“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Snowstorms, holidays and general inexperience in handling a pandemic response is to blame for a “lag” in the number of Americans so far vaccinated for the coronavirus, according to U.S. officials.
The federal government previously estimated that 20 million Americans would receive the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine by the end of the year. But as 2020, a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, comes to a close on Thursday, the government appears set to fall well short of that goal.
U.S. Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, and Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to federal vaccine effort, said the U.S. has deployed around 14 million vaccine doses as of Wednesday, but only 2.1 million people had received shots. Perna and Slaoui spoke on Wednesday during a news conference.
The vaccination process started on Dec. 14 with frontline health workers getting the shots first.
The number of people vaccinated as reported by Perna and Slaoui contrasts with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Thursday morning, the agency said that more than 12.4 million doses of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines had been distributed across the country. The CDC reports just 2.7 million people have been vaccinated. It has said, however, it is working with out-of-date data.
Perna said he is also working off of a 72- to 96-hour lag in vaccine reporting data, which he says will be adjusted as time goes on.
Regardless of the data used, Perna and Slaoui say the number of Americans vaccinated from the coronavirus is far lower than what they would like.
“We know it should be better, and we are working hard to make it better,” Slaoui said.
More than 340,000 Americans have died from the pandemic, as of Thursday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. Health officials warn that January could be the deadliest month since the start of the pandemic, making a successful vaccine distribution all the more critical.
The vaccine rollout has been challenging, but officials expect that between Jan. 8 and Jan. 15, access to vaccines will greatly increase, Perna said.
Despite the early hiccups, Perna and Slaoui applauded the multipronged effort involving states and local governments, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and delivery companies to get the immunization program rolling.
President Trump criticized state officials for the lag in a tweet this week and urged states to, “Get moving!”
The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2020
News of the lag in vaccinations comes as reports of problems with state-level distribution processes trickle out.
Florida’s county-by-county plan to vaccinate the state’s elderly residents created a scramble earlier this week. CNN reported that a southwest Florida county encouraged anyone 65 and older and high-risk frontline health care workers to come to one of its seven vaccination sites — no appointment necessary. Each location only had 300 doses, leading to overwhelmed health centers and residents camping out for several hours to get their shots.
In Wisconsin, a medical center employee intentionally left 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine out of its cold storage, leaving health officials with no choice but to destroy them. The vials could have provided around 500 doses.
The Goods devotes a lot of time to thinking about what it means to spend money: what we choose to buy, what it says about who we are as individuals and as a society, and why it all matters. That’s the focus of our essay series The Best Money I Ever Spent, where people write about the purchases they’ve made, big and small, that affect their lives.
To close out 2020, our staff wanted to take a swing at the notion of spending and value from a different angle, examining the items, experiences, and services that we may well have bought in another timeline, but certainly not in this one. Whether it was a gym pass or a year of preschool, a cheeseburger or a plane ticket to a friend’s funeral, the things we couldn’t buy this year marked how radically different our lives became compared to what we might have imagined — and raised the question of how they’ll be on the other side.
—Alanna Okun, deputy editor for The Goods
$20 on a burger
In the Before Times, a not-insignificant chunk of my budget went toward dining out at restaurants. I obsessively tracked new openings, followed every update to Eater’s heat maps, and kept a running list of spots I wanted to try.
Although I was constantly chasing the new and novel, there was one place I returned to regularly over the years: Rose’s, a neighborhood bar down the street from my apartment in Brooklyn. They had an amazing burger, arguably one of the best I’d had in New York, though I always felt it was just a tad too expensive — $19, plus an extra buck if you wanted Gruyere, which of course you did.
Rose’s became a constant in my life, there for all occasions. I went with my husband dozens of times and frequently brought various groups of friends. I spent delightful evenings in the backyard garden or sitting in one of the booths or playing trivia on Monday nights. It was a perfect neighborhood bar: always there to welcome you with open arms, to serve you something delicious and greasy to cure whatever ailed you.
Every time we went, we’d still grumble about how the burger was too expensive — $20! — but we’d order it anyway and never regretted it. Sometimes I’d go in a group and everyone at the table would order the burger. But we were paying for so much more than just the excellent food; I loved the comfort and familiarity of returning to a place that had always been welcoming, a place where I had made so many fun memories.
