On March 10, 2011, the mainstream media announced that the state of Illinois has joined 15 other US states, throwing in the towel by banning the use of capital punishment. “Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement quoted by John Schwartz and Emma Fitzsimmons.
In other words, the court systems in these states have become so ineffective, so incompetent even in murder trials that the Governors and legislators have given up executing criminals who have been condemned to death by their heinous acts. They would rather keep all of these murderers alive, paying for their health, housing, and sustenance (using your tax dollars and mine, of course) than working harder to ensure that those convicted are actually guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. These governors and legislators should be ashamed of themselves.
There is no doubt in the minds of objective and rational people that capital punishment works as a deterrent to crime. Studies are voluminous, well documented, and respected by scholars in this field. Those who attack the studies are tilting at windmills. While there are significant differences among the number of innocent lives that capital punishment saves per execution (they vary from about 5 per execution to about 30 per execution), the correct number is irrelevant. Capital punishment – without any rational doubt – deters crime and saves innocent lives. Citing FBI statistics, University of Chicago Law School professors Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, in their treatise on this topic entitled: “Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs,” point out: “The foundation for our argument is a large and growing body of evidence that capital punishment may well have a deterrent effect, possibly a quite powerful one. A leading study suggests that each execution prevents some eighteen murders, on average. The particular numbers do not much matter. If the current evidence is even roughly correct, then a refusal to impose capital punishment will effectively condemn numerous innocent people to death. States that choose life imprisonment, when they might choose capital punishment, are ensuring the deaths of a large number of innocent people.”
The truly sad part of all of this is that American legislators are increasingly able to abdicate their responsibility and simply remain unaccountable. Consider the case of a young Illinois senator who simply didn’t show up for work – abstaining from voting on issues that were clearly important enough to voters in that state to make it to the docket – about one third of the time. This Senator abstained from voting more than 75% of the time on key issues like agriculture, and over 60% of the time on controversial issues such as abortion. Budget & Tax issues? Civil Rights issues? Abstained almost half (45%) of the time. This young Senator’s name is Barrack Obama. Clearly checking out and not doing your job has positive consequences when one is a politician! So let me ask you this; at your workplace, how would things go for you if you just decided not to do about a third of your work?
So here we have 16 cases where states have decided that, because they have no confidence that their justice system can convict the appropriate person, they simply wont condemn anyone to death any longer – ensuring that some number between 5 and 30 innocent people for every convicted murderer they protected are going to die. This is true no matter how you look at the data – even at a national level. Consider this quote from the Sunstein and Vermeule paper: “In the period between 1972 and 1976, the Supreme Court produced an effective moratorium on capital punishment, and an extensive study exploits that fact to estimate the deterrent effect. Using state-level data from 1960–2000, the authors make before-and- after comparisons, focusing on the murder rate in each state before and after the death penalty was suspended and reinstated. The authors find a substantial deterrent effect. After suspending the death penalty, 91% of states faced an increase in homicides—and in 67% of states, the rate was decreased after reinstatement of capital punishment.”
So even the argument that States have no moral authority or right to end a human life is made null and void, because NOT executing convicted murderers costs far more in innocent human lives than the life of the innocent-but-convicted exception. Mathematics shows us that the only way this scale tips in favor of abolishing the death penalty is when there are far more innocent people convicted than guilty ones. Execute an innocent person and you have lost one life, and done serious emotional damage to that person’s family & friends. Fail to deploy capital punishment and for every guilty person that would have been executed you essentially sentence between 5 and 30 innocent people to death, with equally deleterious effects on their families and friends. Do the math.
No one is arguing that determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a capital crime is easy. The fact that it is so difficult is the compelling reason that America spends so much money, and works so hard, to protect the rights of our citizens in these situations. But it must be dome, and be done effectively. Otherwise, if the course of these 16 states continues to be followed, many more innocent people will die – at the hands of incompetent jurists, and inadequate politicians.
What do you think?
The 16 States Who Have Given Up This Far:
(As of March 10, 2011)
Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and Wisconsin
For a more thorough historical perspective, state by state, see William Browning’s article.
I am spending Memorial Day this year surrounded by United States Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Since I arrived here last year, there have been dozens of “Ramp Ceremonies”, acknowledging the sacrifice of one or more Marine’s lives as they are transferred with honor and reverence from incoming rotary wing aircraft to fixed wing aircraft, to make their final journey home.
