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Fools parade

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Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year,” according to Mark Twain. He must have been right about that because the rest of April 2014 seemed like a parade of fools.

Last week, ignoring warnings from experts, the state of Oklahoma insisted on using a secret lethal injection method to execute two death row inmates. When the first execution was halted because the inmate writhed in pain and cried out, only to die of a heart attack 25 minutes later, the second was postponed.

A botched execution like that is bad even for supporters of the death penalty, since honoring the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” is the only thing that keeps the death penalty alive. These were bad guys, deserving society's harshest sanction, but going forward recklessly was a fool's play.

This macabre death scene followed an April report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that should make rabid supporters of the death penalty feel at least a little foolish. That study conservatively estimates that over 4 percent of those sentenced to death are most likely innocent.

While this was swirling about, Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, proved once again that there is no fool like an old fool. Caught on a recording device spewing racist rants, Sterling was finally exposed as a guy who likes to benefit from the labors of black athletes as long as he does not have to associate with them.

Setting aside the dicey circumstances of recording the conversation and its release to the media, Sterling's words are his words. The NBA banned him for life, fined him $2.5 million and will push a forced sale of his team.

But the fool's prize this April belongs to those who provided comfort and aid to Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been stealing from the taxpayers by not paying grazing fees for federal land that he has been using for 20 years.

Like a court jester, Bundy first attracted a corps of so-called militia members, fools who took up arms against law enforcement officers, actually threatening a shootout. They did this in spite of the fact that Bundy has been stealing from them, too, assuming they are taxpayers.

And if that did not make most of Bundy's knee-jerk supporters feel foolish enough to head for the hills, Bundy's racist remarks later in the week seemed to do the trick. In short order, he started spewing old-fashioned, “Gone with the Wind,” Southern plantation racism.

Many anti-government types, including some anti-Obama politicians ever eager to seize any truncheon to bash the administration, thought they had found their hero. But Bundy proved to be fool's gold. In the future, they might be careful to look before they leap.

If it seems that this past April has been a ship of fools, take heart. April showers always bring May flowers. And this year they cannot bloom soon enough.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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