This year, of course, the restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, and dining indoors with groups of friends has become a thing of the past. Like many other restaurants, Rose’s was forced to shut down permanently. I’m still mourning the loss. I know that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would have logged a dozen more visits this year. I wish I still had the chance to spend $20 on a burger there now.
—Nisha Chittal, director of audience
$262.78 on an airline ticket
Steve, my lovely friend, died in March. It happened just as the coronavirus pandemic was transitioning from, “Oh, maybe it will hit us” to “Oh, it’s too late.” We were the same age — 30 — and it hadn’t even been a year since Steve was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him.
Steve was a former roommate. I lived with him, his wife (then his fiancée), and a cast of four or so other roommates in a house in Arlington, Virginia. Before we lived together we were strangers, but when we met, we were at the same phase of life: just graduated college, just moved to the Washington, DC, area for the first time, ready to start on whatever it was we were supposed to become. Steve loved to cook; so did I. We spent weekdays talking about the ambitious things we’d cook over the weekend. Nothing makes a house feel like a home more than having someone to cook with.
After two years in the house, Steve and his wife, Kim, moved back to Michigan. I was going to fly to Michigan for Steve’s funeral; Kim was so happy all the former roommates were going to be there. We hadn’t seen one another for years.
I paid for a ticket. And then I continued to read and report the news. I knew I couldn’t go. I felt horrible telling everyone else. I felt terrible implying, by my absence, that maybe other people shouldn’t go either. But when I told them, they understood. I had been reporting on the virus for weeks, but it was just dawning on them too: Whatever horrible things happen in life, the pandemic was going to make them more horrible.
So I canceled the flight; now I have $262.78 in unspent flight credits on Spirit, America’s least accommodating airline. I don’t know what to do with it.
—Brian Resnick, science reporter
$250 in solo movie tickets
2020 was going to be a banner year for my favorite activity: seeing movies in the theater by myself. I miss it so much, being all alone to cry or laugh in the darkness while still enjoying the social pressure that keeps me from looking at my phone. Also, the really gargantuan quantities of diet soda.
How much money did I save? Well, none, obviously. I spent it on garbage like an HBO Max subscription that doesn’t work on my Roku. But in 2019, I spent $245.50 through Fandango, the movie-ticket-buying site. It’s an imprecise figure in terms of my actual moviegoing habits — I don’t buy all my tickets through the app, for one thing, and occasionally (occasionally!) I allow friends to accompany me, buying their tickets or letting them get mine. But it’s a figure.
And looking at my credit card bill, I see three charges just in February — a notably crappy month for movies — totaling $52, all for movies I saw solo (Birds of Prey, Downhill, and The Photograph; judge me on your own time).
While I might not have kept up that clip, I feel like there’s, at minimum, another $250 that never saw its time in the spotlight. I’m thinking of leaving the cash in a little envelope outside my local theater, the one whose welcome song and dance still includes the warning to “turn off all pagers and cellphones.” I miss them and I worry about them, and I cannot wait to get back inside and see stuff blow up, feeling the safest I have in a long time.
—Meredith Haggerty, deputy editor for The Goods
At least $4,500 on child care
My two daughters have been at home full-time since the middle of March. There were some Zoom classes in the spring — even for the 2-year-old — until the school year ended. But there was so much uncertainty about what was safe and what the protocols would look like that we didn’t even try to send them anywhere for the summer. Even though my husband and I had to juggle parenting and working, it was one less thing to coordinate. And since none of us were going anywhere, it felt safer to let them hang out with their grandparents (outside) once warmer weather arrived.
Then, as the new school year approached, we had a decision to make. My older daughter was supposed to start kindergarten. My younger daughter was supposed to go back to her toddler program at the preschool.
The thought of sending our newly minted 5-year-old into a virtual learning environment at a new school broke our hearts. Our 2-year-old would be fine just playing all day at home. They have plenty of time to make up the learning. So we pulled both girls out entirely. I have spent the last four months joking about how the 5-year-old is taking a gap year (she’ll now go to kindergarten when she’s 6).
