Tuesday, March 01, 2005

US Abolishes Death Penalty For Minors

Q: Until today, what did Iran, China, Nigeria, Yemen, Congo, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States have in common?
A: They were the only nations on the planet which allowed the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18.

While some people take the view that sixteen and seventeen year old kids are old enough to commit death penalty crimes and therefore old enough to face the death penalty, that is something I've never been able to accept. There is a mountain of evidence that the psycho-physiology of teenagers is not the same as that of adults and as such, their actions should not be subject to the same consequences, no matter how bad said actions may be. Here are some experts on the topic:

Adolescents as a group, even at the age of 16 or 17, are more impulsive than adults. They underestimate risks and overvalue short-term benefits. They are more susceptible to stress, more emotionally volatile, and less capable of controlling their emotions than adults.

In short, the average adolescent cannot be expected to act with the same control or foresight as a mature adult.

Behavioral scientists have observed these differences for some time. Only recently, however, have studies yielded evidence of concrete differences that are anatomically based. Cutting-edge brain imaging technology reveals that regions of the adolescent brain do not reach a fully mature state until after the age of 18. These regions are precisely those associated with impulse control, regulation of emotions, risk assessment, and moral reasoning. Critical developmental changes in these regions occur only after late adolescence.
That comes from a friends of the court brief filed with the Supreme Court by a coalition made up of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Psychiatry and The Law, the National Association of Social Workers, the Missouri Chapter of The National Association of Social Workers, and the National Mental Health Association in 2004. The case they were weighing in on was the same one that the Court has ruled on today, abolishing the death penalty for minors.

Since President Bush declined to halt the executions of offenders who were minors at the time of their crimes as Governor of Texas -- including one in which the evidence of the man's guilt was quite questionable -- one wonders whether this will be decried by the administration as 'judicial activism'.

posted by Scott | 3/01/2005 | |

Monday, February 28, 2005

Hollywood Interfering In RI Senate Race?

Marshall Wittmann at the Bull Moose Blog picked up an interesting story from The New York Times on Hollywood pro-choice activists ramping up a campaign against potential Rhode Island Senate candidate Jim Langevin because he's pro-life.

A group of wealthy Hollywood donors is raising money to fight the Democratic leadership's first choice to run for a Senate seat in Rhode Island because that candidate opposes abortion rights.

Victoria Hopper, wife of the actor Dennis Hopper, enlisted 16 actors, producers and philanthropists to sign a letter objecting to the potential candidacy of Representative Jim Langevin, who is being recruited for the 2006 race by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The letter writers say they support the primary candidacy of Matt Brown, Rhode Island's secretary of state, for the seat now held by Lincoln Chafee, a Republican.

"This is even more important than one precious Senate seat; it is a fight to protect women and families, and a fight for the core and soul of our party," Ms. Hopper wrote in the letter. "Unbelievably, some conservative D.C. Democrats have recruited Representative Jim Langevin, a radically anti-choice candidate."
Wittmann's point, which is certainly a good one, is that this is a perfect opportunity for Chuck Schumer (the new chair of the DSCC) and the Democratic Party in general "to unleash a 'Sister Souljah' on Hollywood." He lays out a compelling case based on two main points.

...while the Democrats will remain the pro-choice party it is critical that they show pro-life Democrats and traditionalists that there is a big tent.

...it is high time that the Democratic Party distance itself from the cultural elitists in Tinseltown.
I'm not crazy about Wittmann's zeal for this potential 'Sister Souljah' moment, nor do I agree with his overarching characterization of Hollywood liberals as "cultural elitists". Promoting such stereotyping makes it far too easy for conservatives to dismiss anything that an actor might say, even if it's well-reasoned and thoughtfully stated.

But Wittmann's right that this is the perfect opportunity for Democrats to take a bit of a slap back at Hollywood. If we're not going to be a litmus test party -- and I'd argue that with the support for Langevin, Casey in PA, and Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader, we are not -- then we've got to push back against 'liberals' who are willing to sacrifice electoral gains for one-issue ideological rigidity. If Langevin was little more than a DINO, I'd be behind this campaign, but he's not. He's a true blue Democrat who happens to be pro-life.

