News and Opinion Based on Facts

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Amy Winehouse, Too Fast To Live, Too Young to Die

27 is simply too early to die; yet this Saturday, July 23, 2011 saw the death of pop sensation Amy Winehouse. Immediately jokes began, "Well, she should have gone to rehab... yes, yes, yes!"
If only it were that simple.
It's easy for the general public to pass judgment on Winehouse, or any of the other host of celebrities that left too soon because of drugs, alcohol, fast cars or a myriad of other ways to die. Those critics are not artists.
What people should be asking is, why artists? Since the dawn of time artists have left early, been addicted, been "not right." If Prozac existed a hundred or more years ago, would we have Van Gogh's work? If Joplin or Hendrix had Dr. Drew and didn't have their demons, would they have had their brilliance?
The fact is, at times, being an artist hurts, and so many choose to self-medicate because it gets them out of their heads, it slows things down, it removes, temporarily, the unbearable lightness of being. From GaGa fessing up to earlier drug use and the fact that she still smokes pot (which neither she, nor I, consider a dangerous drug) to pictures of Sinatra or Davis, Jr. with glasses of booze and cigarettes hanging from their lips, artists medicate.
I know this, because I'm an artist and I surround myself with them; many very, very famous. Over the years, as a music journalist for Billboard, The Advocate and countless others I've been behind-the-scenes, on a personal level with many. And let me tell you, whether it's Streisand or Pavarotti, rock god or contemporary goddess, they are each, in their own very special way, insane. I know I am. Most, control their insanity with their art; it's why they do it. They're called quirky, eccentric, bitchy, a myriad of things. But a small few deaden the pain with substances. Just this week alone Eric Dane from Grey's Anatomy checked in to 30 days of rehab for painkiller addiction, which is a nice way to say he wants to stop taking opiates.
The general public looks at the powerful and privileged and say, "What a waste, if I had all that fame and money I wouldn't..." Trust me, you never, ever know.
Look at Whitney Houston. She seemingly had it all. Untouchable vocals, an acting career taking off, hit records only to let a substance in that devastated her life, and her voice. Now, she is the shell of the superstar she used to be; and it's tragic. But why? Because something in her, something private, something personal, hurt, and the drugs made it go away.
In America we don't respect our most valuable commodity: our artists. Let's remember, in this down economy it's Hollywood and the music world that is still one of the biggest revenue generators and one of the few things we still export that the rest of the world wants. No one wants their child to say to them, I want to be an actor or actress, a musician, writer, painter exclusively. I heard the same thing from my parents, "That's great dear, but maybe you should also have a backup, just in case..." Do accountants and lawyers also train to be chefs and doctors? Only in the arts are people told to see it as a secondary profession, not the main.
And yet to the artist it is all they can do, all they know. It's not a job. That's what so many do not get. Being a singer, an actor, a writer, painter, photographer... it's not a choice. It's in the DNA, the very makeup of the person. And yes, these people like Winehouse, these great artists are usually broken. I referenced Streisand earlier. She came from a home where her father died when she was young, where the second husband and mother weren't the most supportive. She thought she wasn't the most beautiful thing in the world and entered a business of constant rejection. In other words, she was working out her demons through her art. But she had to, there was no other way. She knew it, it's why she grew her nails so long at 16 so she couldn't get a job as a cashier. She simply had to be in the arts.
Winehouse was another artist whose pain was channeled so beautifully into music. She laid her life bare in every track, in a pop-jazz-fusion way that brought an entirely new genre to life. There would be no Duffy, no Adele if there weren't Winehouse. And look at Adele, 21 and top of her game. As a friend from South Africa just commented to me, "She chain smokes constantly, she's overweight and really pushing herself..." Medicating her own way, with food instead of drugs, tobacco instead of something else.
And it's now seen as typical. Young pop star throws it all away for drugs or alcohol. As if some have a choice. No one will know what went on in Winehouse's head, what she thought about as she tossed and turned at night, what made her tick. Look at Michael Jackson. He had it all to most of the world, but he couldn't sleep. He so desperately wanted sleep that he became dependent on serious drugs which would then kill him. Because his body wouldn't rest, his mind wouldn't calm down. How could it? It's the same mind possessed by a musical genius; a two-edged sword. When he recorded the song "Morphine" with the lyric "Demurral, demurral, dear God he's taking demurral...." He sang of his own demons, like Winehouse in "Rehab." And we danced and sang to the songs, personal expressions of real issues in the artist's lives.
Who is to blame? No one and everyone. I've seen people around artists that give them whatever they want if it keeps them functioning. When they become industries, and Winehouse was becoming one, there's a lot at stake for a lot of people. If the girl wants a bump to get her going, give her one. If she wants a pint of this or a fifth of that, let her have it. It's the lifestyle, right?
Actually, it is and that's what really needs to be talked about. Anne Rice wrote the beginning of the Vampire Chronicles battling alcohol and pain brought about from a death in the family. So much of what we consider great art has been created by people half out of their minds on something. Lenny Bruce and other comics medicated right on stage. Billy Holiday was a jazz great and heroin addict. Whatever makes a person an artist also makes them susceptible or predisposed to addictions, to self medication; not all, but some.
Should we rehab them? Take the substances away because some die like Winehouse? It begs the question, would the same person create the same genius? Many of the greatest painters had lead poisoning from putting their tools in their mouths. If we chelated their blood and removed the poison, would they have had the visions that they painted? If Jim Morrison was sent to a 30-day program with Dr. Drew, would he have lasted, and if so, would he have created the same music?
It's an unfortunate instance that self-medicating is what artists have done since the there were artists. And some over do. Many handle their addictions fine. Or they channel them. They create a family, and put all their energies off screen in to them. They create a life outside of the norm, away from Hollywood and the spotlight to keep their sanity and not need the medications.
Winehouse never got there. She never found the person or thing behind-the-scenes that brought her the relief the substances did. Madonna found Kabbalah and adopting a family. The Beatles found a guru, and John found Yoko. 90% of all artists find something or some one that keeps them from self-destructing other ways; even those that once turned to other means.
Had Winehouse lived, she may have found her way, to life, to love of herself enough to not over-do. But her pain grew. She recently did a gig in Belgrade, where for 90 minutes she slurred her way through. She was booed, and she cancelled the rest of her tour. That couldn't have been easy for, or on, her, even if her habits were to blame. Knowing the reason and being able to fix it are two different things.
In 2006 her album Back to Black, her second, brought her to the world. Five years later, the success of it would help take her from it. A story so often told.
But before you write her off as just a drug-addled pop diva, remember there was a person under that beehive; a real, live breathing person, born to Mitch Winehouse and his wife Janis in 1983. A person who went to school at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, and then to Brit School, a performing arts academy much like the High School for the Performing Arts featured in Fame.
When she was 19 she released "Frank" and Britain loved it. She didn't, once stating, according to theSan Francisco Chronicle on the day of her death that she was "only 80 percent behind it." Three years later, she hit and hit big with "Rehab."
During that time she broke up with her boyfriend and went through all that a young girl of 20 or 22 would go through. But she was no ordinary young girl. She had an incredible vocal style and a knack for writing hit songs.
And now, at 27, she will join the ranks of Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Marilyn, James Dean, Elvis, Hendrix, Joplin... so many who are immortal because they died too soon and left behind something that touched many.
Amy Winehouse was broken, as most great artists are. She chose a path whose conclusion was written eons prior by so many others who had traveled down it. She knew it, she had to, and others around her as well. But you can't force someone to change. You can't fix them, they have to find a way to either fix themselves or navigate around the break. Most artists fill the void, fill the chasm with their work, with family, religion, yoga, something. Amy filled it with her work, and substances.
She's not a cliché, she was a real, living, breathing young woman who burned brightly and extinguished just as fast.
To hear Karel on this topic go to or the podcast at iTunes. Also, Karel's new book, Shouting at Windmills: BS from Bush to Obama is now available at and