Keeping the girls home has meant paying zero tuition or child care expenses for most of 2020. If we’d gone down one of the other paths we considered, we would have spent at least $4,500 — and as much as $15,000. In many ways, saving the money has been a relief since my husband’s work dried up in June. And we feel much safer having our own parents help with child care. Just like everyone else, we are making it work as best we can.
It’s wonderful to witness and be present for so much of the girls’ day. But all four of us have frequently been low-key miserable. I feel guilty about how they’re not socializing with other kids, about telling them I’m busy working when they want me to join in whatever it is they’re up to.
I admire my husband’s patience with them — and that makes me feel even guiltier when I yell because I can’t take the mess or the whining or whatever any longer, or when I just want to be by myself and look at my phone. It’s simultaneously amazing and stressful to have them around all the time.
I think we made the right choice. Someday we’ll miss the better parts of this experience and feel lucky we got to spend so much time with them when they were little. I’m still looking forward to spending some money on child care again in 2021.
—Jen Trolio, senior culture editor
$3,750 on fitness classes
Last year, according to the fitness class apps I use, I took somewhere in the realm of 250 boutique fitness classes. That’s roughly five days a week, every week, in HIIT and boxing and spin and core, all of it sweaty and aggressive and also shamefully expensive.
With all sincerity, this is not a weird flex. Before the pandemic, I once tried to tally the cost of all those $20 and $30 classes and ceased when I found that it made my stomach ache. So I’ve asked myself why I do what I do, even if I’m somewhat ashamed of it, and here’s where I’ve landed: childhood baggage.
I grew up in a home — immigrant, Tiger Mom-ish — where summer vacations, displays of athleticism, video games, and boys were considered distractions from academic pursuits. So I partook in none. In gym class, I struggled to run a mile, to do 50 crunches, to jump rope, to evade a dodgeball. I could read several grades above my level but couldn’t climb a foot of rope.
It wasn’t until I went to college, with no one telling me that only my brain held worth, that I discovered the gym. I liked weightlifting and boxing most of all and found myself pushing to lift more, hit harder, and go longer. I like knowing I can now do everything I once couldn’t. And I am addicted to the dizzy high of endorphins.
I would have spent upward of $3,500 chasing that feeling this year. When studios closed, my connection to my own strength felt severed at first. I ran outside, then did burpees inside, then shuffled along to Billy Blanks’s delightful quarantine workouts, and finally I laid around for a couple of months, weepy and lost.
Now it’s a struggle. But after work, I try to pull on my sneakers and slip out the door into the cold air and do whatever feels right, whatever is possible. A run or a walk, or a hike alone into the woods to marvel at the ferns and the old trees, or a now-hilariously difficult series of HIIT exercises on an elementary school turf. I don’t always want to do it. But just as I did in class, I am pushing myself — to adapt.
—Lavanya Ramanathan, senior features editor of The Highlight
$500 on a “real New Yorker” party
According to this one episode of Sex and the City, you’re only allowed to call yourself a New Yorker after you’ve lived here for 10 years. I reached that milestone on August 27, 2020, a day I’d been looking forward to for at least a year beforehand.
My friends and I who moved to the city for college in 2010 had ambiently discussed how we might mark the occasion: Maybe we’d invite everyone to a private room at a restaurant and pool our money for an unlimited open bar, which felt unspeakably glamorous to a bunch of 28-year-olds. Maybe we’d go the ironic route and buy “I Heart NY” T-shirts and get drunk at the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe. More likely, we would have had a regular party at a dive bar or something, screaming the lyrics to “New York, New York” at midnight.
I actually spent August 27 scrolling through my photo roll and painstakingly crafting a treacly Instagram post about what living in the city has meant to me over the past decade. And at the risk of sounding completely insufferable, I’ve never felt more like a New Yorker than during the pandemic, which was ironically when everybody in the world started talking about how New York is over.
But honestly, I don’t think anyone who’s ever lived here actually believes that. Even if everybody else in New York suddenly decided to leave, it would still be the only place in the world where you can throw a party after making it a full decade — and everybody understands why.