I have lived through more than 50 Memorial Days in my lifetime. My folks used to call it “Decoration Day” which was the original name of the commemorative day, and referred to the fact that it was a day that had been set aside to decorate the graves of Union soldiers following the Civil War. These days of course, Memorial Day (celebrated on the last Monday of May) honors the men and women who died while serving in the American military in any war. It was officially designated a national holiday by Congress in 1971. Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
For more than 400 years, America’s participation in wars has shaped US policy, and tested the mettle of our leaders as well as our men and women in uniform. It has cost many thousands of lives, and impacted many hundreds of thousands more. It has enlarged and defined our borders, deterred or stopped the advance of totalitarian regimes, and ended the brutal slaughter of millions by maniacs like Adolph Hitler. America hasn’t always won; we certainly didn’t win in Viet Nam, and the value of our actions in places like Korea is often brought into question. It’s also true that America isn’t at all consistent about when we do and when we do not get involved. Endless intervention into the national affairs of every country with a crackpot dictator would bankrupt the United States. Enemy size is also a factor. It is far less likely that the United States will directly intervene when it comes to repressive civil actions (like the events surrounding Tiananmen Square) in China than it will in similar circumstances in other nations such as Haiti. There are many other determinants as well of course, such as geographic proximity to the United States, governmental stability, and level of threat to US security if things went really bad (Do they have nuclear weapons?). It’s a difficult balancing act, with countries forming formal and informal alliances and undertaking both overt and covert actions to influence others, to understand and respond appropriately to every significant change on the world stage.
Everyone gets to second-guess the decision to go to war. That decision can never be made capriciously; it is, perhaps, the single most important and world-altering decision possible. It almost always defines in large measure the presidency of those Chief Executives unfortunate enough to be in that position on that fateful day. Like most major decisions, it can never be fully and finally determined to be right or wrong – it’s hard to imagine that those whose husbands and sons were sacrificed in Viet Nam, for example, regard that war to have been worth the cost to their families. But most of us don’t have the opportunity to make or even influence those decisions. We just live with them. It has been so throughout the history of mankind.
In spite of this sad fact, Almighty God has blessed the United States of America with a strongly patriotic citizenry that rises to the occasion each time the call goes out. We have a standing Armed Force that is second to none, owing in some measure to our leadership in technology, and our incredible economic wealth. But all of those other elements would be like toys in the hands of children without the veritable ocean of motivated, determined, and patriotic men and women who come forward, prepared to lay down their lives if necessary for the sake of their country. When America comes under attack, as in September of 2001, we coalesce as a nation around our Armed Forces and with unmatched effectiveness, project the required level of American force anywhere in the world. As time passes, the American public tends to become weary of armed conflict and – to our great shame – that has sometimes resulted in waning support for our troops. Now ten years into our War on Terror focused largely in the Middle East, we are in the midst of that condition.
I was embedded with our troops in Iraq during 2006- 2007, and have been embedded with them again in Afghanistan since July of last year. I see the challenges, feel some of the pain, experience the sorrow, and observe some of the many benefits of US Armed Forces’ work in this region. I can state with great authority that the United States does tremendous good in this place. We dig wells, build bridges, provide electricity, provide emergency medical assistance, and support the building of everything from farm production to roads and cargo transport facilities. We replant burned-out orchards, distribute seeds and fertilizer, and restart idled businesses. Although these activities are often foreign to many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, they step up to those challenges over here every day, day after day, 24/7. I recall one trip in August 2007 in Baqubah, on the border between Iraq and Iran, when we worked our way through 5 factories in temperatures of 138 degrees, having to consume water at an incredible rate, and sweating so heavily that we never even had to relieve ourselves. It was bad enough for me, but for the US Army soldiers surrounding me an protecting me, it was unbelievable. In that heat, inside a factory with no air movement, these men were working in flack jackets, helmets, and carrying M-16s or M-4s as well as 9mm side arms and 9 full magazines of ammunition for each. The heat inside that equipment was unbearable, but they bore it anyway, and I never heard a word of complaint. They understood that we were trying to get people back to work, in order to reduce violence, and bring more of their comrades home to America in one piece. From Basra to Ramadi to Baghdad to Baqubah to Erbil, this went on and on and on. Our troops are relentless in their pursuit of the enemy on the battlefield, but equally committed to restoring order and decent living conditions to the civilian populations they encounter. Now it’s happening again in places like Marjeh, Naw Zad, Gereshk, and Kandahar. These men and women are real heroes, and for the most part you never hear about them in the mainstream press. What a shame.
