Primary Sources

A liberal's case for the death penalty; can Iraq stop worrying about Iran?; bottomless appetites; congressional cheats

Our Nuclear Back Yard

Even as we worry about loose nukes in Russia, we might do well to keep a closer eye on nuclear materials at home. A new study from the National Academy of Sciences argues that pools of spent fuel from nuclear-power plants pose a security risk—less because terrorists might use the fuel to create a dirty bomb (obtaining enough would be extremely difficult) than because an attack could cause the fuel to ignite, creating a Chernobyl-like disaster in which large amounts of radiation are released into the environment. And plants are doing a dishearteningly "uneven" job of keeping track of their radioactive material, according to the Government Accountability Office, which found that during the past five years three plants have reported missing fuel and fuel rods.

"Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report," National Academy of Sciences; "NRC Needs to Do More to Ensure That Power Plants Are Effectively Controlling Spent Nuclear Fuel," GAO


Meddling Mullahs?
From Atlantic Unbound:

Flashbacks: "Iran on the Brink" (August 1, 2002)
Articles by V.S. Naipaul, Robert Kaplan, and Reuel Marc Gerecht consider where Iran's political turmoil will lead.

Iraq certainly has its problems, but contrary to fears voiced by U.S. and Iraqi officials, Iranian meddling probably isn't one of them—at least not at the moment. That's the conclusion, at any rate, of a new report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, which finds that evidence of attempts by Iran to destabilize or influence its neighbor is "far less extensive and clear than is alleged." Whether such attempts would succeed is even less certain. Because of lingering animosity over the Iran-Iraq War and Iran's failure to support the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq immediately after the Gulf War, many Iraqis do not trust Iran and deeply resent it, the authors argue. They add that Iran's aims in Iraq are relatively modest, at least for now. Although Iran has a strong intelligence presence in Iraq and backs one of Iraq's largest political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, these activities are designed not to "mold Iraq in its own image" but simply to prevent Iraq from re-emerging as a threat to Iran. However, the report warns, Iran could quickly ramp up its ambitions if it perceived an increase in Washington's "appetite for regime change" in Tehran.

"Iran in Iraq: How Much Influence?" International Crisis Group


primary sources chart
Carolina, Here I Come

Beefed-up security measures since 9/11 have had little impact on the ability of illegal immigrants to enter the country, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center. Of the 10.3 million undocumented migrants in the United States as of last year, 3.1 million arrived in the past four years; not many more (3.6 million) arrived in the previous four-year period. The past fifteen years, however, have seen a significant shift in where they end up. In 1990 all but about 10 percent of illegal immigrants were concentrated in just six states (California alone was home to 45 percent); today only 60 percent of them live in those states, and once unlikely destinations such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee are becoming increasingly popular.

"Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Undocumented Population," Pew Hispanic Center


Re-Rethinking the Death Penalty
From Atlantic Unbound:

Flashbacks: "Who Deserves to Die?" (November 12, 1999)
Articles by George Bernard Shaw, Giles Playfair, and Judge Irving R. Kaufman consider the legitimacy of the death penalty.

Support for capital punishment is, of course, usually associated with the political right. But the lead author of a new paper making what might be termed the "big government" case for the death penalty is the noted liberal scholar Cass Sunstein. The paper draws in part on a study conducted at Emory University, which found a direct association between the reauthorization of the death penalty, in 1977, and reduced homicide rates. The Emory researchers' "conservative estimate" was that on average, every execution deters eighteen murders. Sunstein and his co-author argue that this calculus makes the death penalty not just morally licit but morally required. A government that fails to make use of it, they write, is effectively condemning large numbers of its citizens to death—a sin of omission like failing to protect the environment or to provide adequate health care. "If each execution is saving many lives," they conclude, "the harms of capital punishment would have to be very great to justify its abolition, far greater than most critics have heretofore alleged."

"Is Capital Punishment Morally Required?: The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs," Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, AEI-Brookings

Out Again, In Again
From the archives:

"When They Get Out" (June 1999)
How prisons, established to fight crime, produce crime. By Sasha Abramsky

The number of Americans on parole has risen along with the U.S. prison population, swelling from 197,000 in 1980 to 774,000 in 2003. But is conditional release, with the supervision it entails, worth the trouble and expense? This question was addressed in a recent Urban Institute report, which compared rates of recidivism among ex-convicts who were paroled with those among ex-convicts who were released with no strings attached. The study found that the recidivism rate among prisoners released unconditionally was virtually the same as that among "mandatory parolees," or prisoners for whom parole is part of a fixed sentence: 62 percent of the former and 61 percent of the latter were re-arrested at least once within two years. "Discretionary parolees," or prisoners released early after being vetted by a parole board, might be expected to do considerably better than others, having met various criteria before release. But they fared just slightly better: 54 percent were re-arrested within two years. Overall, parole is most effective in reducing recidivism rates among female prisoners, prisoners with few prior arrests, and those arrested for technical offenses or for violating public order. Among the largest category of released prisoners—males who have committed property, drug, or violent crimes—"the public safety impact of supervision is … nonexistent," the authors write, adding that the current parole system "serves little purpose apart from providing false comfort."

Presented by

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

 Marshall Poe is a writer and historian. He is the editor in chief of the New Books Network.

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In