—Rebecca Jennings, reporter for The Goods
An incalculable fortune on takeout
I have an uncomfortable relationship with money. I used to cry if I had to spend the $10 my dad gave me with the express purpose of spending it. I become standoffish and grumpy when it’s time to pay the rent. I’ll never say no to a free T-shirt because if I did, I would own no T-shirts. When I’m asked in Animal Crossing to spend my millions of virtual money saved up on something, I demur; what if I need that fake video game money for something important one day? (I won’t. I know I won’t.)
But 2020 was, well, 2020. For once in my life, I spent money on things I wanted, and I didn’t absolutely hate myself afterward.
I also spent money on things I didn’t want to spend money on, and in another timeline, I would have been shocked by this. I never was much of a cook — or an eater, for reasons best saved for my therapist — and so my grocery trips used to be limited, my shelves empty. This year, I gave up my former habit of buying bodega sandwiches for dinner or getting takeout or, more often than not, eating spoonfuls of peanut butter and calling it a night. I went to the supermarket and bought food. I bought ingredients. I bought condiments and spices and dressings. I bought things to experiment and play with. I became someone who cooked, even if not amazingly or with much variety.
I think about the money I spent on brunches and lazy late-night meals in that other version of 2020, the one we didn’t get. I wince at it, knowing what I know now: that I am fully capable of feeding myself and not resenting every minute of it. I enjoy lifting my heavy grocery bag home once a week, putting my food away, playing Jenga with our tiny fridge. I may miss the money I must spend to have this experience, but I am also grateful for the money I didn’t spend on those much more ephemeral meals, the overpriced and impulsive and obligatory ones I had because I knew I’d have nothing else otherwise.
—Allegra Frank, associate culture editor
$70 on a roller derby uniform
After four years of skating around in uniforms that, regardless of body shape and size, somehow made each of us look like a sack of sad potatoes, my roller derby league decided it was time for new, flattering uniforms. But I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one because I didn’t really want to play anymore.
I was looking forward to the 2020 season. I had resolved to work harder in practice and have more fun in games. My teammate Loraine Acid was a big part of this. She was a great athlete and a generous teammate who loved the sport and wanted to help everyone get better at it, and I wanted to be more like her.
But then Acid died, and I was angry and sad. My usual outlet for those feelings became the source of them. We had a tournament in April, and I was dreading it. If derby wasn’t fun anymore, maybe it was time to stop.
When the pandemic hit, the choice was made for me. At first I welcomed the distance from roller derby. Now I just miss everything. I miss my skates, the exercise, the sport, the bruises, but especially my teammates and friends. I have no idea what our league will look like whenever this thing ends — people have moved away, others have lost interest, and who knows if we’ll get our practice space back — but I do know that I will be wearing my brand new uniform when it does … even though I actually do look like a sack of sad potatoes now.
This year has been an awful reminder that we don’t know how much time we have with the people we love, doing the things we enjoy. In roller derby, sometimes you get hit so hard that you don’t think you’ll ever get up again. But you do, and we will.
As the pandemic has raged across Florida, with more than 1.2 million infected and 21,000 dead, the state’s Supreme Court has been on a rampage of its own, issuing an unprecedented string of opinions that removes important safeguards designed to protect defendants facing the death penalty — an alarming development in the state with the most death row exonerations in the country, where death penalty practices have repeatedly been deemed unconstitutionalby the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Today, the majority takes the most consequential step yet in dismantling the reasonable safeguards contained within Florida’s death penalty jurisprudence,” Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in opposition to a decision handed down in late October. “I could not dissent more strongly.” It was the most recent in an increasingly agitated line of dissenting opinions Labarga has penned in response to a new conservative majority that has cavalierly tossed aside years of precedent, which experts say will weaken judicial oversight in capital cases.
Since being sworn in as governor in 2019, Ron DeSantis has reshaped the state’s highest court, turning a moderate panel into what some now consider the most conservative state supreme court in the country. Amid the pandemic, the newly reconstituted court has issued four consequential rulings eliminating legal guardrails meant to ensure that capital cases do not run afoul of constitutional protections, including the ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
“There’s no delicate way of saying this: The court has lost its legitimacy,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It is clearly no longer a neutral arbiter. The justices were handpicked for their far-right-wing beliefs, and they are aggressively substituting their views … in place of well-established law, and they are systematically dismantling necessary protections in capital cases.”
