Thursday, May 15, 2014

Politics, not technology, caused botched executions

The current debate on the death penalty has been arguing that they can’t be done in a manner that they consider humane and this is being used, in recent coverage as the leading reason why some people think that the death penalty should be abolished. Some of the best arguments about the death penalty are being ignored since they aren’t news, and possibly because the media hasn’t put enough emphasis on the most important issues even in their regular coverage.

They are also making claims that might have unintended consequences when it comes to debating physician assisted suicide, or death with dignity, as some people prefer to call it. And in addition to this part of the reason why the execution was botched is almost certainly because of the poor efforts to debate the issue and because some of the most qualified people to carry out either physician assisted suicide or the closest thing they can come to a humane version of the death penalty may not want to be involved in it; and those that are willing to participate in it are less capable of carrying it out properly.

One thing they rarely if ever mention is the fact that anesthesiologists sedate, temporarily for the sake of operations of one kind or another, people every day all over the country; and in the vast majority of times they do so without complications. Their intention is of course not to kill them and they use caution to avoid infections or excessive use of drugs which could lead to brain damage or death. The skills needed to do this is why they need extensive training to do their job. Presumably the same skills could be used to implement either the death penalty or physician assisted suicide. If this is done properly then once the patient or inmate is sedated they won't feel any pain when the final step is taken to end their life, perhaps with a secondary or third drug. If anything this should actually be easier, in most cases, since they don't have to worry about avoiding killing the patient or causing either brain damage or infection since they're going to die anyway.

Madeline Cohen supported this assumption when she said, "One of the things that’s going wrong in the current situation is that doctors, anesthesiologists, people with medical training, do not want to be involved in killing someone. And the manufacturers of drugs that are used to provide sedation and kill pain don’t want their drugs used to kill people. And so, the states have turned to increasingly, shall we say, creative methods and shady practices to conduct lethal injection executions with very little medical oversight and with drugs of questionable origin." Democracy Now interview

Whether you agree with the death penalty or not it should be easy to understand that if they decide to do this and use qualified professionals then they should be able to do it without complications in the vast majority of cases, yet the reporting on the subject clearly implies that isn't always the case.

This doesn't mean that there aren't many other problems with the death penalty that would still exist if they implemented in more humanely and that is part of the reason why qualified professionals refuse to participate in it it. According to Jay Carney's statement about Obama's position on the death penalty he acknowledges these problems but declines to address them in their entirety. Jay Carney made the following statement about Obama's position on the death penalty:

He has long said that while the evidence suggests that the death penalty does little to deter crime, he believes there are some crimes that are so heinous that the death penalty is merited. In this case, these cases, the crimes are indisputably horrific and heinous. But it’s also the case that we have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely. And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard. Complete article

He is acknowledging, correctly, that "the death penalty does little to deter crime," this is supported by statistics that show states with the death penalty, generally speaking, have more murders than those without the death penalty, as indicated in Nationwide Murder Rates. This shows that states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates; in 2012 only one of the states with the top ten murder rates didn't have the death penalty; only four of the states with the ten lowest murder rates did have the death penalty.

This doesn't mean that the death penalty causes higher crime; it almost certainly does not; but it does indicate that it isn't a deterrent. However, there is evidence that dies indicate other more important factors which almost certainly do contribute to violent crimes that can be prevented; unfortunately this doesn't get nearly as much attention. According to a study done in 2002, "Correlation Between High Rates of Corporal Punishment in Public Schools and Social Pathologies," "Of the states with the ten highest murder rates in the United States, educators paddle children in eight of them; Of the states with the ten lowest murder rates in the nation, educators paddle children in one of them; Of the ten states with the highest percentage of the population in prison, educators paddle children in nine of them; and Of the ten states with the lowest percentage of the population in prison, educators do not paddle children in any of them." This almost certainly does indicate that corporal punishment is a contributing cause to higher violent crime including murder although the statistical study alone isn't enough to come to this conclusion, since there are other potential contributing factors.

Even though this relatively brief statistical analysis isn't enough to conclude that corporal punishment and child abuse leads to escalating violence there is plenty of other research to support this conclusion and since I have cited a lot of that and gone into this in Does child abuse and bullying lead to more violence? and Child abuse and bullying link in study long over due I won't repeat it here.

Another important issue to consider is how poverty increases crime and how it falls on those with the least amount of political power, often minorities. A relatively quick look at Wikipedia's List of U.S. states by poverty rate compared to the Murder Rates Nationally and By State at DPIC clearly indicates that the states with the highest murder rates as well as other violent crimes are often the states with the highest poverty rates. Efforts to reduce poverty will almost certainly reduce violent crime. It is often said that this should be "no excuse" like many other problems with crime; and perhaps at least to some degree they're right; however if could be at least a partial explanation and understanding it could help solve the problem.

