Saturday, December 19, 2009
The first of these is an article which notes the unusual fact that Los Angeles County, in the past year, has bucked the national trend of reduced death verdicts. In L.A., thirteen death penalties were ordered by juries. This seems to be a statewide trend. California death verdicts have also risen.
The reasons for the data are debated. Steve Cooley, LA DA, thinks it is a partially a fluke, considering the fact that these cases take many years to come to trial. But he did claim that his office has been more "selective" in choosing which cases to pursue, which may account for the higher percentage of death sentences meted out.
My good friend, Robert Schwartz, an experienced defense lawyer, pointed out that jurors have become hardened to mitigation evidence about abused and deprived childhoods of violent criminals. The article also speculates that judges have tightened procedures to encourage more severe verdicts.
I’ve found that there is truth to all of these points. And there is another, that the article doesn’t underline. Jurors are well aware of the fact that California has a moratorium on executions, and has performed ONLY thirteen executions, while almost seven hundred rot on death row. Just as the existence of a credible alternative of ‘life imprisonment without possibility of parole’ has been shown to reduce the number of death verdicts, as was recently reported in Texas of all places, the suspicion that a death verdict will never be enforced is conducive to more of them being issued.
One of the judges who is often cited as having an agenda that includes a preference for death verdicts made the news in another case, non-capital case. Mark Overland, a former public defender, and one of the best lawyers anywhere, is representing Ms. Lazarus, the LAPD officer accused of killing a romantic rival more than twenty years ago. After the pro forma ruling that ordered that she be brought to trial, the judge set bail at $10 million dollars in cash, an extraordinarily high amount, tantamount to a denial of any bail. This is higher, as Overland observed, than the bail set for Phil Spector. The judge justified this act by citing her accessibility to guns, because she is married to a cop, and his subjective belief that she would probably flee the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution.
In another article, a second degee murder conviction is reported. The case, defended by my friend Dave Houchin, had resulted in two mistrials due to hung juries when tried in the Central L.A. courthouse. Once transferred back to the Antelope Valley where the crime occurred and the where extremely vocal victim’s family members lived, a compromise verdict of 2nd degree was achieved after three weeks of deliberation, in a case which relied on circumstantial evidence and the defendant had steadfastly asserted his innocence.
But after all, the head scratchers say, Woods is one athlete whose reputation for good character was squeaky clean. His trademark as a golfer is his intelligent approach to the sport. He is the most physically fit and the smartest golfer on the course, whose preparation and discipline are unparalleled.
So what? Bill Clinton was the smartest guy in any room. He was the freakin’ president of the U.S., dude.
Borenstein’s Law holds that decisions and conduct which are against an individual’s best interests and therefore by common sense would seem to be unlikely, are actually within the normal range of human behavior, no matter the stature of the individual in society. This kind of apparently irrational risky behavior accounts for most of the annoying things teens do, most crimes of impulse, and most philandering in the upper crust.
More interesting is that the Woods case seems to illustrate a corollary to Borenstein’s Law: Goodness (i.e., high moral character) and Greatness (i.e., exceptional achievement) are often mutually exclusive, that is to say people of great accomplishments in their chosen field usually would not qualify for sainthood if the standard is morality in their private lives.
The examples proving this point are too numerous to mention, but I will mention one prominent example. Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest thinker of the 20th Century and one of the greatest of all time, was a self acknowledged failure as husband and father.
He was a selfish man, discarded his first wife (herself a trained physicist whose ideas may have contributed to his early work) and their three children without a second thought after years of surreptitious affairs, including one with his cousin, who became his second wife. He then proceeded to be unfaithful to her as often as the opportunities arose. He admitted his personal failings, attributing them to his nature, and his need for concentration on his work.
One other point worth mentioning. When the subject arises, the conclusion is often criticized as chauvinistic, seen as a weak argument justifying male prerogatives relating to monogamy. I don’t believe the propensity for risky behavior is limited to one sex.
I.e.: Catherine THE GREAT. Q.E.D.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Even before the internet, there was already so much bullshit on television, radio, in newspapers and magazines that it was nearly impossible to discern what was not bullshit. Now, the static of bullshit pervading cyberspace boggles the brain.
All advertizing is bullshit. Large chunks of serious institutions have been taken over by bullshit. Government, The Law, Medicine, Sports, Literature, Art, Business, Education from top to bottom are infested with bullshit.
Religion, philosophy and “serious thought” are pervaded by bullshit. There are entire bullshit sciences: psychiatry, psychology, sociology, anthropology. Most history is bullshit. Take away the bullshit and you have a slim volume of commons sense known to anyone with an I.Q. higher than an imbecile (and, oh, the I.Q. test is also bullshit).
What do I mean by bullshit?
I mean garbage, waste, lies, dissembling, poses, self-serving nonsense, sentimental wishes, statistics, anecdotal evidence, anything said in a political campaign, most medical tests, all local news programming.
When the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen’s story saw the emperor parading naked, he should have cried, “Bullshit!”
Andy Warhol was a “bullshit artist” in both senses. So are all the cable talking heads, the Sunday pundits, the PBS experts (including Deepak Chopra, Suze Orman,). Talkradio is the font of more bullshit every day than was produced in all the books of every century before the Twentieth.
The Twentieth Century was the bullshit century. The greatest figures of the era were bullshitters of the highest magnitude: Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, FDR, JFK, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton. Our heroes are mostly made of bullshit (“bravado” = bullshit). Bullshit is the definition of acting and accounts for most of what we are fascinated with about celebrities.
The cure for bullshit is simple. Skepticism — a state of mind which stands uncomfortably between cynicism and apathy — is the antidote. When you see it, doubt it. When it moves you to tears, proceed from the assumption that you are being manipulated. When it makes you angry, ask who wants you to feel that way. Who benefits from the news stories about crime? How did the latest subject on the gossip shows become an “issue.”
It is true that there has always been bullshit. Bullshit thrived throughout history. Myths, legends, superstition, the Middle Ages (the Age of Bullshit). The start of every war can be traced to bullshit, and most were won or lost by bullshit.
But we were led to believe that the modern age would distinguish itself by overcoming bullshit. In science and medicine, truth would triumph over ignorance for the betterment of mankind.
The Founding Fathers were products of an era historians call The Age of Enlightenment, when bullshit was recognized as the enemy of man. Having seen through such bullshit notions as “the divine rights of kings”, they hoped that an idea like democracy might work. The hypothesis was: “You can bullshit some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.”
The plan required that th people would be educated and informed of the dangers of the bullshit-riddled future. It assumed that the people would choose to be guided by an enlightened and intelligent elite — a group not unlike, oh say, the Founding Fathers. They would be a cut above the people in the ability to reason, the eloquence to lead, and mostly, possessed of just enough independent wealth to allow them the luxury of expressing selfless wisdom to act for the common good occasionally — on the really important issues. Parenthetically, it should be noted that this has worked during our history. Noblesse oblige, the duty of enlightened wealth and upper classes to govern wisely and selflessly has provided many of our best leadership: the Roosevelts, Kennedys, Adamses, Byrds, Rockefellers, etc.
The U.S. Constitution stands as the most remarkable work of protection against bullshit ever devised out of a laboratory. The checks and balances every textbook so glibly mention are an ingenious expression of the anti-bullshit political theory. No one group is to be trusted not to bullshit the others.
Even so, Jefferson and some others still smelled bullshit. They didn’t buy the argument that individual rights would be protected against the greatly increased power of the new improved people’s government. The proponents argued that it was not necessary to enumerate individual rights into the document. Those rights were well understood by the founders who were English gentlemen by birth and lawyers by training. These rights were guaranteed to every Englishman through the English constitution, a conglomeration of written documents and laws, unwritten traditions. They had incorporate these rights into the charters of their colonies and now their states’ constitutions, and the states were to be independent and sovereign.
Besides, the clever argument ran, the mere definition of individual rights was dangerous. It would lead to the conclusion that the defined rights articulated the exclusive list of rights possessed by individuals. That was contrary to their intention. They meant the powers of government to be circumscribed, clearly defined and limited, with all the other powers, rights and residue belonging to the people. The argument was somewhat prophetic as throughout much of our history parsing of the language and divining of the intentions of our constitution has become a parlor game played by Supreme Court justices and law professors.