Judge, Jury, Executioner
The current unraveling of Florida’s death penalty precedents dates back to a 2016 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case called Hurst v. Florida. There, the court ruled 8-1 that Florida’s death penalty scheme was unconstitutional because it treated a jury’s decision on sentencing as merely “advisory” and instead gave the trial judge power to determine the case facts necessary to impose a death sentence. The Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hurst, requires a jury to make those determinations. “The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority. “This right required Florida to base Timothy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s factfinding.”
The case was kicked back to the state, and after further consideration, the Florida Supreme Court — led by then-Chief Justice Labarga — issued an exhaustive opinion concluding that the U.S Supreme Court’s decision, in concert with state law, meant that all factors relating to the imposition of the death penalty must be decided by a jury. The jury would need to decide if the murder in question was aggravated, making a defendant eligible for a death sentence in the first place: whether the crime was especially “heinous, atrocious or cruel,” for example, or committed during the course of another crime, like robbery or rape. And jurors would have to consider whether there was any evidence that might mitigate a defendant’s culpability, like whether the person had brain damage. They would then weigh mitigating evidence against the aggravating factors to decide whether to impose a sentence of life or death. Moreover, the Florida high court concluded, those jury decisions must be unanimous; before the Hurst case, a simple 7-5 majority could vote to recommend a death sentence.
Justice Charles Canady, who was a four-term U.S. representative and general counsel for Gov. Jeb Bush before joining the high court in 2008, disagreed with his colleagues, arguing that their interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding was too broad. In his dissent, Canady wrote that the only thing jurors should be required to find are the “facts” of the case — that is, an aggravating factor that would make a person eligible for the death penalty. Anything beyond that, he argued, constituted subjective “determinations” about whether a death sentence should be imposed and thus, was not for a jury to decide. “In short, the majority fundamentally misapprehends and misuses” the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, Canady wrote, “thereby unnecessarily disrupting the administration of the death penalty in Florida.”
The court’s majority ruling brought Florida in line with how most death penalty states operate in determining whether to impose the ultimate punishment. Currently, Alabama is the only state that allows a non-unanimous jury to impose a death sentence. In response to the ruling, the Florida Legislature codified the unanimous jury requirement.
The ruling also meant that up to half of the nearly 400 people on the state’s death row at the time could be eligible for resentencing since they had been condemned under the old unconstitutional system. To date, there are roughly 100 individuals waiting for resentencing. So far, the majority of those whose cases have been resolved were resentenced to life in prison; two have been exonerated.
Amid the disruption the Hurst decision created for the state’s capital punishment system, voters elected DeSantis, a former congressman and ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, as their new governor. Under Florida law at the time, judges faced forced retirement at age 70, and three of the state’s seven Supreme Court justices had hit that mark as DeSantis came into office. (The retirement age was subsequently raised to 75.)
As Trump has also done, including with his three picks for the U.S. Supreme Court, DeSantis turned to the conservative Federalist Society (he’s a longtime member) to help fill those seats. Two of his handpicked judges were then elevated to the federal bench by Trump, giving DeSantis a total of five picks for the state’s highest court. The current court has six men and one woman; the majority of the court is white. For the first time in nearly 40 years, there are no Black justices on the court.For the first time in nearly 40 years, there are no Black justices on the court.
Over the last year, this newly conservative panel has devoted a good amount of time to undoing precedents that provide safeguards to capital defendants — beginning with a January opinion that walked back the court’s position in the Hurst case. In its opinion in State v. Poole, the court essentially adopted the position previously advocated by Canady, who is now the chief justice. The court ruled that a jury need only find a single aggravating factor and opined that there is no need for a unanimous jury — signaling to the Florida Legislature that, if it wanted to, it could remove that provision from state law.
The court made clear that not only was there no Sixth Amendment problem with its decision, but also that nothing about its conclusions in Poole would offend federal or state constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishments. “Lest there be any doubt, we hold that our state constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment … does not require a unanimous jury recommendation — or any jury recommendation — before a death sentence can be imposed.”
Labarga, who has become a regular, lone voice of dissent, wrote that the court’s decision would return Florida to an “absolute outlier” among death penalty states. “The majority removes an important safeguard for ensuring that the death penalty is only applied to the most aggravated and least mitigated of murders,” he wrote.
