Friday, December 30, 2011

Occasional Blogger Rants About an L.A. Times Article

Given the title of this post, one would expect it to contain a rant about an L.A. Times article.

Given the following L.A. Times headline: "Annual Total of Death Sentences in California Falls to 10", and sub-headline: "The prior two years had each seen capital punishment ordered for 29 criminals. Analysts say a broken appeals process is driving the trend, and some observers cite tight budgets prosecutors face," one would think the article would focus on how the appeals system somehow became "broken" in the last year in a way it was not broken the last two years where nearly three times as many executions were ordered. One would probably expect some evidence supporting that conclusion. One might also expect some explanation of how a one-year drop in death sentences can be considered a trend. One's expectations would be left unfulfilled.

The first mention of anything about the appeals process being a cause of the single-year decline in death sentences comes in the article's third paragraph, which begins, "Legal analysts on both sides of the debate say a broken appeals process is driving the trend." But this lone sentence is the only reference to this supposed problem until 12 paragraphs later. And that paragraph, the only other one referencing California's "broken" appeals system, does not cite "legal analysts on both sides of the debate." Rather, it relies on a single quote from Kent Scheidegger from the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization dedicated to removing legal obstacles to executing defendants.

Mr. Scheidegger says only that the time and cost of appeals continues to increase "as defendants and defense lawyers drag things out."

And that's it. The entirety of the evidence for the proposition that a broken appeals process has caused a decline in executions ordered in California over the last year is an unsupported statement from an organization dedicated to removing legal obstacles to executions claiming that defendants and defense lawyers drag out the process.

There are no statements from legal analysts "on both sides of the debate." Nor does the Times provide any empirical evidence for the dubious idea that an anomalous one-year decline in executions stems from a flawed appeals system. This claim, of course, makes little sense in the absence of any evidence the appeals system has recently changed in a manner which would discourage death sentences viz-a-viz the baseline period.

It appears the Times has simply chosen to mindlessly and unjustifiably repeat the oft-stated bit of conventional wisdom that a criminal justice system with the highest incarceration rate in the world coddles criminals to the detriment of crime victims and society as a whole. The absence of evidence for this narrative failed to stand in the way of a good story.

Friday, September 02, 2011

President Obama: He's Just Like (B)Us!(h)

Back in March of 2008, President George W. Bush went against the advice of his own EPA's scientists, sacrificing the well-being and even lives of literally thousands of Americans a year. Scientists recommended setting ground-level ozone (smog) limits at 60 to 70 parts per billion (ppb), yet Bush's EPA set the level at 75 ppb, down from the previous limit of 84 ppb.

According to the EPA's scientists at the time, setting the limit at 75 ppb instead of 65 ppb would result in between 1,700 and 5,700 premature deaths per year.

For this reason, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer rightly called the move "outrageous," adding, "The Bush Administration would have us replace clean air standards driven by science with standards based on the interests of polluters."

Today, President Obama pulled a draft EPA recommendation which current EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson had said back in January 2010 would recommend the limit be placed between 60 and 70 ppb - the same range Bush-era EPA scientists recommended. Jackson said she chose to revisit the standard because the level set by the Bush administration was significantly higher than that recommended by EPA scientists at the time.

Mr. Obama claimed he rejected the draft because:

“Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013,” Obama said. “Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.”

I'm sure it is a coincidence that Mr. Obama, who knew for twenty months that the EPA was going to recommend changing the standard to within the 60 to 70 ppb range, abruptly pulled the draft and decided reconsideration should be delayed until 2013 about six weeks after "several major trade associations held a joint conference call with reporters to suggest that the EPA postpone the new standards until 2013."

In addition to all the jobs created for oncologists and inhaler manufacturers, Obama's Bush-like fealty to business interests over scientific consensus will put another few thousand people in the grave and off the unemployment line. So there's that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Security Consequences of U.S. Policies in the "War on Terror"

Interesting piece by Gabor Rona on how U.S. policy has alienated our allies and led to less cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A couple links to public sector union stuff

I'm not really sure how I feel about public sector unions as a general matter. But being a liberal, I felt obligated to see if there was something to the widely-held view among conservatives that they are a bad thing.

