Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reminder for the Day

Ode to Sean Hannity
by John Cleese

Aping urbanity
Oozing with vanity
Plump as a manatee
Faking humanity
Journalistic calamity
Intellectual inanity
Fox Noise insanity
You’re a profanity

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hang 'Em High

The NH House of Representatives voted in favor of HB 556; a bill calling for the repeal of the death penalty. On April 14, the NH Senate Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard public testimony on the bill. They heard 3 hours of testimony. It was one of the best run hearings I’ve ever attended. Committee Chair Deb Reynolds was kind and empathetic, and treated everyone with respect, regardless of their position on the issue. She managed to very kindly move the repetitious speakers right along. It was unlike senate hearings I’ve attended in years gone by, where senators felt free to actually yell at members of the public, whilst they gave testimony. The Democratic majority has made for far more civil behavior.

Senator Reynolds also deviated from custom by asking Representatives who were there to either support or speak against the bill to wait until members of the public had their say. This was an extremely polite and respectful gesture, and one I’d never experienced.

Most of the cops who testified were from Manchester. This really isn’t about the death penalty for them, this is about killing Michael Addison, who killed Officer Michael Briggs of the Manchester PD. Manchester Police Chief David Mara said that if Briggs isn’t executed, he’d live the life of a rock star in prison. Apparently Chief Mara has never been to a prison. It ain’t exactly Carnegie Hall.

It was hard not to cry along with Michael Brigg’s mother, as she testified about losing her son. It was hard not to cry along with State Rep. Robert Cushing Jr., as he spoke about his father’s murder. It was hard not to cry as Bess Claussen Landis, who testified about her mother being beaten, raped, and killed one day while Bess and her sisters were at school. The family members of murder victims offered powerful testimony.

Manchester Lieutenant Nick Willard was angry with the legislators who dared to put this bill forward, and clearly offended at anyone who dare disagree with his position, which was, “I find this to be a slap in the face.” Willard seems to think that the death penalty is how a state shows support and respect for law enforcement. HB 556 could be sent to a study committee, and Willard essentially said, have the study committee, let us kill Addison, and THEN repeal the death penalty. Willard’s testimony illustrates one reason why there should be no death penalty. Angry people make decisions based on vengeance – and make no mistake, vengeance is what the death penalty is all about. Primal, eye for an eye style vengeance.

Rich white people don’t die on death row. Most people who are executed in the United States are poor people of color. Some of the folks speaking against HB 556 attempted to prove that NH is different, and even though we’re going to execute a poor black man, it’s different in NH. No one really addressed the fact that NH has had 2 capital cases recently. Rich, white murderer John Brooks didn’t get the death penalty.

The most gripping testimony of the afternoon came from Curtis McCarty, who spent 21 years in prison for murder, 16 of them on death row. He was exonerated in 2007 by DNA evidence. The room was completely silent as Curtis spoke - and he spoke with great respect for law enforcement, and a remarkable lack of bitterness. He also pointed out how painful this was for the family of the victim. They spent 21 years hating him and wishing him dead, only to find out that they'd hated the wrong guy. So much for the healing and closure the death penalty is supposed to provide.

Given the oft-expressed GOP fears about keeping costs low in the state, I wonder at their support for the death penalty. I haven’t heard a single Republican legislator address the cost factor. Why is that? Would the support change if property taxes were increased to pay for it?

NH does not have a death chamber. The Dept. of Corrections apparently has a plan for building one, to the tune of $1.7 million, but it is not as yet in a budget. We will also have to hire an execution team. NH law does not require that the team be comprised of licensed doctors or nurses. This is good news, since assisting in an execution would seem to go against the credo of the medical profession. Still, there will have to be an execution team to administer the lethal injection. Arnie Alpert of the NH American Friends Service Committee wondered about this in his HB 556 testimony. “Will they be state employees, subject to collective bargaining?” Alpert asked.

The state has already spent $3 million on the Brooks and Addison cases. The Addison case will cost millions more. How many millions? There is no way to know. The appeals process is lengthy and costly. This is why the pro-death penalty advocates don’t talk about the cost. It’s going to be enormous – just to kill one guy. Meanwhile, our state has a waiting list for people with developmental disabilities to receive services. Meanwhile, we don’t want to pay for educating our kids – an education that might well help prevent them from growing up to be criminals. Our priorities are skewed. Next time you run into one of your pro-death penalty local legislators, ask where the money is going to come from to kill Michael Addison.

The first executions in NH took place in 1739. It was a double hanging. Sarah Simpson and Penelope Kenny were hanged for “feloniously concealing the death of an infant bastard child.” Hangings were public spectacles, until 1868, when a riot broke out in Woodsville, after the hanging of Samuel Mills. The executions that followed were conducted on the grounds of the state prison in Concord. The last execution in NH was in 1939, when Howard Long was hanged for molesting and killing a 10-year-old boy. The state dismantled the gallows in the 1980’s. Obviously, it would be cheaper to hang Michael Addison, and why not? If we’re going to keep company with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, why not hang the guy? For that matter, why not stone him to death? That would be even cheaper, and I’m sure we could amend the statute. The Manchester cops could gather up the stones. We could have a lottery to determine who would cast the first stone. And if it were up to me, it would be mandatory for any governor who vetoed the repeal of the death penalty to be present.

“Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent.” US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.

