Thursday, December 5, 2013
Hanging was the worst use a man could be put to.
— Sir Henry Wotton, The Disparity Between Buckingham and Essex 
There is a lot to be said for hanging. There is an unlimited supply of rope and its sale poses no moral dilemma problem for the seller. Best of all, the executioner seeking to buy rope for a hanging does not have to engage in the sort of felonious conduct in which a recently filed lawsuit suggests Texas execution officials were forced to engage in order to obtain a death dealing drug. That lawsuit reminds us again how annoyingly difficult it can be to carry out a death sentence and the extent to which upstanding citizens like officials in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are forced to go in order to carry out their assigned tasks. But first a brief history.
Foreign manufacturers of some of the essential drugs that are used in executions have refused to permit their products to enter the United States if the use for the drugs is to aid in an execution. In October 2013 the state of Missouri had to postpone an execution because the European manufacturer of propofol, the anesthetic the state planned to use to make the process more pleasant for the participant, said it would no longer ship propofol to this country if it were used in executions. Since propofol is used for valid medical purposes as well as assisting in executions, the governor of Missouri stayed the execution. (Missouri, the “show me” state has creatively come up with a different product to enable executions to proceed.) On August 1, 2013, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced its remaining supply of pentobarbital, the drug it uses in lethal injections, would run out in September and it did not know where to get more. That is because Lundbeck Inc., a Danish company, the drug’s manufacturer has said it will not ship any of the drug to states that intend to use the drugs in carrying out a death sentence.
Texas has conducted more executions than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court breathed new life into the death penalty on August 6, 1976. Texas did not get to be number one by sitting back and letting minor obstacles interfere with executions. Mindful of its obligations to promptly carry out death sentences when imposed, it did what any self-respecting executioner would do when confronted with the unavailability of a needed ingredient. According to CNN, in October 2013 a civil complaint was filed in Texas on behalf of prison inmates facing the death penalty and that complaint describes in considerable detail the activities of the Texas officials. According to the CNN report the complaint alleges that state correction officials falsified a prescription for pentobarbital. They said the patient for whom the drug was required was James Jones, who is the warden of the Huntsville Unit where executions take place and it is a certainty that he was not personally in need of the drug. The request for the prescription also instructed the pharmacy that the drugs were for the Huntsville unit Hospital, a hospital that has not been in existence for 30 years. Of course the CNN report was simply describing what the plaintiffs were alleging. The Texas prison officials declined to comment on its truth or falsity. According to the CNN report when the pharmacy learned of the criminal conduct of the state correction officials (assuming lying in order to get drugs is a crime) it cancelled the prescription.
One has to feel sorry for the Texas officials. Although they were behaving criminally (if they in fact did what was alleged) they were only trying to do what they are legally required to do. If Texas and other states that are having such difficult getting the needed drugs would return to hanging executions could once again enjoy the simplicity of years gone by.
At present there are three states that permit hanging although in two of them its use is severely limited. In Delaware someone convicted of a death penalty eligible offense is entitled to be hanged only if the offense bestowing that benefit took place before June 13, 1986. There is no one on Delaware’s death row who qualifies and, indeed, Delaware has dismantled its gallows assuming no one in the future will be entitled to this treatment. Washington State gives inmates a choice. Lethal injection is the state’s first choice but if it is not the prospective recipient’s first choice, he or she can request a hanging. New Hampshire permits hanging only if a lethal injection cannot be given. Although there are currently no inmates in New Hampshire awaiting execution, should one appear and the required drug not be available, hanging would be the prescribed punishment.
There are those who will take the suggestion that we return to hanging as the principal means of execution as proof that the writer fails to appreciate that the lengths that states go to obtain death dealing drugs is proof of how civilized they are. Readers may decide whether the actions of those states are more civilized than getting a rope and finding a tree. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For political commentary
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Logical Consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.
— Thomas Henry Huxley, Animal Automatism
A number of readers have written asking me to explain why the remedies available to Rupert Murdoch differ from the remedies available to President Obama. They are curious because both men are dealing with “hacking.” The president is dealing with hacking done by the National Security Agency that is part of the United States Government of which he is the president. The hacking Mr. Murdoch is dealing with was done by the News of the World, a tabloid that is part of the media empire controlled by Mr. Murdoch.
The request for an explanation is no doubt prompted by alert readers who noticed the confluence of two seemingly unrelated events that took place on October 28, 2013. The first event involved high-ranking European officials who travelled to Washington to visit the President and appropriate members of his administration to discuss the N.S.A.’s hacking of the cell phones of, among other prominent United States allies, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Francois Hollande of France. The other event involves the October 28 start of the trial of six people who used to work at News of the World.
In the case of the newspaper hacking, in 2011 it was learned that employees at News of the World, had engaged in a number of illegal activities when doing research for stories they wanted to write. Their illegal conduct enabled the reporters to write the kinds of stories that make a tabloid a tabloid and helped make Rupert Murdoch rich.
Among the less savory acts engaged in by the newspaper was hacking mobile phone voicemails of a missing 13-year old girl who had in fact been murdered. Reporters from the paper accessed the dead child’s voice mail account and deleted messages. The child’s parents were thus led to believe that the child was still alive and, being alive, accessing her e-mail and deleting messages. The child’s e-mail was not the only account the reporters hacked. They also hacked into voice mail accounts of relatives of British soldiers who were killed in Iraq, voice mail accounts of the royal family, etc. The trial began October 28th and is expected to last several months.
