Will the U.S. Ever Abolish the Death Penalty?

“We simply cannot say we live in a country that offers equal justice to all Americans when racial disparities plague the system by which our society imposes the ultimate punishment.”      – Senator Russ Feingold, 2003

Death Sentences

The Washington Post Map: How the world executed people in 2014

Examination of the death penalty in the U.S., is percolating (let’s hope it’s more like fomenting) to the surface again as the Boston jury voted on May 15 to execute Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Disagreeing with the verdict, more than 60% of Boston residence believe he should have been sentenced to life in prison instead. At age 21, he will be the youngest person on federal death row. There’s no question that the bombing was horrific and despicable. But how is murder for murder justifiable?

Over the decades, the needle has moved very little on how Americans feel about sentencing convicted criminals to death. Yet the international community, with a few notable exceptions, is increasingly embracing abolition of the death penalty. As the Map: How the world executed people in 2014 shows, the U.S. is in dubious – and downright frightful – company.

Why is it that U.S. public opinion so far behind our international neighbors?

Alba Morales (@albaHRW) wrote for HumanRightsWatch.org: “At last Monday’s Universal Periodic Review, a process through which each United Nations member country has its human rights record periodically reviewed by other member countries, 36 countries called for the US to reconsider its use of capital punishment. The US, a country that carried out among the greatest number of executions in 2014, is one of a dwindling number of countries that use the death penalty.” The U.S. delegation responded (and I’m paraphrasing), “No federal defendant has been killed in the last decade.” Of course, only 18 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty (Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin abolished it before the turn of the 19th century; Connecticut is the most recent, abolishing it in 2012). Oregon is one of the states with the death penalty, though Governor Kate Brown extended former Governor John Kitzhaber’s ban on executions.

Even if juries got it right 100% of the time (and they don’t), is capital punishment a just punishment for a crime? Most of the world and 33% of Americans don’t agree, instead believing the death penalty should be abolished. The UN General Assembly has endorsed a worldwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty. (According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 153 death-row inmates have been exonerated since 1973.)

Amnesty International, an advocacy group that opposes the death penalty, estimates that, after China, the largest number of executions occurred in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the U.S. And the U.S. government wears the warrior’s mantle for international human rights…

According to the Gallup Poll, “International death penalty trends are unmistakably towards abolition. Use of the death penalty worldwide has continued to shrink, and use of the death penalty has also been increasingly curtailed in international law. Since 1990, an average of three countries each year have abolished the death penalty, and today over two-thirds of the world’s nations have ended capital punishment in law or practice.”

When asked why they favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, the reason most often stated is “An eye for an eye” (37%, a decline from 50% in 1991). “Save taxpayers money” and “They deserve it” were tied for the second most frequently stated reason (14%; “they deserve it” has gained momentum since 2001). The number one reason to oppose the death penalty by a large margin is: “Wrong to take a life” (40%). “Persons may be wrongly convicted” and “Punishment should be left to God” tied at 17%,

And when asked if they believe the death penalty is applied fairly or unfairly in the U.S., 51% said fairly, the same percentage as in 2000 (51% is the lowest percentage recorded; in the intervening years it got has high as 61% in 2005). There are slightly more death-row inmates that are white than black (as of 2009). However, in 1990 a report from the General Accounting Office concluded that “in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.” [Source: DeathPenalty.org]

What and how long will it take for the U.S. to abolish the death penalty? Let us know if your opinion about capital punishment has changed?


Civil Liberties – Know Your Rights

Once the government has the power to violate one person’s rights, it can use that power against everyone.” ACLU


 Photo: Demotix.com

Civil liberties are individual rights protected by law from unjust governmental or other interference, including freedom of speech or assembly, without unwarranted or arbitrary interference by the government. In the U.S., civil liberties are protected by the Bill of Rights.

To protect your rights, you needs to know what your rights are, and you need to speak up and take a stand (and/or support the American Civil Liberties Union). Keep reading. We’ve posted your Bill of Rights in this blog.

As we’ve seen all too frequently, when rational debate flies out the window and fear rules, civil liberties often pay the price. A group of civil libertarians took a stand when, following World War I, the U.S. feared the Communist Revolution would spread to the U.S. “In November 1919 and January 1920, in what notoriously became known as the ‘Palmer Raids,’ Attorney General Mitchell Palmer began rounding up and deporting so-called radicals. Thousands of people were arrested without warrants and without regard to constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure.” [All quotes in this blog are sourced from the ACLU Website]

And thus was born the ACLU. As late as the 1920s, “the individual freedoms enumerated in the Constitution had never been fully tested in the courts, making them largely meaningless for ordinary people.”

The ACLU vigorously defends our freedoms. They spoke out when 110,000 Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps. With the NAACP, they challenged racial segregation in public schools. And they were involved in Roe v. Wade protecting woman’s reproductive rights. Their work exposed the extent of the Bush torture program. To protect our freedom of speech and right to assembly, they defended a Nazi group that wanted to march through a Chicago suburb. It certainly wasn’t a popular stand to take, but by doing so they preserved the right for everyone.

“Since the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11, the ACLU has been working vigorously to oppose policies that sacrifice our fundamental freedoms in the name of national security. From opposing the Patriot Act to challenging warrantless spying to challenging the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge or trial, the ACLU is committed to restoring fundamental freedoms lost as a result of policies that expand the government’s power to invade privacy, imprison people without due process and punish dissent.”

