Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Death Penalty - Who Decides?

Only three states allow a single person, a judge, to impose the death penalty in capital cases. The rest require an unanimous jury vote in order to exact the ultimate punishment.

An examination of death penalty cases in Florida, one of the the three states with looser rules, found that a unanimous jury vote requirement would have substantially reduced the number of death sentences meted out.
If the state had required unanimity, between January 2010 and June 2015, there would have been 70% fewer death verdicts, in less than half as many counties.  
Philosophically, it seems clear that a consensus opinion is a logical minimum requirement before a state can kill one of its citizens. Capital punishment is, after all, the most awesome and final action a state can take. The more thoroughly examined and debated that decision is the more we can trust that the decision to execute is not based on faulty, frivolous or merely vindictive motives.

But as a practical matter, too, unanimity should be a required condition for the death penalty. The fact is we just aren't very good at executions. Look at the current chaos among the states, notably Oklahoma, trying to "humanely" put down condemned prisoners in chemical executions lasting over half an hour. And then there are the terrifying results of the Innocence Project's efforts to free the wrongfully convicted from death row, In addition to taking a life, we may improperly impose a potentially excruciating death on an innocent person. This seems an unreasonably high cost to the goal of extinguishing a criminal's life.

By requring unanimous jury votes in capital cases we have the means to make the death penalty difficult for prosecutors to obtain and judges to impose. If in the process we execute fewer citizens, the guilty and innocent alike, we can at the least take grim comfort in knowing that we have limited the ability of the criminal justice system to impose its harshest penalty on those who least deserve it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A "Little Bit" Of Knowledge Is Dangerous; None At All Is Deadly

The author of the Dickey amendment that forbids research into gun violence is interviewed.
His law ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention never to fund research that could be seen as advocacy for gun control. Since the 1990s, that provision has commonly stopped any gun studies because researchers don't want to risk losing federal money, and that is what Jay Dickey regrets.

Friday, October 2, 2015

If Quill Pens And Parchment Were Good Enough For Thomas Jefferson...

Why would anyone expect the Department of State to have evolved secure electronic communication systems that match, say, AOL?
The lack of a State Department classified network accessible via mobile devices is a major problem in our 24/7, always-on world. It forces officials to make tough choices about the trade-off between security and the need for timely transmission of vital information. In the furor over Clinton’s emails, policymakers, pundits, and technology experts should not lose sight of the larger imperative of developing new systems that don’t pit the imperative of security against the need to communicate, share information, and reach decisions at the pace that breaking world events demand.

No. No. I Don't Despair For The Future Of Our Culture. Not At All.

I'll just leave this here.
The commercial, released last Friday to promote a new hamburger and binational sexism, claims “When Tex meets Mex, it’s a win-win.” The proof is in the ad: handsome neighbors bonding over burgers, bouncing bikini babes, and an erotically invigorating match of border wall volleyball.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Even Ben Carson Wouldn't Vote For Himself

From Politico:
"But, right now, when you have something that is against the rights of women, against the rights of gays, subjugates other religions and a host of things that are not compatible with our Constitution, why in fact would you take that chance?"

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Best Twitter stream of the day.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Defund in Haste, Pay Up Later

The current fuss over Planned Parenthood funding through the Medicaid program has a number of the usual suspects feigning outrage over deceitfully doctored videos. While it seems this cabal of Congress is simply manipulating headlines for electoral gain in a campaign season, there are real life consequences to Congressional actions that need to be part of the public debate.

If a House Freedom Caucus-mediated plan to defund Planned Parenthood for a year passed and became law (unlikely under an Obama veto promise) there would in fact be some immediate savings to the government, but at the cost of perhaps 25% of current Planned Parenthood clients losing access to reproductive services.

But one gift this Congress shares with all others is the ability to wildly extrapolate from insufficient data. If a one year suspension of Planned Parenthood funding is shown to reduce costs without increasing unplanned childbirth (likely enough, since a pregnancy lasts 9 months) it's easy to imagine a "more of the same" push to make defunding permanent. Therein lies the problem. As the Congressional Budget Office reported:
 ...the bill would increase direct spending for Medicaid by $20 million in 2016, by $130 million in 2017, and by $650 million over the 2016-2025 period. Most of the increased spending for the pregnancies that occur in 2016 will take place in 2017. Netting those costs against the savings estimated above, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would increase direct spending by $130 million over the 2016-2025 period.
I think funding for PP is safe - this year, anyway - but if there's a change in White House occupants come January of 2017 we may see this faux controversy erupt all over again - just in time for the 2018 midterms.

And that's really what this fuss is all about.

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