Archives for September 2011

Capital punishment versus life without parole

For a couple of reasons, I haven’t been writing much recently for online publication.

First and foremost, I had no internet service at my mother’s house down in Savannah.

But even after I got connected, I still didn’t write much for online consumption.

The truth is that I haven’t wanted to say anything about the execution of Troy Davis, the topic du jour.

Frankly, I thought I might sound a little bloodthirsty or racist if I condoned his execution.

Besides, several friends have written excellent articles that explored the relevant facts surrounding the Davis death penalty/MacPhail murder case.

Therefore, I didn’t believe it was necessary for me to voice yet another opinion.

But opponents of capital punishment have refused to let go of the issue. They have also consistently neglected to mention some of the relevant facts beyond some eyewitnesses recanting their testimony.

Those opposed to the death penalty have concentrated their argument on the possibility Davis might have been innocent as an excuse to insist his sentence should have been commuted to life without parole.

His advocates must not appreciate statistical analysis.

Troy Davis admitted being at the scene of two separate shootings the night Officer MacPhail was killed. He even acknowledged being in the parking lot when MacPhail died.

The odds against an innocent person being found at two crime scenes on the same evening are simply astronomical.

The odds against finding blood from the victims on the clothing of a bystander aren’t very good, either. Nor do innocent people normally flee within hours of the murder, either.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I grew up in Savannah, attended church at Trinity Lutheran Church and personally knew Joan MacPhail, widow of the murdered policeman.

Her older sister was in my confirmation class. Her older brother was confirmed in the same class with my older sister. It would be fair to say that Officer MacPhail’s murder hit pretty close to home. I admit I could be biased about the Davis execution.

I returned to Savannah because my almost centenarian grandmother has home hospice care and my mother needs help.

In addition to helping grandmother get in and out of her hospital bed, I’ve been reading her letters to the editor, Vox Populi (voice of the people) and Dear Abby from the Savannah newspaper.

Occasionally I also read her excerpts from the book God Makes Lemonade. My grandmother is almost blind and can’t see well enough to read or watch television.

One editorial that I read aloud demanded that we abolish the death penalty. The writer suggested that Davis’ sentence should have been commuted to life without parole.

That started a somewhat heated family discussion.

“Life without parole does not mean the murderer will stay in prison!” my mother exclaimed.

“What makes you say that?” I asked her.

In response, Mom told me the story of Estelle Stokes Bragg.

On August 31, 1931, Estelle Bragg had been stalked as she made her way home from work.

Her estranged husband Walter Mims Bragg pulled out a pistol, chasing Estelle into Pinkussohn’s tobacco store at the corner of Broughton and Whittaker streets. She pleaded with bystanders for help.

Walter shot Estelle twice in cold blood as she frantically tried to escape. She fell to the floor, where he calmly stood over her prostrate body and pumped three more bullets into her at point blank range.

Estelle died at the scene.

Arrested and charged with her murder, Walter showed no remorse. He allegedly even told the arresting officer, “Sure, I meant to kill her.”

Pandemonium developed as the sound of gunshots scattered several hundred people on their way home from work. It was probably the most sensational cold-blooded murder ever committed in Savannah up until that point – perpetrated in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses. Widespread panic erupted in its aftermath.

According to newspaper reports, Bragg’s family was “well known” in the counties surrounding Savannah — implying that he came from wealth.

Somehow, despite the callous nature of the murder and no doubt about his guilt, Bragg avoided the death penalty.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, in spite of the fact he threatened to kill other members of Estelle’s family, notably one of her younger sisters.

Yet less than ten years after the murder, Bragg was free as a bird, again walking the streets of downtown Savannah.

Estelle’s family learned of his release from prison the hard way – her former brother-in-law literally bumped into him  on the sidewalk in a chance encounter.

Unruffled, Bragg offered a cheerful greeting. He had the audacity to act as if nothing wrong had happened.

Outraged to meet the killer loose on the street, Estelle’s brother-in-law demanded an audience with the judge who presided over the murder trial.

The judge told him that every man the state had ever executed should be dug up and the corpse should receive an apology. He agreed that a travesty of justice had allowed Walter Mims Bragg to walk the streets.

Georgia governor Eurith “Ed” Rivers had pardoned Bragg less than a decade after the murder. After leaving office he faced charges of corruption, but Walter Bragg would remain free.

Estelle’s family remained victims for most of their lives, afraid to even speak her name because they feared Bragg.

For over fifty years, I never knew she existed.

It took reading aloud an editorial suggesting that life without parole should have been a viable alternative for Troy Davis.

Then Mom told me about Estelle Stokes Bragg, the great-aunt I never knew. Estelle’s brother-in-law was my grandfather.

My grandmother had been her sister.

After this news came to light, I decided that I’m okay with the government enforcing the death penalty.


Watching the media watchdog

PolitiFact Georgia is supposedly a non-partisan media watchdog group that rates comments from politicians and political advocates on something called a Truth-O-Meter.

