Saturday, October 31, 2009

Government fails a basic function, again

Ask people to name government’s basic function and you’ll get a multitude of answers. But ask people to name five basic functions of government and I’ll bet the farm that keeping violent criminals in prison will appear on nearly every list. So why is that so difficult for government to do?

Politicians can find money to build a theatre for Dolly Parton’s tenth cousin thrice removed. There are funds aplenty for tea pot museums, sports arenas, light rail systems and pork barrel vote buying. Laws are readily written to suck every expendable dime from your income, to steal your liberty, or to make it virtually impossible to dispose of your household garbage. Yet funds can’t be found and laws can’t be written to keep predatory vermin off the streets?

Get ready, here it comes again, if North Carolina releases twenty violent convicts as currently planned. A 35-year old sentencing law apparently defines life in prison as 80 years. Thus the twenty convicts--led by Bobby Bowden--think they have fulfilled their “life” sentence obligation.

Here’s an oddity; all twenty are still alive, meaning they haven’t served “life” in prison at all. Not a single one of those inmates has served even half of their 80-year “life” sentence. In fact, those 20 inmates owed the civil population 1600 combined years of prison time. Yet, if released as currently planned, they will have served only 644 total years. Somewhere, someone owes us 956 years in the jug.

There is an equitable solution. If politicians are unwilling to require violent offenders to do their time, perhaps those same politicians should do it for them. Obviously that’s a pipe dream, so we’re left to ponder where those missing years went.

Good conduct credits. That’s why a convicted murderer’s or rapist’s 80-year “life” sentence is neither 80 years nor life. However, I’ll bet that Larry Lovett and Normal Ehrhart don’t see their sentences reduced one day. You see, both men died on August 7, 1975 when the aforementioned Bobby Bowden, sans judge or jury, sentenced them to eternity without parole. No amount of good behavior will pull their bodies from the grave. Concern for Bowden’s eternal destiny is valid and admirable. Conversely, for government to have established laws that allow his release from prison is wholly irresponsible.

Now, back to this good conduct business. Even if Bowden isn’t the worst inmate in penal history he hasn’t been a member of the penitentiary scout troop either. Bowden has racked up 17 infractions since he hung out his shingle at Central Prison. He’s been cited for disobeying orders, which could be of either major or minor significance, for damaging property and possessing weapons. But of course he is “reformed” and ready to assume his place in society. Yeah, right.

The other 19 inmates set for release are just as notorious as Bowden. Among their number are first and second degree murderers, rapists of women and children, kidnappers and armed robbers. Every one of them has found trouble in prison, too, ranging from simple possession to fighting to sexual assaults on fellow inmates. They are hardened criminals, not people who have paid their debt to society.

In fairness to elected and appointed officials, passing laws won’t prevent criminal behavior when a person has determined to act criminally. However, it is the prime duty of government to ensure that such criminals can’t repeat their offenses. The fact that the inmates in question can be released is substantive proof that government is fundamentally incapable of performing this basic task.

Worse still--and the greatest indictment against our intelligence--is how the politicians who write our unwieldy and ineffective laws, and create the unmanageable bureaucracies that administer them, can convince us of their insight and understanding each and every election year.

Shouldn’t we be just the least bit tired of their continual malfeasance and campaign pandering?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Apologizing for convicted murderers makes no sense

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can get warm and fuzzy over convicted murderers and tell the whole world how wonderful those people have become.

Admittedly, a person can change. They can adopt a different attitude and a new personality. But does that excuse murder? Or, have people who murder another person--the most heinous act one human being can commit against the life, liberty and happiness of their neighbor--forfeited nearly all expectations for mercy in a human court?

Faye Brown is just such a convicted murderer. She is now 56-years-old and has spent more than half her life in prison. Brown earned her living arrangements in 1975 when she and two accomplices robbed a bank. During their escape state trooper Guy Davis was shot and killed. Brown didn’t pull the trigger. But she was willingly and directly involved in the entire incident. She isn’t innocent.

