On Election Day, California voters will wrestle with the death penalty, and it’s an issue the rest of the country should also consider.

The ballot measure, Proposition 34, would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as the most serious punishment for murder. Proposition 34 also creates a $100 million fund to help law enforcement solve rape and murder cases. And it could save the taxpayers $130 million each year in the process.

The alternative is for California to spend $1 billion more on a broken system over the next five years, in addition to the more than $4 billion spent since 1978 on a death machine that promises justice but fails to deliver.

The financial realities of the death penalty are stark, but the human toll is far more profound. Since 1973, 141 innocent men and women throughout the nation have been freed from death row, including three in the Golden State. They spent an average of 9.8 years on death row for a crime they did not commit — and some of the inmates were mere hours away from execution.

Typically, they were too poor to afford a lawyer, and more than 60 percent were people of color.

Death penalty supporters claim executions are fair and just and reserved for the worst of crimes. Yet, the criminal justice system is riddled with human error, bias and incompetence, factors that are amplified in the implementation of the death penalty.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 80 percent of capital cases nationally involve white victims, although whites are only half of all murder victims.

And according to the National Registry of Exonerations, perjury and false accusations are the most common factor associated with murder exonerations, found in 64 percent of cases. Official misconduct by prosecutors, police and other state actors comes in second place (56 percent), followed by mistaken witness identification (27 percent), false confessions (25 percent) and false and misleading forensic evidence (23 percent).

We should not take the chance of erroneously executing a man or woman. Once they are dead we cannot take back the mistake.

Californians may lead the way to a more humane criminal justice system on Nov. 6.

Other states should also follow through until we have finally ended the death penalty travesty in the United States.

David A. Love is the executive director of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated former death row prisoners and their families. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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