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The Empty Promise of Parole

[ 0 ] April 11, 2007 |

G’morning folks. Bean of A Bird and a Bottle here, guest posting for a few days while Scott is off doing professorial things. Over at my place, I write about criminal justice, feminism, and just about anything else I find interesting. I’ll do much the same here. Thanks for having me.

And away we go…


Ninety-four-year-old John Rodriguez has a Bronze Star from World War II. He uses a walker, is arthritic, and can barely hear, though he is still of sound mind. He is a recovering alcoholic who regularly attends AA meetings. He goes to a sweat lodge every Sunday. And he’s the oldest person incarcerated in California’s massive state prison system.

According to an L.A. Times story yesterday, Rodriguez murdered his wife in a drunken rage in 1981 (at age 68) and was sentenced to 16 years to life, with the possibility of parole after serving the minimum sentence.

It’s been over 25 years. Rodriguez, who has been a model prisoner, has been rejected for parole six times. The three governors who have rejected the recommendations for his parole say he is still a danger to society. From the LA Times article:

Schwarzenegger has already turned him down once, saying that the “gravity alone of the murder” is enough to conclude that Rodriguez would pose an “unreasonable public safety risk.”

Because of his age, Rodriguez may be a particularly interesting – or maybe sympathetic – case. But he’s one of hundreds or even thousands of incarcerated men and women for whom the promise of parole is utterly empty. In California, a state referendum allows the governor to overturn a parole board recommendation for release for people who face life sentences. the provisions has had a devastating effect:

Since 1988, when California voters gave the governor the power to overrule parole board recommendations for “lifers,” the number from that category who have been freed has slowed to a trickle.

Gov. Gray Davis released only six lifers during his five-year tenure.

But it’s not only California. In New York, particularly under Gov. Pataki, parole was elusive for people who had been found guilty of murders or manslaughter. In case after case, parole was denied to men and women based solely on the gravity of the crimes they had committed. If that’s the only criteria, why even have parole? The parole decision may be based in part on the gravity of the underlying offense, but not solely on that — otherwise people convicted of violent crimes would get only determinate sentences (say, 10 years, instead of 10 to 17 years). Parole boards and the governors who approve their decisions should consider the offense, but only as one among many other factors.

It’s understandable that men who murder their wives or women who accidentally kill while stealing money for drugs (as in the case of Jean Coaxum) are not the most sympathetic cases with which to argue for leniency. But by tying parole to a long-ago crime alone, we rob it of its power and virtually throw away the keys to people’s cells. I’m sure that’s what many lawmakers and citizens want. Yet this “solution” is not that at all — it’s only a band-aid over the larger problem: the lack of restorative justice programs in American prisons, a situation enabled by the sense that prison today restrains but does not rehabilitate.

Hogging: Playoff Preview 2007

[ 0 ] April 11, 2007 |

With the World’s Most Dangerous Perfesser taking the Eastern Conference Preview over to the more genteel and respectable confines of Crooked Timber, I will use this venue for my half of our second annual playoff picks. I’ll be doing the Western Conference again. Last year I went a mediocre 2-2, and this year is even more problematic. The #8 seed is considerably more gifted than the iteration that was one goal away from the Stanley Cup two years ago, and yet they earned the bottom seed fair and square. But “how in the hell would I know?” isn’t a very fun answer, so I’ll try some actual predictions among these evenly matched series. To balance my prejudices, I’ll be including the picks of Big Media Brad Plumer, a fan of the most odious franchise in professional sports not located in the South Bronx the scrappy and beloved Vancouver Canucks.

