The Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Case Is Not About Justice

Dzhokhar TsarnaevNow that the world was shocked to learn that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts, we enter the penalty phase where it is decided if we kill him. I’ve found it interesting that going into the trial, all the jurors were asked if they would be willing to vote to kill him should he be found guilty. That stuck out to me. I imagine everyone on the jury being a bunch of compliant people. I’m sure there are many reasons why I would never have been allowed on that jury, but certainly I could not have answered that question truthfully in the affirmative. No, just because the law says we can kill people in the name of justice doesn’t mean that I think that’s right.

The down side of an opinion like mine is that whether a defendant lives or dies would be left totally up to chance. Is there someone like me on the jury? Or is it filled with a bunch of people who simply do whatever the prosecutor wants — like the beaten dogs that they are? That is indeed a problem. But can anyone seriously say that our justice system is consistent? Who we kill and who we don’t is mostly just a matter of dumb luck.

But in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I have visions of Frankenstein with an angry mob with pitchforks and torches. I’m not saying that Tsarnaev isn’t guilty. I’m not saying that his crimes are not horrible. I just don’t see what killing him gets us. But I’m afraid that I’m extremely clear on what killing him gets those who are baying for blood. For them, Tsarnaev is no longer a convicted criminal; he is a symbol; he is a sacrifice that we use to wash away the blood of that terrible afternoon two years ago.

Of course, his death will not do that. All it will do is show yet again that the United States really isn’t a civilized country. Because let’s face it: Tsarnaev isn’t anywhere close to as awful a person as others who we have not put to death. We didn’t put Jeffrey Dahmer to death for example. Charlie Pierce noted a few other more obvious analogies, A Verdict in Boston: What the Trial Is Still About. Ted Kaczynski killed three and badly injured 23 others. Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber, killed two and injured 111. Yet they are still alive. Could it have something to do with the fact that these men were captured long after their crimes? I suspect so.

And that raises an important question: can we meed out justice when crimes are still vivid. I remember after 9/11 when the country was so hot to go to war in Afghanistan and to pass the Patriot Act and to set up the Department of Homeland Security. At that time, all I could think was, “This is a huge mistake.” And I wasn’t alone. Others said the same thing. Of course, they were dismissed as un-American. And the fact that we are later shown to be right hardly matters. Right now, there are a lot of people who want to feel a sense of justice by seeing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev killed. I understand it. But it doesn’t have a thing to do with justice.

Privilege in America

Anand GiridharadasDon’t console yourself that you are the 99 percent. If you live near a Whole Foods; if no one in your family serves in the military; if you are paid by the year, not the hour; if most people you know finished college; if no one you know uses meth; if you married once and remain married; if you’re not one of 65 million Americans with a criminal record — if any or all of these things describe you, then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on, and you may be part of the problem.

—Anand Giridharadas
A Tale of Two Americas

David Brooks’ Iran Analysis as Bad as Other Cons

David BrooksWhat does it say about American conservatism that the most reasonable writer around is totally unreasonable? On Friday, David Brooks wrote, The Revolution Lives! It is one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever read. He starts by asking, “Are the men who control [Iran] more like Lenin or are they more like Gorbachev?” Forget Iran for the moment; since when was Lenin unreasonable and irrational? Brooks is posing the question in such a way that there are “good” enemies who you make deals with and there are “bad” enemies that you don’t. This is what makes Brooks special in the conservative movement. Instead of making patently false statements about never negotiating with enemies, he’s carved out a niche of enemies that may be negotiating with. Of course, in practice, it is all the same.

On Thursday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a big speech where he demanded that all sanctions be dropped as soon as the deal is struck. Instead of seeing this for what it is — part of the negotiating process and Khamenei’s attempt to pacify hardliners in his country — Brooks sees this as proof that Khamenei can’t be trusted. He is supposedly still in the grip of the revolution. He seems to have forgotten the Iran-Contra affair where the sainted Ronald Reagan made a deal with the Iranians when they were much closer to their revolution.

Brooks is also upset that people listening to Khamenei’s speech were chanting, “Death to America!” This is just silly. This is like Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the only deal that we should make with Iran must include Iran’s statement that Israel has a right to exist. In this case, the Iran deal is about nuclear enrichment; it isn’t about America and Iran becoming best buddies. But consider those people chanting, “Death to America!” These are the same as the people here in America who want to “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran” back to the stone age. Any reasonable person would be more concerned about the latter, more specific, claims.

Another part of Brooks’ argument is that Iran doesn’t trust the United States. Funny that. Why would Iran be suspicious of the United States? Might it be the 1953 coup that we organized against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq? The United States has done a great deal to meddle with Iran and what does the United States have to complain about? An attack of a bunch of college kids on the US embassy in 1979 — something that even 36 years later our country can’t get over?

Regardless, what political leaders say in their own countries do not necessarily have much to do with what they are actually doing in their foreign affairs. And Brooks knows this. He even wrote, “Khamenei’s remarks could be bluster, tactical positioning for some domestic or international audience.” Of course, he throws the idea to the side. He added, “If Iran still has revolutionary intent, then no amount of treaty subtlety will enforce this deal.” Does he really think this way? It was Ronald Reagan who said, “Trust, but verify.” That’s what this deal is about. Not, “Trust, and hope for the best.”

