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The Royal Commission into the banking and finance sectors has uncovered damning evidence of inappropriate conduct among Australia’s top banks. The Commonwealth Bank was found to have charged fees to a client despite knowing that they had died in 2007. Anthony Ryan confessed that AMP had essentially stolen client’s money by charging fees for no service (a practice the Commonwealth Bank was also found to have engaged in).
And then there were the instances of dishonesty, the falsification of documents, and the handing out of irresponsible loans uncovered by the Commission.
As one may well imagine, the fallout from the Commission has had a largely negative effect on the banks. AMP has rejected criminal charges. But their CEO, Craig Mellor resigned in the middle of April, and they have replaced their Chairman, Catherine Brenner, with David Murray. Similarly, the Commonwealth Bank agreed to pay twenty-five million dollars in legal settlements after ASIC brought legal action against them over bank bill swap rates.
Analyst Morgan Stanley expressed concern over the outlook of the 2019 financial year, according to a report by Business Insider. Mr. Stanley has argued that the “negative stance” on the major banks reflects a more bearish economy.
Similarly, Financial Review reported that foreign investors had taken a negative view towards Australia’s banking sector, and the financial services firm AMP. The Chief Investment Officer of Credit Suisse Private Banking in Australia, Andrew McAuley commented that “our intel is telling us that banks are being shorted by overseas investors.”
And, by extension, there is a clear and present danger that Canberra will act in a knee-jerk reaction and vote for more stringent regulations on banks. The kind of regulations that will make it harder for the banks to operate effectively.
Despite all this, it would foolish to write off Australia’s top banks. The finds of the Commission, though damning, does not change the fact that banks play an integral role in Australia’s economy. Banks provide a place for people to store and protect their money, facilitates loans, and helps people invest their wealth. And in a culture that seems more interested by which overgrown monkey will kick the most goals in a football game, or which brain-dead contestant on The Bachelor will break down into tears first, it is very likely that the banking scandal will be forgotten rather quickly. Australia’s banks may be wounded, but they have not been slain.
February 3rd last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of Ronald Ryan (1925 – 1967), the last man to be hanged in Australia. Since then, the general consensus has been that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. Contrarily, however, it is the opinion of this author that the death penalty is not only just, but a key part of any justice system.
There are two main arguments against the death penalty. First, that it is an exceptionally expensive form of punishment. And second, that the death penalty leaves no room for non-posthumous exoneration.
The first argument is one of economics, not of morality or of justice. It does not argue that the death penalty is immoral, only that it is expensive. What this argument suggests is that a price tag can be placed on justice. That the most important factor determining a case is not whether justice is served, but how much money it will cost.
The way a society punishes murder is reflective of the value that society places on a human life. The life of a human being is not something that can have a time-based value placed upon it. It is something that has immeasurable value and purpose. The Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik, a man responsible for the death of seventy-seven people, received a sentence of just twenty-one years for his heinous crimes. A society that decides that the value of an individual’s life amounts to only one-hundred days is one that has no respect for the sanctity of life.
The second argument carries a great deal more weight. It is an undeniable fact that innocent people have, and continue to be, executed for crimes they did not commit. In the United States, prejudice against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and other people often meant that justice was not as blind as it should have been. Furthermore, in an era before DNA evidence, convictions were based upon less reliable physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. And such evidence naturally carried a higher rate of false convictions.
There are two problems with the innocence argument. First, the advent of DNA along with other advances in forensic science has meant that the possibility of executing an innocent person is very low. DNA may not be foolproof, but when combined with eyewitness testimony and additional physical evidence, it makes a guilty verdict all the more concrete.
Second, the innocence argument is not an argument against the death penalty. Rather, it is an argument against executing an innocent person. It only applies when the condemned man is not actually guilty of the crime he has been convicted of. What it does not address is how a person whose guilt is certain beyond all possible reasonable doubt ought to be treated. When an individual’s guilt is that certain the innocence argument no longer carries any weight.
There are two primary arguments for the death penalty. First, that there are crimes so heinous and criminals so depraved that the only appropriate response is the imposition of the death penalty. And second, that the death penalty is an essential aspect of a just and moral justice system.
