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Pass Jessica's Law before more children suffer

July 31, 2008
By Mike Benevento

Three years ago, previously convicted sex offender John Couey raped and murdered 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Couey's crimes upset Floridians so much that they called on their Legislature to pass stricter sex offender laws. Named after Lunsford, Jessica's Law was the centerpiece legislation. Since then, 40 states have passed at least a partial version of Jessica's Law.

Over the last few years, Vermont has deservedly received national attention for being too lenient on sex offenders. Commentator Bill O'Reilly has been one of America's biggest proponents of strict laws against child molesters. On his TV and radio programs, he has taken Vermont to task for not appropriately protecting children. As O'Reilly noted, “In Vermont, there are no mandatory sentencing laws for child rapists.”

Jessica's Law establishes a minimum 25-year sentence for anyone convicted of sexually abusing a young child. It also requires sex offenders on parole to wear a GPS device for police to track their whereabouts. According to the Bennington Banner, Vermont's Legislature has failed to pass Jessica's Law twice in the past.

In early 2007, O'Reilly shared the story of Andrew James, who repeatedly molested a 4-year-old boy in southern Vermont. Despite his crimes, James was not sentenced to jail. He received only probation and treatment as punishment.

Two years ago, Judge Edward Cashman initially sentenced Williston's Mark Hulett to only 60 days in prison for raping a 6-year-old girl for four years. (Derek Kimball of Hinesburg was also charged with sexual assault of the same girl.) As O'Reilly pointed out, “The outcry embarrassed the state of Vermont, but still Jessica's Law was voted down by the Legislature.”

Yet another horrific assault of a child is forcing Vermont to reconsider its sex predator laws.

Earlier this month, 12-year-old Brooke Bennett's body was found in a shallow grave. Her uncle — convicted sex offender Michael Jacques — has been charged with her kidnapping and murder. Because of Jacques' lenient punishment for a previous kidnapping and rape, Brooke's death brought back calls for tougher laws against child sex offenders.

Three weeks ago, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie told Channel 3 News, “When a person is sexually assaulted, a minor is sexually assaulted, it's my opinion that they should go to jail for 25 years.” He added, “That's very simple and that's what Jessica's Law calls for.”

Agreeing with Dubie, on July 10, Gov. James Douglas said the state should pass stronger laws against sex offenders, including Jessica's Law, civil commitment, strengthening the state's sex offender registry, chemically castrating sex offenders and returning the death penalty to Vermont.

According to Douglas, he reached out to House Speaker Gaye Symington and President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin to request a meeting with them, the minority leaders and the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to urge them to support a special session to consider his proposals.

However, the Democrats — who control the Legislature — only seem to be interested in investigating what went wrong with the judicial system's handling of Jacques and not passing any new laws. Thus, Douglas is not planning on calling for a special session, as it would not accomplish much.

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said “Sen. Shumlin and Speaker Symington have made it very clear that they oppose an immediate special session for the purposes of strengthening our sex offender laws. It would therefore be unproductive for the governor to call a special session without the support of the legislative leadership.”

Symington said a special session would be used to investigate why current laws “are not being enforced by the Douglas administration,” before the Legislature considers new laws. Symington, a candidate for governor, said if elected she would launch a “thoughtful review” of the state sex offender laws.

In the end, as Bill O'Reilly notes, “Vermont has become a secular progressive enclave — a state that believes in restorative justice, that is healing for the criminal as well as the victim.” So far, the Democratic/Progressive Legislature seemingly cares more for the rights of the offender than the helpless children the molesters   scar for life.

Rehabilitating violent sex offenders is a difficult task. Unless the offender wants rehabilitation, the recidivism rate is very high. Maybe the prospect of a long prison sentence would deter abusers. For most, it would not. However, one thing is certain: Passing Jessica's Law would keep child rapists in jail and out of our communities for at least 25 years.

Vermonters need to do everything possible to prevent sexual abuse against children. Passing Jessica's Law would be a big step in the right direction.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor's degree in Military History and a master's in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.

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July 17, 2008
By Mike Benevento

We decide the Axis of Evil’s fate in November

 

In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush singled out Iraq, Iran and North Korea as sponsors of terrorism and seekers of weapons of mass destruction. Coming a little more than four months following Sept. 11, the speech justified the three as potential adversaries in the War on Terror. More than six years later, the upcoming presidential election will help influence the fate of those three nations and the prospect of peace throughout the world.

In his address, Bush observed, “States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

At the time of Bush's address, Iraq was America's biggest threat. Since then, many claim that Bush lied about Iraq's WMDs as a pretext to invade Iraq.

How quickly (or politically conveniently) they forget. Iraq has been using WMDs since the 1980s. Saddam used chemical weapons during his country's war against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds — with horrific results.

In December 1998, President Clinton launched air attacks against Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. He justified attacking Iraq by declaring, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”

In 2003, President Bush, the United States and its allies backed up Clinton's declaration, invading Iraq and toppling Hussein's evil regime. Although restoring order has not been quick or easy, Iraq has a budding democracy, the country is being rebuilt and the surge has reduced the violence.

