September 30, 2014
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How is it that many charged with violent crimes get to go free?
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

 JOHNSTON DOUBLE-MURDER: Two news stories this week told two very different stories. One was about how diligent prosecutors are nationwide in the prosecution of low-level, non-violent drug offenders who receive long, mandatory prison sentences - a practice that has resulted in the number of prisoners in the U.S. exploding by 800 percent in the past three decades. The other story was about the alleged murder of two Johnston women by a suspect who has a lengthy arrest record but who has also had a huge number of past charges dropped by prosecutors. The murder suspect was previously arrested for another homicide, for felony assault and for kidnapping. All of those charges were dismissed by prosecutors.

What’s going on? This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s just the latest of many cases where suspects charged with violent crimes have been released and the offenders have later committed additional heinous crimes. Why are so many low-level, non-violent drug offenders prosecuted while many arrested for violent crimes are set free by prosecutors – much like the Johnston double-murder suspect was previously freed? Are the police wrong? Do they fail to collect enough evidence in these violent cases? Are prosecutors remiss in not aggressively pursuing prosecution against suspects they ultimately set free to commit additional violent crimes? Should mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses be eliminated so we have more room in our prisons for violent offenders?

Lots of questions need to be answered. Regardless, there is something badly wrong with a society that takes great pains to prosecute those arrested for non-violent drug offenses while allowing many charged with extremely violent crimes to walk the streets, free to commit even more violent crimes - to include murder.

STATE AGENCY HEADS DEFY GOVERNOR? The General Assembly passed a law last year requiring all state government agencies to review their regulations that affect businesses in Rhode Island. The legislation’s goal was to either repeal or strengthening business regulations to help bolster our economy. Governor Chafee directed 47 state agencies to review at least a quarter of their regulations this year. Only ten complied with the governor’s order. Did such defiance by his agency heads upset the governor? Apparently not. Chafee seemed happy with the effort when he called it “a step forward for regulatory reform,” and that “...my administration remains committed to doing what it takes to make it easier to do business in Rhode Island.”  If Chafee is really committed to making regulations more business-friendly, he should discipline the agency heads who disregarded his directive to review their business regulations.

38 STUDIOS HEARINGS: The House Oversight Committee is conducting a series of hearings on the 38 Studios debacle that resulted in Rhode Island taxpayers being liable for more than $100 million after the hapless video game company failed and defaulted on the $75 million loan guaranteed by the Economic Development Corporation. The committee is concentrating on how and why the EDC approved the risky loan when there was clear evidence that the gaming company’s projected success was doubtful. That’s all well and good, but what the committee should also be investigating is how and why the legislation creating the $125 million loan program was introduced in such a devious, backdoor fashion by House Speaker Gordon Fox as he deceived legislators about the program’s intent - especially the alleged secret, pre-ordained agreement to lend the vast majority of the program’s funds to one company. The average legislator who was, in essence, tricked by the speaker should be irate and should be demanding a thorough investigation through hearings similar to those that are now targeting the EDC.

MOLLIS SHOWS HE HAS GUTS: At the risk of upsetting legislative leaders who could be instrumental in helping him in his political career, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis has decided that, regardless of what the General Assembly decides, he will put a question on the 2014 ballot asking voters whether or not they want a constitutional convention. Amending our state constitution is essential to Rhode Island’s economic and political future. We must continue to strengthen the still inadequate separation of powers in our state that currently invests far more power in the legislative branch than the executive branch. Without a strong executive, our legislature will continue to exercise its excessive and ineffective control over our economy and many other aspects of life in our beautiful little state. Bring on the convention!

KEEP RELIGION OUT OF GOVERNMENT: The Republican Party has found an ally in President Obama on a controversial issue - allowing town councils to open their sessions with a Christian prayer. Both are imploring the Supreme Court to rule that such prayers do not violate the Constitution’s “separation of church and state” doctrine. Opponents argue that the Court should decide against Republicans and the President and rule that such prayers constitute local government’s unconstitutional establishment of a religion in violation of the First Amendment.

We all have the constitutional right to participate in our government, to attend town council meetings to help determine the future of our communities. None of us, whether we are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist or any other religion, should have to sit through a Christian prayer in order to participate in local government. We only need look to the Middle East to see what results when the majority religion is synonymous with government; and we only need look to history to see the carnage and ravages caused when religion-controlled governments impose harsh, draconian rules on their societies – especially on women – and resort to terrorism and war when their religion is offended.

The only way to ensure our country never devolves to such a theocratic monstrosity is to be extremely vigilant about keeping religion out of our government.

FREDDIE AND FANNIE NEAR DEATH?  President Obama has proposed something that is actually good for business, competition and free enterprise in America - and good for taxpayers. He wants to close the two giant, government-backed mortgage guarantors, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who bore major responsibility for the housing market disaster by pushing the award of hefty mortgages to those who would previously have been ineligible - those whose income levels did not support large mortgages, who paid virtually nothing in down payments, and who vastly overreached in their quests for McMansions. And, because they lost so much money to foreclosures during the housing bust, Freddie and Fannie were infused with billions in taxpayer bailout money, $71 billion to Freddie alone. There is bi-partisan support in Congress to shutter these costly, irresponsible mortgage giants and replace them with a new system supported primarily by private enterprise. Let’s hope it happens soon.

STUDENT LOAN ISSUE RESOLVED: Call it a victory for fiscal conservatism. Those who wanted to continue student loans at the ludicrously low rate of 3.4 percent forever gave in to those who wanted the interest rates linked to the financial markets. Student loans will be made at the market rate of 3.9 percent interest this year. In a compromise, conservatives and liberals agreed to cap interest rates at 8.25 percent - regardless of market fluctuations.

America’s taxpayers already foot the entire bill for Pell grants, which allow low income families to send their children to college.  With government-backed student loans now exceeding one trillion dollars and 40 percent of student borrowers defaulting or delaying payment on these loans, the taxpayers are on the hook enough already. With interest rates across all financial markets climbing along with our slowly improving economy and with the Federal Reserve Board about to boost interest rates even more, it would have been an unconscionable punishment for taxpayers to have kept all student loans forever at last year’s low rate of 3.4 percent, as liberals desired.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: At the news conference when President Obama proposed making minor reforms to the NSA spying program that scoops up every American’s phone records, Obama said, “It’s not enough for me to have confidence in these programs, the American people have to have confidence in them as well.” What a revelation! Obama has finally realized that it’s a good thing for the people to trust their government? This constitutional lawyer president has disregarded America’s trust for the past five years; yet now - primarily because of the recent scandals surrounding his administration, he has seen the light? Don’t count on it.


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