the already hardened public perception of their character and motivation. – read the rest….

Death to America; Captain America, that is

You may have heard by now, that Captain America was assassinated the other day. I guess a little surprising to me is all the hoopla that has been made of it. Is it symbolism for something bigger, like the death of some aspect of Americanism? Yeah, sure; but I couldn’t help but to be reminded of a Captain America series from back in the day. Yes, I read and collected Marvel Comics and I followed Captain America and this all took place during the early 1970′s. Let’s see now…what was going on at the time? Hmmm…let’s see; an unpopular war led by an unpopular president. It got me reflecting on that series, which I remember well. At the end the evil genius behind the whole big dastardly plot was none other than the President of the U.S. To be honest, it was a big ho-hum to me. But, of course, I was 15 years old when the last issue was published and, well, let’s just say that an evil president didn’t stack up in my view to the likes of the Red Skull.

But do these stories have any social value? Absolutely, they do. They are (or will be) like mini-history books; no different than the ads in the comic books that harken back to yesteryear. I ran across this commentary from the end of my Captain America from the guy who was writing it at the time, Steve Englehart:

CAPTAIN AMERICA was my third Marvel series. It was being considered for cancellation when I got it, because it had no reason for existence. Stan Lee had written it for years, and it was clearly his least favorite book; the stories had become not only lackluster but repetitive. Gary Friedrich had picked it up a year before and done some interesting stuff, but he hadn’t stayed long; then Gerry Conway did two issues as a stopgap; and then I got it. The problem across the board at Marvel was that this was the 70s – prime anti-war years – and here was a guy with a flag on his chest who was supposed to represent what most people distrusted. No one knew what to do with him.

Me, I had been honorably discharged from the Army two years earlier as a conscientious objector – but I was supposed to also be a writer. So I did something for the first time that marked everything I’ve written since. I said, “Okay, if this guy existed, who would he be?” Not “Who am I?”, but “Who is Captain America?”

Six months later, the wayward book slouching toward cancellation was Marvel’s Number One title, and I seemed to have found my career. I’d also found an artist, Sal Buscema, who could draw exactly what I envisioned, so it was all good.

So I had asked myself “Who is Captain America?”, and had found an answer for the man. Thing was, America was moving from the overarching Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate.

I was writing a man who believed in America’s highest ideals at a time when America’s President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.

And that was the end of Captain America…

And, just for fun, here’s a scan of an ad from one of my Captain America comic books circa 1970..

Comic Book Ad from 1970

West Wing and the ‘08 Election

I was watching The West Wing the other night, a program I started watching just to have something to talk to my father about, and in-between all my complaining I ran right over a moment when I thought, “yeah…good point.” It was towards the end when the Democratic candidate was talking to a women’s rights advocate. This woman was threatening to throw her support to the Republican candidate because, since they were both pro-choice, why not support the better man? The big issue was not over abortion itself but over restrictions on abortion. Since, as I said, both were pro-choice, the argument was over who favored which restrictions. The Republican candidate favored parental notification and was 100% against partial-birth abortions while the Democratic candidate’s position was no restrictions at all. As the Democratic candidate and the woman were arguing, he said to her, (I paraphrase from memory) “do you favor abortion based on race?” She, of course said no. He continued, “do you favor abortion based on IQ?” She said no again. He spoke so fast, I wonder how many people caught what he was driving at. He concluded by telling her that it looks like she does favor some restrictions on abortion as does he, but it is not our place to put our restrictions on others and therefore, he votes for no restrictions at all.

I commend the writers for going this far. How many of us have considered what our restrictions would be? For instance, if homosexuality was found out to have a genetic root, what if a couple decided to abort the baby because they found it to be so? What if a woman decides to abort the baby because it’s going to have a cleft lip? Where do you draw the line?

