W. BUSH'S DEADLY ABSOLUTISM
truth will come out. They are killing me tonight. They are murdering me."
These were the final words of Gary Graham, number 135 on the list of death row
inmates executed in rapid-fire order on the watch of George W. Bush, who has
averaged one of these state-sponsored killings every two weeks of his
governorship. No other state comes close to such a pace. As we're fond of saying
in Texas, "We're number One!"
The only thing colder than this stat is the comment of the governor: "As
far as I'm concerned, there has not been one innocent person executed since I've
been governor." Not one? How could anyone be so cocksure, so devoid of
natural doubt, so smug? I think that this is a defining moment for Bush-a
revelation of his profound shallowness, a confirmation of his arrogant elitism.
Being a supporter of the death penalty doesn't require you to be stupid,
callous, or to ignore common sense and overwhelming evidence that innocent
people are on death row. Governor George Ryan of Illinois, one of Bush's fellow
Republicans and a supporter of death sentences, recently had the common humanity
and political courage to impose a moratorium on executions in his state after 13
death row inmates were exonerated by DNA and other evidence. These 13 had been
put there by a system that was just as "certain" of their guilt as
Bush was "certain" that Gary Graham should die. Yet, the system was
wrong at least 13 times in Illinois.
"I'm confident that justice is being done," the Texas governor intoned
at a press conference as he stood aside to allow Graham to be forcibly strapped
to the gurney for a lethal injection. Justice? The Texas death penalty process
is notoriously unjust for the poor, who must rely on a system of court-appointed
lawyers that is rife with incompetence, cronyism, racism, and cynicism.
Gary Graham was convicted in a hurried trial on the testimony of a single
witness who claims she saw him through her car window at night from about 40
feet away for a few fleeting seconds. Two other eyewitnesses said Graham was not
the man they saw do the killing-but Graham's court-appointed attorney never
called them to testify ! Three jurors who later saw the videotaped testimony of
these two uncalled witnesses said that if they had heard their testimony in
court they would have voted to acquit Graham. There was no DNA, no fingerprints,
and no other physical evidence to link Graham to the murder, and the gun that
police found on him when he was arrested was not the gun used to kill the
These facts might not prove Graham to be innocent, but he's supposed to be
proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," and these facts certainly
raise that doubt . . . though not in Bush's closed head. The governor slyly
noted in his press conference that Graham's death sentence was not overturned on
appeal, but he knows this is just a slick dodge, for the law is so stacked
against appellants that the substance of Graham's case-including his lawyer's
failure to call witnesses that would have exonerated him-was never formally
reviewed by the courts.
Bush even tried to wash his hands of responsibility for the execution, saying it
was up to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. But this 18-member board is
made up of his hand-picked members and certainly would have been responsive to
any concern by the governor about the possibility of injustice-but Bush offered
no leadership. To the contrary, W. has consistently fought legislative efforts
to make Texas' Kafkaesque criminal system even the slightest bit more just.
Example one: he vetoed a bill, which had passed unanimously, to provide a
county-based public defender system so the Gary Grahams would not be stuck with
incompetent, uncaring, racist, asleep, or drunk attorneys (About a third of the
inmates executed under Bush were represented by lawyers who were formally
sanctioned at one time or another for misconduct). Example two: Bush has
resisted calls to join 42 other states in giving juries the choice of
life-without-parole in murder cases-a choice that juries often take over the
death penalty in cases like Graham's.
The most damning part of Bush's performance is that he and his spinmeisters
attempted to make it about him, rather than about the guy who was about to die.
The New York Times reported that his campaign advisors had worked at length not
only on every word he would utter at the press conference, but especially on his
dress, tone, and bearing-making sure that he spoke in a firm, serious-sounding
voice and even that his brow be furrowed and his facial expression be solemn. No
smirks, they decreed. As for the life and death matter in his hands, Bush's
advisors were as cavalier as he was, with one telling the Times that there was
"not a lot of hand-wringing." Their chief concern was that all the
attention on this death penalty thingie in Texas was "eclipsing other
campaign issues Mr. Bush wanted to discuss."
