Opinion

The Great Debate

from Reihan Salam:

Reality check: Death penalty is too expensive to make sense

Handout of revamped lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison

Last week saw the first executions in the United States since the botched lethal injection of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, which drew renewed attention to the death penalty. Despite a sharp decrease in support for the death penalty -- from 78 percent as recently as 1996, to 55 percent in a survey conducted last year by the Pew Research Center -- the practice remains on the books in 32 states. This reflects the fact that support for the death penalty is uneven, with conservatives and Republicans far more likely to support it than liberals and Democrats.

The result of this disparity is that even as liberal states like Maryland and New York do away with the practice, conservative states like Texas and Utah are likely to stick with it. The fundamental reason conservatives tend to support the death penalty is that, as University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephanos Bibas recently told the Boston Globe, it reflects their belief in the importance of individual responsibility. For conservatives troubled by the rights revolution that transformed the U.S. criminal justice system in the 1960s and 1970s, “the death penalty became a symbol: Are we willing to hold people accountable for their actions?”

Perhaps in recognition of this widespread belief in the death penalty as a symbol of individual responsibility, at least some death penalty critics are choosing to emphasize its physical cruelty. For example, the political theorist Austin Sarat of Amherst College, author of Gruesome Spectacles, a history of botched executions, argues that the death penalty is inseparable from physical cruelty, as evidenced by the long history of mishaps and malfunctions that have turned seemingly humane methods of execution into hellish torments.

My own belief is that while virtually all methods of execution, including the most ingenious ones, will at some point fail to deliver a painless death, this isn’t in itself an argument against the death penalty. All human institutions suffer from limitations, and it’s hard to deny that contemporary executions are in important respects less cruel than those used in past eras.

A man and his son hold candles outside the prison before the execution of John Allen Muhammad at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, VirginiaMoreover, there is no reason to believe that progress has ceased. If you embrace the basic premise that the death penalty has important symbolic value, as a sign that some crimes are so heinous as to merit death, you’re not going to be convinced that botched executions are reason enough to abandon it.

The capture of Khatallah: How things went down in Libya

Navy SEAL photo downloads

When Ahmed Abu Khatallah, accused of leading the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was seized by U.S. special forces in Libya after midnight Monday, it raised a number of questions. Not the least being why it took 21 months to capture him.

The answer is more complex than it might first appear. There were essentially three major issues in play: the FBI and the Justice Department were determined to build a clean legal case against Khatallah that would stand up in public court; diplomatic and military factors complicated the timetable, and more than a half-dozen government agencies — some with their own specific concerns — had to coordinate in carrying out the secret mission.

U.S. President Obama listens to a question during a visit to PittsburghThese agencies included the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which runs the special forces, including the Navy’s SEALs and the Army Delta Force; the FBI, which gathered the legal evidence against Khatallah; the State Department, which had to prepare for the international legal issues; the Navy, which is bringing Khatallah back to the United States; the Justice Department, which will prosecute the captured suspect; the CIA, which provided intelligence support; the White House, where the president had to approve the operation, and other units of the government that target terrorists.  All had “equities” in this covert action — bureaucratic-speak for a piece of the action.

Is Iran being victimized by sanctions it doesn’t deserve?

A security official stands in front of the Bushehr nuclear reactor

Iranian officials met this week with their six-power counterparts to try to hammer out the outlines of a comprehensive nuclear deal set to last for several years. But its precise duration remains undecided.

Reaching an agreement will be a monumentally challenging task because all the parties have veered away from international law and are trying to make ad hoc arrangements. They should instead aim for a permanent, straightforward and legal solution whose basis already exists. Successfully sealing a deal with Iran may also help Western efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq, where Iranian and Western interests align.

Late last year, the United States, Britain, China, Russia, Germany and France reached an interim deal with Iran to freeze and roll back some of its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. These interim arrangements are set to expire July 20. According to the agreed “Joint Plan of Action,” another six-month stopgap deal may be signed after the first one expires. But a comprehensive long-term agreement should be reached within a year, by late January 2015.

Putin face-off: Make Schwarzenegger our man in Moscow

arnold & putin -- facing out!!

Russian President Vladimir Putin is star-struck.

He has the American action star Steven Seagal talking up Moscow’s Crimean policies. He extended Russian citizenship to the French movie icon Gérard Depardieu, who now owns a vineyard in Crimea. He basks in the ways that Russia’s cultural and artistic cognoscenti are supporting Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.

This offers the United States an unexpected opening. If Washington really wants to wield more influence over Putin, President Barack Obama need only place one call: to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Give “The Governator” a sequel as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia.

US actor Arnold Schwarzenegger poses for a picture in front of the Saint Basil cathedral on the Red ..Compare Schwarzenegger to Washington’s most recent ambassador, Michael McFaul. A Stanford political science professor, McFaul tended to follow his academic interests — focusing on building a civil society — which rubbed the Kremlin the wrong way and often hampered diplomatic efforts. Even John Tefft, a career diplomat and the former U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine who may be getting the Moscow post, is too well-known for his tough anti-Russian stance. He is unlikely to improve Washington’s relations with the Kremlin.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Yellen’s remarkably unremarkable news conference – and why it’s a good thing

Yellen holds a news conference following two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting at the Federal Reserve in WashingtonJohn Maynard Keynes famously said that his highest ambition was to make economic policy as boring as dentistry. In this respect, as in so many others, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is proving to be a loyal Keynesian.

