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Category: General

Will Executions By Torture Threaten the Death Penalty?

[ 9 ] July 29, 2014 |

You’ve probably heard about the latest horribly botched execution:

Wood’s execution dragged on for so long that at the midpoint, his lawyers filed an emergency appeal to stop the procedure and called on Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to intervene. Wood died before the federal court could respond, and Kennedy turned down the lawyers’ request. After Wood was pronounced dead, the Arizona Supreme Court ordered that the state “preserve any drug labels and unused drugs pertaining to the execution of Mr. Wood.”

The two-hour execution was just the latest debacle made possible by an ever more familiar combination of state secrecy, untried protocols being tested for the first time on live human beings, and a judicial system that can’t quite make up its mind about how much gasping and coughing is reasonable in a state-sanctioned killing. The new wrinkle is that this time we must endure the spectacle of witnesses to the execution fighting over how much suffering they saw.

Another exhibit Kozinski can use in his campaign to bring back the firing squad.

The optimistic take is that given the choice between a more visibly brutal death penalty and abolition, the public will choose the latter. I’m not sure. Most states have either abolished the death penalty or almost never use it. In the relatively small minority of states that are responsible for the vast majority of executions…I’m not sure that explicit brutality or botched executions will matter. I hope I’m wrong.

Nixon on Panda Sex

[ 3 ] July 28, 2014 |

I’m not saying this is on the level of LBJ ordering pants, but Richard Nixon talking about panda mating patterns is not something you expected to hear when you woke up this morning. And look, he got his information from Bob Haldeman, so you know it’s reliable!

Virginia Is For Lovers

[ 62 ] July 28, 2014 |

Another domino falls.

The Hillary Juggernaut

[ 149 ] July 28, 2014 |

The fundamentals in 2016 are unbelievably in favor of a Hillary blowout.

Obviously things can change of course.

Fault

[ 354 ] July 28, 2014 |

Where does the fault lie for the problems between Israel and Palestine? As John Judis correctly points out, it lies heavily with Israel. In part:

Israel is one of the world’s last colonial powers, and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are its unruly subjects. Like many past anti-colonial movements, Hamas and Fatah are deeply flawed and have sometimes poorly represented their peoples, and sometimes unnecessarily provoked the Israelis and used tactics that violate the rules of war. But the Israeli government has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to rule harshly over its subjects, while maintaining a ruinous blockade on Gaza. That’s the historical backdrop to the events now taking place.

Israel’s settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now number over 500,000. Palestinians are allowed to build on only about 40 percent of the West Bank. Settlers enjoy Israeli citizenship and rule of law. The Palestinians are under harsh military rule. No Palestinian may travel abroad without Israeli approval. There are 542 roadblocks impeding the movement of Palestinians, but not of settlers on the West Bank. Water rights are restricted. The settlers consume about six times more water than the 2.6 million Palestinians. Settler attacks on the Palestinians, which the police often ignore, have steadily increased. The number of “price tag” attacks spiked by 300 percent this last spring during the peace talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the failure to end the occupation through a two-state solution, but Netanyahu and his administration undermined the negotiations. That was the initial conclusion that Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiators conveyed to reporter Nahum Barnea immediately afterwards. As Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tabon recounted, Netanyahu made some concessions to Kerry last winter, but he still wouldn’t agree to any limits on an Israeli military presence in a future Palestinian state; and he wouldn’t budge on East Jerusalem or on the borders of a Palestinian state. And while the negotiations were occurring, Netanyahu and his administration reneged on a promise to release Palestinian prisoners and accelerated housing development in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. His administration announced plans for almost 14,000 housing units, or 50 a day, during the nine months of negotiations.

The reality is that Israel is indeed a colonial power and acts as such toward its subjugated peoples. That the Israeli state evolved in response to one of the greatest acts of horror ever committed in the human race is especially ironic given the nation’s behavior toward the Palestinians. Unless Israel’s supporters are willing to say that Europeans keeping them in overcrowded ghettos with no jobs or water or hope, similar to what they have done in Gaza and the West Bank is OK, they are massive hypocrites.

I really wish I could see Martin Peretz’s face as he read this article in his former magazine. Although it is countered by this “moral defense” of Israelis killing civilians, which is gross and morally bankrupt.