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse, Free At Last

Amy Winehouse  was a Sephardic Jew from a conservative religious background, but like many young people she broke free of the tales and myths of her parents and sought meaning in her own way. 

Like most of us she had seen too much suffering in this life to believe that any of this is guided by a supreme being.

Why did someone as sweet and gentle and gifted as Amy Winehouse die at 27, and a brutal atheist like the German Fuher live to a ripe old age?
Day after day, thousands of innocent people die horribly, through accidents or murder or genocide or whatever.
This has been going on for thousands of years, untold misery, anguish, pain and despair, crippling diseases, babies torn from their mothers arms.
I don’t know how one can see all this misery and conclude that an intelligent being capable of feelings of compassion is somehow in charge.
I don’t know, for example, why Bush killed so many thousands of babies in Iraq, or why loonies on the right don’t question these murders but will protest women being given information on birth control.
They attack the left, but remain curiously silent about right wing Jihad, such as the brutal killings in Norway or the cowardly murders of physicians in the U.S.
Bush has lived a pretty debauched life, even according to Christian standards.  Drugs, alcohol, lying and murder, yet he has enjoyed a long life consisting of luxury, and has never had to work a day in his life.     I see innocent children suffering every day, certainly they have purer hearts than Bush or those idolized by the wing nuts.
They are deprived, hungry, and lonely, and will in all likelihood continue to suffer through most of their lives, while others, again, folks who have never wanted for anything, nor have their parents, or anyone they have ever known, thrive.

Will the poor be rewarded with a Disneyland afterlife?
Nor will the rich.
But they will finally be equal.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse In Black

I loved Amy Winehouse.
I never met her face to face, but It seemed I knew her, from her videos, from her music, and our souls intertwined.  
Her music and her persona merged, her life was a work of art, surrealistic like a painting by Dali or an organ driven chant by Dylan.
I had just ended a 10 year relationship when first I heard Amy singing ” You Know That I’m No good”.
The point was that she WAS good, but couldn’t express why, or find fulfillment in her love life.           
Well, that was part of what she was saying.
It’s hard to write anything about her just now; it’s difficult to see the keyboard through my tears.        
It’s hard just to think about her being gone.
Tears  of shock and pain and loss are being felt around the world.
Rest in peace, dear Amy Winehouse, and may flights of angels sing you to your rest.

