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Please Ask, Do Tell: The Senate And Gays in the Military September 23, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Gays in the Military, Immigration, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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Another case of democracy in action. (Or is that inaction?)  The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of allowing gays in the military only if no one knows that they are gay has been the subject of controversy since it was instituted 17 years ago.  It is estimated that at least 65,000 “uncover” gay individuals continue to serve our country.  However, gay soldiers continue to be expelled from the military when their sexual preference is discovered at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to train their replacements.   In fact, it has been reported that approximately 1,000 individuals per year are dismissed from the military based upon homosexuality and at least 13,000 have been terminated from military service since the policy went into effect.

The resolution of this issue by a policy change which would allow gays to openly serve in the military is supported by President Obama who called for the change in his State of the Union address.  Mr. Gates, the Secretary of Defense, is supporting the repeal of the policy and  the House of Representatives passed an amendment in May which calls for the repeal of the policy.  On September 9th, a Federal Court in California deemed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy to be unconstitutional.

Okay, so seems like we have all three branches of government in agreement…Well, not quite all three branches….The Congress is not united on the issue.  The House of Representatives passed an amendment, but the Senate has failed to do so.  Actually, the Senate failed to debate and pass the entire Pentagon bill for the first time in 48 years.   It seems that the problem was more of a political battle over what other amendments were going to be attached to the bill, just before the November elections, rather than  the actual issue of gays in the military.

In other words, the failure of the bill to pass seems to be largely a result of the legislative process. For example, The Dream Act, that would allow illegal immigrant children a pathway to citizenship, was going to be attached to the bill and therefore voting for the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy would also be a vote for The Dream Act. Different issue and perhaps one upon which some Senators did not want to cast a vote.   And apparently there were  proposed amendments that were going to be excluded from the bill to the discontent of some Senators.   Additionally, there was a provision providing for over 400 million dollars for construction of  an extra engine for an F-35 strike fighter.  That provision might have been passed by the Senate, but if it was included, President Obama was poised to veto bill as the White House believes that it is an unnecessary expenditure.

It gets even more complicated if you go through all the moving parts of this bill and analyze the various November election concerns, but the point is that the politics of the legislative process is what often stymies progress.  Consensus becomes difficult at best and impossible at times because of a process that bundles unrelated issues into one package.  So, for now, the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy has been stalled in the Senate along with the Dream Act to the frustration of the both the gay rights and immigration reform advocates.   Perhaps we should all “please ask and do tell” the Senate to reconsider its “packaging process” to more effectively play its  role in  resolving issues of concern to all of us–We the People–their constituents.

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The Dollars and Sense of Criminal Justice: Missouri Provides Its Judges With the Cost of Incarceration September 19, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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Should the fact that it costs about a half million dollars to incarcerate a convicted felon for 30 years be a consideration for the sentencing judge?  Or should it be an issue to be raised by defense counsel at a sentencing hearing?  What about the fact that an individual convicted of robbery could be sentenced to intensive probation at a cost of $9,000.00, but the designated incarceration will cost  the state $50,000.00?

Criminal activity and the resulting prosecution and incarceration in our country costs billions of dollars a year. The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported in June, 2010: that “the United States currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. In 2008, over 2.3 million Americans were in prison or jail, and one of every 48 working-age men was behind bars. These rates are not just far above those of the rest of the world, they are also substantially higher than our own long-standing historical experience. The financial costs of our corrections policies are staggering. In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spent about $75 billion on corrections, the large majority of which was spent on incarceration.”

The Missouri Sentencing Commission is providing its judges with the cost of incarceration as additional information that may be considered when imposing a sentence.  The cost to society of releasing criminals as a result of shorter sentences or probation may be balanced against the literal cost of sending these people to prison.

It is a cost benefit analysis that ultimately has overall cost to society as its focus.   The question for some, is whether this type of calculation is appropriate in the criminal justice system.  Is it a necessary reality check or is the value of punishing criminal behavior priceless?  Are certain types of crime worth the punishment while others not so much?  The judgement is ours to render.

