Do you want to get your opinions from someone who won’t even vote?

One sure sign someone has remained on stage too long is when they begins to embarrass themselves. Exhibit One this week is Jeff Greenfield, long-time political pundit who has worked for both ABC and CNN news and for the New York Times, Time and  In a cranky article titled “Why I never voted for Barack Obama,” Greenfield admits that he has not voted in any election since 1996. His excuse: it enables him to distance himself from the candidates because he isn’t going to vote for either one.

It’s not the first time Greenfield has admitted he never votes. He did so in an article in late October 2012 in which he asked the undecideds to stay home. 

What is more embarrassing? That Greenfield admits to not voting? That he thinks he has a great excuse?  The smugness with which he declares his objectivity and implies his superiority? Or the very fact that he doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t get that a big part of the code ethics of any professional—journalist, attorney, accountant, physician, architect, advertising guy—is to set aside beliefs when practicing the profession.  Moreover, in Greenfield’s case, having an opinion and expressing it is part of the job title. We know Greenfield isn’t objective and, since he’s a pundit, we wouldn’t expect or want him to be. We know his work bubbles with opinions and assumptions, and like virtually all mainstream pundits, the opinions express a narrow right-centrist view.  

Greenfield must hold himself in pretty low self esteem: he’s afraid that voting for a candidate is temptation enough for him to lie, to build an argument which he doesn’t really believe or to withhold material evidence.  Only in the severe purity of non-voting will Greenfield not succumb to the temptation of  unethical reporting.

Greenfield wants us to admire the sheer Zen objectivity he achieves through the consecrated act of not voting. Instead, all we see is a cranky guy abdicating his freedom and his responsibility as an American citizen.  And bragging about it.

Why do prosecutors and judges obstruct justice?

In today’s New York Times, Adam Liptak details another case in which judges and prosecutors obstinately defend a wrong decision and thereby put a man’s life at stake.

The headline of the article, “Lawyers Stumble, and Clients Take Fall” says it all:  A man on Alabama’s death row may fry because his attorney—addicted to meth at the time—missed a filing deadline for appealing his sentence. At issue was the fact that the jury voted the man a life sentence and a judge overruled it and gave him the death penalty.

The Atlanta appeals court ruled 2-1 that the guy can not pursue a challenge to his conviction, even though our ultra-right U.S. Supreme Court has twice rebuked the same court for its rigid attitude regarding filing deadlines in capital cases.

Whenever I read about another case in which prosecutors and/or judges persist in upholding a wrong decision, I wonder where their sense of justice is. While the defense attorney is supposed to represent the defendant, the mission of the prosecutor and the judge should be to represent the state and the people. It must be in the best interest of the state and the people to get it right, even if that means admitting that an original decision to prosecute or seek the death penalty was wrong, or even if that means, as in this case, using a looser interpretation of the rules. In this case, the prosecutor did not have to object to the late filing and could have recommended waiving the rule, knowing that the attorney was at fault. The judges, chastised on this issue already, could have also given the guy a break. After all, a man’s life is at stake. But prosecutor and judges preferred to an extremely strict interpretation of the law.

The inflexibility of prosecutors and judges is a leading argument against capital punishment. While many are in favor of capital punishment, few approve of executing anyone who is innocent or whose crimes do not meet the legal standard for the death penalty.  How can we ever be absolutely certain of a capital conviction given the sad reality that our judicial system seeks convictions and executions, and not justice?

Every month another example of an injustice hits the national media. A few weeks back it was the man with an I.Q. of 51 who has been in jail 30 years, unconvicted of any crime, waiting for a new trial after his first capital conviction for murder was overturned.  The Texas state government is appealing a recent ruling that would either finally give the guy a new trial or free him. Texas would rather see a man convicted of no crime continue rotting in prison.

These two cases involve unfair treatment of defendants. Even worse is when the state suppresses evidence that shows the defendant or convict is innocent.

