Bad Idea

The action and the thought behind this proposal, floated by a New York Times editorial is a really bad idea, as is any reduction of sentence for criminals involved—even as a driver—in murdering police officers.

An excerpt.

Early next week, the New York State Board of Parole will hear the petition of Judith Clark, who has spent 35 years in prison for her role in the 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored car in Rockland County that resulted in the murder of two police officers and a guard.

Ms. Clark was sentenced to a minimum of 75 years, the harshest punishment available, even though, as a getaway driver, she was not at the scene of the crime. Now 67, she was certain to die in prison — until Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December commuted her sentence to 35 years, making her eligible for parole immediately.

Mr. Cuomo met privately with Ms. Clark before making what he knew would be a very controversial decision, particularly among police unions and other law enforcement groups. In the end, he was impressed with her unconditional remorse, her acceptance of responsibility for the crime, the wide range of supporters urging her release, and the positive work she has done while behind bars, like establishing educational programs for fellow inmates.

“We call it the correction system,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I think the situation is corrected as it is ever going to be, unless you can bring a person back to life.”

In addition to Ms. Clark’s sentence, Mr. Cuomo commuted the lengthy terms of four other people convicted of murder or manslaughter. These grants serve as an important reminder that while the fact of a crime never changes, the person who commits it can….

If the Parole Board decides to grant Ms. Clark’s request for release, she may live the rest of her life in freedom. While there is sure to be resistance from the victims’ families, it is the right thing to do.


Nice Story About Reformed Criminal

This former criminal who has become very famous, talks about his time in prison and what it meant to his life, in this article from the Washington Times.

An excerpt.

Comedic actor Tim Allen opened up about his prison stint for felony drug trafficking in the late 1970s, telling Closer magazine in a recent interview that it was his time behind bars that put him in a “position of great humility.”

The “Last Man Standing” star, 63, was arrested in 1978 at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport in Michigan for possession of cocaine, and he subsequently pled guilty to drug trafficking charges. He spent two years and four months at a federal prison in Minnesota before he was paroled in 1981.

“It was a watershed moment,” Mr. Allen told Closer in its newest issue. “It put me in a position of great humility, and I was able to make amends to friends and family and refocus my life on setting and achieving goals.”

In 1984, Mr. Allen married Laura Deibel and they had a daughter five years later. The stand-up comedian then became a household name after playing TV dad Tim Taylor on the hit series “Home Improvement” from 1991-1999. In 1998, he entered rehab for alcohol abuse after being charged with a DUI.

“I’m not the same guy I was the first time [I was married], when I was hiding and doing what people who drink too much do. I was not connecting,” Mr. Allen told Closer. “But I’ve been sober for almost 20 years. I’m much more present.”

The Counter Culture & Mission Cohorts

In the marvelous book, The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and its Youthful Opposition, by Theodore Roszak, published in 1969, Roszak was writing to his cohort, Anglo/European, College Educated, Radical, and his cohort description—as well as the descriptions of those cohorts he was not writing for—is vivid and congruent with Lampstand’s cohort directed mission.

An excerpt.

At this point, the counter culture I speak of embraces only a strict minority of the young and a handful of their adult mentors. It excludes our more conservative young, for whom a bit less Social Security and a bit more of that old-time religion (plus more police on the beat) would be sufficient to make the Great Society a thing of beauty. It excludes our more liberal youth for whom the alpha and omega of politics is no doubt still that Kennedy style. It excludes the scattering of old-line Marxists youth groups whose members, like their fathers before them, continue to tend the ashes of the proletarian revolution, watching for a spark to leap forth. More importantly, it excludes in large measure the militant black young, whose political project has become so narrowly defined in ethnic terms that, despite its urgency, it has become for the time being as culturally old-fashioned as the nationalist mythopoesis of the nineteenth century. In any event, the situation of black youth requires such special treatment as would run to book length in its own right. (p. xii)

Drug Injections Normalized

Following the needle exchange program, this newest effort by those who see criminal behavior, including drug use, as a result of social forces; we now have the supervised needle injection effort where drug users can get their drugs injected with sterile equipment, at government cost.

Normalizing criminal behavior normalizes criminals, the furthest point away from criminal reformation a society can assume.

This tragic effort is reported by an article from Governing.

An excerpt.