A few months later, in May, the court eliminated two additional protections for capital defendants.
In Bush v. State, the court tossed aside decades of precedent by eliminating a rule requiring the courts to apply extra scrutiny to cases in which evidence of guilt is entirely circumstantial, calling the longstanding practice “unwarranted” and “confusing.”
In determining this was the right thing to do, the court employed logic diametrically opposed to its reasoning in the Poole case. There, the court wrote that there was no issue with rendering Florida an outlier among death penalty states by walking away from a requirement that jurors make unanimous sentencing findings — after all, the justices reasoned, Florida is its own system and isn’t beholden to what other courts do. But in Bush, the majority found that since Florida’s circumstantial evidence rule is uncommon and “out of sync” with courts across the country, it should be eliminated. Again, Labarga dissented: “Today, this Court eliminates another reasonable safeguard in our death penalty jurisprudence and in Florida’s criminal law across the board.”
The court struck again just a week later in Phillips v. State, declaring that an updated method for determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled should not be applied retroactively. There has been a categorical ban on executing intellectually disabled people since 2002, when a 6-3 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the practice violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. But the court left it to the states to devise their own methods of determining which defendants are disabled, which has led to myriad approaches and plenty of additional litigation, including in Florida.“I write to underscore the unraveling of sound legal holdings in this most consequential area of the law.”
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court found Florida’s scheme for determining intellectual disability unconstitutional, in part because it relied heavily on IQ scores and considered a score of 70 to be the high-end cutoff for intellectual disability without taking into account the test’s margin for error. Two years later, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that changes prompted by the U.S. court’s ruling should be made retroactive — after all, the ban is absolute, and defendants judged under the previous approach might have been placed in jeopardy by the state’s unconstitutional practices. Canady dissented from the opinion, only to have his reasoning adopted when the new court decided the Phillips case in May.
The court ruled that the changes in law resulting from the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case did not constitute a “development of fundamental significance” that would warrant retroactivity. Instead, the court wrote, making them retroactive would pose an “ongoing threat of major disruption to application of the death penalty.”
Again, Labarga came out swinging. “The result is an increased risk that certain individuals may be executed, even if they are intellectually disabled,” he wrote. “I write to underscore the unraveling of sound legal holdings in this most consequential area of the law.”
Finally, in late October, the court dropped one more bomb, doing away with the longstanding practice of proportionality review, an effort to ensure that death sentences are limited only to the worst-of-the-worst, least mitigated of murders. Since 1995, proportionality review has led Florida’s high court to overturn death sentences in at least 11 cases.
But in its ruling, the court wrote that the only justification for such a review would be to ward against unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishments. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has never said that proportionality review is required under the Eighth Amendment, the majority concluded, it is not allowed under Florida law. (The state Legislature could require the review by statute, the court wrote, though it was quick to explain that it had “no opinion as to whether … it should adopt such a requirement.”)
Labarga decried the opinion and noted that, taken together, the court’s recent death penalty decisions had radically reshaped judicial oversight of capital cases. “I deeply, regretfully, and most respectfully dissent,” he wrote.
A Lust for Power
Stephen Harper, a law professor and supervising attorney of the Death Penalty Clinic at Florida International University, finds the court’s recent decisions deeply troubling. “The death penalty is the most consequential … area of the law, so you have to have extra precautions,” he said. And the current Florida Supreme Court is “just going backwards,” providing fewer protections for defendants facing the ultimate punishment.
If anything, Florida’s experience with the death penalty suggests that it needs more oversight, not less. Last year, The Intercept compiled a dataset with information on more than 7,000 people sentenced to die in 29 states and the federal system since capital punishment was reauthorized in 1976. The data reveals capital punishment as an arbitrary, racist, and failed public policy — including in Florida.RelatedWhat Happens When a Reform Prosecutor Stands Up to the Death Penalty
Although Black people make up roughly 16 percent of the state’s population, more than 37 percent of those sentenced to die in Florida are Black. Of the nearly 1,000 people sentenced to die since 1976, a staggering 53 percent are no longer on death row, but not because they were executed — 412 people have been resentenced to a lesser punishment, 82 have died awaiting execution, and 59 have been released from prison altogether. The state has executed 88 people. Thirty of the state’s formerly condemned have been exonerated.
