Thursday, May 25, 2023

This article on the death penalty might change your mind; it did mine.

 Robert Bentley, a Republican, served as governor of Alabama from 2011 to 2017. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, was governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003.

Alabama has 167 people on death row, a greater number per capita than in any other state. As far as the two of us are concerned, that is at least 146 people too many. Here’s why.

As former Alabama governors, we have come over time to see the flaws in our nation’s justice system and to view the state’s death penalty laws in particular, as legally and morally troubling. We both presided over executions while in office, but if we had known then what we know now about prosecutorial misconduct, we would have exercised our constitutional authority to commute death sentences to life.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1976, nationwide, 1 person on death row has been exonerated for every 8.3 executions. That means we have been getting it wrong about 12 percent of the time. If we apply those statistics to the 167 people on Alabama’s death row, it means that as many as 20 could have been wrongfully charged and convicted.

The center has found that wrongful convictions are “overwhelmingly the product of police or prosecutorial misconduct or the presentation of knowingly false testimony.” Judge Alex Kozinski, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, has said the withholding of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors is an “epidemic” in the United States. Shamefully, such misconduct most frequently involves Black defendants (87 percent).

Alabama has not been spared miscarriages of justice. The first known exoneration from the state’s death row was of Walter McMillian, whose case was highlighted by Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson in his book “Just Mercy.” But there are other death row convictions that should haunt Alabama’s leaders.

In 1998, a non-unanimous jury recommended death for Toforest Johnson for the killing of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy based on the testimony of someone who, unknown to the defense, was later paid a $5,000 reward. The case of Rocky Myers, convicted of murdering his neighbor, is even more disturbing. Myers was never connected to the murder scene, and even though the jury recommended life without parole, the judge overrode the recommendation and ordered his execution.

One of us, Don Siegelman, is personally haunted by the case of Freddie Wright, whose execution he could have commuted but did not in 2000. Twenty-three years later, Siegelman believes Wright was wrongfully charged, prosecuted and convicted for a murder he most likely did not commit.

Since 1976, when the Supreme Court granted prosecutors immunity from civil liability, it has been common for prosecutors to get close to 99 percent of the indictments they seek from grand juries. One reason for this is that grand juries are secret proceedings, with no lawyers present and no judge to oversee what prosecutors are doing. In this stealth setting, prosecutors have free rein to present false testimony or false evidence or to withhold exculpatory evidence to get the outcome they want.

Before 1976, the U.S. incarceration figure hovered around 200,000 people. After 1976, the number skyrocketed to more than 1.6 million. With the legal cover of the 1976 decision, President Barack Obama’s solicitor general argued to the Supreme Court in January 2010 that “U.S. citizens do not have a constitutional right not to be framed.” Ending unjust convictions will involve rethinking prosecutorial immunity.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a unanimous verdict is required to convict someone of a capital crime warranting death. The court highlighted the racist underpinnings of non-unanimous verdicts as a Jim Crow practice dating from the 1870s. Alabama had been the only state to allow a person to be sentenced to death by this legal relic and has 115 people scheduled to die based on non-unanimous jury verdicts. Because the court’s ruling didn’t explicitly extend to the sentencing phase, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), using “tough on crime” rhetoric, recently signed a law that now allows a jury to recommend a death sentence on an 8-4 vote.

Alabama was also the last state to ban judicial overrides, a practice whereby judges were able to overrule jury verdicts of life without parole and order death. The Equal Justice Initiative had raised a concern about this practice, finding that “the proportion of death sentences imposed by override had often been elevated in election years.” Judicial overrides accounted for 7 percent of death sentences in a nonelection year but rose to 30 percent when Alabama judges ran for reelection.

In 2017, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed a law banning judicial overrides. But it was not applied retroactively, so 31 Alabamans, including Myers, are still scheduled to die based on this outlawed practice.

Alabama is one of 27 states that retain the death penalty. Of those, 14 have not conducted an execution in 10 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and the governors of five states (Arizona, California, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania) have said they will not oversee an execution during their terms.

