Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Last Call For A Life And No Death Situation

As one of her final acts before fellow Democrat Tina Kotek is sworn in, Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is commuting the sentences of all of the state's 17 death row inmates to life without parole.

Gov. Kate Brown announced on Tuesday afternoon that she would commute the sentences of all 17 individuals on Oregon’s death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the latest in her end-of-term string of clemency decisions.

“I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people — even if a terrible crime placed them in prison,” Brown said in a statement sent out in a press release.

“This is a value that many Oregonians share,” Brown said.

Oregon has not executed anyone on death row for a quarter century and Brown continued the moratorium that former Gov. John Kitzhaber put in place in 2011. Governor-elect Tina Kotek, who like Brown and Kitzhaber is a Democrat, is personally opposed to the death penalty based on her religious beliefs and said during the campaign that she would continue the moratorium.

Voters have gone back and forth on the death penalty over the years, abolishing and reinstating it repeatedly. Voters’ most recent decision on the death penalty was in 1984, when they inserted it into the state Constitution.

Oregon is one of 27 states that authorizes the death penalty, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Not everyone is pleased by this.

Randy Lee Guzek was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to death for Rod and Lois Houser, of Terrebonne. Sue Shirley, the Housers’ daughter, said Tuesday she was aware of the governor’s decision to commute Guzek’s sentence, but had not heard from the state directly.

“I’m horrified and outraged and I don’t know what this means,” Shirley said Tuesday. “Will true life be true life?”

Shirley noted that Guzek has been resentenced four times over the past 24 years as the Legislature has changed rules, though his death penalty sentence has been repeatedly upheld.

“All I know is that we never get to have a say,” she said Tuesday. “Forty-eight jurors have said the just sentence was the death penalty, but that’s been a moving target. The Legislature has changed the rules time and time again and it’s just been a nightmare.”

But Oregon has effectively ended the death penalty in the state and hasn't executed anyone in nearly 25 years.
In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill that limited the crimes that qualified for the death penalty by narrowing the definition of aggravated murder to killing two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; intentionally and with premeditation kilIing a child younger than 14; killing another person while locked up in jail or prison for a previous murder; or killing a police, correctional or probation officer.

More than two years have passed since the Brown administration dismantled Oregon’s death row, a move that acknowledged the effective end of capital punishment in the state.

Brown said in her statement Tuesday that commuting the sentences of people currently serving on Oregon’s death row was consistent with what she described as lawmakers’ “near abolition” of capital punishment.

“Unlike previous commutations I’ve granted to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary growth and rehabilitation, this commutation is not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row,” Brown said. “Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral. It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.”
Governor Brown could not be more correct. The death penalty is a barbaric relic that never should have been allowed in this country, and overwhelmingly it has been used against Black folk to deliver the ultimate sanction without warrant or evidence.
Actually being pro-life means getting rid of capital punishment.

Hot New Fusion Cuisine

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have apparently achieved a breakthrough in fusion technology: getting more energy out of a fusion reaction than was put into it, known as ignition.

Scientists studying fusion energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced on Tuesday that they had crossed a major milestone in reproducing the power of the sun in a laboratory.

Scientists for decades have said that fusion, the nuclear reaction that makes stars shine, could provide a future source of bountiful energy.

The result announced on Tuesday is the first fusion reaction in a laboratory setting that actually produced more energy than it took to start the reaction.

“This is such a wonderful example of a possibility realized, a scientific milestone achieved, and a road ahead to the possibilities for clean energy,” Arati Prabhakar, the White House science adviser, said during a news conference on Tuesday morning at the Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “And even deeper understanding of the scientific principles that are applied here.”

From an environmental perspective, fusion has always had a strong appeal. Within the sun and stars, fusion continually combines hydrogen atoms into helium, producing sunlight and warmth that bathes the planets.

In experimental reactors and laser labs on Earth, fusion lives up to its reputation as a very clean energy source, devoid of the pollution and greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and the dangerous long-lived radioactive waste created by current nuclear power plants, which use the splitting of uranium to produce energy.

There was always a nagging caveat, however. In all of the efforts by scientists to control the unruly power of fusion, their experiments consumed more energy than the fusion reactions generated.

That changed at 1:03 a.m. on Dec. 5 when 192 giant lasers at the laboratory’s National Ignition Facility blasted a small cylinder about the size of a pencil eraser that contained a frozen nubbin of hydrogen encased in diamond.

The laser beams entered at the top and bottom of the cylinder, vaporizing it. That generated an inward onslaught of X-rays that compresses a BB-size fuel pellet of deuterium and tritium, the heavier forms of hydrogen.

In a brief moment lasting less than 100 trillionths of a second, 2.05 megajoules of energy — roughly the equivalent of a pound of TNT — bombarded the hydrogen pellet. Out flowed a flood of neutron particles — the product of fusion — which carried about 3 megajoules of energy, an energy gain of 1.5.

