Thursday, January 31, 2013

George Ryan finally gets Illinois' get out of jail free card

Disgraced, convicted felon
ex-Illinois Gov. George Ryan
It has taken six years for former Illinois Governor/attorney Jim Thompson to get his client, the disgraced ex-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, out of a federal penitentiary. This week he finally pulled it off. Ryan had about nine months left to serve on his 6 1/2-year prison sentence, but is now home again.

Ryan was not just Thompson's client and member of the Illinois governors club; Ryan was Thompson's Lt. Governor from 1983 to 1991.

Thompson represented Ryan pro-bono; he was first hired in 2002 during the 'license for bribes' scandal that ultimately resulted in Ryan's conviction of multiple counts  of racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering, and tax violations.

In the case against Ryan, Thompson's defense included every trick in the book. From hardship to appeal at every level, to requesting clemency of two U.S. Presidents, Thompson tried to get Ryan to remain a free man. He cited Ryan's health, claiming he could die in prison. Ryan did go home briefly to be with his late wife Laura Lynn, who died of lung cancer in June 2011.

Who knew halfway houses were equipped with revolving doors?

Today Ryan is practically a free man. He was released Wednesday, Jan. 30 from the federal penitentiary in Terra Haute, Indiana where he has lived since Nov. 7, 2007.

He was enroute to a halfway house in Chicago where he was scheduled to serve the remainder of his prison sentence. But just hours after arriving, he was on his way home to Kankakee. Ryan will remain confined in his spacious riverfront home until his sentence officially concludes.

Thompson told reporters he was surprised by the decision to allow Ryan home confinement, claiming that Ryan received no preferential treatment despite Thompson's own extraordinary measures to see his client and friend free from incarceration. Thompson claimed he did not arrange for his client's release, but that prison officials made the decision.

I wonder who will release those still suffering from Ryan's decisions. Two instances come to mind.

One is a family--the Willis family--whose six children were killed in a horrific traffic accident; killed by a man who obtained an illegal drivers' license when George Ryan served as Illinois Secretary of State.

The other is a group of residents in eastern Will County that still face a threat of eminent domain proceedings to make way for the Peotone airport that will probably never be built. It was George Ryan, the ex-governor who opened that Pandora's box when he ordered the first parcel of land to be bought for the project, even though it wasn't even in the airport site. It was close enough to begin panic selling that began in 2002 and continues to this day.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Violence prevention and safety initiatives rather than gun control

English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of...
Detail of Preamble to Constitution of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Gun control is such a contentious issue, with both sides refusing to listen to the other. Real understanding of the source of some very deep-seated feelings are going to be necessary if this country will ever be able to curb the kind of violence that fills front pages of newspapers across the land.

Opponents view gun control as a way to limit their right to bear arms--their  hard-fought patriotic freedom as they believe God and the country's founding fathers intended.

The gods and guns crowd are largely traditionalists that may have lived in the same place all of their lives--in many cases--occupying the land where their ancestors first settled. Many are educated in the same small town by teachers they have grown up with; reading newspapers run by their former classmates; and filling church pews with an ever-increasing number of extended family members. Their daily lives revolve around the best life has to offer; loving family and good friends. These are not folks that seek change; they like things just the way they are. They are a trusting lot--putting faith in anyone that is like them and being suspicious of those who are not. This trusting trait allows others to take unfair advantage. It is hard to recognize that which is unknown to you.

Their experience with gun violence and frankly many of society's ills may be limited to an occasional hunting accident or possible suicide by a troubled teen or war veteran. Such occurrences are easily justified as the victim 'having a problem.' After all, even perfect communities and good families have issues. 

Although they read the headlines that deal with much bigger issues related to gun violence, they remain untouched by gang warfare, mass murders, and serial killings that happen somewhere else. 

Cultural justification makes it easy to ignore the big picture. But the gun control debate is big and complex and growing.  

In my view, it is foolish to attempt to protect the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is actually a poorly-worded, undefined, interpretive piece in a much larger document that has so much more meaning than that one entry. The U.S. Constitution is a framework of how to govern a society. It is far more important than the singularly focused right to bear arms. A much higher priority should be placed in the constitution's sister document's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights should not be infringed either, but to fear going into a public place and being blown away by some yahoo with a handgun in his pocket has become reality. It is one that has been exacerbated by an over zealous desire to arm every citizen with concealed weapons, assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets that turns a shotgun into a machine gun designed for mowing down multiple people in an instant and inflicting maximum damage to bodily tissue.

From my own observation, the discussion needs to be broadened--centered on violence--not just guns. The one place where I actually agree with the National Rifle Association is that violence in our society has gotten hideous. I abhor the violence on television, in movies, and through video games, much of which is inflicted by guns. 

First, we need to change the debate by changing the verbiage. The term gun control must be abandoned. It is too limiting and conjures up a notion of iron-hand dominance. Instead we need to embark upon violence prevention and safety initiatives.

We need to convey that our laws must not restrict gun-owners freedoms, but instead our aim is to expand overall freedom to include all citizens, no matter their view on firearms. It would be fool-hearty to wait for education through experience; to wait for violence to come knocking on more and more doors. We must change the conversation before that happens, by emphasizing freedom to be safe and secure in our homes and in public places. 

