Saturday, May 09, 2015

Inquiring minds want to know

Question: Why does Dr. Ben Carson think he's qualified to be president?

Answer: He thinks it's as easy as brain surgery.

Leopold case argues against both death and life sentences

May 21st marks the 91st anniversary of the Nathan Leopold, Richard Loeb 'thrill killing' of Loeb's 12 year old second cousin in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood. The case is one of many termed the 'crime of the century' but probably deserves the honor for two reasons: it started the movement to end the death penalty, and, based on Leopold's amazing life during and after prison, argues eloquently against life imprisonment.

Graduate students at the University of Chicago in 1924, Leopold, 19, and Loeb, 18, fancied themselves Niettzschean supermen (Ubermenschen); men so gifted they were not bound by the normal laws of society. Their fascination with crime led them from petty theft to arson and finally murder, bashing in the head of young Loeb relative Bobby Franks. Satisfied they committed the 'perfect crime' it took only a week for their arrest and several months to sentence them, after pleading guilty, to life for murder plus 99 years for kidnapping.

Had they been poor and/or black, Leopold and Loeb would have surely been executed. But they were rich and white; allowing them to hire the 'attorney for the damned', Clarence Darrow, who took their case to promote his opposition to the death penalty. His 12 hour summary convinced the judge in their sentencing hearing, resulting in seemingly certain life in prison. Their landmark case began the long journey to abolish capital punishment; gone now in 18 states.

Loeb was killed by a fellow inmate in 1936. Leopold, a genius, furthered his already considerable education, adding 12 languages to the 15 he'd already mastered. He made significant contributions to improving conditions at Statesville Penitentiary, including reorganizing the prison library, revamping the schooling system, teaching its students, and volunteering in the prison hospital. In 1944, Leopold served as guinea pig for a Statesville Penitentiary Malaria study. He was deliberately inoculated with malaria pathogens and then subjected to multiple experimental malaria treatments.

Leopold's exemplary conduct won him parole in 1958 after serving 34 years. He relocated to Puerto Rico where he became an X-Ray technician in a church hospital. He went on to earn a master's degree and taught at the University of Puerto Rico, became a researcher in social services in Puerto Rico's health department, did research in leprosy, urban renewal and housing, and traveled extensively to research a book he published on Puerto Rican birdlife. He also married a widow in 1961 who was with him till his death at 66 in 1971.

Regardless of how exceptional Nathan Leopold's case may be for abolishing capitol punishment, our sentencing guidelines should also be modified to offer a path for similar offenders to demonstrate both their rehabilitation and their readiness to rejoin society at some point. Nobody lost when Nathan Leopold was paroled after 34 years. No potential murderer thought that 34 years imprisonment was a fair trade to kill someone. As much as Nathan Leopold gained from his freedom, society achieved even more.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Fear, not facts, rule Roskam's website on Affordable Care Act

Well into its sixth year and second year of full coverage, the Affordable Care Act (ACA is a resounding success. The Facts are in but check out my Congressman Peter Roskam's (IL-6) website, and the only F word you'll find regarding the ACA, is Fear, not Facts.

When the site pops up, the fear pops out. "Inspector General needed to monitor Affordable Care Act because the public deserves answers" trumpets one. "Roskam introduces bill to create Special Inspector General for Affordable Care Act" the pop up proclaims. "Roskam, community leaders tout legislation to block job-killing regulations" touts a third. These are tired, fear mongering chestnuts that are well over a year old. They weren't true or needed then; they're aren't true or needed now.

What you'll never find at Roskam's website are Affordable Care Act facts. Just today the Chicago Tribune cited a RAND study showing that 17 million more folks are insured for health care, and the insured are up in every significant category; employer provided plans, Medicaid programs and policies obtained by the ACA created state insurance marketplaces. The state marketplaces, the most innovative ACA lifesaver, accounts for 11 million newly insured. And all the fear Roskam warned about for the affluent enjoying health insurance prior to the ACA? Most haven't seen any change in their coverage, but they have seen a slowdown in the overall cost of healthcare for the nation overall. While Roskam fantasizes stuff about the job killing ACA, private sector job growth continues to soar. And let's not forget the reduction in the non-affluent going bankrupt, suffering declining health or even dying from lack of health insurance.