Yellen’s second news conference as Fed chair conveyed no new information about the timing of future interest rate moves. She gave no hints about an “exit strategy” for the Fed to return the $3 trillion of bonds it has acquired to the private sector. She told us nothing about the Fed’s expectations on inflation, employment and economic growth -- not even about the board’s views on financial volatility, regulation, asset prices or bank credit policies.

Yellen refused even to repeat, or repeal, her earlier answer to a question about the meaning of the “considerable period” she expected between the end of tapering and the first rate hike. At her first news conference, Yellen responded to a similar question by blurting out “six months.” This caused an eruption of volatility in financial markets -- that lasted about five minutes.

from Ian Bremmer:

Obama isn’t the only one with a passive-aggressive foreign policy

 China's President Xi speaks during his meeting with U.S. President Obama, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, in The Hague

America and China are the world’s two major powers, with the largest economies and militaries. The stakes are high for them to practice what they preach on foreign policy: their words and actions influence the global economy, as well as the behavior of allies and enemies.

The problem: Xi Jinping and Barack Obama want to have their foreign policy cake and eat it, too. For both leaders, international engagement isn’t top of mind: they want to downplay their global leadership roles in order to focus on more pressing concerns at home.

But at the same time, they have certain priorities that they’re willing to pursue unilaterally and aggressively abroad. This inconsistency gets them both in hot water. It leaves other countries guessing, it undermines global collaboration, and it allows crises like Ukraine and Iraq to burn hotter, for longer, more often.

from John Lloyd:

If Prince Charles becomes King Charles, will his kingdom leave him?

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla arrive for the second day of the Royal Ascot horse racing festival at Ascot, southern England

Could Prince Charles finally get his crown? And if he does, could it mean the end of the United Kingdom?

Abdication in favor of the younger generation seems to be something of a trend in Europe -- if two cases can be considered a trend. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated last year so that her son, Willem-Alexander, could bring some youth and vitality to the largely ceremonial role.

More recently, King Juan Carlos, widely credited with having assisted the end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain in 1975 and with puncturing a rather feeble coup attempt in 1981, vacated the throne in favor of his son, Felipe. The announcement was followed by large demonstrations calling for an end to the monarchy entirely, with Cayo Lara, leader of the United Left Coalition, quoted as saying, "We are not subjects, we are citizens."

US-Iran relations: When history isn’t history after all

STUDENTS MARCH TO GATES OF TEHRAN UNIVERSITY AFTER NATIONAL STUDENT'S DAY RALLY.

I learned what a trickster history can be 20 years ago at Hanoi airport. After everything the United States gave and lost in Vietnam while trying to keep it safe from Communism, who would have thought you would find the lion lying down with the lamb at a business convention? But there it was, capitalism in capital letters, a billboard advertising VIETNAMERICA EXPO!

Who won that war again?

Things like that change how you understand the world — if only by teaching you to wonder about even those things you think you know for an absolute fact.

It happened again last weekend. I read something that laid waste one of the most common assumptions of Cold War history: that an expert 1953 CIA covert operation in Iran overthrew a democratically elected prime minister to put the shah back back in control of his country. Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-American historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues persuasively in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs that President Dwight Eisenhower’s CIA did not actually bring down Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh after all.

Sending Benghazi suspect to Gitmo would be obstruction of justice

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest

Within hours of the Pentagon’s announcement that the key suspect in the Benghazi attack on the U.S. mission had been apprehended, the usual suspects came out to denounce the Obama administration.

“Ahmed Abu Khattalah should be held at Guantanamo as a potential enemy combatant,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) immediately Tweeted on Tuesday.

“A non-U.S. citizen who committed a crime outside of the United States in what can only be defined as an act of terror tantamount more to a war than a criminal-code violation puts me in the camp of arguing for a noncivilian court trial,” Representative Trey Gowdy  (R-S.C.), the former prosecutor who is leading a House investigation into the Benghazi attack, told the New York Times.

Today’s South is boldly moving backward

mahurin for bishop

We used to call it the “New South.” That was the era after Reconstruction and before the Civil Rights laws — when the states of the old Confederacy seemed most determined to preserve a social and economic order that encouraged low-wage industrialization as they fought to maintain Jim Crow.

What was then distinctive about the South had almost as much to do with economic inequality as racial segregation. Between roughly 1877 and 1965, the region was marked by low-wages, little government, short lives and lousy health — not just for African-Americans but for white workers and farmers.

Volkswagen employees work on the assembly line of the 2012 VW Passat in Chattanooga TennesseeThe Civil Rights revolution and the rise of an economically dynamic Sun Belt in the 1970s and ‘80s seemed to end that oppressive and insular era. The Research Triangle in North Carolina, for example, has more in common with California’s Silicon Valley than with Rust Belt manufacturing. The distinctive American region known as the South had truly begun to vanish.

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