Yet, the fact that Brown was directly involved in the death of Trooper Davis is apparently inconsequential. According to “Wanda Short,” which may or may not be the actual name of Brown’s supporter, Faye Brown has rehabilitated. She has finished college and even pays her room and board. She has become the ideal person and far more valuable to society outside of prison rather than inside.

Wanda Short just can’t believe that anyone could be so short-sighted as to deny this deserving woman, Faye Brown, her freedom. One mistake shouldn’t define a person’s entire life, according to Short. Everyone has baggage. Faye Brown just made a bad choice.

But there are glaring problems, Wanda. Faye Brown didn’t just make a bad choice; she made several. She chose to drop out of school and run with the wrong crowd. Yes, many good people made similar choices. But few allowed those choices to culminate in bank robbery and murder. Faye did more than make a “bad choice” and she is carrying more baggage than a 747.

Faye Brown may or may not be the same woman who robbed that bank in 1975. But that doesn’t mean the bank wasn’t robbed. Brown played an integral part in that crime and in the death of Trooper Davis. Wanda Short may like the current version of Faye Brown. But she’s missing the point.

Whether or not Faye Brown has rehabilitated is immaterial. The fact is that Trooper Guy Davis never got the chance to live his life. Davis faced no jury, received no trial and gets no parole. He’s dead and his family had to learn to live without him. His right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were taken by Faye Brown and her accomplices. Therefore, she has forfeited her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Faye Brown didn't commit a simple crime. She didn't just tell a lie. She didn't just cheat on her husband. She made a conscious choice to take part in a robbery the end result of which was the death of another human being. I'm sure her family loves her. But why should she be entitled to the very thing she helped deny Guy Davis?

Perhaps Faye Brown won't commit any type of crime once released. Maybe she’d be a model citizen. But if Faye Brown does commit another crime will Wanda Short take responsibility for Brown’s actions? She seems quite convinced of Brown’s character. Will Short take Brown’s place in prison? Will she bet her freedom, her family, or her life on someone who willingly took a life, or was party to that death?

I would almost bet my last dollar that Wanda Short would say yes to every question. She might even sign a document to prove her faith in Faye Brown. However, I would absolutely bet my last dollar bill that, if faced with having to fulfill the pledge, Wanda Short would fight it tooth and nail, all the while apologizing for the convicted murderer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Who was Margaret Sanger?

Mention Margaret Sanger and you’ll start a debate, perhaps a heated argument. Sanger is the greatest heroine since Florence Nightingale to some people and the worst villain since Attila the Hun to others.

So, what could produce such diametrically opposed opinions of the same person? Let’s look and see.

Sanger’s supporters refer to her nursing work with poor women on New York’s Lower East Side during the early part of the 20th Century. They see compassion in her attempts to help poor women prevent the unintended pregnancies that so often produced family poverty. From this perspective, Margaret Sanger sounds fit to be Mother Theresa’s big sister.

Detractors consider Sanger a racist, atheist and eugenicist. Oh, and we’ll toss in adulteress at no extra charge. They point to her very writings for their evidence. Supposedly, Sanger referred to blacks and immigrants as “human weeds.” She advocated an application and licensing system for child-bearing and promoted birth control as a tool for creating “a race of thoroughbreds.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to separate truth from fiction. Sanger was certainly an advocate of “family planning” and no opponent of abortion. She also wrote in the May, 1919 issue of Birth Control Review that women with large families most often became “unfit breeders of the unfit.” Her writings in The Point of Civilization add to her reputation as a eugenicist.

Conversely, Sanger’s other writings support the idea that abortion, while not necessarily life-threatening for the mother, isn’t the no consequences decision that today’s pro-choice activists claim. That’s certainly true. Few women who’ve undergone abortions live without the emotional scars. Yet alleged feminists and family planners, most notably Planned Parenthood, treat abortion with the same indifference as taking out the household garbage.

Whether or not Margaret Sanger would approve the contemporary Planned Parenthood attitude toward abortion may be debatable. But the fact that she founded the organization isn’t debatable. Let’s see what her brainchild has become.

