Archive: September 2010

A taxing post 9/24/10

This will be a bit of a departure from the usual “lawpsyc” post.  That’s because it’s about taxes, income taxes to be specific, instead of the usual criminal or pop-cultural craziness.  There’s a lot of talk in the political and financial media right now about whether to keep tax rates where they are or let them rise back up, as they’re scheduled to do at the end of the year, to pre-George-W.-Bush levels.  Amid that discussion, there’s debate also about whether to let the rates rise for everyone or just for high earners (individuals and businesses earning over $250,000 per year).  The argument for keeping the rates lower for everyone is that high-earning individuals and businesses are the ones who actually pump the most money directly into job-creating transactions, which is a far faster and far more effective way of creating jobs than trying to do it indirectly by having them sending their money to the government and having the government then decide where to send it from there.  There’s actually some psychology behind this, and I’d like to offer that to you so you have something exciting to talk about at parties this weekend (ok, maybe not).  But seriously, to understand the motivating and de-motivating effects of tax policy, you have to understand human nature.  Nobody sits there and thinks, “Gee, I think I’d like to put whatever money I have or can borrow into starting or growing a business and then put a huge amount of my time and energy into the business so that I can hopefully create a few jobs for people who don’t have jobs in this tough economy.”  No, people sit there and think, “Gee, I think I’d like to put whatever money I have or can borrow into starting or growing a business and then put a huge amount of my time and energy into the business so that I can hopefully make a profit.”  Job creation, therefore, happens as a byproduct of profit creation.  In other words, people set outto make profits and end up creating jobs in the process.  So, if what you want to happen is for there to be more jobs and fewer unemployed people, you probably wouldn’t want to reduce people’s potential profits by raising their taxes, particularly those people who are most likely to spend the most money to start, grow, and support businesses.  Those would be the high earners.  You don’t need a Ph.D. or an M.B.A. to answer these questions:  When was the last time you saw a poor person hire people?  When was the last time you saw a poor person buy more in a year than a high-earning person?  Just something to think about if you want to participate in the exciting ongoing national conversation about taxes.  Have a profitable weekend!

Two violent women and three idiots 9/23/10

Four people including the shooter are dead (the shooter killed herself), and at least one other person is wounded in a mass shooting in the Seattle area.  The shooter?  A 50-60 year old grandmother (the second female multiple-shooter we’ve seen in the news in as many weeks, so again, massively violent women are rarer than massively violent men, but they’re out there).  The victims?  Family members apparently.  What are survivors saying?  She was “crazy.”  Ok, and was this probably the first sign that the woman was potentially violent?  No.  So why was she allowed to be living amongst adult and child relatives (11 people total, from at least two families, reportedly were living in the single-family home — think about that one) with at least two handguns and ammunition in the house?  As always, I don’t want to compound grief with guilt here; I’m just looking for a lesson for other families with a “crazy” family member or a family member of any age with a propensity toward violence, and here it is:  As I’ve said before, you can love someone and want to take care of that person, but that doesn’t mean you put yourself, and especially children, at risk of becoming victims of the person’s violent behavior.

And another violent woman is scheduled to leave the Earth today, this one not by her own choice though.  Teresa Lewis, age 41 and also a grandmother (think about that one) is scheduled to be executed tonight in Virginia for soliciting the murders of her then-husband and stepson in 2002.  She confessed, but later argued that she was borderline-mentally-retarded (hmmm, maybe because the Supreme Court has prohibited the execution of mentally-retarded convicts?) and that one of the two men she apparently recruited to help her (both now serving life in prison without parole) actually planned the murders and manipulated her into participating.  Her IQ was expertly tested and was found to be above the mentally-retarded range, and multiple courts including the Supreme Court haven’t bought the manipulation story, so now Lewis is poised to become the first woman executed in the USA in five years.  As an interesting side show, Iran’s president, in the USA to speak to the United Nations General Assembly, denounced the execution as a civil-rights violation — kind of ironic, or maybe “Iran-ic,” coming from a guy whose country stones women to death for committing adultery.

