I'd heard the claims and counter-claims about global warming over the past couple of years, and each time I read something from the scientific commI'd heard the claims and counter-claims about global warming over the past couple of years, and each time I read something from the scientific community, I was convinced they were right. And then I'd read something from the climate change deniers, and their argument would win me back over to their side. It all was very confusing. In an attempt to be able to weigh in on the debate, I actually enrolled in and completed two classes on climate change, one on-line, and another at my local college. So when I came across Senator Inhofe's book "The Greatest Hoax", I felt I had a fair understanding of the science of global warming, why it's a concern, and was curious about his views as to why global warming was such a hoax.
We hear that "hoax" statement periodically. Luminaries like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity make it, but their radio and TV programs don't allow time to explain it. Other lesser luminaries, such as recently elected Louisiana Congresswoman Lenar Whitney have also made the claim in a pre-election video, but her unfortunate explanation as to why global warming is a hoax was better left unsaid. Her explanation should have been embarrassing to her, and insulting to her constituents. Her feeling was that any ten year-old can see that there's no global warming by simply taking a thermometer outdoors. That explanation may have resonated within her District, but it shows that she has no understanding of what global warming is about. What the Congresswoman apparently fails to understand is that the term 'global warming' uses the word 'global' because it refers to the world-wide AVERAGE temperature, looked at over a time scale of decades or longer. A record cold day, or a record hot day, in her city, state, or Country is irrelevant. It's the global average temperature over time that needs to be viewed. And this average temperature has been trending upward over our lifetime, albeit slower over the past dozen years or so, but still is rising. And when looking at all the combinations of things that can cause ice ages and warming periods, (e.g., things such as solar radiation changes, variations in the earth's orbit, wobble of the earth's axis, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, volcanoes, soot and particulates in the air, ocean circulation changes, El Nino / La Nina cycles, albedo changes, etc.), the great majority of scientific studies show that increases in greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide being one, offers the only demonstrable explanation for the recent increasing trend in global temperaturesince the Industrial Revolution.
So my interest in the book was to understand Senator Inhofe's rationale for labeling global warming as the greatest hoax, and not to reread recycled political rhetoric. Simply repeating the same claims, over and over again, makes good propaganda, but doesn't stand up to critical analysis. Propaganda, whether in support of global warming or denying global warming, is easy to swallow if it suits your pre-conceived notions and biases. But if you want more than propaganda, whether you believe in global warming or not, you really need to understand and study the science. And in that regard, I felt Senator Inhofe's book fell short. He makes many claims, many of which we've heard before, but if you're looking for explanations for his claims, as I was, I suspect you may be disappointed.
His book is relatively short, only about 300 pages, and only about half of those pages are devoted to his eight chapters. The other half is devoted to several Appendices, References, Acknowledgments, etc. The Appendices, I imagine, were intended to help the reader come to the "right" conclusion, e.g., that global warming is a hoax. Appendix A, titled "What's in it for the United Nations?", tries to make the point that the UN is using global warming to try to build a global utopia. Senator Inhofe takes the position that the UN hopes to take decision-making away from independent and sovereign nations and transfer that power into the hands of the UN. Sounds scary, and a good reason to oppose the findings of the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN-IPCC), but is it true? Certainly the UN is a popular target for many Americans, and many criticisms of the UN unfortunately seem valid. But I feel that Senator Inhofe's stated opinion about the UN's long-term objectives seem grossly overstated. Over its history, the United Nations has managed to forge international cooperation and agreements without taking away the rights of individual nations. For example, the UN has played a role in protecting the oceans by preventing dumping of nuclear materials into the oceans, forging agreements to prevent pollution from ships, preventing depletion of threatened fish stocks through overfishing, etc. These were common sense agreements, not forced upon nations, but concluded through negotiations and cooperation. And as we've just seen with the recent (end of 2014) Ebola scare, health issues can have world wide impacts. The UN, through the World Health Organization (WHO), has fostered medical research and cooperation to fight HIV/AIDS, Ebola, polio, smallpox, and a number of health concerns. None of these initiatives cost us our national sovereignty. And regarding climate change, the recently concluded UN sponsored Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru dealing with climate change has been criticized by some for not being forceful enough. The most recent agreement has been characterized by some as a "choose your own adventure" approach toward combating climate change. In other words, instead of a top down (UN dictated) approach, as Senator Inhofe fearfully tells us is going to happen, the UN sponsored conference ended in a voluntary agreement which invited nations to decide for themselves what policies and goals they may choose to adopt in reducing greenhouse gases. So in trying to determine whether there's a secret plot by the UN, or whether Senator Inhofe is simply flooding the airways with unsubstantiated scares, I lean toward the latter.