The ACLU makes it easy for us to know our rights. Click on this link and learn what your rights are in various situations. Here are a few examples:

Demonstrations and Protests


What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI


When Encountering Law Enforcement – Searches and Warrants


When Encountering Law Enforcement – Stops and Arrests


When Encountering Law Enforcement – Questioning


Additional Resources:

ACLU of Oregon: info@aclu-or.org, (503) 227-3186, www.aclu-or.org

Click to see key congressional votes via ACLU’s legislative scorecard.

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. And here they are:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Should We Uber? Or Shouldn’t We Uber?

That’s the question that will be discussed on the next live TVSet on Sunday, May 3, starting at 6 p.m.

Uber is a non-union Smartphone App-enabled taxi service that is currently in some kind of ‘test mode’ here in Portland, our fair city. Is it a glittering example of the “Sharing Economy,” or is it another example of technology being used to enrich the few, while leading others to disadvantage?

It will be a lively show, with co-hosts Jim Wrathall and John Kellerman, and guest Delilah Jones (spokes-person for cabbies). Once again, John has created an original musical composition addressing the concerns surrounding Uber and its business model. He’ll debut it live on the show. In fact, here are the clever lyrics:

Taken for a Ride
© 2015 John Kellermann

I went drinkin’ with my buddies, we was feelin’ fine,
‘Til the bartender said, “It’s closin’ time.”
I called a cab, ’cause I was feeling tipsy, They said,
“Might be a while, ’cause it’s really busy.”

My buddy said, hey, here’s a clever trick,
Download this app, they’ll get you home real quick.
I took his advice and got a big surprise:
Paid 99 dollars for a 3 mile ride!

I got taken, I got taken, I got taken,
Taken for a ride.

When there’s plenty of drivers, they’re Uber-cheap,
Then when it gets real busy, they’re Uber-steep.
“This is outrageous!” was my first reaction,
My next was, “How can I get in on the action?”

They said, “You can be a ‘partner’. You can be your own boss!”
They took twenty percent, I got the overhead cost.
Yet I made good money, so it seemed at first,
‘Til they hired more drivers, and things got worse.

I got taken, I got taken, I got taken,
Taken for a ride.

Now you can see me coming in my Radio Cab.
You can hail us, you can call us, you can use our app.
You know we’re insured, you know we’re safe,
And you know what’s on the meter is the price you’ll pay.

Don’t get taken. Don’t be mistaken. Don’t get taken.
On a super-duper, Uber-expensive ride.

Now a little about Uber

To get an Uber ride, consumers submit a trip request via the app, which is routed to crowd-sourced taxi drivers. According to Wikipedia, as of March 26, 2015, “the service was available in 55 countries and more than 200 cities worldwide. The company has raised $2.8 billion in total funding [Google and Goldman Sachs are investors]. Many governments and taxi companies have protested against Uber, alleging that its use of unlicensed, crowd-sourced drivers was unsafe and illegal. It is estimated that Uber will generate 10 billion dollars in revenue by the end of 2015.”

It’s a good thing they have lots of money ’cause it looks like they are frequent court visitors, forced to defend their practices. And that money allows them to aggressively expand their service options:

  • Package Delivery called Uber Rush (it’s being tested in Manhattan).
  • Uber Essentials allows online ordering and delivery of about 100 items (it’s being tested in Washington D.C.).
  • The first project from Uber Garage gives users the option to hire a regular taxi driver, or an Uber driver.
  • Uber Pool is a carpool service. It matches riders with another rider who is traveling in the same direction (if a match isn’t found, riders are offered a discount on a regular Uber trip).
  • They are working on a research project with a university that involves driverless cars.

Uber’s pricing model will be discussed on the show, including their “surge pricing,” which means prices are raised when demand is high, one of the most controversial aspects of Uber. (The company applied for a patent on surge pricing in 2013.)

Unrestrained capitalism? Misuse of customer data? Love it, or hate it (Uber has an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau)? Does it benefit markets with an under supply of taxis? Does it prompt an over regulation of transportation services? Are its drivers safe or unsavory? Does it drive down prices, a consumer benefit?

Have you, or will you call Uber?

Kellerman took the lead on this topic. Here is a host of links that he used to research the issue, and which he’s likely to refer during the broadcast.


Transportation Fairness Alliance
“Portland deserves transportation options that are safe and fair.”

Riding Dirty: How Uber Takes Drivers and Passengers for a Ride:

Uber’s $18 billion valuation is all the buzz in the world of tech startups and transportation, but is there something more sinister going on underneath the hood?

The reason this disruptive tech startup can double revenue every six months will shock and amaze you. Find out how Uber packages the American Dream, monetizes your safety and greases the wheels of local politics.

This video reveals how they skirt regulations, how their deal with drivers is bait and switch, their inadequate “background checks”, inadequate insurance, dirty tricks on their competition, and their wheelin’ and dealin’ with local authorities.

Surge pricing: Woman charged $92 for 2.7-mile Uber ride

The hidden costs of being an Uber driver

Lawsuit brought by Uber drivers to recover the tips they should have received and reimbursement for expenses:


Uber to Portland: We’re Here. Deal With It.
By Conor Dougherty and Mike Isaac New York Times December 5, 2014

Uber promises it’s done defying Portland taxi laws:

Portland taxi board prepares for Uber’s return by approving 64 percent increase in cab permits

Portland may allow Uber to return with ‘surge pricing,’ special rules

Ride or Die: Six Things You Need to Know About Tuesday’s Pivotal Vote on Uber

Uber, Lyft back in Portland on 120-day pilot program

Portland leaders’ foolish rush to accommodate Uber (OPINION) By Amanda Fritz http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/04/proposed_portland_ride-share_r.html