So here is an informative article on that subject from the Fall, 2010 issue of National Affairs, written by Daniel DiSalvo: The Trouble With Public Sector Unions

And if you're looking for a reason to really hate public sector unions, read this article from the L.A. Times: California Prison Guards Union Called Main Obstacle to Keeping Cellphones Away from Inmates

It's actually worse than the headline makes it sound. It seems pretty clear that prison employees, who regularly smuggle phones into prison, do not want to have to stop smuggling phones into prison because they can make up to $1,000 per phone. And their influence is enough to keep the legislature from criminalizing smuggling phones into prisons.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Turns out I was totally right about the Anti-Raiders conspiracy

January 19, 2002 - The nation, still reeling from being attacked by a band of terrorist raiders, needed hope as we embarked on the new global war on terror. We need a symbol, a patriotic symbol, to rally behind.

Hence, the Snow Job, where the NFL invented a rule so that the Patriots could defeat the far superior Raiders and go on to begin one of the league's most successful dynasties - one that may even outlast the dynasty the U.S. military has established in the middle east.

This was only a theory, of course, until Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was interviewed by the Financial Times this past Super Bowl Sunday, and spilled the beans, saying:

"Nobody could support the Raiders. They're evil."

We know Jose Padilla is probably out of luck tying to sue Rumsfeld, but I can only hope the Raider Nation can still pursue justice over this.

Suprised I hadn't heard about this

Federal judge Thomas Porteous got impeached in December for being almost as corrupt as the senators who impeached him. Way to accept tons of cash and favors from people who want you to rule in their favor (or in the case of the bail bondsman, set bail higher so they make more money). In a democracy, Tommy, you can only accept cash and favors from people who want you to pass laws and regulations in their favor.

Two fun facts:

Porteous has the distinction of being only the eighth federal judge to be impeached.

His attorney argued "that many of the practices [Porteous engaged in] – such as accepting favors and expensive meals – were common in the Louisiana legal community." Of course they are. It's Louisiana, a land where the governor believes monitoring volcanos located near major population centers is a waste of money. Those people have no sense.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Obama says you get medical care even if your doctor is a Republican

The federal government did something good, and I'm writing about it. First time for everything. From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration rescinded most of a federal regulation Friday designed to protect health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on personal or religious grounds.

I blogged about this when the Bush administration was proposing this regulation, and am glad to see it go. Basically, the law was designed to allow health care providers to deny contraception, family planning advice, abortions, end of life care, etc. if providing those services violated their ethical or religious beliefs. It follows, of course, that a patient's access to those services would be proscribed by the ethical or religious beliefs of her health care provider. In certain communities and in some situations, this could even result certain care being difficult or even impossible to obtain.

Good job, Obama. Now if you will just stop acting like Bush when it comes to executive power, I just might vote for you.

Friday, December 31, 2010

And 2011 begins with, what else...

Another 'pivotal moment' for the war in Afghanistan. From the L.A. Times:

2011 Seen as Make-or-Break Year for Afghan Mission

Of course, we are due for a pivotal moment in the war, as it has been six months since John McCain took the initiative in making the semi-annual pivotal moment proclamation which U.S. politicians have been making like clockwork for several years now.

But I'm sure this time they mean it. And far be it for me to suggest that having a pivotal moment in the war every few months for several years sort of suggests we are simply refusing to extricate ourselves from an unwinnable war. That sort of talk, unlike spilling billions of dollars from our coffers and gallons of blood on the Afghan soil, would be unpatriotic.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Please hurry up and win so we can fire you

According to a July report by the Congressional Research Service, there are 207,600 private contractors employed by the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with 175,000 uniformed soldiers. This means that we are in fact using an army made up mostly of mercenaries. This also means that for 54% of the people we have over there, ending the occupation means being out of a job and returning to the United States at a time when unemployment is just under 10%.

