Archive

December 2nd

The prosecution cannot rest on a trade secret

    On the surface, TrueAllele Casework, a computer program that extracts genetic profiles from DNA samples, would seem to mark an advance in criminal justice technology. But defense lawyers say it shouldn't be allowed in court, because Cybergenetics Corp., the firm that owns the program, won't reveal the software's source code, which it considers a trade secret.

    The resulting conflict, which is presently playing out in a Pennsylvania murder trial, poses fascinating and important questions: Do we need to know exactly how a given technique works to consider it scientifically reliable and admissible in court? And is it democratically right to convict, and possibly execute, someone based on a secret process the defendant isn't allowed to know?

    Start with the science. To oversimplify a bit, ordinary DNA analysis depends on qualitative comparisons made by human beings. Typically, a technician will type a defendant's DNA, then compare it to DNA in samples found at the crime scene. By comparing peaks and valleys in the statistical representation of the DNA sequences, the technician determines the likelihood that the two samples match.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

Stephen Breyer, a justice for the global age

    Stephen Breyer, a progressive force on the Supreme Court for more than two decades, advocates U.S. courts taking into account foreign law. That's the stuff of a good debate, befitting a justice who got to the bench courtesy of former President Ronald Reagan and the archconservative senator Strom Thurmond.

    His ascent was due mostly to the exceptional political skill and standing of a mentor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who got resurgent Republicans to approve the liberal judge when they could have instead tapped one of their own for the seat.

    We'll revisit that story, which is illustrative of the way Washington used to work.

    In Breyer's recently published "The Court and the World," his third book since becoming a justice, he suggests the court should look abroad for guidance on some decisions because about 20 percent of cases have something to do with what happens outside the U.S. This notion is anathema to conservative members of the court, including Chief Justice John Roberts and the most forceful advocate of the right, Antonin Scalia.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

Needed: A GOP statement of conscience

    As Donald Trump's behavior on the campaign trail grows ever more outrageous, the time is long overdue for leading Republican establishment figures, past and present, to speak out in unison before their Grand Old Party is irreparably compromised.

    Trump's latest egregious comments and mockery of a New York Times reporter with a physical disability goes beyond the pale even for him. He wasn't satisfied with earlier disparaging the looks of rival presidential candidate Carly Fiorina ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote that?").

    His latest target is a man with severe malfunction of his arms, which Trump for good measure appeared to be mimicking. He also mocked the reporter's employer as "rapidly going down the tubes," even as the Times editorial board continues to pummel him for his bullying.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

Laquan McDonald and the ‘System’

    I spent Wednesday night following a gaggle of protesters through the streets of downtown Chicago. The air was unseasonably warm, but the sentiment in the air burned with a rage and revulsion.

    Disturbing video had been released of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He had been shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Most of the shots were fired when McDonald was no longer standing. Some entered through his back.

    Shortly before releasing the tape, the Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, announced Van Dyke would be charged with first-degree murder.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

Inequality and the City

    New York, New York, a helluva town. The rents are up, but the crime rate is down. The food is better than ever, and the cultural scene is vibrant. Truly, it’s a golden age for the town I recently moved to — if you can afford the housing. But more and more people can’t.

    And it’s not just New York. The days when dystopian images of urban decline were pervasive in popular culture — remember the movie “Escape from New York”? — are long past. The story for many of our iconic cities is, instead, one of gentrification, a process that’s obvious to the naked eye, and increasingly visible in the data.

    Specifically, urban America reached an inflection point around 15 years ago: After decades of decline, central cities began getting richer, more educated, and, yes, whiter. Today our urban cores are providing ever more amenities, but largely to a very affluent minority.

    But why is this happening? And is there any way to spread the benefits of our urban renaissance more widely?

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

A 'kill-and-cover-up' police culture?

    When public officials refuse to release a video that shows alleged misconduct by a police officer, you should only expect the worst.

    That's particularly true in Chicago, where one "bad apple" too often has signaled a bushel of cover-ups and other problems underneath.

    Such are the suspicions that haunt the city's stalling for more than a year the release of a dashcam video that shows white police officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots into the body of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel denounced the behavior as a case of one allegedly bad apple. Yet the video and various actions taken before and after the shooting point to systemic and institutional problems that extend far beyond one allegedly trigger-happy cop.

    Why, for example, did the city sit on the dash-cam video for more than a year before a judge ordered its release on open-records grounds?

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

What good retirement plans everywhere have in common

    Old style defined-benefit pensions get better investment returns than defined-contribution retirement plans such as 401(k)s. That's been established in survey after survey.

    But what if this particular fact is out of date? That's the argument that Josh B. McGee makes in a really interesting paper. McGee is a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a vice president at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which has been advising state and local governments on pension reform -- and in many cases pushing them toward 401(k)-style plans. In his paper, he presents evidence that defined- contribution plan assets are being invested a lot more efficiently and responsibly than they used to be, and have wiped out pensions' performance edge.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

Terrorism on American Soil

    During this past week a three-year-old boy in Rock Hill, S.C., killed himself when he was playing with a loaded gun in his house.

    He wasn’t the only one in Rock Hill to die from a gunshot. In July, a man killed himself after shooting his wife, her son and the son’s girlfriend. The following month, someone killed a 30-year-old woman; someone else that same week killed a 27-year-old man.

    Rock Hill, a city of about 66,000 is not unique.

    About 2,700 children are killed every year from gunshot violence; about 60 percent of them are homicides, the rest are suicides or unintentional deaths, such as that of the three-year-old. Every year, another 15,000 youth are wounded from gun fire. Overall, about 33,000 die from gunshot violence; 76,000 are injured from gunshot violence, according to data compiled by the Brady Center. The names, faces, and lives of everyone killed or injured just blend into tables of statistics.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

Polluting Our Bodies

    In recent weeks, two major medical organizations have issued independent warnings about toxic chemicals in products all around us. Unregulated substances, they say, are sometimes linked to breast and prostate cancer, genital deformities, obesity, diabetes and infertility.

    “Widespread exposure to toxic environmental chemicals threatens healthy human reproduction,” the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics warned in a landmark statement last month.

    The warnings are a reminder that the chemical industry has inherited the mantle of Big Tobacco, minimizing science and resisting regulation in ways that cause devastating harm to unsuspecting citizens.

    In the 1950s, researchers were finding that cigarettes caused cancer, but the political system lagged in responding. Now the same thing is happening with toxic chemicals.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!

One Governor’s Extraordinary Year

    Newly bald and always blunt, Gov. Larry Hogan was wondering about his hair. When it might grow back. How it might grow back.

    Five months ago, it was white and he had lots of it. Would it be brown upon its return? Chemo can do that.

    “Maybe I can get my natural color back,” Hogan, 59, said over lunch last week. “I’ve had completely gray hair since, like, 30. I’m thinking I’m going to have dark, curly hair.”

    But, he added, “It’s not worth it. It’s maybe better to just have the hairdresser do it or get Just for Men.”

    His words reflected the unexpected battle with cancer that has defined his first year in office.

    They also suggested his positive nature and good humor, which help to explain another surprise: Hogan’s popularity as a Republican in a state that’s about as Democratic as they come.

Full text and e-editions are available to premium subscribers only. To subscribe to the digital edition, please visit subscription page. If you are already a subscriber, please login to the site.

We'd be happy to set up login information for a free week of the Liberal Opinion Week website for you. Please email liberal@iowaconnect.com with your request. Thanks for your interest in the Liberal!