The death penalty: A deterrent to crime?

Posted by: ST on June 10, 2007 at 10:47 pm

Several studies taken over the last six years suggest that it does:

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

The reports have horrified death penalty opponents and several scientists, who vigorously question the data and its implications.

So far, the studies have had little impact on public policy. New Jersey’s commission on the death penalty this year dismissed the body of knowledge on deterrence as “inconclusive.”

But the ferocious argument in academic circles could eventually spread to a wider audience, as it has in the past.

“Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. “The results are robust, they don’t really go away,” he said. “I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?”

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Read the whole thing.

Even if those studies constituted unquestionable proof that the DP was a deterrent to crime, the moral debate on whether or not the DP is an acceptable punishment, allowable under the Constitution, would still rage on.

I take a look at the molestation and murder of 6 year-old Christopher Michael Barrios as well as the torture, rape, and murders of young Tennessee couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom and I wouldn’t feel any moral conflict should their rapists/killers get the DP.

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42 Responses to “The death penalty: A deterrent to crime?”

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  1. camojack says:

    It’s 100% effective as a deterrent amongst those upon it’s carried out

  2. David L says:

    It is not a question of moral confusion. Rather is is one moral stupidity. Some idiots, many in black robes, feel is better for several nameless people to die rather at the hnnd criminals than one named person to die at the hands of the criminal justice system.

    It like you put eighteen people in one room wiht no windows and one person in room with a window. Somehow, the anti think the one person’s life if more valualbe than the eighteen. The anti’s are insane.

  3. Severian says:

    Bingo camojack, it does indeed cut down on recidivism. It would be even more of a deterrent if it was more rapid and public. The Romans crucified thousands of slaves along the Appian Way after Spartacus’s revolt, and that certainly was a deterrent to such revolts for centuries after.

  4. Lorica says:

    It’s 100% effective as a deterrent amongst those upon it’s carried out…

    I completely agree Camo. Now if we only had the same attitude toward violent sex offenders, especially child rapists. How many times do these people get to offend again and again, put them out of their torment, and ours.

    I know 1 thing for a fact. The death penalty has stopped me from strangling a few liberals here in Illinios. Namely a couple of US Senators. Now if I lived in Iowa, they have no death penalty, so it should be open season on the really stupid liberals who are suffering from BDS. Hear that Mr. I flew fighter jets during Vietnam?? Hmmmmm Maybe it is time to move back to Iowa. :o) – Lorica

  5. Nikita says:

    Moderate lefty here — I find it interesting that the study finds execution reduces crime.

    However, I’ve been kind of rare among my democrat friends because I feel we should be executing more people and we should be doing it based on a new interpretation of the role of the justice system. Namely, it’s time to forget about retribution and punishment, per se.

    Instead we should be thinking pragmatically. What danger does this person represent to society? Can the person be rehabilitated, and if not why do we house them? Anyone who is incorrigible should be executed. Accordingly, anyone who is not should be released at some point.

  6. Angryflower says:

    “Now if I lived in Iowa, they have no death penalty, so it should be open season on the really stupid liberals ”

    What is wrong with you people?

  7. NC Cop says:

    What is wrong with you people?

    That’s funny, I was just about to ask you the same thing.

  8. Jim Harrison says:

    Oddly, though, the countries and the states without a death penalty are not the regions with the highest murder rate.

    I wouldn’t be especially surprised if increasing the number of executions has the short or medium term effect of lowering the crime rate in some cases. Over the longer term, however, the culture of executions is also the culture of murder. In European and American history, the prevalence of violence and the ferocity of justice have declined together. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. A culturally-promoted desire to kill lies behind both murder and lethal justice, which partly explains why the Texans have such a proclivity for both.

  9. Lorica says:

    =)) It’s called a joke Flower. =)) Sorta like “What do ya call 2000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?? A good start.” =)) Stop being stupid Flower, I am not about to kill anyone, even certain US represenatives that act like idiots due to their BDS. This is the problem with liberals, they have lost their sense of humor. – Lorica

  10. Angryflower says:

    “I was just about to ask you the same thing.”

