Archive for September, 2011

The U.S. justice system is crumbling. We divorced fathers that have experienced family justice know where the flaws lie: prejudice –

John Whitmire, Texas State Senator

against men and fathers- and more credence and weight given to accusation than to defense. You have to prove your innocence, when prosecution should be bearing the burden of the proof.  In the case of capital punishment- the icing on the rotten cake- there is the combination of racial prejudice and prejudice against the poor. If you are flushed, you might save yourself; Otherwise, too bad.

Thursday September 23 of this year, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. His execution was opposed by an international movement led by Amnesty International. One would have thought that might have spurred proposals to mend the capital punishment system.  Indeed it did, in the most unexpected area: John Withmire,  a Houston democrat and chairman of the Senate criminal Justice Committee, put an end all by himself to the last meal in Texas.

According to Manny Fernandez from the New York Times, this is the profligacy of Lawrence Russel Brewer’s last meal that set Withmire’s creative legislative mind in motion. Brewer was executed by lethal injection in the Huntsville Unit on Wednesday, September 22, one day before Travis. One would think that the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in Houston had better things to do than micromanaging last meals. In any case, we don’t know for sure if it is the ethnic ingredients of Brewer ‘s last meal – jalapeños, fajitas- or worries for the State of Texas’ budget that troubled Whitmire. But even at the pace Texas executes inmates on death row, I bet last meals are not the most crucial budgetary issue of the state.

John Whitmire’s score to the Political courage test organized by Project Vote Smart is 0, because he refused to tell where he stands on issues addressed in 2010 Political Courage Test. No wonder;  To me, Whitmire belongs to the most despicable type of politicians: Those who seek exposure while beating on the weakest and the defenseless. Who in these glorious days we are leaving in will oppose scaremongers like Whitmire? For God sake, until the day medieval capital punishment is abolished in the U.S., let’s those to be executed enjoy a last meal…and a last cigarette. Their  fellows on death row won’t mind second-hand smoking.

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Troy Davis was executed today in Georgia at 11:08 pm. It is time for politicians to realize that this country has an even bigger problem than unemployment; a massive failure of the justice system.

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When I think of 2001 before September 11, I think of it as a good year. In September 2001, I was in France visiting my

Twelve Angry Men (Lumet)

family, taking advantage of the three-week September break of the French Institute in New York, where I was working then. My girls had been in France with their mom, and, as agreed in the divorce agreement just finalized in Court, I had taken them to my older sister’s home in Dijon for the first time (and the last, I would discover);  Three or four unforgettable days. Then I brought the girls back to Paris and at the very beginning of September, they were back to New York.

For me, September 11 2011 starts with September 9. I was driving on the highway from Paris to Lille, where my younger sister lives with her family. I heard then on the radio that Massoud had been assassinated. I remember to have felt a really bad vibe in one of one of these boring highway rest areas where I had stopped.

On September 11, as I came back with my sister to her home from a nice walk in Lille, the first thing I heard is the nanny of my sisters’ children, telling us that “two towers had been attacked in the U.S.” I was at first rather dismissive. She did not know the U.S. and the only two towers in the U.S. that I knew where in New York. Unthinkable. Soon we got scotched to the images of the Twin Towers falling down.

Like everybody with a family in the U.S., I frantically tried to place a call to the U.S.  During the long hours I waited for the call to go trough, I was trying to reassure myself with seemingly rational facts: my girls were living on the Upper West side, far from ground zero.  Yet I kept seeing them wandering on a bridge like thousands of New Yorkers. My ex-wife might have resumed her work in New Jersey, but she was taking the New Jersey Transit, not the Path Train. Even if she had gone to work this day, she was likely to be fine. My girlfriend however had to punch at 10:00 am in the World Trade Center where she was working for the Wall Street Journal Americas. She indeed saw the second tower collapse on her way to work. Around midnight (French time), I was able to reach my ex-wife. First courteous exchange in a long time.

I am one of some lucky New Yorkers who has not lost anybody in September 11. Yet, after a long trial in family court gone by, and having not seen my girls for six years, I see no reason to rejoice. The media trumpeted a victory for justice when Bin Laden was shot like a dog in Pakistan.  After two wrong wars in Irak and in Afghanistan, this is pathetic. There was only one acceptable outcome of the so-called war on terrorism: Bin Laden alive and on trial for crimes against humanity, in New York, in La Hague (Holland, where the International Court of Justice is located) or wherever; whatever the cost; to give a real shot at getting justice straight and thus show that Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization, not us.

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I was in Colombia the last two weeks of August. I could not help but notice that the Colombian press follows very closely Karen Atala’s case. To my knowledge, Atala’s story got barely more than a blurb in the New York Times in July, and that’s a pity; there are important issues at stake and its outcome in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights might have important implications for custodial rights across the continent.

Karen Atala is Chilean. Until  2002, she was married to Jaime López, with whom she had three daughters. Then they separated and agreed that Atala would have the custody of the girls, with weekend visitations for the father. But the latter changed his mind when his ex-wife started a relation with a women, Emma de Ramón. The couple lived under the same roof with the girls. According to Natalia Herrera Durán (El Espectador, August 25) López reclaimed custody on the ground that “the sexual orientation of his ex-wife was putting the emotional development of the girls at risk,” and (why not?) the girls might get AIDS. López prevailed and in 2003, Atala lost the custody of the girls. After several appeals, the case ended up in the Chilean Supreme Court. Verdict -hang on-:  “the mother has put his personal interest before those of the girls. The girls might be confused about their sexual role and suffer discrimination in the future.”

But -pardon my French- Karen Atala has balls. Also, she is a judge. That helps. She held steady while dragged in the mud by the Chilean press – which calls her “the lesbian judge”-  and under pressure to give up on her workplace.  According to Dominique Rodríguez Dalvard (El Tiempo,  August 28) the experts that testified at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -whose sessions were held in Bogotá- asserted that “if Atala’s sexual conduct does not affect the living conditions of the girls, her sexual orientation is irrelevant.” One wonders why it did not occur to the Chilean Supreme Court.

Atala has argued in court that “being deprived of her girls has destroyed her identity and her personal dignity.” Gotcha!  To all fathers living in the U.S. doomed to get second-rate custody of their kids in gender-biased family courts (and loose it if any accusation of wrong parenting, founded or not, is brought against them), Atala’s words strongly resonate. Thanks to her courage, we might learn that if national family laws and courts suck, there is hope for justice somewhere. We cross our fingers awaiting the verdict of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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