Jefferson the scientist remained skeptical. He felt more comfortable putting it in writing. The result was The Bill of Rights, which has become the model for every constitutional democracy.
So did it work? Did it prevent or at least restrain the bullshit? Let’s first admit that the odds were long. It is in the nature of things that most everything is bullshit. It is simply part of the nature of the human animal to survive by wits, which means learning to bullshit better than the next guy. Every baby cons its mother into attentiveness by tears and tantrums. Toddlers trick their peers away from their toys, the best students learn to fools their teachers, rites of passage into manhood and womanhood involve successfully duping members of the opposite sex as well as a large dose of self-deception for survival.
In politics, democratic leadership inherently requires bullshitting the largest numbers of people, persuading them to do what is right contrary to their self-interest, usually by manipulation and promises.
Jefferson pinned his hopes for bullshit detection on the concepts contained in one cluster of clauses of the First Amendment — no state religion, unrestricted freedom of speech and press, peaceable assembly, and petition for redress of grievances. The idea was that if given access to all points of view, the people would sort out the bullshit and eventually make the right choices. There would be no state religion, no one Truth about ultimate questions. Rather, there would be a diversity of theories to choose from. The same with political truths: let everyone state a point of view, try to prove it, argue it, print it, try to persuade others, march about it, get together with others of like mind, complain to the government about it. Eventually, right choices would be made.
But Jefferson never anticipate the power of Bullshit. The mass media and now the internet have produced volumes of misinformation. He never imagined how much misleading data would bury the people trying to sort out the few nuggets of truth from the piles of bullshit. The naked emperor in our world is hidden behind blizzards of bullshit.
Jefferson, the architect, botanist, agronomist, philosopher, historian, naturalist, and lawyer could never have foreseen that there would come a time when everyone became a specialist, when the educated elite, the best and brightest that he relied on, would be so overwhelmed in bullshit about their own field of study that they could not hope to lead others in general debate over diverse issues. The most educated of us are narrow-minded and suspicious, self-interested without pause. Doctors and lawyers hate each other; scientists learn government to milk it rather than check it.
The system envisioned by the founding fathers, of enlightened leaders followed by an educated informed people, foundered on the mass of bullshit.
What does that leave us with? The only hope was to educate the people to fend for themselves. The mass media promised to inform, but it deforms, manipulates, distorts by overemphasis, creates hysteria. The free press, conceived as protectors of dissent and a marketplace of creative ideas, has devolved into just a marketplace of shabby commercialism. Since first discovered by Hearst and Pulitzer to be a profitable consumable, the News Business, pandering to the lowest tastes regarding crime, scandal, or salable issues, is an industry captured by the compulsion to SELL, not to inform.
We had the hope that public education, free to everyone, would insure that all the people would be able to recognize the bullshit. But we are failing miserably, even to insure basic literacy. Educators focus on giving information (data, bullshit) rather than teaching how to sort it out. There are so many people to process and so much bullshit to plow through that teachers become buried under it and eventually give up or become part of the bureaucracy that cultivates bullshit for a living.
The result is a public mired in cynicism and apathy. Most people don’t bother to vote, too discouraged by the weight of bullshit. Those who do vote, increasingly and understandably, do so to express a narrow self-interest — an issue or small constellation of related issues they perceive as relevant to their lives — and even then, are easily manipulated into buying bullshit.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
(2)The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a Virginia court’s ruling that an anonymous tip about a supposed drunk driver could not justify a police traffic stop of the car unless the police themselves saw the car do something suspicious. Justice Roberts issued a vigorous dissent, arguing, among other things, that the evil of drunk driving justifies the police action. He wrote: "The effect of [this] rule will be to grant drunk drivers 'one free swerve' before they can be pulled over by the police... It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check." Roberts noted that hotlines and other services encouraged the public to report suspected drunk drivers.
I thought Roberts was supposed to be one of those “conservative” judges who show “judicial restraint” as opposed to those “liberal judicial activists” on the bench who bend their interpretation of the law to conform to their personal preferences. He would never be “result oriented,” would he?
(3)The stock market rebound to above 10,000 has T.V. pundits scratching their wooden heads. How can this be, they whine, when unemployment is at 10% and other signs of the recession persist? They never read their Milton Friedman, the father of neo-conservative economics. When a recession comes, businesses wisely lay off workers to reduce costs. It is the excuse they need to do what they should have done during good times. Now, business improves (meaning bottom lines show net profits because of reduced costs), and it would be foolish to rehire workers, especially at the old hourly rates. Having been squeezed for more than a year, any worker re-hired would be glad to take a huge cut in pay and benefits.
(4)And speaking of benefits. I thought that the main benefit of a universal health care plan was supposed to be to remove the burden from business, as most of the industrialized nations of the world have done for generations and which even the “less civilized” nations of the emerging world recognize as necessary. Once government takes over the job of insuring health care, American businesses can compete with foreign companies. Wasn’t that supposed to be the prime argument — the unified field theory — that cemented the economy’s recovery with health care? Why haven’t I heard that argument made forcefully to support the “public option”?
Sunday, October 18, 2009
But it is one of the many curses of long life that I must remember that these shining moments are all too brief and that the shine is easily and quickly tarnished.
The reality is that the default position for the American electorate is stasis; i.e., resistance to real change. The nature of our politics is that elections are decided by a small percentage of voters - so-called swing voters because they have no ideological or party loyalty. Rather, they sway from left to right to middle, easily manipulated by events, rhetoric, rumor, always motivated by fear.
Obama’s brief shining moment, his Golden Age, may be one of the shortest ever. FDR’s lasted about four years (1933 through 1936); LBJ’s two years (1965 and 1966).
If the health care law turns out to be a disappointment, meaning that (1) it fails to provide universal coverage, (2) seems to be a boondoggle to the insurance companies, and (3) is perceived to be too costly for most people, and if unemployment continues to rise or seems to be stagnant, the midterm election of 2010 may bring an end to any possible alteration of the status quo.
I well remember the 1960's, an era which - to this current generation - stands mostly for excessive optimism and bad hair. The notion that spiritual enlightenment was achievable through individual or collective shortcuts such as drugs, meditation, rock and roll, or free love is rightly viewed as a ridiculous illusion.
But that is not the 60's that I best remember. Another side of the optimistic urge for change manifested in more rational but no less hopeful attempts at leaps of progress. The United States Supreme Court, an institution which for most of our history has been a powerful force against even incremental change, for the blink of an eye under Chief Justice Earl Warren, carried the struggle for societal progress, with revolutionary decisions that enforced racial equality, ensured the separation of church and state, and gave new meaning to the Bill of Rights, especially the often neglected minority protections, the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments. It has taken the powers of reaction 40 years to unravel the framework the Warren Court constructed.
In the middle of the decade, political winds gathered to create a perfect storm of progress that had not been equaled since 1933. After the death of JFK, the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, the most ideological and polarizing candidate possible. LBJ won a strong mandate and used his unique position as a Southerner with a congressional expertise to pass the Civil Rights Act, the most important racial equality law passed since Reconstruction.
In 1965, LBJ pushed through the Congress the experiment in socialized medicine called Medicare. He followed this with the most optimistic set of programs since the New Deal: his War on Poverty, a constellation of programs designed to directly aid the poor. It included Head Start, the Job Corps, food stamps, and was credited with reducing the percent of families below the poverty line to the lowest it had ever been.
Of course, LBJ soon trashed all the possibilities for progress with his tragic Vietnam policy. Most of his programs were quickly dismantled with the rise of Milton Friedman, resulting in deregulation, reliance on so-called “free markets”, the decline of trade unionism, and “trickle down economics.”
Beginning in the disastrous year of 1968, the Democratic Party began a rapid decline. Progressivism (poisonously labeled “Liberal”) became a dirty word, rejected by the two successful presidential candidates, both right of center Southern governors, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Both tried to meld a few social policies that were mildly progressive with economic policies that co-opted moderate Republican positions. Both abetted the erosion of Constitutional freedoms, supporting laws that expanded the police power of the government. Carter began the rush to deregulation; Clinton raised campaign fundraising to an art, surpassed Republicans in pandering to corporate lobbyists with the resulting policies that declared “the era of big government was over” and abetting a free market boom that laid the groundwork for Bush’s subsequent rape of the middle class and the crash of our entire economy.
