Wednesday, September 28, 2005

White-collar criminals get more get-out-of-jail cards

In what should come as no surprise to anyone playing "find the Brownie", a new study by Syracuse University's TRAC reports that US federal prosecutions of white-collar crime are down:

Of the four principle groupings of federal prosecutions, the smallest concerned white collar crime violations -- 8,626 prosecutions in FY 2004. While the information from the U.S. Attorneys showed the total for these cases had remained essentially unchanged from 2000 to 2003, it documented a decline of about ten percent from FY 2003 to FY 2004. Estimates for 2005 indicate that the decline is continuing.

Drug prosecutions are also down. Immigration prosecutions, on the other hand, have doubled from 2000 to 2004. Weapons prosecutions appear to have levelled off, and terrorism cases are still just a very small percentage of the total federal prosecution workload.

Read the full report

Friday, September 23, 2005

Who's suffering?

In a WaPo story about the Roberts hearings, I came across this paragraph:
Sen. Sam Brownback, who skipped most of the hearing, didn't agree with that bit about law trumping philosophy. The Kansas Republican arrived at the hearing room with a 14-year-old girl suffering from Down syndrome and, as the smiling girl stood behind him, made an impassioned anti-abortion argument. We "celebrate her," Brownback said, "and yet in the womb, 80 percent are killed."

What bothers me about it is the description of the smiling 14 year old girl "suffering" from Down syndrome. It reminds me of descriptions of kids "suffering" from autism so well parodied in Getting the Truth Out. Excuse me, but clearly from the story she isn't suffering, so what is the purpose of that adjective? Emotional manipulation?

I have mixed feelings about talking about people who "suffer" from what are offically classified as disorders or might also be considered deviations from the norm. Yes, it is often difficult for these individuals and their families to function "normally" in our society. But it makes it sound like the condition itself is the source of the suffering, as opposed to the barriers society places in our path. Yes, I said "our" path because as an autistic adult I do consider myself to be well outside that norm. Better at some things than others, and no stranger to discomfort and despair, nonetheless most of my life I was suffering much more from the way people treated me than from any inherent disability.

And if that 14 year old girl could be said to have been suffering, I'd say it was because she was being bandied around as a republican senator's anti-abortion poster child. But thankfully, she seemed happily unaware of the degree to which she was being manipulated.

Which still doesn't make it right.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Syracuse minister fasts for peace

Rev. David S. Blanchard, minister at First Unitarian Universalist Society of Syracuse, has recently begun a monthlong fast in protest of our continuing presence in Iraq. Here is a letter he sent last week to members of his congregation:

September 14, 2005

Dear Friends,

On Thursday, September 15th I will be commencing a time of fasting. Barring unforeseen complications, I will break the fast on Yom Kippur, Thursday October 13th.

This may strike some of you as a surprise. (It sure surprised me!) I have been thinking and meditating on this for a number of weeks. I have kept my own cousel. I have previously fasted for three and four days at a time, and found the experience to be spiritually deepening. As before, my fasting will follow a regimen that permits limited natural fruit and vegetable juices. And of course, water.

Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline. Its primary spiritual function, historically, is one of purification. The physical energy expended by the mind, body and spirit is re-channeled from the endless process of consumption and digestion, and is freed to sustain a more engaged state of attention to the eternal, to the holy. They do not call it a "discipline" for nothing.

My decision to do this is centered on another time honored motivation for fasting: that of public witness to injustice. This small act is dedicated to the cause of bringing our military forces home from Iraq. This Sunday, September 18th, I will speak in greater detail about my decision, which was somehow not exactly a decision. I only wish that the President could be here to save me the postage of sending him yet another letter.

I will make it clear to anyone who asks, that this fast is an expression of my vocation as a Unitarian Universalist minister. That our tradition extends the freedom of the pulput generously to its clergy. That I do not speak for everyone who is a member here, but that everyone here does count on me to give expression to my own deepest convictions.

What do I hope for, from you, my congregation? I guess it comes down to patience and prayers. In Sunday, I will offer some suggestions for ways that you too could participate, on some level, in the fast. I will invite people to come together to occasionally share a "dinner" hour with me. I will encourage times of reflection and discussion within the congregation on the larger issues involved. I will ask for creative ideas for marking the end of the fast. I will be fed by your energy and support.

An affirmation in our hymnal says this: "I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything. But still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." With such an affirmation of purpose and vision, I begin.

in faith,

I consider myself fortunate to have David as a spiritual leader. I'm going to join other members of the congregation in a three-day fast October 11-13 to coincide with the end of his. I'm posting this in a number of places, and asking any of you who feel similarly inspired to share this as widely as you can.

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