Law

When Journalists Play At "real Jobs"
December 19, 2007

There's a first-person piece in today's WaPo by a reporter who spent a day working at Sam's Club to get a sense of what it's like to be a holiday retail employee. The unsurprising answer: It sucks.  All things considered, this particular piece is likeable enough: faintly amusing if not terribly enlightening. But more broadly, this genre of journalism is a pet peeve of mine. Yes, it's lovely that reporters want to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. But there's a big difference between pinch hitting for a day and working at something for even a couple of weeks.

Death Waits
December 17, 2007

Today, New Jersey became the first state to ban the death penalty since it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. In honor of the development, I wanted to link to this 1998 piece by Jonathan Rauch on uncertainty and the death penalty, which is among the most thoughtful essays I can recall ever reading on a matter of public policy: In 1868, John Stuart Mill rose in Parliament to make the case for death as eloquently as human words permit.

Helping Ex-cons Find Work
December 13, 2007

Brad's post below on the re-entry of newly released prisoners into mainstream society touches on an important issue that was a subject of much discussion at a fascinating Brookings Institution panel yesterday on facilitating and rewarding work (see here for their solid policy recommendations). Bruce Western, a sociologist whose work focuses on the social effects of incarceration, gave a talk in which he recommended, as Brad does, that states adopt incentives for employers to hire newly released prisoners. The panel discussion following Dr.

Prisoner Exodus
December 12, 2007

The flipside of setting new incarceration records each year—at last count, the United States had locked up 1.5 million people in state or federal prison, and 775,000 in jail for minor crimes—is that, each year, you get fresh news reports heralding "the largest exodus of prisoners in American history." Those numbers, in turn, end up swamping state re-entry programs—which are often underfunded anyway—and that means high recidivism rates, which swell the prison population even further, and so the cycle continues. Onward and upward. Anyway, U.S.

Obama, Clinton On Crack
December 12, 2007

A recap: The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently decided to (slightly) reduce the over-inflated prison sentences for crack-cocaine crimes, which are punished far more harshly than equivalent powder-cocaine crimes—a nonsensical disparity that's accomplished little save for prison bloat. Then, yesterday, the commission voted unanimously to apply those guidelines retroactively, affecting some 20,000 current inmates.

Conventional Wisdom One
December 12, 2007

Some of my best campaign memories come from air travel. I once awoke from a nap on a transcontinental flight to find Alan Keyes hovering over me. After I rubbed my eyes, he was still there. Apparently, I was sitting a row behind his kids. Where Keyes traveled in first class, he kept his kids back in the cheap seats. As I arose, Keyes delivered a lecture on the curvature of the planet. It was a stunning performance--the same slap shot gesticulation and stentorian tone that he deployed in his compulsively watchable turns at GOP debates.

And Now For A Really Bad Idea On Health Care Reform...
December 12, 2007

With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, it's important to scrutinize the health care reform plans of the leading Democratic presidential candidates.  But it's also important to keep these differences in perspective.  Hillary Clinton and John Edwards would require everybody to obtain insurance, Barack Obama wouldn't.  But they're all talking about the same goal: Covering every single American though some sort of government action.  And their plans still have a great deal in common.  That's a good thing. You almost never hear that kind of talk on the other side of the aisle.  With a few i

Torture Works? Ban It
December 11, 2007

Brad's post below highlights the disagreement over the extent to which torture (specifically waterboarding) was useful in extracting valuable information from Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. But it's worth pointing out that even if former CIA agent John Kiriakou is right when he maintains that torture was helpful, this isn't a very good argument against the bill working its way through Congress that would ban such interrogation techniques. Kiriakou, in voicing his opposition to torture, describes the incident as "an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at that time.

The Supreme Court On Crack
December 10, 2007

It's stellar news, no doubt, that the Supreme Court decided to let lower courts deviate ever-so-slightly from federal sentencing guidelines that, until now, have punished crack dealers as harshly as someone who sells 100 times as much powder cocaine. (Harlan Protass recently wrote a fine Slate piece summing up why the 100-to-1 disparity is such an outrage.) But the disparity's far from gone: The defendant, Derrick Kimbrough, will get a 15-year sentence instead of 19 years—still more than he would've gotten for possessing powder cocaine.

Gore Receives His Prize
December 10, 2007

Al Gore may have given one of the finest speeches of his career.  It had poetic resonance but was rooted in real science.  It was politically visionary but was animated by an, alas, secure sense of climatic disaster.  It was quite plain-spoken about the economic realities that made global warming so ordinary but argued the hope that suicidal habits were good for no one, not even the greatest suicidalists, China and, most significantly, the United States.  It is my view -but maybe not Al's- that in the end, however, America will be more persuadable than "Peoples' China," whose impetus for domin

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