Planned Parenthood clinics have become America’s go-to guys when it comes to abortion, and they do it with your tax money. According to the Christian Examiner, $305 million tax dollars went to Planned Parenthood in 2006 despite the organization having turned a profit of $900 million. They were receiving bailouts when bailouts weren’t cool.

The family planning federation didn’t fare badly in its 2008 fiscal year, either. According to Planned Parenthood’s annual report the organization produced total revenues of over $1 billion, “excess revenue over expenses” of $85 million and year end net assets of $1.014 billion. Not too shabby for a non-profit, huh?

To be fair, Planned Parenthood provides more services that just abortions. Their clinics perform cancer screenings and STD treatments. Pregnancy tests are also conducted. However, pregnancy tests can be had at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, too. And you won’t find a CPC providing the 305,310 abortions that Planned Parenthood performed in 2007, which was an increase of over 15,000 from the previous year.

At a median price of $625 per first trimester abortion, Planned Parenthood brought in a gross receipt of more than $190 million in one year from abortion alone. Do we see why they so defend the procedure?

What’s more, Planned Parenthood’s claim of adoption referrals, while technically correct, is misleading. The organization boasts, on page eight of its annual report, that adoption referrals increased 100% from 2006 to 2007. According that report, only 4,912 adoption referrals were made in 2007. That’s 62 abortions for every single adoption referral. Read it for what you will.

You can decide for yourself whether the late Margaret Sanger was some kind of misunderstood saint or deranged societal engineer. However, she created Planned Parenthood, an organization that is anything but saintly. In fact, it has become a monster of the first order.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What should we make of Columbus?

Note: This column was written in October, 2007 and appeared in several outlets. With Columbus Day being this Monday I thought it an appropriate post.

On October the 8th government employees paused in honor of Christopher Columbus. The rest of us continued on business as usual, except for the banks of course. I took the occasion to reflect on what Columbus was, and I use “what” purposely because his legacy is more than a single man.

I recall some of my grade-school history concerning Columbus. He grew up poor and spent his youth sailing and studying what little was known about geography. Columbus didn’t develop the idea of a spherical earth or of sailing west to reach the East. He did, however, desire to prove each theory and gain some fame and fortune for himself.

Columbus didn’t gain the fortune he sought and died in poverty within 15 years of a discovery he never realized he had made. He certainly gained fame, but he didn’t prove the idea of sailing west to reach India. In fact, he thought the New World was India. By modern standards Columbus would be an ignorant failure. However, he didn’t live in modern times.

For his day he was certainly a great navigator and a pioneer explorer. He discovered an area unknown in his world and found his way back home. How many of us can’t find our way out of the two-acre forest behind our homes? He made his voyage with sailors who believed the sea serpent-filled Atlantic Ocean had no end and the equator was so hot that the ocean boiled. Considering the circumstances, Columbus’ achievement was remarkable.

Yet there’s another side to Columbus, and each anniversary of his landing brings renewed scorn to his memory. Not only do his critics point out his failures, as if that were a new discovery, they charge him with raping the Utopian paradise that was the Caribbean.

Antagonists charge Columbus with establishing a genocidal pattern of murder and slavery that quickly exterminated the Arawak tribesmen. Columbus’ critics maintain that the entire era of European exploration and settlement exploded into a slaughterous inquisition and that Genoa’s famed mariner lit the fuse.

However, the idea that the New World lived in peace and harmony before Columbus is somewhat na├»ve. Yes, the Spanish abused the Taino Arawak tribe. But Columbus’ critics accentuate his violence only, never mentioning that the New World had a native brand of brutality.

The Taino were rather peaceful. But the Caribs were a warrior tribe that was pushing Tainos from their land before Columbus arrived. They made wives of captured Taino women (slavery, anyone?), made necklaces from a vanquished enemy’s teeth, and may have practiced cannibalism. Perhaps Caribs had decimated the Ciboneys, said to have populated the Caribbean 5000 years ago, before the Spanish arrived to finish off both tribes.