The scale ranges from completely true and goes beyond completely false to a “liar, liar, pants on fire” category that denotes the most egregious offenders.

PolitiFact Georgia recently declared a group known as Sovereign Citizens United (SCU) had their “pants-on-fire” given their claim that U.S. Congressmen from Georgia Hank Johnson and John Lewis were both socialists.

The media watchdog gave that evaluation of the SCU statement

U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, John Lewis and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are socialists who are openly serving in the U.S. Congress.

Agreed, making the unfounded accusation that a U.S Congressman is a socialist does cast that member in a negative light, in effect demonizing him (or her) in the eyes of many, but a hero in the eyes of some.

And if SCU wasn’t telling the truth, their accusation would be a rather insidious, terrible lie. That much is true.

Which begs the question…

Quid est veritas?

The fact-checkers decreed

The S-word [Socialist] is overwhelmingly considered a toxic label in American politics. Yet, it is used more frequently these days, most often as a way to demonize liberal politicians.

I get it — it’s bad to call someone a socialist if it isn’t true.

And what irrefutable proof did the fact checkers procure making them confident enough to declare SCU such bold-faced liars with their pants on fire?

Well…they did ask the spokesperson for Hank Johnson, who cooperated:

A spokesman for Johnson wondered if Sovereign Citizens United was the same outfit that is occasionally busted for living in spacious vacant or foreclosed homes, because it believes it is immune to federal and state laws and that only people — not banks — can own land. So did we. News accounts refer to those suspects as “Sovereign Citizens.” Sovereign Citizens United lists itself as a group attempting to stop the undermining of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights by “U.N. globalists.” We couldn’t find any evidence this group was involved in any suspected criminal activity.

How apolitical of Johnson’s mouthpiece, to insinuate a personal attack on the accuser.

PolitiFact also wondered about the veracity of the claim against Sovereign enough to investigate and find it unmerited, or at least lacking evidence to support it.

But Johnson’s pants weren’t alleged to be on fire. Maybe they were only smoldering.

And who else contradicted the claim that Lewis and Johnson are socialists?

PolitiFact Georgia cited the following “reliable” sources:

“We have a banner that says ‘Obama is not a socialist, but we are,’ ” [former director of Democrat Socialists of America Frank] Llewellyn said.

In 2009, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described Democratic Socialist, wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post arguing that no one else in Congress thinks similarly.

Spokespeople for Johnson and Lewis both rejected any claims to being socialists or members of the DSA.

That certainly seems to settle the issue without ambiguity, doesn’t it?

After all — if you can’t trust the socialists to be honest about their membership, who can you trust?

Yet doesn’t it seem a little bit odd that PolitiFact Georgia actually investigated the claim that SCU was nothing more than an organized group of squatters but simply accepted the word of spokesmen for these Congressmen that they were not socialists?

As ESPN’s Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

This morning by sheer coincidence I was reading an excellent article at American Thinker about black socialist preacher George Washington Woodbey.

Citing his legacy, the article claimed that 28 of the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus were also members of the Congressional Socialist Caucus, a whopping 37 percent of the socialist group’s total membership in Congress.

It staggered me to think that at least seventy elected representatives in Congress support socialism, a form of government in complete opposition to the freedoms for which our nation was founded.

Could this possibly be true?

Well — yeah!

It took me all of about thirty seconds to perform an Internet search for “Congressional Socialist Caucus” — initially I found it hard to believe one existed — and found a couple of interesting links.

One link even lead me to a press release from 2009 apparently issued by the same Democrat Socialists of America with the same Frank Llewellyn. The release included a list of elected members in Congress who were also members of the DSA.

Just look over the names on the list. Then check their voting records.

Maxine Waters, Charles Rangel, Barney Frank, John Conyers, Pete Stark — the list is nothing more than a roll call for uber liberal members in the House of Representatives.

Imagine my surprise to also find the names of both Lewis and Johnson on the list.

I’m shocked.

And stunned. (The Monty Python aficionados who have seen the classic  All You Need is Cash may appreciate that sentiment.)

But I’m not speechless. So I’ll leave you with this suggestion….

Someone needs to be fact-checking the fact-checkers at PolitiFact Georgia.


The crass hypocrisy of Warren Buffett

Investor genius Warren Buffett recently made headlines when he announced to the world that his tax bill was too low.

In an opinion piece published by the New York Times, Buffett lamented that his secretary’s personal income tax rate surpassed his capital gains rate paid on investments.

In doing so, Buffett created the clear impression that he would gladly pay higher taxes if only the government asked.

There’s only one problem with this picture: the government has asked, and Buffett has repeatedly refused to pay higher taxes.

Newsmax reported that Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the IRS over $1 billion in unpaid taxes.

And it isn’t the first time – as recently as 2005, Buffett agreed to a favorable settlement with the IRS over a dividends-received deduction after a protracted 14 year battle.

It seems that Warren Buffett believes everyone should pay more taxes – except him.