Looking at the next Appendix, Appendix B, "Excerpts from Michael Crichton's Novel: State of Fear", this seemed the strangest section of the book. If Senator Inhofe's intent was to include these excerpts as proof of his claim that global warming is a hoax, it seemed to be a strange approach. I love Michael Crichton's books, and I enjoyed reading Crichton's book "State of Fear". Obviously, Senator Inhofe feels the same way, and had even invited Crichton testify before his Senate Committee discussing climate change. And while I agree that Crichton was talented and a really smart guy, we have to accept that his book is a novel, a good novel, but not peer-checked science. Go to the library or book store and you'll find that book in the Fiction section. I'm not sure why anyone would think that including excerpts from a novel should be convincing in support of a science concept. While Crighton did include some science data in his book, he also had the flexibility to "cherry pick" data as he saw fit to make his case in support of his novel. For example, climate scientist and glaciologist Peter Doran of the University of Illinois wrote an OpEd in 2006 for the NY Times, and specifically mentioned that his scientific results had been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Crichton in his novel “State of Fear". But Crichton could take those liberties - he was only writing a story, a work of fiction, not a scientific paper. No one would (or should) use his novel as a science text book, and it seemed to be the weakest part of Senator Inhofe's book.
Appendix C "Climategate: The CRU Controversy" apparently was included to "prove" that climate scientists are conspiring behind the scenes to fake the data and prevent opposing voices from being heard. He states in his book that "Climategate" is the greatest scientific scandal of our time, and these stolen e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the UK vindicate his calling global warming a hoax. In this Appendix, Inhofe reprints portions of some of these pirated emails, and invites the reader to draw their own conclusion. I can only imagine what any selection of my old emails, taken out of context, would read like if obtained from my computer. The same is true for personal email exchanges taken from any organization, club, or individuals. They do appear damaging, as presented, but taken as a whole, are they as damaging as Senator Inhofe states? He challenges us to find out and wrote, "... the reader is encouraged to seek outside sources for broader review and context of the exposed emails and documents". Perhaps he felt that no one would take him up on this, and simply take him at his word. Or perhaps he felt people would only check with conservative news outlets like those controlled by Rupert Murdoch, a vocal global warming denier. But I took him up on this, and found that there were many independent scholarly and scientific review made by people who understood the technical details and background of the science, and they dismissed this as a scandal. These independent reviews, while critical of several of the scientists for often appearing rude, dismissive, and acting like "jerks" when talking among themselves, were not conspiring among themselves to manipulate or fake any data. I won't list all the "Climategate" reviews I came across, but since I (we) were specifically challenged by Senator Infofe "... to seek outside sources for broader review and context of the exposed emails...", I'll note a few. In August, 2011, the National Science Foundation reported that they found no research misconduct. The U.S. EPA investigated the emails and simply considered it a case of candid discussion among scientists working through issues that arise in compiling and presenting large complex data sets. The University of East Anglia, where the email hacking occurred, examined the emails to assess whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred, and found that the "... rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt". They also set up an international Scientific Assessment Panel, which found no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the CRU. The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published their own report and found the widespread criticisms of the CRU were misplaced, and academics should not have been criticized for making informal comments on academic papers. Penn State University completed an investigation, since one of their staff, Dr. Mann, was included in the email correspondence, and found there was no substance to the allegations against him. And the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted a review of the emails and found no evidence in the emails that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inappropriately manipulated data.