So as I consider what Memorial Day means this year, surrounded by United States Marines in a theatre of conflict, my prayer is not only a prayer of thanks in remembrance of the sacrifice made by so many Americans over the last 400 years; It is also a prayer for those at home. I’m praying that American citizens will come to recognize and exhibit heightened levels of respect and gratitude. I believe that Abraham Lincoln may have said it best in his Gettysburg Address: “But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” I stand before you, a personal witness; Truer words were never spoken.
Recent articles in US Policy journals and the mainstream press have been noticing a shift among Americans toward isolationist views. A Gallup poll conducted in February 2011 points out that a growing minority (barely a minority) of Americans want a decreased level of US involvement in foreign affairs. Weary of protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, citizens are wondering about value versus the cost in lives and dollars of these interventions. That seems reasonable to me; after all, the cost has been tremendous, and the resulting governments in both countries appear tenuous at best. Both are likely to require continued support from the coffers and political relationships of the United States for many years to come, if they are to survive.
When one views this as a scale, with interventionism at one end and isolationism at the other, where should US policy reside along that scale? This is an incredibly important question impacting not only US national security but also the day-to-day lives of every American. Endless intervention into the national affairs of every country with a crack-pot dictator would bankrupt even the United States. Ignoring some despotic regimes simply because they are too large to confront (China, for example) is disingenuous even if pragmatic. As a point of reference, I am including the Heritage Foundation’s 2011 ranking of countries in descending order by economic freedom. Notice that China’s ranking is # 135 (“Mostly Unfree”) as opposed to the United States ranking of #9 (“Mostly Free”). Looking at the list of “mostly unfree” nations, it is far less likely that the United States will directly intervene when it comes to repressive civil actions (like the events surrounding Tiananmen Square) in China than it will in similar circumstances in other “mostly unfree” nations such as Haiti (ranking #133). There are many other factors as well, of course, such as geographic proximity to the United States, governmental stability, and level of threat to US security if things went really bad (do they have nuclear weapons?). It’s a difficult balancing act, with countries forming formal and informal alliances and undertaking both overt and covert actions to influence others, to understand and respond appropriately to every significant change on the world stage.
Beyond intervention in any specific country’s internal activity, there is a need to monitor international exchanges to ensure that countries such as India and Pakistan – both of whom are nuclear powers – do not go to war, inadvertently lighting the fuse on a global powder keg. A third world war would not serve the best economic or security interests of the United States – no matter where it was initiated.
For those reasons, in spite of the cost of our current policy set, it is unlikely that the United States would adopt policies of radical isolationism. After the first World War, when the US backed out on the League of Nations, it didn’t take very long for the world to experience, in the most horrific way, the cost of US isolationism; The United States almost waited too long to avert the ultimate tragedy of world-wide Nazi domination. Nonetheless, policy papers and “what-if” scenarios are now beginning to appear.
Isolationism is commonly defined as a national policy of abstaining from political or economic relations with other countries, and should probably be understood as distinctive from non-interventionism, a foreign policy which holds that political rulers should avoid alliances with other nations (while maintaining diplomatic ties), and avoid wars unless they are required for direct territorial self-defense. While neither of these policy positions is appropriate, in my view, elements of both of them would likely benefit the strategic interests of the United States. Certainly, withdrawing some portions of the US annual spend on these efforts and redirecting them toward our domestic economy would be beneficial in the short term.
