Wednesday, November 30, 2011

kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out

I read a lot of books, enough that I’ve actually set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all of them. Generally speaking, I’m not going to write about them unless they’re absolutely riveting OR there’s a strong connection with current events.

A case in point is one of John Grisham’s latest books, titled, “The Confession”, and the topic is the wrongful execution (in Texas) of a fictional character named Donte Drumm. In yet another case of life imitating art, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon put a moratorium on the death penalty for the rest of his term a few days after I finished reading Grisham’s book. His reasons for the moratorium can be found at the link below:

kill ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.

My old home state of Illinois ENDED the death penalty altogether last spring, more than a decade after then-Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium when it was discovered that over a dozen death row convicts had been wrongfully convicted. The 167 convicts on death row had their sentences commuted to life in prison. This time around, the 15 convicts still remaining on death row were scattered to various prisons around the state.

Governor Perry’s home state has executed more people, by far, than any other state in America. Since the death penalty was reinstated in America in 1976, the folks in the Lone Star state have executed 477 people. Although it would be nearly impossible to examine all of those executions, the chances are fairly good that not all of those 477 people were actually guilty of a crime, which should give Governor Perry (the longest serving governor in Texas history) something to reflect about, even though his denial of global warming (in the midst of the worst drought in Texas since 1948) tells us that he’s not exactly a deep thinker. As he recently demonstrated at a Republican candidate debate, though, he doesn’t seem to be very worried about the “justice” that his state is carrying out.

If he actually DID take the time to review more of the death penalty cases in Texas, he would learn that innocent people HAVE been executed in Texas. Sam Millsap, a former Texas prosecutor, now crusades AGAINST the death penalty because a man who he caused to be executed was later proved to be innocent. In addition, a Texas prosecutor named Ken Anderson is going to be held accountable for alleged prosecutorial misconduct for a case that he prosecuted. After spending 25 years for a crime that he didn't commit, the man that he prosecuted (Michael Morton) was released from prison in October of 2011.

The majority of the states in America still have the death penalty, and roughly 60% of the population still favor the death penalty, but there are some important economic issues that really should be addressed, in addition to the fact that the death penalty isn't always a just sentence.

In 1944, the state of South Carolina executed a 14 year old black boy, even though the state had no written confession, no witnesses were called on his behalf, and the jury only spent 10 minutes deliberating his fate. George Junius Stinney Jr's story can be read at the link below:

a travesty of justice

The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with roughly 2.4 million people behind bars. Of that total, 1.4 million are locked up for non-violent crimes, such as the possession of marijuana. Depending on the state, it costs somewhere between $18,000 to $31,000 a year to keep each of those people in prison, which means that we (as a society) are spending between 43 and 74 BILLION dollars on our prison expenses every 365 days.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are worried about teacher pensions in Wisconsin.

According to the best estimates, California (which has over 700 people on death row) could save $200,000,000 a year by eliminating the death penalty, and changing the sentence to life in prison without parole. I'm afraid to do the math, but if all 3250 people that are still on death row in this country had their sentences changed to life in prison without parole, my guess is that all of our states (most of which are fairly broke) would save a lot of money.

I'm not doubting that the 1.000,000 violent criminals that are currently in our prisons should continue to be imprisoned, but I believe that our society needs to be a lot smarter about where we spend our scarce resources, and I'm not convinced that being "tough on crime" is always the right answer.

Virtually everyone has an opinion about the death penalty, but one of the most compelling statements that I’ve come across was given in 1995 by Sister Helen Prejean, who was portrayed in “Dead Man Walking” by Susan Sarandon(who won an Academy award for her role in the film):

“Government can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill”.

Her words were true then, and they are even truer today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

your Dutch uncle - in Dutch

Als onze "baby girl" (die net gedraaid 32) ging naar de universiteit, woonde zij Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hoewel ze uiteindelijk verhuisde terug naar de omgeving van Chicago, en studeerde af aan de Loyola Universiteit, haar jaren in Michigan gaf ons een kans om een ​​aantal van de charmes van de centrale Michigan ervaring, waaronder Saugatuck (thuisbasis van Tabor Hill wijnmakerijen) en een heerlijk klein stadje genaamd Holland.