The Carceral State

[ 104 ] July 28, 2014 |

It’s entirely possible that in 100 years, historians will look back on the early 21st century United States and remark not only on the racist prison system that shows how little advanced we are from the Jim Crow era but also how little most Americans, even most liberals, really cared about the issue. Yet the imprisonment of millions is a really defining characteristic of the country today:

Mass incarceration’s effects are not confined to the cell block. Through the inescapable stigma it imposes, a brush with the criminal-justice system can hamstring a former inmate’s employment and financial opportunities for life. The effect is magnified for those who already come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Black men, for example, made substantial economic progress between 1940 and 1980 thanks to the post-war economic boom and the dismantling of de jure racial segregation. But mass incarceration has all but ground that progress to a halt: A new University of Chicago study found that black men are no better off in 2014 than they were when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act 50 years earlier.

The common retort is that people of color statistically commit more crimes, although criminologists and scholars like Michelle Alexander have consistently found no correlation between the incarceration rate and the crime rate. Claims about a “black pathology” also fall short. But police scrutiny often falls most heavily on people of color nonetheless. In New York City alone, officers carried out nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisk searches in 2011. Eighty-five percent of those stops targeted black and Hispanic individuals, although they constitute only half the city’s population. Overall, NYPD officers stopped and frisked more young black men in New York than actually live there. Similar patterns of discrimination can be found nationwide, especially on drug-related charges. Black and white Americans use marijuana at an almost-equal rate, but blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession nationally. In Pennsylvania, Illinois, and other Midwestern states, that arrest disparity jumps to a factor of five.

The collective impact of these policies is as rarely discussed as it is far-reaching. Mass incarceration touches almost every corner of modern American society. Any meaningful discourse on racism, poverty, immigration, the drug wars, gun violence, the mental-health crisis, or income inequality is incomplete without addressing the societal ramifications of imprisoning Americans by the millions for long stretches of time with little hope for rehabilitation.

Public Disagreement Is Not Intimidation

[ 75 ] July 28, 2014 |

godfather-horse-scene-40308“This blog post made me look ridiculous!  And a Chief Justice of the United States cannot afford to be made to look ridiculous!”

Not that I can blame Halbig defenders from wanting to create diversions from the argument on the merits, but really:

Little did I know that within hours of the D.C. Circuit’s decision, Ezra Klein voxsplained how the Chief Justice would not rule in Halbig’s favor because horrible things would happen. Or did Ezra voxtimidate the Chief Justice Justice not to rule in Halbig’s favor because horrible things would happen…

There is a blurred line between voxsplaining and voxtimidating, that pundits walked delicately in the runup to NFIB v. Sebelius. Now, it is a well-worn path. And there is one key difference. We know the Chief blinked in 2012. Why should we think he will act any differently in 2015. Whether the full court press on the Chief  worked in 2012, it is certainly worth a shot again.

McArdle has tried a similar technique of preemption (“This is the Washington equivalent of the old lady in the movies who puffs out her bosom, settles her pince-nez higher up on her nose, and huffs, ‘You wouldn’t DARE!’”)   And we saw similar arguments in the run up to Sebelius.

But this is all silly, and is also irritating because it implies bad faith on the part of people making both predictive and normative arguments that do not conform to the preferences of the 25% of federal judges who have so far bought the most recent ad hoc challenge to the ACA.  As it happens, I disagree with Ezra about the likelihood that the Supreme Court will uphold Halbig (or, more likely, reverses the D.C. Circuit once it hears the case en banc and laughs the argument out of court.)  I think Trende and Yglesias have a much more accurate read on the chances that the Court would destroy the private exchanges in a majority of states.  Nonetheless, I see no reason to believe that Ezra isn’t arguing what he really thinks, and his expressing his views on the matter does not constitute “intimidation” or “Voxtimidation” or even “Kleintimidation.”   Fatally absent from such arguments are identifications of what precise form of leverage pundits have over Supreme Court decision-making.  (There’s the additional problem that the theory fails to explain the vast majority of Roberts’s jurisprudence.)

I suppose another implication here is that some critics of Hilbig have been a bit shrill.  (I certainly plead guilty.)  But this isn’t “intimidation”; it’s “people who strongly disagree for obvious reasons.”  The consequences of Halbig, as the majority conceded, would be serious and dire if it is upheld.  The IRS, which is by law owed deference over reasonable judgments, has interpreted the law as making the subsidies available on federally-established state exchanges.  The majority had a high burden of proof to overcome, and yet Halbig‘s reading of the statute is nonsensical on its face.

