Cityscapes – 6 May, 2014

SPS San Antonio 1 (1) SPS San Antonio 2

Commerce Street, San Antonio, Texas

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Texas Spares No Expense To Kill

texas_death_penalty

 

In Texas today,  there is apparently no expense too great when it comes to efficiently killing people, and no expense too small to be called unaffordable and cancelled if it preserves or improves quality of existence for the living.

This has nothing to do with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, or the ongoing and contentious argument over abortion; those battles are raging on their own elsewhere.

Rather, this is about the eagerness of the state of Texas to go to any expense and any length to continue dispatching prisoners on death row with clockwork efficiency and regularity, under a veil of secrecy and unknown cost, while any other state expenditures are castigated as a sign of ‘big government’ and pared back – even as those who have (rightly or wrongly) come to depend on that government support suffer grievously as a consequence.

The Guardian reports on the extraordinary lengths to which the Texas state government – which takes every opportunity to position itself as staunchly pro-life and legislate based on the ‘sanctity of human life’ – is willing to go in order to continue performing lethal injections once its current supply of lethal injection drugs runs out at the end of March:

Texas has obtained a new batch of the drugs it uses to execute death row inmates, allowing the state to continue carrying out death sentences once its existing supply expires at the end of the month.

But correction officials will not say where they bought the drugs, arguing that information must be kept secret to protect the safety of its new supplier. In interviews with the Associated Press, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also refused to say whether providing anonymity to its new supplier of the sedative pentobarbital was a condition of its purchase.

It should be noted that Texas is not the only state to go above and beyond in its zeal to continue killing inmates – Ohio also recently switched to a new cocktail of lethal injection drugs after it found itself unable to obtain new supplies of the original formula.

The fact that no international pharmaceutical company is willing any longer to supply drugs to be used for barbaric executions was a mere obstacle to be overcome for Ohio, who found a new drug and a new supplier, and subsequently botched their first execution using the new method. One eyewitness, a priest, reported:

I was aghast. Over those 11 minutes or more he was fighting for breath, and I could see both of his fists were clenched the entire time. His gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us. Towards the end, the gasping faded into small puffs of his mouth. It was much like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe. Time dragged on and I was helpless to do anything, sitting helplessly by as he struggled for breath. I desperately wanted out of that room.

For the next four minutes or so a medical tech listened for a heart beat on both sides of his chest. That seemed to drag on too, like some final cruel ritual, preventing us from leaving. Then, at 10.53am, the warden called the time of death, they closed the curtains, and that was it.

I came out of that room feeling that I had witnessed something ghastly. I was relieved to be out in the fresh air. There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes. I’d been told that a “normal” execution lasted five minutes – this experimental two-drug concoction had taken 26 minutes. I consider that inhumane.

But let us return to Texas, so often the protagonist in these stories. The reason given by Texas state officials for not releasing details of where their shiny new supply of lethal injection drugs came from – in response to an entirely justified request by the AP – sets a new standard for cognitive dissonance and Orwellian doublethink:

The decision to keep details about the drugs and their source secret puts the agency at odds with past rulings of the state attorney general’s office, which has said the state’s open records law requires the agency to disclose specifics about the drugs it uses to carry out lethal injections.

“We are not disclosing the identity of the pharmacy because of previous, specific threats of serious physical harm made against businesses and their employees that have provided drugs used in the lethal injection process,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.

It is already well known that Texas’ supposed devotion to the sanctity of life does not apply to those on death row, just as the state that held a prayer event to ask God to intercede and end a long-running drought is also quite happy to ignore Jesus’ teachings about mercy and forgiveness.

But now it also appears that the state of Texas is acting in this opaque and clearly antidemocratic manner because of fears for the safety of those people who are involved in producing the deadly drugs.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had instead released their statement with the following revision (amendments in brackets):

“We are not disclosing the identity of the [people and organisations involved] because of previous, specific threats of serious physical harm made against businesses and their employees that have provided [services] used in the [abortion] process.”

Pigs would fly and snow fall in hell before the state of Texas would ever consider withholding the names and details of people involved in providing abortion services out of a desire to protect their safety, even though there are many real, tangible examples of such people being subjected to harassment, intimidation, physical harm and assassination. By contrast, anti-death penalty campaigners have shown no signs of wanting to intimidate or harm those with whom they disagree.

The key difference (and reason for the massive divergence in treatment of the two groups) is that as far as those in power in Texas are concerned, anyone ever involved in facilitating an abortion is inherently evil and deserves whatever comes their way, but anyone who facilitates an execution is doing their God-fearing, patriotic duty.

And this dichotomy exists because the governing majority in Texas, from Rick “Oops” Perry on downwards, do not see the execution of an incarcerated inmate by the all-powerful government as a violation of the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill.

texas_executions
One of the indispensable functions of government?

 

At this point, two disclaimers:

1. The purpose of this article is not to elicit sympathy for murderers, or even to debate the merits of the death penalty – though this blog will go on record as being resolutely against the death penalty, viewing it as a barbaric practice from a bygone age best relegated to the past.