By the way, the Iranian president also hinted that Iran might be close to freeing two American men who remain jailed there after hiking into his country last year.  Have you been following all the hubub over this?  Three American hikers decided to go for a stroll on the Iraq/Iran border late last year, stumbled into Iran, and were jailed there on suspicion of spying.  One of the three, a woman, has been released, but the other two, both men, remain in an Iranian jail.  The media’s treating the returning female like some kind of a hero.  These people are NOT heroes.  They’re idiots.  They literally walked into a dangerous country for the fun of it and now expect their fellow Americans to spend millions of dollars, not to mention some of our government’s “political capital,” to negotiate their release and return to the US.  Ok, if they want to do that, fine, but I wouldn’t be in any hurry to get them back, which would probably be a better deterrent to other Americans considering similar adventures and would probably also get the idiots home quicker — when these foreign governments see the US desperate to get these people back, they keep the people even longer to try to extort money and other concessions from us and make us look weak in the global media.  And when these idiots do come back, I’d make them pay back every cent that the taxpayers spent on them.  It’s kind of like I’ve said before in the cases of other idiots who do stupid things like climb mountains here in the US in the middle of the winter, get injured/lost/stuck up there, and the government ends up spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars and risking both the lives of personnel and damage to multi-million-dollar equipment to search for and rescue them.  When they’re safely down from the mountains, they’re always on the morning shows the next day talking about their harrowing experiences as if they’re some kind of heroes.  I’d put up signs in those locations saying, “If you think you’re tough enough to risk climbing this mountain at this time of year, then you’d better be tough enough to stay up there all winter and/or rich enough to pay your fellow citizens back if they have to send people up there to bring your dumb ass back down, because if not, you might end up an ice cube at worst or bankrupt at best.”  If that were our policy, I’ll bet we’d have fewer “search and rescue” missions here at home as well as overseas.

School shooting/bombing thwarted by school cop in SC 9/22/10

A school shooting and bombing was thwarted by a quick-acting school resource officer (who dodged a bullet but was hit in the face by shrapnel) in South Carolina on Monday, and a male high school freshman is in custody.  The defendant had posted messages on Twitter about making pipe bombs and “molatov cocktails” for days prior to the foiled attack, and people apparently had seen them because one of the “tweets” said, “And to all the people who think I’m gonna shoot up socastee [the school], f— off!”  I’ve discussed the dangerous “bystander effect” before, but it may be time for a refresher for the folks in South Carolina (see my previous post entitled “Sign of the times on a busy Connecticut street, dated 6/8/08, in the archives).  This case goes to show how absolutely crucial it is for anyone who thinks they have reason to believe that someone poses this kind of threat, which multiple people apparently had ample reason to believe in this case, to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, TELL SOMEONE!

(By the way, while I’m here, the retired soldier who shot two women on a Texas Army base before being shot by police over the weekend sounds like a case of suicide-by-cop after the planned shooting of his estranged girlfriend and probably the unplanned shooting of the second woman.)

Football suicides may be linked 9/22/10

The apparent suicide of NFL player Kenny McKinley, which close others say was highly unpredictable, calls to mind research indicating that serial concussive injuries to the brain could be related to depressive symptoms and erratic behavioral impulses including rapid-onset suicidal ideation later in the lives of those affected, including soldiers in close proximity to concussive blasts and athletes like football players and boxers who receive repetitive concussive blows.  It’s called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and while it’s been recognized since at least the 1920’s (known then as “dementia pugilistica,” “boxers’ dementia”), it just recently got mainstream media attention after University of Pennsylvania football player Owen Thomas committed suicide with little or no forewarning back in April.  Basically, as the brain recovers from mild damage over and over, proteins similar to those found in autopsies of Alzheimers’ patients’ brains are formed that seem to interfere with the functioning of brain cells involved in both mood and decision-making, which may then result in both depressed mood and trouble figuring out what to do about it.  Thomas’ suicide prompted researchers to look back for evidence of CTE in the deaths of other deceased college and pro football players whose deaths are known or believed likely to have been suicides.  McKinley’s case may now be part of that research and may also help to increase both the sense of urgency and the funding for it.  It’s far from conclusive at this point that CTE played a role in these players’ suicides, but if it did, there are millions of American parents who’d probably like to know and consider it when deciding whether to encourage their sons to start playing football in middle and high school

