Thursday, April 26, 2012

You can buy Chris Shays, but you can't own him

Jesus! This story is almost too ridiculous to believe.

Senate candidate and carpetbagger Chris Shays, as a Congressman, received at least $5,000 in contributions from WWF (now WWE) executives Vince and Linda McMahon during the years that they produced their most extreme and tasteless television programming.

And Shays had no problem with that in the least!

Recently, Senate candidate Chris Shays attacked senate candidate Linda McMahon over the content of the programming that was made during those years he happily accepted those generous contributions.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

From Neil Vigdor via the Connecticut Post/Greenwich Time:
When Christopher Shays was a member of Congress, campaign finance records show he accepted $5,000 in political donations from WWE power couple Linda and Vince McMahon, who the Republican Senate contender now claims promote violence and soft-core pornography through their highly profitable wrestling brand.

Linda McMahon said her rival in the GOP nominating race not once raised concerns about the television content of the Stamford-based company formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment while he was in office from 1987 to 2008.

"No, as a matter of fact, he came to WWE headquarters," McMahon told Greenwich Time in an interview Wednesday night. "He even had a photo taken with Vince."
(Shays on left, Linda on right, at a WWF event circa 2001)

So, I guess whatever violent, pornographic and misogynistic video they were broadcasting back when Shays was receiving money from them was A-OK. And now that Linda McMahon is opposing Shays for the GOP nomination, it's suddenly all wrong.

This is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Chris Shays should apologize to the McMahons, then he should donate $5,000 to a charity that fights violence.

Then he should go back to his crab shack on Chesapeake Bay and try to get a job as a beltway lobbyist.

Because this is definitely not the sort of "John Rowland-lite" kind of person we want representing our state.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Malloy signs Death Penalty repeal

Today Gov. Danell Malloy signed the bill to repeal Connecticut's death penalty rule. Instead, criminals convicted of a capital offense will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In one swipe of his pen Malloy fixed these problems in the criminal justice system:
It takes so long for the current system to finish that anyone who appeals their capital sentence will almost certainly die of natural causes in prison before they run out of appeals.
It saves the state millions of dollars spent on nonsensical prosecutions AND defenses in these appeals.
It spares the family and friends of the victims the agony of going over ALL the evidence in court during every one of these appeals.
It completely removes the possibility of executing an innocent person, which has obviously happened far too many times already.
As a society, we need to continually strive to better ourselves. Killing someone for revenge isn't what a just society does. Taking away a person's freedom for the rest of their life if they kill someone IS what a just society should do.

Probably the one thing I personally would like to see is a "suicide option" included in the new law. This would be where a convicted killer facing life in prison is given the option of ending their own life in a humane and painless way.

Of course, this provocative course of action would necessitate appropriate safeguards, such as an extensive psychiatric evaluation and a mandatory waiting period of perhaps a year before allowing it. But I honestly think this is an option that should be discussed.

We all know the religious people would go nuts over this idea. The very same fundies who are calling for the Petit family's killers to be executed with a rusty butter knife and a hammer would have a literal shit fit over the concept of agreeing to self-euthanasia for "lifers". They want the state to be the killers, not the actual criminals.

But it is an idea that we should be grown-up enough to discuss.

What do you think?

Anyway, bravo to Mr. Malloy for going against popular opinion and signing the bill into law.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pot bill clears committee

In what was possibly an accidental irony, the General Assembly's Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee today passed the Medical marijuana bill 36-15. Today is April 20th, also known as "4/20". It now moves to the House of Representatives for further action.

I'm kind of neutral about this law, because I don't smoke pot (not since high school, anyway) but I think pot should be legalized, with the same restrictions (and tax revenues) as booze or cigarettes. People, thousands of people in this state, smoke pot daily (I know quite a few of them actually), and it would be nice to see the state make some money off it, and also reduce the criminal element involved in selling it.

What I don't like about it is the sham of having it called "medical marijuana" when in fact it's just a ruse to allow anyone to get a "license" to smoke pot. I really hate when people manipulate the law to dishonestly achieve their agenda.

"Hi doctor, my back hurts."

"That's fine. Here's your certificate to smoke dope."

How about we face the issue honestly and call it what it is: a bill to legalize pot for personal use?

The tactic of using false "medical" issues to enact legislation (and yes, I do know there are some valid medical reasons to ingest pot; from which maybe 2 to 5% of the licensees actually suffer. The rest are just regular stoners and everyone knows it) isn't all that different from the abominable Virginia law that requires women seeking a legal abortion to undergo an invasive and painful ultrasound exam that is solely designed to discourage them from terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

I mean, just look at this "medical marijuana dispensary" in California.

I dunno, but it doesn't look much like a typical doctor's office or a pharmacy.

It looks like a head shop.

Which is absolutely fine, don't get me wrong. It's exactly what a pot store should look like.

It just ain't medical looking.

I guess I hope a law gets proposed and passes which portrays the issue honestly, rather than a sham that is dishonest and opens the door to more Draconian legislation like we've seen in Virginia.