Detroit (#1) vs. Calgary (#8) I’m not sure one can make useful predictions about a team you’ve seen 70+ times and have a strong rooting interest in, and I’m as ambivalent as last year. The Flames will be a chic upset pick, I suspect, and obviously one can make an unusually strong case for a #8 seed. There are similar structural problems as the ones I noted in my lukewarm endorsement of the Wings last year; the Flames still play in a stronger division, although the gap has narrowed a bit, and as Klein and Reif pointed out, the Flames awful record in shootouts–meaningless once the playoffs beging–artificially lowered their point total. And in terms of their talent, they would seem to be able to compete with everybody. Very few 8 seeds have a goaltender who won the Vezina Trophy the prvious year and had 5 playoff shutouts the year before that, and while he wasn’t quote on his game early in the year he was brilliant down the stretch. The Phaneuf/Stuart/Hamrlik/Regehr defensive front line might be the best in the NHL except Anaheim, although the latter’s health is a concern. (Lidstrom is still better than any of those four, but especially with Kronwall apparently out the Wings have less behind him.) And add to that one of the best two-way forwards in the league and several potent weapons behind him (indeed, if you had told me the kind of years Langkow and Huselius would have, I would have pegged them for about 120 points.)

But. The disjuncture between the team on paper and the merely good performance cuts both ways; one can’t watch them much without an unshakable conviction that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. In particular, and unlike the ’04 team, they have a lot of the defensive breakdowns that will kill you against the Wings. It’s too early to say that Playfair isn’t a good coach, but the terrible road record and penalty killing that is exceptionally weak for the personnel are ominous signs. And even if Detroit isn’t quite as good as they look in the standings, they’re awfully good. Hasek, when healthy, is still great even at 42, they’re very deep up front, and I still wouldn’t write off the playoff potential of Datsyuk and Lang. I don’t think they’re a Stanley Cup team, and I don’t think we’ll see the kind of ghastly meltdown (at least Althouse went down mad) the Flames had in Game 7 last year, but I think the Red Wings will exploit enough mistakes to win. And, no, I don’t want to see Todd Bertuzzi in the second round–or, for that matter, anywhere but in prison–either. RED WINGS IN 7. PLUMER SEZ: WINGS IN 6.

Anaheim (#2) v. Minnesota (#7)
In essence, this series comes down to one factor: the health of Niedermayer and Pronger. I think it’s unprecedented in my lifetime for a team to have two of three best defensemen in the league at the same time, and as their performance in the first half of the season demonstrated, they’re almost unbeatable if they’re both healthy. A big “if,” especially as the playoffs drag on, but I think they’ll handle the first round. As I’ve discussed before, few people respect Lemaire more than I (and, conversely, I will be rooting hard against Brian “why are we hiring this man? Did we run out of human beings?” Burke), and as usual he has a team that plays terrific defense but also has serious wheels, and I probably like the core up front a bit more, especially with Gaborik healthy. But it’s hard to win a series between two good defensive teams when you’re weaker on the blueline and in goal, and that’s the situation the Wild are in. Although Keith Carney has had a surprsingly good season, I think they’ll regret losing Mitchell before the series is over. DUCKS IN 6. PLUMER SEZ: WILD IN 7.

Vancouver (#3) v. Dallas (#6).
The easiest one to pick for me, in that Dallas is a similar but (I think) crucially inferior team. This will be a low-scoring series, and since I’m a long-time believer that Luongo is an elite goaltender while Turco is nowhere near an elite goaltender, I think the choice is clear. The Canucks have an underrated defense (Mitchell, in particular, is a gem) which I think can handle the Stars transition game too. I don’t see them getting to the finals unless Naslund has a big comeback, but I see Dallas being disappointing again first. VANCOUVER in 5. PLUMER SEZ: Canucks in 6. (Homer!)

Nashville (#4) v. San Jose (#5) In the wake of the Forsberg trade, Nashville was a popular pick to win the Cup; now, most of the pundits I’ve seen aren’t even picking them to get out of the first round. I’d like to buck this consensus, because Nashville is so fun to watch. But I really don’t like this matchup. Like Detroit, they benefit from having three weak sisters in their division, an unlike Detroit their defense is pretty thin. Like Calgary, San Jose is a bit of a sleeping giant, a team that looks better on paper then they played–but at a higher level of accomplishment. Thornton/Marleau is an incredible 1-2 punch up the middle, and Cheechoo looked great down the stretch. A fully healthy Forsberg might push Nashville over the top, but he didn’t look anything like fully healthy to me. Both teams have weirdly unsettled (but not undesirable) situations in net, which makes things a little tougher. And one caveat is the same as last year’s: San Jose’s defense is also a bit shaky, and I continue to believe that Hannan is enormously overrated. I think they’ll stall if they move on because of that, but I don’t think it will stop them in round #1. His disappearing act against Edmonton last year nothwthstanding, I think Big Joe will carry them at least a round. But this is also my most ambivalent pick. Sharks in 7. Plumer sez: Pedators in 6.

