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Last Thursday, a former death-row inmate delivered one of the best talks I've seen at Georgetown.

Prison Outreach, our campus group that tutors local inmates for their GEDs and in ESL, brought Juan Melendez to campus. He spent nearly 18 years on death row in Florida for a crime he didn't commit, living with incredible depression and in terrible conditions, until he was finally released in 2002. The story he told was incredibly powerful, but far from unique -- he was the ninety-ninth of 123 death row inmates to be exonerated and released since 1973.

The death penalty:

And as far as Democrats and the death penalty?
  • "In 2004, ... the drafting committee quietly removed the section of the [Democratic party platform] that endorsed capital punishment." (source)

  • "Eighty percent of Republicans support the death penalty, ... and 58% of Democrats support it." (source)

I'd never formed a coherent opinion on the death penalty. I had been avoiding doing so, despite three years of work with Prison Outreach and the tidbits of information I get from my inmates about their lives in that state-of-the-art detention facility. This speech on Thursday, however, shocked me into awareness. This man was incredibly alive -- and it was just a fluke in our justice system that he still was. The fluke was in the innocent man surviving.

Unless you are from one of the thirteen jurisdictions without a death penalty statue,* consider writing your governors, legislators, and state leaders. Imprisonment is one thing. Death is another.



Senator John Sidney McCain III is still running for president.

Seriously, this is getting out of hand. I've ranted before about the insanity (inanity?) of these repeated announcements, but this is at least his third.

He has had his exploratory announcement, his Letterman announcement, and his bus tour. Now he is "officially" announcing.

This is certainly just an attempt to recapture some of that "lightning in a bottle" that he had in 2000. McCain's campaign is struggling - granted, this is at least partially due to overly-high expectations: he has been the perceived front-runner for a long time, so any stumble can hurt him. However, he has been outraised by both Giuliani (who was married to his second cousin for 14 years) and Mitt Romney (governor of that bastion of traditional conservatism, Massachusetts). Giuliani also leads in virtually every national poll.

Perhaps spending the last four years demonstrating just how blatantly opportunistic a politician can be has hurt him. Oh well. Announce all you want, but people still won't forget this.

Oh, and this just in:
Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.


Forget implementing new gun control laws. We cannot even enforce the ones currently in existence. Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech student who massacred thirty-two students before taking his own life last Monday, should never have been able to purchase a gun. Current law states that anyone a court holds to be “mentally incompetent” is prohibited from buying a gun. In 2005, a Virginia court ruled that Cho was “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness,” but because of bureaucratic inefficiency, states are slow to computerize their records and send them to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Congress is belatedly working to fix these inexcusable shortcomings by focusing on a bill garnering wide bipartisan support that would supply states with money to update their background check systems and require them to include any mental illness-related court rulings in their databases. However, Congress is unwilling to go further than correcting the flaws in past legislation. Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), whose son was injured and husband was killed in 1993 after being shot while riding a train, lamented, “We’re not going to do anything more on guns—it’s just not going to happen. This is a pro-gun Congress.” Moreover, the National Rifle Association released a statement urging, “This is not the time for political discussions, public policy debates or to advance a political agenda.”

Why not? In times of tragedy, we should question our current policies in order to ensure that such horrible events never occur again. The status quo is not good enough. Obviously, any lawmaker who tries to exploit the Virginia Tech massacre to promote a political agenda is reprehensible, but by doing nothing to promote stricter gun control, lawmakers are insulting the victims and failing to take measures to protect the country from another attack.

How many others would have been killed, for instance, if Cho had decided to purchase an assault weapon? In 1994, Congress passed a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons (not including semi-automatic hunting rifles), but President Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress let the ban expire in 2004. No one is arguing for a complete ban on the sale of guns, but is it really necessary to have the capability to fire dozens of rounds without reloading? If your house is being robbed, you are in big trouble if you need dozens of shots to scare away or hit the intruder. For the same reason, Congress should also ban high-capacity ammunition clips.