This crossed the threshold that laser fusion scientists call ignition, the dividing line where the energy generated by fusion equals the energy of the incoming lasers that start the reaction.

“You see one diagnostic and you think maybe that’s not real and then you start to see more and more diagnostics rolling in, pointing to the same thing,” said Annie Kritcher, a physicist at Livermore who described reviewing the data after the experiment. “It’s a great feeling.”

The successful experiment finally delivers the ignition goal that was promised when construction of the National Ignition Facility started in 1997. When operations began in 2009, however, the facility hardly generated any fusion at all, an embarrassing disappointment after a $3.5 billion investment from the federal government.
And they didn't just get a bit more energy out of it, they got 50% more energy out of it, meaning that this is an honest-to-goodness real advancement in power. I know it's kind of basic, but a fusion experiment that didn't release enough energy to cover the cost going in wasn't of much use to anyone, and that's where the fusion lab has been for the last 13 years.

Until last week.  That was the big obstacle, and they cracked it wide open.

So what does that mean now?

I wouldn't expect commercially available fusion power in my lifetime, to be honest.  Maybe in Millennial or Gen Z years. But it's a start, and a big one.

And that's if we don't splatter ourselves all over history with fusion weapons in the interim, which given the state of humanity today is a very real outcome down the line. Someone's going to decide that nuclear blast damage without all the nasty plutonium fallout is a really good idea and worth pursuing.

But yeah, this is a huge step in humanity, one of those Civilization game-level milestones on the tech tree.

This is a big one, folks.  Trust in that.

Going All Judge Mental, Con't

I've been saying for months now that conservative judges weren't going to stop taking rights away from marginalized groups like women, Black folk, the LGBTQ+ community, and more in the wake of Dobbs and the death of Roe v Wade. They were never going to just give up and stop there, and wouldn't you know it, they're going after contraception after all.

Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee to a federal court in Texas, spent much of his career trying to interfere with other people’s sexuality.

A former lawyer at a religious conservative litigation shop, Kacsmaryk denounced, in a 2015 article, a so-called “Sexual Revolution” that began in the 1960s and 1970s, and which “sought public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.”

So, in retrospect, it’s unsurprising that Kacsmaryk would be the first federal judge to embrace a challenge to the federal right to birth control after the Supreme Court’s June decision eliminating the right to an abortion.

Last week, Kacsmaryk issued an opinion in Deanda v. Becerra that attacks Title X, a federal program that offers grants to health providers that fund voluntary and confidential family planning services to patients. Federal law requires the Title X program to include “services for adolescents,”

The plaintiff in Deanda is a father who says he is “raising each of his daughters in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality, which requires unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage.” He claims that the program must cease all grants to health providers who do not require patients under age 18 to “obtain parental consent” before receiving Title X-funded medical care.

This is not a new argument, and numerous courts have rejected similar challenges to publicly funded family planning programs, in part because the Deanda plaintiff’s legal argument “would undermine the minor’s right to privacy” which the Supreme Court has long held to include a right to contraception.

But Kacsmaryk isn’t like most other judges. In his brief time on the bench — Trump appointed Kacsmaryk in 2019 — he has shown an extraordinary willingness to interpret the law creatively to benefit right-wing causes.

This behavior is enabled, moreover, by the procedural rules that frequently enable federal plaintiffs in Texas to choose which judge will hear their case — 95 percent of civil cases filed in Amarillo, Texas’s federal courthouse are automatically assigned to Kacsmaryk. So litigants who want their case to be decided by a judge with a history as a Christian right activist, with a demonstrated penchant for interpreting the law flexibly to benefit his ideological allies, can all but ensure that outcome by bringing their lawsuit in Amarillo.

And so, last Thursday, the inevitable occurred. Kacsmaryk handed down a decision claiming that “the Title X program violates the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.”

Kacsmaryk’s decision is riddled with legal errors, some of them obvious enough to be spotted by a first-year law student. And it contradicts a 42-year-long consensus among federal courts that parents do not have a constitutional right to target government programs providing contraceptive care. So there’s a reasonable chance that Kacsmaryk will be reversed on appeal, even in a federal judiciary dominated by Republican appointees.

Nevertheless, Kacsmaryk’s opinion reveals that there are powerful elements within the judiciary who are eager to limit access to contraception. And even if Kacsmaryk’s opinion is eventually rejected by a higher court, he could potentially send the Title X program into turmoil for months.
Title X is the main vehicle through which government entities fund birth control at clinics and  practices across the country. Family planning services are vital, and here we have a lunatic judge saying no adolescent in America can even get birth control unless specifically approved by parents. Just like the entire flap about school boards, parents, not experts like doctors, now make choices for teen health.
And we know at the college age level, Title X contraception improves the graduation rate of women by 10-12%.  Requiring parental permission for that is awful.

Of course, if there's no right to contraception, then requiring consent for birth control before anyone in America has sex means once again, women have no right to their own bodies.

And that's the point.

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