Now, on the elections: It’s possible that the Republicans will nominate a pro-choice candidate in Rudy Guliani. Why? How? Well, it’s because the issue, as illustrated in the TV show mentioned above, has come a long way in recent years. I believe, thanks to George W. Bush. The first words I ever heard come out of his mouth were, when asked about Roe v. Wade, he said simply that he wasn’t interested in overturning the law; he was interested in changing people’s hearts. I can accept a pro-choice candidate because if I were king of the world right now, I would not overturn Roe v. Wade. I want something much bigger. I want the world to know that abortion is bad; just like I want the world to know that divorce is bad. I don’t know which is worse sometimes. The family in this country is falling apart.

OK, enough ranting. Here’s my free advice for Democrats in 2008: First, the race has already started, so get it in gear. Second, you are not running against Bush or Cheney! Figure out something positive to say about you. Tell us what you’re going to do about the war in Iraq. You may wish you can run away from it, but you can’t. (nobody can) If the Republicans put up a pro-choice candidate why should anyone vote for you? Keep watching The West Wing for the answer!

Maybe…

A quote from Peggy Noonan today:

Here are some maybes. Maybe the president has simply concluded he has no more elections to face and no longer needs his own troops to wage the ground war and contribute money. Maybe with no more elections to face he’s indulging a desire to show them who’s boss. Maybe he has concluded he has a deep and unwavering strain of support within the party that, come what may, will stick with him no matter what. Maybe he isn’t all that conservative a fellow, or at least all that conservative in the old, usual ways, and has been waiting for someone to notice. Maybe he has decided the era of hoping for small government is over. Maybe he is a big-government Republican who has a shrewder and more deeply informed sense of the right than his father did, but who ultimately sees the right not as a thing he is of but a thing he must appease, defy, please or manipulate. Maybe after five years he is fully revealing himself. Maybe he is unveiling a new path that he has not fully articulated–he’ll call the shots from his gut and leave the commentary to the eggheads. Maybe he’s totally blowing it with his base, and in so doing endangering the present meaning and future prospects of his party.

Hey Peggy, I’ve got one you forgot to add: Maybe Ms. Miers is a smart, conservative cookie and she’ll make a great Justice.

Supreme Deflation

This is the first time I’ve disagreed with so many conservatives. I’m talking, of course, of the nomination to the Supreme Court of Harriet Miers. Most conservative pundits; and that is most, not all, have been “deflated” as a result of this nomination. I use the word deflated because it seems to appear most in the editorials I’ve been reading, and I think it describes what all these conservatives are feeling. “Angry” is another word; yes, cheated and angry.

They don’t know where she stands on abortion? Oh, gosh, let’s see… I’ll bet she’s pro-choice! Yeah, right. But she’s never been a judge! Good, I say. It’ll do the Court good to have someone who’s worked for a living serving. And besides, it won’t be the first time a nominee has never worked as a judge and it won’t be the last time. It’s cronyism I tell ya! Oooh, that one really hurts! Why, I’ve never heard of such a thing! (Do I sound like Jon Stewart yet?) She’s a single woman, never married, no kids, was the first woman to do about ten different things in the country of Texas, and then she became the President of the United States’ lawyer; surely that counts for something.

Besides, it’s the Senate’s job to confirm her or not to confirm her. They are elected representatives. If the don’t like her, fine; vote her down and let’s do it again; no problem. I’m willing to be that they’ll (and most Americans) will love her.

Election 2008 update: I just wanted to re-establish where I stand on the next presidential race: Since just after the 2000 election (that’s 2000, not 2004), I’ve been predicting the race between Guliani and Clinton. Ask Wally if you don’t believe me. Anyway, at this point, I have no reason to change my mind. That’s who I think will be your candidates in 2008. Guliani will win. Now, having said that, I would gladly eat my words if my candidate would run. I don’t think he will, but a boy can hope. The smart Bush boy, Jeb.

Where to start?