The owner of the paper at the time all these activities are alleged to have taken place was News Corp and the owner of News Corp, for all practical purposes, was Rupert Murdoch. During his testimony before British lawmakers on July 19, 2011, Mr. Murdoch said he knew nothing about the phone hacking and bribery and told the lawmakers he was the best person “to clean this up.”
Meanwhile, back in the United States, foreign dignitaries from Germany and France came to Washington to address the hacking of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and French president Francois Hollande’s cell phone by the N.S.A. As a result of the activities of the oft maligned Edward Snowden, the world learned that the N.S.A. engaged in not only hacking the phones of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and French President Francois Hollande, but phones of 35 other foreign leaders. Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande were not amused. They were outraged. And that is why their representatives came to the United States at the same time the trial in London began.
The president of the United States during the last five years in which the hacking has taken place was Barack Obama. Like Mr. Murdoch, President Obama was unaware that friendly leaders’ phones had been hacked.
The obvious question in response to both activities is what actions should the men in charge take in addition to those described above since both men were completely unaware of the illicit conduct that was taking place on their respective watches. The answer is both men did all they could do but for obvious reasons their responses could not be the same.
When Mr. Murdoch learned of what was going on at his newspaper he cleaned things up. On July 11, seven days before he testified in front of British lawmakers about the hacking, the News of the World published its final edition. Mr. Murdoch had shut it down. When Mr. Obama learned of the NSA’s activities, he also cleaned things up. He ordered an immediate end to N.S.A. monitoring of the phones of world leaders and initiated a review of other N.S.A. hacking practices. Unlike Mr. Murdoch, however, Mr. Obama could not shut down the government and send all the members of Congress home. That’s a real shame.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Ever since I could remember I’d wished I’d been lucky enough to be alive at that great time-when something big was going on, like the Crucifixion. And suddenly I realized I was. Here I was living through another Crucifixion.
— Ben Shahn, On painting a gouache: Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco (1932
He could not do it by himself. He had to be joined by others as committed as he. He had to be joined by others as mindless as he. And joined by legions of tea partiers he was. Many of them from Texas. Among them was Representative Joe Barton (R. TX). Mr. Barton is former chairman of the House Energy Conference Committee. It was he who famously explained in 2010 (when questioning the wisdom of deficit spending to fund national wind turbine energy )that: “Wind is the way you shift the heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up?” Addressing the effects of the tea party caucus as the government shutdown began he said: “I think the conservatives in the House have had some notable successes. You’re never 100 percent successful but we certainly saved lots and lots of money.” He was presumably not referring to the fact that the shutdown was estimated to have cost the government somewhere between $12 billion and $24 billion.
Of course Joe Barton and Ted Cruz were not the only performers from Texas. Congressman Louie Gohmert was also in favor of the government shutdown. He did not realize that the shutdown would have consequences. He was outraged when he learned that the World War II Veteran’s Memorial had been shutdown. In an interview with Glen Beck he said: “All you can figure is that somebody intentionally did this to make it difficult for World War II veterans. Just to create pain. Just for political gain.” He must have been right because Rep. Steve Stockman, one of his Congressional colleagues from Texas issued a press release in which he said: “Obama and Democrats are curb-stomping veterans because they believe their allies in the mainstream media will falsely blame it on Republicans, even though order to kill funding and close war memorials come on the letterhead of Democrat leaders and the White House.”
At the better-known crucifixion there were seven last words. At the Cruzifixion of the United States Ted Cruz held forth for more than 21 hours in order to prevent the U.S. Senate from legislating. In the 21 hours he spoke he spoke mostly nonsense. His most cogent moments came when he read aloud the children’s story of “Green Eggs and Ham”, a story that seemed singularly inapposite since the character who insisted he disliked green eggs and ham ended up telling his tutor, Sam-I-Am, “I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am.” That subtlety escaped Mr. Cruz’s notice who at the end of his 21-hour soliloquy still hated Obamacare. Many of his words were little more than mean spirited attacks on programs Ted Cruz did not understand and a man he could not stand.
When it became apparent that the party in the loony bin was coming to an end, the Republican members of the House reached out to the Lord. On October 15, two days before the government shut down came to an end, Republican members of the House joined together in singing a rousing version of an old hymn, “Amazing Grace”. They were led by Rep. Steve Southerland (R. FL). They sang the song in lieu of the morning prayer. Like Mr. Cruz in reading the children’s book, they didn’t fully understand the words of the hymn they sang. The first stanza is singularly appropriate to the conclusion of their tactics to keep the government shut down in place:
“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” On the 17th day the shutdown ended and the country was resurrected.
Some might think that having been defeated Mr. Cruz would have taken his cross and gone home. He has not. On the day that the government shutdown came to a close he put a hold on the approval by the senate of the nomination of Tom Wheeler to be the head of the F.C.C. He says the hold will be released as soon as he receives certain assurances from the nominee. Once he receives those assurances he will take his cross and together they will wander off in the political wilderness in search of new programs to Cruzify. Time will tell what they may be.