Really, Can’t We All Just Get Along? Or Does Relocation of a Mosque “Trump” National Burn a Koran Day? September 9, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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So, this week while Rodney King plans to wed one of the jurors in his case, Donald attempts to “Trump” a small town pastor by  placing a losing bet on the purchase of the  building near ground zero in which the controversial Islamic center is planned.  Meanwhile,  the President of Indonesia is imploring President Obama to keep the pastor from burning Korans on Saturday, September 11th, and the Secretary of Defense is on the phone attempting to persuade the pastor not to burn the Korans.  Wait–it gets better–the pastor calls off the burning based upon a message from God which indicates that the Islamic center is moving its location.  Problem is that God apparently forgot to mention the deal to the folks planning to build the center because they are not moving it despite the pastor’s message from God and Donald Trump’s offer to pay the main investor 6 million dollars (a 25% immediate return on investment). Now the pastor is reconsidering and may  still burn the Korans.

I imagine if I submitted this storyline to any movie producer or director, I would be laughed out of their offices for proposing such an unfathomable plot.  Before leaving I would attempt to persuade them that this is a story about America–Freedom of speech, religion, the right to assemble, etc, etc, etc.  Donald Trump is making his offer as a resident of New York and a citizen of the United States, a patriot in a capitalist country (or is that a capitalist in a patriotic country?),  in an attempt to end the strife over the Ground Zero Mosque Issue.  The whole world is watching as our President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and yes, even Sara Palin, have come together  in agreement that it is a bad idea to burn Korans even if it is  constitutionally justifiable ( and even though they don’t all agree on whether the ground zero mosque should be built).

Having still failed in my attempt to “sell” the story to Hollywood, I might finally concede that truth is stranger than fiction….And sometimes life becomes so crazy that it appears that the only solution is to ask everyone to pause, breathe and remember that beneath our religious beliefs, political preferences, ethnic and cultural differences we are all, first and foremost, members of one race–the human race.  In that regard a little respect, humility and sensitivity would go a long way.

Burning the Koran: The Frightening Reach of the Internet and The First Amendment September 8, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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Pastor Terry Jones, the pastor of a church with 50 members, is planning a national burning of the Koran day to commemorate September 11th.  He lives in Gainesville, Florida and in another era Jones’ hostile rhetoric might have been only a local community problem.  However, introduce Facebook and the reach of the internet and Jones has created an international controversy with people not only cheering and abhorring the event, but also fearing for their lives in foreign countries.

Jones, who holsters a gun on his hip, is aware of pleas from Christians who live as far away as Indonesia and Afghanistan and are afraid of the repercussions of the burning the Koran.  However, Jones appears to be stubborn in his determination to spread his word of the evil infiltration of Islam into our country.  All of this fervor despite the fact that Jones acknowledges that he has never read the Koran and only knows what the Bible says.

One insightful observer has commented that Terry Jones has “hijacked Christianity” much as Al Qaeda “hijacked Islam.” So why are Gainesville officials allowing Mr Jones to proceed?  Terry Jones’ actions are blanketed in First Amendment protection–The U.S. Supreme Court has held that both the burning of the American flag and the Ku Klux Klan’s cross burning is a form of  protected speech unless it is done with intent to specifically intimidate another individual.

Our democracy allows Jones to initiate National Burn a Koran Day and also supports the right of the people planning to assemble to protest Jones’ event.  Again, one has to wonder whether the Founding Fathers  might have been a bit more specific in their thinking if they could have envisioned the Internet and the international ripples that Facebook enables.  And we should note once again that just because someone is afforded Constitutional rights does not necessarily speak to the wisdom of exercising those rights, insensitively, at the expense of others.

As a person whose ancestors were murdered at Auschwitz, I cannot help but connect the burning of books to Nazi Germany. “Book burnings by German college students preceded Kristallnacht and proved 19th century German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine’s prediction. “Where they burns books they will eventually burn people.””

While I am always cautious  when invoking a Nazi analogy and clearly distinguish Nazi inhumanity as government action rather than the ranting of an individual citizen empowered with freedom of expression,  I am sure that I am not alone in having that guttural reaction.  Obviously, the burning of any books, and especially a sacred book, is a powerful statement and that is why Jones is planning his bonfire.

And while our country tolerates a wide range of freedom of expression, what we do not legally tolerate and should not socially tolerate is abject discrimination.  The fact that we have honest dialogue and exchange of varying viewpoints is undeniably an admirable, precious feature of our government.  The fact that we currently are having a debate about the “Muslim issue” in our country is alarming beyond expression and should be  frightening to anyone who  respects not only the right of  freedom of religion, but also the basic right to be free. Period. Pure and simple.

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