That there are crimes so heinous, and criminals so depraved, that they deserve the death penalty is self-evident. Carl Panzram (1892 – 1930), a thief, burglar, arsonist, rapist, sodomite, and murderer, told his executioner: “hurt it up, you Hoosier bastard, I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.” Peter Kürten (1883 – 1931), also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf, told his executioner that to hear the sound of his own blood gushing from his neck would be “the pleasure to end all pleasures.” Finally, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (1942 – 1994) was convicted of forcibly sodomising, torturing, and strangling thirty-three boys and young men. The question, then, is not whether or not any individual deserves the death penalty, it is whether or not the state should have the power to execute someone.
The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. It is frequently forgotten, especially by humanitarians, that the key aspect of a criminal penalty is not rehabilitation or deterrence, but punishment.
In other words, what makes a justice system just is that it can convict a person fairly and impose on them a penalty that is commensurate with the nature and severity of the crime that person has committed. What separates the death penalty from extra-judicial murder is that the condemned person has been afforded all the rights and protections of law, including due process, a fair and speedy trial, the right to trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and so forth, regardless of their race, religion, sexuality, or gender. When a sentence of death is imposed upon a murderer, it is not a case of an individual or group of individuals taking vengeance, but of a legitimate court of justice imposing a penalty in accordance with the law.
What makes the death penalty an integral part of any justice system is not that it constitutes a form of revenge (which it does not) or that it may deter other individuals from committing similar crimes (which it also does not). What makes it just is that constitutes a punishment that fits the crime that has been committed.
The gunman opened fire from his thirty-second-floor hotel room during a performance by country music star, Jason Aldean, at the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival – an event attended by twenty-five thousand people. Witness reports suggest that the gunman used at least one automatic weapon in the attack. Fifty-four-year-old Steve Smith of Phoenix commented that the gunfire “just kept going on.”
It took an hour for Las Vegas police to break into the gunman’s hotel room after being alerted to the attack. There they found an arsenal of weapons, including ten rifles, and the gunman dead from a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The gunman responsible has been identified as sixty-four-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada. While police are yet to finalise a background check on Mr. Paddock, it is known that he was a wealthy property owner who resided in the local retirement community. A regular at Las Vegas casinos, Mr. Paddock possessed no significant criminal record and was not known to have links to any militant group.
Mr. Paddock’s brother, Eric, told the Daily Mail that his family was “shocked” by the action’s of his brother and there had been “absolutely no indication” of what he was capable of. “Something happened, he snapped or something”, Eric Paddock commented.
Reactions to the mass shooting have been quick and immense. Jason Aldean stated on Instagram:
“Tonight has been beyond horrific. I still dont [sic] know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night. #heartbroken #stopthehate.”
President Trump has issued another executive order to extend and broaden the travel band that expired on Sunday.
The new travel ban will be more impervious to challenges from the Supreme Court, and will require foreign governments to improve their identity management, issue more secure passports, identify serious criminals, and provide information on known or suspected terrorists.
The new travel makes changes to the immigration policy the US has with different countries. The travel ban on Sudan has been lifted. North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela have been added to the list of banned countries (although this ban only extends to North Korean and Venezuelan government officials). Libya, Somalia, Iran, Syria, and Yemen will remain.
The White House has stated that the new travel ban has created a new “baseline for information sharing to support visa and immigration vetting determinations.” President Trump stated:
“Following an extensive review by the Department of Homeland Security, we are taking action today to protect the safety and security of the American people by establishing a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States. We cannot afford to continue the failed policies of the past, which present an unacceptable danger to our country. My highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and in issuing this new travel order, I am fulfilling that sacred obligation.”
This is our weekly theological article.
It is a common complaint of the media that criminals are not given an appropriately severe punishment. An article in The Express, SNP Plot to Scrap Short Jail Sentences Could See Thousands of Criminals Avoid Prison, argues that plans to introduce a “presumption against” sending people to prison will mean that thousands of people convicted of serious crimes will avoid prison. In another article, this time from the Herald Sun, prosecutors in Australia complained that the sentences criminals received were not in line with community standards.