Among the issues Harper finds most disturbing is how blithely the court is doing away with years of precedent. In knocking out proportionality review, for example, the court tossed aside 50 years of precedent; in doing away with extra scrutiny of cases based on circumstantial evidence, the court rejected a century of precedent. “Taken together, the court has ignored the fundamental concept of stare decisis, and that creates a problem because the court loses its credibility, it loses the legal stability, it loses the predictability that lawyers and clients have when they go to court and argue an issue,” he said.
Stare decisis demands a certain fidelity to precedent, but the Florida Supreme Court has been on a kick of overturning established legal rules simply because it disagrees with them. “To me, as a lawyer, that’s just outrageous,” Harper said. “To reverse a decision, we demand a special justification over and above the belief that the precedent was wrongly decided.” The court has used an array of logic to justify overturning its precedents, which Harper considers disingenuous and politically motivated. He sees Canady as a ringleader driven by a narrow view of the law that bends away from criminal defendants and favors executions. “I think he’s a very dangerous and nasty man,” he said.
Harper considers the court’s decisions activist in nature — an irony, perhaps, given that conservative justices rail against so-called judicial activism, an idea embodied in the Federalist Society’s position that courts should say what the law is “rather than what they wish it to be.”“Once the law becomes a vehicle for exercising power, instead of a vehicle for exercising restraint, you have lost the courts.”
“I’ve never seen such an active court with a bunch of conservative justices, because the court is clearly active,” he said. “By reversing, reversing, reversing, reversing against stare decisis, that’s a very active court.”
Dunham, of the Death Penalty Information Center, agrees, calling the court’s recent rulings “inherently contradictory and hypocritical.” On the one hand they’ve argued that safeguards should be removed because Florida was one of the only states to provide them, while on the other hand taking “unparalleled action” to put the state in the “extreme minority” by denying other protections, like those that would ensure the state doesn’t execute a person with intellectual disabilities. “That’s the mark of political activism,” he said. “There is no question that what the court is doing is driven by a desire to carry out executions, irrespective of whether they’re appropriate or not.”
Both Harper and Dunham worry that the court’s actions will place vulnerable defendants in greater jeopardy. And Dunham notes that the court’s “unparalleled, extreme actions” may have the effect of placing the future of Florida’s death penalty statute at risk. “The Constitution requires that the death penalty be administered in a manner that’s not arbitrary and capricious” and that provides for meaningful appellate review. “This court has made the administration of the Florida death penalty arbitrary” by dismantling important appellate protections, he said.
“Once the law becomes a vehicle for exercising power, instead of a vehicle for exercising restraint, you have lost the courts,” he said. “This is a court that has entirely lost its legitimacy. It is acting purely out of a lust for power and a lust for substituting its judgment for the law.”
One point seven trillion. That’s the amount of outstanding student debt in the United States—for now.
But don’t blink: That number is ballooning even as you read this sentence. Since the Great Recession took hold in 2008, student debt has been among the fastest-growing types of debt for everyday Americans. It’s growing faster than mortgages, auto loans, and credit card debt.
And because we live in polarized nation, we can’t agree on what to do about it. Republicans generally want to stay the course, which is to say, let the debtors sink or swim without any additional lifelines. Meanwhile, student debt is top-of-the-mind for Democrats, who are struggling to reach some kind of consensus in the weeks leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden supports modest debt forgiveness—namely $10,000 per borrower. (With more than 40 million people eligible, the cost of that plan would be north of $400 billion.) But progressive leaders don’t think that’s nearly enough. The familiar voices of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have called for a much bolder plan: the wholesale cancellation of, if not all, then moststudent debt.
The costs will be enormous for any action, or lack thereof, and these unfathomably large figures are anything but human-scale. But we know a thingor two about visualizing extreme sums of money. For a sense of just how much is involved here, and how it compares with other mind-blowing sums—by comparison, $1 million per day since the birth of Jesus adds up to a measly $737 billion—watch our animation above. It’s our largest visualization to date.
