Friday, January 29, 2016

So The Letter Came.

As I was preparing to travel to my conference over the weekend, the letter came.  The New York Parole Board is once again going to assess if Linda's murderer is capable of being released back into society.  I am always troubled when the letter comes as many of you already know.  Not just because it brings back all the memories but it calls into question how the criminal justice system operates. While some might disagree, I am an articulate and educated man who has been somewhat successful. I can easily take time to write a letter or even come to parole board to give a victim impact statement. If the victim of a crime didn't have someone to speak for them does that make the inmate more likely to be seen as fine for society.  Two years ago I wrote this letter:

Dear Parole Board,

I am writing this letter as a victim impact statement to be considered at the upcoming parole hearing of Jamie Morton, Inmate number 88C0405. On August 31, 1987 Mr. Morton stole the future I was building with my fiancĂ©, Linda Akers, when he chose to murder her in a senseless and brutal act.   

Mr. Morton violently beat and stabbed Linda for no reason except to vent his anger at a world he felt was unfair.  But more then stealing Linda and my future, he took a light out of the world.  Linda’s work with young children, especially during her time at the Bishop Foery Foundation, was focused on reaching vulnerable and at-risk children.   She wanted to make a difference in the world, especially those who were often unseen or ignored by society as a whole.  She never got the chance to make her mark.  I never saw Mr. Morton show remorse for his crime, in fact at times I felt he was proud of it.

My first reaction is that Mr. Morton should never leave prison; his crime is not one that should allow him to ever enjoy the pleasures of the world that he has made darker by his actions.  But I am torn with what to write. I believe in justice over vengeance; I believe in rehabilitation over the idea of locking people away forever, even for murder.  If Mr. Morton has served his time honorably and without incidents of violence or dangerous behavior, and if he will add to the world’s good as opposed to evil, should he not be released?  But how can we know how he will react if released?

Because of Mr. Morton’s crime, I would not consider him eligible for parole unless there is substantial evidence that he has indeed changed for the better while incarcerated.  I believe the burden of proof rests on him, and that burden is significant. 

When weighing your decision, I hope you see that Mr. Morton took the life of a woman who was dedicating her life to young children in the hope of making the world a better place.   I also hope that you honor the values of the legal system that seeks to not simply be a punishment, but also seeks rehabilitation and reform.  I have moved from Syracuse, I have built my life and while I still have a big hole created in the past, I think I have found peace in the last 2 decades.  But I am haunted by the idea that another person will be put through the same pain I have been through because of Mr. Morton’s actions.  So I hope when you decide on Mr. Morton’s future you do so with Linda’s life lost in mind and the chance that others might be at risk.  I do not envy your position in making this difficult decision. 

Thank you for taking my words into consideration while you deliberate. 


                 George Kelley 

As you can see I included my discomfort with the value of these statements.  So I was surprised by the most recent letter.  In it the statement should reflect the ruling of a NYS Supreme Court Justice Sandra Sciortino in which the parole decision must focus "almost exclusively on the inmate's crime". I am not sure if this is a way of leveling the field and taking the victim completely out of the equation.  Parole should be "future-focused" as the ruling goes.  This has been my thought for a while but then I wonder if sentencing might be refocused as well.  How do we come up with the numbers that we use when we decide how long someone should be in prison?  Seriously, is there a formula? Three decades is a long time in prison and Morton is approaching this milestone.  But during those same years the world has been without a great woman who dedicated her life to children. So the later doesn't matter as much.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  So I will write again and ask them to consider the danger Morton will pose but also any hate he would bring to the world.  There is a no way to know the future.  This is my particular situation but I wonder how many may find freedom with this new ruling.  I hope that justice prevails and that the parole board makes good decisions.  It is suppose to be blind, I just hope it isn't simpleminded as well. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Seriously, What is Wrong With You People

So the storm came.  Elected officials from all over the eastern half of the country have been preparing for what has become a crippling and deadly storm.   Mayor Bill DeBlasio, in a statement to the people of New York, asked people to stay indoors during the storm.  He wanted to avoid people being hurt or trapped because of the wind and snow.  The storm, a blizzard, with wind gusts up to 50 mph.  To put that into perspective this is a tropical storm force wind speed.  Also the snow coming down at a rate of 2 inches per hour is not easy to deal with even for someone like me who lived in Northern New York for the first 20 years of my life.  But the mayor's statement to protect people had to be answered by  John Podhoretz, a member of the right wing noise machine.  He argues that this is another example of the nanny-state and that the mayor or elected officials have no business telling people what to do.  He argues in the city so few people drive that being out wouldn't be a problem for rescue workers and first responders to get around.  He actually complained that this is government overreach.  He wrote:  

To DeBlasio and other pols who tell people to stay indoors during a snow storm: You work for US. Therefore, shut the hell up.

Think about that for a minute.  He complaining that the mayor of the biggest city in the country telling people to stay home and be safe is a problem.  I could inform Mr. Podhoertz of the dangerous of being outdoors during a blizzard.  Not just driving and getting stuck.  Wind blowing things around at 30mph can do damage, trees in the park can fall, lose branches and fall and kill people.  That has happened.  But John is worried that if you listen to the government the terrorists win or something.  And this is the state of American political discourse now.  We have a leading Presidential candidate who retweets white supremacists on his twitter feed and calls people who don't endorse him losers.  We have so-called journalists who continue to run cover for a Michigan Governor who's actions poisoned and likely killed citizens of Flint.  

