Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The debate over the death penalty in the United States begins anew

Since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College to win the presidency, and especially since Trump was sworn in, the news has been filled with all manner of items, some of them silly, nit-picking and embarrassing for the media, and others of varying degrees of importance and interest.

Among the actual news items was the choice of the excellent Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court and the battle that ensued to confirm him; the Syrian air base strike and the MOAB bombing of an ISIS tunnel/cave installation in Afghanistan; and more recently the situation in Arkansas where the state intended to execute eight death row inmates in the 11 days remaining before the end of April when one of the drugs used in executions reached its expiration date.

This latter development produced quite a lot of comment, most of it negative from opponents of the death penalty.

The death penalty is sanctioned through the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and each death row inmate had been convicted and had many years to appeal their sentence or conviction, so why so much controversy? Many were horrified not about the death penalty itself, but that Arkansas would conduct so many executions in such a short period.

The death penalty is a matter of long, spirited debate, notwithstanding its constitutional and Biblical validations.

The religious aspect is important in the United States, since among the volumes of things former President Barack Obama misunderstands about America is its still-strong religious nature. Of the 35,000 participants from all 50 states polled in a 2014 Pew Research Center study of Religion and Public Life, Christians accounted for 70 percent of participants, and more than 75 percent claimed some religious affiliation.

While our government is not founded on any set of religious beliefs, people with religious beliefs have been a major segment of the population since the nation’s founding, and their beliefs heavily influenced the founding principles, and that influence still exists today.

Many Christians, along with people holding other religious beliefs, and still others who do not cite religion at all, object to the death penalty on its failure of compassion. “How can religious and other compassionate people indulge in such a barbaric act?” the argument goes.

Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old black man, was having trouble with his girlfriend, so naturally he decided the solution was to randomly pick out someone to kill. After mentioning the woman’s name to 74 year-old Robert Godwin Sr., also a black man that he came upon while searching for a victim, he shot and killed the unsuspecting and totally innocent Godwin.

Stephens’ stupid and vicious murder highlights this issue. Many believe that someone who intentionally and deliberately murders another person and inflicts shock and grief on that person’s family and friends somehow is entitled to the compassion the murderer sadistically denied the victim(s).

One religious argument against executions is that it denies the criminal the opportunity to repent and even use his/her experience to try to turn others to religion and away from crime.

Others believe, however, the condemned deserves no consideration or compassion when his or her justice is rendered. “Should not that person suffer at least as much as the victim and those close to the victim?” this argument goes.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 allowed the resumption of the death penalty, its use has dropped off substantially. While 31 states still legally allow executions, ten of them have executed no one in the last ten years, and 26 have executed no one in the last five years.

Several reasons are cited: the possibility of executing an innocent person; botched executions; a decline in the crime rate; and the cost of fighting those opposing the imposition of the death penalty in capital cases.

There are five legal methods of execution – firing squad, gas chamber, hanging, electrocution, and lethal injection – and lethal injection is the hands-down preferred method. Much of the opposition to the other four comes down to how “unpleasant” each of those methods is to the condemned, with lethal injection normally being the least uncomfortable. However, even lethal injections sometimes cause suffering to the condemned.

There is an on-going debate over whether the United States should have a death penalty. Another debate centers on making the execution as easy on the condemned as possible.

Perhaps this represents a true expression of compassion, or maybe it is one more step toward making executions so difficult and expensive that eventually it will be abandoned, in favor of keeping vicious criminals alive and relatively comfortable in prison for the rest of their lives at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.

As long as there is a death penalty, someone who is absolutely proven guilty of committing a capital crime and sentenced to death should collect his or her just reward in a reasonable amount of time (which will be in fewer than 10 or 20 years), as efficiently as possible, and as inexpensively as possible. If it hurts a little, or a lot, too bad.

Of all factors involved, the concerns of the criminal come last.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The willful subversion of critical institutions threatens America

As the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was wrapping up, Benjamin Franklin was asked this question: “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy.”  Franklin replied, “A republic ... if you can keep it.”

That has been one of America’s greatest challenges ever since, and there certainly are numerous discernible threats to our republic today.

Certain of our institutions play a critical role in sustaining the republic and promoting and protecting the unique character of the United States of America, and they therefore have a tremendous obligation to operate ethically and honorably. To the extent that they abandon their obligation, the country’s fundamental character is threatened.