And, again, there’s the striking absence of people involved in the legislation who agree with the court’s ruling.  The fact that no supporters of the law were persuaded by the commerce clause arguments against the ACA doesn’t mean much in itself; supporters of the ACA didn’t write or ratify the relevant constitutional provision, and it was theoretically possible that they were construing it too broadly.  But Halbig is a statutory interpretation case — the text in question was written and enacted exclusively by supporters of the law. It was by people who wanted it to work, not by the people inventing one legal argument after another to try to make it fail.  If the statute unambiguously denied subsidies to people obtaining insurance on the federally-established exchanges — and this is the standard Chevron requires — don’t you think this reading would have, at a minimum, a substantial constituency among those involved in drafting and ratifying the ACA?  But, once, again, here is an exhaustive list of this highly relevant group who have ever expressed anything that could be construed as agreeing with the Halbig reading:

  • Jonathan Gruber in two YouTube clips from 2010 2012.

Here is everyone in that category who disagrees:

  • Jonathan Gruber in his contemporaneous data calculations
  • Jonathan Gruber in 2014
  • Everyone else

Given this context, it is not exactly surprising that the assertion that the ACA unambiguously established a federal fallback that was designed to fail has met with strong resistance.  This intense disagreement is not strategic; it’s genuine, and it’s not some kind of bad form to express it.  If supporters of this lawsuit think that they can attempt to deny health insurance to millions of people with a remarkably feeble argument and have it treated as a clever legal puzzle, they’re going to be very disappointed.

The New Gilded Age

[ 16 ] July 28, 2014 |

For the plutocrats, the real outrage is that income inequality hasn’t grown by more. Give it another 5 years:

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Seafarers

[ 11 ] July 27, 2014 |

I was unaware that Stanley Kubrick had made a documentary about the Seafarers International Union in 1953. I have not seen it, but it is now available here, although I will have to wait until I am back in the U.S. to watch it.

Grifters

[ 31 ] July 27, 2014 |

Sarah Palin should win the Nobel Prize for Grifting.

Among the Dead-Enders

[ 169 ] July 27, 2014 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: We must maintain a horribly costly, arbitrary, racially discriminatory drug prohibition regime…for the children!!!!!!  And…science!!!  If the case of tobacco has proven anything, there is no way of regulating second-hand smoke and access to minors without throwing lots of people in prison.  Hopefully you will all be able to think rationally rather than being consumed by random emotional impulses like me.  And if you don’t like these non-sequiturs, I have more!

What Is a “Policy Imagination”?

[ 51 ] July 27, 2014 |

There were many annoying things about the news media’s recent re-discovery of the new conservative intellectuals – among them, the argument from Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry and his ilk that the reformicons are too the vanguard of the new party of ideas because “the current Democratic agenda…[is] so tired. Raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on high earners, tightening environmental regulation — these are all ideas from the ’60s.”

To begin with, there’s Krugman’s rejoinder that all of the reformicon’s ideas are basically warmed-over Reagan era policies, with perhaps a soupçon of maybe going forward, we ought to give a smidge more tax cuts to the middle class rather than to the 1%. (An accurate assessment, I would add.)  There’s also the fact that, well, the conditions that justified those policies then have come around again: the minimum wage was allowed to stagnate for over a decade under Republican rule, so we need to raise it so it can actually reduce working poverty; inequality has reached heights not seen since the Great Depression, so we may need the kinds of tax rates that brought it back down between the 30s and the 70s.  Environmental regulation is needed, not for retro cool, but because we’re facing a climate change crisis that requires it.

On the other hand, I do think there is something to a different argument, sometimes made from the left of the Democratic Party (and from within the Democratic Party’s left), that the Democratic agenda falls a bit short of a full-fledged weltanschauung. In general, the Democratic Party offers worthy solutions – the minimum wage , for example – to an important problem (working poverty), but without thinking in a detailed fashion about what we want the world to look like, how we get from here to there, and how wage policy fits into the larger objective of an egalitarian economy.

And it’s in these kind of gaps that the policy imagination matters.

Read more…

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