Fox News Halftime Report -- Death penalty returns to culture wars

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Fox News Halftime Report

April 17, 2017
By Chris Stirewalt


On the roster: Death penalty returns to culture wars - Time Out: When seconds matter - GOP infighting could cost them Price's Atlanta seat - Trump's taxes, your taxes and a pair of deadlines - That's 'Professor Toilet Cleaner' to you, sir

DEATH PENALTY RETURNS TO CULTURE WARS 
One of the most remarkable things about the current uproar over an unprecedented series of seven executions set to take place in Arkansas over the next ten days is how unusual the discussion of the death penalty is itself. 

After decades as the front-line issue of America's culture wars, capital punishment has faded both as a flash point and also in practice. 

The trend among states that reinstituted the death penalty following the Supreme Court's 1972 decision allowing the practice to resume has been decidedly against its use – either in principle or in practice.

 

Ten of the 31 states that reemployed capital punishment following the court's decision in Furman v. Georgia have not had a single execution in the past decade. And, in the past five years, 26 states that still have the death penalty on the books have killed no one. 

But that's not to say that there aren't still plenty of executions taking place, it's just that the practice has become increasingly geographically isolated.

 

Since 2013, 120 of 128 executions have taken place in six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Missouri and Alabama. Texas alone was responsible for 50 of those. 

You may or may not remember how different this issue looked 20 years ago when approval for the death penalty was at an all-time high. Elections, even on the presidential level, sometimes turned on the issue, an unmistakable pendulum swing against what was perceived as the namby-pambyism of the Miranda-era coddling of criminals. 

In 1988, hapless Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis saw his hopes fade amid a sustained effort by then Vice President George H.W. Bush to paint the Massachusetts governor soft on crime. That came not only in the form of arguably the most effective attack ad in American political history about Dukakis's prison furlough program, but also Dukakis's own jaw-dropping response to a debate question.  

Asked by moderator Bernard Shaw whether Dukakis would support the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife, Kitty, the Democrat was unmoved, talking about deterrents and his track record of opposition, with no expression of spousal outrage or emotion. It still ranks as one of the most damaging debate answers in history.

Four years later, Democrat Bill Clinton was sure to avoid a similar mistake, famously leaving the campaign trail to race back to Arkansas, coincidentally the scene of the current controversy, to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. Rector's developmental disabilities and mental impairment had led to calls for his sentence to be reduced to life in prison, but Clinton was not going to be branded soft on crime. 

But the polling looked different then than it does now. According to Gallup, support for the death penalty reached its high-water mark at 80 percent in 1996. That number has steadily fallen now to its most-recent low of 60 percent. Opposition to capital punishment has been steadily climbing, with opponents now at the highest level since the early 1960s. 

After a huge battle 44 years ago and the broad reimplementation of the practice in the 1980s and 1990s, the death penalty is sharply waning in practice.

 

Declining crime rates are a factor, as are concerns about the irrevocable nature of the punishment in the wake of the revelation of faked or mistaken forensic evidence used to obtain convictions. So too is the growing number of pro-life conservatives who object on the grounds of conscience.

 

A series of botched executions further discouraged those promoting capital punishment. Lethal injection, once seen as a painless and humane alternative to electrocution, now sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

 

But whatever its cause, the trend is unmistakable. What was once the main battle of America's culture war, is now hardly a skirmish.

THE RULEBOOK: THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE 
"It is worthy of remark that not only the first, but every succeeding Congress, as well as the late convention, have invariably joined with the people in thinking that the prosperity of America depended on its Union." – John Jay, Federalist Papers No. 2

TIME OUT: WHEN SECONDS MATTER
A great read by National Geographic recounting a military mission so daring that it almost seems too far-fetched.  Read the story of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle and his fearless flyers: "…Following the Pearl Harbor attack, President Franklin Roosevelt furiously pressed the chiefs of the armed services to find a way to retaliate against the Japanese homeland, but no one knew how to overcome the logistical challenges. Warplanes based on aircraft carriers were too small to inflict significant damage, and they didn't hold enough fuel to make the mission feasible. …Then one cold January day someone got the idea that the B-25 'Mitchell,' a relatively new, twin-engine, medium bomber, might be able to take off from a flattop deck. Landing one of the planes on a carrier was out of the question, but after bombing Japan it would have just enough fuel to make it to friendly fields in China."