In 2006, Money magazine Holland als een van de in de Verenigde Staten. Hoewel Sharon en ik in het kort beschouwd als de stad als onze woon-en zorgcentrum, we uiteindelijk gericht op de # 1 en # 2 steden op de lijst, die Walla Walla, Washington en Prescott, Arizona. We bijna verhuisd naar Prescott, maar verrekend in plaats daarvan op de nabijgelegen Flagstaff, omdat van de beslissing van Kelly's om haar geavanceerde mate bij Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff na te streven.

Holland, Michigan was eerst geregeld in 1847 door de Nederlandse calvinistische separatisten, die er verhuisd van hun geboorteland Nederland naar religieuze vervolging in hun vaderland Nederland te voorkomen. Het werd opgenomen als een stad in maart 1867, maar bijna brandde tot de grond op dezelfde dag als de branden in Chicago, Illinois en Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

Zelfs vandaag de dag, Holland is een vrij kleine stad, ongeveer 33.000 mensen, maar het heeft 170 kerken, dus het is niet moeilijk te raden waar de meeste van de stad zal worden op een zondag ochtend.

Hoewel Nederland vandaag de dag is een vrij klein land (ongeveer 16 miljoen mensen, niet veel groter dan de staat Illinois) was het op een bepaald moment een grote koloniale mogendheid. De eerste Nederlandse handel expeditie in het Verre Oosten was in 1595, en het rijk geleidelijk aan verspreid over de ter wereld. Zo recent als 2010 werden de Nederlandse Antillen als onderdeel van het Nederlandse rijk, maar vandaag de dag alleen maar Aruba en een paar andere kleine eilanden nog steeds een verbinding met "het vaderland".

Het "vaderland", door de manier, zou zijn geweest een stuk kleiner als het niet voor de daden van een man genaamd Arie Evegroen, die gebruikt zijn graan schuit in 1953 aan te sluiten een grote dijk breekt, net als de fictieve Hans Brinker heeft meer dan 100 jaar geleden.

Vanwege de omvang van het Nederlandse imperium , is het niet moeilijk om herinneringen van de Nederlandse cultuur vinden over de hele wereld, evenals tal van plaatsen in de Verenigde Staten. Als je woont in de omgeving van Chicago, Holland (Michigan) is ongeveer drie uur rijden van "The Loop", dus het maakt voor een leuke plek om te gaan voor een weekendje weg van "de stad", vooral als je een stop maken langs de manier waarop in Saugatuck.

Nu dat we leven in Arizona, het is een reis die niet langer praktisch voor ons, maar bijna elke staat in Amerika (inclusief Arizona) heeft een locatie of twee die kunnen een monster van wat "uw Nederlandse oom" geniet weer terug in Nederland.

Heb een goede dag

your Dutch uncle

When our “baby girl” (who just turned 32) went off to college, she attended Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Although she ultimately moved back to the Chicago area, and graduated from Loyola University, her years in Michigan gave us a chance to experience some of the charms of central Michigan, among them Saugatuck (close to the home of Tabor Hill Winery), and a delightful little town called Holland.

In 2006, Money magazine named Holland as one of the top five places to retire in the United States. Although Sharon and I briefly considered the city as our retirement home, we eventually focused on the #1 and #2 cities on the list, which were Walla Walla, Washington and Prescott, Arizona. We nearly moved to Prescott, but settled instead on nearby Flagstaff because of Kelly’s decision to pursue her advanced degree at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.

Holland, Michigan was first settled in 1847 by Dutch Calvinist separatists, who moved there from their native Holland to avoid religious persecution in their native Holland. It was incorporated as a city in March of 1867, but nearly burned to the ground on the same day as the fires in Chicago, Illinois and Peshtigo,Wisconsin.

Even today, Holland is a fairly small city, roughly 33,000 people, but it has 170 churches, so it’s not hard to guess where most of the city is going to be on a Sunday morning.

Although the Netherlands today is a fairly small country (about 16,000,000 people, not much larger than the State of Illinois) it was at one time a major colonial power. The first Dutch trading expedition to the Far East was in 1595, and the empire gradually spread around the world. As recently as 2010, the Netherlands Antilles were considered part of the Dutch Empire, but today only Aruba and a few other small islands still have a connection to “the homeland”.