The election of 2008 at first presented a mirror image of the 1968 election. This time, it was the Republican candidate who was saddled with the legacy of disaster by his party’s president. The difference was that this Democrat presented a literal face of change in the most obvious sense. Yet, in a sense, this was an illusion. Oddly, Barack Obama resembles JFK in this way. His personal image wreaks of change, but his politics is actually less radical than his image.
Obama’s overwhelming victory, which dragged in Democratic majorities in both houses of congress, was another illusion. The apparent “mandate for change” neglected to consider the realities, particularly of Democratic party politics. Clinton democrats really control the Senate, with “Blue Dogs”, or heirs of the Democratic Leadership Council, whose politics are barely distinguishable from Republicans.
The lack of difference between the parties has been decried by many observers, cited as responsible for cynicism or apathy among the electorate. Contrary to the wishes of many, Obama is not the massiah of liberalism. He is a Centrist, who learned the lessons taught by Clinton in the 1990's regarding radical social issues. He will be satisfied with a health care bill that passes, whether or not it contains a “public option,” and whether or not it provides universal coverage. He will claim victory and make the best argument he can for the practical need for compromise in order to achieve “progress,” no matter how imperfect.
And he will be right.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
It is hard to realize that Morris lived for another 55 years after moving to America.
Learning another new language - Morris was in his 40's - Morris got jobs painting houses in the new developments in the San Fernando Valley.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Much of the debate seems to center on the mythical ideological division between Liberals and Conservatives about issues of Big Government versus Free Market Private Enterprise.
The President is having a hard time getting his way because Senate rules and traditions conspire to demand 60 votes (rather that the supposedly democratic majority principle, which would seem to call for no more than 51).
This mundane but annoying historical fact is infuriating to Obama supporters from The Left who took literally the concept that his overwhelming election victory (with coattails of Democrat control of both Houses of Congress) would mean sweeping reforms were possible.
It turns out that Republicans can exert power (mostly the power of veto) by coalescing with a mere handful of Democrats who got elected (or are awaiting election in the next cycle) by constituencies that are far more skeptical of Obama’s call for Change.
These Blue Dog Democrats are carry overs from the Clinton era - barely distinguishable from Republicans on central policy issues, especially when labeled Big Government. Clinton’s declaration in 1994 that "the era of BG was over" is still their mantra.
So I listen all day to this debate about Big Government and whether any national health care system, and especially one with a public option is Socialism or whether the health care companies will be priced out of business by the unfair competition that the government option entails. Ironically, from the other side of their mouths, the same people who argue that government will outcompete private companies also argue that government is too incompetent to be trusted with health care - ignoring the example of Medicare, which works and which they also opposed.
Then the other night I watched a Ken Burns documentary about our National Park System, subtitled: "America’s Best Idea".
It tells the story of how millions of acres of wilderness were preserved from development. Contrary to all logic and history, at the end of the 19th Century, after two hundred years of brutal exploitation and slaughter of billions of animals, the rape of forests, rivers, natural resources of all kinds, and the genocide of the Native Americans who had resided on the land, suddenly it was decided to set aside these certain lands, to keep them free from development, and to protect their pristine existence at any cost.
The people who decided to do this were those who had gorged themselves on the frontier, become wealthy and fat and bloated during the feast. They were of the era of "Manifest Destiny", "rugged individualism", free market Capitalism at its most free. They were the believers in these principles as philosophy, politics, religious theory.
Yet they were persuaded to wipe the blood from their mouths and let some part of their prey live.
The Icon of the era was the young Theodore Roosevelt. A self-made epitome of the "rugged individualist" and proud hunter and killer of all things wild, he was also an intellectual, lover of the West and all its mythologies, and a collector. More importantly, his wealth was Old, not dependent on ravaging the wilderness or pillaging the vanishing frontier. He had the sense of "Noblesse Oblige" that has marked several of the American families that have established themselves as practitioners of a form of philanthropy that considers the "public good."
As president, of course, TR gave his class a good thrashing, busting trusts, pushing through Progressive Era reforms, and insuring permanence to the national parks system. He was the most "Active" of Government activists; he bullied the monied interests of Capital by steamrolling them with Big Stick Government. He was justifiably called "socialist" by his snarling enemies, the J.P. Morgans, who were appalled by his use of their government to whip them.
Sure, the national parks equate to socialism - the government withholding land from private exploitation in order to satisfy the needs of The People and their descendants.
I guess a health care system can’t be defined the same way.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Then they come around to stick you in other veins in order to draw blood for testing. This is done at the apex of inconvenience: when you have finally dozed off, or when you have managed the pain of the everpresent I/V needle.
And then it so happens that I have an apparently genetic problem that the nurses call "Rolling Veins". My mother and sister shared this trait. The vein walls are particularly firm, and when the needle tries to enter, the vein rolls away and resists puncturing. This is very painful as the nurse jabs, prods, pokes. Blood clots under the skin form and throb.
So it is with this vivid memory that I read today of the attempted lethal injection execution of a murderer in Ohio. For almost two and a half hours, the workers (I won't call them doctors or nurses) tried to find a vein that would accept the cocktail of drugs that were intended to kill this guy.
Finally Ohio's governor called Time Out and rescheduled the execution for a week later. Cries of "double jeopardy" and "cruel and unusual punishment" are likely to fail, although the status of lethal injection as a "humane" form of execution is likely to suffer some humiliation.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
So anyway, I had a little bit of cancer. They tell me it is gone now and not to worry, it will probably not come back - at least not in the place it showed its ugly face, because that place doesn't exist anymore in my body. They threw that out and everything else that surrounded it, leaving that portion of my guts with some vacancies that they filled up with some other spare parts that they moved in.
That's as near as I can come to explaining it. Something of a medical marvel, it seems, I was chosen to be part of an academic program to prove the efficacy of this particular procedure: a robotic laparascopic radical cystectomy. Luckily for me, the doctors at USC all seem to have been paying attention in class when this subject was discussed. From top (Dr. Gill and Dr. Skinner) to the residents (Dr. Patil and Dr. Chin) and the nursing staff at USC Hospital and the Norris Center, were spectacularly on top of their game.
So, now I am in recovery mode. How long? Well, a nurse said a rule of thumb was one month for each hour of surgery in order to be at full strength. I am told I was on the table for 9 and a half hours.
There are things I have to learn to do all over again. Things that I have been taking for granted have to become concentrated tasks. But that's okay. It's only a nuisance, sometimes embarrassing. Dignity is one of the first victims, and to tell the truth, I never felt very dignified anyway.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I don't know if Mr. Borenstein is a relation. It apparently was not an uncommon name in Eastern Europe, along with the many variations ... Bernstein, Bornstein ... etc.
But this one was particularly interesting because of the additional coincidence that Izak Borenstein was born in Radom, a city in Poland which happens to be the home town of Bijou's father, Morris Trukenberg, who is still alive at age 96.
The part of Izak Borenstein's story that my sister noted is this:
"My brother told me that after I left Radom for Russia at the beginning of the war, the Germans had come looking for me. When they couldn't find me, they looked up another Jewish boy who lived near us who had the same name as I did-- Borenstein. We were not exactly friends, but we knew each other. The Germans came to my house looking for me, but since they could not find me, they looked him up. They took him out and shot him by the door of his house. A Borenstein is a Borenstein. Can you imagine? I do not know if I feel guilty. It is hard to talk about this. It hurts."
I don't know if Morris knew Izak Borenstein or the Borenstein that was murdered in his place. Morris' memory is now locked deep within and no longer accessible.
Friday, August 07, 2009
I reported the later -- almost as wierd -- events which involved me in the habeas corpus proceedings many years after the murder, in which the convicted son tried to prove his innocence and I was enlisted to give my testimony.
Now, 26 years after the conviction, a Los Angeles federal district court judge finally ordered a retrial or dismissal in the case, according to today's L.A. Times.
