Death Panels From Bad Legislation

[Marcy is tending bar for Glenn Greenwald today over at Salon and has a wonderful piece on John Brennan and resultant bad policy in the Obama Administration. Please give her a visit – bmaz]

Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom (England), and even Venezuela. What do all these developed first order modern countries have in common?

They abolished the death penalty. Conspicuously absent of course is the United States. We are the only country in the Americas, whether North or South, that utilizes the death penalty in anything other than declared war exceptional circumstances. The conspicuousness of the US on the world death penalty map is chilling in terms of who we are aligned with in our beliefs; and it isn’t what might be referred to as the enlightened group of nations.

What is the purpose of the death penalty in a modern society at this point? Sure isn’t deterrence. In an article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Dr. Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University writes,

There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that [shows that executions] can exert a deterrent effect…. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions. To accept it uncritically invites errors that have the most severe human costs.

In accord are John Donnohue and Justin Wolfers in an article entitled "The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence", where the authors conclude claims that the death penalty saves lives and acts as a deterrent "are simply not credible." Are there studies to the contrary? Yes, and they are debunked in the above studies and evaluations, as well as in any number of others.

It is not for purposes of financial efficiency either; the death penalty is hideously expensive for the states and nation. When I first began my legal career, the data consistently showed that litigating and executing death penalty cases, as opposed to non-capital punishment treatment (including life imprisonment), was severely more expensive. That is still the case. From the CSM:

This year, state budgetary crises have given death penalty opponents their most successful argument yet – money.

Administering the death penalty is breathtakingly expensive. Contrary to popular opinion, it costs substantially more to execute people than to send them to prison for the rest of their lives.

In California, which houses the nation’s largest death row, it costs about $137 million annually to maintain the state’s death penalty system. The state has conducted only Read more

21st Century Hate

I was noodling around the intertoobz tonight, and was struck by the thought that the concept of "American Exceptionalism" may refer to our ability to bring teh stupid.

First up to bat are the down with brown anti-immigrant numbskulls. From the Los Angeles Times:

Walt Staton wanted to help people, and his tool was a water jug. On the morning of Dec. 4, he and three others drove southwest from Tucson, to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which tens of thousands of illegal immigrants traverse each year.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the plastic jugs he left for the immigrants endanger wildlife, and this week Staton was sentenced in federal court in Tucson on a charge of littering. He was given one year of unsupervised probation and ordered to spend 300 hours picking up trash.

The sentence, however, does not quite capture the emotions surrounding the case — yet another testament to the volatility of the illegal immigration debate in Arizona. Prosecutors had asked for a $5,000 fine and five years’ probation. Staton, for his part, had insisted on a trial, rather than pay a $175 fine.

In recent months, as the legal proceedings progressed, each side has essentially accused the other of staging a show trial to bolster its view of U.S. border policy.

Staton, a 27-year-old Web designer and soup kitchen volunteer, viewed his actions as humanitarian. As he had done for five years with the faith-based aid group No More Deaths, Staton in December lugged water up hills and through scrub to remote, migrant-carved trails. Only this time, when he and his comrades returned from leaving eight jugs at their last stop, authorities were waiting, and he was cited by a Fish and Wildlife Service officer.

This is just sick. The Federal government, through the Arizona US Attorney’s Office, egged on by the anti-immigration movement, which is very vocal in Tucson and Southern Arizona, got a burr up its butt and spent over $50,000 to prosecute this heinous criminal who took time away from his volunteer work at a soup kitchen to try to keep some human beings from dehydrating to death in the desert. Littering. The brown hating Lou Dobbs crowd makes a lot of noise and bring a lot of pressure in Tucson and parts due south. I guess they got a trophy Dobbs can crow about now. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on here?

Next, from my local rag, the Arizona Republic, comes the nay on gay ganglion for brains bunch up in Utah:

A southern Utah newspaper has rejected a gay California couple’s wedding announcement, saying its policy is to publish announcements only Read more

This Bud Is For You Mental Midgets Of The Media

obama-beerThere are three irreducible minimums emanating from the arrest of Henry Louis Gates at his home in Cambridge Massachusetts. First, it was an illegal and unconstitutional arrest because of the abuse of police power and discretion. Second, it may or may not (my inclination is not, at least at the outset) have been a racially motivated moment; either way it is one from which serious discussion could, and should, ensue. Third, it is an event that has become embedded in the national consciousness from which the nation could learn and grow as one.

Despite the above, the trained Skinner rats in the national media have glommed onto the most trivial and inane aspects to convey to the public audience. To half wit USA Today:

We guess this qualifies as breaking news.

President Obama will drink Bud Light at the Thursday meeting with the African-American professor and white police officer who got in a dust-up earlier this month. Press secretary Robert Gibbs just made the announcement to the press pool on Air Force One.

