You are the owner of this page.
A4 A4
Columnists
Gene Lyons: Not all sexual sins are criminal

It’s getting to where you can’t keep track of the lechers, gropers and sexual abusers without a scorecard. Once one of these sexually tinged moral panics we have so frequently gets going, there’s no telling whose squalid little sins will be exposed to public view.

If nothing else, they start a lot of titillating conversations. Shouldn’t there, for example, be a general immunity for office Christmas parties?

OK, that’s a joke. But hold the phone.

Certain details are hard to assimilate. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly personally paid a $32 million settlement to a woman he sexually harassed? Yowza! That sounds like a lot more than unwanted kisses and pats on the fanny to me. And then he did it some more?

That sounds downright pathological.

For that matter, if even half the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein are true — which few doubt — the man belongs in prison, although it’s doubtful he’ll be convicted. But he’s finished as a public figure. No more Oscar red carpet appearances for Harvey.

Closer to my own profession, I won’t deny a degree of pleasure seeing certain of the moral scolds who professed outrage at Bill Clinton’s sins brought low. NPR editor Michael Oreskes, who resigned after evidently making a career of fondling, tongue-kissing and propositioning unsuspecting young job-seekers, was Washington editor of The New York Times during the Monica Lewinsky era — herself an eager volunteer, you may recall.

Jill Abramson, then Oreskes’s respected second-in-command, now regrets not confronting him or filing a formal complaint. The author of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,” (how’s that for irony?) Abramson says:

“If I had to do it again, I would have told him to knock it off ... Maybe confronting him would have somehow stopped him from doing it to another woman.”

Or maybe not. What often struck me during the Lewinsky scandal was the number of politicians and pundits (myself included) who kept their own intimate lives of spotless rectitude secret while berating Clinton. By offering payola, Hustler’s Larry Flynt gleefully took down a number of congressional hypocrites, most notably GOP House Speaker Bob Livingston. But journalists — not a particularly virtuous cohort, in my experience — remained unscathed.

Which brings us to ubiquitous political commentator Mark Halperin. Essentially the Hedda Hopper of Washington journalism (that’s a gossip columnist, kiddies), Halperin co-authored “Game Change,” a best-selling book about the 2012 presidential campaign. It became a well-reviewed HBO movie. He was everywhere on TV — a regular on “Morning Joe,” “Today,” etc. He had a lucrative contract for a book on the 2016 campaign with an HBO tie-in.

Halperin first made his bones in 1992, pressing Bill Clinton about (you guessed it) Gennifer Flowers — the Little Rock chanteuse who earned an estimated $500,000 pretending to be the 42nd president’s longtime mistress. (Clinton eventually admitted a lone encounter with Flowers in the back seat of a car.)

More recently, Halperin expressed initial shock at Donald Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” remarks. “When people say some new Trump tape could have material that is WORSE than the @accesshollywood video,” he tweeted, “what exactly could be WORSE?!?”

Good question.

But Halperin quickly regained his balance, urging viewers to be skeptical of women accusing Trump of actually doing what he bragged about. He was widely regarded as Trump’s favorite non-Fox News pundit. Halperin and his longtime girlfriend recently bought a multimillion dollar summer home on fashionable Nantucket.

So now it turns out that Halperin allegedly enjoyed pressing his naughty bits against unwilling twenty-something women who came to him for career advice — and that, once again, everybody pretty much knew it. CNN reporter Clarissa Ward tweeted that “I’d been warning young women reporters about Mark for a long time.”

College girls, too. No sooner had CNN’s original expose of Halperin’s on-the-job behavior appeared than a lawyer named Katherine Glenn accused him of groping her under the table in 2011 when she was a 20-year-old Tulane undergraduate. The event took place at the home of James Carville and Mary Matalin, who’d hosted a dinner party for 15 students and the distinguished visiting lecturer.

Anyway, goodbye Nantucket.

Halperin denies the lurid details, but he’s also apologized and resigned. No more book contract, no more HBO. You’d think they’d learn, these leg-humping dogs with the mad ambition. A successful rake like Bill Clinton waits for the woman to make the first move. Apparently, he rarely had to wait long. That’s why it took a federal sex investigation to catch him.

Does that strike you as cynical? OK, then, I’ll also say this: The national conversation regarding these episodes strikes me as an unfortunate throwback to Victorian-era fainting couches. Women are properly standing up for themselves. However, you’d think there were no such things in our world as groupies, mistresses, courtesans or trophy wives.

Not all sins are crimes, and it’s important to maintain the distinction.

The national conversation regarding these episodes strikes me as an unfortunate throwback to Victorian-era fainting couches.

Columnists
Lee H. Hamilton: Debt and taxes

As Republicans in Congress move forward on their tax plan, it’s worth remembering one thing: whatever the legislative particulars, keep your eye on the plan’s impact on the federal debt. Our debt load is already worrisome. It’s almost certainly going to get worse.

At some point, this will become unsustainable — we just don’t know exactly when. One common measure of the debt problem is to compare the total federal debt to our gross domestic product, or GDP. This basically measures whether a country’s economy is healthy enough to carry its debt burden. When Presidents Carter and Reagan were speaking out against the dangers of our large national debt, it stood at around 30 percent of GDP. Today it stands at 103 percent.

As the debt grows larger, it weighs more heavily on economic growth, crowds out private investment, creates economic uncertainty, dumps a burden on our children, and limits our ability as a nation to deal with unforeseen events. How we handle it will have a profound impact on our future and our role in the world.