 

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

GOP INFIGHTING COULD COST THEM PRICE'S ATLANTA SEAT
AJC: "Fractious Georgia Republicans tried to unite behind a 'stop Jon Ossoff' movement ahead of Tuesday's special election to represent a suburban Atlanta district, with party leaders urging voters to stream to the polls and prevent an upset victory by the Democrat. Republicans face a daunting enthusiasm gap in the 18-candidate race to represent the 6th District, and the leading GOP contenders have spent the final days feuding with each other. Ossoff, one of five Democrats in the race, is leading in the polls – and aiming for an outright victory in Tuesday's vote. At a GOP voter drive in the district's western flank of Marietta, about 30 volunteers and officials turned out to make calls and listen to several likely Republican statewide candidates. 'This is personal,' said Attorney General Chris Carr, who lives in Dunwoody. 'We have great candidates. But whoever you support is better than the other side. They are trying to embarrass us, but let's show them this district is Republican red.'"

Meanwhile Dems get a jump on fundraising - WSJ: "Riding a wave of grass-roots enthusiasm, several Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2018 posted strong fundraising takes in the first quarter, amassing big war chests of campaign cash. Democratic candidates in Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota reported large fundraising hauls rarely seen so early in an election cycle. … The pickup in donations is dramatic. Democratic incumbents in 14 Senate seats that had released their fundraising totals by Friday afternoon had raised more than $30 million in the first quarter of the year, about three times as much as those same candidates raised in the same period six years ago."

TRUMP'S TAXES, YOUR TAXES AND A PAIR OF DEADLINES
LA Times: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and the byzantine nature of the tax code. As the deadline to file your taxes creeps up Tuesday, it's been three decades since Ronald Reagan, riding an Electoral College landslide of 49 out of 50 states, was able to overhaul the tax system. President Trump doesn't have that kind of support, nor has a proposal been unveiled. And, as seen in the attempt to remake healthcare, he shuns the political trade-offs that are usually needed for remaking tax laws. Over the weekend, protesters took to the streets to demand the release of Trump's returns, and Trump responded by tweeting that "someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies."

Republicans consider a sweets-only menu on taxes - Axios: "As full-blown tax reform looks more and more like an unreachable stretch, there's increasing conversation on the Hill about what's being called a 'candy option' — all the goodies, with none of the pain. That would mean lower personal and corporate rates, plus some limited repatriation, funded largely by deficit spending."

PLAY-BY-PLAY
White House hides ethics conflicts with waivers - NYT

James Hohmann explores the White House war on transparency, including keeping visitor logs closed -WaPo

 

Trump targets EPA after business complaints WaPo


Poll: Voters skeptical of Trump promises Gallup

Don't you need some bunny to love? Trump's host first Easter Egg Roll - WaPo

Meet Mike Conaway, the man replacing Devin Nunes on Russia probe - NYT

Jeff Sessions overhaul of Justice Department takes hold The Hill

Dem anxiety as govt. union dues return to SupCo with Gorsuch on the bench Wash Ex

Gov. Chris Christie tries for another comeback with Trump in his corner Politico

Report: Trump requests the royal treatment for upcoming trip to London - The Hill

AUDIBLE: PERSONNEL IS POLICY 
"What would be transformative would be if [Steve Bannon] quits or is fired. I think that would be an indication that it will be somewhere closer to a Republican establishment administration. That will change a lot of people's attitudes." – Eliot Cohen, a State Department counselor during the Bush administration, said to Politico regarding Bush alumni joining Team Trump.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"I have been following your newsletter for quite some time. I got into a commentary [with] a liberal or two. One made a statement that the republicans won't get anything done and will be replaced. I said who is he kidding democrats obstruct so nothing will get done and republicans get blamed and republicans do that when out of power as well. Honestly in congress it is every person for themselves and nothing gets done. Why their rating is tanking as a whole we all agree I guess we're moderates and on suggested term limits. If not we will see a banana republic in our lifetime. I grew up [with] Reagan in office and congress actually made deals w the other side. Are we so hateful now?" – Chris Johnston, Waco, Texas