For the millions of folks out there struggling with student loans, viewer discretion is advised.
Every country wants to build more bridges, roads and renewable-power grids. It won’t be easy
The new infrastructure infatuation is understandable. Public and private investment has stagnated at 3-4% of GDP worldwide. That is too little to maintain ageing assets in developed countries—a third of American bridges are creaky—or to provide enough clean water and electricity in the emerging world. Low interest rates mean financing is cheap, and many economists think that the payback from infrastructure is attractive. Meanwhile, climate change and the digitisation of the economy are creating vast demand for renewable-energy systems and connectivity, including 5G networks.
In practice, however, infrastructure’s record is as potholed as a Mumbai motorway. Cost-overruns often exceed 25%. Two-thirds of foreign bribery cases involve infrastructure deals. China spends more than anyone else, but perhaps half of its investments have destroyed economic value. India had a boom in the 2000s which ended in a mire of debt. Even Germany struggles to get it right. All this reflects some deep underlying problems. Most projects have a time horizon beyond that of politicians and voters. Often they are one of a kind: China has just Three Gorges to dam, not six. And the full economic benefits created by a road, say, are not captured by the organisation paying for it.
Yet bitter experience does at least suggest two universal lessons. First, governments should select projects systematically by creating a single list and picking those with the highest payback. This assessment should factor in externalities, including the impact on carbon emissions, and delays, which are a big source of cost overruns. And it should be carried out by bodies that are independent from those that build and run assets. Often the projects selected will not be the glittering new temples that politicians like their names on, but humble repairs and maintenance.
The second lesson is to harness the private sector. Not only is it a source of capital—global infrastructure funds have over $200bn waiting to be deployed—but projects with private investors also tend to be managed better. That means developing standardised contracts and independent regulators that protect taxpayers but also give investors reasonable certainty of an adequate return.
Both lessons might seem obvious. A few places, such as Chile and Norway, get infrastructure right. But over half of the countries surveyed by the IMF do not maintain a national pipeline of projects. And in most the record is staggeringly erratic. America is splurging on 5G (see article) but has squalid airports and too little renewable energy. Europe has shiny airports and wind farms but is in the stone age on 5G. Infrastructure is one of the last local industries left where easy gains are still to be had by copying others around the world. If you benchmark public investment in over 100 countries, adopting best practice could make spending 33% more efficient. The prize is huge. Just don’t expect a subway in Cincinnati.■
The former WNBA star took the helm on Wednesday night.
DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs receives instruction from assistant coach Becky Hammon who was filling for an ejected Gregg Popvich during second half action at AT&T Center on December 30, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
Story at a glance
During a game between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, Spurs coach Becky Hammon took the lead.
She said she had no issues coaching men.
Former professional basketball player Becky Hammon became the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs professional basketball team on Wednesday, making her the first woman to lead a National Basketball Team (NBA).
The opportunity was thrust upon her when Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from a Wednesday night match between the Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers. Popovich was cited with a technical foul after arguing with the referee over a no-call, ESPN reports.
“It’s a big deal…it’s a substantial moment,” Hammon told reporters after the game. “I say this a lot but I try not to think about the huge picture and huge aspect of it because it can get overwhelming.”
Hammon has been with the Spurs coaching staff since 2007. Prior to her coaching career, she had a 16-year playing career for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), splitting that time between the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars. She was a six-time All-Star in the league.
She was also selected as one of the WNBA’s Top 20@20, marking her one of the most influential athletes to play in the league’s two-decade history.
Regarding the dynamic between her and her players, Hammon says there have been no issues as a woman coaching men.
“It’s my job to go in there and be focused for those guys and make sure I’m helping them do the things that will help us win,” she said. “They give me great eye contact, they give me great focus, they give me great energy, and I just want to make sure I give it all back to them.”
Hammon’s biography states that she is still an Assistant Coach with the Spurs, having taken the helm Wednesday night following Popovich’s ejection.
Following the game, which ultimately ended with the Lakers beating out the Spurs 121-107, players praised her coaching.
“Becky played, and any player who knows the history of women’s basketball knows what she meant to the sport,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan told reporters. “You don’t think twice about it. She’s one of us. When she speaks, we are all ears.”Published on Dec 31, 2020