It may not, however, be the end of the story. The L.A. D.A. has the option of re-trying the matter and a spokesperson has indicated a willingness to do so. If I had to bet, my money would be on a re-trial, if for no other reason than that the reversal was partly based on police misconduct and that implies besmirching the L.A.P.D. and exposes the city to possible restitution to the wrongfully convicted "victim", to compensate him for his life spent in hell.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I was raised with stories about life on the streets that Greg will soon become familiar with: Eldridge, Orchard, Delancey, Rivington, Houston (pronounced “House-ton” in those parts) and The Bowery. Tin Pan Alley songwriters of my mother’s age wrote scores of pop tunes about the neighborhood, songs about “Second Hand Rose from 2nd Avenue”, and “It’s very fancy / On old Delancey Street you know” ... And tell me what street / Compares with Mott Street in July / Pushcarts gently rolling by”.
In the almost 100 years since my mother’s infancy, the tenements have changed hands and tunes many times, the street smells changing from garlic and paprika to chili peppers and cilantro. I’ve heard that a sort of gentrification has beun to alter the mood again, though it retains its diversity and all that goes with it, good and bad.
Unlike urban sprawls like L.A. which consist of miles of suburban areas linked by freeways, New York City neighborhoods are measured in square blocks, not square miles. They are often pockets of perhaps a block or two square. Walk around the corner from tenements and pushcarts and you may find a street or avenue with awnings and doormen, Mercedes at curbside, poodles on leashes.
If he walks west and south on Houston, he’ll find himself in SoHo, among the lofts that rapidly evolved from warehouses, to artists’ studios to high priced homes.
When Greg walks a few blocks further north and west, he will pass the house where my brother had an apartment in the early 1960's, a 5th floor walkup on E. 11th Street near 3rd Avenue. He later lived in one of those houses with a doorman, East 9th and Broadway, round the corner from the West Village.
Greenwich Village may be the most famous neighborhood in American pop culture. Washington Square, The Mews, Bleeker Street, and MacDougal, where Bob Dylan first sang for quarters in the Café Wha? [Chronicles, Volume 1, Bob Dylan, p. 9.] where he writes that he waited to meet Dave Van Ronk. “Once on a cold winter day near Thompson and 3rd, in a flurry of light snow when the feeble sun was filtering through the haze, I saw him walking toward me in a frosty silence.” [Id., p16.]
In those days, The Beats still thrived. Their self-proclaimed poets along with the new aspirants to pop celebrity, the Folkies, occupied the cafés and clubs during the days, giving way to the hip young comics, who brought in paying customers: Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers.
The Minnesota kid Dylan describes noting that Café Bizarre was housed in a building that once served as Aaron Burr’s stable. I hope Greg will explore as Dylan did.
“New York City was cold, muffled and mysterious, the capital of the world. On 7th Avenue I passed the building where Walt Whitman had lived and worked. I paused momentarily imagining him printing away and singing the true song of his soul. I had stood outside of Poe’s house on 3rd Street, too, and had done the same thing, staring mournfully up at the windows. The city was like some uncarved block without any name or shape and it showed no favoritism. Everything was always new, always changing... [¶] The whole city was dangling in front of my nose. I had a vivid idea of where everything was. The future was nothing to worry about. It was awfully close.” [Id., p.103-104.]
So right, Greg.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I see a lesson in a sporting event which was televised this weekend. Tom Watson, at the ancient age of 59, lost golf’s British Open by one stroke, missing a ten foot putt on the 72nd hole. The grueling four day event in the chill Scottish coastal winds produced the kind of drama that scripted shows strive for. It was what reality shows so pitifully contrive to create.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
I wrote: "The true Conservative is skeptical of governmental power over the individual and seeks to restrain its use. The most power a government wields, short of the ability to wage war, is the police power to incarcerate and execute individuals. I fight for the rights of the individual against the power of the government. That makes me a conservative."
Now I have found confirmation of that view from an unexpected source. The Death Penalty Information Center recently reprinted an op-ed piece written by Richard Viguerie, who is described as "one of the architects of" the Conservative movement. Viguerie has been credited as one of the most important activists on The Christian Right, having organized massive fund raising efforts for conservative causes and candidates from religious conservatives. His efforts resulted in the swing to the right for the past twenty years.
Although that trend has resulted in re-invigoration of support for capital punishment over that time, Viguerie has now decided to speak out AGAINST the death penalty. His reasons, as revealed in his op-ed piece, originally published in the Christian conservative Sojourners Magazine, are spot on.
When Governments Kill
A conservative argues for abolishing the death penalty.
by Richard A. Viguerie.
... I’m a Catholic. Because of my Christian faith, and because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I oppose the death penalty. I’m a conservative as well, and because my political philosophy recognizes that government is too often used by humans for the wrong ends, I find it quite logical to oppose capital punishment.
I have been criticized by some conservatives for my opposition to the death penalty. On the other hand, some conservatives have told me they question capital punishment or even oppose it, but believe that the conservative "position" is to support it. Fortunately for me, even if someone were to question my conservative bona fides (I’ve never been called not conservative enough, trust me), I wouldn’t care.
The fact is, I don’t understand why more conservatives don’t oppose the death penalty. It is, after all, a system set up under laws established by politicians (too many of whom lack principles); enforced by prosecutors (many of whom want to become politicians—perhaps a character flaw?—and who prefer wins over justice); and adjudicated by judges (too many of whom administer personal preference rather than the law).
Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone’s life. In other words, it’s a government system that kills people.
Those of us who oppose abortion believe that it is perhaps the greatest immorality to take an innocent life. While the death penalty is supposed to take the life of the guilty, we know that is not always the case. It should have shocked the consciences of conservatives when various government prosecutors withheld exculpatory, or opposed allowing DNA-tested, evidence in death row cases. To conservatives, that should be deemed as immoral as abortion.
The death penalty system is flawed and untrustworthy because human institutions always are. But even when guilt is certain, there are many downsides to the death penalty system. I’ve heard enough about the pain and suffering of families of victims caused by the long, drawn-out, and even intrusive legal process. Perhaps, then, it’s time for America to re-examine the death penalty system, whether it works, and whom it hurts.
On how society would ever get to the point of abolishing the death penalty, if it were to do that, I have my conservative views. It must be done in a way consistent with our constitutional system. That means it cannot be imposed by the courts or by the federal government (except for federal cases). In my opinion, the Constitution does not grant the federal government the authority to ban the death penalty in the states. That must be left to the people’s representatives in their respective states, which also means that judges must not take it upon themselves.
This is why I am joining my friend Jim Wallis in a coalition of liberals and conservatives calling for a national moratorium and conversation about the death penalty, so people can study, learn, think, pray if they wish, about whether or how the various state death-penalty systems should be changed. I hope you’ll join us."
(R. Viguerie, "When Governments Kill," Sojourners Magazine, July 2009). See New Voices and Religion.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Today, a related article caught my attention. Five American soldiers were convicted of executing four Iraqi men who had been detained after weapons were found where the men had been hiding. The members of the squad lined up the detainees and shot them. They confessed that the killings were in retaliation for the killing of two American soldiers from their unit.
The soldiers were sentenced to life WITH the possibility of parole. After receiving many supporting letters from relatives and neighbors of the soldiers, "a brigadier general" reduced the sentence of one of the soldiers to "20 years with parole eligibility after 7 years." A clemency board may reduce it yet further if it finds mitigation based on combat stresss and facts showing that he was "following the lead of" higher ranking officers.
In a non-related story in the same issue, California death penalty opponents are reportedly urging that commuting current death verdicts to life without parole would save $1 billion. There are currently 682 death row inmates.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I gave many examples, like leaving a wallet at the scene of the crime ... and then reporting it stolen. I now have a case that ranks close to the top. My client, after being questioned by police and jailed, called his girlfriend. During the call he made incriminating statements, despite a loudly intrusive recording that blared every 60 seconds that warned speakers that such calls are monitored and taped.
In my post, I noted that people - not just our clients - act contrary to their best interests so often that it can be called the norm, not an aberration. In fact, supposedly smart people - like Bill Clinton and Dick Nixon - commit reckless acts that satisfy immediate urges without considering the consequences. The drive for sex, money, power and other elemental desires often overwhelms caution, reason, or religious teachings - uh, abusing priests, q.e.d.
Today’s L.A. Times contains an article that confirms my thesis. Discussing South Carolina Mark Sanford’s revelations, the article notes:
"Experts have all kinds of theories about why otherwise intelligent men -- and it's almost always men -- behave so recklessly. Sex and power are inextricably intertwined, as Henry Kissinger famously noted, and some politicians have a hard time reining in the urge for either. ‘If you're one of these Master of the Universe kind of guys, you get to a place where you feel that the rules don't apply to you,’ said Pepper Schwartz, a University of
Washington sociologist who specializes in relationships.