I understand that back and forth of politics and I partake in it regularly.  Sometimes it can be fun, you know when two people see the same facts differently can have a valid discussion. But when your politics encourages you to challenge a public declaration for safety and help make people act stupidly because you told them it will fine perhaps  you should take a break. Maybe leave the business and maybe get some help.  Because as I watched the news from New York today, I saw people jogging in center park and I hope I don't hear that one was hit by a falling branch, or that someone in Brooklyn was electrocuted by downed powerline.  I wonder if John Podhoertz would see that as a victory for liberty. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Where Did the Republican Party Go?

Let's face it, the right wing thinkers have taken over the Republican party with real disastrous consequences for the party and in some cases for the people of states they control.  In some of these cases there are much bigger issues that stretch beyond their limit spheres but the is a cancer sweeping the nation and I don't know if there is party leadership to bring it back to a normalcy that is what our country stands for and always has.  Many times they argue they want to take the country back, to what?  Here are some interesting, scary and dangerous examples.  

Gov Rick Snyder of Michigan starting in 2012 began to exert executive power and take over municipalities that were suffering in the down Michigan economy.  He appointed emergency managers and one city was Flint.  In Flint one of the cost savings measures was to take water from the Flint river rather as they had been from the Detroit water system that brings in water from Lake Huron.  The chemical make up of river versus lake water is different and river water has to be treated in a different way to go through the old pipes that deliver water in Flint.  The emergency manager, over the protests of local elected officials, changed to river water and did not pay for the new necessary treatment.  Now in Flint there is a water crisis usually reserved for the developing world but what is amazing is that for a long time the people of Flint were drinking polluted water from their taps which included lead.  Lead is a neurotoxin that will have a lifelong impact on child development and the local water has poisoned these kids.  A pediatrician and hydrologist both warned of this, local elected officials pleaded with the state to do something the Governor was silent.  When challenged he said the water was fine, but he knew it was toxic and recent released emails prove it.  It wasn't until Rachel Maddow brought the story to national attention did the Michigan government work to rectify the situation and still moving slowly. These are all facts.  They still haven't called for Federal help but FEMA has sent a couple of people to monitor the situation even though until the Republican governor calls for help they can do very little.  Meanwhile, children have been poisoned and there still is no water.  This is the result of serious government arrogance on the part of a tea party governor who appeared to wanted to punish the citizens of Flint for questioning his non-democratic practice of overriding local elections.  How is this possible?

Then we have the Republican governor of Maine.  Recently complaining that New York black drug dealers come to Maine and sell their drugs and impregnate white girls saying they have names like D-money and Shifty.  Clear implications of his statement is that black people coming to Maine are going to sell drugs and rape white women.  Amazing.  This is a leader in the Republican party.  

Let's go south, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice has decided the the United States Supreme Court is not a higher authority than himself and has tried to outlaw marriage for people of the same sex. He ordered probate judges in the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a move that defies the ruling of the United States Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex unions. This is the product of people like Senator Ted Cruz and former Gov Mike Huckabee's ridiculous notion that the states can ignore the Supreme Court.  It is remarkable that the leadership of the party on the Federal level have not said a thing about it.  Nothing.  But what do we expect when people running for President in that party have no understanding of civics.

Then we have Texas Governor Greg Abbott.  You might remember him, he sent the Texas national guard out this past summer to keep an eye on the US Military doing training in Texas and other states because conspiracy theorists said it was an attempt to take over Texas.  (let's not forget Texas is part of the US so......)  A military exercise that has happened many times caused Abbott to wring his hands and cry about tyranny.  So this week another great leader of the party proposes a Constitutional Convention to wrestle power from the Federal government.  His proposed amendments basically destroy the power of the federal government to act as a nation when it comes to policies that effect citizens.  One of the issues is the Supreme Court rulings that Abbott doesn't like.  What is funny is that he argues we have to preserve the Constitution but in effect his idea destroys it.  Some, again, running for President under the rules of that Constitution agree with him.  Amazing.  One thing that could be a result of Abbott's proposal if it were to play out is that states could have slavery, limit the right to vote to only certain people (men, land owners, Christians?) It is remarkable that no one in the leadership of the party calls these guys out.  But there it is.  

And these are all elected officials but it is not the only.  President Obama this week unveiled a series of executive actions to limit access to guns by criminals and people with mental illness.  Before anyone knew what he was going to say dozens of members of Congress tweeted that it was unconstitutional and that it was taking people guns away.  Neither were true but of course fact don't matter in this new post-fact world.  But even after the President outlined clear and legal enforcement of existing laws, members of Congress continued to suggest that the President was over stepping his authority and that he should focus on existing laws.  Again, nothing from the party to suggest they were lying.  

Now when we move beyond elected officials we can talk about Fox News, the voice of the right and largest mouthpiece for the nonsense driving this discussion.  When the President spoke about his plans on guns Andrea Tantaros accused him of faking his tears having a cut onion at the podium.  Seriously because talking about dead 5 year olds isn't enough for the people of Fox News to bring them to tears.  This heartless and I would argue evil nonsense that permeates our public discussion is not debate.  It leads to all kinds of crazy.  

Enter Trump.  I won't go on about him but everyone should take a moment and think what a Trump candidacy would look like in say 1980, or even 1992?  Would the GOP have allowed this man even on the stage?  Would the people fight to get to see him?  Would anger and hate drive their decision making?  I think not.  The GOP has abdicated their politics to the hateful nature of right wing radio and a Fox News that hates the President, minorities, Muslims, and women more than anyone loves the country.  We live in a world where a major party is lead by people who poison children, make racist statements in official meeting and want to save the Constitution by gutting it.  And the silence is deafening.  I challenge those who call themselves Conservative to do something about it.  I know this will lead to a second President Clinton and I will be happy to see her inaugurated, but in the end I think it is important that the party of Lincoln sound intelligent and working for all Americans (even if they are wrong) including D-money, Shifty and those of us who cry when we hear children have had their heads blown off by gunfire. 

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