Where to start

There are a very few people in this world that can comprehend the magnitude of the catastrophe that is the flood of New Orleans. The mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana are not two of these people. Nor should they be. That would not be a reason they would or should be elected. It is not to their discredit that they were completely overwhelmed. Before I say anymore, allow me to break this issue down into the two natural components. The first is the Hurricane itself with the wind damage and the storm surge damage that has inflicted hell on most of the Gulf Coast. The second is, of course, the flood of New Orleans. Though the hurricane caused the flood, they must be looked at as two distinct events for any of this to make any sense. So, for example, if the flood doesn’t happen, you have the “normal” hurricane clean-up stories in the news. Major damage was done to Biloxi and Gulf Port and these are indeed worthy news stories, but not the kind of drama we saw unfold at the Super Dome and Convention Center in New Orleans. That was close-up, human drama that makes great TV. My point is that without the flood, there is no “Blame Bush” story. Blame him for global warming maybe, but not this week.

So that leaves us with the flood. I was at work when I read on Drudge that the levee had broken. It was about mid-day. I went straight into my boss’s office and said, “The levee has broken in New Orleans; should we add more newspapers for tomorrow?” His response was something like, “let’s wait and see what happens.”

“Huh?”

Didn’t everybody know that the levees might break? Didn’t everybody know that if that happened, it would be…well, big? Didn’t everybody know that the whole city could be flooded? The whole city!?

Yes, everybody knew that.

A few quotes to remind you:

(The New Orleans) TIMES-PICAYUNE published a story on July 24, 2005 stating:
City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give a historically blunt message: “In the event of a major hurricane, you’re on your own.”Staff writer Bruce Nolan reported some 7 weeks before Katrina: “In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm’s way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.”"In the video,made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

And here’s a pull from the actual evacuation document for the city, most recently revised in 2000. On page 13, paragraph 5 it states:

The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.

And then this from New Orleans On-line from 8/28/05:

Previous hurricanes evacuations in New Orleans were always voluntary, because so many people don’t have the means of getting out. Some are too poor…

Stop and think about that one for a bit. And remember, after the President called, the order was given for a mandatory evacuation.

I’m asking everyone to stop wondering and worrying about blaming somebody. Or, go ahead and blame every resident of New Orleans, every mayor, every Governor of Louisiana, this President and the thirty before him. No, accept the frail condition of humanity, physical and spiritual.

Now, back to the real story: THIS IS A HUGE CATASTROPHE! No amount of adjectives would do it justice. As I stated in my opening comments, very few people in this world could be prepared for something of this magnitude. I’m reminded of huge battles in huge wars with famous generals in charge. Eisenhower, McCarthur, yeah, these guys could get their minds around a problem this big. Not a mayor or a governor, though. It’s just not fair to expect that from people like that. And guess what? You or I couldn’t do it either. And you or I can’t even begin to grasp the logistical problems of something this big. Were there “snafus?” Of course there were. Please read the details of any major battle campaign to see a list of errors and misjudgments that will make your heart sick.

People are doing the best they can. What can we do to help? As usual in domestic catastrophes, the churches are on the front lines. That’s simply because they’re already there with a network of people who are familiar with what it means to “help people.” I suggest giving to the relief arm of you favorite church. Here is mine:

http://www.methodistrelief.org/site/pp.asp?c=bhKNI4PHIpE&b=876335

Everyone was so nice

Everyone was so nice with their comments from last night’s post, it really made me feel better and I really appreciate it. But now what to write about? I don’t know. It’s not that I have nothing on my mind; it’s just that as priorities go, most everything is way down on the list, you know?

OK, this has been on my mind today: In Canton, Ohio, there’s a high school with 490 female students, of which 65 are pregnant. Here’s a quote from the story:

“School officials are not sure what has contributed to so many pregnancies…”

Now, I know what they meant by that, but you have to admit that it’s kind of funny. So, they’ll do a study to find out why the rate is so much higher there than the state or national average. I could save them some money though, if they’d just ask me; I’ve got a hunch as to what caused the pregnancies. Read the story here…