Perhaps most importantly, Langevin can actually win, whereas it's unclear whether Hollywood pick Matt Brown can garner the same level of support. Here's the latest polling out of Brown University:

If the Senate contest were held today, Representative James Langevin has a substantial lead over incumbent Senator Lincoln Chafee. Forty-one percent indicate they would vote for Langevin, compared to 27 percent who say they would vote for Chafee.
If the Democratic candidate were Secretary of State Matt Brown, Chafee holds a lead of 39 to 25 percent.
I also find this campaign a bit hard to accept since it's being headed up by Victoria Hopper. You see, Dennis Hopper, Victoria's husband, is a Republican. So Victoria's shown that she's more willing to get in bed with a pro-choice Republican (literally!) than back a pro-life Democrat. That's not how we win back the Congress and regain a Democratic majority in America.

posted by Scott | 2/28/2005 | |

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Things Changing In The Middle East?

Is it possible? It certainly seems that some plates are shifting, but the Middle East is a geopolitical San Andreas, so who knows where things are going. At any rate, there seems to be some good things on the horizon in the region, even if some are coming at too high a price.

Over at dKos, our old friend Armando hesitantly views as "good news" (pretty wisely, I'd say) the announcement by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that multiple candidates will be allowed to take part in that country's Presidential election for the first time in decades. Since the fifties, Egyptians have only voted by an up-or-down vote for the sitting President. The new changes to the constitution Mubarak has ordered dictate that more than one candidate will be on the ballot.

In the comments in Armando's post, there's a lot of 'well, this still doesn't justify the Iraq invasion' handwringing, which... I largely agree with. I just don't think it's necessary to indulge in such overt handwringing. I actually view Mubarak's announcement as A) the product of internal pro-democracy agitation, which has been taking place since long before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and B) a smart, domestic political move for Mubarak -- he gets to be the Egyptian President who gave his people democracy, virtually ensuring that he will win the next election. So jeez, people, just say 'good -- let's see what happens'. If the administration tries to take credit for this, by all means, hit back. But until then, just relax.

The much more complicated situation in the Middle East is the dance currently underway between Israel, Palestine, and Syria. On Friday, four Israelis were murdered by a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv. Interestingly, no one took credit for the bombing. However, almost immediately, fingers started pointing to Hezbollah, with Syrian involvement implicit. Since then, Islamic Jihad has taken official credit, but that has not stopped both Israelis and Palestinians from continuing to blame Syria. (It's helpful to point out here that Islamic Jihad has ties with Hezbollah/Syria/Iran through Lebanon.)

From The Jerusalem Post:

Two West Bank leaders of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, one in Ramallah and one in the Balata refugee camp, were quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Hizbullah operative Kais Obeid called them from Lebanon after the Tel Aviv attack and told them he had recruited the bomber and his local accomplices.

Obeid reportedly asked the Aksa leaders to claim responsibility for the bombing – presumably to deflect attention from Hizbullah – but the two said they turned down the request for fear of being targeted in a crackdown.
Despite the Israeli announcement that the pullback from the West Bank would be put on hold, at least some of the news coming out of this attack is surprisingly good. Such as these reactions from the Palestinian street:

"If Hezbollah was behind this attack, I as a Palestinian tell them, 'Deal with your own problems and stay out of ours,'" said Akram Abu Sbaa, 38, of Jenin.

Another Jenin resident, Bashar Jalloudi, 40, said Hezbollah's alleged involvement in the Tel Aviv bombing would only hurt Palestinian interests at a time of relative calm.

"Where was Hezbollah when we were being killed and our homes were being demolished? They were standing on the sidelines watching with their hands tied," Jalloudi said.
These are not pro-Israel, pro-American, or even pro-Western sentiments. These are the words of people fed up with the violence that threatens their peace and security. These are the words of people who want peace.

What does it all mean? I really don't know and the situation is not stable enough for me to believe that things can't change at a moment's notice. But when the people of Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon seem to have had it with the BS going on in their neighborhood and the secular leadership in Egypt is moving towards democracy, things are looking up.

Let's just hope keep looking up.

posted by Scott | 2/27/2005 | |
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