Recently in Notable and Analysis Category

Death penalty tinged with racism

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once supported the death penalty but now says he believes it to be unconstitutional.

According to The New York Times, Justice Stevens criticized the court, saying that personnel changes and "regrettable judicial activism" has lead to a system of capital punishment that is plagued by racism and skewed towards conviction.

In a critical essay published in The New York Review of Books, Stevens claimed that the system of capital punishment has been infected with politics. Stevens offers many critiques of the death penalty and said that he believes local elections influence whether or not prosecutors and judges seek and impose the death penalty.

Stevens also defended the Supreme Court's 1976 decision to reinstate the death penalty but says that their promise for fair, unbiased convictions has been betrayed and that the court has not looked carefully enough into racial disparities that may effect the outcome of death penalty cases.

Stevens review of the book "Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition" includes a blow by blow critique of America's death penalty. The book, written by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University, says that American enthusiasm for capital punishment stems form modern day politics and a cultural fascination with violence and death.

Beside offering his opinions on the death penalty in his essay, Stevens seems to be establishing a new template for what Supreme Court justices may be expected to do when leaving the bench. Stevens has weighed in on a few different controversies since his retirement, including the one over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero and has also appeared on "60 Minutes."

Pope Benedict XVI startles

When Pope Benedict said that in some cases condom use may be acceptable, he signaled a shift in the Vatican's traditional stance on contraceptives.

According to the BBC, the Church's ban on contraceptive use has been relaxed partially because of the AIDS epidemic. The pope talked about accepting the lesser of two evils and also admitted that condom use by prostitutes significantly lessens the risk of infection for both men and women.

According to The New York Times, when Benedict toured Africa the year before he said that AIDS could not be eliminated by condom use. Critics claimed that the pope was putting the church's stance on contraception over the lives of Africans infected with AIDS.

In his statement, the Pope claimed that the news media had misrepresented him and that he meant condoms are not the sole answer to ending AIDS.

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants."

The comments made by the pope mark a significant shift in the stance the Catholic church has hitherto taken towards contraception. However, though it seems like the church may be waffling morally, the decision seems to be based on a more "case-based" line of thinking where the church decides to support the lesser of two evils.

US Rep. Greg Walden Talks About Tax Cuts

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said that House Democrats should not pass job-killing tax increases during the lame-duck session.

Walden, a Republican from Oregon, told CNN that tax cuts need to be extended because the worst thing to do during a recession is pass tax increases that could kill jobs and hurt small business owners.

CNN asked Walden if he would vote on a bill to support extending unemployment benefits to which he answered that he would if they were payed for. As to the topic of how things will be paid for and how to decrease the overall federal deficit Walden said that National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has put forward some bold ideas in the past week in form of its final report. The proposed blueprint budget looks to slash the federal deficit by $828 billion by 2015.

At the same time, Walden acknowledged that he had not had time to fully read the report. He went on to say that when the Republicans take control of the house in November they will the opportunity to show how they will govern and that they are currently being shut out of some of these decisions.

According to The New York Times the report released by the commission was met with opposition form both the Democrats and the Republicans. Democrats disliked the idea of proposed reduction in health care and Social Security and the Republicans resisted tax increases for upper-income Americans.

To reach President Obama's goal of balancing the federal budget by 2015 the commission may force the president into deciding whether or not he will set aside his campaign promise not to raise federal taxes for 95 percent of Americans during his term.

Republicans promise to cut the budget soon after they take over the house but what is less clear is where the cuts will take place. There will likely be major political repercussions to any cuts they make.

Storm Sewers

Minneapolis prepares to double what it has been spending to repair storm tunnel outlets.

The 128-year-old horseshoe-shaped storm tunnel outlet on 10th Avenue with its tan and red brick floor isn't in horrible shape, reported The Star Tribune however, it and others like it are in danger of cracking and blowing-out if left in their current condition.

According to The Star Tribune, the city will double the $3.5 million it is spending annually on repairing the tunnels to widen tunnels like the one on 10th Avenue. This means that Minneapolis homeowners, currently paying $11.09 a month towards maintain the drainage system will find themselves paying $12.41 monthly by 2015.

The 14.7-mile tunnel system was constructed in an era of pre-urbanization, when unpaved streets and yards soaked up most of the rain that fell on the city, wrote Steve Brandt of The Star Tribune. Now the tunnels must deal with a lot more water than they were originally built to withstand.

Inspectors periodically look for new cracks and monitor old ones in an attempt to gauge whether or not escaping water is wearing down the supporting sandstone. According to Kevin Danen, an engineer heading up city sanitary and storm sewer construction and maintenance, damage can happen quickly, forcing repairs.

Analysis: Though temporary repairs are made on a regular basis, the tunnels are in dire need of refurbishment. If left unchecked, eroding storm sewers could potentially pose a threat to Minneapolis' infrastructure. The money will come out of homeowner's pockets in a plan that not only increases its baseline fee but will steadily increase by a nickel or so per month. By 2015, homeowners can expect to be paying at least $12.41 monthly. The increase will be a gradual one however, and will likely go unnoticed unless cost rise above initial estimates.

Don't Ask

The Supreme Court decided that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military will continue to be enforced while it is being challenged in a federal appeals court.

According to The New York Times, the justices denied the request to have the enforcement banned during the appeal in an unsigned, two-paragraph order.

The order did not discuss the merits of the case and provided no explanation or indication of dissent but did note that Justice Elena Kagan has opted to recuse herself from the case, reported The Washington Post.

Kagan, who has openly criticized the policy, may have based her decision to recuse herself on her service as President Obama's solicitor general which called for her to make key decisions regarding the administration's response to the suit.

Of course this raises the possibility of a 4 to 4 tie should the Supreme Court be called to rule on the case. Whatever Kagan's reasoning, her decision and the potential for a tie, lends more importance the circuit court's ruling. If there is a tie, the lower court's decision will stand but will not set the same kind of national precedent.

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