This is Brooks’ ultimate argument, “If President Obama is right and Iran is on the verge of change, the deal is a home run.” What it shows is that Brooks, like all the other conservative loons thinks that we really shouldn’t make deals with enemies. If Iran is about to turn into our ally, then this deal is good. But if that’s the case, we wouldn’t need a deal at all.

Brooks is just a conservative apologist. He exists to make the crazy conservatives sound like there is some reasonable argument for what they think. But there isn’t. David Brooks doesn’t think we should make a deal with Iran for the same reason that hardliners here didn’t think that Reagan should make a deal with Gorbachev. Their analysis was wrong then and his analysis is wrong now. But that is to be expected.

No, Dr Krugman, There Are a Lot of Populists

Paul KrugmanEarlier this week, Paul Krugman wrote, Rand Paul and the Empty Box. It follows on what I seem to be seeing everywhere: the argument that Rand Paul can’t become president because there just aren’t that many libertarians. Apparently, one in nine voters call themselves libertarians. I guess people can call themselves whatever they want. But even as an ex-libertarian, I find most people’s use of the term offensive. For most people, being a “libertarian” is something like Rand Paul: they are conservatives who think maybe we shouldn’t incarcerate cannabis smokers and maybe we should leave the LGBT community alone. Or as I often put it: libertarians are conservatives who are embarrassed to call themselves Republicans.

But Krugman countered the libertarians with what we might call the populists. These are people who are socially conservative and economically liberal. Krugman thinks that there are even fewer of these people than there are libertarians. Everyone has their blind spots, I guess. And Krugman’s overall point is correct, regardless of what people think, they tend to gravitate into the liberal or conservative camps. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of populists. I think that the populists may, in fact, be the biggest political class in the United States.

Think back to Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? The whole story of that book was not that the people of Kansas were economically conservative. It was that their social conservatism trumped everything else. Although the book has been characterized as being about people voting against their own interests, it is not. It is about people placing social issues at the top of their concerns and the Republican Party using that to enact laws that mostly have nothing to do with what the social conservatives want.

If you look at polling on American’s beliefs about different political issues, you will see that they are slightly to the right on social issues and they are fairly far to the left on economic issues. In fact, they are usually well to the left of the Democratic Party itself. I’ve discussed this problem a lot around here. The Democratic Party really doesn’t offer much of a choice on economic issues — it is mostly like Republican Lite. So if a populist cared equally about social and economic issues, she would have a real problem choosing one of the two big parties because the Republicans would to her right on social issues and the Democrats would be to her right on economic issues.

I am a liberal on social and economic issues. But they are not equal in my eyes. If there were a truly populist party — moderately conservative on social issues and quite liberal on economic issues — I would abandon the Democratic Party. I wouldn’t feel good about the social issues. But I would feel certain that greater economic equality would lead to greater social equality. And it might do so quicker than it would on our current path.

But it bothers me me greatly that as keen a commentator as Paul Krugman would think that these populists represent a small part of the electorate. His belief is part of what sustains a political system that does not even try to appeal to a huge segment of the population. Instead, we are stuck with both major American political parties beholden to Wall Street and other interests. This is democracy in name only.

Morning Music: Starland Vocal Band

Starland Vocal Band - Afternoon DelightIn an episode of Arrested Development, Michael is angry at his son spending time with his girlfriend, and Maeby is angry at her parents because they are the way they are, so the two of them team up and trying to make the others jealous by paying attention to each other at the company Christmas party. They end up singing a Karaoke version of the Starland Vocal Band’s song “Afternoon Delight.”

If you are my age, you probably know that the song is rather sexy. I remember hearing the song when I was 11 years old and knowing right away that “afternoon delight” was a euphemism for “sex during the day.” But it does have an easy listening feel to it that makes one think more of “Country Roads” than “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus.” I suspect that is why the song was such a big hit. It reached number 1 in the United States and was the 12th biggest song for the year.

Sky rockets in flight.

Anniversary Post: The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyOn this day 90 years ago, F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby was published. It is certainly one of the best 20th century American novels — very possibly the best. But I’m not sure I can justify that claim in an objective sense. Fitzgerald had an extremely compelling style. But it may just be that his sense of ambiguity very much matches my own. And that is perhaps best illustrated in The Great Gatsby.

It is hard for me to read the book without bringing a lot of my own opinions about class and the United States along. No one ever questions that it isn’t fundamentally an honest reflection of the country. Yet most people want to ignore its great insights. Basically, you have the Buchanans, who I would say at the useless wealthy. They are what we are always told America doesn’t have: aristocrats.

On the other side, we have Gasby, tragic in his successful efforts to work his way into that social class. His obsession with Daisy is not as a woman but as a symbol of attainment in that society. Nick is also attracted to the world of the useless wealthy, but his failure provides him with armor against it. And ultimately, his personal nobility saves him.

I didn’t realize it before, but the novel was badly reviewed at the time and did not sell well. This is often the case with what we now consider great books (or whatever). But it does seem like the kind of book that wouldn’t be very easy to understand in 1925. It was really a novel that needed the Great Depression to be fully appreciated. Also: critics are generally idiots.

Happy anniversary The Great Gatsby!

The Great Gatsby is apparently finally in the public domain in Australia. You’ve got to wonder why it isn’t in the United States. This isn’t freedom. This isn’t protecting creative works. This is protecting corporate profits. And this is part of what The Great Gatsby is about.