    Based on what? What a comeback ^:)^

    Lorica – Whatever you say, enjoy the murder fantasy.

  11. NC Cop says:

    Oh, Angryflower, I base it on your constant cowardice when you come here, post one thing, and the flee. You can’t, and never could, stand up to an argument.

    You don’t argue, you come here and criticize people and then run away. Would you like to comment on the actual topic, wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

  12. Lorica says:

    Lorica – Whatever you say, enjoy the murder fantasy.

    Nooooooo We aren’t judgemental R us Good Libs?? I wouldn’t murder anyone, this is about the death penalty, which since you obviously don’t know the law, I will educate you abit. Treason is punishable by death, just ask Benedict Arnold. Since I am forced to name names as you cannot seem to comprehend, Dick Durbin, and Tom Harkin should both be tried and convicted of treason for the things they have said and done. Plotting against the President and our troops during a time of war is a heinous crime Flower. Some people make jokes about these things. /shakes head/ We all got to get along on this big blue ball we call the Earth, it would be nice if you guys would give it a try. – Lorica

  13. Lorica says:

    I am in agreement with you NC. Such cowardice on her part is pretty much the standard opperating proceedure for most libs, but Flower is exceptionally pathetic with her hit and run judgementality. Whatever Flower, enjoy your moral superiority. – Lorica

  14. Great White Rat says:

    Oddly, though, the countries and the states without a death penalty are not the regions with the highest murder rate.

    Actually, Jim, it’s the areas where the liberals are in control that have the highest murder rates. You’re more likely to be killed if you live in Detroit than in Baghdad, based on murders per 100,000 people.

    Funny how liberalism and a criminal mentality seem to go together, isn’t it?

  15. Jim Harrison says:

    I’m thinking of nations such as Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland where murder is rare indeed and executions even rarer. On the other hand, Michigan’s murder rate is indeed comparable to that of Texas (around 6.2/100,000), but most of the Northern States (Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire) are closer to European numbers. As of 2005, the last year for which I could find numbers, the murder rate in death penalty states was 5.3, in non-death penalty states 2.8. That doesn’t mean that increasing executions in a given state might not lower the murder rate, at least for a while. That’s a different question.

  16. NC Cop says:

    Hello? Angryflower?

    Thanks for proving my point.

  17. Great White Rat says:

    Jim says:

    I’m thinking of nations such as Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland where murder is rare indeed and executions even rarer.

    But single point numbers don’t tell the entire story. For example, the murder rate, and crime in general, has increased in Britain.

    This touches on another, related, topic, namely the right to bear arms. For example, you’re quite right that the murder rate is low in Switzerland, for example. Did you know that gun ownership is mandatory in Switzerland? That alone would tend to make potential murderers think twice.

    Another point that skews your statistics: having a death penalty means nothing if it is not administered. My state of New Jersey, for example, would count as a “death penalty state” because the statute exists. But it has never been carried out since the law went back on the books. I’d be curious to see that breakdown between states that are serious about applying the death penalty and those that are not. If you have a link to those stats, please post it.

  18. Jim Harrison says:

    I was quoting FBI stats. I found them at this site.

  19. Drewsmom says:

    They know that if they get convcited they won’t get the needle or current for at least 20 years.
    I have always been a believer that if they are found guilty beyond any reason of doubt by the evidence, DNA, ect, that they shall be taken out the next day at dawn and the deed shall be done.

  20. Lorica says:

    I’d be curious to see that breakdown between states that are serious about applying the death penalty and those that are not.

    I would like to see that break down myself. I have to wonder since George “I am a murderer thru my corruption” Ryan commuted all death penalty sentences to life in prison, just how much the murder rate has gone up. Seems to me there is more and more violent crime in this little community. – Lorica

  21. Great White Rat says:

    A few points on Jim’s stats and their source:

    – First, let’s note that what we see there are not the raw stats, but stats as massaged by an anti-death penalty web site. Let’s continue, however.