"Frank Farley, a Temple University psychologist, even coined a term -- the ‘Type T personality’ -- to describe politicians' predilection for philandering. The "T" stands for thrill-seeker, which describes the kind of person drawn to a career that, by its nature, requires a willingness to step out of ordinary life and take risks."‘It's not a 9-to-5 job,’ said Farley, a former president of the merican Psychological Assn. who has extensively studied politicians' behavior. ‘It has very high levels of uncertainty, variety, novelty, challenge, unpredictability -- and therefore it attracts a certain kind of person.’ The positive side of that risk-taking is a willingness to expose oneself to that most public of examinations: an election campaign. The downside, Farley said, is relenting to personal urges, like drugs, alcohol or an extramarital dalliance.
"‘It's almost built into their personalities,’ he said of many officeholders. ‘Put it together with the opportunities they have, and we should not be shocked when we see it happening.’ "Why the risk? ‘It's hard to understand this if you have not been in passionate love, and it's particularly intense when it's star-crossed,’ Schwartz said. ‘You are pumping adrenaline, testosterone and dopamine -- it's a drug cocktail; you are
intoxicated. And you know what kind of decision we make when we are intoxicated.’"
Friday, June 19, 2009
Many states have fashioned procedures for such post conviction testing. Alaska is not one of them. Their high court denied his request in 2001. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a 5-4 opinion upholding the denial. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority. He could find no provision in the Constitution that mentioned the right to a DNA test. As an example of the philosophy of judicial restraint, he suggested that this was an issue that state legislatures are better able to address. He was joined by Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy (the so-called swing vote).
Justice Stevens dissented, finding it outrageous that a man must serve a life sentence when there is a means of proving or disproving his guilt which is available, cheap, and certain. And, oh yeah, isn’t there a provision called the 14th Amendment which guarantees "due process"? He was joined by Ginsberg, Breyer and Souter, who filed as separate dissenting opinion - differing from the other dissenters in the issue of how broad a "right" should be.
The case presents a fairly clear example of what is at stake in the selection of Supreme Court justices. The trenches are deep and apparent: judicial restraint vs. judicial activism. The issue: is there a court of last resort when an injustice is ignored by legislatures and state courts?
To be clear, before trial, an accused has a recognized right to access of the evidence to test it. That right was recognized long ago by the same Supreme Court (in Brady v. Maryland). Also, during post-conviction habeas corpus proceeding, most states and federal courts authorize appointment of experts for DNA testing. State rules about these processes vary greatly - most impose nearly insurmountable obstacles to overturn convictions.
The fact is that the legal system is psychologically defensive about admitting its possible errors. The tradition and bias is to favor closure over certainty. Conservative jurists wax eloquently about the need for finality in the system. Public opinion generally concurs - how many times have you heard the media decry the "endless appeals" by prisoners alleging "technicalities" and using "legal tricks" to overturn convictions?
In the 90's, Congress passed legislation (with President Clinton’s support) limiting access to habeas corpus post-convictions appeals. We are now living with the effects of that misguided law. To date, more than 200 guilty verdicts have been proven by DNA evidence to have been wrong. Many of those innocent people had been condemned to death or life sentences.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
This comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the precepts of Borenstein's Law. Since most criminals do not think far enough ahead to anticipate the consequences of their crimes, they cannot be deterred from committing them. To qualify for the penalty, the law doesn't even distinguish between people who kill intentionally, recklessly, negligently or accidentally during while committing other felonies.
The law often uses concepts like "the reasonable person", foreseeability, "natural and probable consequences" and other general notions related to the traditional requirements of culpable mental states. These legal fictions impute to human beings rational thought processes that rarely apply in real life and death situations.
The typical homicidal person is an impulsive risk taker whose anticipation of results extends only to the immediate goal of revenge, hatred, fear, lust, rage, escape, or greed.
When "use a gun, go to prison" was implemented, not one potential robber declined the chance to rob because of the inevitable punishment awaiting. Nor did any robber decide to rob without using a gun for the very logical reason that robberies are easier to complete when a gun is used.
Of course, as prison sentences for robbers became pervasive and lengthy, the prisons began to fill. Subsequent laws imposing prison sentences for a wide variety for felons - including small time drug users and dealers, petty thieves with felon histories - filled the prisons to bursting. These laws did deter these people from committing crimes, at least while they were incarcerated. In that sense, such laws did deter, but at enormous cost and in the least efficient way a civilized nation could imagine.
Those who argue for death as a deterrent to future crime are right in arguing that the person executed will not commit another crime, but the same could be said of a life prisoner. Jurors get this idea. When given a choice of life without parole, juries rarely impose death sentences.
The deterrence argument is complicated by the proven fact that predictions of future dangerousness, whether made by criminologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, police officers, prosecutors, judges, prison officials, or parole boards, are totally unreliable. Long term studies have shown that such predictions are no better than those made by a coin toss.
Nonetheless, our society makes policy in this area without regard to the facts. Influenced by anecdotal cases of recidivist horrors reported by media and vengeance seeking victims advocate groups, the law is made from the same motivations as those that impel the killers it targets: revenge, hatred, fear, rage - certainly not the acts of the "reasonable person".
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
The flaw of this philosophy is that it can easily lead to indecision, timidity, and a loss of confidence. Weak compromises are tempting when the risks are great. Uncertainty leads to failure and depression.
Barack Obama, by education and inclination, is a principled centrist. His legal education, which suited his innate propensities, prepared him well for effective advocacy. The first attribute of the lawyerly approach is the ability to see all sides of a question. The second is the exercise of judgments based on reason and evidence rather than faith and ideology.
The term itself is an oxymoron in presidential politics. The centrist is wedded to no firm ideology that huge numbers of people can identify with. It is historically rare to satisfy enough of the people enough of the time from the middle of the road.
The centrist is not an ideologue, except to moderation. Idealogues have a rigid vision, a religious faith in their righteousness. Moderation and consensus are lukewarm ideals. Neither notion stirs passion.
Ronald Reagan’s simple ideology allowed him to be certain and clear about every issue: lower taxes, secure defense, less government, American domination of foreign affairs, strict Christian morality and adherence to normative lifestyles. A centrist cannot be sure about any of these things, is sometimes for some of them, against some at some other times. He is a relativist - his motto must be "It depends." His survival depends on compromise.
A principled centrist in American politics is, by definition, in trouble. First, he states his principles, then is forced to compromise them. Bill Clinton’s adventure with the health care issue in the 1990's is a cautionary tale. He stated a principle: universal coverage. Eventually, he had to temporize, and was seen as weak, the inevitable risk of centrists. The result: his leadership coinage dissipated. He could not fall back on the moral leverage of ideology, had no constant constituency on left or right.
Obama has advantages Clinton never had. Times have changed. In 1993, Clinton’s "mandate for change" was tenuous at best. G.H.W. Bush had alienated a chunk of the Reagan coalition - the middle right - with higher taxes and a weak economy. Because Clinton was a "new" Democrat, based on a sensible, more conservative model, who shied from liberal doctrine, he was positioned as non-threatening. On the left, he was pictured as youthful, a JFK disciple, compassionate, with a feminist wife - a guy of the sixties, who had matured to moderate progressivism. Many "boomers" could identify with that beause they had moved that way as well.
The two-faced picture was enough to gain him a slim plurality in a three way race. Perot's candidacy made it clear that the only consensus in the public mind was that government was distrusted, and that the majority of voters were slightly to the right of center. But that is where the consensus ended.
There was no singleness of mind in the public for where it wanted a president to go. There was no mandate for any particular change. Clinton thought it was there for health care reform, fooled by the fact that he spoke about it in his speeches and he was elected. But the public was never fully committed to it, and was easily swayed by fears of expense and bureaucratic incompetence. In this as in every other issue the people wanted reform, but didn’t want to pay for it: crime, the economy, services, campaign reform. The public was schizophrenic: apathetic and impatient at the same time.
When the Republicans reclaimed the Congress in 1994 with a severe ideological conservative agenda, it forced Clinton the centrist to waffle to the right. The lesson was clear: a centrist may only succeed as a progressive leader if the public is ready to be led and only then by a leader who is perceived as a hero without baggage.