Congress should also require background checks for the sale of firearms at gun shows. If current laws had been properly implemented and Cho had been prohibited from buying a gun due to the court ruling concerning his mental illness, he could have attended a gun show and bought one there. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires firearms dealers to obtain a federal license, and when these federally licensed dealers want to sell a gun, they are required to check the FBI’s NICS. However, many vendors at gun shows are people selling their personal collections rather than licensed arms dealers, so thousands of guns are sold each year to people who have not had background checks.

Our elected representatives have a duty to do everything in their power to prevent another Virginia Tech-style massacre from occurring again. Granted, even with a complete ban on the sale of firearms (which I am not advocating), there is always a possibility that a similar tragic event could occur again. But this does not mean that Congress should acquiesce to the status quo; on the contrary, it should be doing everything in its power to make sure that guns are practically impossible to obtain by people who do not pass federal background checks. My friend Daniel O’Neil was brutally murdered at Virginia Tech, and it makes me sick to see Congress doing nothing to prevent other innocent, young people from being unnecessarily slain in the future.


A semi-amusing take on American foreign policy from the good folks at MadTV.


There's an interesting and oddly infuriating op-ed in the Washington Post this morning from Kathleen Parker (Wikipedia) -- it's the "Mother of all Blunders", she writes, that Britain allowed a woman with a 3-year-old child to work in the military. "Children in their tender years are," after all, "dependent on their mothers in unique ways" (even if Parker does not substantiate that claim and hand-waves it away to rest on the intuitions of a "good" parent -- as well as refuses to address the needs that children have for their fathers as well. And why do I get the feeling that she would be just as disapproving of a child having two mothers, which, after all, should double the unique goodness?).

She charges the West with the belief that "women can pretend to be men" -- somehow overlooking the fact that no one was "pretending" to be anything (it's not as if she cut her hair and bound her breasts, after all!) The woman in question was simply doing an unwanted job, and now she's getting slack for it from both sides of the aisle.

It seems that Kathleen Parker, the white-collar columnist that she is, would rather have her unwilling and un-psychologically-prepared brothers, husband, and sons go to war than any woman at all (assuming, of course, that she has any). And apparently she thinks that if men go into homosocial combat, they will be more likely to protect women from assault. My reaction? Utter disbelief. Men socializing only with men, not having sustained interaction with women for months at a time -- this is supposed to lead them to a deeper respect? *cough*

Her best point, indeed, is that Iran will get some fantastic propaganda out of this incident. What I don't understand, however, is why Parker, who comes off as a strong American, would want to spread that Iranian propaganda into the United States.

Let us perhaps rather agree that war is bad no matter who is in combat, and leave it at that. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Parker would agree.


If Newt Gingrich is indeed going to run for President, as many Republicans hope and predict, he is doing a hell of a job of marketing himself to the American electorate. First, he went public in March with the less-than-stunning revelation that he was cheating on his second wife with a 33-year old congressional staffer while publicly criticizing President Clinton for his own affair during the impeachment hearings of the late 90s.

Now, this week he gave a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women blasting bilingualism in American culture, arguing that we should teach only English in American schools so that people “learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto”. In the past he has voiced support for making English the official language of the United States and only printing ballots in the majority language, saying that bilingualism presents "long-term dangers to the fabric of our nation" and that "allowing bilingualism to continue to grow is very dangerous."

While this sort of rhetoric may appeal to the paranoid xenophobes among the Republican base who still feel that whites are becoming a disadvantaged minority in America, it insults a significant portion of the American electorate, particularly the millions of Hispanics were educated in bilingual schools and yet strangely do not live in a ghetto.

Newt also demonstrates a profound ignorance about the nature of bilingual education. It does not discourage immersion, as he seems to suggest (since there are still significant financial incentives to learn English), but rather allows children to learn basic skills such as math in their native language so that they do not fall behind other students while learning English. Gingrich’s claim that Spanish is a ghetto language would actually become more accurate if he got his way and Hispanics were denied equal educational opportunities and the right to vote.


The first issue of The Georgetown Progressive, the Dems very own political publication, is up on the website. It includes a cover story on how College Dems are getting involved in the 2008 Presidential Campaign, a secular assault on the Pledge of Allegiance, Sparknotes on Terry McCauliffe's What a Party, a thinly veiled reference to oral sex, and more. Enjoy.