    – Even accounting for that, this site still showed some numbers, although not highlighted, that speak for the DP. In the two regions of the country where the death penalty is carried out most often, the murder rate declined between 2001 and 2005. In the two regions where it is applied least often, the murder rate increased in the same time frame.

    – As expected, this site counts states such as NJ with capital punishment on the books but not in use as “death penalty” states for their comparisons. That immediately makes their entire exercise invalid. Any truly valid statistical look at the deterrent effect would have to compare murder rates when no death penalty was in effect (meaning none on the books or none enforced) as opposed to when it was in effect. Those figures are not available at Jim’s anti-DP site.

  22. Jim Harrison says:

    I only linked to a anti-death penalty site because it was the first place I found that had the FBI numbers I wanted. The fact that the site is anti-death penalty is irrelevant in any case unless you think that pro-death penalty sites are also automatically suspect.

    I’m not in favor of the death penalty, but I also don’t think the issue is particularly important. I doubt if executing or not executing a few more people is going to make a huge difference to the crime stats, and there is an approximately zero probability that the nation will make executions routine—that’s what you want, I assume, and what you think would help.

    I object to the death penalty, first and foremost, because it is exceedingly expensive and I don’t like to pay extra taxes to subsidize what amounts to ritual theater–I would much rather spend the dough on extra cops. I also think that the death penalty is a way for us to avoid collective responsibility for preventable violence. You don’t have to deny that individuals are responsible for their crimes to notice how many of the monstrous or merely pathetic characters in our death rows were grossly abused and neglected as children. Easier for a Texas jury to hang ‘em high than admit that Texas has a truly deplorable system of child protection. The worst thing is that the death penalty distracts attention from larger questions about our criminal justice system. The fact that we incarcerate more of our citizens than any industrial country surely suggests that we are doing something very wrong, something that goes far beyond whether or not we kill a couple of dozen people every year.

  23. Angryflower says:

    “We all got to get along on this big blue ball we call the Earth, it would be nice if you guys would give it a try. – Lorica”

    Considering your right wing murder fantasy detailed above, I find it quite funny to see a line like that.

    “Hello? Angryflower?

    Thanks for proving my point.

    Comment by NC Cop @ 6/11/2007 – 11:14 pm ”

    Hey, I’m back! Where are you?? Obviously you’re a coward since you aren’t here right now.

    I don’t have all day, I actually have to work for a living. I know that flies in the face your idea of “lefties” though.

    In terms of the subject matter, all I have to say is that as great a deterrent the death penalty is or may be in saving many lives, and as great a sense of justice can be achieved by it, I don’t personally feel I have God’s permission to take a life.

    Do you?

  24. joe bob says:

    Even if we accept (which I do in some case studies and not in others) that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, there are other effective deterrents that cost significantly less than the death penalty, and reduce crime before anyone has been killed or harmed. While capital crimes will always exist, they do not exist to the same degree everywhere, or even at the same rates within a specified location. Crime is not random. “Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it.” There is also no question about other forms of deterrence. We as a society seem to not pay the same amount of attention however to why murder rates climbed precipitously beginning in the 1980s. Stated otherwise, the death penalty may deter crime, but it is nevertheless foolish to think that it can substantially alter crime trends. Unless of course we actually do want to be like the Romans, and mass execute thousands of people at one.

    Also, the question of whether or not the death penalty acts as a deterrent does not speak to the question of who most often receives this punishment. I personally am opposed to its use because it is not applied indiscriminately. Science may tell us that the death penalty deters crime, but it also tells us for example that blacks who kill whites receive the death penalty at a much higher rate than whites who kill blacks, or when the racial offender-victim relationship is the same. It also tells us that the overall level and types of evidence initially used to justify the death penalty in exonerated cases varies significantly by race.

