Holding the L.A. District Attorney to a Higher Standard

DAN SIMON, professor of law and psychology, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

To its credit, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office did not ignore the cry for freedom from a condemned inmate. As a result, convicted murderer John Edward Smith is a free man after a DA investigation learned that the sole prosecution witness had falsely identified Smith as the perpetrator in a 1993 drive-by shooting. The accuser now claims that he pointed the finger at Smith only after being misled and pressured by Los Angeles police detectives.

Smith’s ordeal demonstrates how our criminal justice process can go wrong, and it highlights why fixing the process should be at the center of the race between Jacky Lacey and Alan Jackson for office of the DA.

Los Angeles County has had its fair share of faulty criminal prosecutions. Since 1989, 26 Angelinos have been declared factually innocent after having been convicted and sentenced to prison. That’s about double the rate of exonerations in the rest of California, and it doesn’t include more than 100 false convictions produced by the Rampart scandal in the late 1990s. The true number of false convictions is no doubt much greater. Smith was exonerated only because his new lawyer managed to locate his accuser, and he was eager to recant. Likewise, Brian Banks of Long Beach was exonerated months ago of his conviction for rape only because his accuser “friended” him on Facebook, agreed to meet with him, and recanted her accusation on camera.

Warriors on the Edge of a Fiscal Cliff

RON AVI ASTOR, professor of urban social development, USC School of Social Work.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN.

With the presidential race heading into its final stretch, both candidates vow to protect the sacred promises made to military families. But neither is offering any details on how they might support military families if we hit a fiscal cliff with budget cuts that could wipe out services for military and veterans’ families.

Month after month, in the midst of a heated presidential and congressional pre-election cycle, we see no organized blueprint to integrate millions of military family members into civilian society.

New China Syndrome: Richer, Unhappy

RICHARD A. EASTERLIN, professor of economics, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times.

China’s new leaders, who will be anointed next month at the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress in Beijing, might want to rethink the Faustian bargain their predecessors embraced some 20 years ago: namely, that social stability could be bought by rapid economic growth.

As the recent riots at a Foxconn factory in northern China demonstrate, growth alone, even at sustained, spectacular rates, has not produced the kind of life satisfaction crucial to a stable society — an experience that shows how critically important good jobs and a strong social safety net are to people’s happiness.

A Housing Recovery That Leaves the Middle Class on the Sidelines

ROBERT BRIDGES, assistant professor clinical finance, business economics, USC’s Marshall School of Business.

This op-ed originally appeared at Forbes.

It would seem that a government seeking to display a true populist streak by helping its citizens buy houses would do so in a way to ensure prices as low as possible. For those who are not yet homeowners, how is it populism when recovery makes houses more expensive rather than more affordable?

For some time now, demand for houses has been artificially boosted by federal and state tax policies, rising governmental involvement in residential-debt financing, and persistently low interest rates orchestrated by the Federal Reserve. This intensified demand has not been relieved by sufficient new supply of houses, resulting in intractable upward pricing pressure that has put home-ownership beyond the reach of growing numbers of moderate-income buyers. Future housing markets are likely to be increasingly vulnerable to destructive price swings if credit-fueled demand and no-growth sentiment continue to flourish.

An Unexpected Visitor to Yosemite

WILLIAM DEVERELL, professor of history, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

There’s a terrible irony lurking in the recent news of the hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park, which has killed three visitors and sickened half a dozen more since mid-June. Part of the backdrop of the 1864 act that established Yosemite as essentially the nation’s first national park (that language would not be used until 1872 in the founding of Yellowstone National Park) had everything to do with health and healing in the latter years of the Civil War. We’d do well to note that from today’s vantage of being in the middle of the sesquicentennial years of the war.

The Great Diversion: Romney’s Taxes

EDWARD J. McCAFFERY, professor of law, economics and political science, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN.

By now, most of us have probably heard that Mitt and Ann Romney paid just under $2 million in taxes on income — virtually all from investments — of just under $14 million for 2011, an effective tax rate of 14.1%. This is a low tax rate, lower than the typical middle-class American worker pays, especially when one considers payroll taxes, the largest burden for most Americans. It should concern us that individuals of Romney’s wealth — analysis has put his personal fortune as high as $250 million, not counting some $100 million in trusts set up for his five children — pay so little as a percent in taxes.