By outsourcing jobs and polluting the environment among other things the political establishment is creating an economic environment where it is much more difficult for may of the poorest people in the country to provide necessities or educate their children and raise them properly. The claim of the free market is that competition will benefit everyone; but when they pay an enormous amount of money for advertising, including marketing psychologists that study how to manipulate people starting in their early childhood while simultaneously cutting the pay of the workers that provide the value to products and services this should raise serious doubts about this claim and it contributes to escalating poverty that contributes to violence.

The point is that with all this time they spend debating the death penalty back and forth they're constantly pushing a policy that doesn't work and ignoring policies that do.

A closer review of how corporal punishment is implemented, from several sources including Why Are Black Students Facing Corporal Punishment in Public Schools? also indicates that it is used more often on minorities or in lower income areas. A closer look at some of the schools in many inner cities and the poverty minorities are brought up in also demonstrates many of the problems that precedes crime including murder. There are plenty of sources that report on this; unfortunately few of the best ones get much if any media or political attention.

One of the best, which isn't widely publicized by the media, is almost certainly Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol who writes about how many African American children are written off even before they get out of elementary school, let alone high school. In this book he doesn't use the word "apartheid" but he is clearly describing something similar and in a later book, "The Shame of the Nation" he does go so far as to call it "Apartheid." Many people, including to some degree myself, might find it hard to believe that the U.S. is creating an apartheid education system. I don't encounter many minorities in my area and in the past I have rarely if ever lived in an area where there has been more than 5% of the population that was black, at most times there has almost certainly been no more than 2% of the population that was black where I have lived. And most of those minorities don't seem to be violent of living in much if any worse condition than the rest of us as far as I can tell. However the average % of the population that is black has been about 13%; where are the rest of them? On a couple of occasions I have visited Rochester briefly; that seems to be where they are; and they do seem to live in an area that is worse off than most of us and as far as I can tell from the reports of other cities where blacks are concentrated most of them are probably worse off. When I consider this it is clear that Jonathan Kozol appears to be right and most of us simply never even think about it.

It would be hard for someone who is familiar with the environment that many of these children are brought up in to doubt that this has a long term impact on who is more likely to be convicted of violent crimes. And it also indicates that if the contributing causes are addressed then these crimes could be prevented, or at least drastically reduced if policies were implemented to make the contributing causes less likely. It is easy to blame minorities for their crimes and at least to some degree it is justified but it should be clear to those that look at how policies contribute to a hostile environment; and that the political establishment is in a much better position to make major changes that improve the situation; but they decline to do so for one reason or another; and therefore they should also be considered partially responsible.

It may be easier to look only at those that are presumably committing the most crimes, or at least what is considered blue collar crimes, and put all the blame on them; however a closer look will almost certainly indicate that the contributing causes to many of these problems are based largely on decisions made by those with the most political power and education and those with the least are the ones that pay the price.

The damage for white collar crimes, or things that should be considered crimes is almost certainly much worse yet they don't even consider the death penalty for these and in many cases they don't consider any other penalty at all or even try to stop them. In many cases they also even spend an enormous amount of tax payer money to arrest protesters who are trying to draw attention to them.

When buildings collapse or catch fire killing hundreds of workers in sweat shops instead of charging the corporations with negligent mass murder they often arrest protesters.

When they find an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that pollution is killing thousands if not millions of people instead of charging the heads of chemical companies with negligent mass murder and possibly considering the death penalty or at elast trying to stop or even reduce the amount of pollution and invest more in clean energy they use tax payer money to arrest protesters.

When they have recalls for defective products that often result in a large number of deaths, often where there is evidence of a cover up, like the GM ignition recall or in cases where they may have been a result of relentless efforts to cut corners to reduce price like Wal-Mart's listeria outbreak from cantaloupes there is no consideration of the death penalty or any other criminal charges, although they may often be sued in civil court.

And when decisions made by politicians and corporations contribute to an environment where crime is much more likely, including violent crime then there is little or no effort to hold them accountable or consider it as mitigating circumstances for defendants; any attempt to consider this is often ridiculed and relegated to the fringes even when there is an enormous amount of research to indicate how public policy might impact crime.

Like many other subjects the decisions about the death penalty are largely dependent on appeals to emotion without much fact checking. This enables those with political power to more easily manipulate the public for their own purposes.

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