So the Appendices, if included to support Senator Inhofe's claims, fell short of their mark to me. The rest of the book is broken down into eight chapters, with the first two pretty much about himself. Chapter 1 is titled "Why I fight", and Chapter 2, titled "The Most Dangerous Man on the Planet" discusses how he earned that moniker for exposing "the hoax". Another chapter, titled "Skepticism Reigns", discusses how he and others are spreading skepticism and denial of climate change. Another chapter is devoted to "Climategate", already discussed. So the remaining four chapters, what I guess would be considered to be the "meat" of his book, has three key messages: (1) that everyone is in agreement that global warming is a hoax; (2) that he's got a number of scientists on his side, and (3) that the inevitable policy to address global warming, Cap and Trade, is a failed policy which will never be enacted, certainly not as long as he chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Senator Inhofe writes as if everyone reading the book "knows" that global warming is a hoax, so he doesn't really try to teach the science behind global warming. Granted that Senator Inhofe is not a climate scientist, or a scientist of any kind, so it's not too surprising that the technical information is omitted. He simply begins his book by declaring that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN-IPCC) "is totally refuted"; that Al Gore "is totally discredited"; that man-made global warming "has been totally debunked"; and that passing a global warming cap and trade "is totally futile". With that introduction, it was clear that Senator Inhofe didn't feel it was necessary to provide explanations as to why he considered global warming to be a hoax. He simply states that global warming has already been shown to be "refuted" and "debunked". But simply repeating many of his own quotes on the subject, or repeating quotes of others hardly proves his point.
He does refer to a number of scientists, and provides some selected quotes from many, but that doesn't mean that they all go so far as to consider global warming to be a hoax. Unquestionably, several have argued that there are still unanswered questions, or take issue with certain aspects of the IPCC Reports on Global Warming. Several have their own specific areas of research, and believe that the effects of the their areas of research are equally important to the effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But few if any climate scientists call global warming a hoax. For example, one of the scientists listed in Senator Inhofe's book, Israeli scientist Dr. Niv Shaviv, favors his field of study, solar intensity and cosmic rays, as being equally important to carbon dioxide in our warming trend. And another, Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, writes about her "stadium wave" theory and the affects of ocean temperature oscillations and cycles. There are others, such as Dr. Fred Singer, who admittedly was a brilliant scientist with a most impressive resume. But on the downside, his free market ideology and commitment to small government has led him to oppose almost any political intervention into business interests. As Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway point out in their book “Merchants of Doubt”, in case after case, Dr. Singer and a handful of other scientists joined forces with think tanks and private corporations to challenge scientific evidence on a host of contemporary issues. Dr. Singer has reportedly stated, when criticizing the EPA's regulating second-hand smoke, "if we do not carefully delineate the government's role in regulating dangers, there's essentially no limit how much government can ultimately control our lives". Yet even he scoffs at those who claim that rising carbon dioxide levels do not cause temperatures to rise, or that the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are too small to have any effect. So when looking at the full body of work of even these critical scientists, there's really very little to support the notion of global warming being a hoax.
The final key take-away I took from the book is Senator Inhofe's insistence that no Cap and Trade policy will ever pass in the Senate much less get out of his Senate Committee which oversees Environmental Protection. When opposing the Democratic Party proposal to implement Cap & Trade early in the Obama Presidency, he termed the proposal "the largest tax increase in history". But don't these politicians always say this about any proposals? Early in the Obama Administration, Rush Limbaugh referred to Obamacare as the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. In 2009, Speaker John Boehner referred to the 2009 Democratic budget resolution as the biggest tax increase in history. In June, 2012, Eric Cantor stated that the Democratic proposal to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire would be the biggest tax increase in American history. In December, 2012 Speaker John Boehner called Obama’s proposed “millionaire tax” the biggest in history. See a pattern here? Even going back to Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, Senator Mitch McConnell called that the largest tax increase in history. McConnell also stated that the Clinton tax package wouldn't reduce the national debt, which also proved to be wrong.