This was printed as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on April 24, 2009

©s.bruce 2009


Keith Olberman on whether waterboarding is torture or not. (HINT - it is)

Giant Blowhard Sean Hannity says he'd submit to waterboarding:

I don't believe Hannity will go through with it - he's just another cowardly right wing bloviator - but let's encourage him to make good on his promise. Email him at Or give Fox News a call: Phone: (212) 301-3000
Fax: (212) 301-4229

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Out of Step with NH

On April 21, NH Senate District 3 will be having a special election. After last year’s GOP smear campaign against Democratic candidate Bud Martin, William Denley was voted in, and then promptly got his third DWI shortly after taking office. The Republicans couldn’t decide whom to run as a replacement. There was talk of Fergus Cullen, the former chair of the NH GOP. Given how resoundingly the GOP lost in 2008, Fergus wisely decided to stay home. These days he confines himself to making nasty comments about Congresswoman Shea-Porter with all the other Mensa members in the comment section of the Union Leader.

There was talk of Joe Kenney, after his rather inglorious defeat in the governor’s race. All over NH, people are still scratching their heads and asking, “Joe who?” The lucky guy who won the toss, or drew the short straw, depending on how you look at it, is Jeb Bradley. That’s right, Jeb Bradley, former Congressman. After what could only be charitably described as an undistinguished 2 terms in the US House of Representatives, Bradley lost in 2006, and then again in 2008 to Carol Shea-Porter. Apparently Bradley is so desperate to get elected to anything, he chose to run for the Senate seat, so hastily vacated by William Denley.

Jeb Bradley served in the NH House before he was sent to Congress. In the NH legislature he had a reputation for being a nice, moderate Republican. That nice moderate fellow disappeared completely when he began his Congressional campaign. He ran against Martha Fuller Clark, and ran a series of ads that focused on Martha’s appearance, something he’d never have done in a campaign against a man. Sexist? You betcha.

Jeb campaigned on the issue of Social Security, and was clear that he was against privatizing it. Once he got to Washington, he flip flopped on that issue – to the point where he STILL won’t take a firm stand on it. Jeb promised he was against drilling in ANWR. Again – he changed his tune once he got to Washington. In fact, Jeb Bradley voted with George Bush about 90% of the time. Jeb voted for every disastrous Bush budget. Jeb waved his pom-poms in support of the invasion of Iraq. He supported every single outrageous military appropriations bill. With Jeb’s help, we’ve spent close to a trillion dollars in Iraq, and counting, with absolutely no accountability for where that money went.

Jeb also supported the disastrous Medicare Part D drug insurance benefit. The Part D plan was written by a bunch of folks who shortly thereafter went to work for Big Pharma. One of the provisions stipulated that Part D could not negotiate for better drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. This means that we taxpayers, who subsidize Part D, pay as much as 500 times more for some drugs than they actually cost. When I read the letters of support that describe Bradley as a fiscal conservative, that’s what I remember. He was right there with George Bush – the same George Bush whose disastrous policies got us where we are today.

State Representative Harry Merrow complained bitterly in a recent letter to the editor about the Democrats turning NH into a “nanny state,” which is why we need Jeb Bradley. Apparently Representative Merrow is suffering from the same kind of collective amnesia that so many of his fellows Republicans seem to be victims of. Jeb Bradley supported illegal wiretapping, arresting and imprisoning US citizens without charge, spying on US citizens, no fly lists, torture, and the shredding of the Constitution by the Bush administration and its Justice Department. Jeb never uttered a peep against any of those tyrannical actions. In fact, Jeb proudly voted for the REAL ID Act, which would have put all of our personal information in a national data bank, and forced us to carry national ID cards. The state of NH voted against participating in the REAL ID program – which was the ultimate in nanny statism. The GOP only gets to wailing about the nanny state when seatbelt laws are brought up. They don’t care if Uncle Sam forces you to carry an ID card, as long as Uncle Sam is wearing an elephant and a flag pin in his lapel. Other nanny stateish activities would include interfering in the marriages and uteri of NH residents. The NH GOP has no problem with either.

In 2005, I listened, as Jeb Bradley tried to explain his position on marriage equality at a town hall meeting in Harts Location. He repeated, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” over and over. He couldn’t tell us WHY he believed that -he could just repeat the talking point, over and over again. Since then, NH passed a civil union law, and may well join our neighbors in VT and Massachusetts in granting our gay and lesbian citizens full marriage equality. Surely the GOP can continue to cling to bigotry an integral part of the party platform – but the voters of NH are smarter than that. I’m certain that caterers, florists, inns, and hotels are thinking that marriage equality might be very good for business in a bad economy.

Jeb Bradley is out of step with NH voters. While he went to Washington and joined the far right, NH has been moving in a different direction. We rejected REAL ID. We’re rejecting bigotry and embracing equal rights. Bradley is being called a leader. He hasn’t shown a scintilla of leadership since his first Congressional campaign. What he has shown is a remarkable ability to embrace the politics of the far right, and a talent for mouthing their talking points, without even being able to explain them.
NH has a lot of challenges ahead. Those challenges will require our unpaid legislators to work long and hard. The GOP is transitioning into being the party of NO. The voters of district 3 deserve better, and so does our state.

“The Republican brand is in the trash can. If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”
Tom Davis, 2008

This was submitted to the Conway Daily Sun as an editorial to appear in the April 10 edition. The Sun seems to have taken a very sharp turn to the right during the last few weeks, so I don't know if this will see print.