Georgia and the Death Penalty

Georgia, Growing up in the South, Death Penalty, Racism, Representation, Furman v. Georgia


Death Penalty

In 1951, I was born in the state of Georgia in a town so small my high school graduating class was composed of thirty students.  I started kindergarten with most of them.  We were 40 miles from Selma.  On the day John Lewis walked over the William Pettes bridge, I came home to find my mother sitting in front of the television, crying.  I had never seen my mother cry.  She said one thing: “I should have been there.”

I grew up keenly interested in the subject of justice. One reason for this was that growing up, I sat at a dinner table every night and listened to a raging debate over race relations and war.  Also, both my parents grew up poor.  When I say poor, I don’t mean they didn’t have the right clothes to wear to the prom.  I mean poor – mean, cold, scary poor during the Depression.  Neither of them ever got over it.

The lessons my parents taught us about inequality, about discrimination, about the hurt and cruelty of being poor, of being discriminated against, of being denied justice were not theoretical.  They were real and conveyed with passion.

Not surprisingly, I became a criminologist.  My entire adult life has been spent studying crime, law and social justice.  And, it’s not just an academic exercise for me.  Like my parents,  I feel it in my guts.  I feel injustice, unfairness and pain.  Somewhere along the line I started to think there were only two sorts of people in the world – those who saw pain and vulnerability and need and moved instinctively to do something about it and people who saw pain and vulnerability and need and couldn’t wait to take advantage of it.  I am glad my parents are not alive to see the second type of people in control of the country.

I am back in Georgia now after living a great many places.  I am ashamed to note that this month Georgia carried out the 1500th execution since the return of the death penalty in 1976.

The case that led the Supreme Court to put a temporary halt to the death penalty came from my state, Furman v. Georgia.  Furman was decided in 1976.  The court looked at the death penalty and decided that it was administered in an “arbitrary, discriminatory and capricious manner.”  Four years later, the state overcame the objections of the Supreme Court and the death penalty was reinstated.

But, the truth is that all these years later the administration of the death penalty is still characterized by wrongful convictions, inadequate representation, geographic disparity and socioeconomic and racial bias.  And, to top it off, it costs a great deal of money, much more than keeping dangerous people inside prisons for life.

I am ashamed of the state of Georgia.

Monday Morning: Virginia Thomas, William Barr, Both Sides Journalism, Morning Joe, Biden and Sanders

Leading Conservatives Gather For Annual CPAC Event In National Harbor, Maryland

Monday 10 June 2019

  • If it’s Monday, Morning Joe has another former Clinton aide on to tell us that Bernie Sanders is falling behind and that during his career, Bernie hasn’t been successful at getting his policies enacted into law. THAT IS BECAUSE HIS IDEAS HAVE BEEN SO FAR IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY ELSE IN CONGRESS.
  • “He’s talked about income inequality. He’s talked about breaking up the big banks…” but he hasn’t actually passed a lot of legislation,” says Adrienne Elrod.
  • It never ceases to amaze me that the cable news world despises Bernie so much (try not only Brzezinski and Scarborough but Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid, Jennifer Rubin just to note just three).
  • The award for the worst article of the day has to go to the New York Times story: “People are trying to figure out William Barr.” (6/10/19)  Anybody who is still trying to figure out Barr is insane or a cable news commentator.  It didn’t take most of us any time to figure out Barr before he was even made Attorney General.  But again, cable news pundits (like Joyce Vance and Chuck Rosenberg) assured us that Barr was an “institutionalist” who would play fair.  He is, and always has been, a partisan hack.  If they didn’t know that, they are stupid or delusional.
  • One of the worst “both sidesism quotes from the article: “An examination of his record, coupled with interviews of more than two dozen associates, suggests elements of both: He is neither as apolitical as his defenders claim, nor as partisan as his detractors fear. Instead, he is a complex figure whom the right cannot count on to be a Trumpland hero and whom the left cannot dismiss as nothing more than a political hack.”  This is what passes for journalist at the New York Times.  Another example:  “Is he the operator who spun the then-secret Mueller report? Or the straight shooter who later disclosed portions that were damaging to President Trump?”   (People Are Trying to Figure Out William Barr. He’s Busy Stockpiling Power, 6/10/19).
  • The Morning Joe panel also genuflects over Biden’s change of position on the Hyde Amendment. Had Bernie Sanders done this, he would have been condemned as making a crassly political decision.
  • Language that drives me crazy. “reached out” “Trump’s lawyer reached out to a lawyer for…Flynn.”  No, he didn’t reach out, he phoned.  Why not use the word that is more specific?
  • In the article (NYT) about Trump’s lawyer “reaching out” in a phone call to Flynn’s attorney, Michael Schmidt writes: “…the president’s role, if any, remains a mystery…” Well, no, the president’s role doesn’t really remain a mystery to anybody with half a brain.  But, for journalists and evidently prosecutors, unless Dowd got on the phone and said “On (this date and time at this place) Donald Trump instructed me to phone and offer a pardon to Michael Flynn…,” we can’t be sure.  And even then, if we had such a recording, the authenticity of the message would be questioned and also what the true meaning of “instructed” is would be the subject of debate.  And, also endlessly discussed would be whether Dowd was lying when he said this.  I don’t think this is how mob investigations are conducted.  (NYT (6/9/19) Trump Lawyer’s Message was a Clue for Mueller, Who set it aside.”
  • Also, it’s Monday and there is no investigation of Barr’s relations with people connected to the Mueller investigation. Newsweek reported in April that Barr worked for a law firm that represented Alfa Bank.  Another man who worked for the same law firm (Kirkland & Ellis) was appointed to the Justice Department’s criminal division.  Brian Benczkowski represented Alfa bank at Kirkland & Ellis and “supervised an investigation into suspicious online communications between the bank and servers belonging to the Trump organization.” Barr also received dividends from Vector Group which has financial ties to Russia.  The president of Vector Group brought Trump to Moscow in the 1990s to seek investment opportunities.  (Maza, Christina 4/15/19, Newsweek)
  • The Democrats after threatening to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for not complying with a subpoena, have released a resolution by the Rules Committee which does not mention contempt. Instead it would authorize the House to petition a federal court to enforce committee requests for testimony and information related to the Mueller report.
  • The truly dreadful Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, has announced that she will form a pro-Trump group (according to the Intercept). Thomas announced that she was doing so to get the society to “focus on the arsonists who are right around us.”   The intent is to solicit undisclosed donations to a PAC.  It is inappropriate, to say the least, for the spouse of a Supreme Court Justice to take an overtly political stance or start an overtly political group.  This is not, however, the first time Thomas has inserted herself into politics.  She has been a long-time advocate of denying women a right to an abortion.