The full menu looks set. Sgt. James Crowley, whose arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates at his home, touched off the incident, has indicated a preference for Blue Moon. Gates has said he likes Red Stripe.

"So we’ll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon," Gibbs said.

Walter Cronkite is barely in his grave and already he is rolling over. And ABC News doubles down on the boys’ brews. Here is the AP with the same basic drivel. And Bloomberg. The Pulitzer Prize material is front and center at every news source imaginable as well as the cable and broadcast outlets.

The only teachable moment we are going to be treated to out of the lofty potential available from the moment is to learn once again what lowest common denominator dregs we have in the American media and what little they think of the American national intelligence and conscience. Quite frankly, President Obama has not acquitted himself well in leading here either.

What is really on tap for tomorrow’s "teachable moment"? The Washington Post (probably piqued they cannot turn the event into a "Salon") sets the social table:

Gates and Crowley will gather for a beer and chat with President Obama at a picnic table outside the Oval Office as the sun sets Thursday. The president has called the incident a "teachable moment," but the trio is not expected to Read more

Media Failure: Gates And Crowley Need To Personally Lead

Yesterday morning I posted (Henry Louis Gates’ Contempt Of Cop) on the legal implications of the Henry Louis Gates arrest thrust into the national consciousness by President Obama with his response to a question at Wednesday night’s prime time healthcare press conference. The discussion here was outstanding, however in the major media forums of print, and especially television news and talk programming, the situation has devolved and cleaved into the all too predictable he said/she said pitting of one side versus the other. Left versus right. White versus black. Conservative versus liberal. Law and order versus criminal. Yadda, yadda yadda.

In short, what passes for media and journalism in this country today has failed the public audience it is supposed to serve. Again. A disappointing, but certainly not shocking result.

None of us, and none of the chattering media, were there at the Crowley-Gates scene, but we never really are for these moments in life and history; we still learn and live vicariously through them. By no means was Gates’ conduct exemplary in the encounter, it simply was not. As far as the encounter itself, he was every bit as responsible for the escalation, and quite arguably more so, as the officer, James Crowley. By the same token, Crowley is the trained professional, who teaches other officers how to handle and diffuse situations exactly like this one, and he did not acquit himself well at all either. But that is as to the facts and interpersonal dynamics; from a legal standpoint, Gates’ conduct was clearly and unquestionably completely legal. Irrespective of his conduct, Gates’ arrest was patently false and illegal; you would think some of the media’s vaunted "experts" might could point that out.

The Crowley-Gates incident, however, provides a great teaching moment from both points of view, because each side made their point with classically poor conduct; we can all learn much from both. It is a perfect, and for once not tragic, vignette from which to discuss lingering and important issues of race in America. We owe both sides of the incident, Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley, as well as the President and ourselves, the duty to take advantage of the moment and raise the discourse.

The media, and the citizens it serves, need to stop debating the legality of the arrest, because there really is no valid legal dispute there. The arrest itself was illegal. The national conversation should accept that, leave it behind, and move to the ground of what happened in the interpersonal dynamics of the two protagonists, what it meant to each other and what it means to Read more

Bye Bye American Pie

As most of you know by now, automobiles are personal to me. I grew up around cars, car people and car racing. And I grew up in America of the 60s and 70s. Whence I came from Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie & Chevrolet wasn’t just a slogan, it was a root truth and way of life.

My parents moved west for a good climate for my father’s asthma and so that he could open up a new car dealership. Years before I was born, that’s what he did. The gleaming edifice at right is it after being constructed but before the stock arrived for the grand opening. The photo on the left is at the ribbon cutting. The man on the left is my father; the man on the right his partner and the little girl in the middle his partner’s daughter. I was still a few years from being born, ergo I am not pictured. It started out as a Studebaker/Chrysler/Imperial dealership, but was converted somehow (not quite sure on this) to a Chevrolet dealership after my father died when I was age two. So I have roots in both of the big news items of today in autoland, the bankruptcy of General Motors and the emergence of Chrysler. The third leg, Studebaker, died long ago and was the catalyst for our move to Chevrolet. As went the sturdy Studebaker, so almost went the mighty GM.

All of the foregoing has made this a very bittersweet day for me. There is something at once both greasy and wonderful about the greater automotive business. But ask Rayne or Marcy or anyone from Michigan or anywhere teh biz iz, anyone around it for any substantive amount of time; it gets under your skin and in your blood. In a profound way. It was Americana; it was us. General Motors was bigger than The Phone Company and it was bigger than Big Brother.