While political debate rages on about the next steps, the past year's successes yield hope for a democratic, independent Iraq. However, victory or defeat lays in the hands of the next president — with Republican candidate John McCain pushing to stay the course and Democratic candidate Barack Obama calling for rapid withdrawal.

Concerning Iran, in his speech Bush warned, “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons (of mass destruction) and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.”

Because Iran under the Shah was a longtime American ally, its people do not harbor hostility towards America. In contrast, the leadership, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes differently. Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and for America's destruction.

Defying the United Nations Security Council, Iran pushes hard to become a nuclear state. The country is the world's leading supporter of state-sponsored terrorism. Since America supports Israel's right to exist, many believe that before President Bush leaves office, the United States, Israel, or both will attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Once again, Americans divide mainly along party lines as to how to deal with Iran's emerging threat. While conservatives like McCain want to eliminate Iran's nuclear and terrorist programs, Obama and other liberals aim to talk with Iranian leaders to gain their cooperation.

Looking across the globe, during his 2002 speech Bush noted, “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” It has been a major player in state-sponsored terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation. Indeed, in 2006, it defied the United Nations by testing nuclear munitions after stern warnings to the contrary.

The United States and four other nations have negotiated during the past four years with North Korea to eliminate these programs. Unlike Iran and Iraq, it appears that the Communist regime is responding positively to diplomatic carrots and sticks.

Within the past several weeks, North Korea gave China an account of its nuclear activities. According to USA Today, it agreed to disable its biggest nuclear facility in return for fuel oil and economic aid. The country also agreed to inspections of its nuclear facilities. In response, President Bush announced that he would lift U.S. trade sanctions and remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Since Bush's Axis of Evil speech, the War on Terror's results have been mixed. The upcoming presidential election will very much influence the war's outcome. Either the Democrats capture the presidency and return to a more isolationist America, or the Republicans remain in the White House and continue to defend America's interests throughout the world.

Come November, the choice is ours.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor's degree in Military History and a master's in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.

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Speak Your Mind

Right to the point

Share

July 17, 2008
By Mike Benevento

We decide the Axis of Evil’s fate in November

 

In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush singled out Iraq, Iran and North Korea as sponsors of terrorism and seekers of weapons of mass destruction. Coming a little more than four months following Sept. 11, the speech justified the three as potential adversaries in the War on Terror. More than six years later, the upcoming presidential election will help influence the fate of those three nations and the prospect of peace throughout the world.

In his address, Bush observed, “States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

At the time of Bush's address, Iraq was America's biggest threat. Since then, many claim that Bush lied about Iraq's WMDs as a pretext to invade Iraq.

How quickly (or politically conveniently) they forget. Iraq has been using WMDs since the 1980s. Saddam used chemical weapons during his country's war against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds — with horrific results.

In December 1998, President Clinton launched air attacks against Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. He justified attacking Iraq by declaring, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”

In 2003, President Bush, the United States and its allies backed up Clinton's declaration, invading Iraq and toppling Hussein's evil regime. Although restoring order has not been quick or easy, Iraq has a budding democracy, the country is being rebuilt and the surge has reduced the violence.

While political debate rages on about the next steps, the past year's successes yield hope for a democratic, independent Iraq. However, victory or defeat lays in the hands of the next president — with Republican candidate John McCain pushing to stay the course and Democratic candidate Barack Obama calling for rapid withdrawal.

Concerning Iran, in his speech Bush warned, “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons (of mass destruction) and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.”

Because Iran under the Shah was a longtime American ally, its people do not harbor hostility towards America. In contrast, the leadership, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes differently. Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and for America's destruction.

Defying the United Nations Security Council, Iran pushes hard to become a nuclear state. The country is the world's leading supporter of state-sponsored terrorism. Since America supports Israel's right to exist, many believe that before President Bush leaves office, the United States, Israel, or both will attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Once again, Americans divide mainly along party lines as to how to deal with Iran's emerging threat. While conservatives like McCain want to eliminate Iran's nuclear and terrorist programs, Obama and other liberals aim to talk with Iranian leaders to gain their cooperation.

Looking across the globe, during his 2002 speech Bush noted, “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” It has been a major player in state-sponsored terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation. Indeed, in 2006, it defied the United Nations by testing nuclear munitions after stern warnings to the contrary.

The United States and four other nations have negotiated during the past four years with North Korea to eliminate these programs. Unlike Iran and Iraq, it appears that the Communist regime is responding positively to diplomatic carrots and sticks.

Within the past several weeks, North Korea gave China an account of its nuclear activities. According to USA Today, it agreed to disable its biggest nuclear facility in return for fuel oil and economic aid. The country also agreed to inspections of its nuclear facilities. In response, President Bush announced that he would lift U.S. trade sanctions and remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Since Bush's Axis of Evil speech, the War on Terror's results have been mixed. The upcoming presidential election will very much influence the war's outcome. Either the Democrats capture the presidency and return to a more isolationist America, or the Republicans remain in the White House and continue to defend America's interests throughout the world.

Come November, the choice is ours.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor's degree in Military History and a master's in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.

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