Follow New Jersey's lead

New Jersey's abolition of the death penalty is both admirable and a sign of the times. Gov. Corzine signed the new law Monday. That should prompt other states to do away with this arbitrary and inhumane punishment.

The death penalty is being phased out in practice, if not in law. There have been 42 executions nationwide this year (26 of them in Texas), down from a high of 98 in 1999. The number of people sentenced to death is declining, too, from a high of 317 in 1996 to 128 in 2005.

If any state has a reason to reconsider capital punishment, it's Pennsylvania, which ranks 7th in the number of death-row inmates exonerated (6). How many more of the state's 226 death-row inmates will be cleared with DNA evidence? How many won't be cleared, but should be?

Tiny Delaware, population 853,000, shows how arbitrarily the death penalty can be applied. It has executed 14 people since 1973, more than the combined total executions in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, Connecticut, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and South Dakota, whose populations total more than 33 million.

Studies consistently show that the most important factor in imposing the death penalty is the race of the victim. Defendants who kill whites are at least three times more likely to receive a death sentence than defendants who kill a black or Latino victim.

New Jersey should be joined by other states.

Falling behind in education

The United States may be the No. 1 economic power among the world's industrialized nations, but when it comes to education, that's another matter.

Reaffirming a disturbing trend, U.S. students ranked 21st in science and 25th in math in a test of 40,000 15-year-olds in the 30 nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

One aspect of the report that stands out is that 15 percent of the American students have immigrant backgrounds, compared with an average of 9.3 percent in the 29 other countries. Immigrants students do not do as well, on average, on the OECD test.

American schools must work harder to improve the math and science skills of immigrant children. It's an investment that helps us remain competitive in the global economy.

Powered by algae

Putting "algae" and "renewable fuel source" together in the same sentence may sound like an unlikely combination, but not anymore.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere are pressing ahead with work to turn certain types of algae into affordable fuel. To do that, they have to reduce the per-gallon cost from about $20 to more like $2.

Current biofuel sources such as sugar cane and corn, which are used to make ethanol, are gobbling up thousands of acres of crop land annually.

With food prices inching up as farmers, encouraged by reckless government subsidies, plant more and more corn for fuel, algae is looking all the more attractive as a substitute.

Hey, that really would be a

green

fuel.

Put ATVs in their place

There are thousands of all-terrain vehicles (better known as ATVs) in New Jersey, and too many of their owners are ripping up state forest land - including the fragile Pinelands - for their enjoyment. To its credit, the state is taking a carrot-and-stick approach to the problem.

The stick is pending legislation to increase the fine for riding in state land from $200 to $500 and to allow officials to also impound the vehicle.

The carrot is an effort to designate places where ATV enthusiasts can ride legally. One proposed site is a former sand pit in Monroe Township, Gloucester County. Already, environmentalists are promising to fight that proposal.

If the environmentalists are right that there are threatened species on the Monroe site, then they should help identify suitable sites for ATV parks.

A fitting and conflicted memorial

A unique reworking of the design for the President's House memorial at Independence Mall means there will be no coverup - quite literally - of the little-known story of George Washington as a slave owner. Not only will that honor the slaves' memory, but it also should be a crowd-pleaser.

When the house foundation at Sixth and Market Streets was unearthed in the spring, more than 300,000 fascinated visitors stopped to gaze at the basement of the kitchen and an underground passageway likely used by Washington's nine slaves.

The archaeological finds sent the National Park Service back to the drawing board for a design that took the discoveries into account. The just-unveiled redesign by Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners of Philadelphia does exactly that.

The new, preferred look for the Robert Morris house, which once served two American presidents, will give visitors a subterranean view of the foundation, basement and passageway. The excavated site will be visible through a glass enclosure, while at street level, visitors will see the architectural outlines of the house and learn of the lives of slaves and president in audio and video.

With the Street administration's welcome addition of $1.5 million in city support, the newly designed memorial's construction budget is nearly in hand. Yet to be reached is the worthy goal of raising a small endowment for maintenance and educational programs.

Among the many memorials to the nation's early years, there may not be another that captures so well the contradictions of a great democracy being founded while some Americans remained enslaved.