    In my opinion, the problem of discrimination could be addressed by divesting prosecuting attorneys of their power to plead out homicide cases that show deliberate intent (or whatever other standard you want to use), and applying this sentence to all convicted murders. This would mean more murder trials, but overall would likely cost society less as a whole when factoring in the costs in victimization. On the defendant’s side, this problem could be addressed by requiring the state to provide a minimum of adequate legal representation, not some drunkard or kid out of law school with no experience in capital cases. Again, this would mean more money, but given the spate of exonerated capital cases within the last decade or so, I have no problem with a few more of my tax dollars going to a process than ensures we kill the right people.

    Personally, I would not case if all murder cases resulted in the death penalty. I do care that this system as it is used now punishes some more than others for the same offense. It undermines the credibility of the legal system in general, and our sense of fairness and justice as a society. It tells victims’ families that some lives are worth more than others, both in terms of the amount of resources the state is willing to devote to pursuing punishment, as well as in terms of the amount of punishment the state affords differentially for the same crime. Those who argue that people “forfeit” their right to life by taking another should be consistent in demanding that the state’s depravation of this right should hold equally valuable the life of the victim himself.

  25. NC Cop says:

    Oh, Angryflower, you’re so amusing. I’m glad you actually had the guts to come back and actually post on a topic. Before I post on the topic, I have a question.

    You obviously have such high moral values, especially when condemning people who joke about as you called it “murder fantasies”.

    So I can take from it, that you go to many of the “lefty” sights when they talk about how disappointed they are when Cheney wasn’t assassinated in Afghanistan that you went there were chastised them as well, right?

    As far as the death penalty, I have always believed in it, however, I am having serious doubts about it. Not because or moral or deterrence questions, but I am concerned with so many people who have been released from death row after they discover they are not guilty. Don’t get me wrong, if the evidence is there and there’s not a question about it, I believe in the death penalty, but until we can become more fooproof I have my doubts.

    Perhaps if you commented more on topics and less on criticizing other people’s comments you could avoid being thought of as a hit and run poster.

  26. NC Cop says:

    there are other effective deterrents that cost significantly less than the death penalty

    The reason it is so expensive is because of the 15-20 YEARS that most death penalty residents spend on death row. If they were not allowed to drag out their cases for almost two decades, we wouldn’t have to support them with tax payer money. 2 years tops and you’re gone. Watch and see how much of a deterrent it is.

  27. Great White Rat says:

    Jim spins the cooked stats:

    The fact that the site is anti-death penalty is irrelevant in any case

    It’s relevant when you initially claimed to be quoting pure FBI stats, not stats reconfigured to reach a desired conclusion.

    Next comes a Flying Pig moment, as a liberal complains about high taxes and excessive government spending:

    I object to the death penalty, first and foremost, because it is exceedingly expensive and I don’t like to pay extra taxes to subsidize what amounts to ritual theater

    Nor do I. So how about if we reduce the cost by putting limits on the appeals process? That’s the main reason for the expense. In cases where there is absolutely no doubt of guilt, and the sentence has been passed, move to administer the penalty within a sensible time. The left loves to use the “high cost” argument – as they intentionally drive up the cost with frivolous appeals in the hope they can find a sympathetic left-wing judge to throw the entire case out and put the criminal back on the street. So that kind of rhetoric is disingenuous, and I’m being kind when I say that.

    But Jim says the criminals are only partially responsible, mind you:

    You don’t have to deny that individuals are responsible for their crimes to notice how many of the monstrous or merely pathetic characters in our death rows were grossly abused and neglected as children.

    Rubbish, Jim. I know people who were abused and neglected as children who are solid citizens with no criminal record. The choice of committing a capital crime is an individual one. Society doesn’t make anyone cut the throat of an 80-year old lady after stealing her last $5.