So let’s take a look at the kinds of policy changes that could come into play in a more isolationist / non-interventionist America:
How would these various policy changes impact the United States?
|Technology||Strengthened National Security||Reduction in A&D Jobs, Income|
|Economic||Increase in US Manufacturing Jobs
Reduced Federal Spending (Foreign Aid)
|Less Favorable Perception Among World Trading Partners
Risk of Some Companies Relocating Outside the US
|Immigration||Reduced Costs Associated with Illegal Immigration
More Unskilled, Low Skill Jobs Available to US Workers
Strengthened Border Security
|Less Favorable Perception by Mexico
Higher Cost of Border Patrol
|International Relations||Reduced Military Spending||Less Favored Status Among Current Allies
Risk of Growth in Non-Democratic Governments
The changes proposed in Technology, namely cutting off sales of leading edge weapons, surveillance, and avionics technologies to non-US governments would improve the US edge over countries who are currently our allies, and because of sheer leakage between those countries and non-allied countries, also help to prevent reverse-engineering of US technologies in these areas by competitors such as China. Since much of the technology among our major competitors is currently copied from or reverse-engineered from US systems, that is important. But our major competitors (China, Russia, and many other industrialized nations) have development programs of their own, and in some cases parallel or even surpass US technologies and technological capabilities. There are policies and agencies in place to prevent technological leakage today (ITAR comes to mind), so one might argue that the overall impact here would not be significant. I do not agree with that assessment, but the truth is that outside of classified intelligence estimates, no one really knows. And as we have seen over the last decade, classified intelligence estimates are not always reliable guides for making strategic decisions. From my perspective, the adoption of this policy set is an extremely close call.
The changes proposed in the Economic area primarily target the eroding US employment market, and specifically focus on tangible value adding jobs in the manufacturing sector. Displaced US manufacturing workers, when they are able to find another job, lose an average of $20,000 to $30,000 a year in income, and often they never recover to previous levels. In addition, manufacturing and related design skills leave US soil in many cases within a few years of the transfer of the actual work, never to return. This policy set, or a similar one, is extremely important in my view. The middle class of the United States is at serious economic risk, with the gap between a few “haves” and a growing majority of “have-nots” growing every day. These changes won’t completely fix that problem, but it will go a long way toward protecting US citizens from the “leveling of the playing field” that requires them to compete with employees earning $2.50 an hour in other countries. Between 1995 and 2005, America lost over 3 million manufacturing jobs. Even if we assume that all of those workers found another job (which of course is not true), this amounts to a loss in average annual income for middle class Americans of $90 billion. That is middle class American earnings that simply transferred to another country, and will likely remain there forever.
The policy set proposed around Immigration is designed to shut off the inflow of illegal aliens (primarily from Mexico), integrate those who are committed to remain here, expel those who are unwilling to integrate into American society, and expunge the trend toward a proliferation of languages in the United States that tends to break down our shared culture and national cohesion. Personally, I think this is a set of changes that should have occurred at least 30 years ago. The impact of these changes will include making the Mexican Government less friendly toward the United States, and just about everything else is upside. More jobs for fewer people (though most of them are unskilled or semi-skilled), less cost associated with maintaining the infrastructural requirements for people some who are not paying into it by virtue of taxes, and so on. The cost of illegal immigration is estimated to be $113 billion per year. The elimination of those costs would be a very nice shot in the arm for the US economy.
The policy set related to International Relationships is perhaps the one with farthest reaching impact among the world community. By my personal estimates, these changes would net a savings to the United States of at least $250 billion per year. They would place far more of the burden of security on other countries, of course, and increase the risk that they would be overthrown by other US competitors such as Russia who have demonstrated the propensity for military aggression in the past. This is a risky move, and would need to be implemented carefully. Reviewing the strategic implications of such a move would likely cause the United States to abandon this position as untenable.
In summary, I strongly support the implementation of policy sets 2 and 3 (Economic and Immigration related policy revisions). I am on the fence about policy set 1 (Technology), and probably would not favor the adoption of policy set 4 (International Relations).
What do you think?
There is always a great deal of discussion about government reforms around national elections during the campaign cycle, but of course it all fades away after the election is history. Campaign reform is a recurring theme, but all kinds of reforms are proposed repeatedly and swept aside once politicians are comfortably seated in office. What kinds of reforms would you like to see?
