Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Forgotten Reason for the Death Penalty

Two of the most important reasons for having a death penalty are punishment and use as a bargaining chip (most disputes over deterrence and selective use of perceived international trends ignore these issues).

Today's news reminds us of the value of that "bargaining chip":

BATH, Pa. (AP) - Prosecutors are considering whether to make Kathy MacClellan one of the oldest U.S. defendants in modern times to stand trial on a capital murder charge.


MacClellan allegedly attacked Marguerite "Tuddy" Eyer with the claw end of a hammer Feb. 7. The victim, who was found in the kitchen of her home a few blocks away from the MacClellan house, told police that "Kathy Mc ... did it with a hammer," according to court documents. She died 13 minutes after being rushed to the emergency room; the coroner said she had been struck in the head 37 times.

Police said they found Eyer's wallet and checkbook in MacClellan's house, and MacClellan's face, hair and orange stirrup pants were covered in Eyer's blood.


Even if McClellan were convicted and sentenced to lethal injection, her age and Pennsylvania's long appeals process make it unlikely that she would be executed. University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky, a defense attorney, suggested prosecutors might be using the prospect of a death sentence as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations.

This raises another question - death penalty opponents frequently cite high costs as a problem with the death penalty, but couldn't the mere existence of the death penalty create significant savings by encouraging plea bargains in capital cases? In 2000, Spokane's friendly local serial killer, Robert L. Yates, Jr., plead guilty to 13 murders and was sentenced to 408 1/2 years in prison. The plea agreement spared Yates the death penalty, ensured his cooperation with prosecutors, and spared Spokane the cost of a lengthy trial.

Finally, a story from 2002 reminds us of how important this bargaining chip can be for national security:

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- The FBI agent who sold his country's secrets to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds will be sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole.

That sentence is part of the plea bargain Robert Hanssen struck last summer to avoid the death penalty and to allow his wife, Bonnie, to receive part of his government pension.

In exchange, the government was to learn when and how Hanssen turned over to Moscow the identities of dozens of Russians spying for the United States, highly classified eavesdropping technology and even nuclear war plans.

Cases like these show us how useful the death penalty can be - particularly when it is not imposed.

Update, Apr. 9: Death Penalty threat saves the expense of a trial for serial bomber Eric Rudolph.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Loathing France

From Taiwan's Taipei Times, "French Perfidy Must be Challenged" (a vivid article, well worth reading it its entirety):
The English poet Coleridge, of Ancient Mariner fame, once said that ""Frenchmen are like grains of gunpowder, -- each by itself smutty and contemptible, but mass them together and they are terrible indeed." How well the arms embargo case illustrates this. The desire to sell arms to a tyranny like China is smutty and contemptible indeed. But when those who have influence can persuade the government to do their bidding, the result may quite possibly be terrible -- France conniving at the destruction of a liberal democracy simply to enrich its "merchants of death" and their politician friends.
But I keep hearing that only Americans are displeased with the French. Are the Taiwanese evil imperialists too?

Deeds, as well as words, should also be considered. The arms ban is EU-wide, but the pressure to lift it is almost entirely driven by France, with a little help from the Germans. Taiwan should let it be known that should the ban be lifted it will immediately act against French interests in Taiwan and will subsequently do the same thing with any other EU country that sell weapons to China.

What sort of actions should be taken? The immediate cessation of visa-free privileges and an astronomical raising of visa fees, the closing of cultural institutions, the ending of scholarships for French students, refusal to grant or renew French nationals alien residency, refusal to accept documents authenticated by the French government, the severing of air agreements -- most of these measures are quite feasible and were used against South Korea in the early 1990s.

But Taiwan should go further and impose a massive tariff, say 100 percent, on all goods made by French companies; the proceeds, such as they might be, should go to the defense budget. That this violates WTO protocols bothers us as much as the UN bothers US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. That the French might retaliate makes us laugh. Let them double the price they pay for information technology if they want; much of it simply cannot be sourced elsewhere. Taiwan, however, will survive more expensive Louis Vuitton bags.

I'm not sure how effective the actions were against South Korea, which just recently resumed direct flights, but they definitely make a significant statement - Taiwan will not allow itself to be silently consumed by the PRC.

See also "European Weapons: Just Another Cash Crop" - Observantly Observed on December 4, 2004.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What "Student Unity"?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - A Harvard University student's fledgling dorm-cleaning business faced the threat of a campus boycott on Thursday after the school's daily newspaper slammed it for dividing students along economic lines.

The Harvard Crimson newspaper urged students to shun Dormaid, a business launched by Harvard sophomore Michael Kopko that cleans up for messy students.

"By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity," the Crimson said in an editorial....

Student Unity? When have students even been close to unity over anything other than sports and binge drinking?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

China's Anti-Secessionist "Law"

The People's Republic of China has given us a great example of when talk about "law" is simply irrelevant:
China has for the first time outlined a proposed law allowing it to use force against Taiwan should attempts at peaceful reunification fail.
Elsewhere, the "law" has been described as providing a legal justification for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

If this is true, Taiwan should simply pass a law banning the Chinese invasion. The People's Liberation Army will just turn around when handed Taiwan's court order, right?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Socialized Wireless Internet

Texas and a few other states are debating whether to allow cities to compete with private industry by offering "free" wireless networks to their residents. The primary dispute is between (1) the policy of not using government power to compete with private industry and (2) the potential "educational" benefits of a more wired community.

I have to wonder what the service quality of networks like this will be once the competition is destroyed. I've rarely had problems with subscriber broadband, but the free internet access provided at Gonzaga is deactivated fairly regularly for "maintenance" purposes. When a problem occurs on a weekend, it doesn't get fixed until Monday. With private competition out of the picture, will entire cities - as captive audiences - be subject to low-quality, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 service?