Moreover, since it would be politically impossible to increase troop levels, contractors are essentially irreplaceable, regardless of whether or not they are effective. So in addition to having a good reason to want the occupations to continue, contractors have little incentive to successfully complete the tasks to which they are assigned.

Just something to think about as we wonder why our now mostly privatized army has not yet accomplished its mission in either country.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rick Pitino demands efficient execution

Karen Sypher, who met and had sex with Rick Pitino at an Italian restaurant, was recently convicted of extortion for claiming she was raped after Pitino refused her demands for money and gifts.

From the New York Times article on the case, which was apparently written by someone who wants Pitino to be mocked by his friends for the rest of his life:

Pitino said the sex lasted ''15 seconds'' and was ''unfortunate.''

Rick Pitino: great coach; goes limp faster than Michael Spinks.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Anti (ish) Defamation League and NY's Cordoba House

Here is the Anti-Defamation League's mission statement:

"The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."

And here is the Anti-Defamation League's public stance regarding the building of the Codoba House NYC, an Islamic community center near Ground Zero:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

I don't see anything in the ADL's mission statement dealing with saving the families of terrorism victims from unnecessary pain. And so at first blush it seems somewhat odd the ADL would feel compelled to issue a public statement on the issue at all.

But especially interesting is what the ADL's statement leaves out. We are not told how it is exactly that the presence of an Islamic community center near the site of the attack would cause some victims unnecessary pain. But the answer is to that question is obvious: some victims, like most others who oppose the center, conflate Islam with terrorism, and Muslims with terrorists. For this reason, the ADL is correct to some extent - the community center will cause some victims pain as a result of their associating the center and the Muslims who use it with the men who flew planes into the Twin Towers. While acknowledging the right of Muslims to build a community center at the proposed site, the ADL argues it "is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right
." And to the ADL, some people cannot see a Muslim without thinking about terrorists, Muslims should show their respect and sympathy for those people by relocating their center (whose purpose is "promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture") to a less controversial site.

And this is exactly why the ADL's public stance opposing the community center runs counter to its mission "to
put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens." Which, of course, is the reason the ADL could not articulate the basis for its position - a group which is dedicated to ending religious bigotry cannot ask Muslims desiring to build a center dedicated to tolerance and integration to defer to bigots without simultaneously exposing itself as being hostile to Islam and Muslims. But considering the ADL had no legitimate reason to enter the debate in the first place (at least based on its self-stated justification for doing so), and chose to take a position running counter to is ostensible mission in order to oppose the center, it is difficult to find another motivation besides an organizational prejudice against Islam.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Afghanistan pivotal moment watch, John McCain edition

Another day, another make-or-break moment in an American foreign war...

As of July 5, 2010, securing Kandahar is the key to winning in Afghanistan:

"The Taliban know that Kandahar is the key to success or failure, so what happens in this operation will have a great effect on the outcome of this conflict," McCain said.

Despite rising casualties among allied forces, McCain expressed confidence that the NATO military operation would succeed.

"I'm convinced we can succeed and will succeed in Kandahar. It's obviously the key area and if we succeed there, we will succeed in the rest of this struggle," McCain said.
Here's a fun game: put in 'Afghanistan' or 'Iraq' along with 'pivotal,' 'crucial' or 'decisive' to google and see how many of times those wars were won or lost.

According to the Robert Gates, for example, Iraq was won about three years ago, since January of 2007 was the pivotal time.

General Stanley McChrystal, on the other hand, declared the Taliban was winning as of August 13, 2009, and gives us about 35 days to show clear results in Afghanistan. That was apparently both a "critical" AND "decisive" time.

And that's just a small sampling of the number of times our leaders have told us the war was about to be won or lost. Nor does there seem to be any end to the number of moments pundits and media outlets considered pivotal, crucial and decisive.