Friday, July 22, 2011

21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor

In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit.

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There is one group of American workers so disenfranchised that corporations are able to get away with paying them wages that rival those of third-world sweatshops. These laborers have been legally stripped of their political, economic and social rights and ultimately relegated to second-class citizens. They are banned from unionizing, violently silenced from speaking out and forced to work for little to no wages. This marginalization renders them practically invisible, as they are kept hidden from society with no available recourse to improve their circumstances or change their plight.
They are the 2.3 million American prisoners locked behind bars where we cannot see or hear them. And they are modern-day slaves of the 21st century. 
Incarceration Nation
It’s no secret that America imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in history. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, the US currently holds 25 percent of the world's prisoners. In 2008, over 2.3 million Americans were in prison or jail, with one of every 48 working-age men behind bars. That doesn’t include the tens of thousands of detained undocumented immigrants facing deportation, prisoners awaiting sentencing, or juveniles caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline. Perhaps it’s reassuring to some that the US still holds the number one title in at least one arena, but needless to say the hyper-incarceration plaguing America has had a damaging effect on society at large.
According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), US prison rates are not just excessive in comparison to the rest of the world, they are also substantially higher than our own longstanding history. The study finds that incarceration rates between 1880 and 1970 ranged from about 100 to 200 prisoners per 100,000 people. After 1980, the inmate population began to grow much more rapidly than the overall population and the rate climbed from about 220 in 1980 to 458 in 1990, 683 in 2000, and 753 in 2008.
The costs of this incarceration industry are far from evenly distributed, with the impact of excessive incarceration falling predominantly on African-American communities. Although black people make up just 13 percent of the overall population, they account for 40 percent of US prisoners. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), black males are incarcerated at a rate more than 6.5 times that of white males and 2.5 that of Hispanic males and black females are incarcerated at approximately three times the rate of white females and twice that of Hispanic females.
Michelle Alexander points out in her book The New Jim Crow that more black men are in jail, on probation, or on parole than were enslaved in 1850. Higher rates of black drug arrests do not reflect higher rates of black drug offenses. In fact, whites and blacks engage in drug offenses, possession and sales at roughly comparable rates.  
Incentivizing Incarceration
Clearly, the US prison system is riddled with racism and classism, but it gets worse. As it turns out, private companies have a cheap, easy labor market, and it isn’t in China, Indonesia, Haiti, or Mexico. It’s right here in the land of the free, where large corporations increasingly employ prisoners as a source of cheap and sometimes free labor.
In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit. By dipping into the prison labor pool, companies have their pick of workers who are not only cheap but easily controlled. Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages. They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises. Inmate workers are full-time and never late or absent because of family problems. 
If they refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges along with "good time" credit that reduces their sentences. To top it off, the federal government subsidizes the use of inmate labor by private companies through lucrative tax write-offs. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), private-sector employers earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they employ as a reward for hiring “risky target groups” and they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to "target group workers."
Study after study demonstrates the wastefulness of America's prison-industrial complex, in both taxpayer dollars and innocent lives, yet rolling back imprisonment rates is proving to be more challenging than ever.  Meanwhile, the use of private prisons and now privately contracted inmate labor has created a system that does not exactly incentivize leaner sentencing.
The disturbing implications of such a system mean that skyrocketing imprisonment for the possession of miniscule amounts of marijuana and the the expansion of severe mandatory sentencing laws regardless of the conviction, are policies that have to potential to increase corporate profits. As are the“three strikes laws” that require courts to hand down mandatory and extended sentences to people who have been convicted of felonies on three or more separate occasions.  People have literally been sentenced to life for minor crimes like shoplifting.
The Reinvention of Slavery
The exploitation of prison labor is by no means a new phenomenon. Jaron Browne, an organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), maps out how the exploitation of prison labor in America is rooted in slavery. The abolition of slavery dealt a devastating economic blow to the South following the loss of free labor after the Civil War. So in the late 19th century, an extensive prison system was created in the South in order to maintain the racial and economic relationship of slavery, a mechanism responsible for re-enslaving black workers. Browne describes Louisiana’s famous Angola Prison to illustrate the intentional transformation from slave to inmate:
