Thursday, January 23, 2014

Support justice for 14 year old victim of state sponsored murder

On June 16, 1944, ten days after D Day, South Carolina officials threw a switch that coursed 2,400 volts of electricity through the 90 pound body of 14 year old George Stinney, Jr., of Alcolu, SC, sending him to his D (dying) Day. Eighty-one days earlier two pre-teen girls from the same town were found with their heads bashed in. S...tinney, Jr. was quickly arrested and tried for the murders. His father was fired from his mill job and the entire family was driven from town, leaving George Jr. to face Southern justice alone. The trial took less than three hours as the only evidence offered was a confession. The defense promptly rested. The verdict came down in ten minutes and seven weeks later the boy used a Bible as a booster seat to fit into the electric chair. Oh, yes. Stinney, Jr. was black; the victims were white. Stinney, Jr. was the only black in the courtroom.

Now, three South Carolina attorneys are petitioning state officials for a new trial based on likelihood Stinney's execution was nothing but a legally sanctioned lynching. In lieu of that they are seeking a posthumous pardon. Scattered family members, prevented from testifying seventy years ago, are still alive and will swear the boy was with them at the time of the killing. The murder weapon was a twenty pound railroad spike, unlikely to be wielded effectively by a five foot, ninety pound child. A reputed white suspect, now dead, was never questioned and had family members on the Coroner's inquest jury that recommended Stinney, Jr. be prosecuted.

George Stinney, Jr. deserves the real day in court he never received while alive. His case should make every living American who still lights up when he hears of another one of his fellow man becoming a victim of state sponsored murder, re-evaluate their humanity. George Stinney, Jr. is not a fluke. His saga has been repeated dozens, maybe hundreds of times in American history. It is time to end this sorrowful chapter in the American Story.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Pick: In The Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

Erik Larson got me again.

Back in 2003 he penned 'The Devil In White City' a dual history of the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Jackson Park, and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who stalked the Fair for victims to be entombed in the Murder Castle he built at 62nd and Wallace in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, bordering the Fair. Being a south sider familiar with both sites I was entranced by Larson's prose and fascinated how he seamlessly interweaved these two riveting narratives.

I finally got around to reading his 2011 history 'In The Garden of Beasts' which also has a Chicago South Side origin. William E. Dodd was a renowned history professor and Woodrow Wilson biographer at the University of Chicago for a quarter century when he got the call from FDR himself to serve as first Ambassador to Germany under new Chancellor Adolph Hitler in July, 1933. Dodd wasn't first choice. FDR couldn't convince any of his top candidates to take on the near impossible task of dealing with a madman and his equally crazed posse of murderous gangsters. FDR got so frustrated he jokingly considered sending one his Jewish associates to torment the Fuhrer as Ambassador. Dodd drew the short straw and what a magnificent selection he was. He was a diplomatic misfit in every sense except the only one which counted: a brilliant, learned, humanitarian who shunned all diplomatic pretense to look Hitler and Goring and Goebbels in the eye and tell them they were wrong and self destructive in their totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. The State Department establishment hated Dodd because he wasn't a rich, Eastern Establishment WASP who would suck up to Hitler to persuade him to repay Great War debts owed American financiers. Dodd's focus on democratic principles and ethnic inclusion drove them to undermine his tenure throughout his four and a half years at the post. He soldiered on largely because FDR supported and encouraged his liberal bent. One Dodd speech, presented just three months into his tenure on October 12, 1933, put the Nazi's on notice he knew their unfolding game: "In times of great stress, men are apt to abandon too much of their past social devices and venture too far upon uncharted courses. And the consequence has always been...disaster. One may safely say that it would be no sin if statesmen learned enough of history to realize no system which implies control over society by privilege seekers has ever ended in any other way than collapse...another war and chaos." The Nazis didn't forget Dodd's history lesson and had this to say as Dodd lay near death in July, 1939: "The 70 year old man, one of the strangest diplomats who ever existed, is now back among those whom he served for 20 years - the activist war-mongering Jews. After returning to the United States, Dodd expressed himself in the most irresponsible and shameless fashion over the German Reich, whose officials had for four years, with almost super human generosity, overlooked his and his family's scandalous affairs, faux pas and political indiscretions."

