Want to escape all accountability? Become a prosecutor

Prosecutors.  Almost anybody else in American society who screws up can expect some accountability.  Especially when those screw-ups unfairly ruin people’s lives.  Almost anybody, that is, except prosectuors.  Is it any wonder that with virtually no accountability that prosecutors keep wrongly ruining people’s lives through incompetence, malfeasance, or both.  This quote from a great Dahlia Lithwick piece on the horrible, horrible injustice of so many crime labs really captures the problem:

Laura Fernandez of Yale Law School studies prosecutorial misconduct. Asked about who should be repairing the damage from the two Massachusetts crime lab scandals, she observes that:

Everyone knows that if you make a mess, you have to pay for it or clean it up. Companies know this, drivers know this—even kids know it. What most people don’t realize is that even in cases where prosecutors’ misconduct or negligence results in gross violations of due process, colossal disruptions of the criminal justice system, or grave threats to public safety, prosecutors remain essentially immune from any real consequences. [emphasis mine] When the people who wield the most power in the criminal justice system are also the least accountable, constitutional crises like those unfolding in Orange County and Massachusetts are almost inevitable.

Over the past decade, crime lab scandals have plagued at least 20 states, as well as the FBI. We know that one of the unintended consequences of the war on drugs has been a rush to prosecute and convict and that crime labs have not operated with sufficient independence from prosecutors’ offices in many instances. Their mistakes ruin lives. Years of deliberate falsification have ruined thousands of lives. We also know that there remains almost no reason for a prosecutor’s office to admit error and that the cost of fixing those errors can become prohibitive. So what do we do when a scandal infects hundreds or thousands of prosecutions? If Massachusetts is any indication, even three years later, we still don’t do all that much.

Ugh.  There’s a lot that we need to do to reform our criminal justice system and I’m not quite sure how far up the list this should be, but damnit, doubtless a key principle of reform should be that prosecutors are accountable!  Pretty much everybody else in society is.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of a hiker standing on the Ko'olau summit ridgeline in Hawaii

Taking a Peak

Photograph by Liz Barney

As beams of light from the setting sun burst through clouds, a triumphant hiker basks in their glow on a summit in Hawaii’s Ko’olau Range. The achievement, according to Liz Barney, who submitted this photo, was the culmination of rigorous preparation and effort. “It’s not a well-known trek … but for two women, it was their dream,” she says. “[The women] spent an entire year planning and training to cross the Ko’olau summit ridgeline in one self-sufficient thru-hike … They failed multiple times before they finally succeeded.”


We’re all going to die!

Thank God we don’t actually leave policy at all related to science up to ordinary Americans.  A recent Pew study found that a substantial majority of Americans believe that foods grown with pesticides are “unsafe to eat.”  Really?  In that case the average American should probably go ahead and throw out most of their food.  (Not to mention, of course, the non-scientific beliefs about GMO food also in this report, but I’ve covered that plenty).  For some reason, the Pew report was interested in this in a religious context, so the chart is broken down that way:

More Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics Say Foods Grown With Pesticides Are Unsafe

There’s lots more science policy-related questions (GMO, vaccinations, animal research, etc.) in there worth taking a look at, but I was most struck by the idea that Americans believe that foods they eat every single day are actually unsafe.  Now, of course, there’s actually plenty to be concerned about with pesticides and we should take these risks seriously, but if this is true (another reason to not quite trust public opinion) most Americans are either 1) comfortable eating food every day that they actually consider unsafe, or 2) think pesticides are unsafe,  but don’t actually care enough to be aware that much of the food they eat is grown with pesticides.  There are those, of course, who are rigorously organic, but that is obviously a very small portion of the population.

When in doubt, attack the liberal media

Ted Cruz had a super-popular line last night attacking the questioning at the Republican debate.  Ezra Klein with a great post that outrageous policy positions are going to lead to unpopular questions:

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Ted Cruz said with considerable disgust. “This is not a cage match.”

Cruz ticked off the insults the CNBC moderators had lobbed Wednesday night at the assembled Republicans. “Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues?”

Cruz’s attack on the moderators was smart politics — but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

The Republican primary has thus far been a festival of outlandish policy. [emphasis mine] The candidates seem to be competing to craft the tax plan that gives the largest tax cut to the rich while blowing the biggest hole in the deficit (a competition that, as of tonight, Ted Cruzappears to be winning). And the problem is when you ask about those plans, simply stating the facts of the policies sounds like you’re leveling a devastating attack.

Oh, sure you can find examples of unrealistic policy proposals from the Democratic debate, but that is mostly because they are politically unrealistic, not because the numbers are pure rainbows and unicorns fantasy.  Sadly, a man whose entire campaign is mostly vague unicorns, rainbows, absurd Nazi and slavery analogies, and brushing off anything pointing this out as “political correctness” (Carson, just to be clear) is doing as well as anybody.   That’s what our modern day GOP has come to.  Meanwhile, somebody I disagree with, but is at least serious (Kasich) languishes at under 5% in the polls.

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