“In 1880, this 8000-acre family plantation was purchased by the state of Louisiana and converted into a prison. Slave quarters became cell units. Now expanded to 18,000 acres, the Angola plantation is tilled by prisoners working the land—a chilling picture of modern day chattel slavery.”
The abolition of slavery quickly gave rise to the Black Codes and Convict Leasing, which together worked wonders at perpetuating African American servitude by exploiting a loophole in the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The Black Codes were a set of laws that criminalized legal activity for African Americans and provided a pretext for the arrest and mass imprisonment of newly freed blacks, which caused the percentage of African Americans in prison to surpass whites for the first time. Convict leasing involved leasing out prisoners to private companies that paid the state a certain fee in return. Convicts worked for the companies during the day outside the prison and returned to their cells at night. The system provided revenue for the state and profits for plantation owners and wasn’t abolished until the 1930s.
Unfortunately, convict leasing was quickly replaced with equally despicable state-run chain gangs. Once again, stories of vicious abuse created enough public anger to abolish chain gangs by the 1950s. Nevertheless, the systems of prisoner exploitation never actually disappeared.
Today’s corporations can lease factories in prisons, as well as lease prisoners out to their factories. In many cases, private corporations are running prisons-for-profit, further incentivizing their stake in locking people up. The government is profiting as well, by running prison factories that operate as multibillion-dollar industries in every state, and throughout the federal prison system, where prisoners are contracted out to major corporations by the state.
In the most extreme cases, we are even witnessing the reemergence of the chain gang. In Arizona, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” Joe Arpaio, requires his Maricopa County inmates to enroll in chain gangs to perform various community services or face lockdown with three other inmates in an 8-by-12-foot cell, for 23 hours a day. In June of this year, Arpaio started a female-only chain gang made up of women convicted of driving under the influence. In a press release he boasted that the inmates would be wearing pink T-shirts emblazoned with messages about drinking and driving. 
The modern-day version of convict leasing was recently spotted in Georgia, where Governor Nathan Deal proposed sending unemployed probationers to work in Georgia's fields as a solution to a perceived labor shortage following the passage of the country’s most draconian anti-immigrant law. But his plan backfired when some of the probationers began walking off their jobs because the fieldwork was too strenuous.
There has also been a disturbing reemergence of the debtors’ prison, which should serve as an ominous sign of our dangerous reliance on prisons to manage any and all of society’s problems. According to the Wall Street Journal more than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can't or won't pay to be jailed. They found that judges signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties. It appears that any act that can be criminalized in the era of private prisons and inmate labor will certainly end in jail time, further increasing the ranks of the captive workforce.
Who Profits?
Prior to the 1970s, private corporations were prohibited from using prison labor as a result of the chain gang and convict leasing scandals. But in 1979, Congress began a process of deregulation to restore private sector involvement in prison industries to its former status, provided certain conditions of the labor market were met. Over the last 30 years, at least 37 states have enacted laws permitting the use of convict labor by private enterprise, with an average pay of $0.93 to $4.73 per day
Federal prisoners receive more generous wages that range from $0.23 to $1.25 per hour, and are employed by Unicor, a wholly owned government corporation established by Congress in 1934. Its principal customer is the Department of Defense, from which Unicor derives approximately 53 percent of its sales. Some  21,836 inmates work in Unicor programs. Subsequently, the nation's prison industry – prison labor programs producing goods or services sold to other government agencies or to the private sector -- now employs more people than any Fortune 500 company (besides General Motors), and generates about $2.4 billion in revenue annually. Noah Zatz of UCLA law school estimates that:
“Well over 600,000, and probably close to a million, inmates are working full-time in jails and prisons throughout the United States. Perhaps some of them built your desk chair: office furniture, especially in state universities and the federal government, is a major prison labor product. Inmates also take hotel reservations at corporate call centers, make body armor for the U.S. military, and manufacture prison chic fashion accessories, in addition to the iconic task of stamping license plates.”
Some of the largest and most powerful corporations have a stake in the expansion of the prison labor market, including but not limited to IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. Between 1980 and 1994 alone, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Since the prison labor force has likely grown since then, it is safe to assume that the profits accrued from the use of prison labor have reached even higher levels.  
In an article for Mother Jones, Caroline Winter details a number of mega-corporations that have profited off of inmates:
