On Death, God, and WorldCom
June 30, 2002
By John K. Bates
With too many things going on this week, it is difficult to find that single, dramatic issue that will elevate Your Humble Columnist to consideration for the Pulitzer he has long deserved. So without further adieu, here goes another "News and Views" column documenting what has been a very interesting week in these United States:
News: WorldCom admits massive fraud, teeters on the edge of bankruptcy while its stock plunges well below $1.
Views (1): It is (perhaps not so) amazing that the first (and only) reaction many have to the latest in a long line of scandals is that we need more government control over the auditing and reporting process. In reality, the problem is greatly exacerbated by the reporting required annually and quarterly by the SEC. The governments generic, sterile, one-size-fits-all requirements invite corruption because they are to manipulate. A better solution would be the ending of the annual requirement and an understanding that companies that do regular, honest, and especially thorough audits will be rewarded by investors tired of ticking time bombs in government-dictated reports. Think about it: which would be better, an annual (or even biannual) report listing all the facts clearly for anyone to discern, or an expansion of todays dizzying array of 8-Ks, 10-Qs, and other forms which make sense only to the most advanced accountants? Especially when even those accountants are easily duped?
Views (2): While the media and especially the hyper-pro-government-expansion Bush administration would never admit it, the string of business scandals has done much more long term damage to the economy than the attacks of September 11. Those attacks dealt a short-term blow we quickly recovered from; Enron, Tyco and WorldCom have dealt a longer-term blow to the nations economic confidence. Its the difference between a gunshot wound and the Ebola virus. Both are damaging; one is quick while the other slow and insidious. But a gunshot wound is much easier to treat quickly than Ebola, and so was the damage wrought by Usama bin Laden. The damage to the American economic psyche brought about by a few unscrupulous businessmen and the government that fostered their growth will be far more difficult - and take much more time - to completely overcome.
News: The 9th District Court of Appeals determines the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional; the words "Under God" are verboten in todays sensitive climate.
Views: Conservatives should not be surprised, but they also must look inward. How many conservatives have tolerated, or even applauded, President Bushs "inclusiveness" campaign towards liberals? How many stood silent when Candidate Bush declared that Robert Borks opinion that we are collectively "slouching towards Gomorrah" was wrong because it was insensitive? And how many silently watched while one conservative politician after another sat on his hands while our primary schools, our public institutions, and especially our colleges instilled a poisonous totalitarian doctrine of "political correctness" upon the people and especially upon the children? Yes, the 9th Court made the wrong choice, and yes this is a great example of why it is important for conservatives to be elected president - so long as they make conservative judicial choices. But given that our current "conservative" president has shown every inclination to go along to get along to try to please everyone, not offend anyone, and win votes and praise from the New York Times, can we be at all certain that he will not appoint judges that will act in similarly asinine ways as the 9th Court? It says here we cannot, and it further says here that the next bad decision could well be made by made by appointees of this "conservative" president. And todays conservatives will have only themselves to blame for tolerating his policies, all in the name of winning votes.
News: The death penalty is ruled unconstitutional for the mentally retarded and is curtailed in a 6-3 decision that limits the ability to administer such sentencing to juries only.
Views (1): It is time for conservatives to rethink their support of the death penalty. Yes, those who have killed deserve to die have by definition forfeited their rights as citizens, including the right to live. But even if in theory the death penalty is just and deserved, in practice it is too difficult to administer. There are far too many examples of poor judgment - cases that make too many uncomfortable with a sentence that cannot be reversed or repealed. There is too much disparity in sentencing, especially the sentencing of those who can afford good legal counsel compared to those who cannot. No one would deny, for example, that had O.J. Simpson been poor and had he committed his crime in Texas, would be approaching his final date with destiny. This is too much for those who revere the Rule of Law and believe it should apply to all citizens equally.
Views (2): Moreover, there is a very good philosophical reason why conservatives - especially pro-life conservatives - should be skeptical of the death penalty. After all, life is life. Even if murderers have in a sense forfeited their right to life in this society, who are we to decide that life is not worth living? Is this not the same definition of playing God that we accuse abortionists (and euthanasists) of doing? Indeed, one of the biggest problems with those who call themselves pro-life citing the sanctity of life is the fact that many of these folks are also pro-death penalty. This is on the surface a staggering inconsistency, and even if there are technical reasons why the two opinions can mesh, in reality the position is perceived as hypocritical. A man or woman locked in jail with no possibility of parole will harm no one else. Let them live, and let God deal with them. He might even find a way to use even the most deadly of sinners for His kingdoms purposes.
Views (3): Let us also consider for a minute who is doing the executions. Who is presenting the evidence? Who is telling us that certain people need to die? Thats right - the government. The same government conservatives ridicule for being inefficient, lazy, and incompetent. The same government we insist be cut and eliminated where possible. The same government we insist stay out of our lives. Are we to now trust this behemoth with the judgment that someone deserves to die? We dont trust them with our taxes - yet we trust them with matters of life and death? How can this be a consistent position?
News: Martha Stewart faced judiciary and Congressional inquiry over her fortuitous timing in selling shares of ImClone, a pharmaceutical company once run by a close friend.
Views (1): Aside from all the humor (some of it very good) over how Martha would look in an orange jail uniform, the scandal shows how some people simply think they are above the law. How could Ms. Stewart - who is worth millions - be tripped up by a trade scandal worth less than $50,000? It is because she thought that only the little people needed to worry about such things. A big, famous person in a country absolutely enamored with fame and adoration for the rich and famous need not worry about such things.
Views (2): Ms. Stewart should have been married to a certain Democratic president and had political ambitions of her own. Then the scandal would most certainly have blown over, and her accusers painted as extremists. There is a lesson here somewhere.
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