The basis on which a people agree to abide by the rule of law is that the law
will be fairly applied. No where is this more essential than in the ultimate
application of law: state-administered death. Bush is, of course, a son of
privilege who has never in his life been burdened by a sense of fairness, but in
the case of the death penalty, fairness rises to a level of moral fitness and
raises the most basic question of Bush's competence for the job he holds, much
less for the one he seeks. It is eerily unnatural for him to assert that he has
zero human ambiguity about waving Gary Graham (and 134 others) to the death
chamber. Is he simply cynical . . . or is he really that simple? Now he's asking
to be the man with the power to send people into war. Will he be so absolute
there, too? It's dangerous to have someone in power who always thinks they're
Gary Graham-quite possibly innocent-is dead. And 15 other people are scheduled
to die in the Texas death chamber between now and November 7, when Bush hopes to
be promoted to the highest office in the land.
a spook to do? The cold war is over, the Ruskies are now our buddies, the
Butchers of Beijing have become our business partners . . . so where's a spy to
go to get a job?
Try Motorola, it might be hiring. The Wall Street Journal reports that Motorola
Inc. has a substantial spy shop, with "units sprinkled in almost all of
their outposts around the world." Indeed, it seems that just about every
major U.S. corporation now employs spooks to go into the global cold and spy on
their competitors, on foreign governments, and . . . well, who knows who else
they're spying on? Actually, the term "spying" is too déclassé for
the pin-striped corporate crowd. "Competitive intelligence" is the
preferred designation, or, as one corporate snoop calls his espionage
activities: "specialized management consulting."
This is not some rogue basement operation either-it goes right to the top of the
company. The Journal notes that Motorola's clandestine network, created and
headed by a former CIA operative, is central to executive suite decisions, with
the spooks sitting in on most corporate strategy sessions. "The concept was
to mirror the interaction between the CIA and the White House," says the
agent who set up Motorola's shop.
There are enough of these corporate 007s that they've even established their own
trade association, with nearly seven thousand members. The corporate spies use
all sorts of sophisticated, new software to do their espionage, but there's
plenty of old-fashioned spy-stuff, too-from paying informants to rummaging
through a competitors trash. Even the CIA winces at some of the practices of the
private-sector spooks-as one agent put it: "In corporate America, the
definition of what's ethical is what's legal."
is Jim Hightower saying . . . And they've always got corporate lawyers to help
them define legal as whatever needs to be done.
UGLY GOES TO COLOMBIA
you had your fusarium oxysporum today?
It's a powerful herbicide developed from a fungus, and assorted authorities from
on high are proposing that it be sprayed on some of the food and around the
habitats of us humans. Has it been tested for its impact on our health and our
environment? No. If the idea of spreading this stuff around seems stupid to you,
that's because the fusarium oxysporum project comes from America's drug czar,
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who specializes in stupidity.
The New York Times reports that the Little General, backed by the Clinton
Whitehouse and Republican congressional leaders, wants to use this fungal
pathogen against coca, marijuana, and poppy fields, since it can cause a wilt
that kills these drug plants. Problem is, it can also kill tomatoes, potatoes,
grains, and other crops, as well as who-knows-what other unlucky plants and
animals that get doused by it. Problem number two is that once you turn the
fungus loose, it has a life of its own, mutating, moving from plant to plant and
living in the soil for years. For most living things, fusarium oxysporum is a
disease, and it's rarely considered good policy to spread disease.
Yet no risk is too silly for the general's maniacal crusade to halt the
production of all drug crops everywhere. Therein lies problem number
three-there's no evidence that this microbial fungus will even work, since
scientists note that the narco traders will simply breed their coca plants to be
resistant to the disease.
Nevertheless, the hapless peasants of Colombia are about to become the unwilling
guinea pigs of McCaffrey's fusarium experiments. As part of the $1.3 billion
Washington recently approved to prop-up the beleaguered Colombian government,
officials there had to agree to field tests of what amounts to a biological
is Jim Hightower saying . . . Imagine how that makes the people there feel
about us. Uncle Ugly goes to Colombia.