The title 'In The Garden of Beasts' ostensibly refers to Tiergarden, Berlin's Central Park, which literally means 'animal garden' reflecting the preserve where old German royalty hunted wild game. Ironically, in Dodd's Germany, cruelty to animals could land a citizen in jail. The symbolic meaning refers to Nazis, who hunted their fellow man due to their ethnicity or some imagined offense against the state. William E. Dodd jousted with the beasts at the very beginning of their descent into barbarism. His neglected story made me proud of both his valiant service and his connection to my alma mater, which instilled in me a life long quest for political and social justice.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Murder on the cheap

The folks with bloodlust in their hearts supporting state sponsored murder known legally as the 'death penalty' had a tough last week. They injected two new lethal drugs into their Ohio murder victim, Dennis McGuire, which were substituted for pentobarbital, no longer available because the manufacturer forbids its use in state sponsored murder. Alas, the new drugs didn't work so well. McGuire was initially quiet but then started gasping and uttering load snorting noises before his 25 minutes of torture ended with his heartbeat. Normally, the murder victim makes a couple of gasps after being injected before quietly expiring. McGuire's daughter also gasped as she watched her father's barbaric demise. Let's hope she cleans out Ohio's execution fund with a huge legal settlement.

In a related story, Wyoming state senator Bruce Burns introduced legislation to use the firing squad for Wyoming bad guys because of these twin problems with lethal injection. When asked why not go with the more reliable gas chamber, Burns replied it would be too expensive for Wyoming to build and install one. Burns' bill is a twofur: efficient state sponsored murder at a reasonable price.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gov. Christie represents heart n' soul of Republican Party

Gov. Chris Christie may not be loved by the Evangelical Christian zealot wing of the Republican Party, but the Wolves of Wall Street adore him. To them he's Mitt Romney with fangs, someone who will gleefully do their bidding to continue the funneling of middle class wealth up to the super rich without a tinge of remorse. Last weekend Chri...stie was vacuuming cash for regressive GOP Florida governor Rick Scott at fundraisers organized by billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone and Florida sugar magnate Jose Pepe Funjul, Jr. Scott governs one of the 25 states, mostly controlled by Republicans, who have turned down federally funded Medicaid expansion for three years, effectively shutting five million low income folks out of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Longone is one of numerous billionaire and near billionaire fat cats backing Christie's presidential bid. Fossil fuel mega billionaires the Koch brothers; hedge fund kings Stanley Druckenmiller, Ken Griffin, Charles Schwab and Steve Schwarzman; former AIG titan Hank Greenberg, former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and former GE CEO and infamous job cutter Jack Welsh, are also on board with an inexhaustible war chest to restore the Presidency to the upper one tenth of one percent, with cutthroat Christie in charge. David Koch says he's inspired by Christie and calls him a "true political hero." Of course, David Koch would never by tied up by a Christie revenge-linked traffic jam as he can hop over any Christie malfeasance in his private helicopter.

Christie has been brilliantly packaged by himself and his billionaire backers as a blunt, no nonsense regular guy who's a man of the people. That phony fa├žade has been shredded, first by the YouTube montage of Christie bullying little people like teachers simply asking fair questions about cuts to educational funding, and now by a cascade of thuggish scandals that have stripped the would be presidential emperor to his drawers.

Brothers Koch, Home Depot founder Langone and the rest of the plutocrats destroying the middle class will need to find a new front man to swing their wrecking ball. Their plan was to have Chris Christie exit the governor's mansion early to wield it. Christie may still leave the mansion early, but more likely to be carrying a ball and chain instead.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sam Cooke: 50 years and change still comin'

Hard to believe we lost singer, songwriter, record company mogul and civil rights activist Sam Cooke (1931-1964) fifty years ago this year. I became an instant Sam Cooke fan in 1957 when he released his first pop monster hit 'You Send Me'. Still can't hear one of his dozens of great songs without lamenting his tragic early shooting death in a seedy LA motel. The feature 'A Change Is Gonna Come' released posthumously, has become a civil rights anthem appropriate on the eve of the MLK holiday. It should remind us there is much work still ahead not only to expand human freedom to all, but to push back the regressive forces working as hard as us to prevent change or roll back the magnificent gains of the last 50 years. Cooke missed most of that progress but he inspires us from the grave with music, not marches.