    In fact, says Jim, we’re all to blame just for locking up the miscreants:

    The fact that we incarcerate more of our citizens than any industrial country surely suggests that we are doing something very wrong,

    Clearly, one thing we’re not doing wrong, then, is catching the criminals. Kudos to our law enforcement services. Now, if we wanted to be like Jim’s preferred societies in Europe, we could simply decline to catch the criminals and the crime rates would drop immediately. A few years ago I had a laptop and luggage stolen while waiting for a train in Belgium. The police told me they would do nothing, and I shouldn’t have brought the items with me if I were not prepared to have them stolen. So of course they have less crime and a lower prison population. To them, thieves were just people making a living! Jim, is this really the ideal you’re advocating? I’d much rather have a country where the laws are taken seriously.

    The problem is that the repeat offenders to not fear returning to prison, which brings us right back to the deterrence question. Without going to extremes, we should make prison time a more unpleasant experience.

  28. Lorica says:

    I don’t personally feel I have God’s permission to take a life.

    You should read God’s word sometime Flower. It clearly says that you are to take a rebelious child to be judged by the city elders, and if they find the child to be rebelious, you take the child outside of the city and stone them. Jesus said that if a person harms a child, they should have a mill stone tied around their neck and dropped into the deepest part of the ocean. I guess we do have God’s permission.

    Just incase you don’t believe me.

    Mark 9:42 NIV
    42″And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

    Deuteronomy 21 NIV
    A Rebellious Son
    18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

    I know, what you are going to say next, that you don’t believe in that kind of God, my only argument to that would be, then what do you believe in??

    You see, the whole reason judges wear black is to tell you that their authority to judge was handed to them by God. And they are the final arbitor of judgement. The death penalty isn’t about us killing criminals, it is about a last alternative to a person who just will not be rehabilitated. I am glad folk like you are around to sympathize with the Ted Bundy’s of this world, infact Ted use to play on women like you to get his victims. Flower do you know how many victims Ted murdered?? Ted Bundy begged to be put to death, and he waived every appeal, except the Federal review of his jury trial, as you cannot waive that one. A murderer chooses his path usually. If they know the ultimate punishment, they make the choice. It is foolishness to have this law on the books and never use it. It only encourages evil people.

    Ohhh and as far as your little fantasy about me murdering people please grow up. It is the constant droning about the same thing day in and day out that really detracts from your argument. It is pointless and stupid. It would be like me saying you are a child molester because you don’t want to see them punished to the full extent of the law. Why would you want to molest children Flower?? – Lorica

  29. Severian says:

    Angryflower won’t be back for a while NC Cop. It takes a while to apply liniment to the shoulder after straining it patting yourself on the back for being so moral and ethically superior to us. ;) Instead of tennis elbow think elitist, effete shoulder.

    As soon as that shoulder is better expect AF to spew some more useless, illogical, off the point drivel.

    Executions need to be more rapid, and much more public, if they are to have the maximum deterrent effect. That, and bring back corporal punishment for other minor crimes. People who aren’t afraid of 3 squares and a cot in jail for things would definitely think twice if the penalty was 10 or 20 lashes at the public pillory.

    “Cruel and unusual” means you don’t execute someone for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, not that punishment shouldn’t be cruel, that’s what punishment is. It just shouldn’t be unusually cruel for the crime. Remember that the English Navy still practiced keel hauling in the time frame that the Constitution was written, and the French were still beheading people, in order to get a feel for the proper use of the term “cruel and unusual” in the context of the times.

  30. sunsettommy says:

    In terms of the subject matter, all I have to say is that as great a deterrent the death penalty is or may be in saving many lives, and as great a sense of justice can be achieved by it, I don’t personally feel I have God’s permission to take a life.

    Do you?

    Comment by Angryflower @ 6/12/2007 – 3:58 pm

    The killers never ask for Gods permission.

    They could be a supporter of Satan.

    Don’t forget that.

    By the way is your flower a prickly pear?

  31. sunsettommy says:

    Angryflower:

    Hey, I’m back! Where are you?? Obviously you’re a coward since you aren’t here right now.