In 2015, Mike Pence was in a tight spot. As the governor of Indiana, he was staring down a public health crisis when hundreds of people were contracting HIV by using dirty needles to inject opioids. Pence knew he needed to do something quick to quell the outbreak but was fundamentally opposed to the solution that health experts were suggesting: a needle exchange program where drug addicts can trade in their used, dirty syringes for new, sterile ones.

Some worry that such programs encourage illegal drug use. But research generally shows that needle exchanges reduce the likelihood that diseases like HIV will spread. So Pence relented to the health experts, and the outbreak was quickly contained.

Pence’s dilemma was high-profile but not unique. Many state and local lawmakers have faced moral quandaries as the country struggles with historic numbers of opioid abuse and overdoses. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed reservations about needle exchanges, yet their presence is growing in areas hardest-hit by the epidemic.

But if many politicians are reluctant to embrace needle exchanges, then they’ll likely have a hard time with the latest frontier in the fight against opioid abuse: supervised injection facilities.

At these facilities, medical professionals provide addicts with sterile injection equipment so they can safely use illegal drugs they obtained from outside. They can also wait out the high and get information about and referrals to treatment.

There’s only one supervised injection facility in North America. It’s in Vancouver, Canada, and has been credited with preventing nearly 5,000 overdoses since it opened in 2003. Now two U.S. cities may open clinics of their own.

“It just shows how desperate we’ve gotten with this epidemic that this is something we’re looking into,” says Jay Butler, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Just across the Canadian border, Seattle and King County officials gave the green light for what will be the nation’s first supervised injection facilities.

“This isn’t about enabling drug use,” says Jeff Duchin, health officer of public health for the Seattle and King County Department of Health. “These are sick people, and they’re in danger of dying alone and outside. We want people to be able to be kept alive until they’re ready for treatment.”

Seattle is in the midst of securing funding and finding two sites, which is why there’s no date for when the facilities will open. They need to be somewhere with easy access for the most vulnerable populations and large enough to offer wraparound services like HIV testing and treatment.

San Francisco is also exploring the option. London Breed, president of the city’s Board of Supervisors, plans to introduce legislation that would create a task force to study the implications of a supervised injection facility.

“I can’t say safe injection is the answer. It may not be,” she said in a statement. “But I know we can’t be quiet anymore. We can’t hope the trouble away. We have to research.”

Anti-Semitism & the Catholic Church, Part II

As this post from the Magister Blog reports, Anti-Semitism wafts through the Church still.

An excerpt.

Catholic and Papal Anti-Judaism. Rabbi Laras Sounds the Alarm

“Israel, people of a jealous God. Consistencies and ambiguities of an elitist religion.” Already from this conference title wafts an air that is by no means friendly for Jews and Judaism.

But if one goes to read the original text of presentation, there is even worse to be found: “thinking of oneself as a people belonging in an elitist way to a unique divinity has determined a sense of the superiority of one’s own religion.” Which leads to “intolerance,” “fundamentalism,” “absolutism” not only toward other peoples but also in self-destruction, because “one has to wonder to what extent the divine jealousy may or may not incinerate the chosen’s freedom of choice.”

And yet these were the initial title and presentation of a conference that the Italian Biblical Association has scheduled from September 11-16 in Venice.

The statutes of the ABI are approved by the Italian episcopal conference, and its members include about 800 professors and scholars of the Sacred Scriptures, Catholic and not. Among the speakers at the conference in September is the leading biblicist at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Belgian Jesuit Jean-Louis Ska, a specialist in the Pentateuch, which in Hebrew is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. No invitation to speak, however, has been extended to any Jewish scholar.

But the rabbis could not remain silent. And they have made themselves heard with a letter to the ABI signed by one of their most authoritative representatives, Giuseppe Laras, the news of which was first covered by Giulio Meotti in “Il Foglio” on March 10.

An extensive extract from the letter is reproduced further below. But first a couple of notifications are in order.

When Rabbi Laras writes of a “Marcionism” that is now emerging with ever greater insistence, he is referring to the school of thought that from the second-century Greek theologian Marcion until our day contrasts the jealous, legalistic, warlike God of the Old Testament with the good, merciful, peaceful God of the New Testament, and therefore, as a result, the Jewish followers of the former with the Christian followers of the latter.