“In the 1990s, subcontractor Third Generation hired 35 female South Carolina inmates to sew lingerie and leisure wear for Victoria's Secret and JCPenney. In 1997, a California prison put two men in solitary for telling journalists they were ordered to replace 'Made in Honduras' labels on garments with 'Made in the USA.'"
According to Winter, the defense industry is a large part of the equation as well:
“Unicor, says that in addition to soldiers' uniforms, bedding, shoes, helmets, and flak vests, inmates have 'produced missile cables (including those used on the Patriot missiles during the Gulf War)' and 'wiring harnesses for jets and tanks.' In 1997, according to Prison Legal News, Boeing subcontractorMicroJet had prisoners cutting airplane components, paying $7 an hour for work that paid union wages of $30 on the outside.”
Oil companies have been known to exploit prison labor as well. Following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and irreparably damaged the Gulf of Mexico for generations to come, BP elected to hire Louisiana prison inmates to clean up its mess. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the nation, 70 percent of which are African-American men. Coastal residents desperate for work, whose livelihoods had been destroyed by BP’s negligence, were outraged at BP’s use of free prison labor.
In the Nation article that exposed BP’s hiring of inmates, Abe Louise Young details how BP tried to cover up its use of prisoners by changing the inmates' clothing to give the illusion of civilian workers. But nine out of 10 residents of Grand Isle, Louisiana are white, while the cleanup workers were almost exclusively black, so BP’s ruse fooled very few people. 
Private companies have long understood that prison labor can be as profitable as sweatshop workers in third-world countries with the added benefit of staying closer to home. Take Escod Industries, which in the 1990s abandoned plans to open operations in Mexico and instead moved to South Carolina, because the wages of American prisoners undercut those of de-unionized Mexican sweatshop workers. The move was fueled by the state, which gave a $250,000 "equipment subsidy" to Escod along with industrial space at below-market rent. Other examples include Ohio's Honda supplier, which pays its prison workers $2 an hour for the same work for which the UAW has fought for decades to be paid $20 to $30 an hour; Konica, which has hired prisoners to repair its copiers for less than 50 cents an hour; and Oregon, where private companies can “lease” prisoners at a bargain price of $3 a day.
Even politicians have been known to tap into prison labor for their own personal use. In 1994, a contractor for GOP congressional candidate Jack Metcalf hired Washington state prisoners to call and remind voters he was pro-death penalty. He won his campaign claiming he had no knowledge of the scandal. Perhaps this is why Senator John Ensign (R-NV) introduced a bill earlier this year to require all low-security prisoners to work 50 hours a week. After all, creating a national prison labor force has been a goal of his since he went to Congress in 1995.
In an unsettling turn of events lawmakers have begun ditching public employees in favor of free prison labor. The New York Times recently reported that states are enlisting prison labor to close budget gaps to offset cuts in federal financing and dwindling tax revenue. At a time of record unemployment, inmates are being hired to paint vehicles, clean courthouses, sweep campsites and perform many other services done before the recession by private contractors or government employees. In Wisconsin, prisoners are now taking up jobs that were once held by unionized workers, as a result of Governor Scott Walker’s contentious anti-union law.
Why You Should Care
Those who argue in favor of prison labor claim it is a useful tool for rehabilitation and preparation for post-jail employment. But this has only been shown to be true in cases where prisoners are exposed to meaningful employment, where they learn new skills, not the labor-intensive, menial and often dangerous work they are being tasked with. While little if any evidence exists to suggests that the current prison labor system decreases recidivism or leads to better employment prospects outside of prison, there are a number of solutions that have been proven to be useful. 
According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, having a history of incarceration itself impedes subsequent economic success. Pew found that past incarceration reduced subsequent wages by 11 percent, cut annual employment by nine weeks and reduced yearly earnings by 40 percent. The study suggests that the best approach is for state and federal authorities to invest in programs that reconnect inmates to the labor market, as well as provide training and job placement services around the time of release. Most importantly, Pew says that in the long term, America must move toward alternative sentencing programs for low-level and nonviolent offenders, and issuing penalties that are actually proportionate with real public safety concerns.
The exploitation of any workforce is detrimental to all workers. Cheap and free labor pushes down wages for everyone. Just as American workers cannot compete with sweatshop labor, the same goes for prison labor. Many jobs that come into prison are taken from free citizens. The American labor movement must demand that prison labor be allowed the right to unionize, the right to a fair and living wage, and the right to a safe and healthy work environment. That is what prisoners are demanding, but they can only do so much from inside a prison cell.  
As unemployment on the outside increases, so too will crime and incarceration rates, and our 21st-century version of corporate slavery will continue to expand unless we do something about it.  
Rania Khalek is a progressive activist. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on Twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why We Should Leave Casey Anthony Alone