Those institutions are: the justice system, the education system, and the information media.

Imagine you have a business renting apartments. One of your tenants, who has rented a place for $1,500 a month for three years sends you a check for only $900 for the current month.

You contact the tenant and are told that he views the lease that both you and he signed as a “living document,” the meaning of which may be altered as circumstances change. Having lost the job that paid $73,000 a year, his new job pays only $45,000, and he says he can now only afford $900 rent a month.

That is precisely the rationale that activist judges apply when they abandon the clear language of the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the land to make rulings they say are in line with current circumstances and the “mood” of the country, and because the Founders and those who enacted older laws were unable at that time to imagine current circumstances, that old stuff must be modernized.

However, the laws or Constitutional principles that activist judges disagree with must be amended or repealed through existing formal processes, not ignored or altered because they are viewed as inconvenient. If momentary interpretations are all that matter, and the Constitution is merely a “living document,” we don’t have a Constitution and we are not a nation of laws.

A nation needs its history and culture – all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly – to be passed down from generation to generation so that its people will know who they are and where the came from, and can properly determine where they want to go and why.

While families should pass much of this along to children, we largely entrust this duty to formal education. To guide the learning process and assist students in learning an array of important and useful subjects and life lessons, we employ teachers, professors, instructors, and such, who coach and assist students.

Most of us had at least some teachers, professors, coaches who inspired us and helped us learn difficult subject matter, develop our skills, and learn how to think critically and logically. Hopefully, we did not have any that strayed from their professional duties and tried to tell us what to think about things, rather than developing the ability to think for ourselves.

Today, among the great number of effective educators there are too many who stray from the straight and narrow, especially in colleges and universities, where education too often takes a back seat to political and ideological indoctrination and politically correct policies. Imposing beliefs on students is worse than merely disrespecting the student; it is an outright abandonment of integrity and principle.

Along with an accurate base of knowledge about the country’s founding and history presented to them in schools, the people need to be well informed about current events. Information journalism contains two parts, and they must be kept separate. One is news about events, which must be accurate, honest and objective. The other is opinion, and must be clearly defined and omitted from straight news.

But far too often, opinion and political considerations sneak into news reporting, and also into the selection of what news gets reported and how it is reported, as well as what news does not get coverage. This is like playing golf blindfolded. You might find your driver, your ball and a tee, and you might tee up and actually hit the ball, but after that, you are literally in the dark, depending on the honesty of those around you to accurately describe the situation for you.

The American Left – liberals, progressives, socialists, etc. – has a vision of America that is in many ways sharply at odds with the founding principles. Both beneficial and harmful ideas that the Left pursues are at odds with the ideal of limited government, because using government to force things on the people is the Left’s tool of choice.

Fortunately, there are obstacles to using government to “fundamentally transform the United States of America,” as a former leftist president pledged. These obstacles are difficult to remove, as they should be. So the Left resorts not infrequently to re-interpreting the Constitution and the laws; managing and manipulating the information coming through much of the mass media; and sometimes indoctrinating children.

We all need to remember that worthy and broadly beneficial ideas will sell themselves; they don’t need people to take short cuts or cheat to get them accepted.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

It's time to bring the airlines down to Earth

It's time to bring the airlines down to Earth, so to speak, and remind them who's in charge.
The United Airlines outrageous treatment of a paid passenger, admitted through the gate to board a UA flight, in his seat ready to fly home, gets dragged from his seat and suffers significant injuries, all because UA knowingly over-booked the flight, and after boarding a plane full of passengers realized that getting some of its employees to the plane's destination is more important than those paid, seated passengers.
UA made an offer, sort of, to get some passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. But this paltry offer did not work, and so the purge began, and a doctor flying home so that he could keep appointments in his office the next day was selected to be removed from the plane, one way or another.
Despite an insulting and embarrassing initial response from the airline's CEO, and a more thoroughly thought out response a couple of days later, UA now properly is the target of a law suit to impose both financial punishment and well-earned financial renumeratiion, and is enduring the abundant and well-deserved ridicule and criticism for its arrogant position re: passengers.
Less objectionable than the United fiasco, but no less ridiculous, is the practice of the American Airlines change policy, which imposed a 57% fee on two potential passengers wanting to change their flight date because a visit to an active duty USAF member was interrupted by orders for the airman to go overseas at the exact time the couple was going to visit the airman.
Other outrageous items also exist.
A news report noted that among all U.S. airlines, paid-up passengers had been bumped from the flights they had booked some 430,000 times in 2016. A common excuse for these inconveniences was to allow airline employees to travel, instead of paying passengers.
Let's not lose site of the importance of all businesses, even airlines, to turn a profit. And perhaps it is a difficult situation for airlines to show a profit in the current environment.
But U.S. airlines had better wake up and smell the anger that their potential and actual passengers harbor: They are POed.
After all, without passengers, we don't need airlines or airports. Flying is sometimes necessary, but more often it is a convenience, and there are other ways to move about than flying.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Some good news for local economies battered by the War on Coal