As governors, we had the power to commute the sentences of all those on Alabama’s death row to life in prison. We no longer have that constitutional power, but we feel that careful consideration calls for commuting the sentences of the 146 prisoners who were sentenced by non-unanimous juries or judicial override and that an independent review unit should be established to examine all capital murder convictions.

We missed our chance to confront the death penalty and have lived to regret it, but it is not too late for today’s elected officials to do the morally right thing.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Three Tasks of Government

By Bing West      May 17, 2026

“There are three tasks,” the renowned historian Paul Johnson wrote, “which any government must perform: external security, internal order and maintenance of an honest currency.”

The United States is failing at all three tasks. Concerning security, the 2021 chaotic desertion of Afghanistan undermined America’s global credibility and military status. Leading NATO in giving arms to Ukraine brought partial redemption. However, this is eroding as the war drags on and President Biden refuses to send offensive weapons because he openly fears Putin. In the Middle East, America’s influence is crumbling. China negotiated a resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran sponsors repeated missile attacks upon U.S. ground forces and, in acts of defiant piracy, has seized three oil supertankers. The U.S. Navy did nothing except video the pirate boats. Iran gleefully showed that video on its TV stations. Led by Saudi Arabia, the Arab League readmitted the bloody Syrian regime. While China ratchets up pressure upon Taiwan, the administration’s budget for our navy and for the military, in general, does not keep pace with the inflation caused by the administration’s massive transfer payments.

Concerning internal order, social media has stunted the natural social interactions of our adolescents and spawned spiteful divisiveness among the adult population. Crime in most cities is both pervasive and brazen. More than 100,000 Americans die annually from fentanyl entering via the open southern border, along with two million illegal immigrants. The Democratic Party believes the swelling Hispanic vote will eventually ensure permanent majority rule by the Democrats. So, the human flood will continue unabated as long as President Biden is in office.

He has based his reelection upon arguing that anyone voting for Trump is an extremist. Trump responds in kind, touting “I am your retribution.” Both our leading politicians are driving Americans farther apart.

The third task of government is “maintenance of an honest currency.” No reasonable observer can repute honesty to the crass selfishness of the administration and Congress. It is impossible to sustain today’s generous social security, health benefits, multitudinous transfer payments, and the military without devaluing the dollar and insuring roughly four percent inflation for the next decade. With productivity growth of an anemic one percent versus inflation at four percent, every year the situation worsens. Our profligacy has bequeathed to our grandchildren a crushing debt burden.

The Roman Empire endured for 500 years. It disintegrated when its currency depreciation made it worthless to the legions. The soldiers walked off the job and the authority of Rome collapsed along with its borders.
To sum up: Government’s three basic tasks of external security, internal order, and maintenance of an honest currency are intertwined. Currently, America is failing at all three tasks. Facts, however, don’t change attitudes. The attitudes in our beloved country are internally poisonous. The forthcoming election is not about moving our country forward; it is about demonizing the opponent. This election is all about yelling, “The other guy is worse than I am!”

Military historian West, a former assistant secretary of defense, has written a dozen books about America’s recent wars.

Sunday, May 7, 2023


This 1967 true story is of an experience by a young 12-year-old lad in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. 

It is about the vivid memory of a privately rebuilt P-51 from WWII and its famous owner/pilot. In the morning sun, I could not believe my eyes. There, in our little airport, sat a majestic P-51. They said it had flown in during the night from some US airport on its way to an air show. The pilot had been tired, so he just happened to choose Kingston for his stopover. 

 It was to take to the air very soon. I marveled at the size of the plane, dwarfing the Pipers and Canucks tied down by her. It was much larger than in the movies. She glistened in the sun like a bulwark of security from days gone by. 

The pilot arrived by cab, paid the driver, and then stepped into the pilot's lounge. He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and tossed. It looked like it might have been combed, say, around the turn of the century. His flight jacket was checked, creased, and worn - it smelled old and genuine. Old Glory was prominently sewn to its shoulders. He projected a quiet air of proficiency and pride devoid of arrogance. 