ViewsHound Gold Prize Winner
By Tamar Auber - Sunday 17 Jul 2011
Casey Anthony acquittal, Casey Anthony trial, media influence, Ka Jang, Humberto Leal, crime, Caylee Anthony, Casey Anthony
One of Casey Anthony's attorneys, Cheney Mason, speaks to the media. Image: Ira Bostic /
The same week the United States stewed over the acquittal of Casey Anthony, the death of Humberto Leal, a Mexican national executed in Texas on July 7, 2011 was a mere footnote in the day’s headlines. Both defendants relied on pro bono defense attorneys. However, the media deemed Casey Anthony a cause célèbre, fueling attention that allowed her defense ranks to swell to six attorneys, while Leal’s relative anonymity meant that the condemned man reached his death penalty trial without ever being informed of his basic right to seek legal help from the Mexican consulate.
The cases of Leal and Anthony and their vastly divergent fates highlight how media attention is a powerful force in the American justice system. Yet, it also reveals how the media hand picks defendants for the sake of sensation and overlooks coverage of immigrant and minority cases such as Leal’s.
While the media swirled around Anthony, other mother child murders took place in the United States but received little coverage. Ka Jang, a 29 year old California woman was arrested for frying her own child in the microwave in March 2011, an atrocity that received limited local coverage except for a June 21st report by CBS Sacramento. Like Anthony, Jang initially lied about the child’s death. Yet unlike Anthony, Jang, with plainer looks and immigrant descent, failed to lure media attention and must rely on the overworked court appointed attorney juggling multiple cases to assist in her defense.
In contrast, Casey Anthony’s pretty face and girl next door gone bad vibe made her perfect for casting as the unlikely child-killing villain in the newest reality show nee court trial. The American media responded by developing her character and plot line over time, providing us with tantalizing tidbits that convinced the entire nation that this party girl was truly a heartless child-killer. In the process, the news report lulled us into a state that forgot this was reality television spectacle, not court allowed facts.
Unlike reality TV, America did not get a call in vote to decide the fate of the jailbird star, Ms. Anthony. Instead, real life justice relied on a far older means of representation, twelve persons, unbiased by the media roar, who would decide on evidence alone. Those 12 jurors voted unanimously, after hearing the evidence allowed and presented in court in full, that Casey Anthony was not guilty. The judge accepted the verdict. The media hype and certainty of absolute guilt did not play out in the real life courtroom. This unexpected outcome left many with an unsatisfying series ending to the crime show.
There is little doubt the real-life Casey Anthony is a flawed young woman who did not act the part of a responsible mother at best, and at worst, got away with child murder. Yet she is now scheduled to leave jail soon. However, before the nation adopts a lynch mob attitude towards this 25 year old and joins in the cries for revenge, it is important to remember that Ms. Anthony was unwittingly cast in a horrific reality show in which her persona was manipulated by the media for ratings. The media likewise manipulated us, the viewers, convincing the American people of the media version of Ms. Anthony’s guilt and working us into a frenzy of outrage towards this accused killer.
The Casey Anthony America reviles though is reality TV product, not the real life 25 year old. Our reaction has been whipped up by a profitable propaganda media machine whose goal is to get us glued to our television sets, not a fair reporting of facts. While the unfair media coverage does not mean that Anthony is innocent, the media’s manipulation makes it impossible to discern real life from their manipulative ratings driven reality. The truth is the media has tainted our view of Anthony so much, we really cannot discern a rational opinion informed by facts based solely on the media reports that fill our evening news.
Thus, it is time to leave The Casey Anthony Show behind us and begin to focus on the lessons learned by this tele-tragedy. The American media focused on a pretty, white girl at the exclusion of fair reporting on a number of cases. Yes, we ought to be outraged at young Caylee’s death, but in a balanced and unbiased media reporting we would also mourn the loss of Jang’s infant and have the opportunity to join the debate on the legality and fairness of executing a Mexican national who may not have received the best defense afforded to him. In focusing on Anthony the media not only manipulated our national emotions, but determined what issues and what people matter to our country and what kind of people do not count as much.
Justice should not be swayed by media attention, a pretty face or immigration status. Yes, it is time we leave Casey Anthony alone. However, we should not allow the media to get away with this kind of biased melodrama and anger-mongering again.
About Tamar Auber
Tamar lives in Hell’s Kitchen New York City with a cranky cat and a 10 year old rescue Shih Tzu and has lots of opinions about just about everything, especially social justice, religion, living with a disability and life in New York City.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, even if it's 'likely' or 'probable' that she committed murder.

