Saturday, 23 February 2008

Origin Of Crime

Sometime back, we wrote about one of the most horrify ing crimes Britain had ever seen.

In the English town of Ipswich, five women had been senselessly murdered. All had one thing in common, apart from being victims of a sadistic maniacal killer — they were all hard drug users — addicted to narcotic substances like cocaine and heroine. And in order to fund their expensive but unbreakable habit, they all turned to the one thing that women in desperate situations have sometimes resorted to over the ages — selling themselves for cash.

Although all of them had once been normal young ladies — with a few even coming from privileged backgrounds — their situations had invariably led them to prostitute themselves just to support their addictions. Addictions that, in the end, eventually cost them their lives.

Just this week, justice was finally served on the perpetrator of this most heinous of crimes. A forklift truck operator by the name of Steve Wright has been found guilty by a jury of his peers, and is expected to be sentenced to life, without possibility of parole.

Or possibly — not.

Because in the United Kingdom today, the subject of crime has become what many hardliners and conservatives would call “kindergarten justice” – where criminals, including even the most violent ones, often get away with literally just slaps on the wrist.

Mr. Wright’s offence, however, is something else entirely.

In a show of anger that seems quite out of character with British stoicism, calls for the restoration of the death penalty have come from many quarters, including those who have in the past been quite liberal in terms of their attitudes towards criminals and their punishment.

In this instance, people feel that the gravity of the offences ought to merit something that is beyond the normal range of sentencing norms — a price that the perpetrator should feel is the just retribution for his act — and that should equate the callousness and cold-blooded nature of his crimes with the severity of the punishment. And in a lot of people’s minds, he ought to pay with his own life, just as he had taken those of his victims’.

Reinstating the death penalty in Britain, however, is a feat that is perhaps as difficult to achieve as abolishing the monarchy, though ironically it was the latter who had used the former to such effect in ensuring that its subjects stayed in line and obeyed their majesties’ every word and command.

Modern Britain, and indeed much of Western society, now believes that the answer to preventing crime is rehabilitating, not punishing the criminal. In today’s view of the criminal mind, the main motivations seem to be more circumstances beyond the criminal’s control, such as poverty, child abuse, social neglect, drug abuse, and mental illness.

There is very little room for believing that perpetrators are genuinely aware of their crimes, and take pleasure from committing it. In many people’s minds, the criminal is as much a victim of his crime as the actual victim is.

But could this view to the origins of crime really be sustainable? And could this attitude in fact deter criminals from perpetrating their dastardly deeds on the rest of us in society?

Time will tell. For in the West today, many are increasingly of the belief that society’s lax attitudes towards criminals and criminality is partly to blame for helping to fuel the rise in violent crime that seems to have become the biggest scourge of our time.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Are You Ready For This?

NO, it’s not an excerpt from the Queen song.

I am referring to the path-breaking choice that Americans may have to make in the presidential elections in November.

Never has the world’s most powerful democratic nation been confronted with as unprecedented a choice — in fact two choices — at least concerning one half of the electoral process.

Would they elect a white woman or a black man to the presidency of the most influential nation on earth?

Never before have the gender and color barrier ever been breached in the contest for the American presidency. The Rev. Jesse Jackson tried and failed to secure his party’s nomination for the presidency, and Geraldine Ferraro, although managing to gain her party’s confidence, was only running for the post of vice president.

But a woman or a black man for the highest elected post in perhaps all of the world? Is America ready for this? Is the world even ready for this?

All the way from George Washington to George W. Bush — 43 presidents and 212 years later — there has never been a person of color of any gender or a female person of any color who has managed to occupy the highest office of the land. And even that exclusive club is limited still.

White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPs), with the exception only of a few with Irish-Catholic roots, have tended to keep the office of the presidency as a virtual monopoly for themselves.

Only the Americans themselves can really say if they are ready. As a shining beacon of hope, democracy and liberty to the rest of the world, is the nation finally at a stage where it can actually practice what it has preached for so long?