I mean c'mon, we're all adults here, right?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Death Penalty repeal

Late today the state House voted 86-62 to repeal our state's death penalty statute. It awaits Governor Malloy's signature, and he's definitely said he's going to sign it.

I don't want to celebrate this event, because there are so many people who feel strongly that this law should remain in place. People like Dr. Petit, who lost his family in a terrible crime. People who have suffered losses similar to his.

Instead, I wish to quietly affirm the idea that our state, and hopefully our nation, is comprised of people who honestly DO believe in the things that are right.

I understand the anger, the hurt, and the need for vengeance that many people wish against those who have committed horrendous crimes. I honestly can't feel exactly what people like Dr. Petit have gone through, although I do know that it's been absolute hell for them. And I don't condemn them in the least for wanting to see those who killed their loved ones suffer death. It's a very basic human instinct.

I'm against the idea of killing in general, but I wouldn't hesitate to harm or even kill someone who was trying to harm someone I hold dear. This is something that each of us need to deal with, and I agree that one has a right to use justifiably fatal force if they are faced with the likelihood of someone they love being gravely harmed.

But in retrospect, long after the crime has been committed, we do need to think about where we, as a society, stand on the subject of being in the business of consciously, and without any chance of future harm being caused, killing a prisoner.

As a society, we are better than this.

I don't blame Dr. Petit for his views on the death penalty. I don't blame anyone who has suffered at the hands of someone who doesn't respect human life for how they feel. But I do consider our society to be above the need for vengeance, for retribution, for killing, when all we need to do is lock these monsters up until the day they die to protect our people.

I did some video work on a documentary about the death penalty, and in the course of that project I witnessed people who had suffered tremendously at the hands of people who didn't respect human life. I was surprised at how many of them wished to deal with the loss of their loved ones, but not at the cost of the perpetrator's life. They felt that they honored their loved ones' lives by NOT being bloodthirsty for revenge.

This opened my eyes about the death penalty debate. I had always sort of felt that those who committed horrific crimes deserved what they got. It just seemed like a straight-forward conclusion to me. I didn't dig beneath the surface.

But after listening to people who lost spouses, relatives, and even children, and to see that they had no lust for killing the ones responsible, I changed my views.

Sadly, the documentary I worked upon never got finished (like many projects with good intent) but I learned many valuable lessons during the course of production.

Lessons like, you can always pardon someone who is wrongly imprisoned, but you can't pardon someone from the grave. And trust me, there are lots of cases where people are on death row because they have shitty public defenders. I met one last year, Juan Melendez, who spent 18 years on Florida's death row before evidence proved he didn't commit the murder he was accused of. And this was soon after his last appeal was heard. Juan even considered killing himself during his long stretch, and I can only imagine how many innocent people have taken that way out rather than endure what must be a hellish purgatory before finally being executed.

I wish I could have seen the documentary finished. We interviewed many people, including family members of victims, who shed a light on the debate that I don't think has ever been properly explored in this way.

But now, fortunately, with Governor Malloy's signature soon, this project won't be needed any more.

And for that, I'm very thankful.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Sen. Slossberg's moving speech

My state senator, Gayle Slossberg (D-14) addressed the senate yesterday, just before they passed a bill to repeal the death penalty. Here is a transcript of her speech:
A few years ago, I was waiting for the train to New York and I sat down on a bench next to an elderly man. We started to chat. Elections were coming up, so our conversation naturally turned to politics and the state of our country. We ran through the usual topics and then he turned to me and said something I have thought about over and over again ever since: He said that between the tough economy, the rise of hate crimes, the vilification of this group or that by otherwise good, moral people and the seemingly chronic need to blame someone for society’s problems, he said he was afraid – not for himself, but for our children. It is only a short step from here to there, he said – to think of some people as less than human. And once we think of people as less than human, it becomes okay to kill them and then what kind of society do we have?

For me, that is really the question of today’s debate: What kind of society do we have and what kind of society do we want for our children?

Like many of the people in this circle, I have agonized over the issue of the death penalty. I have thought about it, debated it, researched it, talked to friends, family and strangers about it. I have listened to the debate here today. I appreciate and respect all of the different points of view that have been expressed. I have spent a lot of time soul searching and lying awake at night thinking about all the facets of this issue. Like Sen. Prague, it plagues me to think we could put an innocent person to death? Does a moral society execute people? As I have confronted this issue, and advanced my understanding and thinking, I have come to the conclusion that both the realities of the death penalty as it is applied and the moral issues it raises dictate that it be abolished.

Benjamin Franklin said “… it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” The good news is that by eliminating the death penalty, we are not letting any guilty person go free, but we are making sure that we do not execute someone who is innocent. We know the criminal justice system makes mistakes. We need only look to James Tillman right here in Connecticut to remember that innocent people are wrongly convicted. We know that hundreds of people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. While we would like to believe that the criminal justice system is fair, that all the appeals will prevent an error, we know that is not the truth. In Florida, where there is a death penalty, Former Florida Chief Justice Gerald Kogan stated after 45 years of working in the system, “There is no question in my mind…that convinces me that we certainly have…executed those not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed.” Is that the society we want? Where we execute innocent people? And if our society executes an innocent person, there is no possibility of fixing that error. We can’t go back. Haven’t we then become the evil we are trying to eliminate?