It is a common idea among many Americans that coal as a major industrial fuel is dead, or at least dying, and cleaner fuels, like wind and solar energy, and natural gas, are taking over. There is some truth there; but there are other influences on coal’s recent decline.

Less costly natural gas has become the fuel of choice in power plants and for other industrial uses, not because of the natural relative price of the fuels, but because of the cost of regulatory demands on mining and burning coal that require enormous investments that have priced coal higher than natural gas. Remember former President Barack Obama’s prediction: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them.”

These regulations produced the closing of more than 400 coal-burning power plants, which dropped the demand for coal, and altogether put 63,000 people in the coal industry, electric production industry and related support industries out of work in just the last few years.

At just the right time hydraulic fracturing (fracking) became popular, after lying mostly dormant since its first commercial application in 1957, and that produced a boom in natural gas production at attractive prices to compete with coal.

Many think burning less coal is a great thing, because burning coal fouls the air and is dangerous to our health, a “truth” which loses importance when you know the actual infinitesimal improvement in air quality derived from burning less coal.

However, considering all those factors, and paraphrasing a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain, the rumors of coal’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Of course, coal will never regain its former dominance among industrial fuels; time and technological/industrial evolution would just as certainly, although much more gradually, have eaten into coal’s popularity without the help of the Obama War on Coal.

But the regulatory adjustments of the Trump administration, the growing acceptance of the idea that the climate change/global warming mania is dramatically overstated, the reality that coal is still the best fuel for many things, the fact that many countries that do not have domestic coal supplies depend upon it for fuel, and the improvement in coal-burning technology all point to a continued market for American coal.

And let’s not forget that fossil fuels made up 81 percent of the fuels used to produce electricity in 2016, and coal is still the primary fossil fuel in electricity production.

Industry insiders, like Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray, see a partial resurgence in coal. “Coal will grow back,” he told Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney. “But we’re in a decline right now.”

He went on to say that Trump “can bring back at least half of those [63,000 lost] jobs as the economy grows and as he ends the regulations on coal.” He noted that we have not had a level playing field in coal; “the government has been picking winners and losers.”

And he told Maria Bartiromo, also on Fox Business Network, former President Obama closed 411 coal-fired plants, and that the Clean Power Plan which Trump ended recently, would have closed 56 more plants. That, he said, would have caused a steep spike in electric rates.

“As [Trump] grows the economy [and] brings jobs back to America, coal will participate in that growth because we are one-sixth the cost of a windmill and one-fourth the cost of natural gas,” Murray said.

Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said, “The coal industry knows and understands how to mine coal … and protect our environment. We don’t do it the way it was done 50, 60 years ago.”

Here are a few pieces of evidence:

* Reports from the Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia coalfield regions say that mines are cranking back up and miners are being rehired. Train yards are seeing cars filled with coal moving through them in greater numbers.

* Bluefield State College recently held a Job Fair to immediately fill 85 open coal positions at Wyoming and McDowell county mines that mine coal used in making steel.

* Fox News reports that in Wise County, Virginia, a “long-awaited revival is under way in this beleaguered Central Appalachia community where residents see coal as the once and future king. Trucks are running again. Miners working seven days a week cannot keep up with current demand.”

* Coal exports through Hampton Roads last month rose more than 50 percent from last year's level, led by a nearly five-fold increase at Newport News' Pier IX, according to the most recent Virginia Maritime Association statistics. "A lot of mines are open again," said Harry Childress, president of the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance."

