Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Rifkin Healthcare Fix

To read this column, click on the picture above.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More Hair Than His Dad

Stephanie and Greg Yantz just brought this handsome youngster, Brody G. Yantz, into the world.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Death Penalty is Dead

A Los Angeles Times story today reports the death by natural causes of a convicted killer who lived on death row since 1983:
A murderer who spent 26 years on death row has died of natural causes, the 70th condemned prisoner to succumb to old age, suicide or murder compared with 13 executed by the state since capital punishment resumed in 1978, the state reported Thursday.

Albert Cecil Howard, 57, died at a hospital near San Quentin State Prison on Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.

Howard was convicted and sentenced to death a year after the May 25, 1982, murder of 74-year-old Lois Roy Fried of Tulare County.

There are 680 inmates on death row, where the condemned now spend an average of 25 years while exhausting state and federal appeals.

The year Mr. Howard was condemned to die was the year of: the M*A*S*H finale; Michael Jackson first moonwalked; Lotus 1-2-3 and MS Word came out as the new "killer aps" for the PC; Tom Brokaw became the NBC News anchorman; the Russians shot down KAL 007; 241 Americans were killed in Lebanon in a truck bombing by Iranian-backed Hezbolah; and baseball all-stars including Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Dustin Pedroia, Huston Street and Justin Verlander were born.

In other words, 1983 was a long time ago.

While I am a strong believer in the death penalty, I don't see how it makes any sense at all if we cannot execute the guilty anywhere near the time they were convicted. If Albert Howard had lived another 10 years and we killed him 36 years after he murdered Ms. Fried, hardly anyone who remembered the case would have been around to see justice done.

I think there are two good reasons to have capital punishment: 1) Because it is the penalty which best matches the crime. You willfully and criminally take a life; you sacrifice your own; and 2) Because it will deter other murderers.

However, if the punishment is long delayed -- I think 26 years qualifies as a long delay -- then it really has very little, if any deterent value and by killing someone who is most certainly an old man it no longer matches the crime very well.

By way of reform, I suggest we have a time limit for imposing the death penalty: 2 years. The clock begins the moment of sentencing.

At that point, an appeal must automatically be filed and an appeals court must hear and decided the case within 6 months. The appeals court should rule on any and all questionable decisions of the trial judge and the attorneys in the case.

If the appeals court refuses to throw out the conviction on a technicality, a special evidentiary court should determine whether there is any new evidence which requires a new trial or if there is any evidence which otherwise suggests the convicted man is possibly innocent. Within 12 months of the death sentence being determined, the evidentiary court must issue its final ruling.

If the case is again not overturned, a final appeal on technical questions and evidence should be heard by the state supreme court, which must issue a ruling no later than 18 months after conviction the determination of the sentence.

If the supreme court does not order a new trial on the grounds of evidence or technical legal procedures, the state would have another 6 months to execute the condemned prisoner.

While it is not cheap to go through the death penalty process I've laid out, it is far more expensive to continue with the wasteful system we have today, which has no timelines and results in endless and costly delays.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Rich Rifkins Out There

I've never met any other Rich Rifkins. However, I'd like to. We could start a club. It would be small, for sure. But exclusive!

It turns out that, in the Bay Area alone, there are at least two guys named Rich Rifkin. The first I'd heard of is this guy:

He owns the website It says, "Rich Rifkin Partners, Inc" of Sausalito, CA, is "a custom home and land development company." However, a few years ago, I think he was in mortgage banking.

A few weeks ago, I came across a different Rich Rifkin. I thought it might have been the same guy, because he is also based in Marin County, but he looks quite different in the picture:

This Rich Rifkin is also in business. A recent story in the Contra Costa Times describes his new company:

A Bay Area entrepreneur aims to square off against big-box hardware stores — and buck a sour economy in the process — by offering green construction materials to builders of all sizes.

San Rafael-based New Home Inc. is planning to open a chain of building-materials stores, including some in the East Bay, that will cater to builders who want to be completely eco-friendly in their construction projects.

"Green building materials are too expensive and too hard to find," said Rich Rifkin, a serial entrepreneur who founded New Home in 2006. "We intend to make green building materials just as easy to find as non-green items."

The first showrooms are slated for Dublin and San Rafael. New Home has leased a 13,000-square-foot site in San Rafael.

And New Home plans to make the Dublin site, a former Good Guys building owned by Robert Enea, one of its flagship stores.

"We are very excited about our opportunity in Dublin and we are moving forward with that location," Rifkin said. He plans to sign his lease for Dublin shortly.

New Home, though, has scouted numerous other sites in the region for eco-building showrooms.

"We have identified 10 locations throughout the Bay Area for our showrooms," Rifkin said.

Hopefully, none of these Rich Rifkins turns out to be a serial killer. Though if one does, that would make a good Seinfeld episode:

ELAINE: The whole city is talking about this monster Joel Rifkin, and I am dating a Joel Rifkin.

JERRY: But you like your Joel Rifkin.

ELAINE: Yeah. I just wish he has a different name.

JERRY: Ask him to change it.

ELAINE: You can't ask a person to change their name.

JERRY: Why not?

ELAINE: Would you change yours?

JERRY: If someone asked me nicely. I'm Claude Seinfeld.

(Kramer enters)

ELAINE: Hey, how many people did Rifkin strangle? Eighteen?

JERRY: Yeah. Eighteen strangles.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wildhorse Ranch

To read this column, click on the picture above.

August in Yolo County

If it's August in Yolo County, it's time for the tomato harvest. And one sure sign the tomato harvest is in full swing is spilled tomatoes along the shoulders and corners of country roads.

One thing I never knew before a few years ago -- but should have been obvious -- is that the drivers of tomato trucks are temporary workers -- very often college students. They are not professional truck drivers. As such, they have poor judgment taking turns, and not uncommonly spill some amount of their load on each trip.

When August is over and the fields are brown for the next couple of months, the stain and rot of tomatoes spilled along the roads leading from the fields to the canneries will remain, shriveling into the asphalt.