The Casey Anthony case has shown to what degree many Americans are confused about our Jury system.
Although the trial is over, and the jury, correctly, decided the case on the evidence, rather than emotion, the media has gone from predicting a guilty verdict to presenting a misunderstood view of the verdict,  predicting, and (perhaps unintentionally), encouraging violence  upon Case Anthony and her parents.
Trial watchers need to move on and let the Anthony family do the same.

by Alan M. Dershowitz
"This case [is] about seeking justice for Caylee . . ." So argued the prosecutor in the Casey Anthony murder case. He was wrong, and the jury understood that.
A criminal trial is never about seeking justice for the victim. If it were, there could be only one verdict: guilty. That's because only one person is on trial in a criminal case, and if that one person is acquitted, then by definition there can be no justice for the victim in that trial.
A criminal trial is neither a whodunit nor a multiple choice test. It is not even a criminal investigation to determine who among various possible suspects might be responsible for a terrible tragedy. In a murder trial, the state, with all of its power, accuses an individual of being the perpetrator of a dastardly act against a victim. The state must prove that accusation by admissible evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even if it is "likely" or "probable" that a defendant committed the murder, he must be acquitted, because neither likely nor probable satisfies the daunting standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, a legally proper result—acquittal in such a case—may not be the same as a morally just result. In such a case, justice has not been done to the victim, but the law has prevailed.
For thousands of years, Western society has insisted that it is better for 10 guilty defendants to go free than for one innocent defendant to be wrongly convicted. This daunting standard finds its roots in the biblical story of Abraham's argument with God about the sinners of Sodom.
Abraham admonishes God for planning to sweep away the innocent along with the guilty and asks Him whether it would be right to condemn the sinners of Sodom if there were 10 or more righteous people among them. God agrees and reassures Abraham that he would spare the city if there were 10 righteous. From this compelling account, the legal standard has emerged.
That is why a criminal trial is not a search for truth. Scientists search for truth. Philosophers search for morality. A criminal trial searches for only one result: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
A civil trial, on the other hand, seeks justice for the victim. In such a case, the victim sues the alleged perpetrator and need only prove liability by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, if it is more likely than not that a defendant was the killer, he is found liable, though he cannot be found guilty on that lesser standard.
Casey Anthony was not found innocent of her daughter's murder; she was found "not guilty."
That is why it was perfectly rational, though difficult for many to understand, for a civil jury to have found O.J. Simpson liable to his alleged victim, after a criminal jury had found him not guilty of his murder. It is certainly possible that if the estate of Caylee Anthony were to sue Casey Anthony civilly, a Florida jury might find liability.
Casey Anthony was not found innocent of her daughter's murder, as many commentators seem to believe. She was found "not guilty." And therein lies much of the misunderstanding about the Anthony verdict.
This misunderstanding is exacerbated by the pervasiveness of TV shows about criminal cases. On television and in the movies, crimes are always solved. Nothing is left uncertain. By the end, the viewer knows whodunit. In real life, on the other hand, many murders remain unsolved, and even some that are "solved" to the satisfaction of the police and prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to result in a conviction. The Scottish verdict "not proven" reflects this reality more accurately than its American counterpart, "not guilty."
Because many American murder cases, such as the Casey Anthony trial, are shown on television, they sometimes appear to the public as if they were reality television shows. There is great disappointment, therefore, when the result is a verdict of not guilty. On the old Perry Mason show, the fictional defense lawyer would not only get his client acquitted but he would prove who actually committed the murder. Not so in real life.
The verdict in the Casey Anthony case reflected the lack of forensic evidence and heavy reliance on circumstantial inferences. There was no evidence of a cause of death, the time of death, or the circumstances surrounding the actual death of this young girl. There was sufficient circumstantial evidence from which the jury could have inferred homicide. But a reasonable jury could also have rejected that conclusion, as this jury apparently did. There are hundreds of defendants now in prison, some even on death row, based on less persuasive evidence than was presented in this case.
Juries are not computers. They are composed of human beings who evaluate evidence differently. The prosecutors in this case did the best they could with the evidence they had, though I believe they made a serious mistake in charging Casey Anthony with capital murder and introducing questionable evidence, such as that relating to the "smell of death" inside the trunk of Casey Anthony's car.
The defense also made mistakes, particularly by accusing Ms. Anthony's father of sexually abusing her. Although they leveled this unfounded accusation in an effort to explain why Casey had lied, it sounded like the kind of abuse excuse offered to justify a crime of violence. But a criminal trial is not about who is the better lawyer. It is about the evidence, and the evidence in this case left a reasonable doubt in the mind of all of the jurors. The system worked.
This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why Man Created Religion

The 10 commandments of Moses are the same rules all societies have always followed, we didn't need a deity to inform us of any of these rules for living in a community. 

Religion is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods. 

Every society has created its own religion. 
It started out as around-the-campfire mysticism to explain the natural world, and evolved into organised religion from certain people using it as a tool of power. 
It's due to the fact that people need to feel there is more than this reality and they can't accept that they don't know. 
It's too mysterious and scary for them to deal with it well. 
Basically, it's fear. 

This fear has been utilized by Imans and Clerics and Priests and ministers and so on to say, "If you don't do what I say, you are going to be severely punished." 
The Priests and ministers use the threat of Hell, the Muslims, "you don't get any virgins when you die," to the Buddhists, you have to face sansara. 

The Christians and Muslims, however, seem to be particularly consumed and preoccupied with what is normal sexuality. 

If one feels that he must belong to a religion for whatever reason, he should realize that it is all man made, and not take it literally. 
MOST Christians, do, in my opinion from observation, take their Christianity with a grain of salt. 

Some of the people  think I'm a liberal because of my views on certain subjects, the fact is I am on both ends of the political spectrum and in the middle, wherever the facts are that's where I want to be. 

I have respect and praise for Christians that actively help the poor or oppose oppressive governments, I just don't feel that they need to utilize or interpret myths to support their kindness or good works. 
In addition, much of the conservative Christians views are harmful when they essentially criminalize or stigmatize normal modes of behavior.

The Truth About George Soros

Soros is a Hungarian-born Jew whose family split up during the Second World War to avoid extermination by the Nazis when they occupied Hungary.

