Wednesday, March 02, 2005

killing the killers, but only the grown-up ones

How's this for a quote from an American Supreme Court judge..."It is important that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty." I nearly cried!!! I really, honestly thought I would never see the day an American official, be they Republican OR Democrat, would publicly recognize international opinion of any weight!!! There’s hope for us all!!!

Naturally I braced myself for a conservative back-lash, and I think my friend Mr Shott put his views best. I HAD to comment, and my sarcastic nature could not be held back I’m afraid!!!

Strange how America’s homicide rate is roughly 5 times that of the EU. (see p10 of this report) With the death penalty as a deterrent, surely potential murderers would have more sense!

So, what would I do re:capital punishment? I would put it to the people : Do you want it or not? There would, however, be a catch. Should the motion be passed, all the “yes” voters would have their names put on a register. Once it came time for an execution, one of their names would be picked at random, much like jury duty, and THEY would be the ones to actually flick the switch/drop the pellet/do the deed. You wanted it, you got it, so you do it! Of COURSE I know this is a purely rhetorical and utopian suggestion, but I think it makes my point.


Anna said...

Interesting post, JL. You seem quite concerned about young people with behavioural issues. Are you aware that on average, a young person in Dublin is charged 92 times before they go before a judge? Would be keen to read your thoughts on this.

JL Pagano said...

I'm very aware of this, Shan.

This afternoon if you are free listen to NewsTalk106 FM radio; every Wednesday a crime journalist reads a litany of cases brought befoe the childrens court, around 320pm I think.

The crimes are unbelievable. The perpetrator's lack of respect for any kind of authority is unthinkable. The law being such an ass that can't do anything with them is incomprehensible.

Having said all of that, I still don't feel the need to kill any of them.

Anna said...

LOL...I wasn't suggesting we kill them! Although I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered it for one or two individuals.

Did I mention I'm in the process of a career change? Leaving youth work, heading for...I don't know, exactly. Ditch digging is looking good.

JL Pagano said...

Ah, I'm sorry, I took your comment up wrong. I was expecting a barrage of abuse from my anti-death penalty stance!

I, too, am in career change mode, having left my (extremely unfulfilling) retail manager's job to care for my elderly grandparents 2 years ago. Since my grandfather passed away last year, I must now look to my own future, and I'm just as unsure as you are as of now.

Let me know if you get any ditch-digging leads, will you?

James Howard Shott said...

Thanks for the plug, JL. One thing (a small point): My last name has no "c" in it.

Now, to business. Where to begin?

Let's start with the sentiment you value so highly from the Supreme Court Justice, which is quite problematic. Under our Constitution, judges have no authority to use sentiment of any source or description in forming their opinions and making rulings. Their job is to monitor legislative and administrative actions for compliance with the Constitution, not use their feelings, or public sentiment, or the sentiment of other countries (or indeed the entire world) in deciding cases. These decisions are to be based only on legislation, case law,and precedent. Thus, this ruling and the expressed opinion of the Justice are both highly improper.

You called the death penalty a deterrent in the U.S., and implied that even with that deterrent, our homicide rate is higher than most European nations. That opinion, too, is problematic, as it is based upon a huge misconception, or lack of understanding about the death penalty in the U.S. The death penalty lost all its deterrent value when the process was altered such that no condemned criminal is executed for 20 to 25 years after their conviction and sentencing. Being condemned to death means in the U.S. that you'll live at least 20 more years. Not much deterrent value there.

Your system of implementing the death penalth is, as you said, a rhetorical exercise. There are reasons why that could not be done, at least not without a lot of legislative work, but if it were to be allowed, I can think of quite a few people, including myself, who would be willing to "pull the switch," or "push the plunger" to rid the world and our society of a viscious, low-life murdering scum.

JL Pagano said...

My sincerest apolgies re: your name, I absolutely HATE it when people get mine wrong, so I can definitely relate. I have corrected it in that post.

As regards the Supreme Court Justice's quote, you may be surprised to learn I actually agree with you. His remarks were indeed well outside his remit. My sarcasm was derived from the USA's general image abroad viz-a-vis appreciation for opinions other than its own.

I also hope we concur on one more thing, that neither of us condones murder. That we disagree on how to deal with a crime must be distinguished from the fact that we both recognize as one in the first place. Murderers need to be dealt with, we just have different ideas as to how.

Perhaps the death penalty has lost its value as a deterrent, but still the word is constantly used as a reason in favour of capital punishment, so I stand by what I say there.

And so, to your final point, re : (para-phrase)"ridding the world of scum". I notice you carry quotes from the bible on your blog. I presume "Thou shalt not kill" and "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone" will never feature, though "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" most certainly will.