The death penalty is not a deterrent. With all the studies that have been done, I am not convinced that criminals consider the death penalty when they are committing crimes. In fact, states without a death penalty statute have significantly lower murder rates than their counterparts with the death penalty. If you look at regions, the disparity becomes quite pronounced. The South implements 80% of all executions in the country and has the highest murder rate, whereas, the Northeast implements less than 1% of all the executions and has the lowest murder rate in the nation.

In order to have a just society, we must have laws that apply equally to everyone yet the death penalty is meted out arbitrarily. And if you don’t think that is the case in Connecticut, think again. Last month, a few of us from the circle visited death row and the maximum security prison that houses the criminals who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. On our way there, we were handed a list of criminals and the crimes they had committed. They were heinous, horrible, unspeakable acts – and I thought surely each of them deserved to die- and then I looked at the heading on the paper—these were the criminals who had gotten life without the possibility of parole! The people on death row had also committed heinous, horrible crimes but there was virtually no way to predict who would have gotten death and who would have gotten life without the possibility of parole. It was completely arbitrary, based on the luck of the draw; race, economic status, geography, ethnicity, a good lawyer…some unknown factor that made the jury more or less sympathetic. Is that justice?

The death penalty isn’t necessary for public safety. The criminal has already been caught and tried. He is removed from society and no longer a threat to anyone’s safety. The death penalty doesn’t bring back the victims of their crimes. We certainly can punish criminals and protect the public safety without a death penalty. And please don’t get me wrong, these people have committed horrible crimes and they deserve to be punished. With the amendment offered at the beginning of this debate, we will have a harsh, severe punishment, so horrible atleast one person chose to die instead.

While these arguments alone call for repeal of the death penalty, for me, the most compelling issue is the one people don’t like to talk about – the moral question – the question the old man on the train asked – What kind of society to do we have and what kind of society do we want to be?

Last September, I watched the Republican presidential primary debates. The moderator asked Governor Rick Perry how he felt about the 234 executions that he had presided over in Texas, more executions than any other Governor in modern times and before the Governor had even had a chance to respond, the crowd cheered. The ... crowd ... cheered. What kind of society cheers death? I understand people who believe that the death penalty is justice – but to cheer? And then to add insult to injury, Governor Perry was asked — do you ever struggle to sleep at night? to which Perry responded – No struggle. I do not struggle to sleep at night because the system is fair. Again the crowd cheered. Even if the criminal justice system was without error which we know it is not, what kind of society allows the systematic execution of people without even a second thought?

I believe that the death penalty calls to our basest instincts. You only need to think about the crowd cheering at the debate about executions to know that the death penalty degrades our society. Imposing the death penalty is really not about the criminal. It is about how it makes us feel. Like Sen. Musto, I can imagine that if someone harmed my family, I would want to harm them, too, but I want my public policy to be better than that. Like the old man at the train, I fear for our society when we people can cheer at an execution or we feel nothing or we feel like it just doesn’t matter if society kills , even when that person is no longer a threat to our safety. When we go down that path, we lose something as a society.

Last month, I received an angry letter from a man suffering from a fatal disease. He wrote that he had never done anything wrong, yet because of his illness, he was sentenced to death and no one could commute his sentence. Then he wrote, it isn’t fair that he, an innocent man, should get a death sentence and the legislature would consider eliminating the death penalty for murderers. I could understand his anger and his belief that repealing the death penalty meant that we were showing compassion for murderers whereas no one could really show the same compassion for him. I thought a long time about that letter until I realized that repealing the death penalty has nothing do with compassion or the criminal. It has everything to do with what the act of killing does to US, the law abiding members of society. Killers kill and they don’t feel bad about it. What separates the good from evil is when most good, moral people do something bad, it makes them feel bad. Most people are good, moral people, trying our best to abide by the laws and rules of our society. We teach our children to be kind, to be honest, to reject violence. So when we also say it is okay for us to kill when there is no longer any threat to our safety, we erode the very morals to which we aspire. It is a small step from here to there, said the old man. It is like a smoldering ember that slowly burns a hole in all that is good in our society.

So what kind of society do we want for our children?

We know our criminal justice system is broken. We know all the arguments that logically support repeal. But for me, the most compelling reason to reject the death penalty is to set ourselves on the path to the kind of society we want for our future.

I never saw the old man from the train again, but if I did, I would like to tell him this: I want something better for our families. I want to know that in the face of terrible evil, we will hold on tighter to our humanity; that when our faith in each other is challenged, we will work harder to fulfill our obligations to one another as human beings; that we will stand for justice for all; that we will raise each other up, and not descend to the level of criminals. We cannot confront darkness with darkness and expect to have light.

I hope that one day, when my children look back on this vote, they will view it with pride and know that today we took a step towards being a more civilized and just society for all. I am proud to support the repeal of the death penalty.
Well said.