Today, the General, at least as we knew it, is gone. It has been bankrupted, placed into Chapter 11 and replaced by talk of "The New GM" which will emerge. Don’t be distracted by the shouting points of the minute; this is an important and transcendent day. I have had so many thoughts, on so many tangents and planes; but I cannot relate all of them in coherent and linear thought. So, I want to adopt and incorporate some thoughts by Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times. Please, when you are done reading this post, go read Dan’s full article, it deserves it.

For those that think GM has lost its importance, Read more

Bed Dinnertime For Bonzo Gonzo

Hello Americans, it’s Friday! Are you mystified, bewildered and puzzled? Well I sure as heck am. Guess who’s coming to dinner? This weekend’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner that is. From The Swamp:

But now The Sleuth reports on a certain high-value guest who will lend some enhanced interest to the Houston Chronicle’s dinner party, which is going against conventions, perhaps, but is certain to get some memos out of its guest at the black-tie fete:

Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general in the Bush administration, which, as we’ve all been reading lately, went to some legal lengths to authorize harsh interrogations of detainees in the "war on terror" — such as waterboarding — and which, by the graces of the Obama administration, may escape any legal liability for any of that.

The Washington Post’s Sleuth suggests that "Gonzo would be a little bashful about showing up at a place that will be jam-packed full of the new guard in the Obama administration and the very Democrats in Congress who drove him from office. But no, he’ll be there all right this Saturday night. Gonzales is a confirmed guest of the Houston Chronicle, his old hometown paper.

This is a perp chump walk if I ever saw one. What kind of naive mental midget thinks this is a good idea for a social outing for himself? AGAG, that’s who. Jeebus, the jokes just about write themselves, and I invite one and all to do just that.

It has been a long week, and I was stuck in court much of the day. I will be looking at a couple of things now that I am settled in, but in the meantime consider this an open thread for a little relaxation, breaking news, trash talk, etc. Oh, and by the way F1 Circus afficinados, this weekend is the Gran Prix de Espana.

And because there is no trash without football trash, it seems the National Favre League may be back in business. Oh and one of the Deetroit Lions is promising playoffs.

"I won’t make a prediction about how many games we’re going to win, but I will say this: We will definitely make the playoffs this season. Believe it or not we weren’t far off last year. Almost every game we could have won, we were one play or one player short. Except for Tennessee on Thanksgiving, they just came out and beat us to sleep. Read more

The Value Of The Hometeam

Sports are a fickle thing, they bring out the best and the worst of people. Professional sports franchises often come, in a way, to define their cities. Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers. Boston, home of the Red Sox. Detroit, home of the Red Wings. But what is their intrinsic value? What does it mean when they leave? The City of Phoenix may be about to find out:

Less than an hour before the National Hockey League commissioner planned to broker a deal to sell the Phoenix Coyotes and strip team owner Jerry Moyes of his duties Tuesday, Moyes filed for bankruptcy to sell to his own buyer.

Moyes, as part of a Chapter 11 reorganization filing, agreed to sell the team for $212.5 million to a BlackBerry wireless magnate who plans to move the team to a yet-to-be determined location in southern Ontario, Canada.

The move is not a certainty. Already, the NHL and Glendale, which leases Arena to the Coyotes, have objected to Moyes’ tactics. And other investors could outbid BlackBerry executive Jim Balsillie’s PSE Sports & Entertainment LP.

But the Coyotes, who have played in metro Phoenix since 1996, habitually have lost money in the desert, first when they shared an arena with the Phoenix Suns in downtown Phoenix and most recently in Glendale.

Moyes, who since 2001 has invested more than $310 million in the team, declined to be interviewed. Earl Scudder, his financial and legal adviser, said Moyes had no option but to file for bankruptcy because that was the only way to void the team’s lease with Glendale.

There are so many threads here it is hard to know where to start. The arrogance of an owner. The bankrupt state of a national sports franchise. And not just any hockey franchise either, one run by the Great One, the greatest hockey player ever, Wayne Gretzky and playing in one of the newest most state of the art single sport dedicated stadium in the league. Oh, and hey, does the line "no option but to file for bankruptcy because that was the only way to void the team’s lease with Glendale" not sound an awful lot like the mantra of the Obama Administration and the auto manufacturers trying to shed those pesky dealership agreements?

So, apparently the market value of the Phoenix Coyotes is 212.5 million – if the team is shipped off to somewhere in Read more

The New Journalism

Sometimes tectonic shifts are underfoot and society fails to recognize the acts and effects. Such is the case with journalism and its daily outlets, newspapers and television. Newspapers are dying left and right, those that are not are struggling to stay alive and relevant. The most recent glaring example is the Boston Globe.