Not only that. Laras – still remembered for his dialogues with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini – makes reference to Pope Francis as one who perpetuates this contrast.

And in effect it is not the first time that authoritative representatives of Italian Judaism – like the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni – have criticized Francis for the distorted use of the term “pharisee” or of the comparison with Moses to cast discredit on his adversaries.

This is what Francis did, for example, in the concluding address of the synod of bishops, when he lashed out against “the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases.” Not caring that he was contradicting himself, because one innovation that the pope wanted to introduce into the practice of the Church was the restoration of divorce, allowed by none other than Moses and instead prohibited by Jesus.

But now it’s Rabbi Laras’s turn.


Dear friends,

[. . .] I have read, together with my esteemed fellow rabbis and with Prof. David Meghnagi, cultural commissioner of the UCEI [Union of Italian Jewish Communities], the event guide for the ABI [Italian Biblical Association] conference scheduled for September 2017.

I am, and this is a euphemism, very indignant and embittered! [. . .]

Of course – independently of everything, including possible future apologies, rethinkings, and retractions – what emerges conspicuously are a few disquieting facts, which many of us have felt in the air for quite some time and about which there should be profound introspection on the Catholic side:

  1. an undercurrent – with the text a bit more manifest now – of resentment, intolerance, and annoyance on the Christian side toward Judaism;
  2. a substantial distrust of the Bible and a subsequent minimization of the Jewish biblical roots of Christianity;
  3. a more or less latent “Marcionism” now presented in pseudo-scientific form, which today focuses insistently on ethics and politics;
  4. the embracing of Islam, which is all the stronger as the Christian side is more critical toward Judaism, now including even the Bible and biblical theology;
  5. the resumption of the old polarization between the morality and theology of the Hebrew Bible and of pharisaism, and Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels.

I know very well that the official documents of the Catholic Church are thought to have reached points of no return. What a shame that they should be contradicted on a daily basis by the homilies of the pontiff, who employs precisely the old, inveterate structure and its expressions, dissolving the contents of the aforementioned documents.

Anti-Semitism & the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church, so responsible for historic Anti-Semitism, is the one global institution best able to educate why Anti-Semitism is Anti-Christian, as Judaism and Christianity are unbreakably joined through Moses, Christ and history.

One recent horrible example of the reality Jews still live under in Israel is written about in this moving, powerful column from Caroline Glick.

An excerpt.

Jordan is the country to Israel’s east with which Israel has had a formal peace for 23 years.

And its people hate Israel, and Jews, even more than the Iranians do.

Every once in a while, the Jordanian people are given a chance to express how they really feel about Israel. It’s ugly.

Twenty years ago, on March 13, 1997, 7th and 8th grade girls from the AMIT Fuerst junior high school for girls in Beit Shemesh packed box lunches and boarded a school bus that was to take them to the Jordan Valley for a class trip. The high point of the day was the scheduled visit to the so-called “Island of Peace.”

The area, adjacent to the Naharayim electricity station, encompasses lands Israel ceded to Jordan in the 1994 peace treaty and Jordan leased back to Israel for continued cultivation by the Jewish farmers from Ashdot Yaakov who had bought the lands and farmed them for decades.

Israel’s formal transfer of sovereignty – and Jordan’s recognition of Jewish land rights to the area – were emblematic of the notion that the peace treaty was more than a piece of paper. Here, officials boasted, at the Island of Peace, we saw on-the-ground proof that Jordan and Israel were now peaceful neighbors.

Just as Americans in California can spend a night at the bars in Tijuana and then sleep it off in their beds in San Diego, so, the thinking went, after three years of formal peace, Israeli schoolgirls could eat their box lunches in Jordan, at the Island of Peace, and be home in time for dinner in Beit Shemesh.

Shortly after they alighted their buses, that illusion came to a brutal end.

The children were massacred.

A Jordanian policeman named of Ahmad Daqamseh, who was supposed to be protecting them, instead opened fire with his automatic rifle.

He murdered seven girls and wounded six more.

On Jordanian territory, the guests of the kingdom, the girls had no one to protect them. Daqamseh would have kept on killing and wounding, but his weapon jammed.

In the days that followed, Israel saw two faces of Jordan and with them, the true nature of the peace it had achieved.