James Howard Shott said...

No problem on the name. It happens all the time, and the "c" spelling is very common, and likely more common than without it.

Yes, the U.S. does often chart its own course. You find that a weakness. I find it one of its greater assets. There's something to be said for agreement among friendly countries, of course, but sometimes you just have to do what you think needs to be done, even if your friends disagree.

You suggested in your last paragraph that I fail to observe the "thou shalt not kill" and "let him who is without sin" directions, in favor of more drastic measures. "Thou shalt not kill" does not proscribe a society from setting up its rules and punishments, nor does it suggest we don't hold people accountable for their transgressions. Frankly, I suggest that "thou shalt not kill" applies to such things as murder and abortion, but not to ridding society of vermin who indiscriminately murder innocent people. I do, however, believe that the death penalty ought to be reserved for those cases where guilt is absolutely certain. And I also see a certain justice in a murderer living a long time in miserable circumstances. Trouble is, our prison system provides even the worst in our society a good many comforts while they are there. It has to do with taking the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to the extreme. I'd favor sending those scum to Turkish prisons, instead.

Hardly anyone I have come in contact with believes the death penalty is a deterrent, as it is currently applied, and that is in fact one of the chief reasons some want it abolished: it doesn't deter crime. So the soft-on-crime crowd (the same ones who insist that murders in prison have TV, law libraties, 3 squares a day, conjugal visits, and such) succeeded in taking the teeth out of the death penalty, then use the fact that it has no teeth to suggest its abolition. Neat, huh?

JL Pagano said...

I think I am starting to see where you are coming from on this issue. It would seem from your last post that your stance is akin to someone who wants to sell a house for $200,000 but knows that to get that he must first insist on $300,000, otherwise he may only get $100,000.

I hope the "soft-on-crime" crowd to which you refer does not include everyone that opposes the death penalty, for if it does I am afraid you would be very much mistaken.

Standard of living during incarceration is an area that I am more than willing to discuss, and THIS indeed should be handled on a case by case basis, with Turkish-style prisons definitely in the mix for sure IMHO.

Mr. Middle America said...

"Strange how America’s homicide rate is roughly 5 times that of the EU."

Well, it is VERY EASY to pull a generalized statistic out of a hat and apply it across the board!

To explain: it's all about diversity.

I am willing to bet that there is a higher rate of violence in the areas of your country where, for example, Catholics and Protestants inter-mingle.

The United STates of America is a HUGE inter-mingling of diverse groups!

Actually, given the context, the homicide rate is low in my opinion.

Mr. Middle America said...

For instance, in my local area, mostly Protestant Scots-Irish, there is VERY LITTLE violence... In fact, the violence that does occur is initiated by transients...

Big picture, dude! You have to look at the big picture!

JL Pagano said...

I have a lot to say in reply kbb, and do not have the time right now, but I will say this:

I have lived in California, Massachusetts and Ireland for significant periods of time, so I would suggest that I may have a better sense of "the big picture" than you might when comparing Europe to the USA.

I am sure your area is very nice and pleasant, but would I be right in speculating that your neighborhood could be described as "suburbia"??? Hardly a micro-cosm of the "big picture"??? Especially with all those legally held guns in people's possession???

Why did the basketball team from the American capital have to change its name from "Bullets"????

Gotta run, will bbl.

cal said...

You post, "So, what would I do re:capital punishment? I would put it to the people : Do you want it or not?"

Actually, it has been put to the people of the various states, and they've answered through their representative democracy (e.g., the electeed representatives have enacted laws in their respective states which reflect the will of their constituents). What the US

Supreme Court did was OVERRIDE the collective will of the people, imposing the will of 5 elites who disdain the popular will.

Mr. Middle America said...

JL, California and Massachusetts are hardly representative of the "Midddle America" that is in your bags of reproach!

Mr. Middle America said...

"I am sure your area is very nice and pleasant, but would I be right in speculating that your neighborhood could be described as "suburbia"??? Hardly a micro-cosm of the "big picture"???"

The reality is that there are MANY microcosms like the one in which I live. People live in these areas for a reason: there is an obvious lack of crime that you find in other areas.

But that is aside from the larger Big Picture that I am referring to! You can not generalize about the USA citizenry with the global statistics that you laid out. This is because there is SO MUCH diversity, as you well know if you lived where you mentioned. Indeed, Massachusetts, being an extremely homogenous group of people... will not live up to the 5X stats you mentioned.

California, on the other hand, probably will... at least when it is taken as a whole. There will be microcosms there as well...