Maybe it's just me, but when our 'winning' a war equates with our ability to withdraw and leave behind a stable democracy, and after numerous make-or-break moments we are not able to do that, sort of sounds like those moments didn't go so well for us.

Well, thank God the Fourth Estate has both the memory and balls of a goldfish or else we'd be forced to listen to our leaders give us some answers. And I don't imagine that would be so good for our self esteem.

BONUS QUESTION: What does 'losing' mean if not a state of affairs where the most powerful military in the world is spending hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and several years, yet is unable to overcome a small, disorganized and impoverished enemy? Since it is an impossibility for the Taliban to actually drive out U.S. forces involuntarily or take formal control of the government, what, realistically, could be a worse outcome at this stage of the war then where we currently stand?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Where have we heard this before?

Q: How does a nation know it is winning a war? A: When the enemy has stopped fighting, or when the enemy is fighting harder.

Today's L.A. Times: Camp Pendleton General: Expect more killing in Afghanistan's Helmand province

A top general at Camp Pendleton who is departing to become the top Marine in Afghanistan said this week he expects more violence by Taliban fighters in Helmand province.

Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said the Taliban is desperate to regain momentum after being driven from its Helmand province stronghold in Marja a month ago by a Marine-led assault.

"I think the Taliban commander is back on his heels,'' Mills said. "He's losing Helmand province."

Unwilling to fight the Marines head-on, the Taliban will increasingly resort to suicide bombings and roadside bombs, even if the victims are Afghan civilians, Mills said.

"He's resorting to tactics of terrorism and intimidation," Mills said. "...An IED (improvised explosive device) doesn't differentiate between killing Marines and killing children on their way to school."

So we have a top military official saying that increased violence is actually indicative of the progress we're making against the insurgents. But he's not the first prominent public servant to make such a claim:

Fox News, October 27, 2003: Bush: Progress in Iraq Making Insurgents 'Desperate'

Despite two days of audacious, deadly attacks, President Bush insisted Monday that the United States is making progress in Iraq and said American successes are actually spurring the violence by making insurgents more desperate.

The article cites Howard Dean, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman as being critical of the President's claim that increased violence could be a sign of the insurgency's desperation, with Lieberman going so far as to say "it makes no sense," and Kerry likening the statement to the "light at the end of the tunnel" rhetoric from Vietnam.

Which of these fine gentleman will stand up and say the same now that it is Obama's war? More important, when will we as a nation stop accepting these nonsensical claims from our military officials and politicians?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Anti-Defamation League Decries Israeli Defense Force as Anti-Semitic

I mean, presumably, right, since a report by the IDF released Friday states that the IDF committed war crimes during the Gaza invasion. Doesn't that qualify under the ADL's definition of an anti-Semite? Answer: Yes. And yes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Decade's Top 5 Porn Titles Based on NYT Best Selling Nonfiction

For some reason (probably because it is essentially a hentai version of Last Samurai meets Ferngully ever made) while watching Avatar I began thinking of titles for porn movies based on bestselling nonfiction books from the past decade. And so here's the list:

5. The Five People You Meat in Heaven
4. Two Gays With Morrie
3. The Seven Inches of Highly Effective People
2. Chicken Soup for the Hole
1. Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What is it about Thursday night college football that makes announcers unable to say anything intelligent?

Q: In what world does the color guy decided to start talking in the middle of a drive about how he swears he saw Jeff Gordon in Manhattan yesterday while he was there with his family?

A: In the same world where Mark May asks, "Wow, did you see that run!" and Lou Holtz replies, "Yes."

While I'm venting, can announcers stop acting like every strategic decision should be decided based on how it's going to make everyone feel? Really, the coach should go for it on 4th and 2 from the 30 because his team needs to feel like they're able to move the ball? They shouldn't, I don't know, look at things like how likely they are to make it versus making the field goal? No? OK, every announcer ever. Thank you for your being really smart and understanding how football works. And by football, I mean facebook.