As for the East. I agree with Michael only on 2: I’ll take Sabres in 5, Devils in 5. Rangers in 7, Senators in 6. It would be great for the Penguins to advance further, but I think they’re a year away. I would like to address an important question raised earlier by Michael, however: peppy, friendly penguin, or mean, scowling penguin?

Neo-Confederates with Photoshop

[ 0 ] April 10, 2007 |

Let’s say you’re the sort of goob who argues that African Americans served willingly in the Lost Cause of the Confederacy (scroll down in comments for a priceless takedown from Rob — this is also the thread that got Tom Hilton and Erik Loomis banned from Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee, several weeks before Bob Owens offered me the pink slip.) If so, you’ve probably seen — and maybe even purchased — this picture of what purports to be the First Louisiana Native Guard, one of the black units that presumably fought for the rights of white people to own their brothers and sisters:

It’s inspiring, really — what better way to show the world that the American Civil War had nothing to do with racism or slavery after all? Look at ‘em! Dignified, stoic. No bleeding heart Republican is going to tell them what to do.

Well, via Civil War Memory, we learn that the photo is actually of a Union detachment, formed and photographed in Philadelphia sometime in late 1862.

Ah, ’tis true:

Turns out the photo was also used as the inspiration for a Union lithograph used to recruit black soldiers — who in any case needed few inducements, ideological or material, to take up arms against the cracker masses. As for the Louisiana Native Guard itself? The authors of the paper explain why the neo-Confederate souvenir-mongers felt obliged to look elsewhere to substantiate their fantasies:

The actual 1st Louisiana Native Guards, consisting of Afro-Creoles, was formed of about 1,500 men in April 1861 and was formally accepted as part of the Louisiana militia in May 1862. The Native Guards unit (one of three all-black companies) never saw combat while in Confederate service, and was largely kept at arm’s length by city and state officials; in fact, it often lacked proper uniforms and equipment. “The Confederate authorities,” James Hollandsworth has written, “never intended to use black troops for any mission of real importance. If the Native Guards were good for anything, it was for public display; free blacks fighting for Southern rights made good copy for the newspapers.” The unit apparently was never committed to the Confederate cause, and appears to have disobeyed orders to evacuate New Orleans with other Confederate forces; instead it surrendered to Union troops in April 1862.

Glory be.

. . . and here’s a relevant review from Loomis, whose banning from TIDOS Yankee means that Bob Owens will continue to while away in ignorance of this apparently fine book . . .

Jonah Goldberg, serious thinker

[ 0 ] April 10, 2007 |

Ben Adler:

I know that to be considered a respectable independent thinker, and not a partisan hack, I’m supposed to take conservatives seriously.

As someone who is quite clearly not an aspiring young opinion journalist, I don’t share all of Adler’s motivations. There’s a part of me that agrees, of course, especially if we give a broad reading to the word conservative. I enjoy nothing more than taking Burke, Hume, Oakeshott, Hayek, and plenty of other conservatives seriously.

Sadly for young Adler, he’s got a whole different sort of conservative he needs to take seriously to establish his non-hack bona fides. Admittedly, the pickings are slim, but it seems of late many in Adler’s circumstance choose Jonah Goldberg. Now, should I ever start pulling my weight around here and participate fully in the LGM adopt-a-wingnut program, I suppose I might briefly consider taking up Goldberg. But beyond that?

Jonah Goldberg, last week:

I’m sorry, but there is no such thing as a “reasonable” movement to prevent climate change because climate changes by definition. Saying we can prevent climate change is like saying we can prevent tides, tectonic drift, or rain. And no one would say any movement to stop rain is “reasonable.” (I’m harping on rain because I’m a big CCR fan and I need to justify this post’s headline).