It's time for Congressman Roskam to start using a new F word on his website: not last year's Fear, but today's Facts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

ACLU, SPLC hover over Garland shooting

Of all the public service groups I've supported over the past 60 years, two stand out: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

There was in interesting confluence of both concerning the near terrorist massacre that was averted in Garland, TX, Sunday at a self described free speech event consisting of a contest for the best cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad. 'Best' is event organizer Pam Geller's depiction of the eventual winning entry. 'Incendiary' is how the SPLC might describe it. They have been following Geller's career, which they describe as one dedicated to promoting hate against Islam and the Muslim community, for some time in their mission to track and publicize persons and organizations promoting hate instead of peace and inclusiveness. Sure enough, the highly publicized event inspired two Islamic extremists to travel from Arizona to Texas bent on massacre at the event. Fortunately, they were killed by a security guard before anyone was murdered.

SPLC was founded in 1971 as a non-profit public interest organization to "promote civil rights by fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society". Check out their website and you'll find these Geller quotes supporting their assertion she's a danger to civil discord and non-violence in America:

"Islam is not a race. This is an ideology. This is an extreme ideology, the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the earth."
— Pam Geller On Fox Business' "Follow the Money," March 10, 2011
"Obama is a third worlder and a coward. He will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords."
— Pam Geller,, April 13, 2010
"Hussein [meaning President Obama] is a muhammadan. He's not insane … he wants jihad to win."
— Pam Geller,, April 11, 2010
"I don't think that many westernized Muslims know when they pray five times a day that they're cursing Christians and Jews five times a day. … I believe in the idea of a moderate Muslim. I do not believe in the idea of a moderate Islam."
— Pam Geller, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2010

That brings us to ACLU,, founded in 1920 as a non-profit public service organization dedicated to "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." ACLU's most visible activities involve freedom of speech, as they were founded to confront the rampant suppression of that sacred right during and following WWI. Their most famous effort involved defending the right of Chicago area Neo-Nazi Frank Collin to lead his swastika adorned group to march in heavily Jewish Skokie, IL in 1977. ACLU successfully prevailed in the US Supreme Court that wearing a swastika was a from of protected free speech. Had local authorities moved to prevent hate monger Pam Geller from holding her obviously inflammatory Prophet Mohammad cartoon contest, she would likely have found a fearless advocate in ACLU to proceed with her event.

Were I around with the same anti war mindset during WWI, I would surely have been slammed in the Slammer for speaking out against America's senseless and self destructive involvement. Thanks to ACLU I can do so with relatively little fear today. And thanks to SPLC we can keep track of the hate groups and hate mongers who go right up to the line of protected free speech and sometimes over the line into violence.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Some thoughts on penal reform

1. Abolish the federal death penalty and that in the 32 states still practicing state sponsored murder.

2. End life sentences as well which simply consign taxpayers to fund the nation's largest collection of nursing homes for many thousands of elderly inmates. Complement this step with procedures to insure dangerous offenders' sentences can be incrementally expanded if still deemed a danger to society.

3. Drastically reduce minimum sentences for serious crime to give responsible judges discretion to impose sensible sentences based on individual circumstances.

4. Greatly expand home confinement and work release for non-violent offenders not likely to repeat their offences.
5. Expunge every one of the millions of convictions for non-trafficking drug possession and release every prisoner serving time for drug possession.

6. transition every private prison to a government facility, eliminating the business model of profiting from incarcerating human beings.

7. Reduce recidivism by Investing much of the savings from these reforms to provide educational, job training and mental health services for the 2.3 million languishing in the American penal gulag.

8. Set a goal of reducing our percentage of the world's prison population from 25% to the 5% which our total population represents.

That is just 8. Surely there are many more.