Capital Punishment: Can We Cut it Out Already?

English: Original Death Chamber at the Red Hat...
English: Original Death Chamber at the Red Hat Cell Block at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The chair is a replica of the original. The Red Hat was closed in the early 1970s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hill reports that capital punishment is fading away in America. Government employees have ceremonially killed fewer prisoners this year (20) than in any year since 1991, and fewer criminals (30) have been sentenced to death than in any year since the option became available again in 1976 (after a US Supreme Court ruling resulted in a four-year national moratorium).

There seem to be several reasons for the precipitous decline, ranging from difficulty getting the drugs used in executions (manufacturers and pharmacies don’t like the stigma) to increased court scrutiny of sentencing. Whatever the reasons, it’s good news. Capital punishment should be brought to a speedy and permanent end in the United States.

I’m not saying that there aren’t crimes worthy of death. In fact, I heartily support the killing of violent criminals in defense of self or others at the scene of the crime.

But once a criminal has been apprehended, disarmed and caged, killing him or her isn’t self-defense any more. Execution is just the gratuitous, vengeful taking of a human life for public show. And no matter how much lipstick the practice’s supporters put on the pig to try and turn it into something else, that’s all it will ever be.

Capital punishment is also completely incompatible with the notions of “limited government” that most libertarians and some conservatives claim to support, not to mention the basic civil liberties that both libertarians and liberals publicly sustain. If the state can decide with impunity that someone needs to die and then kill that person in cold blood, what CAN’T the state do?

This would be true even absent the growing number of death row inmate exonerated by new evidence. Who knows how many innocents have been sacrificed to Moloch before the mistake could be discovered and corrected?

Capital punishment seems to be going away, but it can’t go away fast enough. Even as the Libertarian and Democratic Parties finally added opposition to the death penalty to their platforms this year, majorities in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma voted, to their shame, to retain the barbaric practice.

The US is part of a shrinking club of evil, a club composed mostly of favorite holiday destinations like North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Guinea, Mongolia and Nauru became the latest three nations to abolish it in 2016.

Surely we’re better than this. In 2017, let’s show it by finally and forever ceasing the evil practice of capital punishment.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Peace On Earth, By Whatever Name

Crop of original painting "Anbetung der H...
Crop of Adoration of the Shepherds by Giorgione (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


[Note: Yes, it’s a Christmas column six days before Christmas. Remember, Garrison Center content is submitted to newspapers. Editors don’t wait until Christmas Eve to start putting together their papers’ December 25th editions. This is going out today so that they have plenty of lead time to use it if they’d like to!]

It’s popular in some politicized evangelical Christian circles (that is, among the American “religious right”) to spend every December moaning about a “war on Christmas.” Unless they get to fill the commons with their religious displays — and theirs only — and unless the cup from their preferred coffee vendor refers to their religious holiday — and theirs only — and so on and so forth, they consider themselves beset by the forces of evil.

I’m content to be a practicing Christian. I was brought up with fairly traditional middle American Protestant Christmas celebrations and still enjoy them very much (in recent years I’ve also enjoyed Roman Catholic Christmas Midnight Mass a time or two).

But I don’t see any kind of “war on Christmas” in the preferences of others to celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus or Yule or just “holiday break.” The festival goes back to well before the time of Jesus; his birth story is just the container some of us have chosen to put it in.

This time of year marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the turn toward coming spring. The days begin to get longer instead of shorter.

Peace on Earth, good will toward men. These are laudable aspirations for the time of hope and renewal represented by the December holidays of so many faiths and cultures over the millennia. And as 2016 becomes 2017, they make great New Year resolutions.

Try as we might, humankind has never conquered poverty, sickness, suffering or war. But we should never stop trying.

After nearly 400 years of opportunities to get those things right, the Westphalian nation-state has proven a failure on all counts. In the 20th century, governments murdered somewhere north of 170 million people and kept billions more in varying degrees of servitude, squalor and penury. So far the 21st century has likewise been one of unremitting war, creeping tyranny and ubiquitous kleptocracy.

It’s far too much to hope that the emerging voluntary, decentralized forms of governance powered by technological progress will finally and forever displace the state in 2017. But the writing is on the wall. Government as we know it is going away.

As we close out one year and look to the next, let’s re-dedicate ourselves to replacing the modern nation-state with something better. Something (or, more likely, things) more peaceful, more empowering, less oppressive and less deadly.

Merry Christmas — or whatever you prefer to call it.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Raid Encryption: This Should Be The New Normal

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“When government agents raid Uber’s offices,” Business Insider reports, “the company springs into action with an immediate response: it shuts everything down and encrypts all its computers.” That claim comes from documents filed by former Uber forensic investigator Samuel Ward Spangenberg, who’s suing the company for age discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and defamation.

Merits of the lawsuit aside, the details of Uber’s raid response protocol are fascinating. They should be standard practice for every company which electronically stores and transmits sensitive information — in other words, pretty much every company on Earth.

Spangenberg’s declaration describes a raid on Uber’s Montreal office by Revenu Quebec, the Canadian province’s tax agency. As soon as he was informed of the raid, Spangenberg says, he remotely encrypted the company’s computers at the office and cut the office’s network connectivity.

Business Insider describes Spangenberg’s account as an “allegation,” as if this is a bad thing. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s a great idea. In response to an inquiry from the publication, Uber explains why:

“It’s no secret that Uber has trip coordinates and other personally identifiable information about riders and drivers, and it’s our obligation to protect that. We cooperate with authorities when they come to us with subpoenas.”

In the digital age, law enforcement worldwide is increasingly nosy. Its leaders and advocates bemoan any technological development or practice which might in any way impede their ability to find out anything they might happen to want to know for any reason. They want our lives to be open books, and for us to just trust them to not abuse their power. History says we should begrudge them that trust.

Searches — including searches of digital logs and archives — should be difficult, not easy. They should be narrow in scope, not fishing expeditions where everything gets caught in the net and examined.

Law enforcement should be required to specify up front exactly what they want and expect to find, based on probable cause to believe a particular crime has been committed and that the search will uncover evidence relating to that crime. That was the supposed American standard back before everything was stored electronically, and it should be the global standard now.

But even in the good old days, we could seldom trust judges to rein in law enforcement’s interest in knowing as much about us as possible. This is something we, and the companies we do business with, need to take into our own hands.

Encryption isn’t nearly the handicap the surveillance state’s supporters pretend it is. There are lots of ways to figure out who’s doing what and why without seizing and reading a hard drive, from direct physical surveillance to analysis of the target’s “social graph” (his network of personal relations).

Law enforcement does not want for information if it’s willing to work for that information. Thorough, ubiquitous (or quick on-demand) encryption is at best just a bare minimum tool for preserving SOME privacy. If that makes law enforcement’s job a little harder, too bad.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.