Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog 9

The Lethal Dilemma; Suspend the Death Penalty Indefinitely

The most popular method of execution in the United States today is lethal injection.  Although not as painful as the firing squads and hangman’s nooses of earlier years, the process of lethal injection can still cause pain to the person receiving the cocktail of drugs to paralyze the body then kill the victim.  This debate has cause much conflict in state courts as well and the Supreme Court, although there have not been decisive cases to overturn the death penalty so far.  With the exception of the Atkins v. Virginia case in 2002, where the court agreed that the execution of a mentally ill person was “cruel and unusual punishment.”  There has been recent evidence that the cocktail of drugs can cause severe pain and distress.  One of the drugs injected immobilizes the body, leaving the victim in a “terrifying conscious paralysis.”

Why then do most states continue to execute people? This savage form of barbarity should not still exist in these civilized times.  Courts and prosecutors are too hesitant to examine the issue because the reluctant to sully their career by upsetting there trigger happy constituents.  The first state to abolish the death penalty was Michigan in 1846.  Fifteen states have followed suit, and the District of Columbia.   The electric chair has been used as recently as 2008 in South Carolina.  It has been proven that people undergoing the electrocution have undergone extreme pain because their nerves still function. In addition, in a recent case in Ohio, a man was stabbed with a needle 18 times unsuccessfully.  Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstates, there have been 1,167.  The cost of death row is significantly higher than the keeping those same inmates on a life sentence with out the chance of parole.  An anti capital punishment advocacy group estimates that it costs the state of California alone around $115 million dollars more a year. 

While I do not propose releasing dangerous savage killers back into our streets, something as insanely barbaric as killing then in retribution for their crimes seems to go against every other message this country stands for.  Senator of Kansas Carolyn McGinn has pushed recently for a bill that would replace capital punishment with a life without parole sentence.  This is the most appealing alternative to the death penalty.  While most states fritter away millions of costly trials, and numerous appeals, other states have found other ways to spend that money.  I encourage the proponents of the moral values debate to take another look at their own Bibles and reread Jesus’s teachings.  

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blog 8

This week, in California’s state capital, Sacramento, lawmakers and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have had many tense, private meetings to deal with the state’s chaotic water crisis. Recent tactics of Governor Schwarzenegger include a mass veto of over 700 bills currently on his desk, most of which are not water related bills. Schwarzenegger is attempting to push lawmakers into finding a reasonable plan to deal with the states current water shortage and deal with the environmental degradation of the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta.  California is in its third year of a drought, restricting water allocations for all state residents as well as farmers in the Central Valley.  In addition recent restrictions of water to protect native endangered fish have led to more water being withheld from residents and farmers.  There have been several new bills proposed by California lawmakers to deal with the delta issue in recent weeks after a statement by President Obama encouraging California lawmakers to resolve the issue soon.  These new bills range from improving water management to removing the dams in the delta and restoring the watershed to its former state.  Estimates for the cost range in the $10-12 million region.  Over 25 million residents and thousands of acres of farmland rely on the water from the delta.

The proposal for the new canal has meet two different reactions from farmers. In general those in the Delta oppose the new canal plan because they believe it will siphon health, fresh water out of the delta to Southern California.  Farmers in the Central Valley favor the plan because they want more water rights, especially those that they lost to protect endangered fish.  Native fish populations like the Chinook salmon and the Delta Smelt have seen significant declines in population since the major dams and canals were built in the 1960s to supply arid drought stricken Southern California. Recent projects like one in Friant Dam in Fresno, California, have aimed at restoring original flow and enticing fish populations back into their native breeding habitats.  While project, which was just started recently, has yielded no results, salmon populations are expected back with in ten years, and eventually a sizable amount will inhabit the delta again, after 60 years.

I propose the lawmakers and individual consulting groups take a look in the plausibility of restoring all of the original Sacramento San Joaquin Delta’s ancestral river channels.  This would not only promote the cultivation of native fish but also restore the watershed to its former capacity. While our fellow residents in Southern California still need drinking water to survive (and water their emerald lawns and fill their Hollywood pools) I propose a new, low impact canal be built to divert water to the southern portion of the state. However, in addition to dealing with the big picture of California’s water problem, I propose there be a water metering on private residents.  Reducing water waste could be one of the simplest ways to deal with water shortages, especially with the large population in California. Not everyone needs to take a 10-minute shower everyday of water the lawns multiple times a day. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

House Armed Services Committee and Private Contractors

The House Armed Services Committee is underway with an investigation on the illicit activities of the employees of private military companies serving in Iraq and Afghanistan during the recent conflicts. These private mercenaries are contracted by the Congress through letter of Marque and Reprisal. They fall under the protected of the United States military when convicted of crimes in the countries in which they serve; however, they are not subject to the same rules and regulations that army personnel are subject to. The most famous of these groups is Blackwater, whose trail for the killing of Iraqi citizens is set to begin in February of next year. The army needs to contract these private mercenaries because they lack a sustainable number in the all-volunteer army. The army is now functioning on soldiers who are enlisted for multiple tours of duty, and are subject to an unreasonable amount of stressful conditions.

The Iraqi government has recently asked the United States to allow private contracting companies to be subject to Iraqi law, this request has come after months of outrage on the part of Iraqi citizens after several Blackwater guards were put on trial for murdering unarmed Iraqi civilians. With recent stress on President Obama to deal with the military conflict on Afghanistan, the issue of solider health and well being remains in the spot light. I propose that importance of the war dictate the spending the government does. Instead of hiring private mercenaries I propose a tax increase to so that the army can provide incentive for enlisting.

If the battle is important enough for the funding that is being spent, then there should be a large enough public support for the actual war. The battle should therefore be important enough for soldiers of the army, not just those mercenaries who make substantially more than the everyday army employee. While I am not a proponent of an all out draft, I think public support should dictate the commitment of the country’s resources for the war.