2. Nor is the purpose of this article to debate the issue of abortion – though this blog will go on record as believing that life begins at conception, but that there are various times and circumstances (rape, incest, catastrophic developmental anomalies, risk to the life of the mother) when two equally terrible choices must be weighed and the resultant answer may come down on the side of terminating the pregnancy at the earliest opportunity; and that in these terrible, heart-wrenching circumstances, no one is better placed to make the awful decision than the mother, least of all government.

The purpose of this blog is to ask a very simple question of the Texas government: where the hell are your priorities?

Why, when Texas struggles with shameful rates of illiteracy, teen pregnancy, teen births, adults in correctional facilities, adults under probation, citizens without health insurance and food insecure children, is the state government rummaging for spare change and wasting precious time and resources in order to continue funding executions, of all things?

Why, when life is so difficult and wretched for so many Texans, is their state government more interested in preserving its ability to smite the guilty (or not guilty) than help the needy?

When conservative Texans are not threatening to secede from the United States in protest of the Tyrannical Kenyan Socialist Marxist Fascist Community-Organising Gun-Confiscating Traitor unlawfully occupying the White House, they often like to pledge their love and respect for the Constitution. Section 13 of Article 1 (Bill of Rights) of their own Texas State Constitution has this to say on the matter of punishing the guilty:

Sec.13. EXCESSIVE BAIL OR FINES; CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT; REMEDY BY DUE COURSE OF LAW. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted. All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him, in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law.

“Nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted.”

In Texas, it appears that selective reading is not limited to the Bible.

Rick Perry Lurks

The worst news of the day by far: Rick Perry is about to make a Big Announcement today in San Antonio, regarding his political future. There should be no surprises here – he will run again for governor, and (as he has already warned us) has not ruled out a second presidential run in 2016:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn’t ruling out another Republican presidential run in 2016. But he didn’t announce on Sunday whether he’ll seek a fourth term as governor.

Asked about 2016 on “Fox News Sunday,” Perry said: “Well, certainly, that’s an option out there, but again, we got a lot of work to do in this building right behind me [the Texas capitol] over the course of the next couple of weeks that have my focus substantially more than even 2014 or 2016.”

As for whether he’ll run for another term as governor, he said he’s making an announcement on Monday.

Because apparently his disastrous, calamitous car-crash of a 2012 campaign has not conclusively deterred him:

 

Let’s abolish commerce, education and the department of…?

Sigh.

Can someone cheer me up by running a quick poll on a Clinton vs Perry 2016 election?

The Real Reason Behind Abstinence-Only Sex Education

abstinence only

 

Robert Reich has an interesting article from Slate.com, pondering the real motivation behind abstinence-only sex education in Texas, given the fact that it consistently and demonstrably leads to worse health outcomes (higher numbers of teen pregnancies and STDs, which one might think policymakers would wish to avoid).

Reich posits that it has a lot more to do with punishment – removing any protection from the potential consequences of their actions so that teen girls feel the pain and shame of their “immoral” ways – than it does with any sincere belief that abstinence-only is in any way an effective method of sex education:

It’s not that the Christian fundamentalists who dominate state politics in Texas wouldn’t prefer young people, at least the girls, to remain abstinent and then get married off at 19, passing them seamlessly from parental to spousal control. They’re always happy in those rare cases when that successfully happens. The question is what happens to the 95 per cent of us who are dissenters and go ahead and have sex without being married first. The main concern driving these policies is that sexually active, unmarried women will get away with their behavior without being punished. That’s why there’s obstacles such as parental notification between girls and access to contraception. The idea is that if a girl tries to escape her due punishment of unintended pregnancy, she should at least have to endure being grounded for her slatternly ways.

In examining the logic behind the policies, you have to conclude that proponents of abstinence-only sex education are either stupid (because they want teen pregnancy and STD rates go down, but are unable to see that the implementation of their policies are having the opposite effect), or mean (because they know full well that their policies are causing higher rates of pregnancies and STDs and are glad of it, because these young people need to be punished for their slutty ways):

If you start with the assumption that social conservatives agree that the problem is STDs and teen pregnancy and not sex itself, you’re inevitably going to conclude that their insistence on programs that seem to keep the STD and teen pregnancy rate high must mean they’re stupid. Incredibly stupid, on the can’t-tie-their-own-shoes level. And that seems a bit unfair. Fundamentalists can be annoying and pig-headed, but they’re not measurably stupider than the rest of us. Because of this, the only fair conclusion is poor sexual health outcomes is the point, because they believe that if kids won’t stop having sex, they should at least be doing the time for their “crimes.” If you start with the assumption that sex is sinful and it should have negative consequences for those who disobey your sky god’s orders, then really, the Texas anti-sex policies can be considered a smashing success.

It’s kind of like a parent letting their young child pick up a few bumps and scrapes while playing so that they learn to play carefully. Except that the “parent” in this case is the benificent state of Texas, the “child” is the millions of kids in the Texas school system, and the “bumps and scrapes” are highly infectious sexually transmitted diseases (caught because the adolescents were not taught about the dangers of unprotected sex), babies being born into unprepared, unwilling families (and in some cases suffering harsh childhoods as a result), or babies being aborted for the same reasons.

Great parenting job.