1 in 100

In case you missed the recent report, our prison-industrial complex has reached a new height (or depth, if you prefer).  One of every 100 Americans is in prison.  Sadly, we are spending a massive amount of resources when a huge number of these people are non-violent drug offenders.  I'm all for keeping the killers, robbers, rapists, and all-around thugs in prison for a long time, but due to mandatory minimum drug sentences, a marijuana dealer may well end up in prison for longer than a rapist.  Over at Atlantic Monthly, Reihan Salam has a nice commentary on the fundamental unfairness of our prison sentences:

As Paul Cassell told Adam Liptak of The New York Times,
“One out of every 100 adults is behind bars because one out of every
100 adults has committed a serious criminal offense.” And that sounds
reasonable enough. Yet we shouldn't forget the number of alleged
offenders who lack adequate legal representation, or have been
sentenced under onerous mandatory minimum or three-strikes laws that
carry unreasonably stiff sentences for offenses any reasonable person
would consider nonserious.

Which leads us to the broader question of sentence length.
Economists Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote found that sentence
length in vehicular homicides varied dramatically
according to victim characteristics. What does this mean, exactly?
Because vehicular homicides tend to be fairly random, you'd think
victim characteristics would matter very little. It turns out, however,
that offenders are given far longer sentences for killing women rather
than men and whites rather than blacks. We're not talking about victims
with criminal records or victims in the drug trade, etc. Rather, we're
talking about random innocents mowed down in the street. To put it
crudely, it seems pretty clear that the criminal justice system values
some lives less than others. Not shocking news, of course. But it
should be.

Not surprisingly, in a non-vehicular homicide, you better believe who you kill has a huge impact on the sentence.  If you want to avoid the death penalty, just don't kill white people. 

National defense vs. what’ s good for my state

One of the fundamental problems with Congress is that legislators perpetually place the interests of their own constituents above the interests of the nation as a whole.  This is quite transparent in defense procurement (and one of the reasons a major weapons system may have components assembled in literally dozens of states and Congressional districts).  Kevin Drum has a great take-down of our oh-so-principled member of Congress regarding a recent Air Force decision:

Northrop Grumman and EADS, the parent company of Airbus, have beaten
out Boeing for a huge contract to provide aerial tankers to the Air
Force. McClatchy reports the reaction:

“I
am extremely disappointed in the Air Force's decision to choose
Northrup Grumman/EADS over Boeing to make the critical new
aerial-refueling tanker. From the beginning, the Air Force vowed to
have an open competition process,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “I
look forward to seeing their justification for this unfortunate
outcome. If this decision holds, it will be at the cost of American
jobs and American dollars, if not our national security.”

Huh. I wonder why Roberts is so bent out of shape. Let's see if the LA Times has anything to say about this:

Boeing,
which was considered the odds-on favorite because it built the tankers
that are flying today, had planned to assemble its planes, based on its
767 passenger jet, in Everett, Wash., then ship them to Wichita, Kan.,
to modify them into tankers.

Ah. That explains it. Any other reaction?

In
Paris, at the annual air shows, Airbus officials and Southern
politicians proudly displayed the proposed European tanker offering and
made the argument that if the United States wants to sell its weapons
to European countries, it should also open its doors to foreign
suppliers.

That's mighty open-minded of those Southern politicians, isn't it? Back to the LA Times:

In recent months, Northrop tried to burnish its bid by proposing to assemble the plane in Alabama [and Mississippi! Don't forget Mississippi! ?ed.].
Its initial plans called for the planes to be assembled in France
before being shipped to Alabama to undergo tanker modifications.

Gotcha.
Nothing new here, of course. Just thought it was worth pointing out
that all huffery and puffery from congress critters about this deal
should be taken even less seriously than usual. When it comes to
military bidding wars, national security is about the last thing on
their minds.

Does it matter if the Air Force gets the best deal or best equipment?  Of course not.  All that matters is that the deal happen in the Senator's state. 

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