"Especially with all those legally held guns in people's possession???"

WTH is wrong with owning a handgun? Or any kind of gun. I am personally not a gun nut, but I do own one... one that I have not fired in ten years or more... but I do have one! And do not want to live in a society where I cannot own a gun.

"Why did the basketball team from the American capital have to change its name from "Bullets"????"

I do not watch or keep up with basketball or any other contact sports... they are much too violent for my tastes.

Contact sports are the truly barbaric aspects of our societies...

JL Pagano said...

Thank you cal and kbb for exchanging your opinions with me; it is always important to hear other people's perspectives on various issues.

To cal,

The way I understand it, the Supreme Court was set up by the US Constitution, and its power to over-ride actions of legislatures from individual states is derived directly from this great document.

Rather than showing "disdain for the popular will", I would argue that they are simply acting under their mandate. They are perfectly entitled to rule as they see fit and if someone disgrees with their rulings then it is they who are showing disdain for the popular will.

I believe President Bush will have the opportunity in this term to appoint justices to tilt the balance in the Republican's favor, and no doubt there will then be a series of rulings for which I myself will show disdain.

My point re: a hypothetical referendum was more aimed at my curiosity as to whether those in favour of the death penalty would be willing to pull the switch themselves.

To kbb,

I too, believe it or not, live in a sleepy suburb. There is little or no crime and it is extermely peaceful in my area. However, being a taxpayer, when discussing my country with people from foreign lands, I feel I must speak for the nation as a whole, not just my own neighborhood.

If I am comparing crime statistics from different nations, I have no doubt that the countries or continents in question will have their own diversities. In fact, you want to talk about diversity? Just think about Europe!!! More than a dozen different major languages? I very much doubt the USA has a monopoly on diversity, my friend!

My digression to the gun control issue was unnecessary - we can debate that another day! As for your attitude towards team sports, well I have to respect it, but I think the word "barbaric" is a little extreme.

My comparison which sparked this debate was between the USA (I seem to remember back in 3rd grade in California having to stand up before school each morning and pledge my allegiance to "ONE nation, under God"), and the EU. One region has the death penalty, the other does not.

Even if the 5x figure was inaccurate, a margin of error which brought the two region's figures to parity would still negate the effectiveness of capital punismhment as a deterrent IMHO.

Once again, thank you both for your contributions.


Mr. Middle America said...

I love to fight... that's my barbaric essence! BTW, if you can generate debate of this nature on your board, then that should say that you are making the appropriate posts!

"I very much doubt the USA has a monopoly on diversity, my friend!"

As far as that goes... well, ya know, the USA is the quintessential representation of the world, or, at least in my mind, it SHOULD be... and has been in the past.

I am not so sure as to whether or not that is true with the current egghead administration... these freaking fraggers seem to have regression as their man ideology.... but that is another debate as well!

James Howard Shott said...

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you, JL.

I am not “bargaining” on the death penalty or on punishment in the larger sense. Here is my position: I believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for certain crimes like murder, and perhaps a select few others. I would not impose the death penalty on a guilty person unless their guilt was certain. I believe that anyone who commits one of those crimes and who knows it is wrong is eligible for execution. I suppose that at some age you must draw a line, but I believe that most people above the age of 9 or 10 know right from wrong, although I’m just not certain where that line ought to be.

By “soft on crime” I mean that group of people that does not believe that punishment ought to be truly unpleasant. I think this includes a good many people who advocate for prisoner’s rights, although I doubt it includes all of them. The degree of unpleasantness, and the duration of it are dependant upon the crime committed. I do not believe violent criminals deserve gyms, good meals, TV, etc. Those perks ought to be reserved for those in society who follow the rules. I’m glad to see that we agree substantially on that point.

As for the Supreme Court, the Constitution does not specifically allow for overriding legislative acts. The powers enumerated specifically in the Constitution are the only powers the federal government has, of which the Supreme Court is a part. Neither the Court nor the Congress nor the Administration may unilaterally create new powers. The Supreme Court created more powers for itself early on in a case styled Marbury v. Madison. Justices are not supposed to overturn the will of legislative majorities unless there is a violation of a constitutional right.

Activist judges improperly use their office to impose on the people by fiat what ought to be determined through the democratic legislative process. In effect, they short-circuit the democratic process and through the judicial process “enact” measures a majority of the public may be opposed to.

They are not entitled to rule as the see fit, as you suggest. They are supposed to rule in line with Constitutional principles. I hope that President Bush has the opportunity to appoint a few Justices. His view is similar to mine, in that he believes that the Court needs to be realigned so that its interpretations and rulings are within the narrow confines of the Constitution, as was intended by the Framers, and not the whims of five mere individuals (a majority) acting on their personal feelings.