The “homeland”, by the way, would have been a lot smaller if it weren’t for the actions of a man named Arie Evegroen, who used his grain barge in 1953 to plug a major dike break, much as the fictional Hans Brinker did over 100 years ago.

Due to the size of the Dutch empire, it’s not hard to find reminders of Dutch culture throughout the world, as well as numerous places in the United States. If you live in the Chicago area, Holland (Michigan) is roughly a three hour drive from “the Loop”, so it makes for a nice place to go for a weekend away from “the city”, especially if you make a stop along the way in Saugatuck.

Now that we live in Arizona, it’s a trip that’s no longer practical for us, but nearly every state in America (including Arizona) has a location or two that can provide a sample of what “your Dutch uncle” enjoys back in the Netherlands.

Hebben een goede dag

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Immigration man

On November 12, 1954, Ellis Island shut its doors, after processing more than 12,000,000 immigrants since opening its doors in 1892. It is estimated that more than 40% of all Americans living today can trace their roots through Ellis Island (named after a New Jersey merchant named Samuel Ellis, who owned the island in the 1770’s).

The first person admitted through the gates was a 15 year old Irish girl named Annie Moore. The last person admitted, in November 1954, was a Norwegian merchant seaman.

After its closure, Ellis Island was used as a deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded WWII soldiers, and a Coast guard training center. Starting in 1984, the location went through an extensive (and expensive) renovation, and it reopened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Prior to the opening of Ellis Island, immigration had been handled by the individual states. In New York, Castle Clinton (on the lower tip of Manhattan Island) operated from 1820 to 1920. From 1892 on (when Ellis Island was opened) Castle Clinton continued to admit immigrants, but they were the first and second class passengers on ocean liners. The “steerage” passengers were admitted through Ellis Island.

In addition to the immigrants admitted by the State of New York, the ports of New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, Charleston, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Galveston also had immigration admitting stations.

In order to provide a more consistent approach to the influx of humanity from other countries, the Federal Government established Ellis Island processing center, and Annie Moore went through its doors on January 2, 1892.

Americans have long been conflicted about immigrants, even though ALL OF US (with only minor exception) are either immigrants from other countries, or descended from someone who was (my grandparents came from Ireland). The exception to the rule, of course, are the folks who were here prior to 1607, when the first permanent settlement of Europeans was established on May 14, 1607.

English, by the way, wasn’t the native language of North America, and it isn’t the official language today (because we don’t have one). If you have the patience to count them all, you’ll find that there were 296 different languages spoken in what is now the United States. If you add on the area north of the present Canadian border, the number balloons to approximately 1000. Eight of the Native American languages are still spoken today, with Navajo being the most commonly spoken. The United States Marine Corps found the Navajo language to be very beneficial during WWII, when the Corps used
400 North American Navajo Marines to thoroughly confuse the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

Before the largely Christian Europeans took over the country, the Native Americans had their OWN set of 10 Commandments:

When the Statue of Liberty (a gift from France) was erected in New York Harbor, its welcoming plaque seemed to apply to everybody, but it got lost in translation on its journey to the West Coast. The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law on May 8, 1882, and would remain in effect until December 17, 1943. The message eventually faded in New York Harbor also, after Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which greatly reduced the number of newcomers admitted into the country.

There has been a LOT of discussion lately about various flat tax proposals (all of which would exacerbate the income inequality in America) and “the need to curb illegal immigrants”, ignoring the fact that we actually NEED illegal immigrants (it has a lot to do with your grocery bill). There’s has also been TOO MUCH EMPHASIS on the national debt,but that’s a topic for a different time, since you’ll have to brush up on your Japanese to understand why.


Before you get your dander up too much, though, it’s instructive to examine the problems that are ACTUALLY the things that we, as a country, need to address.

In his latest book, “That Used To Us”, “the most trusted man in America” spells out the the strategies that helped America become the largest economy in the world. He called them “The Five Pillars Of Prosperity”. They are as follows:

1) Providing public education to more and more Americans.