The commentators of the time blamed Clinton for a lack of leadership. The great leader defines the issues and unifies the people behind him. That Clinton failed to do. What he was forced to do is what a centrist does best: react to the extremes of left and right. He must be the captain of a sailing ship, tacking left and right but steering the middle. Clinton’s political acumen was such that he was able to survive well enough to be re-elected and, despite his tragic personal flaws, his presidency is now remembered as a time of peace and prosperity.
Obama’s advantage is that the crises caused by the failure of G.W. Bush’s failure, which is ascribed rightly to the flaw of rigid ideological governance, have forced public opinion to coalesce into a coherent consensus for change - not necessarily "radical" change, but at least, meaningful reform.
The last time that happened was in 1964, when L.B.J. took advantage of his opponent’s extreme conservatism, to form a strong coalition for social change. He succeeded in passing meaningful civil rights reform and programs that began a "war on poverty", only to self-immolate over Viet-Nam.
F.D.R. is probably the better model for Obama. F.D.R. was (and still is) perceived as a decisive leader because his motto was "do anything, but do something". He was able to take chances because the public of the time was willing to be led - almost anywhere. The times were that bad. His one principle was that government had to put people back to work. Everything he proposed, supported, persuaded, was directed toward that goal. He had many detractors from the left and right, but he had such a convincing presence to a people desperate for charismatic leadership that he prevailed and is revered as a great leader. He formed his consensus from huge chunks of the public: union members (in a time of solidly unified, active and powerful unions), Southern poor, the unemployed (25% unemployment in the depths of the depression) and the educated un-rich.
The Obama constituency is similarly broad: the educated and hopeful young, aspiring Hispanics and proud African-Americans, depressed boomers. Like F.D.R., he benefits from a bankrupt and disillusioned opposition party.
The fatal flaw of ideological and faith based governance is that when exposed as false by incontrovertible evidence it collapses. The strength of principled centrism is that its flexibility and foundation of moderation and reliance on evidence permit fine-tuning alterations without conceding defeat.
In the view of many historians, FDR’s policies failed to end the Depression because they were not radical enough. His centrism was a flaw, led to inconsistent contradictory policies. He wavered from his initial policy of governmental activism, caving to budget balancing contraction of spending, overly fearful of the political consequences of huge deficits. He was saved by the war which reinvigorated the broad consensus and commitment to action.
Obama, the principled centrist, walks the dangerous tightrope, his only net is his legal background.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Opponents of Prop. 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative, have suddenly discovered the flaws in the Initiative process. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, bloggers and commentators interested in gay rights are shocked by the ease with which perceived "individual rights" of minorities can be extinguished by the majority of voters.
They shouldn’t have been surprised. This has been happening for a long time. The voters have had many chances to show their contempt for individual liberties.
The difference is that a powerful and vocal constituency now see themselves as the victims of the process. A smaller, less powerful interest group, those concerned with the rights of criminal defendants, have whimpered in this wilderness for many years.
It is only a slight stretch to compare this attitude with the lesson derived from Christian disinterest in the fate of disappearing Jews in Nazi Germany ... you know, "when they came for the Jews, I didn't care because I was not a Jew ... now when they come for me, there is no one to complain..."
In 1982, the voters understandably passed a measure ironically titled "Victim’s Bill of Rights", which amended Article I of California’s constitution, reversing a generation of court rulings that "favored" criminal defendants. It included a broad wish list designed by frustrated prosecutors - limiting California courts to minimal federal rules of evidence, especially relating to 4th Amendment issues; requiring "truth-in-evidence" to prevent judges from excluding evidence prejudicial to defendants, such as prior crimes; eliminated the defense of "diminished capacity", returning the law relating to mental illness to the 18th century definition of insanity; purporting to restrict plea bargaining.
In 1990, Proposition 115, the "Crime Justice Reform Act", also called the "Speedy Trial Initiative", authored by a L.A. deputy District Attorney (Sterling Ernie Norris) and the state D.A. association, tilted the playing field further toward the prosecution. Hearsay was permitted in preliminary hearings, defendants were forced to disclose their defenses, among other "reforms."
Now, Chief Justice Ron George, writing for the 6-1 majority of the California Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of the the anti-gay marriage initiative which the voters passed in 2008, has implied that he and his brethren have serious misgivings about the ease with which California’s constitution can be altered. In a fine example of the philosophy of judicial restraint, George and his cohorts claim to set aside their qualms and "personal opinions" and decided the case solely on "the law."
The nation’s founding fathers wisely made the process of amending the federal constitution resistant to momentary moods of the majority, requiring super majorities in Congress, or unwieldy constitutional conventions, ratification by two thirds of the states, a lengthy process that insures thorough vetting. Even so, mistakes have been made, Prohibition being the most notorious example.
In the Progressive Era of the early 1900's, Senator Hiram Johnson championed direct democracy as an end run around corrupt state legislatures, which were in bondage to hide bound big business interests which regularly squelched reform measures. Recall, referendum, and initiative were intended to redress the perceived flaws in the system, which impeded needed reforms to "liberalize" the society.
These days, the California legislature is totally constipated, hamstrung by other seemingly brilliant ideas swept in by the initiative process over the past thirty years - proposition 13 (the Jarvis Initiative, limiting increases in property taxes), term limits, and balanced budgets.
California’s Supreme Court used to be a respected protector of individual rights, its holdings followed by other courts around the country. Beginning in the 1970's and continuing today, advocates of "judicial restraint" and "strict constitutional interpretation" have forced the Court to retreat to a reactionary stance that has made the state comparable to, if not worse than, the most repressive states in the South, minimizing individual rights in favor of the will of the majority of the people.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The Right righteously demands a non-activist moderate instead of a radical liberal. Coming from the same shrill voices that applauded the nominations of Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts and Sam Alito, who were intended to and have tilted the Court sharply to the right for the coming decades, amounts to monumental chutzpah.
None of these men is moderate when it comes to the critical close calls (the 5-4 votes) on social issues that have the most impact on our country. On issues such as racial and gender equality, access to the courts, executive vs. legislative power, federalism, government vs. business interests, criminal rights, all four of these men always — I mean always — find rationales to serve their radical biased personal views against abortion but for capital punishment, against expansion of civil liberties and for expansion of corporate freedom, against regulation to redress inequality and for limiting access to justice for individuals.
They mouth the words of respect for precedent unless they can find intellectually dubious paths around it. They decry judicial activism that overturns laws that express the will of The People unless they disagree with such laws and can find excuses to overturn them by resorting to a strict construction of the Constitution.
Reaction from The Left has been predictably disorganized. The most vocal have been particular one issue interest groups : environment, labor, press and so on. The loudest voices have called for an "identity" choice, i.e, a woman, Hispanic, or other minority to make the Court look more like America – as if that is a good thing in and of itself.
My view is that choosing on those bases could be disastrous. Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor are examples. Single issue candidates might be just as bad. In my legal experience, for instance, those only interested in womens’ issues are often disinterested in criminal rights for others, especially where women are the perceived victims. The same is true about any single interest group.
On the other hand, Obama has made comments that might presage other problems. He wants someone who, though intelligently grounded in The Law, is also compassionate, possesses common sense, and understands the struggles of people in the real world. This scares the indignant intellects of The Right, who read liberal judicial activist into the definition.
It scares me for a different reason. I remember California’s recall of state Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Rose Bird, on the complaint that she and her allies on the Court imposed their personal views against capital punishment to overturn numerous death sentences. The recall campaign was actually funded by corporate interests that were more concerned with the Bird Court’s bias against them. A succession of conservative governors — Republican (Dukmejian and Wilson) and Democrat (Grey Davis) made appointments that turned the Court around. The result pleased corporate lawyers. The California Supreme Court now affirms virtually all death sentences, overtly favoring compassion for crime victims over the perceived sympathy for criminals of the previous Court. The conservative justices are no less result oriented than those they replaced. They just support their rulings with different reasons.
The lesson I learn reading these cases over the last thirty years is that "compassion" and "common sense" is just as subjective and useless a standard as "strict construction" and "judicial activism".
