20 September 2011

Troy Davis, Blackwater, and Justice Not Served.

If Troy Davis wanted to be a criminal and get away with it, being at the scene of a murder in the South while flagrantly sporting black skin was certainly a dumb thing to do. What Mr. Davis should have done, of course, was get a job with Blackwater.  Had he done that, Mr. Davis could have gotten away with things such as  multiple murder, weapons smuggling, child prostitution, money laundering and tax evasion, and there would have been no need for bothersome consequences such as convictions and imprisonment.
In September of 2007, seventeen unarmed Iraqui civilians were murdered by Blackwater employees with no provocation, for the hideous crime of being in the way of a State Department convoy that, to be fair, must have been in a pretty big rush. Machine guns, grenade launchers and perhaps even a helicopter were used to slaughter these enemies of freedom.
So what happened to the five Blackwater employees who were charged with weapons violations and voluntary manslaughter (not murder) in a 35-count Justice Department indictment? Well, they had given statements to the State Department that could have been used against them in the prosecution, but since State would have summarily fired them had they refused to give said testimony, their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were deemed to have been violated and a federal District judge tossed the charges out. This year the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit opened the door for the Justice Department to revive the prosecution of four of the five men originally indicted, but the DOJ has yet to act on it. There is, however, no doubt that the justice system has worked in the favor of these despicable murderers, and society freely accepts that if testimony was coerced out of a person, such testimony is invalid even if tossing it out benefits a clearly guilty party or otherwise hinders their prosecution, so important is the value of clean, clear, convincing testimony in a court of law.

Troy Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced to death on the strength of the testimony of nine witnesses who claimed to have seen him commit the murder (no physical evidence ever linked Davis to the crime, and the murder weapon was never found) and I will be the 1,000,000th person to remind you that seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony; the eight person is Sylvester Coles, who has been implicated in the crime himself, thought by some to be the actual killer.
While it might seem arbitrary to link the Blackwater prosecutions to Troy Davis, they showcase the unequal treatment given to testimony considered to have been tainted, a difference that post-conviction is extraordinary; nobody is arguing the veracity of the Blackwater employees' testimony, simply that the statements themselves were improperly collected, and while there is no evidence of coercion either, just the appearance of impropriety and even a hint that the statements were not entirely voluntary are enough to toss the entire testimony (and with it, the whole case) out, even when it means leaving seventeen murdered people with no justice (and also, of course, leaving the murderers of seventeen people go unpunished). If even the hint of involuntary testimony is enough to toss a case out, what about the recanted, repudiated testimony of seven out of the eight uninvolved witnesses whose testimony was not just important but actually crucial in sending a man to death row? Yes, Troy Davis had been convicted, but that is another arbitrary distinction, since the ultimate goal of the justice system should be the application of justice, and not the relentless defending of the State of Georgia's conviction rate.

There's a story arch in the TV show 'The West Wing' in which an assassination attempt is made on President Bartlet's life, and later on they find out that it had actually been an attempt by white supremacists on the life of Charlie, the president's body man, a black young man who was dating the President's daughter.  Long after the fact, when Communications director Toby Ziegler meets with the President and they discuss how they can't shake off what happened, Bartlet says "We saw a lynching, Toby. That's why it feels like this". If Troy Davis is executed, it'll take a long time for many of us to get over the disgust we will feel with our system, our society and even our country, which is expected whenever a flagrant and appalling miscarriage of justice takes place; but the fact that it will be an innocent black man killed by a State with a long, troubling history of racial hatred despite the absolute lack of any convincing evidence, despite the recanted testimony of virtually everyone who testified against him and even the testimony of jurors who convicted him in the original trial, will make it feel like a lynching. That feeling won't be going away any time soon, and the trust eroded by this awful, disgusting and unfair betrayal of justice might not ever be recovered.

18 September 2011

An Australian looks into what we pay for our healthcare

My Australian friend Toby is fascinated with the health care debate in America, especially by the enormous disparity between what we pay and what we get in return, and he has written a post with all the numbers. Take it away, Aleksandr Ivanovich:

 "...in 2008, the US spent $7220 per capita on healthcare (all figures in 2011 USD).  This represents 17.4% of GDP.  More than half of that is what Americans are paying privately.  Every woman, man and child in the US forked out more than an average $3610 for private healthcare and almost the same again indirectly through tax.
Second place in the staggering statistics department goes to the Netherlands, who spent $4241 per capita, or 12% GDP.  Unlike the US, the Netherlands has a universal health care system, and only about one-sixth of that is in the private sector.
In twenty-third place is Australia, possibly the best match for the US in health after Canada.  After all, Australians eat roughly much the same amount of rubbish, watch a similar amount of terrible television and speak (mostly) the same language (but without the weird accents).  Australia’s figures for 2008 are $3445 per capita or 8.7% of GDP, below the OECD average of 9.5% GDP.
Keeping in mind this total is the private and government sectors  combined per capita, and yet it’s less than what the US pays privately per capita.  Despite this, Australians on average live longer and have better health outcomes than Americans.  The OECD data demonstrates Australia’s universal healthcare system is more efficient than the US private fend-for-yourself system and more effective.  Surely that can’t be right?  Believe me, the healthcare system in Australia isn’t exactly a shining beacon of efficiency, no matter how hard or magnificently those at the coal face work.  How can such a sector, two-thirds funded by governments (i.e. Australian tax payers), be better than the equivalent private sector in the US, the land where the consumer rules?..."

17 September 2011

Hey Ron Paul, what about the children?

Paul Krugman nails Ron Paul and his fans' passion for death, but what about the children?

"The day after the debate, the Census Bureau released its latest estimates on income, poverty and health insurance. The overall picture was terrible: the weak economy continues to wreak havoc on American lives. One relatively bright spot, however, was health care for children: the percentage of children without health coverage was lower in 2010 than before the recession, largely thanks to the 2009 expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip. 

And the reason S-chip was expanded in 2009 but not earlier was, of course, that former President George W. Bush blocked earlier attempts to cover more children -to the cheers of many on the right. Did I mention that one in six children in Texas lacks health insurance, the second-highest rate in the nation? 

So the freedom to die extends, in practice, to children and the unlucky as well as the improvident. And the right's embrace of that notion signals an important shift in the nature of American politics."