Ridiculous! 9/21/10

Two stories in the ridiculous category tonight, but for different reasons:

First, Paris Hilton, charged with felony cocaine possession in Las Vegas, was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for which she will serve NO jail time, despite being convicted of DUI and probation violations a few years ago (speeding around LA at night with no driver’s license and no headlights), serving a few days in jail before being released EARLY, then being caught with marijuana in Corsica earlier this summer, and then being caught again recently with .8 of a gram of cocaine and initially lying about it being hers.  Given this pansy-ass treatment by the justice system, why on Earth would this woman — and scores of others, famous or not — take our society seriously when it tells her not to be in possession of illegal drugs from now on?  She won’t.  Just like Lindsay Lohan, she’ll be back in trouble before you know it (a warrant’s been issued for Lohan’s arrest by the way because she failed a drug screen while on probation — think the system’ll get tough on her this time? — don’t bet on it!).  As usual, I’m most concerned about the message that this sends to kids watching it unfold — that illegal drug use/possession is a trivial thing, even when it’s cocaine, even after you’ve been caught with it AND lied to the cops about it.  At least the Japanese had enough sense to deny Hilton entry into their country when she traveled there the day after making her Nevada plea deal.  Apparently they don’t look kindly on drug criminals coming into their country.  Shocking!  Now, how about we take a lesson from them and not let her back in here either?!

Second, there’s a guy in Kentucky who confessed to murdering his wife and is now arguing that he’s not guilty by reason of insanity because he supposedly ingested too much caffeine.  Yes, you read that right, too much CAFFEINE, the “java defense.”  Actually, he claims that he got his caffeine o.d. from taking diet pills and washing them down with energy drinks, so much that he experienced psychosis (from a combination of caffeine intoxication and sleep deprivation), didn’t know what he was doing at the time of the killing, and also didn’t know what he was saying when he confessed to murdering her.  Am I buying this?  NO WAY!  Even if there’s a dose of caffeine capable of making a man so psychotic that he’d mistakenly strangle his wife (a wife who apparently just so happened to be considering leaving him and having their children live with her) and then confess to her murder, I have to believe there’d have been some major clues that something was very wrong well in between pill number 1 and the last pill he took before the killing, at which point you’d think he would’ve stopped taking the things.  Nevertheless, the defense reportedly has an expert ready to testify that the dude didn’t know what he was doing or that it was wrong at the time of the killing and didn’t know what he was saying at the time of the confession.  I wish the prosecution would call me, either to rebut that testimony or to help point out to the court all of the holes that I have to believe will be in it!  (There is an Idaho case in which a combination of sleep-deprivation and caffeine-intoxication was successfully used as a defense to vehicular-assault charges earlier this year after a driver “lost control” of his car and struck two pedestrians, causing serious injuries, but I don’t think that argument’s going to fly in this Kentucky murder case!)

Tragic follow-up to my last post 9/21/10

Following up on my last post, a Georgia two-year-old has died of an apparent traumatic brain injury sustained while in the care of an 11-year-old babysitter, who’s now been charged with child abuse and felony murder (death occurring during the commission of another felony), meaning that the babysitter is probably believed to have struck and/or shaken the baby vigorously to quiet/discipline/control the child resulting in (but not intending) the baby’s death.  As usual, I don’t want to heap blame on top of the already-suffering parents of a deceased baby, but I do want to pull a lesson out of this if possible, and that lesson would be:  Leaving your two-year-old in the care of an 11-year-old is leaving a very young and often difficult-to-manage child in the care of another child.  Eleven-year-olds generally are neither intellectually nor emotionally-equipped to care for two-year-olds, and this case illustrates how that situation can end in tragedy.  The next step in this sad case will be to decide whether to try the babysitter in juvenile or adult court.  If there was no apparent intent to kill the baby and no apparent intent to harm the baby gratuitously — i.e. no intent to hurt the baby just for fun, but rather a misguided/uncontrolled/excessive use of force to control the baby — I’d probably come down in favor of the juvenile system on this one.  Then the next question will be whether an 11-year-old can be held responsible legally for the abuse that led to the baby’s death, i.e. whether an 11-year-old’s brain can recognize and appreciate the nature and illegality of child-abusive behavior.  In the case of a typical 11-year-old, I’d probably have to say yes to that one, but in order to say with reasonable scientific certainty that this particular defendant knew her actions were hurting the child, to an illegal degree, I’d have to examine her.