Oh yes, indeed. We forget that among America’s nation-students, many have already breached the gender or color barriers long ago. Even a conservative male-dominated Moslem country has had Benazir Bhutto as prime minister, and an ethnically more homogenous Peru has elected a Japanese-Peruvian, Alberto Fujimori, as its president.

But in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where women and persons of color have enjoyed success in almost any field of endeavor, the long line of almost exclusively WASPs has remained unbroken — that is until this year’s election rolls along.

The Democratic Party will certainly break the mould first, for the first time nominating a candidate belonging to either category as its standard bearer for the electoral contest. Because apart from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, everyone else in the party has put away his or her presidential ambitions on hold, at least for another four years.

But the bigger question remains — can America go all the way and break the mould as a nation, by choosing whoever it is that the Democrats put up for the public vote?

It all remains to be seen, of course, because America today is saddled with a host of serious problems that have neither to do with race nor gender. Its economy is badly in need of rejuvenation, and issues of security continue to haunt its collective consciousness — both problems which Democrats have not been known to be very good at solving, apart perhaps from the Clinton years being economically prosperous times for the nation.

But the implications for America will be significant if it does go ahead and break new ground. For it will give the rest of the world the unequivocal message that all of us — black or white, male or female — are truly equal as people on this earth.

Published in The Sun Star Daily, Saturday, February 09, 2008

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Corruption Western-Style

CORRUPTION has got to be one of the major challenges of our time.

Along with the issues of sustainable economic development, global warming, the elusive peace in the Middle East and the new pandemics affecting large swathes of our population, solving the problem could prove to be a critical turning point in our modern age.

What makes it so crucial is that it affects the solution to almost any other issue of significance that we are trying to solve. Take for example the Aids problem in the developing world.

Already as it is, there is a major funding shortage to finance new research, and the production of cheaper drug formulations that would benefit the majority of sufferers. As it happens, most of the affected areas are also in places where corruption is at its most rampant. As a result, millions of dollars that would otherwise have gone to combating the disease goes to the pockets of crooked bureaucrats, who care not if their countrymen continue to die by the thousands so long as they get their share of the largesse.

The same thing could be said with the care of refugees displaced by frequent conflicts in the world’s troubled hot spots. They too are frequent victims of corrupt practices in the places where they are, with funds supposed to be for their welfare continuing to be siphoned to the bank accounts of the very people who are supposed to be looking after them.

There has always been the belief, and perhaps this is mainly accurate, that corruption affects less developed economies more than they do countries in the West. After all, research and evidence shows that large parts of Africa, many countries in Asia, and a good number of states in Latin America – all less developed regions – lead the world in terms of corruption-related problems.

It is not too difficult to see why.

These countries are also stricken with extreme poverty, in most cases, making the temptation to profit from illicit means very strong indeed. Many of the institutions in these countries tend to be weak and unstable, making corruption cases very difficult to uncover and prosecute. And, of course, a strong and independent media is almost always non-existent, and therefore scandals are that much harder to investigate.

But the events of last week show that even in the advanced economies of the West, corruption is still very much alive and well.

Take the case of Derek Conway, a Conservative member of the British Parliament. Not unlike the practice of some Filipino politicians, Conway stands accused of improperly including his son in his staff payroll, without the latter having any clear official duties to back up his designation of researcher.

And the story only gets more interesting.

It seems another son may have also been paid in the same way, and even a Canadian friend of their sons could also have been on the receiving end of some payments.

What does this prove?

Nothing perhaps that we Filipinos, so used to seeing corruption within our midst, do not already know.

Integrity, and thus the ability to resist the temptation to engage in corruption, is not only enforced by systems of good governance, such as Britain has, but rather starts much earlier than that – during a person’s formative years when he learns the good old fashioned values of honesty, truthfulness and fair play.

Leave it any later than this, and it all remains just a matter of time, and the right opportunity to come along.

Published in The Sun Star Daily, Saturday, February 02, 2008