And while Inhofe complains about huge costs associated with a Cap and Trade policy to fight carbon emissions, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office 2009 analysis calculated that it would be deficit neutral and any tax burden on individuals would be limited. Other studies, such as the March, 2009 Council on Foreign Relations Expert Roundup on “Cap and Trade’s Economic Impact” by Michael Levi found that the Cap and Trade legislation to limit carbon would have a small but positive effect on the U.S. economy. Which is how it has worked elsewhere when implemented. It's working in California which has its own program to limit carbon emissions, it's working in the European Union, and similar Cap and Trade initiatives to limit carbon are now being introduced around the world, including in China, Mexico, South Korea, etc. So these political exaggerations of costs seem to be standard procedure to oppose legislation and rally voters against these bills. In addition, besides his claim of high costs, the Senator makes further claims in the book of how this policy would be a job killer, would hurt the economy, and would be ineffective. However, each of those claims have been refuted in practice. Historically, Cap and Trade was a policy introduced back in the Reagan Administration time, and was a Republican Party policy. Before the term Cap and Trade was coined, the policy was simply known as emissions trading, which is a free market means of controlling pollutants. Reagan used the concept to phase out leaded gasoline, and it was President George H.W. Bush who proposed the use of Cap and Trade trade in 1989 to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants when combating acid rain. And the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 were passed overwhelming with bipartisan support in Congress. And while opponents of the measure at that time, like Senator Inhofe today, suggested the program costs would be prohibitive, actual costs were five times less than predicted by opponents according to a January, 1990 study by E. H. Pechan & Assoc., Inc. study “Clean Air Act Legislation Cost Evaluation”. These programs have been efficient, effective, and economic, popular during previous Republican administrations. In 2008, Presidential candidate John McCain proposed to reduce global warming pollution by a Cap and Trade program, and Sarah Palin reiterated support for that program during the vice presidential debate. The 2008 Republican Party Platform called for technology-driven, market-based solutions to reduce excess greenhouse gases and mitigate the impact of climate change. Yet in 2012, global warming disappeared from the party's list of concerns. Instead, the Party Platform diametrically changed to oppose any Cap and Trade legislation to curtail greenhouse gasses. What caused this abrupt reversal in policy? Oil and Gas lobby contributions, which donated heavily to Senator Inhofe and the Republican Party, or was it simply a need to oppose Cap and Trade since it was now a Democratic Party policy? Both sound sound like logical reasons to me. So in summary, the book makes wonderful reading for people who have already bought into the global warming hoax theory, but there are many flaws in the argument, and like most political campaign adds, the claims don't really stand up to scrutiny. ...more
Insightful look at Tina Fey's life, by the best person to tell the story, Tina Fey herself. Numerous humorous situations in the book. The only drawbacInsightful look at Tina Fey's life, by the best person to tell the story, Tina Fey herself. Numerous humorous situations in the book. The only drawback for me personally is my ignorance of her TV shows. So when she talks about people and situations from her hit show 30 Rock, much of it was lost on me since I'd never seen the show. But from what I heard from others who read (or listened) to the book, almost everybody found it funny and a good read. ...more
Kissinger’s “World Order” is somewhat of an academic treatment of histories of modern nations and how they maneuvered for power or power sharing overKissinger’s “World Order” is somewhat of an academic treatment of histories of modern nations and how they maneuvered for power or power sharing over the years. A starting place is the Treaties of Westphalia in the mid 1600's, which set a pattern for national self-determination and mutual acceptance. While that set a pattern for European Nations at that time and moving forward, Dr. Kissinger points out that there hasn’t been a true world order for all Countries and for all times. A world order over past centuries was more determined by the individual views of each Country, and may have been held in near isolation. But as the world shrinks in our modern times, no Country acts in isolation, and any view of world order has more immediate global implications. However, the rules and form is hardly universal in nature, as Dr. Kissinger points out. In parts, the book was a little dry, and since I selected the audiobook version, I found I really had to focus and pay attention to absorb it all. I didn't find the book to be written in a sexy, exciting narrative style, but was done more in the language of a historian and diplomat. ...more
People familiar with the 1998 John Travolta movie “A Civil Action” will find similarities between that story and Dan Fagin’s book Toms River. Both deaPeople familiar with the 1998 John Travolta movie “A Civil Action” will find similarities between that story and Dan Fagin’s book Toms River. Both deal with industrial chemical contamination of local water supplies with grave consequences. Toms River, the title and subject of Dan Fagin’s book, is a shore town in South Jersey, which at the latter part of the 20th century, started to experience high cancer rates, especially among children. Fagin’s book explains how carcinogens were getting into the local water supply, as well as the difficulty investigators had in tracing the source of the chemicals. What makes the story compelling is not just the historical facts, but hearing about advances in epidemiology, about the new technology needed to identify the contaminants and trace them back to the source, and more importantly, the personal stories of local families working to bring the evidence to light and to fight and insist that local officials look into the problem. If it wasn’t for the persistence of some of the local people fighting to be heard, the cause of the high cancer rate may never have been determined.
I had suspected that ”Toms River” might end up being a condemnation of "evil chemical companies" and inept regulators and inspectors, but significant to me was the recognition of the sad state of knowledge of environmental protection and impacts as recently as the 1950's and '60's. As Fagin mentions, the Ciba Chemical Company never appeared to realize that their wastes were causing a problem for the community at large. Yet they were able to recognize that their wastes were polluting their own water wells use for on-site services, and as a result they simply moved their discharge lines further away from their own water wells. Moving their discharges away from their on-site wells placed their wastes closer to the Toms River public water supply. And all that was done with the approval of State regulators, since the company's plans were "consistent" with practices in use at the time.