In a recent article called “Beyond the tea party: What Americans really think of government,” Jon Cohen and Dan Balz of the Washington Post state that roughly half of Americans support several reform related ideas such as national referendums required on major national issues (though they never define the phrase “national issues”), and that over 60% of Americans support a constitutionally mandated balanced budget. One of my personal favorite reform ideas is a proposal to adopt a 28th amendment to the US Constitution stating that “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to all United States Senators and [Congressional] Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and [Congressional] Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”
I have also seen recommendations brought forward which propose that Congress should no longer be able to vote themselves pay raises (seems reasonable), and that term limits be established for Congressional Representatives and Senators (which seems very reasonable to me). I think term limits should also apply to judges, including Supreme Court Justices. This is not a monarchy; no one should be appointed for life. Other reforms that have been proposed but have never moved through the process successfully to be adopted into law include Devolution to States (This means that the Federal Government would close departs and agencies in most cases where policy is now federally controlled), the elimination of unfunded mandates (where the Federal Government requires that states undertake activities without providing any funding for them), the elimination of “block grants” (a process whereby the Federal Government just gives money to individual states with no restrictions or direction about how it will be spent), campaign finance reform limiting individual contributions, and contributions of organizations such as Political Action Committees to candidates running for political office).
So, what would you like to see? I will enumerate a “Top 10” listing of them for you here, and would love to hear what you think about each one; Would you vote for it, would you change it somehow, or do you think it would be worse, or a waste of time?
Looking forward to your comments: What do you think?
Sensational media coverage of shootings and particularly of homicides in the United States, almost always results in a rampage from the gun control lobby. The arguments from this group haven’t changed much, but neither have the facts. Empirical evidence has always shown that tighter restrictions on the possession of guns – even hand guns – does not reduce the rate of violent crime; in fact, if there is a relationship then gun control is correlated with an increase in violent crime. An excellent and exhaustive study on this topic was done by Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm of Bentley College, the results of which are available in a book entitled “Guns and Violence”. Professor Bentley’s focus in the book encompasses the history of firearms in England.
Especially instructive is the comparison of murder rates between London and New York City. Malcolm examined the crime rates as well as gun ownership restrictions in these two cities from 1911 forward, and provides a number of insightful observations. She points out that New York state instituted one of the most severe gun control laws in the United States back in 1911, while serious gun control laws did not begin in England until nearly a decade later. But New York City still continued to have far higher murder rates than London throughout that period.
In “Gun Control Myths”, an excellent article reviewing these findings, Thomas Sowell points out: “The rise of the interventionist state in early 20th century England included efforts to restrict ownership of guns. After the First World War, gun control laws began restricting the possession of firearms. Then, after the Second World War, these restrictions grew more severe, eventually disarming the civilian population of England — or at least the law-abiding part of it. It was during this period of severe restrictions on owning firearms that crime rates in general, and the murder rate in particular, began to rise in England. “As the number of legal firearms have dwindled, the numbers of armed crimes have risen,” Professor Malcolm points out. “In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the 1990s, there were more than a hundred times as many. In England, as in the United States, drastic crackdowns on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens were accompanied by ever-greater leniency to criminals. In both countries, this turned out to be a formula for disaster.” While England has not yet reached the American level of murders, it has already surpassed the United States in rates of robbery and burglary. Moreover, in recent years the murder rate in England has been going up under still more severe gun control laws, while the murder rate in the United States has been going down as more and more states have allowed private citizens to carry concealed weapons — and have begun locking up more criminals.”
Recent press certainly seems to back this up, although it’s important to understand that sensationalism and overstatement exists on both sides of this controversial issue. One article that certainly indicates alarm – outrage, actually – at the high and growing crime rate in England. This July 2009 article points out that “Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa – widely considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries.” Comparing England to other countries, the article says that: “In the UK, there are 2,034 offences per 100,000 people, way ahead of second-placed Austria with a rate of 1,677. The U.S. has a violence rate of 466 crimes per 100,000 residents, Canada 935, Australia 92 and South Africa 1,609.” Since very strict gun control laws have been enacted in England for many years now, it seems clear that legal gun ownership is not a contributor to violent crime; it is, judging from the numerical facts actually a deterrent.
But what about all those statistics that the gun control lobby trots out whenever they want to scare people – especially after a shooting occurs in the United States? As Sowell says: “ Gun control zealots love to make highly selective international comparisons of gun ownership and murder rates.” The exhaustive analysis done by Professor Malcolm should end that practice and end this debate. But of course, it will not. The next Columbine or Virginia Tech or political assassination with cause it all to boil over again. Because whatever else the American people may be, we are not very objective. The passions stirred by the stories of those affected, the tragic circumstances of the recent event, and sheer hype of media surrounding the story will carry us all away again. As P.T. Barnum once said: “You will never go broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
What do you think?