We must address growing crime. Why do thugs believe they can get away with walking into another person's home and help themselves to whatever they want? Why is there so little trust in our system of justice? Why do judges run for office as partisans? Do people trust their police force? Why are there cops on the take? Why in some instances is the penalty for growing marijuana more severe than that of the guy who brutalizes his wife? 

Violence in our society is a house of cards. Fixing any of these problems will lead to fixing so much more. If people aren't afraid to walk into a public place, they won't feel compelled to arm themselves. 

The bigger picture also includes a more critical eye toward the future. 

How many hunters are really sportsmen? How many shoot animals for food? Do we really need to kill animals in the 21st century? Wouldn't it be just as sporting to shoot clay pigeons or other non-breathing targets?

Just because we have long held traditions, doesn't mean we cannot or should not change with the times. The world is really a bigger place than the block where we grew up. Our thinking must also be bigger. We must also be cognizant that our home, a huge blue ball as seen from space, may seem huge to us, but that doesn't make it less finite. Let's face it; our home is our planet. It contains a highly diverse group of people, places, and things that must be seen in a larger context. Our future depends on it.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

We mustn't let the 'Annie get your gun mentality' prevail

Guns, guns, guns
Guns, guns, guns (Photo credit: paljoakim)

Freedom of choice is on the decline in this country spurred by the Annie get your gun mentality. I no longer feel free to live without fear of an encounter with a crazed gunman. They are everywhere!

I have never been among the gun crowd; I have always hated guns and anything that has to do with them. The thought of shooting an animal turns my stomach. I never bought toy guns for my son. I shun all the shoot'em up movies. I abhor violence of all kinds. The older I get, the more I've embraced my life-long pacifistic tendencies. Until now, I have been free to live my life gun-free, but as I begin the autumn of my life, circumstances are forcing me to change my thinking. I say forced because it isn't something I want to do. My freedom to live peacefully without fear has been compromised.

Hate, fueled by ignorance is all around us. It was so evident in Barack Obama's 2012 election to a second term as President of the United States. I do not understand the kind of hatred that is fueled by racism, so much more prevalent than I ever knew. Folks were more inclined to elect a man who used people to get whatever he wanted. He was a proven liar who would say whatever he had to say to advance himself. Many knew it, yet he was a white guy, so he was a better choice in their minds. When Obama was re-elected, thankfully by the more open-minded, thinking people who recognized his attributes and potential to solve some of the deeply ingrained problems caused by the previous presidential administration, I felt relief.

But it was short-lived. A new horror awakened and shocked the nation. The murder of 26 people in Newtown, CT was the worst. Twenty tots along with six teachers and administrators in a public school were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The country seemed to awaken to a reality it didn't seem to want to face before, even in the light of so many needless deaths. No one could turn their eye from the unimaginable horror that filled the classroom on Dec. 14, 2012, the day the country regained a focus on the need to do something about guns.

The majority of the country gets it. There is a need to keep killing machines out of the hands of people who would do harm to innocents. A discussion has begun in earnest about this situation. And so the battle lines have been drawn. The leader of the opposition movement to a sensible solution is once again led by the National Rifle Association and the same voices that spewed hate during the election of our President. The NRA solution is more guns. They want guns everywhere as they make the claim that a well-armed teacher could have prevented lives. More sensible voices say just the opposite. The NRA with its televangelist campaign style rhetoric is fueling more hatred in the name of making more money by selling more guns. Even while the President moves toward a more saner climate, the NRA is fueling the hatred.

From my observation, it appears there are two scenarios.

The first is total paranoia that the government is going to confiscate all guns in some sort of Twilight Zone move to ignore the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The argument is fatally flawed, but is defended to the hilt. There is talk of banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, firearms and ammo that is designed for no other purpose than to kill people with rapid-fire ease. Why are these weapons defended by regular people? Who in their right mind believes average citizens should possess these military-type weapons.

The other scenario is fueled by the heads of the household who maintain a genuine fear of an intruder; someone who wants to rob, rape, or murder them in their own home. They want to keep guns on hand for their own protection. They refuse to think their child might one day find that firearm and use it accidentally or on purpose. They refuse to think about that firearm being stolen and used on them, as was done in the case of the Sandy Hook shooter who used his mother's assault rifle to murder her in her bed. The 'it couldn't happen to me' argument is nothing but a fantasy.

Part of the protection argument that may be the most shocking is not the one made by the head of the household; it is made by his wife. Apparently women continue to fear the men in their lives, so they defend their need to have a gun in the house.

Every day the local news is filled with domestic violence, murder, and mayhem that occurs in a not-so-happy home. So many families have become victims of gun violence.

Women have made so many advances in our society, but so many are being left behind, for whatever reason. I suppose when a U.S. Congressman proposes legislation that is degrading to women or others make foolish statements about women's health, it is a real danger sign.

When people vote against intelligence, capability, and integrity in favor of empty rhetoric and and impossible promises and lies, what can we expect? When hope turns to desperation, what can we expect?

I believe the majority of this country is advancing intellectually and socially, but a growing number of folks relate more to Honey Boo Boo than the men and women of science that have advanced our lives and changed our world for the better. I'm very frightened for the next generation. I shudder to think of what kind of America my grandchildren will occupy. The choices that are being made today are so vital. Their future depends on it.

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