    I don’t have all day, I actually have to work for a living. I know that flies in the face your idea of “lefties” though.

    I have looked in vain for an argument from on the topic itself.

    Why bother being here at all if all you offer is drivel?

  32. NC Cop says:

    Gosh, that’s two people who have noticed that you don’t post on the topic, just trash the posters!!

    It must be a right wing conspiracy against you Angryflower!!!

  33. joe bob says:

    “The reason it is so expensive is because of the 15-20 YEARS that most death penalty residents spend on death row. If they were not allowed to drag out their cases for almost two decades, we wouldn’t have to support them with tax payer money. 2 years tops and you’re gone. Watch and see how much of a deterrent it is.”

    Umm, yeah ok. Let’s just get rid of that thing called due process. Besides its not like we haven’t exonerated AT LEAST 21 people in the last ten years. If you really are a cop – doubt it – you would think that thing you swore to uphold mattered.

    Let’s just line em up and shoot em BEFORE they go to trial. Then you and your cop buddies wouldn’t need that pesky thing called due process at all. Besides, I bet you already know who is guilty down there in NC, right (wink wink).

  34. Lorica says:

    Umm, yeah ok. Let’s just get rid of that thing called due process. Besides its not like we haven’t exonerated AT LEAST 21 people in the last ten years. If you really are a cop – doubt it – you would think that thing you swore to uphold mattered.

    Let’s just line em up and shoot em BEFORE they go to trial. Then you and your cop buddies wouldn’t need that pesky thing called due process at all. Besides, I bet you already know who is guilty down there in NC, right (wink wink).

    Why is it for a good lib to discuss something, someone is automatically lying?? I mean how stupid is a person, who doesn’t realize that in todays technologically advanced society, a capital punishment case can’t be fast tracked all the way to the Supreme court in 2 years?? Also, in all capital punishment cases, there is always a Federal review of the original jury trial, and all the evidence presented. Just more dumb blah blah blah from the most ignorant. – Lorica

  35. NC Cop says:

    If you really are a cop – doubt it – you would think that thing you swore to uphold mattered.

    Um, yeah, joe bob, I was a cop for 12 years. Perhaps it was my oath to the citizens of my city, like the ones who were raped, molested, abused, at the hands of those you so vigorously defend. I merely pointed out the fact that the reason it is so expensive is because they live on death row for decades at a time and you decided to attack me on a personal level. How mature.

    Since I am certainly not ashamed of my profession and you are such a highly enlightened and intelligent liberal, perhaps you could share with us what you do for a living?

  36. NC Cop says:

    Also, if you took the time to read my other posts you would see that I have reservations about the death penalty because of the people they have found innocent who were sitting on death row.

    Since you have already figured out so much about me because of one post (wink, wink) I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

  37. Umm, yeah ok. Let’s just get rid of that thing called due process. Besides its not like we haven’t exonerated AT LEAST 21 people in the last ten years. If you really are a cop – doubt it – you would think that thing you swore to uphold mattered.

    joebob, I can personally vouch for the fact that NC really is a cop, and in fact he also went to Iraq to train people in the Iraqi police force, so you need to step off on that line of attack because it won’t get you anywhere.

  38. NC Cop says:

    Thanks, S.T. I thought that I brought up a valid point and did so in a respectful way. I’m a little confused at joe bob’s reaction.

  39. Great White Rat says:

    you need to step off on that line of attack because it won’t get you anywhere.

    It will, however, get the rest of the regulars here furious and in no mood to listen to you. Ever.

  40. Severian says:

    joebob, unlike your garden variety liberal, we conservatives here and conservatives in general believe in and practice honesty. We aren’t the ones who constantly talk about the need to choose between being honest and being effective. We don’t make sock puppets to bolster our causes, we state who we are and what we do within the limits of prudence on online forums like this. I’ve never lied about what I do for a living and research and stuff I’ve worked on in the past.

    But thanks again for showing us how liberals like to project their “values” or lack of them on everyone.:-w