Few if any argue that the coal industry will return to its former greatness, but it will certainly endure for many years at a lower level if natural forces are allowed to work, free of politically correct environmental engineering.

When you replace regulations resulting from selfish ideological goals with a business regulatory level based upon common sense, good things can happen.

And for areas of the country like ours, that have suffered so greatly from Obama’s over-zealous EPA, this is good news.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Politics, not qualifications, will decide the Gorsuch nomination

Senate Democrats are doing the Stanky Legg Two-step in order to dance away from confirming a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court who is a federal judge provably as devoted to following the U.S. Constitution and the body of federal law as any nominee in many years.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, whose record on the bench of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is as nearly perfect as one can hope to achieve, is precisely the type of judge the Founders had in mind when they wrote the Constitution, a man in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia, whose vacancy he has been nominated to fill.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch said his law clerks had compiled information about his ten years on the bench of the 10th Circuit, which covers about 20 percent of the U.S. He has participated in more than 2,700 appeals, 97 percent of those cases were decided unanimously, and he was in the majority 99 percent of the time. How much more mainstream can one be?

His record clearly identifies him as a mainstream appellate judge, as has the American Bar Association, not an ideologue, or someone who plays favorites. Nevertheless, an exercise designed for confirming a qualified person to sit on the nation’s highest court has devolved into a political war.

U.S. law is a system of rules that govern behavior. Rules and laws must be followed and not following laws has penalties. In the U.S. laws are not static; they can be amended or repealed, but they must be amended or repealed through a specific process. However, some people – primarily liberal Americans – believe that this process may be circumvented by the rulings of activist judges when laws get in the way of their inclinations.

Gorsuch’s adherence to the law is the primary objection to his nomination, although some say it is also because the Republican majority in the Senate refused to take up the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the seat Gorsuch is now nominated for.

This, too, points to a Democrat anomaly. A principle relating to this situation arose in the U.S. Senate in 1992 when then-Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who was chair of the Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor that filling Supreme Court vacancies “that would occur in the full throes of an election year,” must be held to a different standard. Citing “a majority of his predecessors,” Biden said that the president, George H.W. Bush, should delay naming a replacement, which would de-politicize the nomination, at least for a while.

In March of last year, “in the full throes of an election year,” President Barack Obama ignored the advice that Biden, who was then his Vice President, had offered on the matter years before and nominated Judge Garland. The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., however, liked Biden’s theory, and would not schedule hearings for Garland.

Democrats want judges that decide legal issues on whether their decisions fit the passions of the moment or have their preferred impact on the people, and therefore disapprove of the necessity to appoint judges that follow the Constitution and the law.

Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is upset with Republicans over the Merrick Garland issue, and will therefore not vote to confirm the highly qualified and squeaky-clean Gorsuch.

He spent 20 minutes on the Senate floor urging his fellow Democrats to oppose Trump’s nominee. Gorsuch, he said, “was unable to convince me he would be a mainstream justice who could rule free from the biases of politics and ideology.” And he said that Gorsuch “is someone who almost instinctively favors the powerful over the weak, corporations over Americans,” Schumer said. “He declined to answer question after question with any substance,” he said, referring to Gorsuch’s refusal to express his political beliefs or to prejudge issues that may come before the Court.

Others have equally irrelevant objections:

** Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Cal.: "As U.S. senators, we have an obligation to also examine a nominee's legal approach and ask whether he or she considers the impact of those decisions on our society and the daily lives of our people."

** "I cannot trust that President Trump is acting in the best interest of our country or our democracy and that I cannot support moving forward with his choice for the court," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

** Virginia Democrat and former vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine explained that, “After meeting with Judge Gorsuch and reviewing his testimony and past decisions, I’ve observed that he has repeatedly taken an activist approach to cases involving a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her health.” Kaine clearly does not understand judicial activism.

Senate Democrats threaten a filibuster to prevent a confirmation vote and ending the filibuster requires 60 votes. With 52 Republican senators, that will require the support of eight Democrats, and will be difficult to achieve.

Following the lead of former Nevada Democrat Harry Reid when he was Majority Leader, Republicans can use the “nuclear option” to allow a simple majority vote to confirm Gorsuch. Majority Leader McConnell has pledged that one way or another, Gorsuch will be confirmed.