Of course, Adler probably (hopefully?) means something else when he says “climate change” — like “catastrophic climate change” or those super-freezing lightning fast hurricanes in The Day After Tomorrow. But that’s not quite the same thing, now is it? Adler, like many, seems determined to portray any deviation from the Gore-line to sound inherently unreasonable.*

If you have fear you might make the mistake of taking Goldberg seriously at some point in the future, print this out and post it above your computer. When the temptation strikes, just re-read these two paragraphs. It’ll also come in handy if you ever need to explain the concept of sophistry.

I’d suggest some sort of penalty for taking Goldberg seriously, but it’s obviously its own punishment.

*in fairness to Goldberg, I’ve taken him a bit out of context here. This post comes across as a lot smarter if you include the section about misremembered CCR lyrics.

…..John Holbo’s got Goldberg down pat: “When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights.”

Millionaire Pundit Values

[ 0 ] April 10, 2007 |

Digby on the Beltway class that relentlessly sucks up to and makes excuses for Don Imus:

And I also listen to their complaints about the vituperation on the internet, how the bloggers — especially the “angry left” — are horrible people who treat them disrespectfully. And I have to laugh because I know that Don Imus can call them and their colleagues twits and pussies in Vanity Fair and they come back licking his boots, begging for more. And we know why.

They have earned their reputation — even some of the good ones, the ones who write things I like. When you sell your personal integrity for money to a racist scumbag like Don Imus, you have to expect that people are not going to treat you with a lot of respect.

Don Imus has been behaving badly and apologizing for it for many, many years. I expect he will continue to do so once he’s finished with his two week vacation. And all of these writers will once again make pilgrimages to his show and pledge fealty to him in order to sell books. Because, unlike those great basketball players he maligned so casually — they really are whores.

Indeed. Bob Raissman(via Jeralyn), who agrees that the one thing Imus will never lose is his army of sycophants promoting third-rate books, point out that the only the that will convince MSNBC and CBS to dump him is if the program will no longer be profitable. Since there’s a more sustained backlash against him than usual, this isn’t out of the question…

Scorching the Earth

[ 0 ] April 10, 2007 |

Peter Howard has a sober appraisal of the the North Korean weapons-to-Ethiopia deal:

The Administration has identified both counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation as vital national security interests. But when they happen to conflict, as in when fighting terrorists requires looking the other way on a major North Korean arms deal, we see where the Administration’s priorities lie. They would rather allow Ethiopia to purchase tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons from North Korea, providing North Korea with vital cash and circumventing UNSC sanctions limiting arms transfers out of North Korea in punishment for its nuclear test than not, so long as those weapons go to fight terrorists, and by terrorists we mean the Islamic militias in Somalia.

I would go a bit farther though, and reiterate that the move displays an utter (and unsurprising) contempt for multilateral decision-making and multilateral action of any sort. It’s not as if the USN was conducting a blockade of North Korea, and the administration simply let one shipment get through. The sanctions against North Korea were built on a multilateral foundation, in no small part because such projects require the action of more than one country. By allowing the shipments through, the administration indicated that it has no regard for multilateral agreements, even when those agreements substantially ratify US policy preferences.

Conservatives often seem to believe that international institutions and other facilitators of multilateral action replace US interest with some kind of nebulous “global” interest. However, this is a fundamentally wrong-headed view of multilateral cooperative action. States do not, by and large, give up their interests when they agree to cooperate. Rather, they cooperate in order to achieve their interests. There are some jobs that even a hegemon can’t do by itself; multilateral institutions help the hegemon achieve its goals. This administration, however, has decided that adherence to cooperative agreements holds zero (and perhaps even negative) value for the United States. Consequently, the downside of allowing Nork weapons to Ethiopia isn’t simply the trade-off between counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation (and one can justly challenge whether the weapons were used in service of the former at all), but also the long-term diminution of the sanctions regime against North Korea and the reduced prospects for multilateral anti-proliferation action in the future.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Sure Alberto Gonzales is Bad, But Wasn’t Beria Worse?