Soros was sent to live with a gentile family and the family reunited at the end of the war only to find itself now under the yoke of the Communists.
Soros was sent to England to live with an Uncle and eventually graduated from the London School of Economics. In 1956, he emigrated to the United States from England and began a career on Wall Street, starting his own firm in 1970.
In 1992, he made approximately $1 billion dollars betting on the British pound. His overall wealth is not exactly clear, but is substantial enough for him to have given away approximately $7 billion since 1984, primarily to the development of free democratic societies but in a list of charitable or humanitarian enterprises that seem almost endless.
In the United States, Soros has drawn fire from Right Wing, Corporatist-Fascist organizations for his work with anti-reactionary political forces and with free-press advocates.
He has given hundreds of millions to organizations that point out lies in news reports and television, newspaper and Internet commentary.
He has made numerous comments and speeches on the inadvisability of the Iraq war and the problems of American Imperialists, like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and other in their group.
His primary focus is on an open society, where ideas are discussed and debated, seeking the best solutions for the greatest number of citizens.
This is anathema to the republicon "leadership".
Naturally, as an altruistic seeker of better and more democratic societies, Soros has been attacked and vilified by every Corporate-Fascist organization in the country, of which there are now quite a large number.
We now have one media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, an immigrant himself who was not welcome elsewhere in the world because of his extraordinarily disgusting media properties.
He became half-respectable through the purchase of the Republican Party whose every member bows down to the propaganda-spewing Australian-American.
He sloughs Right Wing propaganda from peroxided blondes in short skirts and nondescript second-tier news anchors to the unlettered and highly racist.
These commentators, who think, like Murdoch, that money buys respectability, seem also to think that telling lies that cause serious repercussions, like instigating the murder of doctors, have no real punishable outcome in the Christian after life.
Christianity is merely a series of slogans to them and to their leader, Murdoch. And good taste? The more disgusting the better for those in the Murdoch empire. Murdoch finds his respect among the cretins in the Republican Party who work to send jobs overseas while complaining that Obama does nothing here…while their Senators block anything that he tries to do. 
Ain’t Republican politics grand?
The most recent attacks on Soros are for not spending enough during this Mid-term campaign.
Soros has given money to Democrats but in smaller numbers this year because the mood whipped up by the Right Wing reactionary force, begun as early as mid-Summer 2009 has worked.
Tea Bagger candidates, including those who want to do away with Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, educational benefits, clean air and water and food regulations, add more tax cuts for the top 1%…all this has made the mid-term elections a free-for-all.
Billionaires, like the Koch family quietly spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence less-educated members of society and to inflame racist sentiments.
In many cases in many electoral districts of the country, irrationality is the predominant mood.
Media Matters, a wonderful resource to those who want to know the truth and the facts about what is being said on television, was largely a Soros backed group.
They spend a great deal of time simply pointing out the hundreds of lies told daily by the Fox News Channel about Democrats and Independents. Fox News Channel spends most of its time trying to support legislators who are toeing the mark for their corporate friends.
It shows up most clearly in the Glenn Beck program, which has ignored the requests from advertisers for a saner, more rational approach to its commentary.
Since the Right Wing Rupert Murdoch has decided to pay the bill and more Right Wing nuts and Tea Bagger racists are listening, the program has refused to tell the truth about anything.
The obstinate attitude of Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch has cost them over 290 national advertisers, but they still will not listen, even though Beck has been canned and Murdoch may well be arrested, (for crimes he has committed in Europe) thinking perhaps that they will break the resolve of national advertisers. 
The idea perhaps is that they can continue to spew propaganda for the Republican Party and get the vast number of unsuspecting consumers to pay for it at the supermarket checkout counter. 
It doesn’t seem to be working.
They attack George Soros with impunity. A man who has given away ten-fold more money to causes that nurture freedom and free enterprise and democratic principles than the crackpot Glenn Beck will ever earn for himself or for Murdoch.
Does Murdoch donate? Yes…$1 million to the Republican Party, and zero to the Democratic Party. And another $1 million to the Republican Governors campaign committee. The bought-and-paid-for media mogul, the Sultan of Sleaze outdoes himself in scum-baggery. He takes with one hand and gives back with the other.
And always, always works against the interests of the Middle Class.
These Fox people are so completely up for sale to the BP Oil and Exxon/Mobil and United Healthcare and Koch Industries and Home Depots of the country…the corporations with the most radical Right Wing extremists…that they simply cannot say a single honest word about a man whose efforts have surpassed all but a handful in his compassion for humanity.
For example, this September Soros announced a $100 million grant to Human Rights Watch, an organization that Fox New Channel hates with a passion…as do all other Murdoch enterprises. Why? Because Human Rights Watch is an organization that shines a very public light on human rights abuses in places like Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.
Murdoch doesn’t want that.
These are his friends.
 Murdoch doesn’t kill or maim people.
He helps others do it.
Soros is trying to stop it.
That is precisely the difference between those two billionaires.
Soros is no saint.
He doesn’t pretend to be or even seek recognition for what he does. He has explained many times why he does what he does.
He lived through one terrorist regime only to be followed by another. He understands oppression and how mortally dangerous the denial of human rights can be,
Murdoch only understands money and greed.
And the value of nothing.