Politics and Policy:

  • Yahoo/UK Reuters: Small asteroid could be mistaken for a nuclear blast — Here is a frightening scenario that says illustrate why I believe that all peace-loving people should be working towards the eventual aboltion of nuclear weapons from the face of this planet…
      Even small asteroids that never hit Earth could have deadly consequences, because they might be mistaken for nuclear blasts by nations that lack the equipment to tell the difference, scientists say.

      One such asteroid event occurred June 6, when U.S. early warning satellites detected a flash over the Mediterranean that indicated an energy release comparable to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, U.S. Brig. Gen. Simon Worden told a congressional hearing.

      The flash occurred when an asteroid perhaps 10 meters in diameter slammed into Earth’s atmosphere, producing a shock wave that would have rattled any vessels in the area and might have caused minor damage, Worden said.

      Little notice was taken of the event at the time, but Worden suggested that if it had occurred a few hours earlier and taken place over India and Pakistan, the outcome might have been horrifying.

      “To our knowledge, neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors that can determine the difference between a natural NEO (Near Earth Object, such as an asteroid) and a nuclear detonation,” Worden said.

      “The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-triggered opposing forces could have been the spark that ignited a nuclear horror we have avoided for over half a century,” he told a committee investigating the risk posed by asteroids and other objects that might collide with Earth.

  • I received several icq messages from a reader in criticism of yesterday’s post concerning my views on criminal sentencing of drug dealers and white collar criminals.

    After reading the response, I think I oversimplified the issue in my earlier post. So, let me give some more details from my recollection of the presentation… (bear in mind I’m not a lawyer, and not that good of a law student so take all of this with a big grain of salt)

    The federal sentencing guidelines are extremely comprehensive, and set penalties based upon the base offense (using a points system) with points added for things like carrying a gun during the crime, discharging the gun during the commission of the crime, being a leader in the crime, prior criminal record, etc; while points are taken off if the convicted person accepts responsibility for the crime.

    The good thing is that this does help to differentiate between low-level street dealers (most of whom are non-violent, and sell to support their own addiction) and high-level drug bosses who are living the good life off of the misfortunes of others.

    The bad deal is that the differences are not big enough, and that for someone who has committed a string of non-violent offenses (i.e. prostitution, petty theft, etc) that sentence can be unjustly accelerated.

    At the same time, a white person with no prior criminal record, who through the job that she has at a bank, embezzles over $100,000 from the United Way (an actual case discussed at the seminar) would receive what I would consider a fairly light sentence (likely 2-5 years if I remember right).

    While at the same time, a prostitute who has been busted a few times for his “profession” who is caught with 50 grams of crack (less than an ounce) but is NOT carrying a weapon will get the book thrown at him, facing at least 10 years due to the mandatory min sentence.

    That is wrong. The bank embezzler likely has hurt hundreds, even thousands of people in her community… those who gave to the United Way, those would receive help from the charities they fund, the bank that employed her, etc. She may even have caused the death of a homeless person who froze to death in the winter from not having proper shelter, or the premature death of an AIDS patient who didn’t receive the care he needed.

    On the other hand the street dealer will sell his crack to 2 or 3 addicts. Certainly not a good thing, but if he wasn’t there they would get it elsewhere. Maybe someone would OD on it, but more likely not. The worst thing he does is buy his crack from someone else, who buys the goods from someone higher up, where the money goes to pay off corrupt border guards and likely other government officials both in the country and in Columbia, and finally the money goes to the murderous cartels there. But on the other hand, America’s drug laws have created the black market in illegal drugs and as such has at least indirectly brought the cartels to power. Since we all (or at least most folks) pay taxes to the feds, we indirectly support the cartels too.

    The dealer obviously has committed a wrong nevertheless. Our society as a rule has laws against selling harmful products and preying on the weak and vulnerable. The should undoubtably be sanctioned in some way; but more importantly he should receive treatment for his adictions, so that he’ll no longer have the desperate need to fund his drug habit.

    In my book the embezzler is a much worse criminal I personally think the embezzler should do at least 10 years. She has committed a serious breach of trust for personal gain, not for desperation (as in the case of the crack dealer)

    But let me also return to the other kinds of dealers. Those are involved in the wholesale distribution of drugs, who are involved in the higher escelons of the drug trade are a different creature all together. I don’t support the death penalty for them as provided for by current US Federal law (but I don’t support it for any body) but I do think life in prison is appropriate. These people have caused so many to die, so many lives to be ruined. They are the ones who have made virtual slaves out of the street level dealers, prostitutes (who do what they do often to support their drug habit) and users.

    These folks however are extremely rare. Most drug criminals are not in this class.

    Ok, I’ve rambled on and on enough. One last thing that I want to share with y’all from www.sentencing.org

      Supreme Court Justice Stevens, dissenting in U.S. v. Christopher Lee Armstrong, et. al.:

      Finally, it is undisputed that the brunt of the elevated federal penalties falls heavily on blacks. While 65% of the persons who have used crack are white, in 1993 they represented only 4% of the federal offenders convicted of trafficking crack. Eighty percent of such defendants were black. Id. at 39, 161. During the first 18 months of the full guideline implementation, the sentencing disparity between black and white defendants grew from pre guideline levels: blacks on average received sentences over 40% longer than whites. See Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sentencing in the Federal Courts: Does Race Matter? 6-7 (Dec. 1993). Those figures represent a major threat to the integrity of federal sentencing reform, whose main purpose was the elimination of disparity (especially racial) in sentencing. The Sentencing Commission acknowledges that the heightened crack penalties are a “primary cause of the growing disparity between sentences for Black and White federal defendants.”

    America’s drug laws are in the spirit of the old Jim Crow laws. They are intended to keep people of color down. This is unjust and wrong and must end.

    Post edited Oct 5, 2002