Speaking of child abuse, an Indiana woman is charged with leaving her five children locked in an 18-inch by 6-foot closet while she went to “visit a friend.”  When she came back, two of the children, ages three and five, were dead.  The mother says she was not in her “right mind” when she decided to lock the kids in the closet while she went out.  Yeah, maybe not, but I’ll bet she knew she was doing it and that she wouldn’t have done it if a cop had been standing there watching, i.e. yes she sounds like a nut, another guilty nut.

Also tonight, remember the South Carolina woman who apparently suffocated her two young children, then drove her car into a lake recently with the children inside, then claimed that it was an accident in which the children drowned and from which she had barely escaped with her own life?  Well guess what?  According to family members on the Oprah show, the woman was supposedly in a “manic state” and had overdosed on headache medicine at the time and is now pursuing an insanity defense.  Yeah, right, and what about the plan to cover up the murder of the kids by staging an auto accident that might plausibly have explained the kids’ death by suffocation?  Looks to me like what we call “consciousness of guilt,” which means the person knew that what he/she was doing was wrong/illegal, which means no insanity defense!

And a North Carolina man is in custody after stabbing his wife to death and stabbing their 15-year-old son almost to death in the process.  Well guess what?  He spent time in jail earlier this year for domestic violence against the wife and was…all together now, all over the country…RELEASED WAY BEFORE HE SHOULD’VE BEEN, and here we find him back attacking the wife and almost killing the son in the process.  What a surprise!  If only it seemed like we were learning something from these cases about what to do (and not to do) with these people once we’ve identified them and gone to the trouble to lock them up the first time.

(While I’m on the topic of sanity/insanity in child-abuse cases, some have asked why I didn’t write about the group of religious women in California who disappeared for a while over the weekend with their children, 13 people in all, prompting fears that they were going to commit mass suicide and a frantic search for them.  Well, they were found, alive and well, praying, at a school, for an end to school violence among other things, so I didn’t think it was really much of a story.  If people who know them really thought there was a chance they’d commit suicide and take their children with them, I’d suspect that they may not be be most stable folks, but at least on this occasion, it looks like they didn’t really do anything.)

And finally, a couple of criminal sanity illustrations that don’t involve child abuse — two men are being sought in connection with the murders of two Ohio real estate agents and the robbery of a third, and (surprise, surprise) a convicted sex offender who had been CAUGHT AND RELEASED AND ALLOWED TO STAY FREE AFTER VIOLATING CONDITIONS OF HIS RELEASE REPEATEDLY has just been arrested in connection with the death of a North Carolina police chief’s daughter who turned up dead hours after leaving a bar with the suspect, whom she had just met (he says she just accidentally overdosed on the drugs that they supposedly did together).  The point is this — anyone who would take another person’s life to get money or sex from that person isn’t just “sick.”  Sure, it’s sick to think that money or sex are worth another person’s life, but actually, consciously, TAKING that action, MAKING that trade, cannot be explained by mental illness alone.  The “run-of-the-mill” bank robbery is a perfect example — a robber taking the life of a bank employee purely so that the robber can have money without having to labor for it (and also avoid punishment by eliminating the witness).  That shows a sense of self-entitlement and a dehumanization of others that reflects a contempt not just for one human being (the victim) but for humanity itself.  Some call that “psychopathy,” some call it “depravity,” and some call it “evil.”  What do you call it?  Whatever word(s) you use, it exists, and the police chief’s daughter’s case points out once again how watchful we all have to be for it (on behalf of ourselves and our friends) because those who have it in them are often quite skillful at hiding it…until it’s too late.