[ 0 ] April 10, 2007 |

Belle has a wondrously good post detailing bad faith conservative arguments. Read the whole thing, but my favorite line:

I have this rule of thumb, which I recommend to everyone: if Solzhenitsyn recounts some practice as one employed in coercive interrogations at Lubyanka, it’s torture.

Confederate Poetry: A Wasteland

[ 0 ] April 9, 2007 |

In addition to being Confederate Heritage Month, April is also National Poetry Month. The combination of the two is brutal, as the following example from the Civil War era attests. The poet, to his progeny’s enduring fortune, chose not to claim authorship of this adolescent swill. Curiously, I find nothing in this that couldn’t work equally well at the masthead of Little Green Footballs, Captain’s Quarters, or Ace O. Spades, Heterosexual.

“Rebels” (by Anonymous)

Rebels! ‘t is a holy name!
The name our fathers bore,
When battling in the cause of Right,
Against the tyrant in his might,
In the dark days of yore.

Rebels! ‘t is our family name!
Our father, Washington,
Was the arch-rebel in the fight,
And gave the name to use,–a right
Of father unto son.

Rebels! ‘t is our given name!
Our mother, Liberty,
Received the title with her fame,
In days of grief, of fear, and shame,
When at her breast were we.

Rebels! ‘t is our sealed name!
A baptism of blood!
The war–aye, and the din of strife–
The fearful contest, life for life–
The mingled crimson flood.

Rebels! ‘t is a patriot’s name!
In struggles it was given;
We bore it then when tyrants raved
And through their curses ‘t was engraved
On the doomsday-book of heaven.

Rebels! ‘t is our fighting name!
For peace rules o’er the land,
Until they speak of craven woe–
Until our rights receive a blow,
From foe’s or brother’s hand.

Rebels! ‘t is our dying name!
For, although life is dear,
Yet, freemen born and freemen bred,
We’d rather live as freemen dead,
Than live in slavish fear.

Then call us rebels if you will–
We glory in the name;
For bending under unjust laws,
And swearing faith to an unjust cause,
We count a greater shame.

More Surrender Day Antics

[ 0 ] April 9, 2007 |

Raoul Vega has some thoughts on Confederate Heritage Month.


[ 0 ] April 9, 2007 |

Shorter guy who got his Instalanche today:

“If I’ve learned anything from reading David Brooks, it’s that when journalists write about small-town America, they’re even worse than the people who rationalized the European conquest of the ‘Orient.’”

Happy Surrender Day!

[ 0 ] April 9, 2007 |

On this day in 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant. For some reason the flag is flying at half-mast today in Lexington; I am told that it is typical across the South to manufacture reasons for flying the flag so on Surrender Day.

UPDATE: Let’s emphasize the “I am told” part of this claim; I actually have no idea whether it’s true or not.

Normally A Scholar Is Pleased When Her Theory Is Confirmed…

[ 0 ] April 9, 2007 |

Mark Graber passes along this chilling story from the eminent political scientist Walter Murphy, author of the classic Elements of Judicial Strategy and many other major works (and a bestselling novel about a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who becomes Pope to boot!) As Murphy details the incident:

“On 1 March 07, I was scheduled to fly on American Airlines to Newark, NJ, to attend an academic conference at Princeton University, designed to focus on my latest scholarly book, Constitutional Democracy, published by Johns Hopkins University Press this past Thanksgiving.”

“When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years.”

“I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: “Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that.” I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. “That’ll do it,” the man said.”

Fortunately, he finally got a boarding pass, although after a warning that his luggage would be ransacked it was lost (coincidentally or not) on the flight home. Graber points out that Murphy is nobody’s idea of a doctrinaire liberal, but in some sense this is beside the point. Given the importance of air travel in this country, using it to harass and deny access to people who have been critical of the government is appalling, period. As Murphy concludes:

“I confess to having been furious that any American citizen would be singled out for governmental harassment because he or she criticized any elected official, Democrat or Republican. That harassment is, in and of itself, a flagrant violation not only of the First Amendment but also of our entire scheme of constitutional government. This effort to punish a critic states my lecture’s argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could.”

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