 He filed a quick flight plan to Montreal ("Expo-67 Air Show") and then walked across the tarmac. After taking several minutes to perform his walk-around check, the tall, lanky man returned to the flight lounge to ask if anyone would be available to stand by with fire extinguishers while he "flashed the old bird up, just to be safe." 

Though only 12 at the time, I was allowed to stand by with an extinguisher after brief instruction on its use -- "If you see a fire, point, then pull this lever!" he said. (I later became a firefighter, but that's another story.)

The air around the exhaust manifolds shimmered like a mirror from fuel fumes as the huge prop started to rotate. One manifold, then another, and yet another barked -- I stepped back with the others. In moments, the Packard-built Merlin engine came to life with a thunderous roar. Blue flames knifed from her manifolds with an arrogant snarl. 

I looked at the others' faces; there was no concern. I lowered the bell of my extinguisher. One of the guys signaled to walk back to the lounge. We did. Several minutes later we could hear the pilot doing his pre-flight run-up. He'd taxied to the end of runway 19, out of sight. All went quiet for several seconds. We ran to the second-story deck to see if we could catch a glimpse of the P-51 as she started down the runway. We could not. There we stood; eyes fixed on a spot halfway down 19. 

Then a roar ripped across the field, much louder than before. Like a furious hell spawn set loose -- something mighty this way was coming. "Listen to that thing!" said the controller. In seconds, the Mustang burst into our line of sight. Its tail was already off the runway, and it was moving faster than anything I'd ever seen by that point on 19. 

Two-thirds the way down 19 the Mustang was airborne with her gear going up. The prop tips were supersonic. We clasped our ears as the Mustang climbed hellishly fast into the circuit to be eaten up by the dog-day haze. We stood for a few moments in stunned silence, trying to digest what we'd just seen.

The radio controller rushed by me to the radio. "Kingston tower calling Mustang?" He looked back to us as he waited for an acknowledgment. The radio crackled, "Go ahead, Kingston." "Roger, Mustang. Kingston Tower would like to advise the circuit is clear for a low-level pass." I stood in shock because the controller had just, more or less, asked the pilot to return for an impromptu air show! The controller looked at us. "Well, What?" he asked. "I can't let that guy go without asking. I couldn't forgive myself!"  

The radio crackled once again, "Kingston, do I have permission for a low-level pass, east to west, across the field?" "Roger, Mustang, the circuit is clear for an east-to-west pass." "Roger, Kingston, I'm coming out of 3,000 feet, stand by." 

We rushed back onto the second-story deck, eyes fixed toward the eastern haze. The sound was subtle at first, a high-pitched whine, a muffled screech, a distant scream. Moments later the P-51 burst through the haze. Her airframe straining against positive G's and gravity. Her wing tips spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic. The burnished bird blasted across the eastern margin of the field shredding and tearing the air. At about 500 mph and 150 yards from where we stood, she passed with the old American pilot saluting. Imagine. A salute! 

I felt like laughing; I felt like crying; she glistened; she screamed; the building shook; my heart pounded. Then the old pilot pulled her up and rolled, and rolled, and rolled out of sight into the broken clouds and indelible into my memory. 

I've never wanted to be an American more than on that day! It was a time when many nations in the world looked to America as their big brother. A steady and even-handed beacon of security who navigated difficult political water with grace and style; not unlike the old American pilot who'd just flown into my memory. He was proud, not arrogant, humble, not a braggart, old and honest, projecting an aura of America at its best. That America will return one day! I know it will!

Until that time, I'll just send off this story. Call it a loving reciprocal salute to a Country, and especially to that old American pilot: the late JIMMY STEWART (1908-1997), Actor, real WWII Hero (Commander of a US Army Air Force Bomber Wing stationed in England), and a USAF Reserve Brigadier General, who wove a wonderfully fantastic memory for a young Canadian boy that's lasted a lifetime. 

PLEASE GOD, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN….AS SOON AS YOU CAN! "A veteran, whether active duty, or retired, is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for an amount of "up to, and including their life." That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand that.