They’re NOT just “sickos” or “psychos”! 9/20/10

If you caught last Thursday’s Joy Behar, you watched us discuss one of the most horrific cases I’ve ever covered.  Two pieces of human debris who were OUT OF PRISON EARLY after their most recent incarceration — yes, there’d been a litany of previous crimes, and of course those are just the ones we know of, and an accompanying litany of arrests and releases from custody — invaded a Connecticut home, beat the husband/father to within an inch of his life, raped the wife/mother and made her go to the bank and withdraw $15,000 for them, then burned the house down, killing the wife/mother and the two children (the husband/father barely made it out alive).  While at the bank, the wife/mother told the teller what was happening, and the teller called the police, who responded but didn’t enter the home before it was engulfed in flames as the rapists/murderers attempted, unsuccessfully, to escape.

(As an aside, some are criticizing local cops and firefighters for not responding quickly enough, and while I understand that sentiment, it’s an easy one to have now that we know the rapists/murderers were going to burn the house down.  It’s important to keep in mind that the cops and firefighters didn’t know that at the time.  The cops were setting up a perimeter, getting civilians safely away from the scene, and getting ready to make contact with the rapists/murderers to determine what was happening and whether it could be diffused through negotiation before storming the place with guns blazing.  Had they done that, and had a couple of the family members been killed in the crossfire, some of the same critics of the cops today would be saying they should’ve waited.)

As the first suspect’s capital murder trial drew media attention this week, millions of Americans were probably watching and saying, “What a ‘sicko’!” or “What a ‘psycho’!”  One of these days, I’m going to compile a book of lessons I’ve learned being an expert in cases like this and covering them on TV, and a big one is this:  The defendants usually either are NOT ‘sick,’ or if they are, the ‘sickness’ usually does NOT explain their crimes!

Here are a few more defendants who may and may not fit that description from just the past week’s news alone:

“Actress” Lindsay Lohan, testing positive for substance use AGAIN just days after being released — EARLY — from her most recent incarceration, just exactly as I predicted.

The guy with a history of paranoid schizophrenia who tried to stab the governor of Missouri, planning it out well enough to wear a bulletproof vest during the attack but not well enough to recognize the governor (he stabbed the wrong person, a college administrator who was appearing with the governor and whose injuries, thankfully, are not life-threatening).

The woman who almost got herself on the Oprah show after claiming that someone threw acid in her face when, in fact, the acid damage to her face turned out to be self-inflicted in an apparent attention-seeking ploy.

Joran van der Sloot — yes, he’s back in the news because Natalee Holloway’s mother went to visit him in the Peruvian prison where he’s being held in an apparent unsuccessful attempt to find out, finally, what happened to Natalee.

The guy who shot his mother, his mother’s doctor, and then himself (only the doctor survived) at a Boston hospital — apparently the shooter was upset that the terminally-ill mother was in pain, so he decided to end her misery, punish her doctor, and then end his own life rather than go to prison, but we’ll never know for certain what was going on in his mind.

The Texas “father” who shot his children and himself this weekend rather than turn them back over to their mother as the custody agreement required — the guy survived though and is charged with the children’s murders.

As frightening as it is, there are people who are basically sane (by the legal definition of that term, meaning they know what they’re doing and that it’s ‘wrong,’ meaning ‘wrong’ by society’s standards, i.e. that it’s against the law), sane enough to know what they’re doing and to distinguish legal from illegal, and they go right ahead and do it anyway, even if it severely harms or kills other people, because they get pleasure out of it and/or because they want to get something from the victims.  The ‘sickness,’ when there is one, is the WANTING to do the behavior, but that doesn’t explain the CHOICE to actually go through with it.  So, philosophy has to pick up where psychology leaves off, and every adult watching last Thursday night and/or reading this today has to decide for him/herself what that is.  Psychologists call it “psychopathy,” some call it “evil,” but it absolutely exists, and it’s why, when we’ve seen people show it, and we get them segregated from society, we should keep it that way!  I’d put the Connecticut killers in that category, along with van der Sloot, and, to far-lesser degrees obviously, the acid-in-the-face woman and Lohan, whose behaviors I’d describe as “sociopathic” rather than “psychopathic”.