These cases of unfair treatment or suppression of exonerating evidence tend to occur to the poor, minorities or those with severe mental disabilities, and they tend to happen in the south. This lack of consistency—of fairness—represents another argument against the death penalty.

Many believe, and I count myself among them, that the best argument against capital punishment is the moral one—that society should not stoop to the level of the murderers and engage in state assassination, and that cost of housing a convicted killer is a small price to pay for remaining human and humane. But even if one rejects the moral argument, the practical ones remain: the cost of making certain the innocent are not executed is too high in a venal world in which justice gives way to the preference of prosecutors, judges and states for preserving their own record of infallibility or pursuing some blood thirsty political agenda.

With all this talk of helping the middle class, both parties ignore the poor

Whenever there is a contentious issue between the two dominant political parties, the Democrats and many Republicans immediately depict their positions as better for the middle class.

Below you’ll find a few of the thousands of quotes which put the middle class front and center in the recent “fiscal cliff” confrontation. I place “fiscal cliff” in quotation marks because the term hides the true battle between those who want to continue starving government and the economy so that the rich can pay historically low tax rates and those who want to return the country to the firm and equitable financial footing it had before the Reagan revolution by making the rich pay their fair share. If the “fiscal cliff” negotiations were really about the deficit and if the deficit were really so important, our leaders would have let us fall over the cliff, which was erected a few years back to enforce deficit reductions. But in fact both sides realize that government support of the economy is important.

Here, then, is a sprinkling of quotes on the “fiscal cliff” in which the “middle class” is evoked as if it were a magical incantation:

  •  “We’ve stopped that middle-class tax hike”/ President Obama
  • “Our first and foremost priority is protecting the middle class”/House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
  • “President Obama sold out the Middle Class for the wealthy.”/Tony Katz, a political columnist
  • “The decline of the middle class threatens our ability to fund health and retirement programs, to maintain a safety net for the most vulnerable and to invest in our future.”/an AARP newsletter
  • The most recent negotiations saw a massive grassroots effort that successfully protected Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits and investments in the middle class.”/Minnesota Representative Keith Richardson
  • ‘This deal is the right move to protect America’s middle class families, who were facing a New Year with higher taxes, and to prevent two million Americans from losing their unemployment benefits.”/Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry
  • “Thus far, negotiations suggest that the fight for the middle class in the fiscal cliff ring may in fact be a draw.”/Sharon Poczter in Forbes

If you review media coverage of the presidential election campaign, the last debt ceiling deadline and the debates on the government stimulus, aid to college students and healthcare reform, you will consistently find this same focus on meeting the needs of the middle class, especially byDemocrats.  Republicans will often focus on one part of the middle class—small businesses—in an attempt to tie the interests of the middle class to those of the wealthy.

My question: what about the poor—those who need the help of society?

No one seems to want to help the poor very much, and Republicans like Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann and even Romney constantly demonize them.

To those who say that what we should want to do is  lift people out of poverty into the middle class, my answer is—help the poor then, not those already in the middle class.

Certainly the Democrats are interested in protecting and expanding programs for the poor, but their rhetoric always puts the concerns of the middle class first and foremost.

We can see the poor getting the shaft in the “fiscal cliff” compromise. The working poor may not pay income tax, but they do pay payroll tax, which will go up by two percent, ending the temporary cut instituted two years ago. Our elected officials were extremely and profoundly concerned about making sure that the income tax increase did not affect the middle class, but cared not a whit about keeping money in the pockets of the working poor by agreeing to keep the two-percent decrease in payroll tax in place for those earnings less than $40,000 or $50,000 a year. Another solution would have been to remove the cap on income that is taxed for Social Security. Removing the payroll tax cap would have had the double benefit of 1) allowing the poor to keep pumping money into the economy by spending the payroll tax cut; and 2) providing funding for the Social Security system during the “Baby Boom” years, when the large number of retirees compared to workers will burden the system.

But while thoughts of helping the poor may have entered the minds of Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid, Boehner, McConnell, et. al., the idea of actually helping them never crossed their lips.

That’s what’s called business as usual.