The end result was high concentrations of chemicals being introduced into the Toms River and local water wells. It’s ironic, but when Ciba Chemical mover to Toms River and opened a new dye plant in 1953, the Ciba spokesperson told locals that the facility would improve the water quality of the Toms river, not pollute it, and that effluent released to the Toms River would be clear and pure and in no way contaminate the stream or harbor. If only that was true.
Another sad element in the story was the lack of oversight by the State and local officials. Instead, the Company was welcomed to the community and provided with favored treatment because of the expected economic benefit to the community. When the plant opened, the N.J. Governor stated that Ciba was taking a risk in opening the factory, and thus should be entitled to reap the rewards without excessive taxation or government interference. However, without effective government oversight and collection of taxes, tons of chemical waste were dumped, leading to high cancer rate in the area, and little or no municipal money available to clean it all up.
Mr. Fagin’s writing was basically non-political, focusing on the illnesses caused by chemical company wastes and the people involved and impacted, however there were a few gentle gibes at local Republican officials, specifically over being anti-regulation involving these companies, and insisting on keeping taxes low for these polluters, meaning cleanup and treatment costs weren't adequately funded.
I thought it interesting that the author never tried to make a point that the chemical company carelessly dumped their waste products knowing or even suspecting it would harm the community. Likewise, neither local, State nor company officials ever suspected that the plant discharges would lead to poisoning the water supply and lead to excessive cancer rates in the area. Things were much different in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.
I think the book provides a good lesson for today, showing that water contamination can occur in unusual ways, and protections need to be made part of our city planning decisions and industrial permitting processes. ...more
"The Snowden Files", by Luke Harding, details Ed Snowden's story, and how he came to the belief that the National Security Agency's (NSA) post 9/11 da"The Snowden Files", by Luke Harding, details Ed Snowden's story, and how he came to the belief that the National Security Agency's (NSA) post 9/11 data collection efforts were too intrusive, illegal, and unconstitutional. Few of us who are over 21 years old have forgotten the horrific events of 9/11, nor that the intelligence community had been blamed for its failures leading up to that event. As a result, the U.S. Congress passed the Patriot Act, and then-President G. W. Bush signed it into law. The intent of the law was to make us safer by allowing the intelligence organizations capture communications between possible terrorists and supporters, and prevent further attacks on our Country. Meanwhile, with the Patriot Act enacted, Edward Snowden was being transformed from a high school dropout who later got his GED equivalency diploma and took computer courses at his community college, to a computer expert landing jobs in government. His eventual work for the State Department, CIA, and NSA gave him access to the highest level of secret documents, secrets which the libertarian-leaning Snowden felt went too far and were too intrusive into the lives of common citizens of the US. Eventually, Snowden went from a loyal, quirky computer geek to a whistleblower after coming to the belief that the vast collection of U.S. phone records, as well as communications records from all over the globe, was illegal. In his mind, judicial and political oversight had failed. He came to feel that there was no way to correct these problems by working within the system. Author Luke Harding explains Snowden's beliefs, and how he eventually ended up contacting reporters for The Guardian, revealing the secrets of NSA data collection programs. There don't appear to be any national security secrets revealed in Harding's book. Rather, the author gives a good background on what was released, and what the government does with all this data that it collects. Some think of Snowden as a whistleblower hero, putting a necessary brake on intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens. Others feel he's a traitor who has weakened our Country by revealing secrets and making intelligence gathering all that much harder. I don't feel that Harding's book gives you the answer as to whether Snowden should be considered a hero or traitor, but he does give you enough of the background to allow you to decide for yourself. My take from the book is that Snowden did more harm than good, especially given the paucity of changes I've heard of in security intelligence gathering. Snowden focused on the NSA, but between the Russian, East European, and Chinese hackers, and judging by the adds I get on my Google accounts relating to the last email I sent or web site I browsed, and any of a variety of other corporate and marketing data gatherers, very little seems truly private anymore. It's odd, especially in light of the Snowden revelations, and now knowing of what vast capabilities intelligence gatherers have at their disposal, to see how those capabilities are being defeated by the simplest of techniques. One example would be Indian Government officials who have reverted back to typewriters in some cases, eschewing electronic media for sensitive communications. And we may recall that Osama Bin Laden stayed hidden for years in his Abbottabad compound by foregoing use of telephones or the internet, and relying on couriers to send and receive messages instead. ...more
When you read a book like "Just Mercy, "by Bryan Stevenson, it's a struggle not come away with the feeling that under our current Justice System, it's When you read a book like "Just Mercy, "by Bryan Stevenson, it's a struggle not come away with the feeling that under our current Justice System, it's better to be rich and guilty than to be poor and innocent. And after reading this book, it also sometimes seems that the term "Capital Punishment" can be considered to be an "either / or" statement. That is, either you've got the Capital, or you get the Punishment. Receiving punishment for committing a crime is one thing, but as this book points out, the poor, and historically poor blacks in the South, can often face punishment whether guilty or not. Historically, in the Jim Crow era, it seems true that there was a judicial system biased against southern blacks, and while there may be some legacy problems even today, often individuals end up incarcerated simply because of a lack of adequate legal representation. And that's one element apparent among other stories covered in this book.