Of course, this represents the common misconception, perpetuated by the media, that the judiciary exists to serve the standards of the community. It does not. Rather, the Justice System exists independently of both public opinion and politics. It bases its decisions on equality before the law and justice for all.
Much of the media’s rhetoric is designed to feed off of our very human desire for revenge based justice. When we read about a rape or child murder in our daily newspapers, often our first reaction is to wish all kinds of cruel and inhumane punishments to be exacted on the criminal guilty of those crimes. Our indignation turns us into barbarians, not civilised people.
In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II warns of how justice can quickly devolve into cruelty and hatred when it is not tempered by mercy:
“It would be difficult not to notice that very often programmes which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfilment among individuals, groups and human societies, in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice, nevertheless experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice, such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.”
God tempers His divine justice with mercy. If He were to judge us purely on our thoughts and deeds we would surely be condemned to hell. But in his mercy and love for us, He allowed his only Son to suffer and die on the Cross so we may be freed from the shackles of sin and death.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” It is precisely this idea, that justice ought to be tempered by mercy, that should drive the way we treat those who have harmed us. As Isabella tells Antonio in Measure for Measure: “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but tyrannous to use the strength of a giant.” We should never forget that the person who has wronged us is a human being who is as loved by God and as deserving of His forgiveness as we are.
Americans are recoiling from the tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. The tragic succession of events, which saw violence between the Unite the Right protesters and counter-protesters and culminated in a vicious car attack, left nineteen people injured and thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer dead.
On Monday, President Trump bowed to pressure to name and shame those whose ideology inspired yesterday’s hate crime. Trump stated:
“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”
Political reactions have been swift and damning. Michael McCaul, Republican Congressman from Texas and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, tweeted:
“We must condemn the hate fueling the violence in #Charlottesville. It does not define us as Americans. Those affected are in my prayers.”
Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, meanwhile, has called for the Department of Justice to investigate the events of Charlottesville as an act of domestic terrorism. Cruz stated:
“It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed. Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably, but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society. The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”
At a press conference on Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas claims police had planned to move the Unite the Right protesters to the rear of Emancipation park. The protesters had originally agreed to cooperate with police. However, police were forced to alter their plans when protesters began entering the park at different locations.
The perpetrator of the attack, James Alex Fields, Jr., a self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler, has been charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in death. He has been denied bail.
This week for our theological article, King Alfred Press will be exploring the quest for self-mastery and its importance in living a pious life.
For years, “living in the moment” has been popular advice among self-help gurus. No need to learn from history, no need to think about the consequences of your behaviour, the only thing that matters is satisfying present desires.
However, there is a fundamental problem with living in the moment: it causes you to act impulsively. You become a slave to circumstance. You end up becoming the sort of person who engages in unhealthy, short-term relationships, you become the sort of person who spends without thought and rack up massive credit card debts. Compulsive eaters have been known to literally eat themselves to death, and there is little need to discuss the relationship between crime and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
The rational antidote, then, to living in the moment is to orientate yourself towards self-mastery. By doing so, we can live pro-active, Godly lives. God expects us to be diligent with what we have and where we are before we move forward with our lives. As it is written in the Gospel according to Luke (chapter sixteen, verse ten):
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are
dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities”
Self-mastery helps you achieve mastery of your own emotions, affections, likes, and desires.
So, how do you go about achieving self-mastery? Well, I cannot pretend to have the answers. However, it is eminently obvious that changing your daily habits is a good place to start.
First, engage in daily prayer. It will help you quieten your mind and communicate with God. Read your Bible or Torah. Remind yourself every day of what God expects of you. Second, practice self-denial. Third, do things deliberately, with purpose – act as though everything you do matters. Fourth, don’t lie – especially to yourself. The only way to overcome your problems is by being honest about them. Fifth, take care of your mind, body, and your surroundings. As Professor Jordan B. Peterson famously advises: “clean your room!” Keep your workspace clean and tidy, put everything where it belongs, make yourself orderly.