On the one hand, in an extraordinary act of kindness and humility, King Hussein came to Israel and paid condolence calls at the homes of all seven girls. He bowed before their parents and asked for forgiveness.

On the other hand, Hussein’s subjects celebrated Daqamseh as a hero.

The Jordanian court system went out of its way not to treat him like a murderer. Instead of receiving the death penalty for his crime – as he would have received if his victims hadn’t been Jewish girls – the judges insisted he was crazy and sentenced him instead to life in prison. Under Jordanian law his sentence translated into 20 years in jail. In other words, Daqamseh received less than three years in jail for every little girl he murdered and no time for the six he wounded.

Not satisfied with his sentence, the Jordanian public repeatedly demanded his early release. The public’s adulation of Daqamseh was so widespread and deep-seated that in 2014, the majority of Jordan’s parliament members voted for his immediate release.

Three years earlier, in 2011, Jordan’s then-justice minister Hussein Majali extolled Daqamseh as a hero and called for his release.

Last week, sentence completed, Daqamseh was released. And within moments of his return, in the dead of night to his village, crowds of supporters emerged from their homes and celebrated their hero.

Peter & Tyrants

Last century, Peter spoke out powerfully against tyrants, as noted in this superb article from Catholic World Report, would it be so today we pray.

An excerpt.

Eighty years ago this week, Pope Pius XI issued two encyclicals condemning two of the most brutal regimes in history: Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Pius released Mit Brennender Sorge (“On the Church and the German Reich”) on March 14, 1937 (which was smuggled into Germany and read from pulpits on March 21, Palm Sunday), and Divini Redemptoris (“On Atheistic Communism”) on March 19, 1937 (the Feast of St. Joseph).  They were issued when Hitler’s war machine and Stalin’s reign of terror were in full gear.  (Six years earlier, he issued an encyclical condemning Italian fascism).  Pius exemplified heroic courage by speaking truth to power in an age of dictatorships.

In Mit Brennender Sorge, Pius directly confronted the neo-pagan and racist ideology of the Nazis.  He wrote that only “superficial minds” lock God “within the narrow limits of a single race.”  Christians “deny their faith in the real Christ” if they deny that the Old Testament is “exclusively the word of God” and a “substantial part of his revelation.”  The Torah shows that creation was not merely the product of an impersonal force such as necessity or chance.  Each and every human being is created by the free act of a loving God, and endowed with a spirit capable of reflection and free choice.  The Jewish scriptures show the unfolding of God’s promise of salvation to the chosen people, which is fulfilled in Christ for all.  In 1938, Pius reaffirmed that “spiritually, we are Semites.”

Benedict XVI lived through this same period in Germany, and later wrote that the “decisive no to all racism” is the teaching of Genesis that every person, without exception, is formed with God’s spirit, in God’s image, and from the one earth.  Since everyone is fashioned from the same earth, “there is only one humanity in the many human beings” and “not different kinds of ‘blood and soil,’ to use a Nazi slogan.”

This Biblical teaching also undermines Nazi tyranny.  Each person’s immortal soul will outlive any world-historical power.  God’s creation and redemption of every individual is the highest gift of personal dignity that cannot be bestowed by a regime.  Christ “has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20), not for an exclusive collective like a race or empire.  The ultimate bulwark against totalitarianism is the promise of a personal resurrection, which infinitely surpasses any hope for an ideal society on earth.

Pius warned that the Nazis aimed for a “war of extermination,” including a brutal campaign against the Church.  Because of the Church’s repeated admonitions against Nazi ideology over several years, Pius concluded that no honest person “will be able to lay the blame on the Church and on her Head” for the devastation wrought by Hitler’s regime.

In Divine Redemptoris, Pius diagnosed similar violations of human dignity in Stalin’s empire.  Since communism holds that humanity is determined solely by matter and an inevitable class conflict in history, there is “no room for the idea of God” and “neither survival of the soul after death nor any hope in a future life.”  The Soviets disdained Christian hope in heaven because it eclipsed the communist version of a perfectly just society in history.

The Catholic social tradition holds that the inner life of the individual is the origin of authentic social development, not collective entities such as a class, State, or a blind historical process.  In Centessimus Annus, St. John Paul taught that the “the first and most important task” for building a society “is accomplished within man’s heart.”  The primary shaper of the heart is not a society’s political or economic system.  It is the culture, which is where the Church makes its “specific and decisive contribution.”  The Church’s vital concern for the vocation of individual souls is the foundation of social development.