Ukraine: How Paul Manafort Earned His Ostrich Jacket


“Winter on Fire” is a moving Netflix Original documentary detailing the protests that shook Ukraine during the winter of 2013 and 2014.

Ukraine’s leader, Viktor Yanukovych, came to power promising to forge a relationship between Ukraine and the European Union.  After being elected to office, however, he made a deal with Putin and aligned Ukraine with Russia.

What began as a peaceful student protest turned into a mass demonstration involving a million people in the streets of Kiev for months.  Attacks on the students resulted not in people going home, cowering and hiding, but in people of all ages and nationalities and ethnic groups flooding into the streets of Kiev.  Within a short time, people were coming in from all over the country.  Protestors were confronted first with military police (the Berkut) and then with the Titushkys, criminal who were released from prison to help put down the demonstrations.  Some 100 people died in the protests which eventually ousted Yanukevych.  Yanukevych fled Ukraine in the middle of the night and was given sanctuary in Russia.

Paul Manafort worked for Yanukevych and helped return him to power after a previous election which Yanukevych won was found to be fraudulent.

This film is a must see.  It provides some of the political context necessary to understand Manafort’s eventual position in the Trump campaign and the Russian manipulation of the 2016 election.


Things We’re Thinking About: John Bolton, Brazil, Pelosi, Cuba, Prague

john bolton

Things We’re Thinking About This Afternoon

  • BRAZIL.  Brazil’s Supreme Court has voted to make homophobia a crime like racism.  The decision comes amid fears that the country’s new right-wing president (Jair Bolsonaro) will roll back LGBT rights.  Brazil has a large evangelical movement, critical of LGBT rights.  One LGBT rights group, Grupo Gay da Bahia, reports that 420 LGBT people have been killed across Brazil in 2018.  (See
  • VENEZUELA.  John Bolton is still pursuing his goal of creating an armed conflict in Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s political challenge to President Nicolas Maduro resulted in an abortive uprising last month, an uprising the Trump administration supported.  The uprising was quashed by the same security forces that Guaido claimed were supporting him. (See
  • PELOSI: Elie Mystal, writing in The Nation Magazine: “I’m sorry, but when Pelosi goes on Jimmy Kimmel and gives him and the American people reasons for her position that are incredibly weak, I cannot just wave it all away as “Nancy Pelosi has a plan and I’m too stupid to understand it.” If she has a plan, I can’t see it. If she has a strategy, she’s not explaining it very well. What I’m hearing and seeing are weak arguments made to gaslight late-night viewers into thinking that everything is under control, even as more and more members of her own caucus manifestly break with her position on impeachment in public.” (See  If you haven’t discovered Elie Mystal, you should.  He’s a “no-miss” commentator.  He tells the truth, refuses to be gaslit, gets mad and isn’t afraid to question.
  • CUBA.  At a time when Cuba has been forced once again to implement rationing of basic materials, the Trump administration is placing new restrictions on travel and remittances to the island. John Bolton, who some say will not be happy until every country he perceives as being an enemy of America is bombed out of existence, is publicly blaming the Obama administration for policies which have “enabled the Cuban colonization of Venezuela…”  The policies, according to Bolton are designed to “finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism.”  Bolton has accused the Cuban government of training Maduro’s military forces.  In a return to the language of the 70s, Bolton has termed Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua “the troika of tyranny.” “Capping remittances is mean-spirited, and can only be understood as the U.S. government’s attempt to create economic hardship among the Cuban people,” said Emily Mendrala, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and former national security advisor under Obama. “Ambassador Bolton’s speech conflated Cuba with Venezuela, and he announced a policy approach that does the same. The two countries are different, living through very different moments, and to exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela.”
  • Read more here: (See
  • WHITE COLLAR CRIME.  Declining Prosecution of White Collar Crimes (See  If white collar and corporate crimes were prosecuted, we wouldn’t have to deal with Trump, Manafort, Kushner and others.  They would all be in jail.
  • POLITICAL CRIMES.  Protestors in Prague are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis after a European Commission audit found that he was improperly profiting from private trust funds. (See

How Democracies Die

how democracies die

Authoritarians rise to power in part because establishment politicians overlook the warning signs and hand power over to them.  Mussolini was invited to take power.  A day after Hitler became chancellor, a prominent conservative who had helped him, said: “I have just committed the greatest stupidity of my life.  I have allied myself with the greatest demagogue in world history.”  What Levitsky and Ziblatt (in their book “How Democracies Die”) describe as “a lethal mix of ambition fear, and miscalculation” conspire to lead the establishment in country after country to the same fateful mistake: “willingly handing over the keys of power to an autocrat-in-the-making.”

“The abdication of political responsibility by existing leaders often marks a nation’s first step toward authoritarianism.”


How Democracies Die.