Then there are others who are fairly insane but still know they wouldn’t be allowed to do what they want to do unless they lie or sneak to do it (which means they know it’s against the law).  They may not be psychopaths, or they may be less “evil” than insane, because they think they’re acting on behalf of some higher purpose, but even they usually still know what they’re doing and that it’s at least illegal if not “wrong” in their minds.  I’d probably put the hospital shooter in that category along with the Missouri governor’s would-be assassin, who reportedly believed that agents of the government were tormenting him

The “father” who killed his kids (I have to put quotes around “father” in his case because no real father murders his children) might fall somewhere in between, depending on how much of it was to spite his ex-wife and how much of it was his belief that he and his kids were going to end up together in some perfect afterlife, and in his case, we may actually get to find out.  Either way, that’s still 0/8 defendants in this week’s news who I’d bet either didn’t know what they were doing or that it was wrong/illegal.  Zero.

Violent crime down? You wouldn’t have known it this weekend! 9/14/10

Two shooting sprees over the weekend to tell you about, one in Kentucky, where a guy shot five people and then himself, reportedly set off by his dissatisfaction with the way in which his wife cooked his breakfast, and the other in Pennsylvania, where a woman was fired from a factory job, left the plant, came back with a handgun, and shot and killed two coworkers and critically wounded a third before being taken into custody.  It’s sad, but after covering enough of these things, there’s less and less new to say about them.  There are some familiar themes in these stories.  The guy in Kentucky reportedly had a history of violent behavior (surprise, surprise) and probably some mental illness on the side (usually even the worst breakfast doesn’t set people off on suicidal murder sprees), and the Pennsylvania woman probably had a history that should’ve tipped someone off to her instability/unpredictability as well (this case goes to show that while it’s rarer, women can and do perpetrate mass shootings, and it underscores why I urge companies to spend the money to have a forensic psychologist do a risk assessment the first time someone threatens or indicates the potential for violence in the workplace).  Believe it or not though, the FBI’s latest national crime stats are out, and they suggest that violent crime in the USA is actually down from a year ago.  You wouldn’t have known it this weekend, but hope it’s true.

A must-read for anyone concerned about kids on psych meds in this country! 9/2/10

This is a must-read for anyone who thinks there’s a chance that I exaggerate the heinous, insidious, egregious, tortious (that means litigation-worthy), overmedication of kids in this country with psych drugs. I’ve been warning parents about this for years, but I’m thrilled to see that the New York Times has arrived on the scene, better late than never. I hardly ever recommend articles — other than my own of course — and if I do, it’s almost unheard-of that it would be a NYT article, so you know it’s gotta be good!  Child’s Ordeal Shows Risks of Psychosis Drugs for Young (New York Times 9/2/10) And as always, if you know of a child who’s been damaged by psych meds, tell the parents I want to hear their story.

Discovery held hostage! and 3 strikes for fraud? 9/1/10

Discovery held hostage!

