Forum, July 26: Another Assault on Our Notions of Right and Wrong

Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Another Assault on Our Basic Notions

The separation of immigrant families on the southern border has unleashed fuming indignation across the country. In the ensuing wrath, thousands of liberals have launched searing attacks on the federal government.

In this connection, the Valley News recently reprinted some unfortunate comments by Virginia Heffernan, a Hanover native and columnist for the Los Angeles Times (“An Assault on Our Most Basic Notions of Right and Wrong,” July 10).

Heffernan deserves warm praise when she shows concern for immigrant families. On the other hand, her views demand emphatic rebuttal when she undercuts the best of America’s democratic traditions. She commits this mistake when she claims that, “The argument that tearing apart families serves a worthy purpose ... should be rejected without debate.”

Going one slippery step further, she also takes aim at the media that present the views of persons with whom she happens to disagree.

In writing like this, Heffernan abandons the chief liberal principle upon which our country was founded. That principle states that all ideas deserve free and open debate, no matter how distasteful they may appear to well-meaning observers.

The Supreme Court underscored this precept in a brilliant decision in the midst of World War II.

In West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette, the court ruled that the state could not compel schoolchildren, Jehovah’s Witnesses in this case, to salute the American flag. The court wrote that “freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much.” Instead, said the court, the right to differ extends to “things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

By the way, the court’s decision was written by Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served as chief American prosecutor in the trial of certain infamous figures in Nuremberg.

Their totalitarian governing style, which forced German citizens to accept political opinions “without debate,” must not serve as a model for American political life.

H. Dean Brown

West Lebanon

Understand the Power Of State’s Attorneys

As a relatively recent transplant to Vermont, I have been struck by both the state’s natural beauty and the people’s commitment to local politics. Inspired by this attitude, I have attended my first Town Meeting and voted in my first town election. Being involved in this way has brought me a new sense of community and civic responsibility. In an effort to broaden my understanding of how local politics shape the society in which we live, I have recently learned about state’s attorneys.

State’s attorneys are local, elected prosecutors who have considerable power over the criminal justice system. State’s attorneys decide whether to charge someone with a crime, what those charges will be, and when to divert people away from the criminal justice system in favor of treatment, social services and other alternatives. Because 97 percent of cases are decided through plea bargains, they effectively have more power than even judges do.

Accordingly, these officials are in a unique position to work toward criminal justice reform — including alternatives to incarceration. This is especially important as Vermont has been sending people to prisons out of state because our prisons are too full. State’s attorneys could refer more people to our restorative justice centers (which use a process of resolution between the offender, the victim and community members) or to the drug courts that allow options like treatment for addiction rather than incarceration. Such options would allow more seamless reintegration back into our communities without losing jobs, family connections and self-respect.

As state’s attorneys are elected officials, we as engaged community members and registered voters have a chance to have our voices heard this fall. You can learn more about where the candidates running for office in your county stand on important questions of criminal justice reform at www.acluvt.org/candidates.

Andrea Jackson


Fair ‘Pig Scrambles’ Teach Wrong Lessons

Should we teach our children to terrorize those who are defenseless and are weaker than they are? Of course not. But that’s what happens at the “pig scrambles” at some New Hampshire county fairs.

A pig scramble is when frightened piglets are taken from their mothers and released in an enclosure with pumped-up kids, who chase, tackle and grab the screaming piglets in any way they can and shove them into bags, often injuring the small animals. All for a prize.

In a society plagued by bullying, especially among children, we (parents and society in general) should teach our children compassion and empathy. Pig scrambles give children the opposite message, that it is OK to terrorize and injure others and that “might makes right,” which is fundamentally wrong.

Jack Hurley