2) Building and modernizing our infrastructure.

3) “Keeping America’s doors open to immigration open so that we are constantly adding both the low-skilled but high-aspiring immigrants who keep American society energized, as well as the best minds in the world to enrich our universities, start new companies, and engineer new breakthroughs from medicine to manufacturing.” The same idea was also offered by the authors of "The Millionaire Next Door", who said, " .. this is why America needs a constant flow of immigrants with the courage and tenacity of .. the first generation immigrants ... ".

4) Government research for basic research and development.

5) The implementation of necessary regulations on private economic activity.

Due to the iron grip that special interest groups have had on this country, making progress on ANY of them is going to be difficult for the next year or two. Surprisingly, a lot of people in America have never heard of the Kochbrothers - and that’s exactly how they like it.

The problems that each area is facing are as follows:

1) Education -

Earlier this year, the school board of Providence, Rhode Island FIRED all 1926 of its teachers. Although it’s reasonable to assume that adjustments will need to be made to some of the benefits enjoyed by teachers (especially the defined benefit retirement programs) it’s UNREASONABLE to demonize America’s teachers at a time that they are needed most.

Arguably, the main reason for the increase in prosperity in America in the 1950’s and the 1960’s was the G.I. Bill, which allowed returning veterans to get a college education. Currently, there is a proposal to help former members of the military find work in a sluggish economy. Although the measure would require Congressional approval, the current administration has vowed to proceed unilaterally if approval is not received in Congress. (Even former Presidents have weighed in on the need to improve our educational system, “in the midst of a sour economy”.)

The timing of the proposal highlights another important issue: if the Super Committee can’t come to agreement on how to increase revenue for the Government by November 23, there will be an automatic REDUCTION of $454 billion in defense spending.

2) Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers two years ago gave a grade of “D” to the nation’s infrastructure. One example of WHY they did that can be viewed at the video below:

London Bridge is falling down

In spite of a strong need to improve our infrastructure, as well as a need to create jobs, some members of Congress recently voted to kill a bill to improve both situations because it involved a tiny tax increase on a tiny percentage of the American population (folks with annual income in excess of $1,000,000).

3) Immigration

In 1980, there were 73,000,000 people in the world with college or post-college degrees. By the year 2000, that number had increased to 173,000,000, but the number of H-1B visas that our country needs to issue to capture that talent has not increased proportionally. In fact, the trend has gone in the opposite direction.

The peak year for H-1B visas was the year 2000, when 195,000 visas were issued. Since that time, the number allowed has been decreased, and the current allotment is set at 85,000.

The United States actually issues three different types of visas for temporary workers. The H-1B visa covers workers in specialty occupations (such as computers) and is limited to 85,000 annually. The H-2A visa applies to temporary farm workers, and has no annual cap. The H-2B visa covers seasonal non-agricultural workers, and is limited to 66,000 per year. Despite the caps, the United States issued 135,991 H-1B visas in 2012. We also issued 65,345 H-2A visas, and 50,009 H-2B visas.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was a rumor circulating recently that the annual cost of illegal immigrants was $338.3 billion. To quote the famous line from the old Avis commercials, this total is “not exactly’ correct. In fact, if you carefully research all the details related to this “fact”, you’ll discover it’s completely FALSE. There ARE some costs related to illegal immigrants, but they are nowhere near the total shown above.

The most accurate answer to the question is this:

The U.S. Custom and Border Protection Department, a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security, has 43,600 sworn federal agents, and an annual budget of $11.84 billion. That’s no small amount, but it’s definitely a lot smaller than $338 billion!

It is estimated that nearly 30% of the agricultural workers in America are illegal immigrants. Although agricultural workers are a small percentage of the total for illegal immigrants, it’s logical to assume that their removal would lead to higher food prices (which it would) but not as much as you might think, due to the fact that only 7% of the cost of an agricultural item is due to labor costs.

In total, though, the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico has declined dramatically in the last 20 years, largely due to improved economic and educational opportunities in Mexico.

In recent months, there have been discussions of using alligators and electric fences , and suspending 36 environmental laws, in order to “stem the flow of illegal immigrants”. In reality, though, the solution is much simpler: improve living conditions in Mexico.