The Boston Globe has been published for over 137 years and, over that period, became one of the grand ladies of the news press. You would think that the purchase of, and partnership with, the Globe in 1993 by the New York Times would place the Globe in a position of strength in even these perilous times. Not so. From Eugene Robinson in today’s Washington Post:

Despite the whole Red Sox vs. Yankees thing, employees of the Boston Globe were mostly relieved in 1993 when the paper was bought by the New York Times Co. for an astounding $1.1 billion. If the era of local family ownership had to end, nestling beneath the wing of one of the world’s great newspapers seemed the best alternative. And if the Times was willing to pay so much, it must have been serious about putting quality ahead of the bottom line.

That was then. Now, after several rounds of painful cutbacks and layoffs at the Globe, the Times is squeezing a further $20 million in savings from the Boston newspaper’s unions — and threatening to shut down the paper if the demand is not fully met. The economics of our industry are cruel and remorseless, but still it’s alarming to witness what looks like an act of cannibalism.

To be fair, the Globe is reportedly on pace to lose about $85 million this year. The New York Times Co. is hardly in a position to swallow a loss of that magnitude, given that the company’s flagship newspaper is waging its own fight against a rising tide of red ink.

So that is the background for the discussion I want to have. My proposition is that it is not just the financial status of the major newspapers in decline, it is also, and even more significantly, the quality of content. Quite frankly, the traditional press has become deficient in both content and quality. I am not sure that it has ever been so apparent as in the last two to three weeks on the issue Read more

The Clarion Call Of Gideon’s Trumpet

images5thumbnail1.thumbnail.jpegA few days ago, on March 18, fell the 46th anniversary of a momentous day in American jurisprudence, the day the decision in Gideon v. Wainright was rendered. Prior to Gideon, criminal defendants in the United States had a right to be represented by counsel, but not the right to have counsel appointed if they could not afford their own attorney. It was a watershed moment of enlightenment that is worthy of a fresh look.

Clarence Gideon was wrongly charged with breaking and entering a pool hall that had been burglarized, all based on a false accusation. Gideon was a poor man who lived in a rooming house and literally had but $25 to his name. From Wiki:

He appeared in court and was too poor to afford counsel, whereupon the following conversation took place:

The COURT: Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint Counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint Counsel to defend you in this case.

GIDEON: The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by Counsel.

Gideon was forced, therefore, to act as his own counsel and conduct a defense of himself in court, emphasizing his innocence in the case. Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict, sentencing him to serve five years in the state penitentiary.

From his prison cell at Florida State Prison, making use of the prison library and writing in pencil on prison stationery, Gideon appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a suit against the Secretary to the Florida Department of Corrections, Louie L. Wainwright. He argued that he had been denied counsel and, therefore, his Sixth Amendment rights, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, had been violated.

But what the Supreme Court gave in Gideon is under an attack that is destroying one of the tenets of the modern due process guarantee in the American criminal system. In a chilling opinion piece in the March 10, 2009 Washington Post, former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale, who as Minnesota Attorney General participated along with AGs from 21 other states in amici support of Gideon’s demand for appointed counsel, details just how far the nation has regressed:

Yet states across the country routinely fail to appoint Read more

Two BIFFOs Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day


Given that today is St. Paddy’s Day, I thought I would remind you all of the cutting edge journalism I provided last May when I reported from the home of Barack Obama’s Irish forebears, Moneygall, County Offaly. (Obama’s hometown paper is just now catching up and they don’t even have such a swell photo, taken by my father-in-law with the bustling metropolis of Moneygall in the background.)

As I reported then, Offaly is not only mr. emptywheel’s home county, but also the home of Ireland’s Taoiseach (pronounced "Tea-shack"), Brian Cowen. 

There’s a slur used for Offaly men in Ireland (Cowen is, as I understand it, sort of proud of it): BIFFO, or, "Big Ignorant Fucker from Offaly). 

As luck would have it, the BIFFOs running both countries of which I am a citizen got together today and–just now catching up the cutting edge reporting I did last May–they spoke of their mutual ties to Offaly.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

I just want to say that we are incredibly honored to have the Taoiseach here, and his entire team. This is an affirmation of one of the strongest bonds between peoples that exist in the world. You know, when you think about the history of Ireland and the enormous impact it has had on our own history, and the fact that you’ve had people from Ireland who have shed blood on behalf of this country’s independence and its freedom, that it has had probably as much impact on our culture and our traditions as any country on earth.

The bond and the friendship that is felt between the United States and Ireland is something that I think everybody understands, but as the Taoiseach just mentioned, we can’t take for granted and we have to continually build upon.

And so this visit gives us an opportunity to talk about some of the very important bilateral issues that we face; also to talk about some of the global issues that both the United States and Ireland want to take leadership in. We are grateful for the lasting friendship that exists between us.

I, personally, take great interest on St. Patrick’s Day because, as some of you know, my mother’s family can be traced back to Ireland — and it turns out that I think our first Irish ancestor came from the same county that Taoiseach once represented. Read more