Obama’s dilemma is that he is intellectually honest, respectful of the Constitution, and a decent person. I fear that he will not be as ruthless in his choice as W. and his neo-cons were. Obama is not likely to insist on a litmus test that includes ideological orthodoxy. In other words, Obama will not choose someone as far to the Left as those chosen for the Right.
Pundits and Court historians like to observe that presidents have been often surprised and disappointed by their choices. True, Eisenhower regretted Warren, FDR regretted Frankfurter. But modern appointments have not provided such shocks. Vetting is much more thorough; no longer are justices seen as rewards for lengthy service. Disgusted by the Warren experience and Roe v. Wade, the Right has been vigilant about critical issues and disappointments have been rare exceptions. Nixon misfired on Blackmun and Powell, but he satisfied the Right with Renquist who Reagan elevated to Chief.
The truth is that Obama’s first choice — and any he is likely to make in this or his next term — are not likely to radically alter the Rightward lean of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future. Except for Scalia (73), the other sure reactionary votes are in their prime: Thomas (61), Alito (59), Roberts (54). John Paul Stevens (89), Ginsburg (76 , with cancer), and Breyer (71) make up the usual opposition to the four votes from the unified Right. Souter, now retired, sometimes joined the three moderates. The so-called swing vote is usually cast by Anthony Kennedy (73), a Reagan appointee.
So replacement of Souter with a certain vote on the Left will not change the Court’s math. But a mistaken choice — a stealth conservative on issues other than the one the judge has clearly in focus, a weak personality who cannot influence others on the Court, or an older person who will retire too soon — would be a tragedy.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
So why hasn’t there been an outcry from the pro-death crowd about the following case, reported today among the furniture ads in the L.A. Times?
A civil jury in Kentucky sentenced Steven Green, 24, a former American soldier, to life without parole, instead of death. The crime: In 2006, the soldier, along with other members of his squad, raped and then murdered a 14 year old Iraqi girl and then killed her, her mother and her 6 year old sister. They then burned down their house to cover up the crimes. Four other soldiers were given sentences ranging from 5 to 110 years.
Iraqis were incensed by the crimes and are furious about the lack of a death penalty. A tribal leader said it was the only way to vindicate "the honor of the family."
In July, 2007, Fox News reported the arrest of the soldier, noting that then Attorney General Gonzales intended to seek the death penalty and citing several mitigating factors in the soldier’s favor.
"Dozens were killed in the unit's yearlong deployment and half of the battalion, including Green, sought help for combat stress. An Associated Press investigation in January found that an Army psychiatry team diagnosed Green as a threat to Iraqi civilians four months before the rape and murders. According to military documents, Green was treated with drugs to regulate his mood before returning to duty in a violent stretch of desert in the southern Baghdad suburbs known as the "Triangle of Death."
Perhaps these were mitigating circumstances that the jury found sufficient to grant mercy. Maybe they considered the stress and fear of occupying a dangerous country in an unpopular war. Maybe the jurors suspected the girls of sympathy with terrorists. Or maybe the Kentucky jury valued the life of an American soldier more highly than Iraqi children.
But if there is a case in which the victim impact and deterrent effect of the death penalty would seem to apply, this should be it. According to the Times, "As much as any of the abuses known to have been committed by U.S. troops in Iraq, this crime has resonated in the [Iraqi] national consciousness for its brutality and callousness."
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I am afraid that he is fighting a losing battle to impose reason upon the political process. In this speech, he explained his policy regarding the disposition of inmates of Guantanamo Bay in the most rational and lawyerlike way.
He made the speech in the wake of growing hysteria from the left, right, and panicked politicians from his own party. The ACLU demands that the detainees deserve strict adherence to "due process" as defined in the Constitution; Dick Cheney and redneck talkradio demand that Guantanamo be converted into a permanent Devil’s Island; the Congress panders to hysteria anticipating release of terrorists into small town America.
Obama’s dilemma is the same that faced every responsible and intelligent president who could be called a principled centrist, that is, not an ideologue or simple-minded and cynical politician who designs policy based on polls and contributions. Lincoln was opposed by the "left" of his day (the radical abolitionists), accused of disloyalty to his base; and hated by "the right" as a tyrant depriving the South of liberty and property. FDR had the same problems - with his supporters as well as his enemies. Both made decisions which history has criticized as violations of Constitutional rights (Lincoln: suspension of Habeas Corpus, preventative detention of suspected spies and rebels; FDR: preventative detention of Nisei Japanese and other "aliens").
Treading a rational middle ground is dangerous. The middle of the road is no place for a sane person when traffic from either side is racing in panic toward you. If cutting the baby in half is just an expedient, forced by inability to take a principled position, the fence sitter will be justifiably wounded.
But a thorough examination of Obama’s speech proves that is not this case. Obama’s speech, when examined in its entirety, states a coherent argument for his policies about Guantanamo, terrorists, torture, release of torture photos, and transparency. What follows is the text of the substance of his speech, which was delivered in the Archives, where the founding documents of our nation are under glass.
At the outset, he stated his principles:
"I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -- these are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world.
"I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to these shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn their truths when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words -- "to form a more perfect union." I've studied the Constitution as a student, I've taught it as a teacher, I've been bound by it as a lawyer and a legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.
"I make this claim not simply as a matter of idealism. We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and it keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset -- in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval.
"Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.
"It's the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they'd receive better treatment from America's Armed Forces than from their own government.
"It's the reason why America has benefitted from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp, moral contrast with our adversaries.
"It's the reason why we've been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism and outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free peoples everywhere in the common cause and common effort of liberty.
"From Europe to the Pacific, we've been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and our institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology.
What went wrong:
"After 9/11, we knew that we had entered a new era -- that enemies who did not abide by any law of war would present new challenges to our application of the law; that our government would need new tools to protect the American people, and that these tools would have to allow us to prevent attacks instead of simply prosecuting those who try to carry them out.
"Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent.
"In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach -- one that rejected torture and one that recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
"Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass. And that's why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people.
Actions Obama has taken ... and why:
(1)"First, I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America. (Applause.)
"I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. (Applause.) What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts -- they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all. (Applause.)
"Now, I should add, the arguments against these techniques did not originate from my administration. As Senator McCain once said, torture "serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us." And even under President Bush, there was recognition among members of his own administration -- including a Secretary of State, other senior officials, and many in the military and intelligence community -- that those who argued for these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate, and the wrong side of history. That's why we must leave these methods where they belong -- in the past. They are not who we are, and they are not America.
(2)"The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. (Applause.)
"For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of military commissions that were in place at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setback after setback, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system. Meanwhile, over 525 detainees were released from Guantanamo under not my administration, under the previous administration. Let me repeat that: Two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo.
"There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. In fact, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law -- a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.
"So the record is clear: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That's why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign, and that is why I ordered it closed within one year.
(3)"The third decision that I made was to order a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo. I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we don't have the luxury of starting from scratch. We're cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess -- a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis, and it consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.
"Indeed, the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks here in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close Guantanamo. For example, the court order to release 17 Uighurs -- 17 Uighur detainees took place last fall, when George Bush was President. The Supreme Court that invalidated the system of prosecution at Guantanamo in 2006 was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents -- not wild-eyed liberals. In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place. (Applause.)
"Now let me be blunt. There are no neat or easy answers here. I wish there were. But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As President, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem. Our security interests will not permit us to delay. Our courts won't allow it. And neither should our conscience.
Response to the hysteria:
"Now, over the last several weeks, we've seen a return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years. I'm an elected official; I understand these problems arouse passions and concerns. They should. We're confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can face. But I have no interest in spending all of our time relitigating the policies of the last eight years. I'll leave that to others. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans.
"And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that, frankly, are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. So I want to take this opportunity to lay out what we are doing, and how we intend to resolve these outstanding issues. I will explain how each action that we are taking will help build a framework that protects both the American people and the values that we hold most dear. And I'll focus on two broad areas: first, issues relating to Guantanamo and our detention policy; but, second, I also want to discuss issues relating to security and transparency.
"Now, let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders -- namely, highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety.
"As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following face: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal, supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Republican Lindsey Graham said, the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.
"We are currently in the process of reviewing each of the detainee cases at Guantanamo to determine the appropriate policy for dealing with them. And as we do so, we are acutely aware that under the last administration, detainees were released and, in some cases, returned to the battlefield. That's why we are doing away with the poorly planned, haphazard approach that let those detainees go in the past. Instead we are treating these cases with the care and attention that the law requires and that our security demands.