The author, Bryan Stevenson, was a young inexperienced Harvard law graduate when he first became aware of some of the abuses in the justice system. That led him to set up a legal practice to defend individuals he discovered had been framed, falsely accused of crimes, or unfairly sentences. One of his early cases involved Walter McMilian, a black man from Alabama who was convicted of the murder of a young white woman. McMillian was at his home with numerous witnesses, both white and black, at the time of the murder, miles away from the murder scene. But needing a conviction, the newly elected sheriff coerced another convict of implicating McMillian in the crime. McMillian was convicted of murder and given a life sentence by the jury, but the judge overruled the jury and instead sentenced McMilian to a death sentence. Judges often find that "tough on crime" stance helpful when running for re-election, especially if the individual convicted has no voice within the system. But in McMillian’s case, as Stevenson shows, witness tampering, false accusations, impossible testimony, misconduct by police, hiding of exculpatory evidence, etc., all led to a miscarriage of justice. And McMilian, like many other poor prisoners, had no legal recourse, no funds to hire lawyers who can appeal these faulty convictions.
So Stevenson, with little experience and no resources, founded the Equal Justice Initiative to help individuals like McMilian and others who were denied adequate legal representation. Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative work to help people wrongly convicted of crimes and on death row, as well as working to try to end unfair sentences in criminal cases, stop racial bias in criminal justice system, help in the area of indigent defense, help mentally ill defendants to be treated fairly, prevent placing juveniles in adult prisons, and to prevent abuse of power by police and prosecutors. Examples of all these abuses are included in Stevenson's moving book. For the curious, you can see a short interview of Stevenson on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show", discussing this book, at www.eji.org/DailyShow.
The unfortunate side of the book is that it shows the side of the justice system none of us wish to see. We prefer to think there's always "justice" in the Justice System, and unfortunately, the rules of the system do not guarantee fair results. Stevenson gives too many examples of a failing justice system, one bogged down in rules, with immunity given to abusive public officials, mandatory sentencing requirements, poor and overworked public defenders leading to a lack of legal representation, etc. It's uncomfortable to think about. But it's a topic everyone should become aware of, especially in this new era of Federal and State belt tightening, when public funding for legal services for prisoners on death row are being or have already been eliminated. That fact makes Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative all the more important.
We, as a Nation, seem to be very proud of being "tough on crime", and now put more people in jail than any other nation in the world. And those convicted, once released, often end up going back to jail. They typically receive little or no job training while incarcerated, and are all but eliminated from gaining employment once released by virtue of their convicted status. Ineligible for most public assistance, with poor to no job prospects, a return to crime is far from startling. It's even more troubling to hear about innocent people being caught up in the same circumstances for reasons discussed in Stevenson's book.
I read this book on the eve of the 2014 mid-term elections, and will be curious to see how voters respond to California's Prop 47. It's an attempt by the State at penal reform, something I imagine Stevenson would support. If it passes, it will "de-felonize" most drug use and revise sentencing laws. The proponents of the Proposition hope it will open the door for similar efforts in other states, and signal that the "tough on crime" slogan is great in theory, but not always fair in application. Reading Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy", or "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness", by Michelle Alexandar, or "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America", by Gilbert King, make one wonder if the system is working the way we hoped, and about our self-description as "... the land of the free". Stevenson's book gives us something to think about in this regard. ...more