A gunman with a crude home-made explosive device took three hostages on Wednesday at the Maryland corporate office of Discovery Channel.  After a multi-hour standoff with police, the hostage-taker was shot and killed by SWAT team officers when he reportedly pointed his gun at one of the hostages.  Fortunately, the hostages were unharmed (physically speaking at least).  Was it a “suicide by cop”?  That’s what the hostage-taker’s brother thinks, but it actually looks more bizarre than that.  Apparently this guy had been protesting Discovery Channel for the past few years because he felt that the network’s shows about exceptionally-large families (e.g. “Kate Plus 8”) glorified and encouraged overpopulation of the planet.  He was even arrested, spent a couple of weeks in jail, was evaluated by a state psychiatrist, and released after disturbing the peace outside the network’s offices back in 2008, which points out, once again, what I’m always saying:  There’s always a history with these people, and it usually involves us as a society not doing enough when a person showed signs that he/she couldn’t be expected to keep his/her behavior in line with the law — see “3 strikes for fraud?” below.  Incidentally, the Discovery Channel hostage-taker apparently got amped up about overpopulation in part from watching Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” (which has been shown to have some important truths conveniently left out of it).  Remember last summer when some radical pro-abortion activists blamed Bill O’Reilly and me and others for the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller?  (We had said that Tiller was killing viable babies for trivial reasons, which was crystal-clear to me and to other honest legal analysts, but I actually got death threats for saying so on the air.)  Wonder if those same folks will be intellectually-consistent a year later and blame Al Gore for this deadly incident at the Discovery Channel (which would of course be just as ridiculous as blaming us for the Tiller shooting)?  I’ll bet not, because those same folks are likely to also harbor radical environmental views, so they either won’t even see the parallel, or they’ll find a way to rationalize the Discovery Channel perp as having acted on his own volition, free from any media influences, at least any media influences that they like!  (By the way, while there are perfectly legitimate reasons to hate “Kate Plus 8,” some of which I’ve written about here, the overpopulation thing isn’t one of them.  Interestingly, the fear of overpopulation, food scarcity, etc., has captivated a small subset of humanity for centuries, even back when there were far fewer of us on the planet than there are now.  The dire predictions of 18th/19th-century scholar Thomas Malthus are probably the best-known examples, and even though they’ve proven totally wrong, there are still devotees today.  Have you flown over the place lately?  Six billion of us and still lots of empty space down there.  Most of it’s still empty actually.  I think these folks can relax.).  During Wednesday’s standoff, the hostage-taker was demanding that the network start airing programming to educate the public about the “threat” of overpopulation, and he was supposedly going to release the hostages once he received assurance that the network would comply.  So rather than intending to commit “suicide by cop,” it looks like he actually thought that he could get his demands met and leave there alive.  Was he mentally healthy?  Obviously not.  But if he had lived and been arrested, would he have been “not guilty by reason of insanity”?  No.  He would’ve been guilty.  Why?  What he did took some planning, so he clearly knew what he was doing.  And rather than just walking into the network’s offices and demanding to speak to the CEO, he walked in with a gun and a bomb and took hostages, so he clearly knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to do what he did unless he had some kind of leverage to keep the police at bay, which means he knew that what he was doing was wrong.  But what if he, in his psychotic mind, actually thought that what he was doing was right/justified?  Doesn’t matter.  He knew it was wrong by society’s standards — he may personally have thought that he was justified in breaking society’s laws, but it’s clear that he knew he was breaking laws, and that’s what matters.  We couldn’t have a civilized society in which every person got to do whatever he/she thought was right whether the rest of us agreed or not.  That would be chaos.  Everyone who wants to live in our society is expected to conform his/her behavior to the law, and if not, to be held accountable under the law, so the only way someone can escape accountability is if he/she didn’t even have awareness of what he/she was doing and/or didn’t have the mental ability to figure out that it was against the law.  We won’t have to worry about this guy breaking the law again, but check out this next story…

3 strikes for fraud?

A California man is facing life in prison if convicted of fraud.  Is that right?  Yes!  Back in the 1990’s, this guy went door-to-door and sold bogus financial services, like refinanced mortgages, to vulnerable citizens including elderly people, and made off with their money.  He was convicted of felony burglary and spent nearly five years in prison.  So what does he do when he gets out?  He goes right back to doing it again (allegedly), this time conning people into conveying the titles to their homes to him by posing as a “Christian” investor who wants to help elderly people avoid foreclosure.  He reportedly “prays” with them while trying to convince them to sign over their homes.  He’s now charged with 23 felonies, including theft, identity theft, and fraud, and in California, three felony convictions can take a person out of society for life.  Some are expressing concern that life in prison would be too harsh for this guy because he hasn’t hurt anybody physically (that we know of).  Wrong.  If he’s guilty, this is a perfectly-appropriate punishment.  Here’s why:  Assuming he’s guilty, this guy has demonstrated that he has no intention of living his life by society’s rules.  As long as a person like that gets to live in society, he/she will keep victimizing people, over and over and over.  OK, then he shouldn’t get to live in society, period.  Keep in mind that it’s not hard to go through your entire life without committing a single felony.  It’s easy.  Probably everyone reading this has managed to live a felony-free life.  Has it been hard for you?  No.  This guy, however, has (allegedly) committed not one, not two, but literally dozens of felonies.  And just because no victim has bled (physically, that we know of) doesn’t mean nobody was harmed.  Crimes like the ones this guy allegedly committed cause serious harm to people, psychologically, financially, even physically in indirect ways (placing an elderly homeowner under the stress of being a crime victim and potentially losing his/her home could take a toll on that person’s physical health).  If this guy’s guilty and California throws him away for life, good riddance, and great lesson for other criminals who might be thinking of trying to get their hands on your grandma’s money/house.


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