4) Government support for research and development

Federal funding for basic research and development began falling for the first time in 2005, after 25 years of growth, and has diminished since that time.

5) Necessary regulations on private economic activity

When Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, it was the largest financial bankruptcy filing in the history of the United States. The bankruptcy filing exposed some shady lending practices that cost investors millions of dollars. Although it had been assumed, fairly recently, that the financial services industry could police itself, Lehman’s failure exposed the idea for what it was = wishful thinking. In response, Congress passed a bill in May of 2010 that imposed further controls on an industry that needed them.

There’s also been some recent discussion about weakening environmental laws in order to create jobs, which simply isn’t a good idea.

In order to operate efficiently, businesses thrive if they face as few economic hurdles as possible, but it’s not smart to allow them to do whatever they want, because unbridled capitalism hurts ALL of us.

In 1972, Graham Nash (who was a British citizen at the time) and David Crosby recorded a song titled “Immigration Man”. When the sheet for the song was released, Nash chose a picture of earth from space because "when you look at a photograph of the earth you don't see any borders. That realization is where our hope as a planet lies."

Nash himself became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1978.

it’s a small world after all

Throughout the planet, there are differences in political outlook, race, creed, color, and national origin. When viewed from 200 miles up, though, we’re simply 7 billion people sharing a spectacularly beautiful blue orb floating in the vastness of space.

To quote a well known conservative talk show host, “ that’s the way things ought to be”.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Impeach the Cox-sacker

On October 20, 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered his Attorney General, Elliott Richardson, to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox because he (Cox) was getting too close to the truth about the Watergate scandal.

Rather than comply with the order, Richardson resigned. Nixon then ordered Richardson’s second-in-command (William Ruckelshaus) to fire Cox. He, too, resigned rather than carry out the order.

The next highest ranking member of the Justice Department after Ruckelshaus was Solicitor General Robert Bork. Although Bork also felt that Nixon’s decision was unwise, he felt that SOMEBODY had to comply with Nixon’s order, so he fired Cox.

The morning after “the Saturday Night Massacre”, the headlines in my local newspaper read “Impeach the Cox-sacker”, and bumper stickers with the same line appeared soon after. As we all know, Nixon’s attempt to circumvent justice was not successful, and he was forced to resign on August 8, 1974.

The story of “the Saturday Night Massacre” came immediately to mind when I read the headlines of the two major Arizona newspapers on the morning of November 2, 2011.

Governor Jan Brewer, and the GOP-controlled state Senate, fired Colleen Coyle Mathis, who was the chairwoman of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, on the afternoon of November 1. The governor accused Ms. Mathis of “gross misconduct“, which is the only legal way she could have terminated her.

In the year 2000, the Arizona legislature passed Proposition 106, which gave the power for redistricting to an independent panel rather than to the Legislature. Since gerrymandering has been a problem in this country since 1812, it’s a little surprising that it took as long as it did to correct a practice that effectively takes power away from the voters and gives it to the political party that has the majority vote.

To quote Otto von Bismarck, “laws are like sausages … it is better not to see them being made .." In view of that fact, it’s probably amazing that our political system works as well as it does.

Up until very recently, I had lived in the Chicago area for 25 years. In spite of all of the efforts that have been made to clean up political corruption in both Chicago and the State of Illinois, even the “reform Governor” (Rod Blagojevich) was removed from office due to misconduct, and will likely spend at least some time in prison. If you want to see what “gerrymandering” looks like in practice, the map of the 4th congressional district of the State of Illinois will give you a very good idea.

Should Governor Brewer be impeached for her decision regarding Colleen Coyle Mathis? That’s not my decision to make, but next week’s recall election of Senate President Russell Pearce (the first recall election in the history of the State of Arizona) is a sign that the voters are tired of “business as usual” , both at the state and at the national level (the approval rating of the Congress in Washington D.C. is currently at 12%).

The late Joe McCarthy once said, “ if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it must be a duck .. “

Although the governor gave a couple of reasons that she felt justified her position (which were quickly refuted by Ms. Mathis), I have to believe that there most be an awful lot of cheese someplace in the Capitol building ..

because I smell a rat.