The problem is that regardless of what our political leaders say about deficits and debt, their actions tend to belie their words: they continue expensive federal programs and lavish tax breaks on favored constituencies without regard to the long-term fiscal impact. I’ve come to believe that deficits will likely continue — with increasing debt — until some financial crisis focuses our attention on the serious imbalance between our taxes and spending.

Which brings us to the current move for tax “reform.” Tax reform can have several meritorious goals, including establishing a more equitable tax system, encouraging economic growth, and imposing fiscal restraint. What I don’t see in the current debate is much more than lip service to any of these goals.

What always worries me about tax debate on Capitol Hill is that it begins with a lot of talk about reform, and usually ends with a lot of talk about tax cuts. This isn’t surprising. Tax cuts are popular. Tax reform, which helps some people and hurts others, is politically treacherous.

So as you watch the debate on Capitol Hill, use your discrimination and judgment. Tax cuts can often help the economy, but not if they balloon deficits and the debt. If that happens, they’ll eventually end up lowering growth and slowing the economy.


Columnists
The Conversation
The Conversation: Why Nevada's new lethal injection is unethical

Nevada has temporarily called off its first inmate execution in 11 years. Scott Dozier, sentenced for the 2002 murder of his 22-year-old drug associate, Jeremiah Miller, was to be put to death on Nov. 14. Dozier instructed his lawyer in August not to file any more appeals.

On Thursday, Nov. 9, however, Judge Jennifer Togliatti temporarily postponed the execution. Judge Togliatti said she was “loath to stop” Dozier’s execution, but she did so because she was concerned about the untested and controversial drug protocol that would be used to put him to death. She wanted to give the state Supreme Court a chance to evaluate.

From my perspective as a scholar of capital punishment, Nevada’s new drug protocol sheds a glaring light on the troubled state of lethal injections in the United States. It also raises some serious ethical questions.

Lethal injection’s crisis

The first lethal injection protocol was developed by Oklahoma’s medical examiner, Jay Chapman, in the late 1970s. Back then, Oklahoma was looking for an alternative to electrocution, which was considered inhuman and brutal.

The protocol Chapman developed called for the use of three drugs: The first, sodium thiopental, would anesthetize inmates and put them to sleep before the lethal drugs were administered. The second drug, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, was meant to render the inmate unable to show pain. The third drug, potassium chloride, led to a cardiac arrest and eventual death. This protocol soon became the standard and was adopted by all death penalty states – now numbering at 31.

However, by the start of this decade, pharmaceutical companies, “citing either moral or business reasons,” refused to allow their products to be used in executions.

The difficulty of securing the drugs that had been part of the standard protocol led death penalty states to experiment with many different drugs in many different combinations.

States likes Alabama and Arkansas, for example, maintained the three-drug protocol but replaced sodium thiopental in the standard drug cocktail with midazolam or pentobarbital, which doctors normally use as sedatives or for anesthesia. Other states, including Arizona and Ohio, started using a two-drug protocol, while a few, such as Georgia, Missouri and South Dakota, adopted a single drug.

Nevada’s new protocol involves a three-drug combination – the sedative diazepam (better known as Valium), the muscle relaxant and paralytic cisatracurium and the opioid fentanyl.

My research on methods of execution reveals that this combination of drugs has never been used in an execution.

What is the problem with this

Execution by a lethal injection, even when it follows the standard protocol, is a surprisingly complicated procedure. Finding usable veins and getting the drug dosages right has proved to be particularly difficult. As I found out, it has often been an unreliable method of execution. Since its introduction, 7 percent of all lethal injections have been botched.

Those complications and difficulties increase when states try out new, untested drugs or drug combinations. Convicts have taken a leading role in opposing such experimentation. In February 2017, a death row inmate in Alabama appealed to the United States Supreme Court saying that he preferred death by firing squad to an injection of midazolam. While it recognized lethal injection’s history of problems, the majority held that since Alabama did not offer the firing squad as an execution method, his preference could not be honored. In a dissenting view, however, Justice Sonya Sotomayor called the use of new drugs in lethal injection the “most cruel experiment yet.”

Nevada’s Dozier too has said that he is opposed to “the state’s plan to kill him using a drug protocol that has never been used in an execution.”

There are other troubling issues as well. Using fentanyl, a drug that is killing thousands of Americans annually during the current opioid crisis, is horrifying, to say the least.

In addition, figuring out the right dosage of diazepam and fentanyl in Nevada’s new protocol will not be easy. And if this is not done correctly, Dozier could even wake up in the middle of the execution, as Susi Vassallo, a New York University professor of emergency medicine, has written on lethal injection notes. In the words of Judge Togliatti, he could be “aware of pain” and struggle to breathe.

Employing the powerful paralytic cisatracurium in this new drug protocol raises other ethical concerns.

If the combination of diazepam and fentanyl fails to work, cisatracurium will prevent Dozier from signaling to his executioners that they are botching the execution even as it happens. As David Waisel, an anesthesiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, claimed, “Cisatracurium can hide signs of inadequate anesthesia.” That is its only purpose.

In other lethal injection protocols, the muscle relaxant was also designed to stop the heart. Thus, those who conduct the execution and those who witness it will not be able to see the visible signs of Dozier’s suffering if it occurs.

Do citizens have a duty?

In my view, if Nevada and other death penalty states insist on experimenting with new drugs to keep the machinery of death running, citizens and government officials alike need to take responsibility to prevent any cruelty.

Writing about the use of the guillotine in France more than half a century ago, Albert Camus, philosopher, author and journalist, said,

“Society must display the executioner’s hands on each occasion, and require the most squeamish citizens to look at them, as well as those who, directly or remotely, have supported the work of those hands from the first.”

While lethal injection is different from the guillotine, in modern times the imperative remains the same.