Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Civic Duty

Say Anything blog has an interesting statistic that reflects well on the civic virtue of the good people of Indianapolis. It turns out that 105% of eligible persons in that patriotic town and the surrounding county are actually registered to vote. The region has 644,197 people and 677,401 of them are registered to exercise the franchise in November. This is a very impressive feat.

We're sure it's a mere coincidence that the group ACORN, which is currently being investigated all across the country for voter fraud, has an office in Indianapolis, and that the Obama campaign's contribution of $800,000 to ACORN to help them get out the vote is an innocent misjudgment. Just saying.


No Life for Young Men

Back during the heyday of the debate over capital punishment opponents of the practice argued strenuously that offenders should be given life in prison without parole rather than be put to death. Advocates of the death penalty, on the other hand, argued just as fervently that once we end executions of murderers in favor of life in prison the "reformers" will next argue for imposing less draconian sentences so that ultimately no one will even get life in prison.

Jeff Hawkes, staff writer for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal offers an excellent illustration of how the debate over how to punish killers will evolve. He argues that juvenile murderers should not be sentenced to life in prison, but all of his reasons apply just as much to killers as old as thirty five. Hawkes writes that:

Pennsylvania has 444 juvenile lifers, according to a May report by Human Rights Watch. That's not only more - far more - than any other state, it represents nearly one-fifth of all juvenile lifers in the United States.

Considering that no other country sentences children to life without the chance for parole, Pennsylvania's Senate Judiciary Committee is appropriately taking a second look at whether life without parole for juveniles is just.

Family members of murder victims implored the senators at a hearing last week to keep teenage killers locked up forever. But juvenile law advocates and researchers argued that the right thing to do is give an adult who committed a horrible crime as a teenager a chance to show he or she is no longer a danger.

Hawkes thinks that as long as a killer is no longer a danger to others he should be let loose, but if we accept this logic why impose a sentence at all? As soon the inmate convinces a panel of "experts" that he's rehabilitated why not release him forthwith? Indeed, those who have killed others in crimes of passion or revenge are probably not a threat to the general population in the first place so why incarcerate them at all?

He goes on to write that:

Beatriz Luna, associate professor of psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said research suggests that teens should not be held as accountable as adults for their actions because the juvenile brain, particularly the region for impulse control, is not fully developed.

Research further suggests, Luna said, that the brains of people in their 20s and 30s continue to develop new pathways, indicating "great possibility for rehabilitation."

"...the fact is the adolescent brain is at the peak of risk-taking behavior, and it can be rehabilitated. My opinion as a scientist and as a member of society is that life without parole is quite uninformed (and) seems vindictive."

Well, if this is a rationale for not imposing a life sentence on juveniles then it's equally a rationale for not imposing a life sentence on anyone under thirty-five. Is that where Hawkes is headed with his argument?

Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University and co-author of "Rethinking Juvenile Justice," said brain processes responding to pleasure and reward are especially active in early adolescence, explaining why teens see the rewards of risky behavior and ignore the costs.

"The engines are running at full throttle," Steinberg said, "but there's not a skilled driver behind the wheel yet."

Hawkes concludes that "science and compassion are on the side of giving a lifer hope of showing a parole board he's not who he was at 13".

Of course the killer's not who he was when he was thirteen. No one is. No one at thirty is who they were when they were twenty. Everybody changes. Hawkes' argument is really a brief for doing away with life sentences altogether. First we stop executions, then we end life terms. What's next on this particular slippery slope? Doing away with prison?



In what was otherwise a snoozer of a debate last night the most startling revelation to emerge was Senator Obama's statement that he would go to war with Iran to keep them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He didn't say it exactly like that, but that was the clear implication of his assertion that we cannot let Iran have nuclear weapons and that, though we should try sanctions, etc., etc., he would not take the use of military force off the table.

Add this to his stated policy of surging troops in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban/al Qaeda who threaten to undo all that has been accomplished there, and his claim that we should invade Pakistan to get bin Laden, and those who saw Obama has the great anti-war hope must be seething with disappointment and frustration. Obama presented himself early on in the primaries as an anti-war progressive and garnered a lot of support from the constituency to which that position appeals. Now he turns out to be something quite other than what he originally appeared. In fact, with his threat to attack Iran, he seems to be a proponent of the "Bush doctrine" of striking an enemy who is preparing to strike us.

I have a word of encouragement, though, for those who may be feeling betrayed by Obama's willingness to bomb a nation that has not attacked us: Don't worry. I doubt very much if the senator really means what he's saying. He may think he does, but I believe the real Obama is the Obama of the early primaries, not the Obama of the campaign's homestretch.

As for the rest of the debate, the candidates were simply treading water. No one did badly, but not doing badly does not help McCain. McCain simply lacks the instincts necessary to wage a come from behind race. To be sure, he was hindered by the blandness of the questions selected by the moderator, Tom Brokaw who apparently turned aside any questions about illegal immigration, abortion, Obama's unsavory associations, or judicial appointments.

Even so, McCain needs to show the country what Barack Obama and the Democratic party will do to the nation should they get the power, and he doesn't seem to have the stomach for that. He didn't seem interested, for example, in explaining to viewers that the worst financial crisis this nation has experienced since the depression of the 1930s is due almost entirely to Democrat malfeasance. Maybe he should have Sarah Palin pinch hit for him at the last debate as a sort of designated debater. At least she won't go gently into that dark night of political defeat and oblivion.