[Ed note: Thank you for your readership, Mr. Johnson! And if you have been with us for any length of time, you know that this space has many times been given over to the debate on term limits. The argument that you are making here is essentially that increasing the number of lame ducks in the House and Senate will create an atmosphere more conducive to deal making since members in their final terms will be beyond the reach of voters. You may be right, but I think I have a better solution, and one that also preserves the concept of direct representation in the House: repeal the 17th Amendment. Direct election of U.S. senators has not made the Senate better nor has it really made it more responsive to voters, except for in the enthusiasm of its members' pandering. If we return the responsibility to selecting senators to state legislatures, we not only return to the vision of the founders and the concept of an upper chamber in the truest sense, but we would also probably get less partisanship, less pandering and, interestingly, more direct attention to the needs and demands of each state. Just a thought…]

"I was thinking about how the government could come up with 'free' money. Possibly to pay for health care, infrastructure or our debt to China, etc. What would it take for the federal government to make marijuana recreational legal for all of the United States? I know there is a lot of hoops to jump through. Could you be so kind as to maybe explain a little of the legality of the process?  Would it not be beneficial to the federal government to collect the tax revenue? I could see a ton of uses. Maybe all DEA agents that battle marijuana could be utilized at the boarder or fight the opioid epidemic. Jails would be freed up. Restaurants would get more business (*munchies, but I'm sure you W.V. boys know about that) and overall people might just be a little happier." – J.S. Marks, Indianapolis 

[Ed note: Mr. Marks, I can neither confirm nor deny that the Elm Grove location of the DiCarlo's Pizza has benefitted from the herbal appetite enhancer you mention… But as to the practical matter of legalizing and taxing revenue from cannabis, in some ways America is closer than ever, but in other ways, getting farther from that result. As you know, more states continue to allow the recreational use of cannabis, with California and Massachusetts expected to come online next year. One would expect that in a country where a majority now supports at least decriminalizing pot, that trend will continue. Some states will assuredly hold out, but it's not hard to imagine that in another decade the majority of Americans will live in marijuana-friendly jurisdictions. BUT, the Trump Justice Department may have some different thoughts about that. Under President Obama, the Justice Department essentially announced that it would not enforce federal statutes against marijuana or banks that deposited the proceeds from its sale. If the Justice Department, in fact, changes course and imposes those superseding federal restrictions, it will scare off investors and potential proprietors. But in the long run, given the attitudes of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, it's hard to think that any crackdown would out live the current administration.]           

"Although I was pretty sure before today, after reading your list of 'The Mother of All Newsdumps', I have to admit: Chris, you are indeed, terribly entertaining." – Mark Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa


[Ed. note: Better to be terribly entertaining than entertaining terribly, I suppose! Thanks to you and all our readers who shared their enjoyment at Friday's note and what I thought was a needed moment of levity in the face of what often seems to be a grim news cycle.] 

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

THAT'S 'PROFESSOR TOILET CLEANER' TO YOU, SIR
AP: "A Montana State University professor is suing Wal-Mart for libel after he says an employee at the Bozeman store listed his occupation on a fishing license as a 'toilet cleaner.' Gilbert Kalonde, assistant professor of technology education at MSU, filed the suit this past week in Gallatin County District Court. Kalonde is seeking unspecified damages. Wal-Mart spokesman Ragan Dickens told The Associated Press: 'To our knowledge an administrative process to resolve this with Dr. Kalonde is ongoing. We've not been served with the lawsuit, but we take the claims seriously and will respond appropriately with the court.' According to the complaint, Kalonde bought a state fishing license in April 2015, showing the Wal-Mart employee identification of his employment at MSU. But the Wal-Mart employee entered 'clean toilets' into the state database as Kalonde's occupation. The suit contends Wal-Mart exposed Kalonde to 'hatred, contempt, ridicule' through the incident."

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here
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