The Ciboneys apparently descended from a prior culture that was nearly exterminated by yet another people. Brazil’s Tupinamba Indians practiced a warrior form of cannibalism whether the Caribs did or not. And each of these tribes came from the mainland meaning that they themselves were explorers and not indigenous to the Caribbean.

I’ll neither praise nor scorn Columbus and his successors. But keep in mind that most known civilizations came from somewhere and displaced someone else along the way, likely by force. Mankind has explored, fought, conquered and lost since Adam and Eve were booted from the Garden of Eden, and it will continue as long as man survives. Is that preferable to living in peace and mutual respect? Certainly not, but it’s reality nonetheless.

One commenter summarized Columbus thusly, “It is not history that is good or bad--history merely is. It is human nature that is good or bad; and we are all a part of it. Let’s celebrate it whenever we can, each in our own ways.”

We must judge Columbus’ contribution, both good and evil, on the standards of his time. To condemn him in retrospect, by modern standards, is an injustice.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How to save media news? A bailout, of course.

The most equitable way to determine successes and failures is a free market. Free markets reward efforts that meet or exceed the customer’s need. But in a socialized market goods and services are taxed and regulated until producers can no longer compete with the subsidized competition.

A producer’s funds are confiscated and used to prop up failing industries that have long since stopped pleasing their customers. Success is forced to relinquish its return so failure can receive reward. Furthermore, customers who won’t willingly patronize the failing industries are forced to subsidize them, too.

There’s nothing fair or equitable about it. Subsidies allow the government to choose winners that would lose if let to their own devices. It’s an utterly corrupt process.

Nowhere is the failure to please customers better exemplified than in the national news media, where the industry leaders have little more than contempt for their customers. So far the news media hasn’t been subsidized, if you don’t count public broadcasting. That could soon change.

Dan Rather has become a cheerleader for a subsidized media. It’s his view that the government should create a commission to establish innovative media business plans and preserve journalism jobs. This is necessary, according to Rather, because a free and independent press is the heartbeat of freedom. He has unwittingly revealed a fundamental reason for the public’s waning interest in his profession.

Hasn’t it occurred to Dan Rather that government involvement in the media is the antithesis of a free press? The purpose of the free press, as constitutionally protected, is to monitor government. When government is involved with the press, via subsidies or otherwise, the press is no longer a guardian of freedom but a tool of tyranny.

Thus far, President Obama has expressed some interest in a media bailout, at least for the print portion. But a bailout for one segment of the media would invariably lead to a bailout for all.

Not only would government subsidies force certain news customers to pay for a service they now reject, it would also be a deal with the devil for the media itself. Media personalities have their biases, which are apparent even when concealment is attempted. How much worse once government is funding the enterprise? The “free” press would become an overt tool for swaying public opinion, which would further disintegrate the public’s waning confidence in journalism. Ironically, Rather’s biases were instrumental in cultivating the public’s distrust for the media.

I respect a person’s right to their beliefs. But an opinion is just that, an opinion. When opinion comes packaged as unbiased reporting, well, news viewers and readers aren’t as stupid as media potentates seem to believe.

When will Dan Rather--and Katie Couric, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Andrea Mitchell for that matter--recognize the public’s weariness of left-wing puppets disguised as news anchors, reporters and journalists? There’s just so much mind-numbing propaganda that a reasonable person can take.

Similar bias is standard fare on the print media’s buffet as well. Small wonder Americans are turning to British newspapers while the domestic media wallows in sanctimonious denial and loathsome self-pity. News customers are speaking with their remote controls and subscription payments, and in a free market they are rejecting the media status quo.

The news media--whether broadcast, print, or electronic--doesn’t need to further prostitute itself to Washington in order to survive. The profession need only stop presenting spin as news. The majority of America really isn’t as stupid as the high-minded media pundits believe. Indoctrination and reeducation isn’t needed. Just report the news and spare us the alleged civics lessons. The First Amendment, journalism, media customers, and the prospects for a free republic will all benefit.