There is a certain individualism in Catholic social thought.  In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI taught that while the larger community can assist in personal fulfillment, it is ultimately the individual’s duty to be “the chief architect” of one’s success, self-fulfillment, and salvation.  These goals are not forged by one’s ego.  They are inspired by each person’s desire for self-fulfillment in the deepest sense.  As Benedict XVI said in his homily prior to his election to the papacy:

All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. … The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human souls …

In Caritatis in Veritate, Benedict taught that serving the material needs of others is “part and parcel” of evangelization, because Christ “is concerned with the whole person.” Actively serving both the material and spiritual needs of our neighbors is indispensable to the faith, which is otherwise “dead” (Jas 2:16).  There is no dualism of body and soul.  Providing for a person’s basic needs also touches their soul.  Work that is done well, from one’s initiative and charity, in free collaboration with others, provides both a material and spiritual service.  One’s good work, no matter how mundane, sows goodness in human souls and fruit that endures.  This has long been a teaching of the Jewish and Christian traditions.  The USCCB’s commentary on Revelation 14:13 provides that “according to Jewish thought, people’s actions followed them as witnesses before the court of God.”  Those actions include one’s work for economic development.

Ban the Box

The major problem with this effort is that it removes the ability of employers to protect their customers from potential depredations of former criminals who may or may not have rehabilitated.

Other problems are noted in this article from the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

After joining a gang as a teenager, Wayne McMahon spent 25 years in and out of California prisons. Hearing that his nephew was headed down the same road finally gave McMahon, at the age of 45, the motivation three years ago to start changing his life.

“You get to a certain age where you see that Mom and Dad were right most of the time,” he said.

Step by step, McMahon is transitioning back into society – leaving his gang, attending rehab and paying restitution for his crimes – but steady work has eluded him.

Despite looking for months, McMahon said he can only get side jobs taking care of people’s yards, maybe once or twice a week. He said employers never seem to get beyond his criminal record, which includes arrests for drugs, burglary and an attempted murder that he says was revenge against a man who raped his sister.

“Once they see you’ve been convicted of a felony, they say, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ ” McMahon said. “You don’t get the opportunity to explain to them.”

California could soon make his search easier by eliminating the felony conviction box from job applications altogether.

Building on a 2013 law that prohibited public employers from asking about criminal history on the initial application, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, has introduced a bill this session to expand the policy to private companies. Assembly Bill 1008 forbids inquiring about an applicant’s conviction record until they have received a conditional offer.

“This removes some of these arbitrary qualifiers,” McCarty said. “It does give people a chance to get their foot in the door.”

The idea has taken off across the country in recent years: 25 states and more than 150 cities and counties now have “ban the box” laws in place, according to the National Employment Law Project. In nine states and 15 cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, the policy applies to private employers.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama endorsed the policy, instructing federal agencies to remove questions about prior convictions from applications and urging companies to pledge to do the same.

But some remain skeptical of the approach. Several recent studies concluded that banning the box actually hurts many of those it is intended to help by increasing bias against black and Latino job applicants that employers may assume are more likely to have a criminal history.

“The problem of ‘ban the box’ is it doesn’t do anything to address employers’ concerns about hiring people with criminal records,” said Jennifer Doleac, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “Hiding the information from them during the application process will put some of them in the position of simply trying to guess.”

Church Helping Criminals

A major reason I developed the criminal reformation ministry of Lampstand is because the modern American Church—Catholic & Protestant—has had difficulty reforming criminals, as noted by James Hitchcock, quoting “a former Presbyterian minister, now working with drug addicts”:

“Contemporary churchmanship is awash in a kind of permissiveness which results in watered-down distortion of what true religion has been through the centuries. Religion has to do with subduing the ego, the voluntary taking up of a self-denial and service to a Higher Power….

“I believe organized religion frequently doesn’t get anywhere with addicts because it’s not honest enough. It’s caught up in niceness and gentleness and timidity and it isn’t tough enough.” (pp. 40-41) James Hitchcock (1979) Catholicism & Modernity: Confrontation or Capitulation? The Seabury Press, New York.