JL Pagano said...

Obviously when I say "as they see fit", I mean in relation to their interpretation of the Constitution.

My point is that the Constitution granted them these powers, and at the end of the day they have to make their ruling one way or the other.

I read your comment very closely, Mr Shott, and I find it hard to see what you are saying any other way than that those judges that rule along with your way of thinking are constitutional, while those who rule against it are doing so on a "whim".

In soccer, after all the debating and all the analysing, one can only point to one rule for clarity : "The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play are final." The buck stops there.

I would assume this is preciesly why the "Framers" decided on an odd number of judges, so when all debate was exhausted there could once and for all a decision could be made.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I would speculate that the Clinton years are responsible for a left-biased Supreme Court, and now that Bush has the power, when he gets the chance it will tilt the other way.

Either way, love em or hate em, the Constitution demands that the Law respects their findings.

James Howard Shott said...

"My point is that the Constitution granted them these powers, and at the end of the day they have to make their ruling one way or the other."

But they are supposed to make their rulings based upon Constitutional -- not social, or even moral -- principles. The problem with the Court is that Justices frequently substitute personal feelings, or some moral point of view for Constitutional or legal considerations. The result, as I said in the last post, is often that the people have imposed on them by judicial fiat what they would never approve through the proper legislative channels. It is not the Constitutional prerogative of the Supreme Court to make law. Yet it does so with alarming frequency.

"I find it hard to see what you are saying any other way than that those judges that rule along with your way of thinking are constitutional, while those who rule against it are doing so on a 'whim.'"

You do me a grave injustice, JL. You seem to suggest I am a narrow-minded troll.

"I would assume this is preciesly why the "Framers" decided on an odd number of judges,..."

You would assume incorrectly. The Constitution does not prescribe how many Justices there shall be, and it also leaves open to interpretation other aspects that opportunistic activist Justices have taken advantage of to be able to assert their personal feelings where Constitutional principle and judicial precedent (that is based upon Constitutional principle) should be the basis. There have been several different numbers of Justices in the 200+ years of the country.

As for who appoints activist Justices, it's not always liberal Presidents. Some Justices simply take a different tack than is expected. However, in general, you are correct. Republican Presidents prefer men who will take a strict Constitutional approach to their opinions and votes on the Court. These men are referred to as "strict constructionists" or "originalists." That is the type of Justice I prefer. Liberals prefer activist Justices who will use their power to make changes in society and the law instead of letting those things happen properly throught the legislative process. That is how they get things done. Their ideas are roundly rejected by a majority of Americans, so the legislative process won't work, so they have only the court system to depend upon. It's sad, really.

JL Pagano said...

I do not debate with narrow-minded trolls, and I apologize if you took it that way. I only debate with people I respect, especially those who pay me a similar respect.

My entry into the world of blogging was inspired by last year's presidential election. 51% of the popular votes went to the incumbent, 49% went against him. That is an incredible split down the middle of American opinion.

I am doing my best to understand both sides of the story, and I am grateful to have the likes of your blog to provide a sample from one side.

I hope in return I am offering an example of how the US is perceived outside its own borders. I feel like I am in a position that is both priviledged and hindering in that I can claim to have a foot in both camps.

James Howard Shott said...

I hope you took my comment about trolls as the rye remark it was intended to be.

Yes, the election was very much a split down the middle, in one way. But in another way it was a fairly strong repudiation of the liberal agenda. That view doesn't jump out at you, unless you were emersed in the campaigns and the various issues. And I'm sure that those on the Left would interpret it differently. For example, on a newspaper comment page that I visit, one liberal/Democrat opined that 62 million people had been duped by George Bush. It never enters his mind that those people are not the mind-numbed robots he imagines that they are, and that they thoughtfully rejected the platform of John Kerry, and indeed John Kerry himself. In his mind, the Bush supporters are just dumb. That's an arrogant and insulting attitude, in my opinion, because I think of myself as a reasonably smart person who follows the issues, thinks about them and then decides which candidate best represents my views. I dare say that most of the rest who voted for Mr. Bush are similar to me in that exercise.

I do value your perspective. I also have had two people from Great Britain comment on my site (Mark and Vitriola), and between the three of you I have been able to draw some conclusions. However, as all of you tend toward the same general philosophy, which is much the same as the American Left, I wonder if that is a true representation of how Europeans view things, or if I just happened to have attracted the interest of three who are on the Left?

In any event, it is interesting, it is educational, and it is, above all, fun to debate issues, even if we never change anyone's mind.