Guantanamo detainees: 5 categories
"Now, going forward, these cases will fall into five distinct categories.
(1) First, whenever feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts -- courts provided for by the United States Constitution. Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and our juries, our citizens, are tough enough to convict terrorists. The record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center. He was convicted in our courts and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prisons. Zacarias Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker. He was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantanamo.
"Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee, al-Marri, in federal court after years of legal confusion. We're preparing to transfer another detainee to the Southern District Court of New York, where he will face trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania -- bombings that killed over 200 people. Preventing this detainee from coming to our shores would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do. (Applause.)
(2)"The second category of cases involves detainees who violate the laws of war and are therefore best tried through military commissions. Military commissions have a history in the United States dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War. They are an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war. They allow for the protection of sensitive sources and methods of intelligence-gathering; they allow for the safety and security of participants; and for the presentation of evidence gathered from the battlefield that cannot always be effectively presented in federal courts.
"Now, some have suggested that this represents a reversal on my part. They should look at the record. In 2006, I did strongly oppose legislation proposed by the Bush administration and passed by the Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework, with the kind of meaningful due process rights for the accused that could stand up on appeal.
"I said at that time, however, that I supported the use of military commissions to try detainees, provided there were several reforms, and in fact there were some bipartisan efforts to achieve those reforms. Those are the reforms that we are now making. Instead of using the flawed commissions of the last seven years, my administration is bringing our commissions in line with the rule of law. We will no longer permit the use of evidence -- as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods. We will no longer place the burden to prove that hearsay is unreliable on the opponent of the hearsay. And we will give detainees greater latitude in selecting their own counsel, and more protections if they refuse to testify. These reforms, among others, will make our military commissions a more credible and effective means of administering justice, and I will work with Congress and members of both parties, as well as legal authorities across the political spectrum, on legislation to ensure that these commissions are fair, legitimate, and effective.
(3)"The third category of detainees includes those who have been ordered released by the courts. Now, let me repeat what I said earlier: This has nothing to do with my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts have spoken. They have found that there's no legitimate reason to hold 21 of the people currently held at Guantanamo. Nineteen of these findings took place before I was sworn into office. I cannot ignore these rulings because as President, I too am bound by the law. The United States is a nation of laws and so we must abide by these rulings.
(4)"The fourth category of cases involves detainees who we have determined can be transferred safely to another country. So far, our review team has approved 50 detainees for transfer. And my administration is in ongoing discussions with a number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for detention and rehabilitation.
(5)"Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to be honest here -- this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We're going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.
"Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture -- like other prisoners of war -- must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.
"I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. And other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred. Our goal is not to avoid a legitimate legal framework. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so, going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.
"Now, as our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These are issues that are fodder for 30-second commercials. You can almost picture the direct mail pieces that emerge from any vote on this issue -- designed to frighten the population. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes. And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future.
"I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing. I am not the only person in this city who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution -- so did each and every member of Congress. And together we have a responsibility to enlist our values in the effort to secure our people, and to leave behind the legacy that makes it easier for future Presidents to keep this country safe.
Transparency - torture photos and memos:
"Now, let me touch on a second set of issues that relate to security and transparency.
"National security requires a delicate balance. One the one hand, our democracy depends on transparency. On the other hand, some information must be protected from public disclosure for the sake of our security -- for instance, the movement of our troops, our intelligence-gathering, or the information we have about a terrorist organization and its affiliates. In these and other cases, lives are at stake.
"Now, several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos issued by the previous administration's Office of Legal Counsel. I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, and I didn't release the documents because I rejected their legal rationales -- although I do on both counts. I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated makes no sense. We will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach. That approach is now prohibited.
"In short, I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to protect them. And the ensuing debate has helped the American people better understand how these interrogation methods came to be authorized and used.
"On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004. Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and they have been held accountable. There was and is no debate as to whether what is reflected in those photos is wrong. Nothing has been concealed to absolve perpetrators of crimes. However, it was my judgment -- informed by my national security team -- that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning, and inaccurate brush, thereby endangering them in theaters of war.
"In short, there is a clear and compelling reason to not release these particular photos. There are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm's way, and I have a solemn responsibility for their safety as Commander-in-Chief. Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm's way.
"Now, in the press's mind and in some of the public's mind, these two cases are contradictory. They are not to me.
"In each of these cases, I had to strike the right balance between transparency and national security. And this balance brings with it a precious responsibility. There's no doubt that the American people have seen this balance tested over the last several years. In the images from Abu Ghraib and the brutal interrogation techniques made public long before I was President, the American people learned of actions taken in their name that bear no resemblance to the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for. And whether it was the run-up to the Iraq war or the revelation of secret programs, Americans often felt like part of the story had been unnecessarily withheld from them. And that caused suspicion to build up. And that leads to a thirst for accountability.
"I understand that. I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. And that's why, whenever possible, my administration will make all information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued -- and I never will -- that our most sensitive national security matters should simply be an open book. I will never abandon -- and will vigorously defend -- the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war, to protect sources and methods, and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe.
"Here's the difference though: Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions -- by Congress or by the courts. We're currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers -- especially when it comes to sensitive administration -- information.
"Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the "state secrets" privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It's been used by many past Presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that's why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.
"And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.
"On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it's uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why. (Applause.)
"Now, in all the areas that I've discussed today, the policies that I've proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we've banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming military commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and we're narrowing our use of the state secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer, and more sustainable footing. Their implementation will take time, but they will get done.
"There's a core principle that we will apply to all of our actions. Even as we clean up the mess at Guantanamo, we will constantly reevaluate our approach, subject our decisions to review from other branches of government, as well as the public. We seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for addressing these issues in the long term -- not to serve immediate politics, but to do what's right over the long term. By doing that we can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my administration, my presidency, that endures for the next President and the President after that -- a legacy that protects the American people and enjoys a broad legitimacy at home and abroad.
Why not investigate & prosecute Bush policy makers:
"Now, this is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to actions of the last eight years, passions are high. Some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, in some cases debates that they have lost. I know that these debates lead directly, in some cases, to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an independent commission.
"I've opposed the creation of such a commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws or miscarriages of justice.
"It's no secret there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And it's no secret that our media culture feeds the impulse that lead to a good fight and good copy. But nothing will contribute more than that than a extended relitigation of the last eight years. Already, we've seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides to laying blame. It can distract us from focusing our time, our efforts, and our politics on the challenges of the future.
The Principled Centrist:
"We see that, above all, in the recent debate -- how the recent debate has obscured the truth and sends people into opposite and absolutist ends. On the one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and would almost never put national security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "Anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants -- provided it is a President with whom they agree.
"Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That's the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That's what makes the United States of America different as a nation.
"I can stand here today, as President of the United States, and say without exception or equivocation that we do not torture, and that we will vigorously protect our people while forging a strong and durable framework that allows us to fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law. Make no mistake: If we fail to turn the page on the approach that was taken over the past several years, then I will not be able to say that as President. And if we cannot stand for our core values, then we are not keeping faith with the documents that are enshrined in this hall.
"The Framers who drafted the Constitution could not have foreseen the challenges that have unfolded over the last 222 years. But our Constitution has endured through secession and civil rights, through World War and Cold War, because it provides a foundation of principles that can be applied pragmatically; it provides a compass that can help us find our way. It hasn't always been easy. We are an imperfect people. Every now and then, there are those who think that America's safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. And we hear such voices today. But over the long haul the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we've made our share of mistakes, required some course corrections, ultimately we have held fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength and a beacon to the world.
"Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can't count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and -- in all probability -- 10 years from now. Neither I nor anyone can stand here today and say that there will not be another terrorist attack that takes American lives. But I can say with certainty that my administration -- along with our extraordinary troops and the patriotic men and women who defend our national security -- will do everything in our power to keep the American people safe. And I do know with certainty that we can defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are, if we forge tough and durable approaches to fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals. "This must be our common purpose.
"I ran for President because I believe that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together. We will not be safe if we see national security as a wedge that divides America -- it can and must be a cause that unites us as one people and as one nation. We've done so before in times that were more perilous than ours. We will do so once again."